Victoria is in no short supply of charming country towns and picture-perfect villages. From those with 19th Century enchantment and golden beginnings to seaside towns and mountain escapes, there’s something for everyone to explore and enjoy. If you’re looking to get out of the city, add these towns near Melbourne to your list of must-visit places. All of these towns are just under a two-hour drive from Melbourne, making them perfect for day trip adventures.
Maldon, located 145kms northwest of Melbourne or just 40kms south of Bendigo, remains largely unchanged since its golden beginnings. Retaining much of its 19th Century aesthetic, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into a set from another time.
Visitors keen on a blast from the past can take a ride in the steam train that departs Maldon Railway Station, explore the Maldon Vintage Machinery and Museum and dive into Maldon’s many gold-mining relics, ruins and artefacts like Union Hill Gold Mine or the Porcupine Flat Gold Dredge.
Declared Australia’s first notable town, Maldon has also got plenty of local gourmet food and wine to savour as well as a heap of boutique and antique shopping to keep daytrippers entertained. And once you’ve walked all over town, make your way up to Mount Tarrengower for a view. Or, step into the 150-year-old Kangaroo Hotel for a bite and a drink.
Just north of the Wombat State Forest (got to love the name), Trentham offers city-slickers a quick country escape that’s bursting with nature, wildlife and a smattering of foodie options including wineries and orchards. It styles itself as “Cool Country” and just one day out in Trentham will show you just how cool it can be.
Victoria’s highest single-drop waterfall (32m) can be found just a few minutes from the centre of the historic town so if you’re big fans of chasing waterfalls, then Trentham Falls has to be on your to-do list. You’re sure to find a great spot for a picnic stop nearby.
Trek up to McLaughlins Lookout in Wombat State Forest for uninterrupted scenic views. Up top, you’ll find yourself gazing out across Mount Macedon, the You Yangs and the Dandenong Ranges while those keen on a jaunt through the forest can tackle the Domino Trail — an easy walk that will take you all the way to Lyonville along the railway line.
But, what about in town? Visit du Fermier for seasonal French farmhouse dishes from renowned chef Annie Smithers. Enjoy fresh vegetables picked from the garden alongside meat from the surrounding area. Head to RedBeard Bakery and feast on sourdough from their 140-year-old scotch oven. For classic pub fare, you can’t go wrong with The Cosmopolitan Hotel, which was built in 1866.
Gold had a huge part to play in Bendigo’s beginnings, and like Trentham, Victoria’s golden era has left a lasting impression on the state’s fourth most populous city, from authentic heritage attractions to cultural discovery and gastronomic offerings that make mouths water.
Since 2019, Bendigo has been a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. For good reason, too. Bendigo’s only dedicated steakhouse, The Woodhouse, cooks their locally sourced produce with applewood in the charcoal-fired oven. Meanwhile, Alium Dining uses local and seasonal ingredients to push the boundaries. For sophisticated Asian fusion, you can’t miss Malayan Orchid, which serves up a tasty mix of Chinese and Malaysian cuisine. You can explore the area’s food and drink culture here.
For many, the Central Deborah Gold Mine is on the top of many to-do lists when visiting Bendigo. Descend 61 metres underground and discover a labyrinth of underground tunnels. Then, explore the surface of the mine with a gold panning experience, authentic mining buildings and more.
Other popular hotspots in Bendigo include the Bendigo Art Gallery and the Golden Dragon Museum. Bendigo’s Sacred Heart Cathedral the second-tallest church in Australia and the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion happens to be the largest Buddhist stupa in the western world.
If you feel like a gentle stroll, be sure to pop by Lake Weerona, the Bendigo Botanic Gardens and Rosalind Park. Visit Bendigo for their annual tulip display in spring for an extra dose of nature.
The beauty of Daylesford is no mystery to most Victorians. From the lavender farms to the day spas, the scenic walks to the uncovering of hundreds of vintage and antique goods, and boutique gallery visits followed by coffee at boutique cafes, there’s plenty to do in Daylesford.
So, where to start? If you’re after coffee (and by coffee we also mean breakfast), then Pancho Café on Vincent Street is a hot pick while Cliffy’s Emporium is also a solid choice. Once you’re all fuelled up, it’s time to hit the down and check out The Amazing Mill Markets for all the vintage finds under one massive roof.
Wander up to Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens, which is on top of an extinct volcano, and have a picnic with the help of Wombat Hill House. Then, climb up Pioneers Lookout Tower for splendid views of Daylesford and the surrounding areas. If you like walks, then you simply must stroll around the tranquil Lake Daylesford.
For your dose of art and culture, visit the beautiful Convent Gallery, which as you might guess from the name, is set in a former convent.
And, if you know anything about Daylesford, you’re probably aware that the surrounding area is graced with magical mineral waters. Hit up Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa where you’ll find not only mineral baths but also other spa facilities and therapies so that your mind, body and soul can relax and rejuvenate.
East of Melbourne also boasts beautiful and charming country towns, and Healesville has got to be right up there as one of our favourite regional destinations. Located up in the Yarra Ranges, it’s not only home to the famous Healesville Sanctuary but it’s also got a plethora of wineries — Innocent Bystander, Boat O’Craigo and TarraWarra Estate to name just a few — as well as a great selection of brewers and distillers making a name for themselves.
When it comes to food, feast on a shared-style menu paired with organic wines at No. 7 Healesville. If you want to take something home, pick up some cheese, meat and hampers from Kitchen & Butcher.
Art aficionados can mosey on over to YAVA Gallery and Arts Hub, Hearth Galleries or head a little out of town to visit TarraWarra Museum of Art, a cultural icon in the region featuring the best of modern and contemporary art.
Since you’re in the area, you can find one of Australia’s most beautiful, scenic drives — Black Spur. It’s an hour-long, 36-kilometre drive linking Healesville with Marysville lined on either side with towering mountain ash trees and ferns. Also, a visit to Maroondah Reservoir Park is well worth a visit for some downtime.
Sassafras or Olinda? Why not both? The two towns in the Dandenong Ranges are more than worth your time and, if you like, you can walk between the two in less than an hour — Olinda to Sassafras if you want to go more downhill than up.
Sassafras is all 19th Century charm complete with the Alfred Nicholas Gardens (famous for its autumn colours and that iconic boatshed) and Miss Marple’s Tearoom, a traditional English tearoom inspired by none other than Agatha Christie.
Meanwhile, Olinda has the serene Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, complete with the newly opened Chelsea Australian Garden, which feature thousands of native plants, a waterfall and a billabong. There’s also the William Ricketts Sanctuary where keen-eyed observers can spot remarkable sculptures amongst the vegetation.
When in Olinda, make sure to the local art galleries and studios, handcrafted jewellery and fashion at local boutiques, as well as, sweet shops and antique stores, which you’ll also be able to find in Sassafras. However, what Sassafras does have that Olinda doesn’t is Geppetto’s Workshop — a paradise of wooden toys and puppets.
Way out east on your way to Warragul, you’ll come across a tiny yet delightful town called Jindivick. Take in majestic views of rolling hills, explore the beautiful Garden at Broughton Hall and wander through the Sculpture Garden by artist Laurie Collins.
When it comes to food, you can’t go past The Caf’, Gypsy Creek Winery, or Brandy Creek Estate.
All of that’s on offer in this tiny charming town but you’ve still got plenty of walks you can go on including the famous Jacksons Track (it’s also the title of Daryl Tonkin’s memoir), several in Nangara Reserve and around Glen Cromie by the Tarago River, which is replete with facilities for a fantastic day out.
Loch it in even if you’ve never been to this swell South Gippsland town. Once you go, you’ll know exactly why it’s on this list. But if you need some convincing, the local council website describes it as a picture-perfect town “almost like something out of a fairy tale”.
With the stunning Strzelecki Ranges in the background, the alluring town is all 20th-century buildings housing boutique stores and quaint cafés. From Yakkity Yak, which sources its wares from Nepal and beyond, to all the antiques you didn’t know you want from Carringtons, you’ll be enamoured — but, they are by no means the only shops you’ll find. Explore the main street and surrounds and you won’t be disappointed.
With all the fabulous local produce around town, you can bet on finding some great foodie places for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. From Olive at Loch for all kinds of baked goods to Loch Village Foodstore & Café and The Loch Grocer, you’re well covered. When it’s time for drinks, hit up Loch Brewery & Distillery, Loch Wine Bar and the Gippsland Wine Company.
The Loch Suspension Bridge is a must for all tourists to the area.
9. Red Hill
Melburnians need no introduction to the Mornington Peninsula. And those who’ve done their research know all about Red Hill — the hidden hinterland town between Dromana and Shoreham. It might not have beaches, but they’re not at all far away and who cares when this place is peppered with wineries, farms, restaurants and cafes.
When it comes to meats, Red Gum BBQ makes America proud while modern Australian cuisine is well represented with the likes of Montalto, Max’s at Red Hill Estate and Port Phillip Estate (both its dining room and cellar door).
Red Hill is also home to the Ripe n Ready Cherry Farm which are favourites in summer while the Red Hill Lavender Farm & Distillery is a more-than popular choice when the flowers are blooming. Combine with a wine tasting — say from Mount Rouge Estate or Polperro Winery — and you’ve got a spectacular day planned.
Not to be outdone, the Bellarine Peninsula has its own charming town. Known as the “grand dame” by some, they say that Queenscliff is reminiscent of an English seaside resort, oozing elegance and overflowing with history.
The town, which was renamed in 1854 to honour Queen Victoria, features Victorian-era hotels, wide boulevards peppered with antique stores, and some pretty dignified-looking churches. A walk through town, especially down Hesse Street, will showcase some of the best sights, from lookouts to landmarks. Make sure you walk along the foreshore and stroll down the century-old Queenscliff Pier.
Step into the maritime and historical museums for a blast from the past or join a guided tour of Fort Queenscliff, which was built in 1860 and served to protect the entrance of Port Phillip Bay.
But if history doesn’t float your boat, visitors to Queenscliff can do a spot of snorkelling and immerse themselves in the colourful world of the sea at Pope’s Eye, part of the Port Phillip Heads Marine Park, or get tickets to the Queenscliff Music Festival. It takes place on the last weekend in November and is actually so popular that tickets sell out well in advance.
If you’d like to explore the Bellarine even further, hop on The Q Train. Journey along a heritage rail line between Drysdale and Queenscliff, and enjoy a degustation that showcases the best seasonal produce that the Bellarine Peninsula has to offer. If you don’t feel like travelling, don’t worry. Queenscliff is packed with options when it comes to food so you won’t be disappointed.
The ten charming Victorian towns near Melbourne that we’ve mentioned are by no means an exhaustive list. There are plenty more beautiful, scenic and memorable towns you can visit in a two-hour drive (or less) from Melbourne. Notable mentions of other lovely towns near Melbourne we haven’t been able to include in this list (next time) include Castlemaine, Kyneton, Macedon, Ballarat, Clunes and Maryborough.
And, there are plenty more if you’re willing to drive a little longer and a little farther away.