It may not be the biggest state, but Victoria sure packs quite a punch. There is no shortage of places to visit in Victoria and every where you go, you’ll find a rich local culture surrounded by gorgeous nature.
Victoria is one of the greenest states in Australia, with its cooler climate and rivers meaning its mostly covered in bushland, although there’s still plenty of variety from the surf to the snow.
Melbourne is, of course, the highlight and many of Victoria’s tourist attractions are found here. It’s easy to spend days – or even longer – getting to know the laneways, the bustling neighbourhoods, and the cultural institutions.
But the capital sets the trend for the state – a part of Australia where good food is a way of life and bad coffee just doesn’t exist! Art spills out from the galleries and onto the streets and buildings of country towns.
Road trips are one of the best things to do in Victoria and there are some wonderful touring routes that will take you along the coast or into the state’s rural towns. The Great Ocean Road may be the most famous, but there are other options that are just as interesting.
For those who love nature, some of Australia’s best national parks are in Victoria but they’re not all household names – offering the opportunity to visit the striking landscapes without hordes of tourists.
But ultimately visiting Victoria is about exploring the culture, finding chefs and artisans who have taken their crafts to new levels, relaxing into a welcoming town, and discovering inspiration around every turn.
Melbourne is constantly changing. Every time I visit, there are new restaurants, bars, and exhibitions. It’s a city that is always alive, always innovating, and it’s one of the things that people love about spending time there.
But Melbourne is also steeped in history, from the original Indigenous people to the European settlers, and all of that can be explored in the city’s attractions, including the World Heritage Site of the Royal Exhibition Building.
Food is a bit focus of the city and the influence from immigrants over the decades shines through in the authentic dishes you’ll find in so many different pockets of the suburbs. In the city centre, in particular, some of Australia’s top chefs run wonderful restaurants.
Melbourne has probably the most dynamic city centre of all the capitals, and it’s here you’ll find galleries, museums, theatres and more – much of it near to Federation Square. For something different, catch the tram to St Kilda and have a seaside experience (although Melbourne’s beaches are not its selling point).
And then, of course, there are all the events that take place in Melbourne. If you can time a visit to coincide with one of the arts festivals or one of the sporting events (like the Australian Open), then you’ll find the city even busier than usual with pop up events throughout the streets.
To escape the city, it’s an easy drive south of Melbourne to the Mornington Peninsula, a large strip of land where you’ll find charming seaside towns with plenty of food and culture.
The beaches are the first thing you’ll notice on the Mornington Peninsula, and you can see why Melbourne residents would choose to drive down here for a swim – but there’s much more to the region than that. From a purely recreational perspective, there are golf courses, spas, and national parks to enjoy.
But the Mornington Peninsula is also home to wineries specialising in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and gourmet restaurants making the most of the abundant fresh produce in the region.
It’s easy to spend your time here eating and drinking, with breweries, cider houses, and distilleries to go along with the wine. Plus, many of the local farms and orchards will welcome you in to pick your own fruit.
Alternatively, take a slight left turn as you head out from Melbourne and drive down to Phillip Island instead. It’s also got wineries and similar coastal landscapes – but the highlight here is the wildlife. The penguins are the most famous residents, but there are also koalas, birds, and dolphins and whales in the water.
The state’s premier wine region is just a short one-hour drive from Melbourne, which is just one reason why the Yarra Valley is one of the best places to visit in Victoria.
It’s the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that takes centre stage here, with an ‘Old World’ feel to many of the vineyards in the wine region, which dates back to 1838. But increasingly sparkling wine has grown in popularity, while breweries have also appeared in the region.
Beyond the wine, though, the Yarra Valley has wonderful little villages set in lush greenery, where you’ll find boutique stores, cosy restaurants, and plenty of friendly locals. There are quite a few small artist studios, while the TarraWarra Museum of Art is a must-visit.
The Healesville Sanctuary, home to plenty of Australian wildlife, is one of the most popular attractions in the Yarra Valley, while there are also spas, walking and cycling trails, and the opportunity to go hot air ballooning.
The nearby Yarra Ranges National Park has some incredible walks through verdant valleys full of ferns out to epic viewpoints and amongst temperate forest rising up the slopes.
Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road isn’t just one of the best things to do in Victoria, it’s one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world. Along the 243 km of coastline, there are iconic surf breaks, waterfalls, unbelievable panoramas, and the famous rocks rising from the sea known as the 12 Apostles.
The rugged cliffs and the soaring bluffs can make the Great Ocean Road seem quite dramatic at first, but when you stop in the towns and villages along the way, you’ll find a warm welcome from restaurants, producers, and guest houses.
The nature of the region is the focus and you’ll find that at famous beaches like Bells Beach, with the wildlife like koalas and kangaroos, and even with remote rainforest at Otway National Park.
Obviously most people will tackle the road by car and the viewpoints directly along the way can get busy, but as you find small detours and explore the towns, you’ll create your own unique itinerary. For a special experience, there are also walking and cycling trails that cover the length of the coastline.
In the west of the state is one of Victoria’s best national parks, the Grampians, where sandstone mountains rise from the forest in dramatic peaks.
Within the national park, there are walking trails leading to waterfalls, with challenging hikes up to viewpoints, spectacular wildflowers, and plenty of wildlife. There are also important Indigenous sites that tell tens of thousands of years of stories.
The broader Grampians region offers even more than just the national park, and you’ll find charming country towns, welcoming wineries, and boutique accommodation options. One of the most popular attractions is the 200-kilometre Silo Art Trail, which starts here and has enormous artworks painted on the sides of grain storage units.
Spending a few days in the Grampians is the perfect way to discover some of the best landscapes of western Victoria, with mountains and forests that are world-class. But, like most of Victoria, there’s also plenty of good food and culture to round out the stay.
Gippsland Lakes always makes me think of summer holidays. Not because I came here myself, but because it’s going everything a local wants from a relaxed Australian getaway down the coast.
The Gippsland region stretches all the way from Melbourne to the New South Wales border, and the lakes region is right in the middle. Combined, this network of lakes cover more than 600 square kilometres and are protected from the ocean by coastal dunes.
The waters teem with wildlife, including dolphins and pelicans, and the best way to experience the lakes is to head out on a boat. You can hire your own or there are quite a few tour operators that have different styles, depending on your interest. Small islands in the lakes can be reached by ferry or water taxi.
For many visitors, though, the Gippsland Lakes are about relaxing – swimming at the beach, paddling in the lakes, having a drink by the water, hiking in the bush (where you might spot koalas in the wild). Metung is a good base but there are other great options.
It’s also worth noting that at either end of Gippsland are two of Victoria’s best national parks that are both worthy of a visit – Wilsons Promontory in the west, and Croajingalong in the east.
Ballarat is Victoria’s largest inland city – and full of history. As a centre for the gold rush from 1851, it grew in size and wealth, and much of that legacy is still seen in the grand old buildings in the city centre.
To experience the gold rush, you can head to Sovereign Hill, which is one of the best places to visit in Victoria. This recreation of Ballarat in the 1850s is set across a huge site with more than 60 buildings and countless characters playing their parts on the streets, in the shops, and in regular shows.
In the city centre, the Art Gallery of Ballarat is the oldest regional gallery in the country, while there’s also Her Majesty’s Theatre from 1875, and a lovely Botanical Gardens. Boutique shops and charming cafes can be found along the main tree-lined streets.
It seems you’re never far from a winery in Victoria and Ballarat is no exception. The food scene is vibrant here, with lots of top restaurants to choose from. Just 1.5 hours’ drive from central Melbourne, Ballarat is a great regional escape.
In 2019, Bendigo was named Australia’s only UNESCO Creative City and Region of Gastronomy – which might seem strange for a rural city, but says a lot about how important the food scene here is.
There’s a real focus on local produce, paddock to plate, and native ingredients. The restaurants in Bendigo regularly win awards and there are about 80 wineries in the region (with a focus on Shiraz). Coming here for the dining is reason enough.
But Bendigo has even more to offer, particularly with its arts precinct, which often hosts important international exhibitions. Colourful street art adorns the walls and there are plenty of small galleries.
Like Ballarat, Bendigo was a focus for the gold rush and there’s heritage from this period throughout the city, including a museum about the Chinese workers who came to the city. You can also do a tour of a mine, to go a bit deeper into the history.
In the northeast of the state is the mountainous region of Victoria known as High Country. It has some lovely small towns like Marysville and Glenrowan, famous for the last stand of the infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly. But when it comes to this region, there’s one thing that rules supreme.
High Country is home to some of the most popular Victorian tourist attractions – the ski fields! The NSW snow just over the border gets a bit more attention, but there are excellent resorts here in the High Country, particularly Falls Creek, Mt Buller, and Hotham (known as Australia’s ‘powder capital’).
Even if you don’t ski, the snowfields make for a beautiful wonderland in the winter, with dog-sled rides, snow play parks, fine dining, and fire-warmed chalets to relax. In the summer, the mountains come alive with hiking and biking trails, plus alpine road trips take you between wineries, national parks, and coffee roasters.
During the year, you’ll find lots of festivals being held in the towns of the High Country and it’s worth trying to time a visit with one of them. The Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues is a great event to consider, for example.
Victoria would not be what it is without the Murray River – quite literally, because the course of the waterway forms the state’s northern border. And discovering the Murray is one of the best things to do in Victoria.
Although there are quite a few places where you can cruise along the river in a houseboat, a good place to base yourself is the city of Mildura in the northwest of the state, right on the border with New South Wales.
The region around Mildura feels like the Outback, so this little patch of green along the river feels like quite an oasis. Especially when you realise that it’s full of great food and wine, much of it along Feast Street, a renowned dining strip.
To make the most of the Murray, take a trip on a 19th century paddle steamer, hire a kayak to paddle yourself, or just sit on the bank and watch life float by. The Murray has been an important part of Indigenous culture for millennia and there’s lots to learn.
Mildura is also an excellent base for trips to nearby natural wonders, including Mungo National Park (in NSW), Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, and Murray-Sunset National Park which, as the name suggests, has some incredible colours at the end of the day.