Victoria’s second largest city is just an hour’s drive from Melbourne.
One of Australia’s busiest ports, Geelong grew rapidly in the mid-19th century, serving the West End wool industry and the Victorian gold rush.
The Port of Geelong continued to thrive, but the city’s waterfront on Corio Bay declined in the 20th century until it was reimagined as a tourist hub in the 1990s.
The waterfront has peaceful green parks on its foreshore, as well as beaches and elevated lookouts where you can enjoy views of the bay and kilometres.
In Geelong’s revival, fine old industrial buildings have taken on new roles as museums, breweries, arts venues and residences.
1. Geelong Waterfront
After decades of decline, Geelong’s Bay had a post-industrial feel by the 1990s, but that was swept away in a decade-long redevelopment project.
As a sign of this shift, most of the projects on this list are located on or near the waterfront.
On your way, you’ll come across the Baywalk Bollards, sculptures related to Geelong’s history and identity, carved by artist Jan Mitchell from reclaimed timber pier towers in the 90s.
The Royal Geelong Yacht Club, dating back to 1859, and the 19th-century carousel are both here, which we’ll cover below.
Between the carousel and Cunningham Quay is a small pier with Geelong’s floating Christmas tree that casts stunning projections every night.
Adjacent to Marina Park is a mix of new developments and historic buildings, and across from Steampacket Gardens are numerous seafood restaurants and cafes.
2. Eastern Beach Reserve
It is almost impossible to imagine what this peaceful seaside strip looked like in the 19th century.
The cliffs at the time were razed in the 1920s, and the project produced a mile-long seawall, an enclosed saltwater swimming pool, diving towers, terraced lawns, a children’s playground and a boardwalk.
This was all improved in the 1990s’ redevelopment plan.
You can visit the reserve for free, take advantage of the extensive facilities, relax on the beach and climb the white steps of the Spanish Stairs on the hillside under cypress, pepper and palm trees.
3. Geelong Botanic Gardens
In Eastern Park, east between Corio Bay and Stingary Bay, is the city’s magnificent botanical garden, established in 1851. This makes them the fourth oldest botanical garden in the country, with several trees on the National Trust’s List of Significant Trees.
There is also heritage on the old avenue through the Gardens and East Park, as well as the Ladies Pavilion, Queen Victoria statue and fountain, all relocated from the city centre.
By the way, there are conservatories, 21st century gardens, rose gardens, ferns, temperate gardens, walnut lawns and oak lawns.
Spend more time in the colors and foliage at Teahouse Cafe.
4. National Wool Museum
The Bluestone Wool Exchange, established near the Geelong seafront in 1872, is a fitting location for the National Wool Museum of Australia.
Woollen mills helped drive Geelong’s industrial growth in the early 20th century and are still part of the region’s economy.
In these galleries, you’ll travel back to the origins of the Australian wool industry in the 1840s and discover the journey of wool from sheep to store through shearing, grading, pressing and transport.
One of the museum’s exhibits is an Axminster Jacquard carpet loom dating from 1910 in working order.
An experienced rug weaver demonstrates the piece of equipment daily and works on the museum’s own “Manor Carpet”, which is sold in the store.
5. Geelong Gallery
In Johnstone Park, including Town Hall and the spectacular new library and heritage centre, the magnificent Geelong Gallery stands in a beautiful ensemble.
This renowned regional art gallery was established in 1895 and the current neoclassical building was completed in 1915. The museum’s collection contains more than 6,000 works by Australian and international artists from the 18th to 20th centuries.
Eugene von Guerard, Frederick McCubbin and Stanhope Forbes are all represented, and there are as many as six temporary exhibitions going on at any one time.
These also include contemporary art, photography and rare works from the collection.
Geelong Gallery also offers a lively calendar of lectures, visits, events and seminars.
6. Geelong Prison
The city’s high-security prison, just a few blocks from the bay, was built in the mid-19th century and is the best-preserved prison in Australia from this period.
Built of bluestone with a cruciform footprint, Geelong Gaol only closed in 1991, with notable prisoners including Mark “Chopper” Read.
In the museum, you can learn about the conditions inside the prison and learn about the men, women and unfortunate children who spent their time within these walls.
All the utensils and equipment of the prison are in place, as well as some items made by the prisoners themselves.
A grim climax is the original gallows, where you can spend a little time in solitude.
7. Steampacket Garden
Perhaps the most vibrant site on the Geelong waterfront is between Cunningham Quay and the Royal Geelong Yacht Club.
Along a few hundred meters, there is a welcoming meadow surrounded by palms and conifers.
This is another place to admire the whimsical painted bollards dotted along Geelong’s waterfront, where the main uniformed groups recall the Volunteer Rifle Bands in Geelong’s heyday during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Now set in the glass pavilion is the Carousel (1892), originally portable and steam powered and restored in the late 1990s when the Geelong waterfront was regenerated.
24 of the carousel’s 36 horses are original, each requiring 300 hours to restore.
8. Adventure Park
Geelong claims to be Victoria’s first, largest and arguably the best water park.
The Adventure Park has been around for over 25 years and contains more than 20 rides, with new rides appearing every season.
As we write this in 2020, the park has just unveiled a $4 million tsunami, 7.5 stories tall and 172 meters long, throwing you off the tunnels and funnel walls.
There was also a 204-meter tornado recently, and up to four riders at a time will experience zero gravity as they are pulled into the whirlpool.
But it’s not all about the action, as there are splash parks, miniature golf, pedal boats, Ferris wheels, kids’ trains and many more modest attractions for the little ones.
9. The old paper mill in Fyansford
In Geelong’s western suburbs, the century-old industrial heritage of Geelong has found new life as a cultural and arts precinct.
The fine industrial building of the old paper mill in Fyansford now houses art studios, a gallery and a café, with more planned.
Located on the Bayuan River, the site also incorporates some lovely natural beauty.
You can walk and bike to the rocky banks of the river to see the low, wide falls of Buckley Falls, most impressive after a shower.
10. Serendip Sanctuary
Head north from Geelong and you’ll find yourself in the volcanic western plains.
There is a wetland and grassy woodland that has been preserved and is open to visitors.
For a time, wetlands were used as a breeding ground for endemic waterfowl threatened in Victoria until Serendip Reserve opened to the public in 1991. On the wildlife walk, you’ll see eastern grey kangaroos, emus and a whole range of bird life, from the yellow-billed spoonbill to the reclusive and well-camouflaged tawny frog bill.
More than 150 species of birds are counted in the reserve, which can be seen from hides and flight aviaries.
Sometimes, the steep granite summit of Youyang Mountain appears to the north.
11. Bellarine Rail Trail
Laid in 1879, the old South Geelong to Queenscliff branch line closed in the 1970s and has become a safe, relaxing and picturesque way to cycle to the many tourist attractions on the Bellarine Peninsula.
The 32km route starts at Geelong South Station and travels through Geelong’s eastern suburbs, then through Leopold and Drysdale before arriving at Queenscliff Railway Station.
Drydale marks the highest point on the route, giving you far-reaching views of Geelong and Corio Bay, supported by You Yangs.
There are old stations to rest along the way, and the final 16 kilometers of the trail run parallel to the old steam railway Bellarine railway on the old spur.
12. Cunningham Pier
The 250-meter pier jutting out into Corio Bay next to the carousel has been around in some form since the 1860s.
Built for Industry, Not Recreation, Cunningham Dock was originally called the Rail Dock, and you can still trace the turns of the old railroad tracks in the paving.
These give you an idea of how busy the wharf is when ships are loading and unloading at the wharf.
Cunningham Quay was sold in the 2000s as a private event venue, in the final pavilion, but with a covered walkway open to the public with views of Geelong and its green waterfront.
13. Little Bio Brewery
The brewery was born in Fremantle in 2000 and expanded to Geelong in 2013 with a multi-million dollar investment.
In true Geelong style, Little Creatures Brewery has a retro industrial vibe in what was once Old Valley Worsted Mills.
It’s a sprawling venue that the brewery describes as the Little Creatures Village.
In case you were wondering, Little Creatures evokes the name of Talking Heads’ sixth album, but also refers to the yeast that converts wort into ethanol.
The brewery produces Hop Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Pilsner, Conference Ale, Cider and Furphy Refreshing Ale, all made using only Victorian ingredients.
During the tour, you’ll get to know this ancient wool mill and learn everything you need to know about how Little Creatures makes beer.
For those who really want to get into the nitty-gritty of brewing, there is “beer school” on the first Wednesday of the month.
14. Geelong Wine Region
Don’t forget Geelong is also one of Australia’s top wine regions, with a temperate maritime climate similar to Bordeaux.
The soil is sandy with low to moderate rainfall and Port Phillip Bay moderates the summer highs.
Geelong’s main grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Shiraz.
Those Cabernet Sauvignons are robust and age well, with prominent blackcurrant flavors when they reach their peak.
The tough part is choosing which of Geelong’s more than 40 cellars and wineries to visit, but the Bellarine Peninsula is a good place to start (Oxden, Warrington Estate in Mount McGrath, Tenda Estate).
15. Geelong Hot Air Balloon at Sunrise
The coastal scenery around Geelong is beautiful, but at first glance takes on an almost magical quality.
So if you start early, you’ll see this balloon fly for a lifetime on GetYourGuide.com.
It takes about 30 minutes to set up the balloon, followed by a safety briefing, then you’ll float in the wind and watch the first rays of the sun depict Corio Bay, Stingary Bay, Port Phillip Bay and the Bellarine Peninsula.
To the west, you can see the Barrabool Hills and follow the course of the Barwon River as it meanders to Lake Conneval.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Geelong, Australia
Lowest Price Guarantee