This article was originally written in 2014 but has been updated in 2019 to include the latest info about the best things to do in Yarra Valley.
Lush green rolling hills emerge in the distance, as we speed down Maroondah Highway. The air is cool, crisp, fresh. The sky is covered in a thin veil of cloud, but the playful rays of sunshine are peeking out, exposing patches of royal blue sky. It’s going to be a beautiful weekend!
We are on our way to Yarra Valley to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, to soak up the rustic feel of the vineyards, take in some Yarra Valley wine tours, to wine and dine, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Yarra Valley.
Yarra Valley, the region surrounding the Yarra River, covers a large area stretching from the Yarra Ranges National Park all the way to Kinglake National park. But it’s the vine-covered hills of Coldstream/Healesville/Yarra Glen that draw millions of Australian and International visitors to this renowned wine growing region.
Many choose to explore Yarra Valley over 1-2 days and it’s no secret why. There are many things to do in Yarra Valley that make it the perfect destination for a weekend away.
Where is Yarra Valley Located?
One of the biggest advantages of the Yarra Valley is its close proximity to Melbourne. Hop in a car heading North East and an hour later, you are cruising down the vineyard-lined roads in the valley, feeling like you are thousands of miles away from your day to day life.
Getting to Yarra Valley
Yarra Valley is located 1 hour away from Melbourne by car. Take the Eastern Freeway to Maroondah Hwy. Alternatively, travel by train to Hurstbridge, Lilydale or Belgrave. A number of companies also offer day tours to Yarra Valley for around $110-$150 AUD/pp, which include visits the top Yarra Valley attractions, including to 4-5 wineries, gourmet lunch, and transportation to and from Yarra Valley.
Top Things to do in Yarra Valley
Start your visit at the Yarra Valley Information Centre in Healesville. It’s a perfect place to get extremely helpful wine maps, walking maps, info about the region and you can ask the friendly staff for more ideas for things to do in Yarra Valley. From trails, wildlife, amazing views, gourmet dining, and not to mention Hot Air Balloons, Yarra Valley has it all!
Here are some of our favourite activities in Yarra Valley:
Check out the Beautiful Scenery of Yarra Valley
Mother nature was kind to Yarra Valley, rewarding it with a picture-perfect combination of far-reaching farm lands, perfectly manicured vineyards, thick and luscious natural reserves, and an abundance of wildlife. Sheep, horses, and cows enjoy their daily feeds on the sides of the road.
If you’re an animal lover and wondering what to do in Yarra Valley, pop into Healesville Sanctuary and you’ll find many of Australia’s favourite reptiles, birds, and mammals. You can also see cute-as-a-button echidnas, wombats, koalas, and red kangaroos.
For nature admirers, Yarra Valley’s lookouts are not to be missed. Scattered around Healesville to the East and just past Christmas Hills to the West, they offer incredible views of the valley’s rolling green hills, sprawling vineyards, and forest-covered mountains.
For us, the views at TarraWarra Estate and Domaine Chandon were some of the best in Yarra Valley, but it was the sunset at SkyHigh Mount Dandenong that won the top prize. It was a perfect medley of colours with the sun setting over downtown Melbourne.
Enjoy the Fine Wine of Yarra Valley
The most famous of the Yarra Valley attractions is, of course, the wine. The cool sun-kissed climate of the Yarra Valley region creates the perfect condition for an assortment of fine wines from some of the world’s most renowned wineries. Whether you are after a smooth Pinot Noir, a crisp Chardonnay, or you prefer a playful glass of sparkling wine, there is no shortage of options to please even the fussiest wine connoisseur.
There are over 80 wineries in Yarra Valley, ranging from the award-winning “must-see” wineries like De Bortoli, Domaine Chandon, Yering Station, Yarra Yerring, and TarraWarra Estate, to the smaller producers, like Coldstream Hills, Acacia Ridge, Innocent Bystander and many others.
Our favourite was De Bortoli’s comprehensive tasting menu perfectly matched with a selection of cheese from the cheese shop inside the cellar door. Combine that with friendly and knowledgeable staff and you’ve got a recipe for a great experience. Just an hour in the cellar and $300 later and I had found my new favourite wine!
Explore the Other Beverages
If wine isn’t your thing, and you’re wondering what to do in Yarra Valley don’t fret! For those yearning for a cold pint of cider or refreshing Pale Ale, Yarra Valley has plenty of non-wine options as well.
Beer lovers wondering what to do in Yarra Valley should head to the Meletos Ciderhouse and Brewery. They offer the perfect tasting paddle of 4 beers/ciders of your choice. Or visit the White Rabbit Brewery for their large selection of Belgian Style beers.
Feast on Great Food
If you are visiting Yarra Valley on the weekend, you’re in for a treat. Many Yarra Glen wineries offer a special Saturday night dinner menu, pairing their finest wines with their best chef’s creations. Add to that a lovely view, sprinkle a bit of romance and elegance, and you’ve got yourself one of the top things to do in Yarra Valley.
We weren’t in it for the fancy 4 course meal, so we ended up at the Innocent Bystander for finger-licking-good food sharing plates and their famous pink Moscato. With the perfect outdoor seating area and the sun going down in the corner of our eyes, it was a picture perfect ending to our first day in Yarra Valley.
Oh and if you are looking for a great brunch/lunch spot with homemade meals, head over to Mocha & Lime.
There are also some amazing Yarra Valley tours focusing on food, such as the Yarra Valley Full-Day Gourmet Tour, which combines the culinary delights of chocolate, cheese and wine tastings to really give you the full works.
More Food Options in Yarra Valley:
- Dine Divine: The food served in this converted church in Sassafras is like a religious experience, it’s that good! It has plenty of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, but the highlight here is the high tea!
- Zonzo Estate: Set against the backdrop of one of the Yarra Glen wineries, the Zonzo Estate restaurant offers a sharing-style menu with delicious wood-fired pizzas and, of course, premium wine.
- Tramonto Kitchen & Bar: Set in Badgers Brook Estate Winery, this award-winning restaurant creates seasonal menus to suit every foodie. They use locally sourced and free-range ingredients and pride themselves on their relationships with the local farmers.
- Oscar’s on the Yarra: Beautiful spot to watch the Yarra River flow by and enjoy some fine dining in a setting to match. Their rustic menu changes weekly but you can always find some vegetarian options to pair with some excellent wine.
Take Advantage of Yarra Valley Outdoor Activities
If the thought of wining and dining for 2 days straight sounds like too much, there are other things to do in Yarra Valley that will break up your day with fun activities.
- Yarra Valley Golf Trail: Try a round of golf at one of the many courses in the valley. Four of them have been ranked in the Australian Top 100 by the Australian Golf Digest. Check out the Yarra Valley Golf Trail and take your pick! Each course has different but equally stunning views and there are courses for every golfing ability.
- Segway Tour with Yara Valley Great Trails: If golf isn’t your thing, why not book a Segway Tour, or spend some time cycling/hiking many of Yarra Valley’s great trails.
- Yarra Valley Hot Air Balloon Flight: And for those looking for the ultimate Yarra Valley experience, there is always the Yarra Valley Hot Air Balloon Flight. The flight isn’t cheap at $300-$400 per person, but the views are nothing short of amazing. Hot Air Balloons, Yarra Valley below, and wine…what could be more perfect?
Things to do in Yarra Valley with the Family
Many wouldn’t think of a wine region as a destination for the whole family, but in Yarra Valley, kids can easily have fun too.
- Zip-Lining Adventures: If you’re wondering what to do in Yarra Valley to keep the kids entertained, then just imagine letting them ride through a lush green forest in an ultimate zip-lining adventure through the tree-top obstacle course of the Dangenon Ranges. It’s a huge obstacle course in the treetops, perfect for thrill seekers and nature lovers alike!
- Healesville Sanctuary: Or how about a day at the Healesville Sanctuary among Australia’s wildlife? It’s a great opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the nation’s favourite animals. They have a number of trails which you can wander along at your own pace or join one of the scheduled free Zoo Keeper talks to find out more about the animals and their habitats.
- Yarra Valley Chocolatier: But if that’s not enough to keep your kids happy, then head straight to… the Yarra Valley Chocolatier and Ice-Creamery for one of the sweetest Yarra Valley day trips! The biggest, most impressive, Willy Wonka-like land of chocolate goodness is what every child and adult ultimately dreams of. Not only does this place offer free chocolate tastings, but they have hundreds of premium chocolates on display and some of the best chocolatiers at work on their creations. It’s impossible to leave without buying something, and even harder to restrain yourself from trying way too much!
Needless to say, if all the other Yarra Valley attractions didn’t convince you to add Yarra Valley to your Australia travel list, the Yarra Valley Chocolatier surely will. And the best part is: you don’t even need a golden ticket to get in!
Where to Stay in Yarra Valley
If there is anything more important than the wine and food on a weekend away it’s great accommodation and Yarra Valley is certainly full of options. From 5-star luxury hotels to small B&B places, there is something here for everyone. But for us, it was Airbnb all the way.
There are tons of options in Yarra Valley, ranging from rooms in shared houses to entire houses suitable for families or groups of friends. We stayed in an amazing secluded cabin in the forest of Christmas Hills. The cabin was a bit of a drive away from the wineries, but what it lacked in proximity it made up in coziness and ultimate comfort.
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With a deck overlooking the forest perfect for taking in the smells and sounds of nature in the morning and a kitchen stocked with fresh bread, eggs, cheese, it was exactly what we were looking for and an excellent base to explore all of the Yarra Valley attractions
If you are looking for a more traditional hotel/accommodation options, check out the following:
- The Canvas Barn: is an off-the-grid, eco-friendly B&B offering the perfect relaxation spot in the Yarra Valley. They have solar power, a filtered water tank and a composting waste system as part of their sustainable tourism practices.
- Linden Gardens Rainforest Retreat: If you want to combine Yarra Valley tours with a touch of pampering, then head to Linden Garden Rainforest Retreat in the Dandenong Ranges. The retreat is surrounded by three acres of rainforest and luscious gardens and is located opposite the William Ricketts Sanctuary.
- Yarra Valley Lodge: You can’t get any more centrally located than the Yarra Valley Lodge. It’s smack bang in the heart of the valley, with over 80 Yarra Valley wineries on its doorstep and easy reach of the Dandenong Ranges. What we like most about the Yarra Valley Lodge is that it supports and is supported by local businesses, suppliers including small boutique breweries and distilleries.
The Best Yarra Valley Shopping
For shopaholics looking for things to do in Yarra Valley, there isn’t much to get your heart racing. A Yarra Valley day trip won’t be the place to stock up on the latest fashions. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find more than just a few shops in Healesville.
But for those with a bit of a shopping addiction, there are a few options, you know, in case you need to pick up a few Christmas gifts for yourself or others. Check out the Yarra Valley Dairy shop (hint: it sells more than just milk and cheese) or the Yarra Valley Gift Shop.
Yarra Glen Sunday Market
However, if you time your Yarra Valley tour right, you may get the chance to experience one of the most popular non-wine based Yarra Valley attractions, the Yarra Glen Sunday market. Taking place on the 3rd Sunday of every month, the market features a great variety of arts and crafts, homewares, gourmet food, and produce.
How Much Time do You Need to Spend in Yarra Valley?
Yarra Valley makes for a great day trip from Melbourne. In fact, over 70% of the regions’ visitors hop over for just a few glasses of Pinot Noir and a few tasting of locally made cheese, before heading back to the city shortly after sunset. A Yarra Valley tour doesn’t have to be an elaborate trip. But with so many other things to do in Yarra Valley, it certainly can be!
For us, 2 days in the valley was plenty of time to explore the best Yarra Valley wineries, visit other Yarra Valley attractions, indulge in some delicious meals, relax, and unwind. But we certainly would have loved to spend more time in this beautiful region of Australia!
Have you been to Yarra Valley before? What would you add to the list of things to do in Yarra Valley?
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