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Discover the best things to do in Portland Victoria, from someone who grew up there! We are sharing with you all the best attractions, day trips and activities you won’t want to miss in the beautiful coastal town of Portland – my hometown!
While Portland rarely tops the list of best places to visit in Victoria, Australia, it sure does deserve its place!
Located in South West Victoria, Portland is Victoria’s oldest European settlement, established in 1834 by the Henty Brothers, and it’s easy to see why the early settlers chose this spot.
As Victoria’s birthplace and mine (150ish years later), Portland has a unique history as an international deep-sea port.
These days Portland remains a small town on the south coast of Victoria, with a population of just over 10,000.
Best Things To Do In Portland Victoria
Portland is often overlooked as a getaway destination, simply because most visitors get as far as Allansford or even Warrnambool when driving along the famous coastal route of the Great Ocean Road, not realising that a short distance away is this beautiful small town to explore!
You won’t find big tourist crowds or crazy attractions, but you will find unique activities and outdoor experiences that will make your stay a memorable one.
You will also likely see koalas! There are koalas everywhere in Portland so keep your eye out. Sometimes they wander right up the street…
Here are the top 22 things to do in Portland (and a few of the best day trips) that you won’t want to miss!
1. Portland Visitor Information Centre & Portland Maritime Discovery Centre
Details: Located on Lee Breakwater Road along the Portland foreshore
Admission: Entry to the Maritime Museum is $7 for adults, and free for children. The visitor information centre is free.
If you are visiting a new place for the first time, starting at the visitor centre is always helpful!
The Portland Visitor Information Centre is a great source of local knowledge, and the staff can help you plan your trip and figure out what to do in town.
The visitor information centre building is also home to the Portland Maritime Discovery Centre, which is home to an impressive collection of maritime artefacts and maritime history displays. It’s a great place to explore, especially for families with kids!
Learn how to tie different knots or get a photo inside a whale skeleton.
2. Ride The Portland Cable Trams
Details: Tram tours run daily from 10 am until 4 pm
Admission: $65 for a family of 5, $22 for adults, $10 for 5-16-year-olds. Kids under 5 are free.
One of the best ways to learn about the history of Portland and get yourself acquainted with the layout of the city is by taking a Portland cable tram historic tour.
The tour will take you around town, stopping at several points of interest along the way, with the option to hop on and hop off to explore. If you only have one day in Portland, this is a perfect way to maximise your time!
The tram driver gives you a guided commentary on Portland’s history as you travel alongside the foreshore and around town.
Stopping at Portland attractions that include the Portland Maritime Discovery Centre, the Powerhouse Museum, World War II Memorial lookout, Portland Botanic Gardens and the tram’s own museum, where you will find model trains and the largest private gemstone collection in all of the southern hemisphere.
This experience is great for history buffs and is a fun way to see the best of Portland in a short time.
3. Cape Nelson Lighthouse
Details: Open daily with guided tours running at 11 am & 2 pm.
Admission: Adult: $15 / Child: $10 / Family: $40
Take in stunning views from Australia’s oldest surviving lighthouse built in 1848. Cape Nelson Lightstation is just a short drive from the downtown Portland and the perfect place to climb up and take in the beauty of the coastline from above.
This historic lighthouse in Cape Nelson State Park is known as the ‘Beacon of Hope,’ and sits 90 metres above the endless ocean views of Bass Strait.
The Cape Nelson lighthouse was often the first hint of land several months after boats left Europe, North America or Asia and it helped them navigate the treacherous Shipwreck Coast.
Cape Nelson Lighthouse is also an optimal spot for whale watching, with 25 species of whales migrating past the Lightstation annually, including Blue Whales, Southern Right Whales, Humpback Whales and Killer Whales (Orcas).
The best time to spot whales is between May and October each year.
Unfortunately on our most recent visit, the lighthouse was getting a little aesthetic makeover so we weren’t able to go inside or walk along some of the walking trails nearby.
However, there is also a cafe, Lightkeeper’s Cafe, that is perfect for a morning tea or lunch break when you visit.
If you really want to experience the lighthouse in all its glory, you can even stay in the Lightstation Heritage Precinct at one of the many accommodation options. This is a truly unique chance to appreciate the Lighthouse precinct once the tours end for the day.
The Portland Botanical Gardens are located on Glenelg Street and offer a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of town. Wander through the gardens, spot native wildlife and appreciate the beautiful variety of plants and flowers.
This is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Australia!
This is a popular spot to enjoy a family picnic.
If you get lucky, as we did during our wander through the gardens, you might even spot a koala! We first watched the koala walk up to the front door of the house next door to the gardens before wandering right through the front gate!
For a little about the history of the gardens, you can visit the former Curators Cottage which has been converted into a museum.
5. Cape Bridgewater
Cape Bridgewater is a rugged and majestic headland located approximately a 20-minute drive from the centre of Portland. The spectacular cliffs and beach area are breathtaking to behold, as well as the spectacular view out to sea.
This is one of the most popular swimming beaches near Portland and you will see quite a few people enjoying the gentle waves on a hot summer day, before heading to the Bridgewater Bay Cafe for lunch or a snack.
You could easily spend a full day exploring the Cape Bridgewater area, with the beautiful Bridgewater Lakes being a popular recreational area for fishing and water activities, and the Tarragal Limestone Cave that offers a fantastic view of Discovery Bay Coastal Park.
Stony Hill Lookout is another great spot, and it is the highest cliff-top on the Victorian coastline, towering a massive 130 metres above sea level.
The former volcano rim stretches between the Seal Caves and the freshwater springs.
If you are heading to the Bridgewater Bay Cafe for lunch, do yourself a favour and get the Bridgy burger. Massive and delicious!
6. Cape Bridgewater Seal Colony Walk
If you are feeling active and it isn’t a really hot day, you can do the 6km round trip walking track to the Seal Colony.
This walk will take between 2 and 3 hours, depending on how fast a pace you are going and whether or not you have kids with you.
We did the walk before we had kids and it was a substantial hike with quite a few steep areas, but well worth it. Just don’t forget the sunscreen. We deeply regretted this mistake, even though it was an overcast day. Ouch!
Enjoy the breathtaking views of the bay from the sea cliffs, before reaching the seal viewing areas, with a colony of hundreds of Australian Fur Seals lazing in their natural habitat. It’s pretty incredible to see!
The walk commences just up from the Bridgewater Bay Cafe with multiple viewing platforms, including one viewing inside the seal cave and one at the tip of Cape Bridgewater.
7. Petrified Forest & Bridgewater Blowholes
A short distance from Cape Bridgewater Bay is the petrified forest, formed by thousands of years of erosion caused by rain and wind and sea. The eroded limestone tubes give the look of an actual forest that has been petrified.
The walking track from the car park isn’t too long and it is an easy walk, suitable for all ages and fitness levels. The petrified forest is a truly beautiful and unique landscape, with amazing views of the rugged coastline alongside the unusual structures.
Afterwards, you can check out the Bridgewater Blowholes nearby for some spectacular waves crashing against the cliffs and watching them send immense plumes of water up into the air.
8. Point Danger Gannet Colony
Point Danger is a must-visit destination for birdwatchers and photographers alike. Here you will find Australia’s only mainland Australasian gannet colony.
Point Danger is located around 6km from Portland. The final stretch of this road is unsealed but suitable for most vehicles. There is a viewing platform to allow a better look at the birds although it isn’t always open.
Between July to April and you will see the gannets flock to the point for their annual nesting season and raising their young. Especially seeing them dive into the water to catch fish is an incredible sight!
They can go up to 20 metres below water, which is far deeper than most other air birds.
There is also a live stream video of the Point Danger Gannet Colony on display at the Portland Visitor Information Centre too.
9. Portland Fauna Park
For a family day out, the Portland Fauna Park is a place that brings fond memories for me. We spent many a family picnic or BBQ at the Fauna Park, having a gazillion goes at the former straight metal slide.
These days that enormous metal slide has been replaced with a plastic tube slide that the kids tell me is great fun. And it won’t burn your bottom in summer as the old one did!
There is also a playground, picnic tables and BBQs and a small wildlife park you can walk around.
When we visited in 2023, we spotted 2 white kangaroos. A rare sight to see one let alone two of these beautiful albino kangaroos. There were also some friendly chickens and goats.
10. Powerhouse Motor & Car Museum
Details:Located on the corners of Percy & Glenelg Streets, open 10 am – 4 pm daily.
Admission: Family $20, Adults $10, pensioner/ concession $8 children $1
Another place that I have great memories of is the Portland Powerhouse Museum. If you love vintage cars and automatic history, this is a great place to visit. You only need around an hour for your visit so it’s one you can easily fit into a day trip to Portland.
The museum houses a collection of classic cars, motorbikes and motors. It really is the ultimate nostalgia for those who have a passion for classic vehicles. In addition to these cars, there are also displays of vintage radios, telephones and other curiosities from days gone by.
My uncle and cousin both have cars in the museum, which makes it extra special.
There is also a restored Portland Cable Tram that you can climb into. Always a favourite with the kids, along with the interactive exhibits with buttons to press to get motors working.
The museum is run by the Portland Car Club.
11. Enchanted Forest Walk
North of Cape Nelson State Park you will find the Enchanted Forest. Just a short drive from Portland, the Enchanted Forest is a fun place to take the kids for a walk and let their imaginations run wild through this magical-looking forest.
You will feel as though you stepped into the pages of a fantasy book!
12. Visit The Beaches
It wouldn’t be a coastal town without some beaches to stroll along (and possibly even take a dip in). While they aren’t the most stunning beaches along the coastline, you’ve certainly got a couple of solid options for a swim or a walk along the sand.
Nuns Beach is a great spot if you’re looking for a place to swim. It’s a sheltered, shallow beach that is good for families, with a boardwalk and pier area and amenities.
The Portland Foreshore is fine if you’re looking for a spot to splash around. There are some newly developed playgrounds and picnic table areas along the foreshore, closer to Portland Harbour.
Cape Bridgewater Beach, also known as Shelly Beach, as mentioned earlier is a great spot for a day at the beach with plenty of space to call your own for the day and relatively shallow too.
13. Look For Whales
As a child living in Portland, Victoria, I remember often seeing a killer whale (orca) swimming off the coast. It was an incredible sight, even as a very small child to know what a rare experience it was.
If you’re lucky, you might get this same opportunity during certain times of the year from Portland. A visit to the Portland Whale Viewing Platform between May and October gives a great view along the coast from Portland Harbour to Dutton Way.
There are free binoculars set up to help you get a better view of the majestic whales, but it doesn’t hurt to bring your own!
For a great clue as to whether it’s a good time, check if the flat is raised at the Portland Visitor Information Centre. They raise it when there has been a whale sighting recently.
Still having no luck? Regular whale watching tours run from Bridgewater too.
14. Great South West Walk
If epic walks are your style, the Great South West Walk is one of Victoria’s most well-known walking tracks. In fact, the entire stretch of this walk extends over 250km, starting in Portland.
But most of us aren’t keen on a multi-day hike so thankfully there are quite a few shorter walking tracks that form this mammoth trail. Or you can simply walk a short part of the track until you’re ready to make your way back to your starting point.
This 4-5 day trek stretches along the wild and rugged coastline of Victoria’s southwest corner, from Portland to Nelson, almost to the South Australian border and loops back to Portland. There are 14 walker campsites along the way, every 10-20km.
The Great South West Walk is an adventure that will take you alongside Portland Harbour, Discovery Bay, Lower Glenelg National Park and Glenelg River, Cape Bridgewater and Cape Nelson, along with many other stunning sights.
15. Portland Arts Centre
If you love art galleries and discovering new local talent, the Portland Arts Centre is a great spot to stop in and have a look around. It’s open 7 days a week, 10 am – 4 pm and showcases an ever-changing collection of artwork from local artists, both professional and amateur.
The centre also presents live music performances along with art exhibitions, films and regular workshops. Check their website to see what’s currently on.
16. Take A Stroll Through The Portland Town Centre
One of the best ways to appreciate the historic buildings when you visit Portland and their origins as part of the first European settlement is to take a stroll through the Portland town centre.
You will find plenty of spectacular buildings, including the impressive Portland Town Hall, the bluestone Portland Court House, the Customs House which was formerly the Portland Post Office and many others.
Many of these historic sites are now home to cafés, and harbourside pubs or repurposed into other essential businesses.
17. Portland Strawberry Farm
Sample the perfectly sweet and freshly grown strawberries from the Portland Strawberry Farm.
Not only can you stock up on strawberries all year round, but you can also purchase homemade jams, liqueurs and artisan ice creams. Strawberry ice cream, yes please!
18. Fish & Chips By The Water
Not only is it Australian tradition to grab some fish and chips wrapped in white paper to eat by the beach, but it’s also a must when you are staying anywhere along the coast!
There are a few different fish and chip takeaway stores in Portland. As for the best at the time of your visit, ask a local. They will know!
19. Visit The Bay of Whales Gallery
The Bay of Whales Gallery just outside of Portland is a must-see for any art enthusiast. This gallery, run by local artist Brett Jarrett is somewhere we didn’t get the chance to visit but heard many times that this is an amazing place to stop.
Often you will find Brett at work on his latest photo-realistic oil painting as you stroll around the gallery. The gallery is open Thursday to Sunday each week for visits and is set in beautiful surroundings, often greeted by their pet dog or chickens.
There is also a coffee shop open on weekends that is said to have absolutely delicious treats!
20. Explore The Local National Parks
Portland is situated near 4 National Parks – Lower Glenelg National Park, Discovery Bay Coastal Park, Cobboboonee National Park and Mt Richmond National Park.
There are plenty of walking tracks to choose from at each park, from short walks to longer hikes with spectacular views, along with a range of other activities depending on which you choose to visit.
Lower Glenelg is situated alongside the river and has lush expanses of heathland and paperbark woodlands.
Discovery Bay Coastal Park is home to limestone cliffs, sandy beaches and a wonderful array of birdlife.
Cobboboonee National Park offers plenty of opportunities for spotting wildlife amongst the grassy woodlands, wetlands and heathland.
Finally, Mount Richmond National Park features stunning views from its peak, a rich diversity of vegetation and some great trails for you to explore.
21. Fishing Off The Jetty
If you consider yourself a bit of a keen fisherman, or just fancy trying it out, then head down to the Portland Jetty and cast your line into the Southern Ocean.
The new jetty and pier area have been designed with fishing in mind with rod holders and seating so you can comfortably make a day of it!
While I don’t believe it is the case anymore in Portland, I do remember as a child we would often see or hear the fairy penguins coming back to shore as the sun was setting and the fishing rods were out. It was always exciting to catch a glimpse of one.
22. Foreshore Playgrounds
If you are visiting Portland with kids, there are two great playgrounds along the foreshore area that will delight the kids. In fact, you might have trouble getting them to leave the newer playground area.
This playground is fenced to keep young kids from wandering off and it has some great play equipment to suit all ages.
There are also picnic tables with umbrellas and all within walking distance of nearby cafes and takeaway stores.
Day Trips From Portland
If you have more time to spare and you’re looking to explore beyond Portland, there are some great options for day trips nearby.
Head across the South Australian border to nearby Mount Gambier, which is around an hour from Portland. Here you can easily fill a day with some of the incredible natural scenery on offer.
Umpherston Sinkhole also referred to as the sunken garden, is incredible to see. Take a walk through the former limestone cave, amongst the beautiful flowers and hanging vines.
Other attractions include Blue Lake and Valley Lake, Cave Garden, Engelbrecht Cave and the Valley Lake Recreation Area.
Head about one hour and 15 minutes from Portland to reach Warrnambool, the largest town along the Great Ocean Road.
Here you will have plenty of things to keep you busy with Lake Pertobe Adventure Playground, Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, Tower Hill Fauna Reservation (a great place for spotting wild emus) and Logan’s Beach, another great spot for whale watching.
Henty Wine Region
If you love sampling local wine, then a visit to the Henty Wine Region, stretching along the Great Ocean Road towards Hamilton, is a must.
The region encompasses vineyards in and around Hamilton, Dunkeld, Coleraine, Casterton, Port Fairy, Dartmoor, Warrnambool and Portland.
Many of the wineries have a cellar door experience, but some need to be booked ahead of time. Crawford River Wines is one of the most prominent wineries in the Henty region, located in Condah, approximately 45 minutes from Portland.
Otherwise, the closest winery to Portland is Suffoir in MacArthur.
Planning Your Portland Visit
You’ve got a list of the best things to do in Portland and day trips to take, so now it’s time to plan that visit with the essentials!
Where Is Portland, Victoria?
Portland is located on the south coast of Victoria, Australia. It’s about a four-hour drive from Melbourne and an hour away from the border with South Australia.
Getting Around Portland
The best way to get around Portland is by car. There are also buses that service Portland but having your own transport will help you explore beyond the city centre. You can easily hire a rental car from Melbourne or other major cities.
Best Places To Stay In Portland
Portland offers a variety of accommodation to suit different budgets and traveller preferences. If you are travelling in a self-contained vehicle, such as a campervan or caravan, there is free camping available at Henty Park Campground where you can spend up to 48 hours.
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Portland, Victoria, you won’t be disappointed! There are plenty of great attractions and beautiful places to visit that will easily keep the whole family busy! So if you’re planning a visit, be sure to add these places to your Portland itinerary!
Are there any other Portland things to do that you can recommend? Tell us what we’ve missed!