If you’re visiting Australia for the first time, you could easily spend a few weeks exploring our cities, with perhaps a trip to Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef. But one of the delights is to see our country towns, each with their own history and personality. So, get out of the big cities and plan a weekend to somewhere like the town of Echuca in Victoria. I’m here to share a few recommended things to do in Echuca.
Echuca is only 2 1/2 hours from Melbourne and sits right on the Murray River, the third-longest navigable river in the world, after the Amazon and the Nile rivers (yes, really!).
Like many Murray River towns, Echuca has a sister city, Moama, which is on the opposite side of the river, across the New South Wales border. The river draws a lot of tourists, especially in summer when the two towns’ population grows beyond its normal 20,000 people. And, with its relaxed vibe and its proximity to Melbourne, it’s growing quickly as people make a tree change.
While I consider Melbourne my home, I actually grew up in Echuca-Moama before I moved away when I was 17. Like most teenagers growing up in a small town, I didn’t think there was a lot to do in Echuca, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve watched the town also grow and change into a sophisticated place, I’m really happy that I grew up here.
So, if you want a taste of country Victorian life, I highly recommend a weekend visit to Echuca. Here’s my (almost) local guide to what to do in Echuca.
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Take a trip down the Murray River on a paddlesteamer
The Murray River is Echuca’s biggest attraction. And one of the best ways to see it is on a paddlesteamer. In fact, given that Echuca has the largest fleet of operating paddlesteamers in the world, I’d say that you can’t visit Echuca and not take a ride on one.
Many of the historic paddlesteamers still function, offering visitors a chance to cruise down the river, passing by huge red gums filled with flocks of cockatoos and galahs.
Visit Echuca Paddlesteamers to learn more about cruises on the PV Pevensey (most recognisable as the star of Australian classic television miniseries All the Rivers Run) or the PS Alexander Arbuthnot. Alternatively, Murray River Paddlesteamers offers daily cruises on the PS Emmylou, PS Canberra and Pride of the Murray.
Visit a winery
Combine a paddlesteamer cruise with a visit to one of the local wineries – I highly recommend it!
I’d never done this until a friend came to see me while I was visiting family in Echuca, and since she’d never been on a paddlesteamer, I booked this trip for us. The two of us took a leisurely ride down the Murray River on the PS Emmylou to Morrisons Winery. We enjoyed a two-course lunch (including a glass of bubbles) and then wandered through the vineyard before returning to Echuca on the paddlesteamer.
But you don’t need to board a paddlesteamer to visit a winery. Morrisons is just a 15-minute drive from the heart of Echuca. St Anne’s has a cellar door at its winery in Moama as well as a tasting room right in the heart of Echuca’s historic district. While Restdown Wines is a bit further out of Echuca, it’s located on wetlands, so you can have a wine tasting and explore the grounds.
Tour the Port of Echuca
Echuca’s history goes way, way back. The town’s name comes from the language of the Bangerang people, and means “meeting of the waters” because Echuca is where the Murray, Goulburn and Darling Rivers all meet. The Bangerang people have lived along the Murray River for tens of thousands of years, and this video tells the story of how the Murray River came to be.
Much, much later, after the British colonised Australia, Echuca was founded in the mid-1800s by the ex-convict Henry Hopwood. The town’s position along the Murray River made it a hub on the inland river system, and Echuca’s port became the largest inland port in Australia.
Two hundred years later, the port remains an important part of Echuca, but nowadays it attracts more tourism than trade. Visit the Discovery Centre to learn about the port’s influence and importance in Australia’s national trade. Later, wander around the port district to learn about the blacksmith craft or take a trip back in time at Sharp’s Movie House and Penny Arcade.
Just near the historic port district, High Street is the place to discover locally made chocolates, taste wines and explore the shops. You can pick up handcrafted souvenirs (edible and otherwise).
Head to Hare Street for stores like Cotton On and Sportsgirl as well as locally owned clothing boutiques.
Sip locally made gin
It seems all the hip towns are making their own gin, and now Echuca has its own distillery. I haven’t visited here yet, but it’s on my list of things to do in Echuca when I next visit family.
The Echuca Distillery is located in the historic Port of Echuca and here you can taste gins that are made on site. They have a decent food menu, too, to soak up all that gin.
Eat at The Sweet Meadow
Echuca’s food scene has certainly changed since I lived there. Sure, you can still pick up a chicken parma and chips at one of the dozens of pubs that line the streets of this small town, but nowadays you can also find fresh, wholesome, vegetarian food at delicious cafes like The Sweet Meadow.
Have a pub meal
While in Echuca, you do have to stop by one of our many pubs for an afternoon pint or a pub meal. Given the heritage of the town, many of the pubs have been around since it was founded, so you’ll be drinking and dining in a historic setting.
The American Hotel, the Shamrock Hotel and 1895 The Royal are all crowd pleasers.
Visit the Great Aussie Beer Shed
Ever wondered how much space 17,000 beer cans take up? A whole shed, that’s how much. Along with the astounding number of beer cans, the space at the Great Aussie Beer Shed includes a heritage museum with a showcase of tap tops, handles, barrels, bottles, signs, brewery manufacturing equipment and machinery.
After touring the site, you can relax with a beer.
Time your trip with the Riverboats Festival
The Riverboats Music Festival started many years after I left Echuca – and because I’ve been living overseas for so long, I’m still yet to go to this popular music festival.
Big names in the Australian and international music world have headlined over the years, including Dan Sultan, Paul Kelly, Kasey Chambers, and Neil and Liam Finn. It’s held each year in February.
Spend the weekend on a houseboat
One of the best things to do in Echuca is hire a houseboat and spend the weekend floating down the river. It’s been years since I’ve done this. It’s possible to hire a boat and – after a quick lesson! – take it for a relaxing cruise down the river for a few days or a week. Some houseboats even have rooftop spas so you certainly won’t be giving up any luxuries.
Learn how to waterski
In summer, the Murray River hums with speedboats with wakeboarders, skiiers and kneeboarders in tow. If you’re visiting in summer, get out on the water and learn how to waterski or wakeboard. Try Brett Sands for lessons.
Even after so many years living in Echuca, I never mastered waterskiing, but I can wakeboard a bit.
Canoe or stand-up paddleboard on the Murray
If waterskiing isn’t your jam, there are plenty of other water sports to try, including canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding.
Echuca Stand Up Paddle can rent out boards and provide lessons. For canoeing or kayaking, check out Echuca Boat and Canoe Hire. You can rent a kayak for a few hours, or even try out campanoeing – self-guided camping canoe trips from anywhere between two days to two weeks.
See you down by the Murray River!
More information about visiting Echuca-Moama
If you want even more ideas for things to do in Echuca, stop by the Echuca-Moama Visitor Information Centre at 2 Heygarth Street.
How to get to Echuca
From Melbourne, it’s a 3-hour trip to Echuca. The quickest route is via the Northern Highway, which also runs through other lovely small towns like Heathcote and Rochester.
Heading to Echuca on the Hume Freeway doesn’t take that much longer, and there are some nice towns to stop for lunch or a snack.
V/Line operates daily trains and buses to Echuca.
Where to stay in Echuca
Because it’s a popular tourist town, there’s plenty of Echuca accommodation – although you’ll want to book well in advance during summer and holiday weekends.
A great self-catering option is Acacia Terraces, which has a spacious apartment with kitchen, laundry and comfy bed. It’s also dog friendly.
Echuca also has some of the best camping spots near Melbourne, making it a great spot to bring families. Echuca Discovery Parks has great little cabins as well as campsites (some with ensuites), along with a pool, laundry and BBQ areas. The NRMA Echuca Holiday Park has similar facilities. This site lists some free campsites around Echuca.
You can also search Airbnb properties in Echuca.
When to visit Echuca
Echuca is usually a couple of degrees warmer than Melbourne, even more so in summer. Generally, Echuca’s pretty nice to visit year-round although don’t expect to do any water activities outside of summer because the water will be far too cold.
The busiest time to visit is summer and over holiday weekends. I don’t ever remember snow in Echuca, although it can get quite frosty in the mornings during winter.
I hope this guide helps you plan a great weekend break in Echuca!
Have you ever visited Echuca? Leave me a comment below with your favourite things to do in Echuca.
This post was originally published in April 2018, and was updated in July 2020.