Welcome to Victoria’s second-largest city! Jump in the rental car, head down the M1 and you’ll arrive in Geelong in just over an hour. Then it’s all laid out before you: beaches, restaurants, cultural attractions and, if you explore a little further, wineries and producers. That’s why this is an incredibly popular day trip from Melbourne. Here are just a few of the things to do in Geelong.
With its views over Corio Bay and location just a few minutes’ walk from the Geelong CBD, it should come as no surprise that the city’s waterfront, with its gently bobbing yachts, playgrounds, public artworks, and gardens, is its number-one attraction.
Stoll along the promenade and check out the bollard sculptures painted to represent characters from the city’s past. There’s also a historical steam-driven carousel complete with hand-carved wooden horses, now housed in a glass pavilion to protect it from the elements. Originally built in 1892, it’s only one of 200 of its type left operational in the world.
Not far along, you’ll come to Eastern Beach Reserve with its Art Deco boardwalk and shark-proof sea baths built during the 1930s. There’s a shallow kids’ pool, fountain and diving platform making this a popular spot-on sunny summer day, but even during winter you can join people swimming laps. The original change rooms have been completely refurbished and transformed into a stylish cafe called Pavilion. A table out the front is the best place in town for breakfast.
If you’re looking for a beach with surf, the wide stretch of sand at Ocean Grove Beach, about 30 minutes’ drive away on the Bellarine Peninsula, is worth the extra time in the rental car. You’ll be able to spread out a bit here, such is its expanse, and the waves are patrolled during summer, making it a safe bet for swimmers.
When you’re done swimming, Geelong Botanic Gardens are just a short stroll from Eastern Beach. Established in 1851, the 80-hectare site right on the coast has several themed gardens, plenty of colour and fragrance, and lush lawns just begging for a prepared day-tripper to arrive with a picnic basket.
While most visitors arrive from Melbourne seeking sun and surf, the Geelong Gallery is an excellent diversion. As well as visiting exhibitions, it has a permanent collection that includes artworks significant to the region and some well-known Australian pieces, including Frederick McCubbin’s A bush burial.
There’s more history on display at the National Wool Museum. Housed in a former woolshed made of local bluestone, its exhibitions focus on industry and human endeavour, including the important part sheep and wool played in the development of colonial Australia.
About 15 minutes in the rental car from the Geelong CBD, you can hunt for treasures at Geelong Vintage Market, where there are more than 60 stalls under the old sawtooth roof selling everything from rare vinyl records to retro furniture. It’s part of Federal Mills, an impressive series of former woolsheds that have been repurposed as a food, art, and tech hub. While you’re there, check out Anther Distillery – even if you’re driving you can buy a bottle of its excellent cherry gin for later – and Popcultcha Gallery, where you can check out a huge range of collectables, comics, books, prints, records and action figures.
You might not think Geelong would be a city that would satisfy foodies, but it punches well above its weight. Whether you prefer the cafe scene of Pakington Street or a slap-up lunch by the waterfront, it’s all here.
Right in the heart of the city is Little Malop Street, which has been completely revitalised by an array of excellent dining options for all tastes and budgets. An absolute favourite is Sober Ramen with its big bowls of hot, brothy noodles, but grab a table on the street at Tacos y Liquor and order a plate of the smashable tacos that come with a variety of fillings.
Taking up a corner position on Little Malop is Geelong Cellar Door. Here, you can sit down by the fire and enjoy a glass of locally produced wine with some cheese or choose a few bottles to take home.
If you’ve spent a couple of hours exploring Geelong Vintage Market, head to nearby cafe, The Pickers Union. Its funky, retro styling is instantly welcoming, and the menu includes a few dishes that could have come straight from an American diner. Pulled pork burger with Memphis BBQ sauce? Yes, please.
Want to treat yourself? Geelong is the home of Igni, one of Victoria’s most highly regarded restaurants, but it can be hard to get a booking, especially at short notice. Instead, head down to the waterfront to find La Cachette, a tiny French bistro where chef Matt Podbury turns out prix-fixe menus that are constantly changing to utilise the best produce available.
To explore Geelong and its surrounds, hire a rental car from Melbourne before you head off.