Best day trips from Melbourne
Many Melburnians love Daylesford and the nearby Hepburn Springs for a very simple reason: thanks to natural mineral springs, the area is the perfect destination for a relaxing escape in nature. Beautiful hot springs and colourful markets are the draw cards, but there are also contemplative art galleries, heritage train rides and a museum that tells the stories of the Dja Dja Wurrung people, who are the traditional owners of the land. At only 90 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD, it’s probably the most relaxing summer vacay you can have this close to the city.
Grab a seat on the deck at The Boathouse, where they’re serving mains like garlic-steamed mussels and confit duck beside a generous selection of local wines. Not to mention the killer lakeside view.
The oldest hotel in Daylesford, The Farmers Arms, ticks two key boxes: it’s a delightful local boozer and a destination pub worthy of a short drive.
Make a beeline for the Mill Markets, a massive permanent market that fans of Australiana will love (think vintage tea towels, postcards, kitsch tableware and plenty of clothes to rummage through). Go to The Convent and explore the touring exhibitions and old artefacts, then take a five-minute drive over to the spa town of Hepburn Springs. Take a stroll through the bush or splash out on a massage from one of the many day spas that are littered about.
If the lure of staying overnight is too good, we suggest the Lake House. They do tranquillity exceptionally well here, boasting private balconies, secluded courtyards and plenty of gardens to explore. Those who want to relax will find solace in the Salus Spa, surrounded by waterfall-fed streams, while the more active will enjoy a hit on the tennis courts (and then a drink in the pavilion).
If you do just one thing... get a relaxing massage at Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat. Fair warning: it'll be hard to return to your regular life after this level of pampering.
With beaches, wineries, parks, gardens and spas, Mornington Peninsula boasts an embarrassment of getaway riches. These diverse attractions are best discovered by car, and it’s an easy 90-minute drive south of the CBD. If you can, plan your trip around the Mornington Peninsula Food and Wine Festival, which takes place in late February. During this one-day event premium local produce takes centre stage, with food, wine and live entertainment at your fingertips. Plus the views overlooking Port Phillip Bay are nothing short of amazing.
Enjoy lunch at Paringa Estate, a restaurant and winery with grade-A vine views, which serves up wine-paired mains like duck with crispy miso barley, pork loin with elderflower honey, and crumbly King George whiting. Down the street at Merricks General Wine Store you can expect country bistro-style fare like grilled lamb rump and a grass-fed O’Connor beef burger.
Exploring the region’s wineries is a must-do, so select your designated driver and get tasting. Red Hill Estate’s cellar door was one of the first in the region, so it holds a special place in the region’s heart. There’s also Dromana’s Crittenden Estate to try if you’re looking to try some outstanding cool-climate wines, for which the Mornington Peninsula is famous.
It’s often packed with visitors, but the Peninsula Hot Springs is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the mood for a soak. There are also dolphin and seal swims, which take you out into Port Phillip Bay, and a wonderful hedge maze in which to lose yourself at Enchanted Adventure Garden.
The historic village of Flinders on the southeastern tip of the Mornington Peninsula is an idyllic base for your great weekend escape, especially if you make a detour to the Flinders Hotel and Quarters, its accommodation wing. You can expect modern guest rooms that are both spacious and contemporary in design. Pro tip: be sure to book a ground floor one that comes with an outdoor space. We’d also definitely recommend Airbnbs around the Mornington Peninsula region. Many of the homes available are unused (but beautiful) beach houses in the ocean-adjacent suburbs of Sorrento, Rosebud and Portsea.
If you do one thing... go for a walk down the Bushrangers Bay Trail at Cape Schanck. This coastal clifftop walk boasts picturesque vistas over Bass Strait.
If Sovereign Hill is all you know about Ballarat, it’s time for another visit to this historic gold rush town. From art galleries to winning dining destinations, this historic regional town is bursting with fun activities, especially during the colder months. Try to plan your trip around the Ballarat Winter Festival in July. The town comes alive with food and wine events, gigs and performances, an ice rink, eerie ghost tours and (our particular favourite) a Winter Wonderlights projection art festival at Sovereign Hill. The best part? VLine trains from Ballarat to Melbourne roughly run on the hour, and it takes less time than driving (about an hour and 20 minutes).
You’ll need to keep your energy up during your Ballarat adventure, so we suggest hitting up L’espresso for a strong coffee and a hearty breakfast. If you need a pick me up, head to Vegas and Rose for cakes and macaroons.
Try Hop Temple, a cosy food hall that serves a vast array of craft beers, ciders and wines, as well as OTT burgers, gluten-free salads and pizzas for one.
Grab a coffee and walk down Sturt Street to the Art Gallery of Ballarat. One of the oldest and biggest regional art galleries, the space boasts a huge collection of Australian art as well as running exhibitions throughout the year. A stand out is the Ballarat International Foto Biennale, a month-long exhibition that features workshops, screenings, portfolio reviews, discussions and social events.
If you’re thinking of staying overnight, you can’t go past the Provincial Ballarat. This 1909 building is heritage listed but was renovated in 2015, so it’s a happy mix of cosy old-world charm and stylish modern fixings.
If you do one thing... you can't pass up a visit to Sovereign Hill. This outdoor museum recreates what Ballarat was like ten years after the discovery of gold in 1851. Pan for gold nuggets, dress up in old-school garb and definitely take home some raspberry drops – they're really good.
It’s kind of hard to believe that the Yarra Valley is less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne’s CBD. One minute you’re in the CBD, then next it's suburbia, and all of a sudden you’re surrounded by rolling hills covered in vines and paddocks with cows aplenty. The region’s world-renowned producers of cool-climate wines have helped put the Yarra Valley on the map. So pick your designated driver and get rolling.
Giant Steps do excellent charcuterie and cheese platters that you can match with fresh drops from the vineyard. Or hop across the street to Innocent Bystander for delicious wood-fired pizzas and moderately priced moscato.
Visit TarraWarra Estate’s cellar door where, for $5 a person, guests can sample wines with winemaker Clare Halloran. Try the Single Block and Reserve ranges – the best chardonnay and pinot noir produced on the estate. There’s also Yering Station, one of Yarra Valley’s oldest wineries, which is a favourite with visitors to the region.
If you think the Yarra Valley resembles a pastoral wonderland from the ground, imagine how it looks from up in a hot air balloon. Global Ballooning Australia runs a one-hour sunrise tour over the Yarra Valley for those looking to see the bucolic landscape from a bird’s eye perspective. Finish off with a visit to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery for chocolate balls, blocks and many scoops of ice cream.
Glamping in a winery? Why the hell not? The historic Balgownie Estate has glamping accommodation just steps from the cellar door. Here you’ll have all the fixings of home – including a queen-size bed, split-system air con and a mini bar.
If you do one thing... get some cheese from Yarra Valley Dairy. These handmade farmhouse cheeses pair all too well with the local drops.
It’s a Victorian icon for a reason – this windy stretch of road snakes all along the south-west coast of the state, starting at Torquay (1.5 hours from the CBD) and finishing up just before Warrnambool. It’s about a four-hour drive without stops, but heed our warning: you’ll definitely want to stop. There’s just too much happening along the coast not to, especially for those who like nature and native Australian animals.
It’s the beach, so fish and chips are a must. Get yours from Salty Dog Fish and Chippery in Lorne and remember to ask for lots of chicken salt. They even do a deep-fried Mars bar, if you’re game.
The Aireys Pub is where it’s at. This much-loved watering hole regularly hosts live music sets, and it’s a great place to kick back with a bevvy post-swim. The pub serves up a great parma as well.
The Great Ocean Road runs right past the cool, temperate rainforest of the Great Otway National Park, meaning you’re close to some of the country’s best native flora and fauna. Get close to animals in their natural habitat – the Koalas in the Wild Tour is great for spotting out eucalyptus-loving friends. If you can bear getting up early, watching the sunrise at the Twelve Apostles is well worth the effort.
If you want to stay the night, head deep into the Otways towards the Great Ocean Ecolodge and Conservation Ecology Centre. This entirely solar-powered centre boasts comfortable country style-rooms and access to local wildlife – your next-door neighbours could be kangaroos, wallabies and (if you’re very lucky) adorable tiger quolls.
If you do one thing… try surfing! There are plenty of places along the coast to do it; we’d suggest Anglesea if you like your waves friendly but not frisky.
Turn it into an overnighter
There are plenty of places a stone's throw from the CBD where you can lawfully pitch a tent – take a look at the best here.
Explore something closer to home
If you've seen everything there is to see at the Royal Botanic Gardens, it might be time to stop and smell the flowers at these unsung gardens around Melbourne.