7 OF THE MOST POPULAR MELBOURNE DAY TRIPS
Which are the best Melbourne Day Trips? Where are the best places to go on a day tour? These questions come up a lot in our FB group and are something we struggled with when putting our itineraries together. I love all of these day trips; they all offer something unique: the best fit for your holiday depends on your interests, but don’t worry, we have covered all bases.
Victoria may be our smallest mainland state, but she offers a great variety of attractions only a couple of hours from the centre of the city.
Today we have highlighted a few of the most popular Melbourne day trips to help you decide if they would make a good addition to your next visit.
You can use public transport for a couple of these trips or better yet rent a car and explore at your own pace. Are you travelling on a budget? There are plenty of excellent tour operators and some wonderful backpacker/small group tours available at affordable prices.
Whether you want to book a tour, take the train, or have a car, you can easily visit all these regions.
The most popular places to visit on day trips from Melbourne
There are some great tours around – my advice, choose the smaller eco-certified operators for a better experience. Better still, hire a car and do it yourself; these are all pretty straightforward drives. Some can even be reached using public transport. Where this is possible, I have included details.
- Sovereign Hill Ballarat – the best day tour for history lovers
- The Great Ocean Road – best drive for coastal views
- Phillip Island Penguin Experience – best fun for families
- Puffing Billy and the Dandenong Ranges – great for kids and trainspotters
- The Grampians – waterfalls and walks.
- The Yarra Valley – the best choice for food and wine lovers
- Mornington Peninsula – best for beach or wine lovers
Ballarat – Learn about the Gold rushes
Heaven for history lovers
Gold was discovered in Victoria in the 1850s, and soon after, people rushed from around the world to make their fortune. As evidenced by the grand hotels and homes, some did, but many went home more impoverished than before.
Many Chinese miners were included in the influx, and the area now houses a couple of beautiful old Chinese Joss Houses.
The main attraction here, though, is Sovereign Hill. I have visited twice in the last few years and enjoyed it. It’s about an hour and a half by car, or you can take a train and shuttle bus. Once there, you can experience what it was like to live in the 1850s, visit the reconstructed campsites and try a little gold panning.
What you find you can keep when fossicking at Sovereign Hill – Sadly all I found was dust 😉
Once you have struck it lucky, wander down the old main street and visit some of the shops and village business who will be more than happy to take your money. We loved the blacksmith and the schoolhouse.
Sovereign Hill is the best living history museum in Victoria. Along with the daytime activities, they also offer two evening experiences, a tour by lamplight and a show called Aura that tells the story of Australia’s most famous rebellion. These make an overnight stay very appealing.
You can explore Ballarat in a day or stay overnight. Try one of the grand old pubs in the area. We stayed at Craigs Royal Hotel, and it was an outstanding experience. Onsite accommodation is also offered at Sovereign Hill.
Getting there: Ballarat is 115km west of Melbourne, and the trip takes about 90 minutes by car or train.
Take the V-line from Southern Cross Station. Bus number 21 will get you to Sovereign Hill in about 10 minutes. They also offer a shuttle bus in the mornings and afternoons.
Prefer someone else drives? This 9-hour tour includes a visit to Sovereign Hill, the Eureka Stockade and the rest of Ballarat.
The Great Ocean Road
It’s the most popular day trip for a reason.
The Twelve Apostles – well, the eight apostles really, even when they were named there was not a complete dozen, are the most popular day trip from Melbourne.
The Great Ocean Road is breathtakingly beautiful – I was worried that the real sight would not live up to all the beautiful postcard images of rocks bathed in sunlight or beautiful ocean sunsets.
Recommended Tour: If you don’t have a car or are not comfortable driving on the left, then I recommend you a day choose a small coach company. We can recommend this one which does the itinerary in reverse helping you avoid much of the traffic. I had a fantastic day out with them.
Getting there: You will need a car or a tour to visit as public transport just won’t work out.
If you have the time consider a two-day stay and spend the night in Port Campbell.
Puffing Billy, Emerald and the Dandenong Ranges
A must for train enthusiasts and families
The Puffing Billy Steam train runs through the Dandenong Ranges from Belgrave to Glenbrook. It is over 100 years old, and very enthusiastic volunteers maintain the railway, carriages, engines and station.
Emerald is an easy day trip from Melbourne that can be done by public transport or as part of a long day out if you have access to a car. It’s a fun journey for families but a lovely day out for couples too. As the steam pours from the front engine and the whistle blows, it’s easy to feel like you have been taken back in time to another era.
Once you board the train, aim to get a seat on the right-hand side as it has the best views. You are allowed to dangle your legs from the train, which has no glass in the windows, which is fun but does mean it can get cold in winter.
You can choose to stop at Emerald if you are short of time, or Lakeside, where the is a lake and picnic area or continue the entire journey to Glenbrook, where there is a pub and some shops.
Getting there: The drive from Melbourne takes about an hour, depending on traffic. There is a train service from Flinders Street to Belgrave.
A few tour operators run trips that include Puffing Billy if you don’t have a car
- Puffing Billy Heritage Steam Train & Dandenong Ranges – This tour includes a Devonshire Tea, a train ride, Sherbrooke Forest and the village of Sassafras
- Puffing Billy & Healesville Sanctuary Scenic Bus Tour – this option combines Puffing Billy with time at Healesville Sanctuary and a tasting at Yarra Valley Chocolates
Phillip Island and the Fairy Penguins
Should you go and see the little penguins?
The Philip Island Penguin tour is one of Melbourne’s best known day/afternoon tours, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. I have been twice, once with young kids and once without.
If you are travelling with children, it’s a fun family day trip; however, if you are not a huge animal lover or have seen penguins before, it’s a long way to go to watch them run up the beach.
Don’t get me wrong, they are amazing, and the area is beautiful, but if you have limited time, I think there are better choices.
If you want to see the cute little creatures, there are quite a few other sites nearby that can be combined with a visit to the penguins to make it a full day out. Check the official Phillip Island Tourism page to explore more about the area.
Getting there: The journey by car takes just under 2 hours. The trip can be made by public transport, but it requires quite a substantial amount of mucking about and is only really recommended for the serious budget traveller.
Check out this tour these recommended tours to Phillip Island if you don’t have a car:
- Healesville Sanctuary & Phillip Island Wildlife Park Bus Tour – You will spend time at Healesville Sanctuary, visit Nobbies Lookout & Boardwalk and enjoy the Phillip Island Penguin Parade on this 12 hour day tour.
- French Island and Phillip Island Wildlife Tour – An 11 hour day tour of French and Phillip Island will give you the chance to spot koalas in their natural habitat, see Australia’s largest Fur Seal colony at The Nobbies and finish up with the Penguin Parade.
Calling all food and wine lovers
Only an hour northeast of Melbourne lay 300 vineyards and 70 plus cellar doors with dozens of great restaurants thrown in. The Yarra Valley is the most popular weekend getaway for locals from Melbourne; a trip to the Yarra Valley offers a lot more than pinot noir and sparkling wines. However, these alone are excellent reasons to visit.
Non-foodie stops to consider include; TarraWarra Museum of Art and the wonderful Healesville Sanctuary to meet native Australian wildlife and the beautiful Emerald Lake. The Yarra is also a popular place to go hot air ballooning.
Stop in at the visitors centre for more ideas on local attractions.
If you don’t have a car or would prefer someone else does the driving, check out these highly-rated tours.
- This Yarra Valley day tour visits two wineries, a cider house and a chocolatier and includes a delicious lunch.
- Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges Scenic Day Tour With Lunch – This tour allows you to visit some of the most beautiful parts of the valley and Dandenongs including Emerald Lake and includes a winery lunch and tasting.
Getting there: You can reach Lilydale and the Visitor’s centre in just under an hour by car. You can also take the train from Melbourne Central to Lilydale.
Stunning beaches, boardwalks and wine
The Peninsula is both a playground for suburban Melbournites and home to a pretty large population in its own right. The popular beachside towns of Portsea, Rosebud, Rye and Sorrento are perfect for a day trip out of the city.
Other worthy attractions are:
- Point Nepean National Park
- Arthurs Seat Eagle
- Peninsula Hot Springs
- Two Bays coastal walk
- McClelland Sculpture Park
Getting there: You can drive to the Mornington Peninsular in just 60 minutes from the centre of Melbourne.
If using public transport, take the train from Southern Cross Station to Frankston; from here, jump on the 788 bus for beaches further along the coast. It’s not too arduous.
Tours we recommend for exploring the Mornington Peninsula on a tour if you fancy sampling the region’s wines. These are two we recommend
- Mornington Peninsula Food & Wine Taste Trail – A good mix of food, art and scenery on this tour, including Point Leo Estate and Arthurs Seat.
- Mornington Peninsula Winery Tour with Lunch – If you prefer to stick to wine tasting this one will give you 4 wineries and a lovely lunch.
- Day Tour To Peninsula Hot Springs, Murray’s Lookout and Beach Boxes – If the hot springs caught your eye then this tour is a great choice with 2-3 hours spent at the springs.
An open range zoo with an African theme Werribee is as close as you can get to being on Safari without leaving the country.
There is also an Australian trail giving international visitors a chance to meet Kangaroos, emus, brolgas and koalas.
Getting to Werribee: You can drive to the zoo in about 40 minutes from the centre of Melbourne. If using public transport, take the train from Flinders Street and then join the 439 bus.
Walks, waterfalls and indigenous culture
Head 2 hours south-west of Melbourne to the Grampians, where you will find a fantastic landscape with several highlights, including Boorka Lookout, Mackenzie Falls, and indigenous rock art.
The area is famous for hiking and climbing, and many local tour operators can provide activities like these.
Getting to Werribee: It’s a 2-3 hour trip from central Melbourne to the region.
Public transport is possible, but you would probably want to be staying overnight to make it worthwhile.
Check out more of our Melbourne content.
- Where to Stay in Melbourne
- A Sports Lovers Guide to Exploring Melbourne
- Two Days on the Great Ocean Road
- Explore Melbourne on Foot
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First published March 2020, fully updated March 2021