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Little penguins and big stadiums. Old trains and new museums. Fine arts and even finer wine. The state of Victoria is packed full of attractions that are well worth a visit, but these are the 10 you need to have at the top of your list.
This wine region is situated just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, making it Victoria’s ultimate escape from the city for fans of gourmet food and drink. Book a weekend at one of the Yarra Valley’s luxurious resorts and use it as your launchpad to explore the 100-plus cellar doors and sophisticated eateries that pepper the idyllic countryside. The Yarra Valley’s pinot noir is the signature of the region.
One of the other treats dished up by the Yarra Valley is one of the most well-preserved steam railways anywhere on Earth. Puffing Billy has been chugging through the Dandenong Ranges National Park for well over a century, giving families spectacular views of the leafy rainforest and fern gullies from the huge open windows of this charming heritage train.
Ignore the terrifying face that greets visitors to this St Kilda landmark – Victoria’s favourite amusement park is full of family fun. Overlooking the Port Phillip Bay foreshore, Luna Park has been entertaining crowds for more than a century with its rollercoasters, Ferris wheel, ghost train, mirror mazes, Coney Island attractions, carnival games and the eyeball-popping Pharaoh’s Curse pendulum.
Victoria’s frosty climate doesn’t chill the surfing culture in Torquay, a town at the start of the Great Ocean Road that bills itself as the Surfing Capital of Australia. Torquay is the birthplace of legendary Aussie surf brands Rip Curl and Quiksilver, as well as the host of the Rip Curl Pro every Easter Weekend when the world’s best boardriders converge on Bells Beach, a scenic strip of sand worth seeing any time of year.
Keep cruising along the Great Ocean Road until you reach the 12 Apostles, a series of towering limestone stacks that rise out of the Southern Ocean. Complementing the rugged Victorian coastline, these striking rock pillars are at their best at sunset when they lose their yellow glow and dramatically darken. Loch Ard Gorge is another compulsory photo opportunity on the Great Ocean Road.
The NGV is Australia’s oldest, largest and most-visited art museum, dragging big crowds through its doors since way back in 1861. The gallery is split across two locations – the iconic NGV International in the Southbank arts precinct, and the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia in Federation Square, a modern gallery opened in 2002 to shine a spotlight on more than 20,000 works by local Aussie artists.
Melbourne’s art isn’t confined to the NGV – colourful murals are splattered all across the city, particularly trendy neighbourhoods such as Fitzroy and Collingwood. There are a number of inner-city laneways – Centre Place, AC/DC Lane and Presgrave Place, to name a few – that are especially photogenic, but the cobblestoned Hosier Lane is the most popular, with paint caking every inch of available concrete.
The biggest attraction on Phillip Island is some very little penguins. Every evening at dusk after a long day fishing at sea, a resident colony of fairy penguins waddles across the sand of Summerland Beach to return to their burrows. These adorable little birds do it all in front of a crowd of a few hundred admirers perched on the viewing platforms of Penguin Parade, as well as a lucky handful of spectators who get a front-row seat from an underground vantage point.
Regional Victoria was Gold Rush and bushranger country during the 1850s, and you can wind back the clock to those colonial days in Ballarat, 90 minutes west of Melbourne. Sovereign Hill is an entertaining open museum that immerses visitors in the gold mining experience with street theatre by the troupe of costumed characters, as well as the glitzy new light show ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’ each evening.