Just 20 minutes from the city, and yet with all the charm and holiday ambience of a coastal village, Williamstown sits like a pearl at the crown of Melbourne’s glistening Port Phillip Bay. Established as a port in the 1830s, the town grew in prominence with the influx of hopeful gold miners to the colony, followed by the wool and wheat boom which called for large-scale harbour facilities – and of course, a community to support it.
The rich and colourful heritage of the area led to a fascinating array of architecture and property styles that have developed sympathetically over the generations. At one end of the scale are the quaint timber stevedores’ cottages that sidle up to each other and have proven to be a hit with keen renovators. At the other extreme, sit the gracious colonial-era mansions and magnificent contemporary family homes that overlook the esplanade and the sea beyond. And in-between, the quiet, historic streets are dotted with homes that reflect the changes in character and fortunes of this charming port town.
The last decade has seen, arguably, the most marked changes in fortune since the gold rush, with the appeal of the heritage setting and the close proximity to the CBD attracting huge interest amongst new residents and visitors alike. On any given day – and especially when the sun is out – the sea-facing strip of Nelson Place is a bustling hive of cafes and wine bars, galleries, pubs, restaurants and gift stores. The nautical atmosphere is still very prevalent, with yacht clubs, marinas, jetties and museum trails attracting a colourful mix of old salts, budding sailors, keen anglers and avid history buffs.
Amongst our favourite spots to take in the ambience of Williamstown are the Anchorage Restaurant and Shelly’s Beach Pavilion – each of which command a waterfront position overlooking the bay. The bustling Carter Smith Devlin Co. and the Croatian-inspired Ragusa restaurant are two of Nelson Place’s most popular haunts, and in the heart of Williamstown, the Crimson Bear café does a roaring trade. Nearby Newport also tempts the hungry locals: from cute Stepping Stone café’s fresh pastries for breakfast to Dough Newport’s popular fish, chips and pizza for a hearty weekend dinner.
Williamstown is well-served by trains, and even boasts its own water ferry to the heart of Melbourne’s Arts Precinct at Southbank. Quality schools, parks, sports facilities and beaches are numerous, and with nearby access to both the Princes Freeway and the Western Ring Road, Melbourne’s two main airports, along with Victoria’s magnificent surf coast and Great Ocean Road are within easy reach.