A drive between Australia’s most famous cities is full of some of the best scenery, history, culinary delights and quirky attractions that the country has to offer. The inland driving distance between Sydney and Melbourne is 869km and would take 9 hours non-stop (a short drive by Aussie standards), and many people choose to drive it in just a day or two. To do so is to miss out – and we recommend taking at least 5 days to enjoy some of the treats along the way. A round trip is even better as it allows you to take advantage of both the inland heritage route through National Parks, historic towns and villages as well as the eye-wateringly beautiful coastal route on the return journey. The distance from Sydney to Melbourne via the coast road is only slightly longer at 907km.
The route below is the inland route starting in Sydney – but this can be easily reversed if you choose to begin your adventure in Melbourne.
Day One – Sydney to Canberra
The drive from Sydney to Canberra is an easy 3 hour stretch – with lots to see along the way. The journey will lead you through the beauty of the Southern Highlands. If you’re a cricket fan then your first stop needs to be the historic town of Bowral – where you will find the Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame – a whole museum dedicated to the sport. If treasure hunting is more your thing then you’ll find some incredible antique stores in the town, as well as in the neighbouring Highlands towns of Moss Vale and Berrima. You can also find some of the region’s finest boutique wineries along this route – such as Centennial Vineyards in Bowral and Sutton Forest Cellar Door (wine lovers designate a driver for this leg of the trip!) If you pass through Bowral in late September or early October you will be treated to the annual Tulip Time festival, a 2 week-long event incorporating wine, food, music and flowers.
Stop in the heritage town of Berrima for lunch, where you will feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to 1800’s Australia. Don’t miss a visit to the newly refurbished Berrima Courthouse Museum, where a fantastic sound and light show will transport you back to an infamous 1840s trial. Berrima is also home to Australia’s oldest continually licensed inn – the Surveyor General – where you can enjoy an outstanding lunch as well as some inspiring history.
If you love visiting historic pubs, make a slight detour along the way to visit The Bushranger Hotel in the village of Collector. Originally built in the 1860s, it is the location of the infamous shooting of Constable Nelson by bushrangers Ben Hall, Johnny Dunn and John Gilbert. The bushrangers were said to have stayed in the pub and taunted police from the hotel room windows before the murderous encounter.
Collector is situated 20 minutes from Goulburn – be sure to stop and say hi to the 15 metre high Big Merino on your way through and learn about the local sheep shearing and wool industry.
There is also an INCREDIBLE brand new playground at Victoria Park in Goulburn – we spent a few hours there and had a picnic while the boys burned some energy.
Day Two – Canberra
Distance – 0km
At least one full day needs to be devoted to the nation’s capital – Canberra. Surrounded by its own State – the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) it is the seat to Australia’s national parliament, named as the capital in 1911 as a solution to the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. Things to do in Canberra include a visit to both the new and old Parliament Houses – the Museum of Democracy in the old Houses of Parliament were a favourite for us, while getting to sit in and observe the Senate in action was a highlight at the current Parliament House. An absolute must visit is the Australian War Memorial – although it is easily possible to spend a whole day here in itself so if you have some extra time consider extending your Canberra stay. There are also a selection of world class galleries in Canberra, including the National Portrait Gallery and the National Art Gallery of Australia. If you’re travelling with kids then a visit to Questacon is not to be missed – an interactive science museum full of fun and experiments. If the weather is fine then visit the beautiful National Arboretum, a huge nature reserve developed on the site of the devastating bush fires of 2001 and 2003. There are bush walks, sculptures, art displays and a stunning Bonsai collection, as well as great coffee and food in the on-site restaurant.
Day Three – Canberra to Wagga Wagga
Distance – 240km
On your way out of town head to Mount Ainslie lookout for incredible views of Canberra you won’t forget.
If you’re leaving Canberra on a Sunday and are a train lover then head first to the Yass Railway Heritage Centre. Only open on Sundays and Public Holidays you’ll find a beautiful historic display house in the original station built in 1891. It also boasts the shortest train platform in Australia.
Your next stop for lunch will be the famous Dog on the Tuckerbox near Gundagai. The statue is an important part of modern Australian history and was made famous in the bullock driver’s poem from 1857, telling the tale of a loyal dog guarding his master’s lunch box until the end. The bronze statue was erected in 1932 and is a monument to the pioneering spirit of Australia. It’s located just 8km outside of Gundagai – make sure you also make a stop in the picturesque town itself, where you can find lots of historical sites dotted down the main street as well as beautiful historic bridges around the town.
Another hour on the road will bring you to Wagga Wagga – the largest town in the Riverina area. There is a lot to see here so don’t rush – spend the night and make the most of the natural and cultural attractions. There are many galleries and museums on offer, and the highlight of a visit is the beautiful Botanic Gardens.
Day Four – Wagga Wagga to Albury Wodonga
A short driving day so there is plenty of time to enjoy the fun of both Wagga Wagga and the twin- town region of Albury-Wodonga. **Amazing playground alert!** I’m probably going to have to write a whole article on the kid-friendly things to do in these towns alone – so much fun.
The two towns of Albury Wodonga are separated by the Murray River as well as the state border, and there are loads of things to see and do on both sides. If you’re an outdoor lover you can explore one of the many parklands or nature reserves – the Wonga Wetlands provide an oasis of wildlife and serenity just 5 minutes from Albury CBD. There are miles of walkways and cycle paths around the region – perfect to stretch restless road tripping legs, as well as huge parklands like Belvoir Park and the Botanic Gardens in Albury. Arts and culture also abound, with historic buildings dating back to the 19th century, The Cube Theatre and the Jindera Pioneer Museum.
Just before you arrive in Albury don’t miss a visit to Holbrook – where you’ll find a full size submarine to explore on the high street – as well as an interactive, informative museum that the boys loved.
Day Five –Albury Wodonga to Melbourne
On the last day of your Sydney to Melbourne adventure be prepared to enter Kelly Country. The High Country region on the way into Melbourne was home to many of the places in the story of Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly; infamous bush ranger and outlaw. His story culminated in 1880 in the town of Glenrowan, where you can stand on the site of the fateful shoot out where Ned emerged suited in his bulletproof armour from the burning pub. There is a heritage trail walk which leads you through the events leading up to the final standoff, as well as a museum and tourist centre where you can learn more of the story.
On the way to Glenrowan stop in the beautiful gold rush village of Beechworth where you can visit the historic gaol and also see the Ned Kelly Vault. Beechworth is also home to some of the finest boutique food and drink in Victoria so is a perfect spot for morning tea or an early lunch. We only had a night there so missed the chance of a visit to the Lolly Shop or the beer tasting so we’ll have to go back! Here is a video of us just loving the Beechworth Holiday Park.
Just before arriving in Melbourne you can stop at the small town of Beveridge, where you can visit the birthplace of Ned Kelly – the house where he was born in 1854 is still standing in Kelly Street.
Just 40km down the road and you’ve reached your Melbourne destination, and seen some of the finest things on offer on a Sydney to Melbourne drive. Make sure you allow enough time to experience all the amazing attractions, culture and fine food on offer in Melbourne, and if time allows make the return trip to Sydney along the beautiful scenic Sydney to Melbourne coastal drive.
If you have longer you can also add a visit to Bendigo and Ballarat. Otherwise make sure you schedule a visit to these historical gold rush towns on another adventure.
There are some AMAZING free camps on the Sydney – Melbourne drive – so you don’t need to spend loads more money on accommodation to take the slow route. The best way to find them is to use our favourite travel app – Wikicamps – and we’ll be showing you some of our favourite overnight stops next week.