Long regarded as a town on the way to somewhere else, Albury now deserves a visitor’s undivided attention.
Travellers once broke the long road trip between Melbourne and Sydney in Albury, enjoying milkshakes at the Hume Weir Cafe and revitalising dips in the Murray. Although the Hume Highway now bypasses this NSW city, which lies on the Victorian border, today’s Albury is a gourmet goldmine, cultural hub and water lovers’ playground, with wineries and snowfields within easy reach.
What to do
Lace up your runners, grab a water bottle and climb the steps to Albury’s Art Deco war memorial, known locally as “The Monument”. It sits high on Western Hill, overlooking the main thoroughfare, Dean Street. With a great view over the city, it’s the perfect place to get your bearings.
To the south, Noreuil Park hugs the Murray River, which snakes between Albury and its sister city, Wodonga, just across the border in Victoria. Named after a French village captured by Albury soldiers in 1917, the park is quintessential Albury: dogs parade, toddlers tramp and families feast year-round under the iconic plane and elm trees. Join locals for a float down the Murray on a li-lo (warmer months only) or explore the river by paddleboard, kayak or canoe.
Another water playground, Lake Hume is a 15-minute drive from the CBD and a hub for fishing, waterskiing, sailing and swimming. The lake holds six times the water of Sydney Harbour and you can walk across the wall of the Hume Dam, which took 17 years to build. Nearby Lake Vue Cafe offers some 30 flavours of ice-cream, with rock-salted caramel a firm favourite.
Love a show? Albury is an eclectic cultural centre and home to the ever-tumbling, twisting, turning Flying Fruit Fly Circus, the catchcry of which is “ordinary kids doing extraordinary things”. The national youth circus travels the world to international acclaim. If you’re lucky, you may catch a show on home turf.
Albury’s renovated and rebadged art museum, MAMA, opened in 2015 and set tongues wagging with a major coup: it was the only Southern Hemisphere stop of the Marilyn Monroe exhibition Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon.
Five peepholes scattered through the gallery keep the kids on their toes. Duck into the adjoining Canvas Eatery, domain of former Melbourne restaurateur Tim Tehan, for raspberry cheescake waffles.
The country’s leading regional theatre company, HotHouse Theatre, in the Gateway Village arts precinct between Albury and Wodonga, showcases gutsy Australian playwriting at the rustic Butter Factory Theatre.
The real Bonegilla Migrant Experience is a poignant detour 20 minutes’ drive from Albury. One in 20 Australians has links to the camp, with more than 300,000 migrants calling it home between 1947 and 1971. Once made up of 24 blocks, churches, banks, sporting fields, a cinema, hospital, police station and railway platform, only Block 19 remains, where memorabilia and audio recollections by former residents provide a glimpse into camp life.
To delve into Albury’s past, download the free Albury CBD Historic Building Walking Tour app and explore 21 sites in 13 locations, such as Albury Railway Station, which has the longest undercover platform (455 metres) in the Southern Hemisphere. There’s also the former Waterstreet’s Hotel, a quarantine station during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919, where travellers would have to stay for a week before crossing the border. Plus, the Albury Botanic Gardens, originally laid out in the form of the Union Jack; garden highlights include a 107-year-old Queensland kauri.
For another nature hit, take the 10-minute drive west of the city to Wonga Wetlands, an ecosystem of man-made lagoons and billabongs spread over 80 hectares. It’s a twitchers’ paradise with six bird hides and more than 155 species to spot. From there, follow the Murray River along the six-kilometre Wagirra Trail, where the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk features 11 contemporary works by Aboriginal artists; pieces include Bogong Moth Migration (Ruth Davys) and The Bigger Picture (Katrina Weston).
Now you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the food hub of South Albury and stop in at Nord Bakery (0413 906 030), where Thor Sonnichsen and Filippa Nilsson sell authentic Danish pastries, Swedish cinnamon scrolls and traditional sourdough. Next door, at fine-food store Ebden & Olive in Olive Street, Steve Carne and Jodie Jones – former operators of hatted Wodonga restaurant Broadgauge – offer takeaway chef-prepared meals, smallgoods, coffee and lunch.
Butt’s Gourmet Smokehouse in Tribune Street, run by husband and wife Anthony Ainsworth and Marie Bucher, makes fabulous fare such as smoked trout and smoked Murray cod.
Stock up on fresh produce at the Albury Wodonga Farmers’ Market every Saturday. Highlights include Curly Mo Street Food, Willowbank Farm’s vegetables and beef and Peechelba Produce saffron.
Where to eat
The brunch set heads to Dean Street’s Mr. Benedict, where the Beast breakfast sandwich, saves pondering after a big night out. There’s also The Proprietor in Townsend Street; Café Musette near Albury Railway Station; and Early Bird Café, the locals’ favourite for takeaway egg and bacon rolls. Finish with a sweet treat from Dean Street’s Geoffrey Michael Pâtissier.
For caffeine, hit up the Iconic Coffee Van near Albury Botanic Gardens, Dean Street’s Zo'i Espresso or Olive Street’s Coffee Mamma. In North Albury, there’s The Brothers Cup.
Hapi Dumpling and Bao Bar offers housemade dumplings and a hipster vibe in Albury Central. Across the river in Wodonga’s Junction Square precinct, Andiamo Street Kitchen serves Sicilian fare from a converted shipping container – the slow-cooked beef brisket quesadilla is the hero dish, followed by the eatery’s own gelati.
The River Deck is perfectly placed on the banks of the Murray at Noreuil Park, with sweeping river views framed by towering elm and plane trees. Belgian-born restaurateur Alex Smit and Mauritian head chef Ludo Baulacky serve regional produce with an interesting spin – a favourite is the Murray trout pastrami. La Maison Café, at Gateway Island in Wodonga, serves Middle Eastern-inspired nosh in a rustic setting.
In Wodonga, chef David Kapay, formerly of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in London, runs fine-dining restaurant Miss Amelie in a historic former railway station. Highlights of his modern European menu include crab and king prawn ravioli and peanut butter parfait.
Where to stay
Lake Hume Tourist Park is a 15-minute drive from the CBD and has great lakeside views – cabin 20 tops the list. The self-contained two- and three-bedroom cabins are neat, comfortable and great value for families. Alternatively, Albury’s oldest house, Frauenfelder Cottage, built by a German winemaker in 1857, sleeps four.
In the centre of the city, Atura Albury, with its urban-warehouse look and eclectic art collection, is hip while being kind to the hip pocket. It also has the latest check-out in the city – 11am. It’s a short stroll from Albury Botanic Gardens and within reach of many gourmet gems. Bike hire is complimentary for guests and there are 50 kilometres of trails around Albury to explore. Fuel up on an Angus burger at the on-site Roadhouse Bar & Grill. Happy hour runs from 5pm to 7pm with $10 teapot cocktails – think passionfruit caprioska and strawberry mojito.
Quest Albury on Townsend, centrally located in the historic Farmers and Graziers Woolstore, has 74 one-, two- and three-bedroom self-catering apartments, with an on-site gym and a pantry shopping service. Asian kitchen and wine bar Din Dins (02 6021 3745), located on the ground floor, serves tasty “nibble me, share me, fill me and treat me” dishes including mushroom, ginger and wombok spring rolls with pickled ginger aïoli, and sticky Korean fried chicken.
Sister property Quest Albury in Kiewa Street has 104 rooms with studio and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.
In central Albury, Waverley Bed & Breakfast combines old-world charm with contemporary style in a restored Victorian house built in 1893. It sleeps four.
Within a five-minute drive of the CBD, Yalandra Apartments at West Albury has five two-bedroom townhouses with decks overlooking a semirural vista, close to Murray River walks and trail rides.