Pack your bag and go
Car-free, budget-savvy or simply prefer to travel sustainably? Pack your bag and travel by train, bus, ferry or bike from Melbourne to discover some of the best nature spots, eats and adventures in the regions. We've rounded up a few choice picks within an hour and a half (or so) of the city – so go solo, grab your mates or tag your new best friend from the bunk below for a day trip or a cheap 'n' easy weekender.
All train trips depart from Melbourne's Southern Cross Station.
Zip up by train into Victoria's historic Goldfields to artistic Castlemaine. A 10-minute walk puts you in the heart of the town, where wide streets are lined with historic gold-rush-era architecture. First stop, explore the collection and rotating shows at Castlemaine Art Museum, and look out for a variety of independent artists' studios dotted around town.
Castlemaine has a large cohort of writers, artists and musos in residence. Join the creative vibe over coffee and brunch at Run Rabbit Run (24 Hargreaves Street), then scour the vintage goods for a bargain at The Mill and Castlemaine Vintage Bazaar. For the lowdown on Victoria's micro-winery scene, slip into Boomtown Wine at The Mill for a tasting. Then go for the grain: prop yourself up at Shedshaker Brewing's The Taproom for beer, vegan and vegetarian friendly pizza, and live music on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons.
For a rocking night out, book a ticket for a touring live music gig at the Theatre Royal, or chill in the Bridge Hotel beer garden for relaxed tunes and pub grub.
Getting there Bendigo V/Line train to Castlemaine Station; 90 minutes.
Dandenong Ranges National Park
Pull on your walking shoes, pack water, snacks and a warmer layer and head for a day of memorable traipsing through lush, green forests and fern glades east of Melbourne. It's an easy 10- to 15-minute slip into the stunning Dandenong Ranges National Park on foot from Upper Ferntree Gully Station. For a gulp of fresh air, tackle the peaceful, fairly steep Lyrebird Track (4.8km return) up the mountain to One Tree Hill. There's a cafe for caffeinating before you start, and picnic areas among the trees at the top.
For more foresting fun without the effort, push on three stops to Belgrave Station and board Australia's oldest steam train, the beloved Puffing Billy. Rest your legs and view the Dandenong Ranges at a faster pace as you rattle over trestle bridges and through scenic bushland, ferny forest glades and tall mountain gums.
Getting there Belgrave line metro train to Upper Ferntree Gully; one hour.
Waterfront Geelong is Victoria's second city, a quick hop to the southwest of Melbourne. Geelong Gallery is just five minutes' walk from the train; the permanent collection and visiting exhibitions are worth exploring for iconic Australian and international works. Grab a coffee and a bite at the Public Cafe in the stunning architectural dome of the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre overlooking the park. For contemporary craft arts by local and regional makers, carry on to independent Geelong Art Space.
Time for a beachside jaunt. The Eastern Beach waterfront is the spot for carousel rides, a swim in the bay, a splash in the art deco pool, or an easy wander along the boardwalk. Check out the colourful art bollards and the Waterfront Art Trail along the way. Order fish and chips at the Geelong Boat House – take away and eat on the sands or grab a spot on the breezy upper deck (or inside by the fire if it's chilly).
Hang out at Sailors' Rest beer garden for drinks and catch a sports match on telly. Plan ahead to catch an AFL footy game at GMHBA Stadium, home of the Geelong Cats, or a live gig around town. If you're keen for a splurge, head down Little Malop Street for top-notch vino and eats. Finally, say cheers over craft brews and cocktails with the rock-loving crew at Manhattan Bar.
Getting there Geelong V/Line Train to Geelong Station; 70 minutes.
This one involves a bit of pedal power but is a stunning way to explore. Jump on the train to Lilydale, where you can join everyone from lycra-clad pros to families with young kids on the Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail. BYO own bicycle or arrange hire from warburtonbikehire.com.au – book in advance to collect your wheels from Gracious Grace Cafe in Lilydale.
The ranges and valleys are yours to explore on a 40-kilometre trail through bushland, farmland and forest. Ride – or walk – the length of the trail to the lovely mountain village of Warburton. Trailside cafes dot the way to keep the espresso levels up, including a 100-year-old train carriage cafe in Seville. Cruising is scenic and easy to moderate, with a few steep sections thrown in for excitement.
Relinquish your wheels at the Cog Bike Cafe and stay the night in town. Warburton's pub and ample cafes will sort your dinner and brunch. Don't miss coffee and pastries at local roasters Silva. Browse arts, crafts and local produce at the Valley Market on the first Sunday of the month, stretch your calves on a walk to La La Falls, wander the pretty riverside walk, and catch a flick in the tiny cinema. Bike back to Lilydale or take the bus (one hour).
Getting there Lilydale Line metro train to Lilydale Station, plus pedal power to Warburton; train one hour – the rest is up to you.
A dose of salt air and surf culture is within easy reach in Torquay on the Surf Coast at the start of the famous Great Ocean Road.
Watch the world's most awesome surfers tackle the waves during the Rip Curl Pro at Easter. Book yourself in for surfing lessons at the Torquay Surf Academy any time, or hit the swell at /regions/great-ocean-road/see-and-do/nature-and-wildlife/beaches-and-coastlines/vv-bells-beach if you're already seasoned on the board. A surf town at heart, Torquay has heaps of big-name surf shops to kit you out: Rip Curl, Quiksilver and more. For inspiration, visit the Australian National Surfing Museum.
Torquay's packed with cafes and craft breweries that are perfect in any weather – try Little Things Big Things for vegetarian eats and coffee. Say cheers at Sou'West Brewery and Bells Beach Brewing, and carb-load with a burger at /regions/great-ocean-road/eat-and-drink/restaurants/rocky-point-torquay.
This is stunning coastline, with incredible views from towering cliffs above the beach. Lace up and hike a stretch of the Surf Coast Walk to best experience both land and sea.
Getting there Geelong Line V/Line train to Geelong Station, then bus 50 or 51 to Torquay; two hours.
Daytrip by boat to glimpse Melbourne and Port Philip Bay from a different perspective. Depart Melbourne's Docklands on a ferry cruise across the glittering water, heading to Portarlington on the Bellarine Peninsula. Have the camera(phone) ready as you sail into your destination port, watching for dolphins, seals, birds and even whales in various seasons.
Disembark for a low-key day in the small, historic peninsula town of Portarlington, a mellow holiday spot renowned for its holiday vibe and super-fresh seafood. Watch the mussel boats at work, and try mussels, oysters and chowder from the Little Mussel Cafe or Pier Street. Sweeten things with an ice cream and a stroll along the pier or rockwall, where fishers drop their lines for the daily catch.
Take a dip in the sheltered turquoise bay, sprawl with a book on the soft sand or stroll the foreshore, gazing out at the distant Melbourne skyline. Bring your bicycle over on the ferry for free or book a bike with Bella e-Bike – it's a pretty ride along the Esplanade to Indented Head and St Leonards, or take on a stretch of the Bellarine Rail Trail that cuts a scenic path between Geelong and Queenscliff.
Getting there Port Phillip Ferries service from Docklands to Portarlington; 80 minutes.