13 of Victoria's coolest and quirkiest small towns

Outside a cafe in Forrest

Tianna Nadalin, Krysia Bonkowski

Posted July 08, 2022


Whether you’re a foraging foodie, history buff, or adventure junkie, these 13 quaint, quirky, and captivating Victorian towns are worth the drive.

Victoria might be known for its upmarket seaside towns, sprawling wine regions and luxurious spa country, but off the beaten track, there are some hidden gems in our midst. 

From a gorgeous gold-rush era village with a population of just 20 residents, to an International Book Town and a lakeside destination that oozes serenity. Victoria's road-less-travelled is punctuated with must-see spots worthy of any road trip.

Whether you're looking for a quirky weekend away or a gourmet day trip, regional Victoria has something for everyone. Here's our guide to 13 of the most captivating small Victorian towns. 

Clunes

All bibliophiles should bookmark this pretty little Goldfields town north of Ballarat. It’s home to so many bookshops that it’s been declared an International Book Town – one of only 22 worldwide. Along with the beloved Booktown Festival each May, Clunes hosts Booktown on Sunday – every third Sunday of the month – featuring free author talks. But on any given day, visitors can fall into the peaceful rhythms of the well-read community, where some of the state’s best-preserved 19th-century buildings house cafes, bistros and, of course, bookshops.

White art deco hotel in Fish Creek

There's something fishy about the Fish Creek Hotel. Photo: Visit Victoria.


Fish Creek

You can’t miss the Fish Creek Hotel. The looming art deco building topped with a huge, stunned mullet by Gippsland artist Colin Suggett has become a beacon to those travelling through the rolling countryside to Wilsons Promontory, or tackling the Great Southern Rail Trail. Go for a gallery hop around this “arts capital of South Gippsland” – including the gallery/bookshop of adored children’s author and illustrator Alison Lester, and Celia Rosser’s eponymous gallery showing her intricate botanical drawings – before a lunch of fine Gippsland pub grub at the destination watering hole.

 

Person pouring glass of red wine on balcony overlooking vineyard at Tallis Wine

Sip delicious local wines at Tallis in Dookie. Photo: Supplied.


Dookie

Along with having one of the most memorable names going round, Dookie is a scenic slice of the Goulburn Valley with a progressive reputation and community feel. Surrounded by canola fields that bloom golden in spring and the trio of hills Mount Major, Mount Saddleback and Gentle Annie, the town offers hidden gems including Dookie Emporium – a vintage treasure trove with a popular cafe – and laidback Tallis Wines in Dookie Hills, where vines thrive in red volcanic soil.
 

Tree trunks at Lake Elizabeth

Ghostly gums at Lake Elizabeth, near Forrest township.


Forrest

Nestled in the lush Otways, Forrest lures adventurers and foodies inland from the Surf Coast. The Forrest Mountain Bike Trails offer more than 65 kilometres of track winding through the Great Otway National Park, and local hiking trails lead to secluded waterfalls and ferny nooks. Nearby, kayakers paddle between ghostly gums while searching for platypus on haunting Lake Elizabeth. The ever-popular Forrest Brewing Company and eatery beckon when it’s time to refuel.

 

Heritage streetscape in Maldon

See Victoria's most intact heritage streetscape at Maldon. Photo: Visit Victoria.


Maldon

Not only does Maldon have the most intact heritage streetscape in Victoria, the charming village, less than two hours' drive north-west of Melbourne, also claims the title of Australia's First Notable Town, after being classified by the National Trust in 1966. Maldon's 19th-century main street has been meticulously preserved since the gold rush days, with the local railway station (built in 1884), Grand Hotel (1888) and old post office (1870), among some of its beautifully maintained heritage buildings. 

 

Heritage town centre of Walhalla in Victoria

Get into the gold rush spirit at Walhalla. Photo: Visit Victoria.


Walhalla

Step back in time at Walhalla, a sleepy mountainside village at the edge of the Victorian Alps. After the discovery of Cohen's Reef in the 1860s - a three-kilometre vein of gold running through Walhalla, which yielded more than 50 tonnes of gold – the town became one of Australia’s richest with some 4000 gold-digging hopefuls calling it home. These days, the charming village is home to just 20 residents, with the historic centre lovingly restored to its gold rush-era glory. The picturesque spot offers myriad biking and hiking trails but, if you like eerie experiences, take a ghost tour of the old cemetery on the hill.

 

Bright rainbow sign welcoming visitors to the town of Rainbow in Victoria

Hunt for murals in Rainbow. Photo: Visit Victoria.


Rainbow

There’s no pot of gold at the end of this Rainbow, but the small town on the southern fringe of Victoria’s Mallee is still a hidden gem. The cheerfully named destination is situated at the edge of the Big Desert, and surrounded by desert lakes and vast Wimmera wilderness. It's also home to an impressive 23 murals depicting the life and history of the town’s pioneers. If you want to go Rainbow hunting, 16 of the murals are located on and around the main street (Federal Street), while the most recent installation is at the rear of the heritage-listed Yurunga Homestead, a beautiful Edwardian-era home built in 1909.

 

Inside of heritage pharmacy from the late 1800s in Chiltern.

Dow's Pharmacy offers a taste of early medicine. Photo: National Trust


Chiltern

Get a taste of Victoria's earliest medicine at Chiltern. The historic township, in Victoria's north-east, is home to Dow's Pharmacy, which includes an original apothecary workshop replete with original fittings as well as equipment, medicine and other stock dating back more than 100 years. The original chemist built in 1859 and one of its early pharmacists was David McEwen, father of the 18th Australian prime minister, Sir John McEwen.

 

Aerial view of Towel Hill, oldest dormant volcano in Victoria

Tower Hill State Reserve is nestled in a dormant volcano. Photo: Visit Victoria.


Koroit

It might be known for its vibrant local pub, but Koroit, on the northern slopes of Victoria's dormant Tower Hill volcano is also a history buff's treasure trove. The charismatic rural town, located 15 kilometers inland from Warrnambool, describes itself as an 'Irish Village', and is hailed as one of Australia`s most complete examples of an early Irish settlement. Nestled in a dormant volcano formed some 30,000 years ago, the wildlife haven was declared Victoria’s first National Park in 1892 and offers visitors an up-close-and-personal experience with some of Australia’s most iconic native birds and animals.

 

Timboon railway and distillery shed.

Get the inside scoop at Timboon Railway Shed Distillery. Photo: Visit Victoria.


Timboon

When it comes to reputations, being known as the town with the best ice cream in the state seems like a pretty enviable one. This Surf Coast hinterland hot spot, known for its cheese and dairy industry, has been scooping hand-churned ice cream made using the freshest local ingredients - the milk comes from the neighbour’s farm and the cream from the local dairy - for more than 20 years. There's even a Saundae School for anyone who wants to learn more about the art of ice cream making. Timboon is also home to an award-winning whisky distillery, which has been pouring fine spirits from its converted railway shed headquarters since 2008. 

 

Murto stick shed

Stick it out at Murtoa's historic Stick Shed. Photo: Visit Victoria.


Murtoa

Just 25 minutes' drive from Horsham, roughly halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide, you'll find Murtoa. The quaint country town is a gateway to many of the hidden treasures of the far west region of the Wimmera, including the must-do Silo Art Trail. Established in 1876 around picturesque Lake Marma, the town is home to three of Victoria’s Heritage Listed sights, including the impressive Stick Shed; the only remaining emergency grain store, which was built during World War Two, and the Kurrajong Tree Avenue; the oldest native street planting in Victoria. 

 

Murto stick shed

Go for a wander down Loch's pretty main street. Photo: Visit Victoria.


Loch

Step out of the city and into a fairytale with a trip to Loch, about 1.5 hours down the South Gippsland Hwy from Melbourne. The stunning town, set against the rolling emerald green hills of the Strzelecki Ranges, is studded with 20th century buildings that are now home to an array of bustling cafes, galleries, antiques stores and artisan grocers. And for one of the best vantage points in town, don't miss the Cape Horn Lookout on the Loch-Wonthaggi Road.

 

Aerial view of Bonnie Doon Lakeside Leisure Park

How's the serenity? Photo: Visit Victoria.


Bonnie Doon

We're going to Bonnie Doon. The picture-perfect lakeside resort destination, which was made famous in the 1997 Australian satire The Castle, is situated in north-east Victoria on the edge of Lake Eildon. Much of the original town of Bonnie Doon was flooded by the construction of the lake in the 1950s and, as such, the township was relocated, earning it the nickname of 'the town that moved'. The small village is full of culture, with bushwalking, fishing, water skiing, 4WD, trail bike riding and horse riding among some of its more popular activities. Or, if you'd prefer to sit back and enjoy the serenity, this is the place to soak it up.

 

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