There are a huge number of things to do in Williamstown.
Many people visit for the classic views across the Bay to Melbourne, but there’s much more to this historic Victorian town than that.
We made Williamstown our home a couple of years ago and since then we’ve been exploring like tourists, but living as locals.
This leaves me perfectly placed to share with you what I consider to be the best things to do in Williamstown.
So here are my favourites….
- Outside and Nature
- Museums and History
- After Dark
- On (and Over) the Sea
Outside and Nature
Williamstown Botanic Gardens
First opened in 1860, Williamstown Botanic Gardens are one of the biggest highlights of Williamstown. They are an ideal place to wander, sit and read a book or stop to have a picnic. After some redevelopment work in 2020 they now have even more space than ever.
My personal highlights are the views down the formal palm avenue on a sunny day or sitting by one of the Edwardian ornamental ponds. Given they are located right beside the beach they are perfect for escaping the sun.
Living in a town with a beach has been a first for us and Williamstown Beach is a real cracker.
It doesn’t get as busy as beaches on the other side of the bay and has safe, shallow water that has been great for our little girl to play in. There are also so decent coffee shops around, so all in all a perfect place to spend an afternoon.
Jawbone Sanctuary is one of Williamstown’s hidden gems.
I love this place.
It runs along the southwest coastline of Williamstown and is home to a marine sanctuary and protected coastal regions. For many years it was a rifle range, which allowed the wildlife to live away from humans and in 1990, when the range closed it became the Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve.
More than 160 species of bird have been recorded here, along with exotic fish species, octopus and even small sharks. It is also home to some of the only mangrove trees in Port Philip Bay.
My favourite part is just south of Sandpiper Place where a series of wooden walkways have been built above the reserve, a very peaceful place to watch the sunset.
Commonwealth Reserve & Nelson’s Place
Nelson’s Place is the tourist strip of Williamstown, but we still love hanging out here, especially on the grass of the Commonwealth Reserve.
This is the starting point for many people in Williamstown, with great views back to the city, boat trips available out into the Bay and other attractions such as HMS Castlemaine, Point Gellibrand and even my favourite possum watching spot all nearby.
The main tourist information centre is also located in a modern building to the edge of the reserve.
When combined with a wander along Nelson’s Place, stopping in to one of the numerous bars, coffee shops or grabbing an ice cream, Commonwealth Reserve is a fantastic place to start your trip to Williamstown.
RECOMMENDED PLACES TO EAT & DRINK: Try Tick Tok Cafe for coffee and great cakes, Off the Pier for some of the best fish and chips in Williamstown and Customs House Hotel for a beer in a traditional Aussie environment.
Point Gellibrand is where the first settlers from Europe arrived in Victoria.
It is now a wonderful coastal park, with 1km worth of seafront walking, backed by grassland and the historic Fort Gellibrand and Timeball Tower.
We walked along here on our jet-lagged first morning in Australia and it proved to be an excellent place to watch the sunrise over Melbourne’s CBD. We come back often, either driving, cycling or running along the shoreline, a place that truly makes us feel lucky to live near the sea.
Looking for somewhere to enjoy a coffee and a bite to eat while visiting Williamstown?
Check out my post ‘Williamstown Cafes: 7 of the Best‘
Take the ‘Classic’ Melbourne Photo
One of the many reasons people come to Williamstown is because it is one of the best places to snap a photo of Melbourne back across the Bay.
The best places to do this are either from Gem Pier by the Commonwealth Reserve, or from the end of the longer pier beside Hobsons Bay Yacht Club.
My favourite is from the pier right beside the Sea Shepherd, located behind the Seaworks, which is where the photo above was shot.
Take a Dog Walking Tour
Williamstown is a great town for dog walkers, with Hobsons Bay Council providing lots of dog-friendly facilities and parks.
An alternative way to experience the town is to join a 5km walking tour which allows you to bring along your four-legged friend and learn more about the history of Williamstown.
COST: $55 for a guided tour and 5km walk, includes fish and chips at the end.
The clue’s in the name here, Newport Lakes are definitely not in Williamstown but they’re close enough it hardly feels like debating!
I absolutely love this place. Two lakes separated by huge stepping stones and packed with wildlife and birds. The routes around the lakes feel like heading out for a proper bush walk, it’s easy to forget you’re in to a major city.
Museums and History
Williamstown Historical Museum
Located in the building of the old Mechanic’s Institute, the Williamstown Historical Museum is only open twice a month but contains a diverse mix of exhibits from paintings to sporting memorabilia.
OPENING HOURS: 1300-1600 first and third Sunday of the month
ENTRY FEE: $5
The Sea Shepherd ‘Steve Irwin’
Sea Shepherd is an organisation that takes direct action to protect marine wildlife and has completed campaigns across the globe: from chasing illegal poachers in the Antarctic to confiscating deadly fishing equipment in the Mediterranean.
The Steve Irwin is now permanently moored in Williamstown having been retired in 2018. In its heydey, it was the flagship of the fleet and completed 18 ocean defence missions.
They regularly run free guided tours of the ship, follow them on Facebook to see upcoming events.
Scienceworks and Planetarium
Scienceworks is an interactive museum offering lots of hands-on experiences for kids and adults alike. It has the lofty aim of trying to make science fun and it our opinion, it suceeds.
Our highlights are the Sports Gallery where you can test your reactions time as well as your skills in various sports such as baseball and cricket, a working steam pump that was orignially used in the pumping station that this building was built for and the lighting room show.
The Planetarium is a bit extra but is an abosulte must!
If you’re going to come here try and put aside half a day at least as there is so much to do.
COST OF ENTRY: Adults $15. Kids (up to 16) Free
Newport Railway Museum
Just on the border between Williamstown and Newport, the Railway Museum has a large collection of engines spanning 100 years of Victoria’s railway history.
Run by volunteers, this place is testament to how hard-working people with a passion can bring somewhere to life. You will see them there restoring and cleaning, many of whom will strike up conversation and show you around some of the rarer examples.
There is also a fantatsic minature railway here that is worth the price of admission by itself.
OPEN HOURS: Saturday & Sunday 1200-1700
COST OF ENTRY: Adults $10. Kids $5 (2 Adults, 2 Kids $25)
I’d heard there was an old morgue building in Williamstown but struggled to find it initially as I thought it was near Gem Pier. It turns out it was relocated to its current location on Ann Street, but given this happened in 1873 I probably should have done more research.
The morgue was built in 1859 using bluestone from the quarry in front of Fort Gellibrand and was needed due to the influx of unknown people to the town during the gold rush. When someone died who couldn’t be identified, a coroner had to investigate which could take a few days. Before the morgue the only place to store the bodies away from the baking Victorian sun was in the cellars of Williamstown’s numerous hotels (pubs), which didn’t exactly go down well with the locals, so the morgue was built. The coroner would even do the autopsies amongst the beer barrels!
Even the morgue wasn’t really fit for purpose though, with numerous reports of it flooding. When a post mortem had been completed, the only way to clean the interior was to flush water through a small hold in the floor, which took the blood out onto the beach where ‘it often remained until high tide’! This was by design, as it was hoped that the local birds and wildlife would help clear the remains, but once Williamstown became a more popular destination it was relocated brick-by-brick to Ann Street.
What makes the morgue so important is that it was the first morgue erected in Victoria and one of the oldest buildings in Williamstown. Whilst not open to the public all the time, it does get visited during the Williamstown Ghost Tours (see below) so another reason to take one.
Timeball Tower was orignally built in the late 1840s as a lighthouse, making it one of the oldest buildings in Williamstown and the second oldest lighthouse in Victoria.
It was then converted to include a timeball, which was dropped at 1pm every day to allow the ships in the harbour to set their chronometers.
Having been repurposed again as a lighthouse and having a 90ft circular tower added to the top, it was reclaimed by the Williamstown Historical Society in 1990 and restored to its former glory.
It sits proudly in Point Gellibrand Nature Reserve, a bluestone beacon looking out to sea, its four corners directed towards each of the four points of the compass.
HMAS Castlemaine was orignally a minesweeping boat that operated during the Second World War around the coasts of Australia and through the South Pacific.
She was built in the dockyards at Williamstown and, having completed nearly 120,000 miles on war service, and a further two decades as a training ship, she was presented to the Maritime Trust of Australia and restored. Over four decades HMAS Castlemaine has been restored to her former glory and is the only one still afloat from 60 boats of this kind originally commissioned.
She now sits not far from where she was built, alongside Gem Pier, and is open as a museum ship, where a visitor can see how crews lived and worked at sea during the wartime years.
Read more about Gem Pier, the oldest pier in Williamstown
OPENING HOURS: Saturday & Sunday 1100-1600
COST OF ENTRY: Adults $8. Kids $4 (2 Adults, 2 Kids $20)
There are many beautiful heritage and listed buildings around Williamstown, many of which are on the route of the three heritage walks which have maps available on the Hobsons Bay Council website.
In the photo above is 54 Osbourne Street, which is one of the oldest mansions in Williamstown having been built way back in 1859.
There are many buildings like this that can be found around Williamstown some of my favourites are:
- Blunt Boatbuilders on Nelson’s Place
- The Former Bridge Hotel on Thompson Street
- The Morning Star Hotel on Electra Street
- Pilots House on The Esplanade (now Sister’s of St Joesph by the Sea Convent)
I know some Australians consider possums to be a pest, but we have fond memories of these little guys. On the night we landed in Australia we went out for a walk to stretch our legs and found them in the trees. Given we’d seen one within a few hours of landing in the country, we assumed they’d be everywhere, but we’ve rarely seen them since.
For a 100% chance of seeing possums, head to the Commonwealth Reserve after dark, where locals leave food for them.
Watch a Sunset
Ok, so this might technically be just before dark rather than after dark, but given Williamstown’s location on a peninsula, it’s possible watch the sun both rise and set over the water.
My favourite location is just along from Williamstown beach where, if you’re lucky, the local pelicans will roost for the night giving the chance for a perfect photo.
Take a Ghost Tour
Williamstown or King William’s Town, the original capital of Victoria, has a long history and has lots of stories to tell.
This after-dark tour by lanternlight goes through the narrow laneways of the town and visits abandoned morgues, forgotten burial grounds and other hidden secrets.
WEBSITE: Book using the link below
COST: $35 for a two-hour tour
On (and Over) the Sea
Take Flight on a Seaplane
We had decided we wanted to live in Williamstown before leaving the UK, so we used every way possible to learn more about the town. One of our first experiences was watching a YouTube video of the Melbourne Seaplane taking off and we thought it looking like a really fun place to live.
One of the most unique things to do in Williamstown, The Spirit of Williamstown has taken some very famous flights, including in 2019 when they were featured in the Sky Sports Coverage of the Australian Grand Prix.
The plane takes off from just beside the Commonwealth Reserve, with a number of different routes over the city and bay available.
COST: They do a variety of packages for as low as $99 for 20 minutes up to $450 for the Ultimate Experience.
Enterprize Tall Ship
The Enterprize is run by a not for profit organisation who sail a replica of the ship that containted the first permanent white settlers that founded what became the city of Melbourne. In August 1835 it sailed from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) up the Yarra before mooring at the present day William Street and setting up camp.
The Enterprize currently runs on the third Sunday of each month (cocinciding with the farmer’s market) for three trips out into the bay. They also run sunset sails on select Saturdays during daylight savings.
SAILINGS: Third Sunday of every month: 1100, 1230, 1430. Select Saturdays 1800.
COST OF ENTRY: Adults $35. Kids $20
Take a Yarra Cruise
If you want to see more of the Victorian Capital, then a great way to do so from Williamstown is to hop on a Yarra River Cruise.
They depart from Gem Pier (as most boat trips do in Williamstown) and take about an hour to get to the city, passing sights such as the Melbourne Star Wheel, the Polly Woodside and Flinders Street Station.
You can either opt for a one hour trip for $24 and get the train back to Williamstown from Flinders Street station, or take the two hour return cruise ($35) which will bring you back to town.
The St Kilda Ferry
I love the St Kilda Ferry. It’s a locally owned business that’s been running a single boat since 2016 to St Kilda, and in 2018 added a stop off at Port Melbourne.
We’ve taken the ferry on a few occasions as it’s a simple and beautiful way to get to the other side of the Bay. The views of the city on the routes they run are amazing (see exhibit A above!).
St Kilda is a lovely place to wander around, with beautiful beaches and easy access to Albert Park.
Our favourite run though is getting the ferry over to Port Melbourne, picking up the tram into Melbourne CBD for an outing before getting the train back round to Williamstown from Flinders Street Station.
TIMETABLE: Available here.
PRICES: Williamstown -> St Kilda $18 one way/$27 return ($9 & $13 for kids)
Williamstown -> Port Melbourne $15 one way/$23 return ($8 & $11 for kids)