In the early 1850s, a wharf on the Murray River was built and Swan Hill became one of the region's major inland river trading ports. The river trade declined with the expansion of railways, however agriculture spearheaded the town's prosperity with the clearing of surrounding land and the use of the river for irrigation. Vast citrus farms and vineyards surround Swan Hill and extend many kilometres to the north-west.
Swan Hill's commercial centre is mainly centred around Campbell Street and the wide boulevard of McCallum Street which crosses the Murray River over a narrow bridge into New South Wales. This bridge was built in 1896 and features a central span which can be raised up to allow paddlesteamers to pass under. Interesting landmarks in the town centre include the clock tower opposite the post office, the elegant town hall (built in 1935), and the garden of nicely shaped conifers which surround the war memorial along the centre of McCallum Street.
In front of the Swan Hill railway station is an 11 metre long giant replica of a Murray Cod - a former movie prop which highlights the popularity of fishing in the river. The Burke & Wills Tree, located in Curlewis Street, is a Moreton Bay fig tree planted in 1860 to commemorate the expedition of those famous explorers across Australia as they passed through Swan Hill. It is believed to be the largest tree of its kind in Australia.
The Murray River through Swan Hill is lined with a number of parks including Riverside Park on Monash Drive which has picnic areas, BBQ facilities, a playground and a sound shell. One of the most popular tourist attractions in town is the Pioneer Settlement, situated at the junction of the Murray and Little Murray Rivers. This settlement recreates the atmosphere of a pioneer river port town and it offers paddlesteamer cruises along the Murray River aboard the P.S. Pyap which was built in 1896 and has been restored.
Around 10 kilometres south of Swan Hill on the main highway is Little Murray Weir Road which leads to a weir that is an important part of the region's irrigation infrastructure.
Another 5 kilometres south is the small community of Lake Boga. The town features a natural lake of about 3 kilometres in diameter and is surrounded by camping areas and swimming spots. The town also includes the Flying Boat Museum, home of the historic Catalina Flying Boat and the site of the RAAF repair depot, housed in the original communications centre used in World War 2.