With the wealth of art on offer in Melbourne, it’s easy to forget that a number of blue-chip galleries are just a short drive away. These regional institutions have permanent collections that alone merit a road trip, but since they also host major touring shows, they’re worth checking out on a more regular basis. Whether you’re into classic or contemporary, indoors or outdoors, conventional or avant garde, you’ll find it on this list. And at most of these spots, entry is free. So pack your bags and make a day of it this summer.

TarraWarra Museum of Art
The architecture and tranquil surrounds of the TarraWarra Museum of Art are reasons enough to visit the Healesville property, but inside the modernist stone and concrete gallery (and, in some cases, outside) are more than 600 works of modern and contemporary art by Australian icons including Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley. The current exhibition, on until February 16, is Assembled: The Art of Robert Klippel. Arguably Australia’s most important 20th-century sculptor, Klippel used unexpected materials and techniques to produce abstract assemblages of metal, wood and flotsam and jetsam. While you’re there, don’t miss Callum Morton’s Valhalla, a structure replicating Morton’s childhood home in disrepair, created for the 2007 Venice Biennale. The TarraWarra Summer Sketching series (taking place on January 5 and February 2) is another reason to visit – live music, landscape drawing and a tour of the Klippel show with curator Kirsty Grant are all part of the deal. The museum is located on a 400-hectare vineyard – make sure you leave enough time for a pit stop at the Tarrawarra Estate cellar door.

Distance: 43 kilometres north-west of Melbourne
Drive time: Approximately 90 minutes
Cost: Adult entry $12


Shepparton Art Museum
Shepparton Art Museum began with a £50 grant from the Victorian State Government in 1936. It was housed at the local Town Hall for decades, but a permanent gallery space was eventually built in 1965. It’s now home to 3000 works of art, and the permanent collection sprawls over two storeys, with a focus on Australian art and ceramics. The current exhibition, The Boyd Family – A Legacy of Pottery, displays more than 140 works created by various members of one of Australia’s most important arts dynasties.

Driving around Shepparton, you might notice a few cows. Stripy cows. Neon-coloured cows. Cows masquerading as other animals – zebras, clown fish. It’s part of Mooving Art, a constantly updated public exhibition of painted bovine sculptures dotted around Shepparton (the dairy industry is a key player in the local economy).

Distance: 163 kilometres north of Melbourne
Drive time: Approximately two hours
Cost: Free entry


McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery
Set on 16 hectares of bushland, and featuring constantly changing exhibitions, McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery isn’t the sort of place you rush through. Pack a picnic and eat on the grounds, surrounded by more than 100 sculptural works placed throughout the natural landscape. Wander freely or download the gallery app to access more information on the works. Inside the gallery this summer you’ll find Haus Werk: the Bauhaus in contemporary art, an exhibition featuring local and international artists involved in one of the 20th century’s most important architectural and design movements. (The gallery also offers a free shuttle from the city on certain days during summer, which includes a free tour with the curator). If you’re driving to the gallery, look out for a number of jaw-dropping public artworks that punctuate Eastlink and Peninsula Link, including the recent Southern Way McClelland Commission, Love Flower by John Meade, on the Cranbourne Road exit.

Distance: 42 kilometres south-east of city
Drive time: Approximately one hour
Cost: Entry by donation


Pt Leo Estate Sculpture Park
It’s hard to imagine the scale of this place until you’re standing in it. Walk through the monumental, brutalist building housing Pt Leo Estate’s cellar door and restaurants, then you’ll be met by a sea of colossal sculptures with Western Port Bay in the background. The sculpture park features works by major international and Australian artists scattered over 135 hectares. Clement Meadmore, Julian Opie, Inge King and Jaume Plensa are just some of the big names. For those wanting to experience the art on its own, entry is $10 for adults. If you’re eating at Laura, the estate’s acclaimed fine diner, you can access the sculpture park for free.

Distance: 67 kilometres south-east of city
Drive time: Approximately 90 minutes
Cost: Adult entry $10


Bendigo Art Gallery
Bendigo Art Gallery is the perfect mix of old and new, both inside and outside. Originally built in 1887, the gold-rush era architecture was complemented in 2014 by a major expansion designed by Melbourne-based Fender Katsalidis Architects. The permanent collection includes Australian art from the 1850s and contemporary works. It hosts multiple international exhibitions throughout the year, and has gained a reputation for stellar fashion exhibitions: shows dedicated to Balenciaga, Edith Head, Marimekko and Maticevski have all taken place in the past two years. Over summer the gallery is hosting a virtual reality work by Josh Muir – there’s limited availability, so call ahead to confirm a spot.

Outside the gallery, Bendigo has plenty to offer too – if you need a coffee before the drive back, stop in at Naked Espresso Bar. It’s also worth checking which events are coming up in the area – we recommend coinciding your trip with the local farmers market. And if you’ve got the time, a visit to Heathcote on the way in or out is worth it.

Distance: 132 kilometres north-west of city
Drive time: Approximately two hours
Cost: Free entry


Geelong Gallery
Geelong Gallery is one of the country’s oldest regional galleries, established in 1896. Behind the grand facade you’ll find are some of Australia’s most iconic paintings, including Frederick McCubbin’s A bush burial (1890) and Russell Drysdale’s Hill End (1948). They’re part of a 6000-strong permanent collection. Right now the gallery is running a number of exhibitions featuring Australian artists – abstract art, detailed etchings and recent acquisitions included. And here’s one for your diary: in May 2020, the gallery will host the first comprehensive survey of street artist Rone’s career, including a site-specific installation that will transform the space entirely. If you’re spending the day in Geelong, start with brunch at Sunday, the cafe at Boom Gallery (just a couple of kilometres from Geelong Gallery), to get in the mood.

Distance: 65 kilometres south-west of city
Drive time: Approximately 90 minutes
Cost: Free entry


Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery
In 2020, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery will be celebrating its 50th anniversary with a series of exhibitions that celebrate the permanent collection. Naturally, the gallery has a strong focus on works connected to the Mornington Peninsula, but the collection – consisting of more than 1600 pieces – features works by major Australian artists broadly, including Arthur Boyd, Russell Drysdale and Charles Blackman. One of its curatorial focuses is works on paper. The gallery has a knack for putting on a totally fitting summer exhibition, and this year is no different. Sublime Sea: Rapture and Reality spans paintings, sculpture, photography and film to explore the enduring relationship between the sea and our imagination.

Distance: 48 kilometres south-east of city
Drive time: Approximately 90 minutes
Cost: Adult entry $4


The Art Gallery of Ballarat
It seems a strange thing to highlight when there’s so much competing for your attention, but when you visit the Art Gallery of Ballarat, stop and take a moment to appreciate the grand old staircase in the main foyer, as well as the awesome salon hang overlooking it. The gallery is the oldest and largest regional gallery in Australia, dating to back to 1884. The collection features historic and contemporary works focused on the history of Australian art. Current exhibitions include Troy Emery: After the Gold Rush and Dark Horse: Wild Beasts and Curious Creatures, both of which offer different but thought-provoking takes on animals depicted through art. If you get gallery fatigue, have a coffee and cake break at pretty Kittelty’s, or head to the combined Kilderkin Distillery and Red Duck Brewery if you’re looking for something a little stronger. (And if you’re really organised, spend the night so you can eat at the excellent 16-seat Underbar on a Friday or Saturday night.) For history buffs, the Art Gallery of Ballarat is also the custodian of the original Eureka Flag, housed at the Eureka centre – pay a visit on your way in or out of town.

Distance: 101 kilometres north-west of city
Drive time: Approximately 90 minutes
Cost: Free entry


Latrobe Regional Gallery
Set across seven galleries and a sculpture courtyard, Latrobe Regional Gallery hosts national touring exhibitions and shows an impressive array of contemporary and experimental art and design practices. (It’s also home to a significant collection of handcrafted glass and perfume bottles.) Current exhibitions include Dissonant Rhythms, an immersive, kinetic installation by Brisbane-based artist and musician Ross Manning, and Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award, featuring 55 contemporary drawn works. Once you’re done, you can, quite literally, take time to smell the roses by walking 300 metres to the Morwell Centenary Rose Garden, which is home to more than 3500 roses over two hectares.

Distance: 134 kilometres south-east of city
Drive time: Approximately two hours
Cost: Free entry


Horsham Regional Art Gallery
For almost five decades, Horsham Regional Art Gallery has focused on collecting Australian photography, and it now has a stockpile of works by the country’s most influential modern snappers, including David Moore, Olive Cotton, Wolfgang Sievers, Bill Henson, Polixeni Papapetrou, Tracey Moffatt and Max Dupain. Over the summer, check out a touring exhibition from the National Gallery of Australia, The World Turns Modern, which homes in on Australian art deco art and design. It’s fitting for the gallery, which is housed in an impressive late art deco building designed by eminent Melbourne architect and theatre designer Charles Neville Hollinshed.

Distance: 273 kilometres north-west of city
Drive time: Approximately 3.5 hours
Cost: Free entry