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Victoria is Australia's second smallest state, covering an area roughly the size of Britain. It hugs the tip of Australia's east coast and has a decidedly clement climate. Packed into this relatively compact area is a wealth of diverse natural attractions, from national parks and forests teeming with wildlife to wineries, lakes and mountains offering skiing, climbing and hiking. Best of all, many of Victoria's unique and varied landscapes are easily accessible as day trips from the state capital of Melbourne. In fact, weekend getaways and outdoor adventures are cornerstones of Victorian culture, giving the state a fun, touristy feel year-round courtesy of the adventurous locals.
There is also lots of cultural excitement to be had, with art galleries, museums and unique architectural landmarks to enjoy. Victoria has a very full events calendar, with lots of music concerts, a diverse range of festivals, and lots of opportunities to enjoy the high-quality performing arts of Australia.
Between the well-signposted tourist routes, the proliferation of characterful country towns, the wealth of outdoor activities and adventures, and the impressive variety of attractions in Melbourne alone, visitors to Victoria are sure to be swamped by exciting opportunities.
Victoria is chock full of tourist attractions, with Melbourne providing a slew of worthy urban sightseeing opportunities, and the state's scores of national parks promising a varied playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
Within Melbourne, top tourist attractions include Federation Square, Queen Victoria Market, the lofty Eureka Tower, Melbourne Zoo, Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), and a wealth of museums and galleries.
There are about 45 protected wilderness areas in Victoria, encompassing glorious rainforests, high mountains, and pristine stretches of coastline. The most popular national parks in Victoria include Dandenong Ranges National Park, Grampians National Park, Wilson's Promontory National Park, Mornington Peninsula National Park, Alpine National Park, and Tarra Bulga National Park.
Victoria is celebrated as an agricultural gem, with some splendid wineries and great local produce. This rich farming heritage contributes to the gourmet culture, and foodies should be sure to experience the vineyards, restaurants and farms of the state. History buffs will also enjoy exploring the Gold Rush towns of Victoria, with the chance to take some underground tours of the old mines.
This cottage was originally built in the village of Great Ayton in Yorkshire, England, in 1755, by James and Grace Cook, the parents of Captain James Cook. When the cottage was offered for sale in 1933 it was bought by a prominent Melbourne businessman, Sir Russell Grimwade. He arranged for it to be taken apart brick by brick and transported via ship and train to Melbourne. In early 1934 the cottage was rebuilt on its present site in Fitzroy Gardens, East Melbourne. Even the ivy that adorns the cottage was cut from the original plants in England. Today it provides visitors with the opportunity to glimpse what life was like in 18th-century England, a slightly surreal experience in modern Australia. The historic building also provides audio-visual exhibitions about Captain Cook's life and adventures.
A visit to Melbourne would not be complete without a good look at its main river system, the Yarra River. Often the subject of jokes due to its brownish colour, it is actually not dirty, just muddy. The Yarra has become the focus of much development in the central business district, with many new buildings, walks and parks having been created along its banks in recent years, including the relatively new Riverside Park. For the best view of the Yarra River walk to Princes Bridge, St Kilda Road, or take a cruise along the river from Princes Walk (below Princes Bridge). Otherwise, simply enjoy a stroll or a picnic on the riverbank in one of the public parks.
Victoria's oldest surviving remand prison gives visitors a chilling insight into prison life in a model 19th-century gaol. Behind the thick and forbidding walls Ned Kelly, the infamous bushranger, was one of 135 men and women who were hanged on the gaol's scaffold. Visitors can view the Hangman's Box, the Particulars of Execution book, and other exhibits relating to this grim period of Victoria's history, as well as the death masks used in the study of phrenology to predict criminal behaviour. The Women in Prison exhibition reveals the fascinating stories of the crimes committed by the female inmates. There are free performances every Saturday of , and night performances on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday with hangman 'Michael Gately' as he recounts stories of the gaol by candlelight (not for the faint hearted or children under 12 years of age).
Agnes Falls, at 194ft (59m), are the highest single span waterfalls in Victoria. The falls are situated 100 miles (160km) southeast of Melbourne, near Toora on the South Gippsland Highway. The Agnes Falls Scenic Reserve protects a small remnant of the forests that once covered the Stzrelecki Ranges. The canopy of eucalyptus provides food and nesting areas for a variety of birds, including the laughing Kookaburra and a range of honeyeaters. All plants and animals in the reserve are protected, and camping is not permitted; however, taking along a picnic is a wonderful idea as there is a picturesque picnic site on the banks of the Agnes River. There are designated walking trails which allow visitors to take in the beautiful landscapes and the best of the falls.
At Cowes, racing enthusiasts enjoy visiting the Phillip Island Circuit, originally opened in 1956, which annually hosts two international motorcycle events, the Superbike World Championship and the Qantas Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix. The Circuit has a Visitor Centre, which includes informative displays on the history of motor sport on Phillip Island, a circuit viewing area, a café, water gardens and wildlife enclosures. Guided walking tours take visitors to off-limits areas around the track, including the winner's podium, the pit lane and the control tower. Visitors may also experience an adrenaline-pumping triple lap ride with an experienced racing driver in the HSV Hot Laps.
The Promontory (known as 'the Prom') once linked Tasmania to the mainland. It has been a reserved area since 1898, with its 80 miles (130km) of coastline framed by vast granite masses, mountains, forests and fern gullies. The focus for tourism and recreation is at Tidal River, about 19 miles (30km) inside the park boundary, where visitors enjoy the sandy beach at Norman Bay, and Squeaky Beach with its pure white quartz sand. It is possible to walk up Mt Oberon or take 'the Prom Lighthouse Trek' with a ranger along the southern section of the park. The north of the park, including Barry Creek, is a wilderness area which remains remarkably untouched by humankind and can only be accessed on foot. Hikers wanting a true wilderness experience can stay overnight in this area, but there are no amenities and everything needed must be carried in.
The Eureka Tower is the tallest building in Melbourne and the tallest residential building in the world, standing at just over 984ft (300m) tall, and offering 360-degree views over the city. There is a public observation deck on level 88, the Skydeck, which affords visitors with a head for heights a testing experience: a chance to be suspended above the city in a glass cube (The Edge) that juts out from the building by 10ft (3m) to hang out over the city far below. On entry into the cube, the glass is frosted and moves out over the edge of the building, but as soon as the cube is in place the glass unfrosts to the sound of smashing glass, revealing the city far below. The Edge is not included in the Skydeck Experience and requires an additional payment, but it is definitely worth it for those wanting extreme views!
A fascinating museum complex situated in the Carlton Gardens, the Melbourne Museum is the largest in Australia, with more than 30 different exhibits covering history, culture, science, animals and more. Its most notable galleries include the Bunjilaka, which explores the history of Aboriginal culture in Victoria; the Science and Life Gallery, focusing on insects and spiders, the marine world and Australia's local flora and fauna; and the Children's Museum, housed in a tilted cube, which offers colourful and interactive displays. Opened in 2000, the Melbourne Museum is a showcase of modern exhibition standards, with a three-dimensional Imax theatre screening documentary films and a resourceful public research centre, where visitors can investigate any subject they wish.
Occupying a whole city block, Federation Square is one of Melbourne's major attractions. A remarkable cultural nucleus, the square hosts more than 2,000 events a year in its outdoor public spaces, St Paul's Court and The Square, and vibrant covered space, the Atrium. Renowned for its unique design, the triangular shapes that characterise Federation Square actually create an abstract map of the Australian Federation. Affording spectacular views of the city, Southbank and the Yarra River, visitors can not only explore the peculiar design of this cultural precinct, but also visit the many galleries, cinemas, museums, restaurants and shops that surround it, most notably the Ian Potter Centre and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
If you are planning a picnic at Birrarung Marr or the Botanic Gardens or just looking for some affordable souvenirs, head to the Queen Victoria market, one of the largest open-air markets in the Southern Hemisphere, with almost 50 percent of the market dedicated to the sale of fresh produce, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken, seafood, cold cuts and cheese. A popular meeting place for locals and foreigners, this cosmopolitan market is best visited on a Sunday when adjacent Queen Street is closed down and converted into a sidewalk café area, where buskers entertain passers-by and children's rides are available. Officially opened in 1878, the Queen Victoria Market has been affectionately frequented by Melbournians for more than 125 years and still proves to be the best place for perusing a myriad of clothing, shoes, jewellery, bric-a-brac, antique and toy stalls.
Housing more than 350 different animal species, Melbourne Zoo is a worthy attraction, even by the standards of a country famous for nature conservation and interesting animals. Built in 1862, certain areas of the zoo have been preserved as historic zones, demonstrating to visitors the significant changes the zoo has undergone. Famous for its endemic inhabitants such as the kangaroo, wallaby, koala and wombat, the zoo also has elephants in the Asian Rainforest area, a gorilla exhibit, an Orangutan Sanctuary and Butterfly House. Little more than two miles (4km) from Melbourne city centre the zoo is situated in a breath-taking botanic garden setting that extends 55 acres, including more than four different ecosystems and an impressive 70,000 plant specimens.
As suggested by the pun in its name, A Maze 'N Things is a theme park that specialises in mazes, tricks, puzzles, optical illusions and other ludic delights. The great strength of the establishment is that its exhibitions are aimed primarily at adults, and are of a high-enough quality to provide hours of entertainment to even the most jaded of theme park patrons. Truly discombobulating, the park's attractions are separated into four main sections: the Maze, a labyrinth of twisting, dead-ending passageways; Maxi Golf, a 19-hole putt-putt course that will bring even experienced golfers to their knees; Puzzle Island, an interactive area of challenges and illusions, including the Rotating Room and the 6.5-metre slide; and the pick of the bunch, the Illusions Rooms, where visitors will disbelieve their eyes, as they watch water flow uphill, watch themselves shrink, defy gravity, and even disappear. A Maze 'N Things is one of those rare places where everyone in the family - from grandfather to grandson - is pretty much guaranteed to have a great time, and is a highly recommend tourist attraction for family vacationers in Victoria.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is one of the most impressive stadia in the world, and is well worth a visit even for non-sporting types. Originally built in 1853 for the Melbourne Cricket Club (who are still based at the MCG), the stadium has undergone major redevelopments in its history and now stands as one of the most beautifully-finished, spectator-friendly grounds on earth. The MCG also houses the National Sports Museum, comprising the Olympic Museum, the Australian Sports Hall of Fame, the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame, and the Melbourne Cricket Club Museum, all of which contain interesting sporting memorabilia. The MCG is used for cricket in the summer (try catch a Boxing Day test match), Aussie Rules football in the winter, and for events like rock concerts and a host of other cultural events year-round.
Most of the state of Victoria is in the warm and temperate band of the southeast corner of Australia, with warm and dry summers and cool, wet winters; however, temperatures can vary widely within the state. The Australian Alps in the northeast have snow from June to September, while the eastern highlands, Gippsland and the Otway Ranges to the west receive the heaviest rainfall.
Melbourne has a moderate oceanic climate which is famously variable and well known for its four-seasons-in-a-day weather patterns, but generally June and July are the coldest months, January and February are the hottest, and October is the wettest time of year. In summer, between December and February, temperatures in Melbourne average between 55°F (12°C) and 78°F (25°C); and in winter, between June and August, temperatures in the city average between 42°F (6°C) and 59°F (15°C).
A long standing favourite in the Melbourne dining scene, Punch Lane has a warm brasserie atmosphere, with red leather seats, dark wooden tables and black boards scribbled with lists of wine available by the glass and daily specials. Loved for it's hefty selection of wines and charcuterie bar where a variety of different cured meats and cheeses can be chosen, Punch Lane is a great after work wind-down or pre-theatre rendezvous. With unpretentious food and an intimate atmosphere, this wine bar combines all the necessary elements to ensure a relaxing evening with quality food and wine in Melbourne's bustling theatre district. Open daily for lunch and dinner, except lunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
Something of a Melbourne institution, Syracuse is a restaurant not to be missed. The simple décor, unadorned white walls, classy dark antique tables and chairs, and lofty ceilings and arches, all combine to give this establishment a sophisticated look that is both colonial and Mediterranean. Start with fresh oysters or a crisp salad that is carefully put together, try out the thinly sliced tuna steak accompanied with a salad of lentils, tomato, carrot, shallot, herbs and olive oil, or sample the renowned myriad of tapas, all accompanied with a glass of wine from Syracruse's impressive selection. Open Monday to Friday for breakfast, lunch and dinner and dinner only on Saturday.
With ten years experience under its belt, the highly respected and loved Il Baraco restaurant enjoys a continuous influx of loyal customers who appreciate the carefully prepared traditional Italian food, the palatable selection of wines and sincere service. A quality Italian restaurant, situated in the heart of the business district, Il Baraco attracts both executives and lovers with an intimate ambiance, achieved with a classic combination of crisp white linen tablecloths, dark wooden chairs and soft lighting. Some highlights on the menu include the Yarra Valley quail roasted and served with pecorino ice cream and pomegranate salad starter and the Western Plains suckling pork marinated in grappa, served with black cabbage and vin cotto. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
For sushi lovers looking for a fix, Kenzan is a great place to take a group of friends or go on a romantic date. With unmistakable retro charm, patrons can dine at the sushi bar and watch their dinner being prepared or resign themselves to a traditional tatami room, where all the customs of an authentic Japanese evening can be enjoyed. Conducting business for over 25 years, Kenzan is recognised for its attention to detail and quality food. Choose from a wide selection of sushi or opt for a meal off the a la carte menu. For lunch a Bento Box is the best bet, comprising of sashimi, prawn dumplings, small appetizers and rice, all presented in a traditional Japanese box and served with miso soup. A good starter is the refreshing sugaki (fresh oysters with citrus flavoured ponzu vinegar) and a sake teriyaki (grilled salmon) as a main. Open for lunch Monday to Friday and dinner Monday to Saturday.
Circa is a sophisticated restaurant with a fashionable pink and white interior, lit by woven basket lights, and a lovely courtyard shaded by olive trees. The varied menu offers an array of dishes accompanied by fresh, home-grown vegetables; the tuna with red mullet and eggplant caviare, on toasted sourdough, followed by pheasant with rhubarb and ginger, is delicious! Open for breakfast daily, dinner Monday to Saturday and lunch on Sunday. Reservations essential.
Evoking images of a smoky bistro, where journalists and the like would discuss the days events, literature and politics, the dark walls, industrial windows and black leather of the renowned Press Club create a chic atmosphere with starched white tablecloths where patrons await the inventive products of master chef George Calombaris. Situated in the centre of Melbourne's metropolis, the Greek dishes served at The Press Club are by no means traditional. Expect to savour meals that are as of yet unheard of, a fusion of the old with the very new. With fresh ingredients that are creatively put together and beautifully presented, a visit to The Press Club is a gastronomic experience. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Friday and dinner Saturday and Sunday. Bookings recommended.
The famous lyre bird, which has the ability to mimic any other bird, is the most important inhabitant of the Dandenong Ranges National Park, just 25 miles (40km) from Melbourne via Burwood Highway or Canterbury Road. The park, covering 3,215 hectares, plays an important role in protecting the famous birds. Visitors enjoy walking, cycling and picnicking in the park at venues with enchanting names like Ferntree Gully, One Tree Hill or Sherbrooke Forest. The park is rich in wildlife and spectacular mountain ash forests and fern gullies are to be seen. The historic Puffing Billy steam train runs from Belgrave to Lakeside close to the park, and there are numerous craft shops, antique shops, gardens and restaurants in the area. Dandenong Ranges National Park allows visitors to escape from the bustle of Melbourne for a taste of the Australian wilderness just beyond the city.
This historic town of great elegance and charm is the gateway to the goldfields. The name is an Aboriginal word meaning 'resting place', which is well suited because a tranquil lake and botanical gardens are the focal point of the city. The main Avenue of Honour is lined with 4,000 trees as a memorial to citizens who served in World War I. The city is steeped in the history of the Gold Rush era. Visitors enjoy the Eureka Trail, a two-mile (3km) walk that retraces the route taken by the police and soldiers during the Australian rebellion of the Eureka stockade in 1854, and it is possible to undertake a self-guided Heritage Walk through the inner city's streets. Ballarat is also celebrated for its fresh produce, sold at farmer's markets which occur almost every weekend somewhere in the city.
From Melbourne one of the most popular self-drive routes for tourists to follow is the circular Great Southern Touring Route, which includes spectacular scenery and takes in some of Victoria's most beautiful, scenic and cultural attractions. The first part of the route hugs the coastline going south along the Great Ocean Road, renowned for its coastal scenery, passing lush Otways rainforests and on to the magnificent limestone rock sculptures known as the Twelve Apostles in the Port Campbell National Park. Other attractions along the Great Ocean Road include the historic villages of Port Campbell, Queenscliff, Portland and Port Fairy, as well as resort towns and coastal cities such as Torquay, Apollo Bay, Geelong and Warrnambool.
The lofty summits and ridgelines of the Grampians region provide inspiring natural beauty in a park that is home to a variety of habitats, unique wildlife and more than one third of all the plant species found in Victoria. The park is particularly well known for its colourful displays of springtime wildflowers, which are at their best during October. There is an abundance of wildlife in the lowlands, including emus, kangaroos, possums, koalas, wallabies and more than 200 species of bird. The park also has some interesting Aboriginal art sites among its 167,000 hectares of woodland, heath, swamp, forest and sub-alpine zones. There are campsites and some wonderful overnight walking trails in the park, as well as some shorter walks for those just wanting a pleasant stroll.
The Puffing Billy Railway is Australia's Oldest Steam Railway. A century old, the train still follows its original mountain track in the scenic Dandenong Ranges, offering spectacular mountain views and winding through cool fern gullies between Belgrave, Emerald Lake and Gembrook. The whole trip takes two hours in each direction. Tickets can be bought before boarding the train, which departs several times a day, but bookings are essential for the special luncheon or dinner trips, which include a meal in the first class carriage. The train sometimes hosts other fun events, like comedy nights. Family tickets are available and kids will love the novelty of travelling by steam train!
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