Best day trips from Melbourne; escape the city and experience the state

If you’re looking to escape Melbourne for the day, you’ll find fine food and adventure when you drive an hour or two out of town.

From the wineries of the Yarra Valley to the beaches of the Great Ocean Road, the healing waters of the Daylesford region, to the mountain hiking trails of the Grampians, Victoria is a natural playground for locals and visitors alike. 
 

Great Ocean Road

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The Great Ocean Road: one of the world’s most beautiful drives with stunning cliffs, sandy beaches and ocean views around every corner. 

As you travel the 243 km of the Great Ocean Road on a day trip from Melbourne, you’ll catch glimpses of beaches, picture-perfect coves, huge waves and limestone stacks that seem to spring from the water like ancient gods. The charming seaside towns and patrolled beaches, interspersed with native forests, are irresistible. The Great Ocean Road, one of the world’s most beautiful road trips, is definitely one of the best day trips from Melbourne, but if you want to add a bit of culture or adventure to your holiday experience, it pays to explore the regions beyond the highway. 

For fine dining, one of Victoria’s most exquisite and coveted experiences is near the coast. The three hatted Brae in Birregurra with chef-owner, Dan Hunter, at the helm certainly makes taking the inland route worthwhile. This restaurant is renowned for its sustainable, organic practices. The menu is curated daily from the garden’s produce; vegetables, fruits, nuts, honey and grain crops. 

Spot platypus on one of the Lake Elizabeth Otway Eco Tours at dawn or dusk when the rarely seen water-dwelling mammals frolic at the surface of the lake. Afterwards, The Forrest Brewery is nearby. Try one of their fine brews made from pure Otways water. If ever there was an ideal setting for beer and chips, this is it. 

Hikers will enjoy the waterfall tracks in the bushland behind Lorne. Giant soft ferns border the 2.8 km paths and eucalypts tower beside the trails. Also in this hinterland, you’ll find the Qdos Fine Art Gallery. Enjoy the serenity of the forest from the cafe, then wander the gallery space to appreciate the collections of artworks on display.  

Also along the world-famous route is Bells Beach, home of the international Rip Curl competitive surfing competition. Further along, see the koalas at Cape Otway and visit the remaining eight of the Twelve Apostles. Your cameras will be clicking all day, with lookouts dotted on almost every high curve of the road.   

 

Yarra Valley    

yarra-valley

Spend a day amongst the vines of the Yarra Valley 

A picturesque winding drive on mountain roads from the outer suburbs of Melbourne will take you through Yarra Glen. It’s a fine spot for a pub lunch and a bit of fossicking through the antique and second-hand stores for some bargains, if you’re that way inclined. Follow the road to the Yarra Valley Dairy. Look out over the rolling hills of the valley as you savour the flavours of artisan cheese marinated in saffron, cumin, lemon and garlic, or tempt your tastebuds with the fiery version steeped in chilli flakes.  

Stop in for lunch at Balgownie 1309. The spectacular new space has risen from the ashes of the former restaurant, and the menu is another winner from executive chef, Grant Flack, and head chef, Beth Candy.  

Close by, discover the world-class cool climate wines of the Yarra Valley with a refined tasting experience at Yering Station, Victoria’s oldest vineyard. Appreciate the regular rotation of art by emerging and established artists exhibited in the space. Take a bottle into the pretty shaded courtyard or have a picnic on the extensive lawns. If you’re feeling really fancy, you can charter a helicopter from the city to make the trip to the Yarra Valley even quicker. The chopper lands on the restaurant lawn.  

Head to the Healesville Sanctuary, where you can experience the natural bush environment and have close encounters with echidnas, koalas, kangaroos or dingoes. Check schedules for times to see the ‘Spirits of the Sky’ show where trained birds of prey, like wedge-tailed eagles and black-breasted buzzards, display their magnificent power in the amphitheatre. 

Finish your day with a tasting flight of refined gin at Four Pillars. Connoisseurs can book in for a masterclass and distillery tour. 

 

The Dandenong Ranges

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Without a doubt, it is the rolling hills, the thick undergrowth of ferns and the gigantic mountain ash gum trees of the Dandenongs temperate rainforest that have been attracting day trippers to the region since the 1800s. Bring a picnic, visit gardens, stop at every lookout and just generally appreciate the grandeur of nature evident everywhere in the ranges. 

Generations of families have climbed aboard Puffing Billy and dangled their legs from the carriages as the heritage steam train chugs from Belgrave, through the verdant forest, to such charmingly named stations as Emerald, Cockatoo and Gembrook. Each destination has a range of activities and cafes to enjoy. 

For drivers, Destiny Point Cafe is an icon of the region, with sweeping views of Silvan Reservoir and the ranges. Continue along the road to the SkyHigh, where you can amble through the landscaped gardens, enjoy a forest walk, eat a meal in the bistro, or have a picnic on the lawns. Panoramic views from inside or outside of the building will wow you. 

Like a child’s dream of old, Geppetto’s Workshop in Sassafras has an extensive range of marionettes and hand puppets hanging from the rafters. They specialise in unique, traditional wooden toys and encourage visitors to learn how to use their puppets onsite. For a superb Devonshire tea, you can’t go past Miss Marple’s. They don’t take bookings, but it’s definitely worth lining up for their home-style baked scones.  

Nature is the real hero of this area, and if you love bushwalking, there are hundreds of hiking trails and forest walks at varying degrees of accessibility, length and difficulty. Photographers and bird lovers will adore the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Gardens, home to thousands of native and exotic trees. It is famed for its collection of thousands of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and daffodils, which flower in spring and autumn. The Alfred Nicholas Memorial Garden, too, is a fairytale oasis with flowers blooming throughout each season and is stunning in autumn. 

 

Phillip Island

philip-island

Phillip Island Beaches are perfect for swimming, surfing and stretching the legs 

If the spectacular coastal scenery of the island doesn’t lure you, the joy-provoking cuteness of an estimated 4000 little ‘fairy’ penguins who launch out of the ocean, dash across the sand and waddle up the beach to their burrows in the dunes certainly will. A day trip to Phillip Island from Melbourne must include this evening entertainment, so plan to drive home in the dark. The purpose-built visitor centre at the Penguin Parade has restaurants and an interactive learning centre so you can learn more about these delightful creatures, the smallest species of penguin in the world, found only along the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand.  

During the day, visit the Phillip Island Wildlife Park. You can get up close and personal with wallabies, kangaroos, and pademelons as you wander around the park. See wombats, Tasmanian devils and tortoises, check out cockatoos, cassowaries, and emus, and creep into the reptile house for a look at snakes, water monitors and lizards.  

Phillip Island has four fabulous surf beaches: Cape Woolamai, Smiths Beach, Summerland and Cat Bay. Either take your own board or rent one from Island Surfboards at Smiths Beach. Organise a private lesson with a coach or join a surf fit class and test your skills. There are 26 beaches around the island for swimming, kayaking, fishing and general water play.  

Many of Phillip Island’s cafes and restaurants have different opening hours for weekdays and weekends, so it’s best to book ahead. For cocktails and Spanish tapas, The Cohiba Bar has a menu designed to dazzle. The Cape Kitchen is dog-friendly and sits on a clifftop overlooking Bass Strait, using the produce of Gippsland wherever possible. Bang Bang in Cape Woolamai is a fun Thai restaurant, and French bistro, Anerie, brings a bit of European flair to the island. If you’re missing Paris, this could help you get your fix of good coffee and home-made pastries. For those who prefer beer, the Ocean Reach Brewery produces a modest range of regular and seasonal brews. 

 

Hepburn Springs and Daylesford

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Daylesford Lake: walk the circuit around the lake in one of Victoria’s prettiest towns

This enchanting region is a place of rest, relaxation and healing due to the abundance of mineral springs within a 25 km radius of the towns. The waters are known for their powerful remedial properties and wellness benefits. Fill your drink bottles from pumps along the interlinked walking tracks that encompass a number of springs, including Locarno, Soda and Argyle. Book yourself in for a sublime body treatment at The Hepburn Bathhouse and immerse yourself in the communal spas. 

If you've missed visiting Japan, book in for a Shiatsu treatment at Shizuka Ryokan, a traditional Japanese guest house in Hepburn Springs. Stay for lunch cooked by Japanese chefs whose menus showcase the flavours of their own prefectures. The classic Zen garden provides a meditative view. 

Daylesford has a strong and vibrant artistic community. Visit The Convent Gallery, which has new exhibitions every 6-8 weeks, or stroll the main street for clothing and homewares. The Amazing Mill Markets are a second-hand bargain hunter’s paradise. Everything from antique cutlery to vintage fashion, collectibles, books and furniture is waiting to be discovered. The Sunday market near the railway platform also showcases the creative talent of the local community. 

The Farmers Arms offers diners a hearty welcome and a traditional country tavern experience. Book the pub, the garden, or the private dining Farmers Kitchen area, and enjoy a menu drawn from local produce and complemented by regional wines and local beer and cider. 

Visit the cellar door of Daylesford Cider for a tasting paddle, a crispy slice straight from the pizza oven, and a game of bocce. Craft beer lovers should visit the Daylesford Brewing Co. Order snacks like oysters, popcorn chicken and cheese platters to enhance the experience. For something different, taste one of eight herb-based liqueurs at Herbal Lore and try the gin from their distillery in the Old Butter Factory. 

 

Mornington Peninsula

mornington-peninsula
  

Dining on the Mornington Peninsula

The ocean playground of Melbourne’s sailors and fishing enthusiasts, the journey to the Mornington Peninsula is sprinkled with galleries, farm gates, wineries, cafes, restaurants and delightful experiences. Colourful bathing boxes line the beaches of Port Phillip Bay, so stop in at Mt Martha, Mornington, Dromana, Rosebud, Rye, Sorrento or Portsea Beaches for a look.   

For a wine tasting or fine dining experience, book a table at Ten Minutes by Tractor in Main Ridge. For something more casual but equally delicious, try Rare Hare at Jackalope in Merricks North, or grab a table or a picnic basket at Montalto and eat among the vines. 

The photogenic Portsea Hotel is right on the water and will give you instant holiday vibes. Sit amongst greenery under the terrace while your kids tumble about on the lawns, and enjoy fresh seafood, hot chips and a sparkling wine, a crisp white or an ice cold beer. 

Recently refurbished, The Continental in Sorrento houses the Aurora Day Spa and an array of dining and function spaces. You’re spoilt for choice here; try the Beer Garden, the Conti Bar, the alfresco Promenade, the stunning Atrium Restaurant - or all of the above! 

Partake in a drop of local brandy or gin at the Bass & Flinders Distillery or, even better, book in for a masterclass and learn to blend your own spiced brandy from a selection of botanical-infused spiced bases. 

Head to Arthur’s Seat Eagle for a bird’s eye view of the bay from a state of the art gondola, then venture to the Peninsula Hot Springs and soak away your troubles in one (or all) of the dozens of volcanically heated pools. Pre-book a relaxation dome, and order a picnic box brimming with salads, fruit and baked goods. Groups can arrange wellness experiences like group yoga or meditation. 

 

Ballarat

ballarat-township

View over Ballarat township 

Victoria’s largest inland city has long been associated with the goldfields and the gold rush of the 1850s. The recreated colonial village, Sovereign Hill, is a must-do for families. Wander the streets with people dressed in gold rush era outfits, watch as boiled lollies are made, see a blacksmith bent over the fire with his iron, fashioning horseshoes for the stock who pull carts around the earthen roads. Take a mine tour to experience what it was like for the men of the era and learn about the risks associated with gold mining deep underground for days at a time. Children can join in a class at the schoolhouse, pan for gold in the creek and play ten pin bowls in the traditional alley. If you can, stay for dinner and the 'Blood on the Southern Cross' sound and light show before heading back to town.  

If you have a taste for the macabre, Kryal Castle is a medieval theme park 8 km outside of Ballarat, with re-enactments, including whippings and hangings, occurring on the grounds. Activities like axe throwing, jousting, fairy tale shows, a maze, and a torture museum are included.  

For a more up-to-date experience, Ballarat has developed quite a food scene over the past few years. The elegant yet casual Dine With Lola, in the heritage Provincial Hotel, has an express lunch, or you can order their delicacies á la carte. The drinks menu has a sophisticated selection of wines, ales and cocktails, including some interesting non-alcoholic options that won’t make diners feel like they’re at the kids’ table. Think toasted cinnamon and yuzu ‘non-wine’, or a mocktail of pear, ginger ale and spice, to go with your duck salad or Gruyère soufflé.  

Australia's oldest (and largest) purpose-built provincial gallery is the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Established in 1887, the gallery contains special collections, including the works of Eugene Von Guerard, a painter who chronicled goldfields scenes. 

 

Bendigo

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The greater Bendigo area was designated a UNESCO city of Gastronomy in 2019, which makes it one of the best day trips to take from Melbourne. Before you even get to town, you can stop in Harcourt at the General Store for a flaky, sweet pastry made by Danish chef, Annette Larsen.  

Once in Bendigo proper, you can hardly turn a corner without stumbling upon a fabulous place to eat. Have breakfast at Nude Food, then pop into Indulge for some fine Belgian chocolate treats. The Dispensary has a sophisticated vibe with a menu to match. Savour dishes like sweet and sour eggplant with crispy rice noodles or miso octopus with Mayo and pickled kohlrabi. Masons of Bendigo is open for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays with a Roaming Menu of impeccable seasonal dishes. On a fine day, pop up to Nimbus, regional Victoria’s only rooftop bar, for drinks, snacks, and a view of the whole city. 

A little out of the city, you can indulge in a wine and lunch at Balgownie Estate, then drop over to Sandhurst Ridge Winery for a tasting of their Italian style wines.  

Drawing crowds from around the country, the Bendigo Art Gallery is renowned for its exclusive exhibitions. This year, from March 19 to July 22, Elvis will be ‘in the building’ with the Direct From Graceland exhibition. Pop across the road afterwards for a tipple at The Wine Bank.  

Bendigo is a city born of the gold rush and the heritage buildings around the city are evidence of the great wealth that once flowed through the hands of its citizens. The Golden Dragon Museum has preserved the history of the Chinese people of Bendigo and is a hub of Chinese cultural activity in Australia. Explore Chinese arts, history and culture by perusing the collections of immigration records, family trees, and other historical documents.  

A long day trip

If you love an early morning drive and don’t mind returning to the city late, both the Grampians and Wilson's Prom are accessible as long day trips from Melbourne. It’ll take you three hours to reach either destination, but if you leave early enough, you’ll be able to watch the sun rise and set as you cruise along. 

The Grampians

the-grampians

The Grampians National Park: Stunning views from mountain peaks 

Halls Gap, the central town of the Grampians, has stores where you can buy supplies for lunch. Take one of the many hiking trails near town or tackle a section (or two) of the 160 km Grampians Peaks Trail which includes at least five significant rock art shelters and paintings of the Djab Wurrung and Jardwardjali people. 

The Spirit of Punjab menu offers up to 90 different authentic Indian dishes. It's highly recommended that if you have a group of four or more, you order a banquet for an interesting gastronomic journey. For a pub meal, the Halls Gap Hotel has everyone’s favourites. 

If you have time, stop off at Seppelts Great Western and tour the underground wine tunnels. You’ll see the cellars where private collections are stored and learn how the winemakers create the bubbles in their sparkling wines by hand, turning the bottles a quarter of an inch every day for up to three years.   

Wilson’s Promontory 

wilsons-promontory

Wilson’s Promontory: Explore the beaches that can only be accessed by foot 

Famous for magnificent coastal day walks and pristine beaches that can only be reached on foot, the Prom is a wonderland of natural beauty. Squeaky Beach is a favourite with families and photographers. Climb the huge rocks, orange and pink due to lichen, and see if you can make the white quartz sand sing as you head for the turquoise sea water. 

Fill your backpack with snacks and hike the two hour Mt Oberon track. Make sure to stop for a picnic and a rest on the huge granite boulders along the way to enjoy some of the most stunning views in Victoria. 

From Tidal River, take a cruise with Wilsons Promontory Cruises to learn about some of Australia’s complex and abundant marine ecosystems. You might even see sea eagles, dolphins and fur seals. 

On the way home, the Fish Creek Hotel has hearty pub meals and Meeniyan’s Trulli offers incredible thin based woodfired pizzas to help you refuel after a day outdoors. 

 

Words by Danielle Norton - Published 6 July 2022
Quick Facts 
Population Approx 3.73 million
Area 2,254 km2
Time Zone GMT +10
Languages English (official)
Currency Australian dollar (AUD)
Electricity 220 – 240v 50Hz
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