During an exciting winter weekend trip this year, Ballarat really did prove to be a worthwhile travel destination in Victoria. There are so many things to do in Ballarat, and it’s only just over an hour’s journey from Melbourne. This Ballarat travel guide will outline some amazing places I got to experience, with even more possibility in the surrounding areas as well.
When I heard about the Ballarat Winter Festival, I knew that I had to plan a weekend trip from Melbourne. I may have hung up my clothes from attending tons of amazing Aussie music festivals over the summer, but the colder winter months meant planning some more cozy getaways – learning some history, exploring more nature, and discovering gems in regional Victoria.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when planning my visit to Ballarat. I usually tend to be more of a beaches + nature person (but let’s be honest, I’ll explore just about anything). But when I learned about all the rich history out here and fun things to do in Ballarat in any season, I knew I had to check it out.
Visit Ballarat was able to help me with the absolute perfect weekend itinerary. It included LOTS of delicious and trendy eateries (more than I knew existed out here!), some awesome wintertime activities as part of the Ballarat Winter Festival, wildlife, gorgeous views, and more places to visit in Ballarat.
As soon as we checked into our luxurious apartment looking out over Lake Wendouree, I knew I was going to be sold on this city… and with our first delicious meal, it was sealed!
Hey! This guide to all the best things to do in Ballarat is pretty long. Why not pin it to your Pinterest boards to save for later?
Things to Do in Ballarat
Sovereign Hill is perhaps the most notable of the things to do in Ballarat – it’s a must-do for all ages! This replica gold rush town has actually been constructed from real drawings/paintings of artists who lived in Ballarat during the gold rush that began in the 1850’s. They have done a fantastic job recreating it!
Sovereign Hill has some great accommodation options that look over the old town, and the buildings have recreated the same ones that would have been there in the 1800’s. There are eateries, post offices, gift shops, craft markets, plumbers, general stores, and more! You can even explore an old mine!
If that’s not looking back into history, I don’t know what is. Walking around Sovereign Hill really makes it feel like you’ve stepped back in time, whether you’re a small child or a full-on adult (adults can have fun, too!).
Ballarat Gold Mine Tour
Once inside Sovereign Hill, you can also tour a real Ballarat Gold Mine. Venture underneath the ground to explore the passageways of an old gold mine, similarly reimagined to look as it would have while it was in use. You can take a self-guided tour or also a few different tours that trace the experiences of real people in the mines long ago.
The Red Hill mine at Sovereign Hill may be open to visitors, but believe it or not, there’s actually a REAL mine not too far away. The Ballarat Gold Mine can be found a few kilometers away, within a protected industrial area.
There are actually over 5km of underground mine tunnels underneath the city, but you’ll have to be very special to find your way in there. I would just stick with the Ballarat gold mine tour at Sovereign Hill if I were you!
View from outside the Gold Museum
Before you visit Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, you’ll definitely want to check out the Gold Museum. I say ‘before’ because the Gold Museum gives you a lot of the background facts and information that will help you understand different parts of the replica town.
The Gold Museum is actually situated atop a hilltop point that was actually once one of the most prolific areas to mine gold in the area (and there’s not a bad view, either!). Inside you’ll learn all about different sizes of gold nuggets found in the area, what gold was/is used for, history about the gold rush and massive immigration to the area, and even see the pictures that Sovereign Hill was created from.
Coming from someone who is sometimes iffy about museums, this one was really fascinating. You really get to learn all about the event that made Melbourne/Victoria boom to an international and multicultural city, and there are tons of fun facts!
Feeding a mumma with a baby in her pouch!
A KOALA CUDDLE!! If that’s not the cutest thing in the world, I don’t know what is.
Ballarat Wildlife Park
Next, the Ballarat Wildlife Park is another of the must-do places to visit in Ballarat. This park isn’t the same as your other, run-of-the-mill wildlife parks where you can gaze at kangaroos behind a fence. I mean, some of the animals are behind fences (and reasonably, too… no thanks, crocodile), but here dozens of kangaroos, wallabies, and emus run completely free.
You can wander through lots of different types of animals – reptiles, mammals, and even some birds (including penguins of course!) – but the real allure of this park is getting to pat and feed animals in the field.
For a small fee you can bring kangaroo feed with you, and let kangaroo mums and baby joeys eat straight from your hand! The animals are very tame here and enjoy being fed and patted, which, to someone like me from a different country, was VERY exciting! I made loads of new marsupial friends and even imitated a few emu before they ran away from me trying to peck a hole in the fence. Oh well.
This was a highlight of my day for sure, and getting to see animals so different than what I am used to will never get old during my time in Australia!
One of many rowing clubs along Lake Wendouree
Lake Wendouree is a fairly large lake just outside the Ballarat CBD. This lake is amazing for going on walks/runs (it’s about 6k round trip) and also plays host to the city’s many rowing clubs.
On any morning lots of rowing boats cut their way across the water, dozens of people run and walk the perimeter, and even more look on from waterside restaurants. The lake is bordered with leafy green trees and plenty of places to relax in the sun. This Lake provides a lovely little escape from an otherwise landlocked town, and is a mustt to at least check out when deciding on the best things to do in Ballarat.
Ballarat Botanical Gardens
On the opposite side of Lake Wendouree from the city, you’ll find the beautiful Ballarat Botanic Gardens. These gardens hold tons of different kinds of events, and are one of Australia’s most amazing cool climate gardens.
Wander through all the gorgeous trees, flowers, marble statues, and even greenhouses on a nice sunny day. Why not add it into your adventure around Lake Wendouree?
Well you can’t leave our the city center when naming things to do in Ballarat now, can you? Of course, Ballarat’s city center deserves an exploration of its own. There are quite a few historic buildings you can tour, namely the Town Hall (1860’s), the Regent Threatre (1930’s) and more along the main street, Sturt.
Sturt is a massive central street, separated by a leafy green area of grass and trees. It’s lined with mostly historic buildings, but sprinkled with a bit of more modern ones as well. This area is also home to tons of the city’s best eateries, museums, bars, and more.
Art Gallery of Ballarat
The Art Gallery of Ballarat is just off Sturt Street. It is best known for hosting regional art, and better yet, being the biggest and oldest art museum in Australia to do so! How’s that for a claim to fame?
You can find exhibitions from throughout the history of Australian art within this heritage-listed museum, from contemporary, to photography, to sculpture, to Victorian. Want to know the best part? It’s free!
The Eureka Center is another historic center located on the site of one of Australia’s most defining rebellions – the Eureka stockade. I don’t want to bore you so I’ll keep this short – but they say the Eureka Stockade was the foundation of moderns Australian democracy.
Why? Because gold miners started a rebellion in 1854 to fight to be given rights to vote, own land, and pay less crippling mining fees. They flew a special flag rather than the Victorian flag, which they named called the Eureka Flag.
Although this rebellion was a huge failure (the military flattened it – killed more than 20 people in the first 30 mins), they were given the rights they wanted in the end when the news of a big rebellion got back to the UK.
Kept that nice and short and sweet now, didn’t I?! That’s quite impressive for a tour guide, if you ask me! Anyway – this center is on the site of that rebellion. It has tons of info about it and the area, and houses the original Eureka Flag, which you will see absolutely everywhere in Ballarat. No, like EVERYWHERE. Honestly, keep your eyes out – you’ll see what I mean.
Can you see the rainstorm approaching in the distance?!
Mount Buninyong is another towering mountain (okay, let’s me honest – it’s more of a medium-sized hill) that is visible from around Ballarat. If you take the winding road up to the top, you’ll find a massive tower with stairs all the way to a platform up at the top. It’s the perfect amount taller than the hilltop trees, giving you panoramic views around the gorgeous countryside.
You can nearly see to the city, but what will be most impressive here is the view of surrounding farmland- green fields, paddocks, and bushland. Just don’t get caught in a rainstorm like we did! Either way, I love a good viewpoint, so this adventure was a highlight of all the things to do in Ballarat.
Ohhh, Kryal Castle. Although fairly dated, it will always be a staple of Ballarat. Located at the base of the big hill you can see from the city center (aka, like a 10 minute drive), Kryal Castle is a replicated medieval castle. Like, and actual castle, with big grey stone walls, towers, a moat, and all.
It’s complete with knights, dragons, rides, archery, pony rides, jester performances, and even medieval jousting shows! A highlight is watching horses gallop against each other through the sandy arena, surrounded by cheering fans. Of course this place is best suited for children, but it you can let that inner child free everyone will have fun.
Enjoying my Winter Wonderlights ginerbread man lollipop during my bush walk in the Woowookarung regional park!
Woowookarung Regional Park Viewpoint
This little park is a bit hard to come by, but once you get to the right part, the view is amazing! Woowookarung Regional park is on an elevated bit of bush just outside the city. The best scenic lookout (visible here on Google Maps for clarity) has a fantastic view of the city and also some great bushwalking trails.
You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see a few picnic tables just off the road, and can pick out some buildings from the city in the distance!
Things to Do in Ballarat in Winter – Ballarat Winter Festival
Okay, so here we go with the specific things to do in Ballarat in Winter. They throw an absolutely MAGICAL ‘Christmas in July,’ which to my delight is actually a huge thing down here in Australia.
Clearly, the coldest month of July warrants the celebration of a more ‘stereotypical’ Christmas (northern hemisphere-style) full of snow, mulled wine, and Christmas sweaters. I mean, it makes sense when a classic Aussie Christmas includes barbecuing, cricket, and beach time in the sun!
Winter Wonderlights Festival at Sovereign Hill
So, I’ve already told you about how incredible Sovereign Hill is as a replica Gold Rush Town. Now, picture this: make the temperature nice and cold, and add in heaps of traditionally dressed villagers, bands, and processions. Picture amazing color-changing bright lights and scenes projected onto each and every building to music, and add in TONS of fake snow (it was really bubbles, but shhh). Picture EVERYTHING lit up, with workshops like arts and crafts and gold panning going on throughout the tiny town overlooking the city.
Sound magical? Yep, thats because IT WAS. I felt more Christmas spirit here than I have in quite a few years of warm Christmases…. and IT WAS JULY.
I’m great at ice skating, I swear! 😛
Christmastime isn’t complete without ice skating, is it? I most certainly don’t think so, and if you agree with me you can visit the ice skating rink as part of the Ballarat Winter Festival. It’s conveniently located smack-dab in the city center, between the mall and the Town Hall.
It’s perfectly mixed in with a delicious brekky in the city and a few other CBD activities. There are even little penguin sleds for the little ones who may not be the most adept at ice skating quite yet 😉
Design Exchange Winter Market
The Design Exchange is yet another special event on at the Ballarat Winter Festival. This market is held in yet another open historic building, and will showcase the best of the artisan crafts that Ballarat is so well-known for. You can find artists of all kinds showcasing their handmade items and innovative design. In true Ballarat fashion, you can also expect certain showcases and workshops lead by the artists themselves.
Getting Around Ballarat
Getting around Ballarat is fairly easy, whether you have your own car or not. There are actually plenty of ubers around town if you’d like a quick car hire, or driving your own car around is fairly simple with plenty of parking around. If not, the city center is quite quaint and small and very possible to walk around on foot, too!
Where to Drink/Eat in Ballarat
Moon & Mountain
We tried Moon & Mountain as soon as we arrived in Ballarat after driving from Melbourne, and oh what a warm welcome it was! This quaint little restaurant would best be labeled as ‘asian fusion,’ with asian-inspired dishes with a well-presented and Aussie twist.
I was first blown away by a few asian-inspired cocktails on the list, and we were quickly drawn to the ‘full moon’ tasting platter menu for two. This included seven or so different small courses from various facets of the menu, including chilli oysters, DIY pork belly spring rolls, salmon sashimi, chicken curry, and more. I mean… how could we not?!
Webster’s Market & Cafe
On the first morning of our weekend trip to Ballarat, we were welcomed warmly by Webster’s Market & Cafe down a quaint residential street near Lake Wendouree. Our lives were immediately completed by a breakfast tasting board (chia parfait, smashed avo + smoked salmon and eggs, home made jam on toast) and a chorizo egg + toast dish.
I reckon all good couples should order two dishes and split them both, so that’s exactly what we did (and always do)! It’s the way to try more things, if you ask me. We downed our delicious coffee and these scrumptios breakfast dishes by a green and leafy plant wall inside the warm restaurant. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day (or, should I say brunch because I rarely wake up in time…), and this was a great wake-up.
Can I finish all of this?!
Although we were basically still full from brekky, when lunch time rolled around we knew we had to make room to try a new place because we only had so much time to
do eat all the things to do eat in Ballarat. It was quickly becoming obvious that we would hardly scratch the surface! But we were going to have a damn good try.
At lunchtime we popped into the Forge Pizzeria – a large, brick, warehouse-style pizzeria right on the main cross street. It had a cozy and rustic vibe to match an old newspaper-style menu with just as much fun stories and info as there were items on the menu.
We started with a – you guessed it – tasting platter of a charcuterie board. Can you sense a common theme here?! 😛 Our jaws hit the floor when it came out, too – it was piled high with herbed flatbread and, like, a million different styles of meat. Well maybe realistically about 7 or 8, but who’s counting here?! We didn’t have time for that when sifting through prosciutto, chorizo, salami, and a few other delicious and spicy things I forgot the name of.
Although already stuffed, we ordered a pumpkin and feta pizza with two Aperol spritz’s to wash it down (obviously). We nearly had to roll each other out of the restaurant after this one, but luckily we were headed for a packed night at the Winter Wonderlights festival afterwards.
The Pub with Two Names
This one came after our fun night at Sovereign Hill, so somehow we were actually hungry again! We made our way back into town to check out The Pub with Two Names, better known as The PWTN (which is how you’ll find it on maps and social media).
This was yet another lively yet cozy venue, with a bit of a twist on classic pub food. We tried croquettes and a risotto, and had a bit of a splash out on their steak when we heard it was delicious. The rumors were true – and we had officially eater FAR too much in one day but were oh-so-happily full! Make sure to try their desserts at the end too – I’m not usually a dessert person but their home-baked treats were to die for!
Ah, our last morning meal for out Ballarat weekend trip. It had to be Yellow Espresso – recommended to be both by Visit Ballarat and a few local friends! This one is right on Sturt street, with a trendy and leafy restaurant and tables out on the street for warmer days.
Yellow espresso was another delish and classic Aussie breakfast meal. After much deliberation we settles on the Eggs Benedict and Truffle egg toast, with a tumeric latte and a flat white. It was amazing, of course. I feel like there would have been no way to go wrong on this menu, though – a perfect start to the day!
Where to Drink in Ballarat
The Lost Ones Basement Bar
This is an awesome 1920’s style bar just off of Sturt Street. Come in here for an array of classic cocktails in what I can best describe as a speakeasy vibe. It’s definitely one of the trendier bars in town! If you come in the day, there’s also an art gallery upstairs that you can check out, drink in hand.
Hope temple is also right in the Ballarat CBD. As its name suggests, it truly is the temple of hops – aka TONS of fantastic beer! They have a lot on offer, both of local and national beers. My best recommendation is to get there early on a weekend to make sure there will be a space for you to sit, and to try ordering the beer flights so you can try a few different ones.
Where to Stay in Ballarat
Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments
For the perfect balance between proximity to the city and some gorgeous nature, we stayed in Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments. From our top corner room we woke up to a sunrise over the lake, which despite the cold was still inviting enough to coax us out for a morning walk.
These two-bedroom apartments are decked out with all the trimmings – fluffy blankets, comfy couches, books and interesting trinkets, TV’s in each room, full kitchen with all your coffee and tea needs, and pristine stocked bathrooms. We truly didn’t want to leave this warm haven of an apartment – can we stay forever next time, please?!
Places to Visit Outside Ballarat
Making a weekend trip to Ballarat from Melbourne, or anywhere else for that matter? Make sure to check out the amazing things to do around Ballarat, too. There are some awesome areas of nature, mountains, and countryside outside the city that warrant a visit just as much. Here are a few ideas!
Pyrenees Wine Region + Mountains
While it may be a bit different than the European mountain range of the same name, the Victorian Pyrenees are worthy of a visit just the same – both for the outdoor adventurers AND the wine lovers!
The Pyrenees mountains are a southern section of the Great Dividing Range, and their climate lends them well to be a fantastic wine region of Victoria. Dozens of family-owned wineries sprawl out through the scenic rolling hills of the region, making it a fantastic destination for views and delicious wine. There are over 20 wineries that will often host events and tastings for the ones who venture out into rural Victoria in search of hidden gems.
For the hikers, check out some amazing hiking trails in the area. If you’re a bit more advanced, there’s actually a full-day 24km Pyrenees Endurance Walk that touches on lots of gorgeous areas. For people in search of a quicker hike, check out the Ebling Track Walks or the Sugarloaf Track walk, too.
Tuki Trout Farm
While it miiiight not sound the most appealing, this place is much more than a trout farm, and more of a rustic and luxurious location where you can literally catch your own food and eat it moments later.
The Tuki Trout Farm outside Ballarat is home to luxurious, self-contained accommodation, a fantastic restaurant, and quite a lot of trout who are sadly awaiting their last fate as someone’s lunch. The views from the property are bar-none, and you can watch the soft golden sunset over fields of distant sheep, from your balcony overlooking the pond. Next getaway? I think: yes.