Tourists often feel they have to take day tours or hire a car to visit tourist attractions outside Melbourne. Not so. Most of the best attractions are accessible by using trains and buses — if you know how. Here are DIY trips using public transport in my home city. Fares start at under $5 (U.S.). Regional trips range from $27 to $40 one way. When you organize outings yourself you won’t feel herded or have to share the views with other bobbing heads.
1. Dandenong Ranges
The Dandenong Ranges can feel like a world away with “Mountain Ash,” the world’s tallest flowering plant, fern gullies, tinkling streams, and forest walks.
It’s not. The area is part of metropolitan Melbourne. Trains run every 30 minutes and the journey takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
From central Melbourne, catch a train to Belgrave Station, a small township in the Dandenong Ranges. Walk 5 minutes to Puffing Billy Station, a famous narrow-gauge heritage railway. Operating since 1900, Puffing Billy Railway was one of four low-cost narrow-gauge lines built in the early 1900s to transport goods to remote communities.
Instead, holidaymakers came from Melbourne to take the train for weekend getaways.
The steam train huffs and puffs along the 15 miles of line from Belgrave to Gembrook and return. The journey takes in the southern reaches of Sherbrooke Forest, a temperate rainforest with giant ferns and trestle bridges spanning gaping gullies.
The Puffing Billy ride from Belgrave to Lakeside (return) takes 3 hours, with an hour spent at Lakeside. Or Belgrave to Gembrook (return) is 5.5 hours with 2 hours at Gembrook.
Belgrave, followed by an iconic ride on Puffing Billy, is the easiest way to access the Dandenong Ranges. Another option is to approach the Ranges from the Ferntree Gully side. Either walk into the forest from the Upper Ferntree Gully Station or take bus 688 across the top of the mountain from Upper Ferntree Gully Station via the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road. Sit on the bus for a joyous and curvaceous drive with scenic views and stop at quaint villages. Or disembark at tourist attractions including William Ricketts Sanctuary, Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, 1000 Steps Walking Track, Cloudehill Garden & Nursery, and Miss Marples, a tearoom devoted to Miss Marple memorabilia.
Pro Tip: A time-honored tradition on Puffing Billy is sitting on the carriage sill and dangling one’s legs over the side.
2. Werribee Park
Southwest of Melbourne is the Werribee Park Precinct, a cluster of world-class attractions. The most imposing is Werribee Park Mansion, one of Victoria’s most opulent historical properties, with 60 rooms. Wander the formal gardens and heritage orchard. Smell the roses at the State Rose Garden of Victoria. Entry to the gardens is free. Mansion and garden audio tours cost about $5.
Lancemore Mansion Hotel Werribee Park offers meals, Sunday high teas, and an excellent day spa. Visit the bar or lobby for a drink in ritzy surroundings. Shadowfax Winery, an architecturally designed cellar door with award-winning wines and Mediterranean-inspired meals, is about a 14-minute walk.
Come face-to-face with a pride of lions and visit one of the world‘s largest gorilla exhibits at Werribee Open Range Zoo. The entry fee includes safari tours through the savanna amongst herds of rhinos, giraffes, and zebras. Stay overnight on a Slumber Safari in luxury lodges. Australia has some unforgettable overnight zoo experiences!
Catch a train from the Melbourne CBD to Werribee Station (on the Werribee Line). Outside the station, catch Bus 439 Werribee South to the Zoo. The total journey takes 1.2 hours.
3. Healesville Sanctuary
Locals take their international visitors to Healesville Sanctuary in the Yarra Valley to meet Australian wildlife such as koalas, kangaroos, wombats, emus, and platypuses.
Enjoy the zookeeper talks about koalas and kangaroos and walk amidst grazing kangaroos. The flight presentation featuring the wedge-tailed eagle is spectacular.
Take the Lilydale Line from central Melbourne. Lilydale is at the end of the train line, and you’ll be in the countryside lined with vineyards. Catch bus 685 outside the station. A bus change may be required depending on the day. The trip takes around 2.4 hours.
Pro Tip: A Zoobus from central Melbourne is a dearer but quicker option.
4. Sovereign Hill, Ballarat
Ballarat is a charming regional city with a heritage streetscape. One of my favorite experiences is the Art Gallery of Ballarat near the station.
Sovereign Hill is a historic park recreating the history of the 1850s goldfields. Over 200 volunteers dressed in historical costumes and Cobb and Co. carriages roll down the main street. Go gold panning in the creek — enough flecks of gold put in daily to keep the activity interesting. See $150,000 worth of molten gold poured into a gleaming bar. Tour an underground mine and visit the shops, hotels, and a theater on Main Street — all based on original Ballarat businesses. A favorite for most is the old-fashioned candy store.
From Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station, hop on the V Line train. The journey to Ballarat takes 90 minutes. Catch the bus on route 9 to Sovereign Hill. Route 16 takes you to the famous Botanic Gardens, Lake Wendouree, and the Tramways Museum.
Pro Tip: Check out these itineraries.
Bendigo is also a historic gold rush town. Today, gold comes from the tourists who flock here by train. Bendigo Art Gallery’s blockbuster exhibitions are a huge drawcard. They explore the history of fashion, design, and influential style icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Balenciaga, and Mary Quant. The present exhibition is Elvis Presley: Direct from Graceland, with vintage memorabilia and treasured items from his Graceland home, including his wedding tuxedo and Priscilla’s bridal gown. Priscilla Presley visited Bendigo to launch the exhibition.
Walk Bendigo’s fine Victorian heritage streetscape. Ride a vintage tram or meet Sun Loong, the world’s longest imperial dragon. Rejoice in the local produce and wines. Bendigo was deemed a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2019.
Pro Tip: See TravelAwaits’ Reasons This Australian City Is A Must-Stop For Foodies.
Geelong is Victoria’s second-largest city, known for its waterfront, including public artworks, landscaped gardens, and restaurants. It is a UNESCO City of Design, with great buildings, galleries, and boundless creativity.
From 2023, Geelong will be the new home of the Spirit of Tasmania (the passenger/car ferry to Tasmania).
Geelong is the gateway to the famous Great Ocean Road. For more great things to do in Geelong, visit TravelAwaits’ Geelong, the Gateway to Australia’s Great Ocean Road.
Trains run between Southern Cross Station Melbourne and Geelong every 10 minutes during peak hours and regularly throughout the day.
Pro Tip: Take the new ferry service from Docklands Melbourne to Geelong’s waterfront for a leisurely outing. See Port Phillip Ferries.
7. Wineries Mornington Peninsula And Yarra Valley
Many travelers keep wine bucket lists. The Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley are often on those lists. As the wineries are spread out, it would be complicated to reach them by public transport.
A new service, Hop It, is a good option. The small bus leaves from central Melbourne. You travel independently from the other people on board, deciding when to hop on and off.
The stops aren’t just wineries but breweries and distilleries with a smattering of tourist venues to explore the area. I’ve been to most selected places, so realize there are some gems. Pt Leo Estate offers wine tasting and a sculpture trail with ocean views. Red Gum BBQ serves beer flights and fires up some of the best American barbecue in Australia. The owner trained at Southern Soul BBQ in St Simons Island, South Georgia. TarraWarra Estate is a significant modern art gallery as well as a winery. Domaine Chandon’s was founded by Champagne house Moët and Chandon. A great place to sip sparkling, looking out at rows of vines with dramatic arched windows framing the view.
A Hop It day costs between $45 and $55.
8. Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park
This begins our bonus section of destinations further afield. Visiting the Grampians National Park is not a day trip. Even getting here by car takes over 3 hours. The area is heritage-listed for its Aboriginal heritage and natural beauty, including impressive cliffs, deep gorges, fantastic weathered rock, wildflowers, and wildlife. Enjoy world-famous hiking trails, waterfalls, and craggy mountain panoramas. Find more on the Grampians region here.
Buses arrive in the village of Halls Gap, where there is a range of accommodation from budget to luxury. Several trails can be accessed directly from Halls Gap. Venus Baths Loop is 1.5 miles and wheelchair accessible. Chautauqua Peak Loop passes through forest to the foot of Clematis Falls. Climb to the summit for stunning views over a 2.5-hour hike, or there are shorter options to the base of the falls of an hour return.
Catch a train from Spencer Street Station to Ararat with coach connections to Halls Gap. Even the most direct service takes 3 hours and 23 minutes. Plan your journey here. Transport one way is $28.
Pro Tip: A private bus service Grampians Direct does the journey for a similar price with pickups in Melbourne and returns.
Warrnambool is a charming coastal city with fabulous beaches. There’s lots of great street art, a thriving food scene, and seafaring history at Flagstaff Hill. The attractions are spread out, but it’s possible to explore this vibrant coastal city by public bus. You can reach Cheese World in Allansford, Proudfoots Boathouse on the Hopkins River, the Breakwater, and Thunder Point for crashing ocean views.
Between June and September, female southern right whales come to the waters of Warrnambool’s Logans Beach to calve. The whales often swim within 300 feet offshore. There is a viewing platform at Logan’s Beach.
Buses also go to local villages such as Koroit, Australia’s most complete example of an early Irish settlement. Further along the same route, Tower Hill is an extinct volcano where you can stroll amongst emus, koalas, and kangaroos. Port Fairy is a charming fishing village and home to one of Australia’s best-loved folk festivals.
Trains to Warrnambool depart Melbourn four times a day and from Geelong. The journey takes 3 hours and 26 minutes.
Pro Tip: It’s possible to reach Warrnambool by the Great Ocean Road over one day or many. See TravelAwaits’ How To Enjoy Australia’s Great Ocean Road Using Only Local Transport.
Hotels Close To Melbourne Stations
Melbourne’s City Loop is a mostly-underground subway connecting our two busiest stations, Flinders Street and Southern Cross. The stations you need to know about for organizing day trips.
The airport shuttle bus (Skybus) and Vline regional public transport (trains and buses) depart from Southern Cross Station.
Near Southern Cross, I’d recommend staying at Holiday Inn Express Melbourne Little Collins, a 2-minute walk away. Ask for a room with a view of the Beyonce-inspired tower (official name: The Premier Tower) for an interesting curvaceous sight to wake up to.
Near Flinders Street Station is Rendezvous Hotel Melbourne, a boutique heritage hotel. While moderately priced, it feels like staying in an exclusive club. There are views over the Yarra River. This hotel is a short walk to the Arts Precinct and the floating restaurants and alfresco dining lining the Yarra. See TravelAwaits’ 9 Unique Melbourne Experiences That Locals Love.
Voco Melbourne Central is a new hotel with sweeping city skyline views. Love shopping? This is close to the Emporium and Bourke Street Mall and a 3-minute walk from Melbourne Central Station (one of three underground stations on the City Loop). The station is inside Melbourne Central Shopping Centre, home to 300 retailers. This state-of-the-art hotel has cutting-edge design and a lighting system that responds to the natural cycle of light. Openable windows are available in each of the 252 rooms!
For more on Melbourne, check out these articles: