Echuca is set within an irrigated pastoral and agricultural district on the Murray River, just across the river from the New South Wales border town of Moama. Echuca is the closest settlement on the Murray River to Melbourne.
Echuca was surveyed in 1854 and quickly became one of Australia's busiest inland ports, with paddle steamers ferrying supplies throughout Australia's interior via the river network. Improving road and rail transport eventually took over, with cargo transport on the river through the Port of Echuca ceasing in the very early 1900s. Since then, agriculture and tourism have developed as Echuca's main industries.
The heyday of paddle steamers and river trade has left a historic legacy to Echuca on which much of its tourism is built upon today. The original red gum wharf was constructed in stages from 1865 as a three-level structure to allow for the rise and fall of the river, ultimately reaching a length of 1200 metres. Only a small section of the wharf remains today, preserved as part of the recreated Port of Echuca tourist attraction, and serving as a great viewing deck of the Murray River and surrounding bush. As well as the wharf, this river port recreation of yesteryear features a museum, historic buildings, equipment displays, demonstrations and cruises on authentic paddle steamers.
Echuca's main commercial centre is situated along Hare Street and spills over into Pakenham Street and other side streets. It consists of a mix of contemporary shop fronts and historic buildings such as the former post office with its distinctive clock tower (built in 1870), several banks and churches.
A more tourist-based commercial precinct lies along High Street. South of Heygarth Street, this wide boulevard is lined with motels, churches, a cinema and supermarket. North of Heygarth Street, it features many historic buildings with a range of hotels, eateries and speciality shops.
Echuca's warm climate and its location along the Murray River, lined with parks and native forests, makes it a popular destination for visitors, with swimming, boating and fishing being popular activities. The river is home to a constant stream of houseboats, providing an alternative type of accommodation for holiday makers.