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, it’s a gorgeous town to visit and feel as if 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 Vintage Machinery 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 Blue Mount or 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 rail alignment.
But, what about in town? Wallaby Creek Olive Grove has got you for olive-oil tastings while RedBeard Bakery’s 120-year-old scotch oven pumps out the sourdough and pizzas that will fuel all of your adventures. Otherwise, the Cosmopolitan Hotel does pub fare while you can go French at Du Fermier, which is a rustic cafe that does garden-to-table meals.
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 while Alium Dining is constantly pushing boundaries and sophisticated Asian gets a transformation at Malayan Orchid with native ingredients. 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. Although the very-popular Nine Levels of Darkness tour is no longer running, visitors can go as low as 61 metres underground to discover a labyrinth of underground tunnels or climb the poppet head for a bird’s-eye view of Bendigo.
Other popular hotspots in Bendigo include the Bendigo Art Gallery, the Chinese Gardens Reserve and the Golden Dragon Museum—built on the site of one of early Bendigo’s Chinatowns. Bendigo’s Sacred Heart Cathedral has the second-highest spire in Australia and the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion happens to be the largest in the western world.
A trip to Bendigo is complete with stops at Lake Weerona, the botanic gardens and Rosalind Park for a gentle stroll.
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’s 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.
Head up to Pioneers Lookout Tower for splendid views over the Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens, which is on top of an extinct volcano, or go for a tranquil 40-minute stroll around Lake Daylesford if that’s your vibe. When it comes to art and culture, Daylesford sports more than most regional towns. It also boasts what some say is regional Australia’s most beautiful gallery, The Convent Gallery.
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.
We think that a day in Daylesford isn’t long enough of a visit but at just 108km north-west of Melbourne, it does make for a pretty-special day trip if you plan it right. If you visit on a Sunday, you’ll also get to check out the Daylesford Sunday Market from 8-3pm and find an array of local produce, second-hand books, clothing and collectibles. It’s on no matter the weather.
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—Domaine Chandon, Rochford Wines and Coldstream Hills 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, the Healesville Hotel is the gastro-pub behind Healesville’s foodie revival. It’s cosy, it’s warm and it’s inviting. And, the food, with a focus on local produce, is very, very good—Thursday steak night is a big favourite among the locals. Next door, you’ll be able to find Kitchen & Butcher where you can pick up some of the best cheese and meats in the region.
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 Dandenongs 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.
While Sassafras is all 19th Century charm complete with the Alfred Nicholas Gardens (famous for its autumn colours and that iconic boatshed) and a tearoom (Miss Marples Tearoom) in an authentic English Cottage inspired by none other than Agatha Christie, Olinda can boast of the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden as well as 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 Gepetto’s Workshop—a paradise of wooden toys and puppets because of course it is.
And, if you’re looking to be surrounded by nature even more, then you’ve got to head into Sherbrooke Forest, where you can find picnic grounds, bbq areas, waterfalls and some pretty spectacular cool temperate rainforest flora.
Way out east on your way to Warragul, you’ll come across a tiny yet delightful town called Jindivick. The town is quaint and the community spirit is alive and well—most evident at the monthly market held on the first Saturday of most months.
When in town, check out the old-fashioned General Store, head to the local cricket ground for majestic views of rolling hills and , check out BZARTE for antiques and the talent of over 50 local artists, and browse the gardens at Jindi Gardener as well as the local community garden.
Jindivick is home to plenty of artists and you can surround yourself with their works at places like Laurie Collins’ Sculpture Garden and Bradley Hall for the work of Gary Miles. When it comes to food, you can’t go past The Caf’, Jindivick Harvest Kitchen or Gypsy Creek Winery.
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 cafes. 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 enamored—but, they are by no means the only shops you’ll find. Explore the main street and surrounds and you won’t be disappointed.
On the second Sunday of each month, the Loch Village Lions Market is your go-to for local produce, crafts and bric-a-brac while Udder & Hoe is your pit stop for local produce every other day of the month. And if you go in June, you’ve got the Loch Food & Wine Festival to look forward to.
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 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 Red Hill and Ripe n Ready Cherry Farms 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.
Our favourite day to go to Red Hill has to be on the first Saturday of the month (between September and May) because that’s when you can find the Red Hill Community Market. With 300-odd stalls showcasing the best the locals have, you’re sure to find something to love.
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 stroll down the century-old Queenscliff Pier, home to a new art exhibition that can be seen from November through to April.
Step into the maritime and historical museums for a blast from the past or join a guided tour of the Queenscliff Fort, 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.
The Q Train, which you may know from MasterChef, is a gastronomical journey across five courses and it occasionally departs from Queenscliff station. Showcasing the best seasonal produce that the Bellarine Peninsula has to offer, it’s hard to beat. However, Queenscliff is packed with options when it comes to food so you won’t be disappointed.
The ten charming Victorian towns above 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 charming towns 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.