Victoria is a small city in the state's north-west, situated along the southern bank of the mighty Murray River. It’s a 4-hour drive from Melbourne in the heart of Mallee country on the border of Victoria and New South Wales.
I am invited to visit by Swan Hill Tourism over a long weekend and I take Lady AB along for the ride. We have a great time exploring this part of the state that we’d never visited before.
If you're wondering what to do in Swan Hill for a weekend, here are my tips for the best things to do in Swan Hill with children. Families often like to book holidays in Swan Hill in winter, as the weather is mild and it gets more sun than the Gold Coast!
Things to Do Swan Hill
1. Giant Murray Cod
At the Swan Hill railway station, you can’t miss the blue fibreglass sculpture of a giant Murray Cod. One of the most iconic Swan Hill attractions, it is a monument to the big fish that used to be caught in the river before irrigation and drought.
Giant Murray Cod, Murray Valley Highway, Swan Hill
2. Pioneer Settlement
Pioneer Settlement is one of the most popular Swan Hill attractions for tourists. It’s a recreation of colonial life, with buildings and businesses reimagining what life was like for the pioneer settlers in the 19th and early 20th century.
In shorthand, it’s like a smaller version of Sovereign Hill without the gold-mining aspect. We have fun poking our heads in all the buildings and looking at the artefacts such as old-fashioned washing machines, butter churns and dentist chairs! Activities like horse carriage rides and vintage car rides are included in entry while some activities such as getting your picture printed on a ‘Wanted’ poster and the dress-up photo parlour cost extra.
When you get hungry the air-conditioned Paragon Café serves simple food, drinks and coffee. Volunteers from the Friends of the Pioneer Settlement operate the café and all profits are used to support the Settlement’s ongoing development.
Your entry ticket also gives you admission for two consecutive days.
Pioneer Settlement, 1 Monash Drive, Swan Hill VIC 3585 (03) 5036 2410
3. PS Pyap
When you’re at the Pioneer Settlement make sure you take a ride on the vintage paddle steamer the PS Pyap. The 60-minute cruise meanders along the Murray River until the historic Murray Downs homestead, and then doubles back to the Pioneer Settlement.
It’s a relaxing way to enjoy the countryside and to experience paddle steamer life. I think it's one of the unmissable Swan Hill things to do.
PS Pyap, Pioneer Settlement, 1 Monash Drive, Swan Hill VIC 3585 (03) 5036 2410
4. Heartbeat of the Murray
In the evening at the Pioneer Settlement make sure you don’t miss the nightly light show ‘Heartbeat of the Murray’. Using water, light, laser and sound, Heartbeat of the Murray tells the story of the Murray starting from 30 million years to the present day.
The 30-minute show is mesmerising and is one of our favourite Swan Hill tourist attractions.
You sit on the banks of the Little Murray using the natural setting as the background as the show is projected onto mists of water rising out of the water. It makes a lasting impression on Lady AB who decides to write a story about it. Bookings are essential.
Heartbeat of the Murray, Pioneer Settlement, 1 Monash Drive, Swan Hill VIC 3585 (03) 5036 2410
5. Olson Game Birds
Just outside of Swan Hill is Olson Game Birds, the largest game bird farm in Victoria and where pheasants, guinea fowl and partridges are bred and reared. It’s been operating for over 50 years.
It’s no longer in the Olson family and the new owners Ian and Ros Harbour are expanding the farm to include ducks, geese and native birds and a walk-in aviary. You’ll also spot peacocks strutting around the farm too!
Olson Game Birds, Chillingollah Road, Swan Hill VIC 3585 (03) 5030 2648
Find Hotels and Airbnbs in Swan Hill
6. Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery
Next to Pioneer Settlement in the river precinct, you’ll find Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery. The gallery is very small but as entry is free it’s worth a visit as the gallery holds Australia’s largest collection of naive art.
Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery, Horseshoe Bend, Swan Hill VIC 3585 (03) 5036 2430
7. Pint Size Play
Visit Pint Size Play for educational and engaging classes for 0-5yo, including seasonal workshops, educational classes and incursions. There is also an on site cafe and toy shop, and they provide a child minding service in the Swan Hill area.
Pint Size Play, 109 Campbell St, Swan Hill, 0400 699 332
Lake Boga Things to Do
8. Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum
About 20 minutes outside of Swan Hill on the way back to Melbourne is the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum, the site of the secret No.1 Flying Boat Repair Depot in Australia, used during the Second World War. It now houses the Catalina Flying Boat as well as other WW2 memorabilia.
The museum is particularly interesting for military history and aviation buffs but worth a stop just to watch the short video that describes what took place at Lake Boga during World War 2, as well as visiting the underground bunkers with recreations of war communication offices.
History and aviation buffs, watersports and fishing fans make a trip to Lake Boga one of the most popular day trips from Swan Hill.
Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum, Catalina Park, Willakool Drive, Lake Boga VIC 3584 (03) 5037 2850
9. Lake Boga Observatory
If you’re seeking a nighttime adventure head to the Lake Boga Observatory and take advantage of the clear Mallee skies.
It’s a rather disorganised, amateurish operation and I find that there’s more watching of DVDs than actual star-spotting – but it’s low-key fun for the family and still somewhat education for the amateur junior astrologist.
Lake Boga Observatory, 236 Murray Valley Hwy, Lake Boga 0400 123 962
Where to eat in Swan Hill
10. Boo’s Place
Boo’s Place is a cafe and provedore that takes a seasonal paddock to plate philosophy. Their pantry items and fresh items are all locally sourced and the menu uses those same ingredients.
We enjoy a breakfast of housemade smoky baked beans ($14) and a glamorous version of the McMuffin with a fried egg, bacon, tasty cheese & tomato relish muffin ($6.80).
For families there are high chairs, change facilities and some coloured pencils and books to play with.
Boo’s Place, 12 McCrae Street, Swan Hill VIC 3585 (03) 5032 4127
11. Java Spice
A Balinese thatched hut is an unexpected sight in the middle of country Victoria – but in Swan Hill one of the best restaurants you’ll find is the Indonesian/Malaysian/Thai inspired Java Spice. Dine in one one of the imported teak huts and feel like you’re in Bali.
For the Swan Hill Food and Wine Festival I am treated to an Asian-inspired festival dinner featuring delicious sticky pork belly and goat satays.
For families there’s plenty of pram space, space to roam in the lush tropical gardens, high chairs and a children’s menu.
Java Spice, 17 Beveridge Street, Swan Hill VIC 3585 (03) 5033 0511
12. Spoons Riverside
For a meal with a view head to Spoons Riverside, an indoor/outdoor dining destination located on the Little Murray River.
We enjoy a gorgeous breakfast on the deck in the cool morning air, taking in the still waters of the river amongst the River Red Gums and the sounds of birdsong. The menu focuses on what’s fresh, seasonal and regional and we enjoy an enormous omelette with choice of fillings ($20) and buttermilk pancakes with a choice of two toppings ($13).
Inside Spoons there’s an adjoining provedore and homewares store with lots of local goodies and gifts.
For families there’s plenty of pram room, high chairs and a children’s menu.
Spoons Riverside, 125 Monash Drive, Swan Hill VIC 3585 (03) 5032 2601
13. Swan Hill Food and Wine Festival
The Swan Hill Food and Wine Festival is an annual event in March. It is one of the biggest food events in regional Victoria and Swan Hill tourism booms during the Labour Day long weekend.
Pioneer Settlement comes alive with food and wine stalls and entertainment all celebrating the regional produce coming from Victoria’s food bowl.
At the Swan Hill Food and Wine Festival we taste tender calamari from Ink-Redible Calamari, sip Prickly Moses ginger beer and lick Jilarty Gelato Bar ice creams. We even watch Morris Dancers jangling in formation!
For families, there is face-painting and a jumping castle, though we just enjoy browsing the stalls and sitting by the riverbank. Lady AB declares the day ‘really lovely’.
14. Swan Hill Produce & Design Market
Every third Sunday morning the carpark of Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery is filled with stalls selling local produce and design. We buy grapes and stone fruit and enjoy a hot jam donut from the popular donut van. Entry is by gold coin donation towards the local Rotary club.
Produce & Design Market, Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery Car Park, Horseshoe Bend, Swan Hill VIC 3585 (03) 5036 2430
15. Swan Hill Farmers’ Market
On the first Sunday of each month, Riverside Park Swan Hill hosts the Swan Hill Farmers' Market. Taste and buy the regions finest fresh produce from around 20 regular stallholders and then enjoy a picnic afterwards by the banks of the Murrary River. Each market has entertainment for the kids.
Swan Hill Playgrounds
If you've got kids in tow then you'll be looking for fun things to do around Swan Hill that gives kids a chance to play! Luckily Swan Hill activities for includes some awesome playgrounds that spark the imagination as well as lots of opportunities for active play.
16. Riverside Park Swan Hill
Riverside Park is the main Swan Hill park, right in the city centre. There are two playgrounds within the park – a small fenced playground suitable for toddlers with some standard playground equipment and a larger unfenced play area with a tractor and trailer, carousel, green dinosaur and spinning red apples.
Riverside Park also has a basketball court, table tennis table, toilets, picnic area and Riverside Park cafe.
Riverside Park, Monash Drive, Swan Hill
17. Steggall Park
About 5 minutes out of the town centre in a new housing estate is a fantastic Murray River-themed playground. I think this is the best Swan Hill playground you'll find!
The fully fenced all abilities playground has lots of equipment, with a wooden paddle steamer based on the PS Pyap, and with a Murray Cod on its bow, being its centrepiece. Some parts are shaded with shade sails, including the sandpit with another boat, a part with musical instruments and a pair of smaller slides.
You’ll also find a pyramid rope climbing frame, birds nest swing and standard swings, carousel, see saw and a water pump which flows into a rocky stream.
Inside the fence there are water taps while outside the fence there is a picnic shelter and barbecues.
Stegall Park, Parkside Avenue, Swan Hill
18. Swan Hill Outdoor Pool
While we did not have the chance to visit this time the Swan Hill Outdoor Pool is a local favourite. There are water slides, toddler pool and diving pool. Note the pool is only open November to March inclusive, the most popular time for Swan Hill holidays.
Swan Hill Outdoor Pool, Monash Drive, Swan Hill
Swan Hill Accommodation
There are many options for accommodation in Swan Hill as it’s a popular midway stop when driving between Victoria and New South Wales.
Along the main street Campbell Street you’ll find many Swan Hill hotels, motels and resorts to choose from, plus there's are several Swan Hill holiday parks.
19. Comfort Inn
If you're travelling with kids you may not want to stay in the hotels in Swan Hill, instead opting for somewhere with kitchenette/kitchen facilities so you can self-cater.
For our accommodation in Swan Hill we stay in a family room at the Comfort Inn Campbell which includes 2 bedrooms – one main room with a queen-size bed, TV, dining table, mini bar, crockery and cutlery, and a second bedroom with two single beds and access to the shower/toilet.
There’s free wifi, heating and cooling and a pool with BBQ. There’s also Peppercorn restaurant on site which provides room service.
Comfort Inn Campbell, 396 Campbell Street, Swan Hill VIC 3585 (03) 5032 4427
- As Swan Hill is not a large city I recommend timing your visit with one of their major events such as the Swan Hill Food and Wine Festival. The event really brings the town alive and draws locals and tourists all together to celebrate.
- Swan Hill can get very hot over summer and even in spring/autumn, so time your activities to the early morning and late afternoon and rest in the air conditioning during the hottest part of the day.
- Swan Hill to Melbourne is 4 hours drive and the Swan Hill to Melbourne train runs daily