One of the best things about living in Melbourne is the number of amazing places at a reasonable driving distance, the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road being two of those gems.
Why to go: Get out of the city Where to stay: Camp, hostels, Airbnb How long to stay: 1-2 nights at the Grampians and 1 night along the Great Ocean Road Transport: Hire a car, go slow on the winding Ocean Road Don’t miss: The amazing views from the mountains and coastline Go with: A group of friends Food: Make sure to always keep your driver happy and fed Vibe: A breath of fresh non-urban air
Why this road trip?
I studied abroad in Melbourne from 2015-2016 and one of the best things about living there is the number of amazing places at a reasonable driving distance, the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road being two of those gems. I did two Great Ocean Road trips during my year abroad, one with my friends, and one when my cousin visited in March. You can’t go to Melbourne and not see the Great Ocean Road, so when I had visitors there was no getting out of a repeat. However, there are so many stops along the route that you are guaranteed to see something you haven’t seen before. I decided to tack on the Grampians when my cousin came to maximise what she got to see whilst also diversifying the route for myself. I loved the mixture of sea and mountains. We went to the Grampians first as we didn’t want to have to return to the city exhausted from hiking, which meant we were able to make our way back down to Melbourne at our own pace alongside the sea. The drive to the Grampians from Melbourne is around 3.5 hours and once you get to the ocean from the Grampians the drive back along the coast is approximately 5 hours.
What to do at the Grampians?
There are plenty of trails to choose from at the Grampians with varying levels of difficulty. We got to the campsite in the evening and woke up early in preparation to spend all day hiking around the mountains before heading to the Great Ocean Road. Below are three of the best spots not to miss in my opinion.
From the Reek Lookout car park, the walk to The Balconies jaw like structure is approximately 2km. It can get quite full of tourists and it isn’t a particularly big spot so it is probably one to visit first!
The Pinnacle is where I took the feature photo for this post, and it is definitely not a sight you want to miss. We took the easiest route from the Sundial Car Park which is around a 2km / 45 min walk and then spent a good bit of time there taking in the views.
I recommend getting up close to the MacKenzie Falls via the MacKenzie Falls Walk (2km return). There are some narrow steps to get to the bottom of the falls which of course you will need to climb back up, so bank some time to take a breather and chill by the water before you head back up.
Where to visit on the Great Ocean Road?
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I did a Great Ocean Road trip more than once during my time in Melbourne and I liked seeing different things every time to shake up the experience. If I went again I would choose some new spots to continue exploring the area but the below are definitely my three favourites so far.
London Arch is my favourite stop because you get the awe inspiring coastal formations with less tourists and quicker beach access. These stops are all beautiful from the lookouts, there is no denying that, but there is something special about walking on the beach alongside these structures. The experience gives you one of those ‘puts your life into perspective’ moments.
The image of these coastline formations are synonymous with any Great Ocean Road trip and there is a reason they are so famous, but what I love the most is the beaches these formations are on. The lookout gets packed quickly with tourists so I recommend committing the time to walk on the beaches alongside it to take in these beasts.
Split Point Lighthouse at Aireys Inlet
The coastline around Split Point Lighthouse is stunning. Ultimately all of the coast is beautiful but I liked that Split Point was less packed with tourist than the famed 12 Apostles. The greenery around the lighthouse was also a nice contrast from the pale tan of the rest of the stretch of beaches along the road.
How long should and where to stay at each stop?
My cousin and I are quite possibly the fanciest people you have ever met and may or may not have slept in our rental car throughout the whole three nights on the road. Now, if you aren’t on a student budget I fully recommend camping or finding some cool hostels and/or Airbnbs on the way. Our trip was only 3 days and 4 nights given the short time my cousin had in the country but I think it was enough. I would recommend sleeping the night at the Grampians before a full day of hiking. Given you will be tired post hike, stay the night in the Grampians before heading off toward the Great Ocean Road to slowly make your way back Melbourne. Break up your drive back down and the stops along the way by staying the night at a coastal town midway.
Make the trip moments
This being the first time I had driven since passing my driving test at 17 and having to deal with hook turns in Melbourne CBD and the winding roads along the coast
Spending approximately 30 minutes figuring out how to turn on the rental car and proceeding to graze it before leaving the parking lot (thank the travel gods I convinced my cousin we needed full cover)
Using KFC’s Wi-Fi to do an online test for university whilst eating others customers’ leftovers and a tupperware with tuna salad (one of my finer moments in this life)
Our Michelin star dinners of raw carrots and bacon and cheese dip
Getting back to the car to witness a parking ticket being slapped on our hood post a 5 minute stop, then backing into a pole when leaving late to return the rental car
Having our petrol gauge drop from half full to empty on the motorway on our way back to return the car with nearly 0% phone battery (we asked for a car with a USB port for charging, we did not get it)
Bringing a jar or gherkins along as if it was our favourite child, yes, there is a photo album of family pictures
If the sound of hiring a car, and roaming around a place with an interesting past, divine food, and some stunning seaside cliff views is up your street, Malta is for you!
Currency: EUR Why to go: Rich history, good food, & beautiful scenery Where to stay: Airbnbs with parking How long to stay: 1-2 nights at each place Transport: Hire a car, drive on the left Don’t miss: Area around St. Peters Pool and Ras il-Fniek Go with: A group of friends Food: Famed for rabbit Vibe: Easy going, slow pace
Why go to Malta
My cousins and I selected Malta for our first international trip as a group of three slightly disastrous humans. I won’t lie, it was chosen off the ‘Everywhere’ list of destinations on Skyscanner as it met our budget, none of us had ever been, and we were seeking some sun. However, having now experienced the islands in the archipelago, I am a firm fan. From one side of Malta to the other is less than an hour by car, making it perfect for a shorter trip that still feels very much complete. If the sound of hiring a car, and roaming around a place with an interesting past, divine food, and some stunning seaside cliff views is up your street, Malta is for you!
Where to visit in Malta
The Maltese archipelago consists of the islands of Malta (the largest), Gozo, and Comino (the smallest). Given time constraints, we opted to only visit Malta and Gozo stopping at various places on our way round with the car. Below is a selection of our top spots we found on offer during our Maltese road trip.
Sliema works as a perfect base for day visits to Valletta. It is cheaper to stay here overnight than Valletta itself and you get an awesome view of the city which you would not get from inside the walls. There is not too much to call out here in terms of sight seeing but we had the best food of the trip at a restaurant called Ta’ Kris which we could tell was top class due to all the local clientele. It’s a reasonably small place with hard worked staff, so don’t expect speed, but if you get yourself a booking you are really in for a treat. Rabbit is a Maltese specialty and the rabbit dishes here were super tasty!
Valletta was gorgeous to walk around. The city is a unique mix, housing beautiful churches, quirky coloured apartments, and a spattering of some ‘hipster’ bars. It is the ultimate cool city with a laidback vibe packed with a serious historical punch. You want to give yourself time to get lost amongst the streets here but make sure to visit some of the museums to ensure you leave with an appreciation of everything the country has seen in its past. I recommend The Malta Experience for a short movie which explains the history and the War Memorial at the ocean end of the city for some awesome views of the forts surrounding Valletta. Finish your day here watching the sunset from the upper Barrakka Gardens when you are too tired to walk anymore.
Gozo has plenty to offer, so although we only spent one day and night here, I would recommend tacking on a day or two. We started our visit by taking in the megalithic Ġgantija temples to get an understanding of how ancient the land is.
Following our cultural visit of the day we headed to Marsalforn which considering it was March was quite empty. However, during high season a lot of tourists stay around here, particularly those looking to dive, as the town hosts a few diving shops. It was nice to walk around the dock area and I can definitely see the outdoor restaurant spaces packed in summer with tourists enjoying an Aperol Spritz or two.
Next we headed to the Azure Window and Blue Hole site. The Azure Window has actually collapsed now so you can’t see the arc structure which used to stand at this location. Either way this is a breathtaking area at the edge of the island of Gozo with cliffs a plenty to fulfil your sit, stare, and contemplate life needs.
I recommend visiting Victoria at night. It is the main city on the island and boasts the stunning Ċittadella. At night the walls are lit up similarly to Valletta and it makes for a killer view. Walking around the place without other tourists made me feel like I was creeping around a castle in Dorne in Game of Thrones in the dead of night and I was all for it.
Mdina is another of the incredible walled cities Malta has to offer. We started our visit here during the day getting lost around the city streets. At night, once again the city lit up which gave it that important castle feel. The streets are peppered with classy bars and restaurants, so although it is the old capital, you get the sense that people really socialise there rather than just treating it as a tourist destination.
Marsaxlokk is known as the best place to see the famous Maltese luzzu fishing boats. The boats are typically painted bright blue yellow and red with a pair of eyes on the bow. This small fishing village did not disappoint on the boat front and we had a stellar seafood lunch to boot.
My favourite part of the whole trip was our hike from Marsaxlokk to the St. Peters Pool area. The walk is super nice, giving you a bird’s eye view of the village you leave behind from a path bordered by old beige walls, cacti, and yellow flowers. We actually took a wrong turn and happened to find the most beautiful place of the whole trip. We never made it to St. Peter’s Pool but found an area of multiple natural pools which were bordered by the Mediterranean, almost like natural infinity pools. There was no one around seeing as most tourist traffic heads to St. Peter’s, so it became our own little paradise. What made it was the view of the Ras il-Fniek cliffs to the left whilst we bathed!
How long to stay in Malta
Malta is ideal for short trips because it is so small. Crossing the main island of Malta on it’s longest side takes less than 1 hour by road, so if you hire a car you have your independence and can check out as much of the country as you want. We stayed 6 days including our departure and arrival days and we squeezed so much in. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. However, we did not visit Comino. If you have the luxury of time and want to see absolutely everything, give yourself a full 7-10 days and you will leave feeling like locals.
Transport in Malta
Malta does have a public bus system which many opt for to get from place A to B. Many also just visit Malta as a beach destination and spend most of their time in one spot. Our intention was to see as much of the island as we reasonably could and a road trip gave us the freedom to do that. If you have the time, I am sure the bus is cheaper, however, we didn’t want to find ourselves having to wait 1 hour after missing a bus (which would be typical of us). Also, be aware that in Malta you drive on the left hand side of the road!
Where to stay in Malta
Parking isn’t the easiest in Malta if you are not a confident driver. It is a small place so you can imagine it is a lot of parallel parking situations on small streets. Given the best way to see Malta is by hiring a car, I would recommend trying to secure Airbnbs with some parking space to make your life easier. That said, we predominantly used Booking.com to secure hotels and hostels at reasonable prices. In all honesty, the important thing here is proximity to where you are visiting as once you have arrived, the best thing to do is leave the car close to your accommodation and walk around given the size of the place.
Make the trip moments
My first trip with some of my favourite humans, being the disastrous triplet cousins we are
Screaming on our way to Sliema from the airport after getting volunteered to drive us as the one who is ‘used to’ driving on the left
The flashy lights around the churches all over Malta
The food at Ta’ Kris (R.I.P. the leftover pasta we forgot in the fridge)
Taking photos of us sleeping everywhere to curate a beautiful album for our parents
Falling asleep during The Malta Experience movie – I swear it was good but two thirds of us are pale and the sun hit us hard
So many cats, cats everywhere, cat sanctuaries in the middle of more than one Maltese town
Initiating our cousin into our sleep in the car habits in Gozo
Watching Black Panther in Victoria one evening just because (favourite Marvel film)
Doing everything last minute: renting a car, finding accommodation, you name it we did it
Loving Cisk beer and not loving Kinnie so much (acquired taste)
Fly into Malta in the morning and pick up your rental car (hopefully you are more organised than us and booked ahead)
Argue over who has to drive first in this foreign land, and when that is settled, head off to Sliema to drop off your stuff (once again, hopefully you are not booking accommodation in the car on the way to the town like us)
Make a reservation for dinner at Ta’ Kris and go walk around Sliema and the waterfront, getting a glimpse of nearby Valletta all lit up in the dark
Make yourself comfortable (seriously, service was slow) at Ta’ Kris for the best food of the whole holiday – be sure to try the rabbit dishes
Day 2: Valletta
Wake up early and shake off your food hangover because it is time to drive to Valletta (see if you can find parking in one of the towns in between Sliema and Valletta and walk the rest of the way as you won’t need the car)
Spend the day roaming the quirky streets of the walled city, being sure to make time for some museums (I recommend The Malta Experience for a short film summarising the history of the island) and the War Memorial from which you get a great view of Fort Ricasoli
Watch sunset at the upper Barrakka Gardens accompanied by an ice cream
Day 3: Gozo
Stop at Għadira Bay for breakfast by the sea before heading to the ferry station near Cirkewwa to purchase a return ticket to Gozo
Kill the time until the ferry arrives by taking in the views at Sunset Spot
Enjoy the 30 min crossing to Mġarr and upon arrival make your way straight to the Ġgantija temples for your daily dose of Maltese history
Drive to Marsalforn for lunch and a nosy around the waterfront
Continue on to the Azure Window (collapsed but still beaut) and the Blue Hole and spend some time jumping around the rocks and letting the stellar cliff views sink in
When night falls, head to Victoria to spend the night, but only after wandering about the lit up Ċittadella without the bustle of the day tourists
Day 4: Mdina & Dingli Cliffs
It is finally time for a beach day, up to you where, but I would recommend Ramla which is one of the most popular on Gozo (be sure to pick up ice cold Cisk beer and some crisps)
Get the ferry back to the main island and drive to the Dingli Cliffs for a walk and sunset
After sunset, make your way to Mdina, park up and get lost around the awesome old fortified capital at night
Day 5: Marsaxlokk & St. Peter’s Pool
Drive over to Marsaxlokk and spend some time at the waterfront checking out the luzzus (traditional Maltese fishing boats which are brightly coloured with eyes on the bow)
Leave the car at Marsaxlokk, pack a picnic, and hike over to St. Peter’s Pool and Ras il-Fniek to take in the phenomenal cliffside views
Get a little lost and head just northeast of St. Peter’s Pool to find your own private little paddling pools with infinity style views of the ocean
Day 6: St Julian’s
Wake up and enjoy a farewell breakfast in St Julian’s followed by a walk along the waterfront
Head off to the airport with plenty of time to return the car
Bust out the cards, and enjoy the last moments before you fly off reminiscing about the best moments of the trip whilst absolutely dominating at any and every game
My favourite bits about Croatia were the beautiful drives perfect for a road trip, the national parks, and the awesome festival locations!
Currency: HRK (Croatian Kuna) Why to go: Ideal for road trips, natural parks, & festivals Where to stay: Airbnbs with parking How long to stay: 2-3 nights at each city max Transport: Hire a car Go with: A group of friends Food: Very mediterranean
Why go to Croatia
My friend and I actually decided to go to Croatia for a music festival. Pula boasts various popular festivals such as Dimensions and Ultra. We were headed to Outlook festival for a sunny dose of bass music to finish off summer. My favourite bits about Croatia were the beautiful drives perfect for a road trip, the national parks, and the awesome festival locations!
Where to visit & what to do in Croatia
We wanted to see some of the country during our trip but knew we would be knackered post festival so we flew in early to the south of the country, Split, and decided to road trip up to the festival location, Pula. The start and finish points of our trip were hugely influenced by flight prices and convenience but we saw a good bit of the country and enjoyed some beautiful drives. Below are the locations we visited and what we did in each.
We stayed in Split for 3 nights, largely because it was the minimum stay at our Airbnb but it worked perfectly as a base from which to do day trips to Krka National Park and Hvar. Split in itself has good nightlife (full of young people from all around Europe making their way up to the festivals in Pula) and a delightful old town to roam. One of our favourite bits was a tiki bar placed in one of the old town squares that transitioned from serving smoothies to cocktails as the sun dropped. Krka National Park is roughly a 1 hour drive from Split and boasts some awesome waterfalls where you can take a dip, which feels well deserved after your walk to get there.
Hvar is known as a party island for the rich. I believe it was featured as a Made in Chelsea holiday season destination. You understand why when you arrive on a ferry from Split to a port with several yachts. The ferry trip takes around 1.5 hours one way but is pleasant. We opted to not take our car and explored the quirky streets of Hvar by foot and hiked to some more secluded beaches away from the port. The water was beautiful here and some of the hotels looked stunning, but personally I was more enthralled by the parties had during the festival!
The drive from Split to Šibenik was only around 1 hour. We found a cute pop art style flat last minute and arrived at night ready to check out the city the next day. Šibenik is an awesome place to roam around in the sun, particularly the old town streets. If you wind your way up through the old town you reach St. Michael Fortress which gives you a great view over the city.
The drive to Zadar from Šibenik was again only about 1 hour (this country is honestly ideal for a road trip). The old town in Zadar is where its at. It is perfect to walk around and has plenty of options for a nice dinner and a cheeky ice cream whilst the sun goes down. One of our favourite spots was the Sea Organ, where you can sit on the marble steps leading into the ocean and watch the sunset accompanied by the sounds created by the waves and the 35 organ pipes under the steps. Next to the Organ was the Sun Salutation which is essentially a massive solar panel which uses the day’s sunlight as energy to light up a series of multicoloured light on top it. These exhibitions are the coolest bits of Zadar so you can imagine they can get quite busy!
Pula was our last stop and I won’t pretend that we saw much more than the festival locations but they were a gorgeous backdrop to the festival. The opening concert was held in the Pula amphitheatre and it was incredible. Imagine the Colosseum in Rome all lit up in hues of blue, green, and red accompanied by the dulcet sounds of Bonobo. Hopefully that image excites you as much as it did me. The rest of the festival was held in Fort Punta Christo. Everyone stayed nearby so it was easy to walk to and from the festival. The Fort was right on the water and some of the stages were in some incredible hidden nooks of the Fort. I cannot recommend a festival here enough!
How long to stay in Croatia
A good 10 days in Croatia is enough for a Split to Pula road trip finishing off in some festival fun. We had a bout of food poisoning so we missed out on some things we wanted to see but we did not leave feeling unsatisfied. If you want to drive less in a given day, consider staying longer. If I were to visit without going to a festival I would tack on Zagreb and Dubrovnik as additional stops.
Transport in Croatia
I am not someone who loves driving or who is a super confident driver. Unfortunately I always end up driving in random countries, here is to hoping soon I will feel like a pro. Regardless of my skills behind the wheel, Croatia was such a pleasure to drive! The roads were easy to follow, with the exception of some one way road drama in some of the smaller towns (but I blame Maps over anything else). Some of the roads we drove at sunset on the coast were stunning and I reckon you would be missing out if you don’t opt to hire a car here in favour of buses or trains.
Where to stay in Croatia
Stay in Airbnbs throughout your time in Croatia, it is more convenient if you have a car. We didn’t experience any much difficulty with booking accommodation same day (we are not plan ahead people) and even got to stay at a quirky pop art themed place for one night (one of my favourite Airbnbs ever). I would say that if you are going to a festival, book accommodation ASAP as prices sky rocket.
Make the trip moments
A red mess (guess what you will)
Our unfortunate laughing fit when returning our hire car with a dent from reversing into a pole (the guy at the rental place called us legends for being in such a good mood, but obviously we were so chill because we know ourselves and got full cover)
The amazing Catalans we met and hung with throughout our time at the festival
Morning sunrises at the beach post dancing all night
Never waking up before 2pm during the festival
All the amazing stage locations around Fort Punta Christo
My friend Vedran from the Airbnb
Having to make the long bus and train journey to Italy to get our flight out the day after the festival ended because we left everything last minute (naturally we had slept about 30 minutes and were absolutely destroyed)