As Victoria’s third biggest city, Ballarat is steeped in history, with a thriving arts and food scene. Discover the best things to do in Ballarat on a day or weekend trip from Melbourne.
Once one of the richest goldfields in the country, Ballarat has become a popular destination for travellers, especially as it’s only 90 minutes from Melbourne.
Victoria’s largest inland city is home to a thriving arts and events scene, fantastic restaurants and a whole lot of history – both from its gold rush-era and a rich Indigenous history, which stretches back tens of thousands of years. Ballarat lies on the lands of the Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung People.
Ballarat is more than just an escape from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne life. It’s a place that is pulsating with culture and history – good food and great wine and some of the most gorgeous architecture you could ever hope to see in your life.
I’m prone to hyperbole, but by jove, this town is gorgeous.
If you’re strapped for time, you can experience most of what the city has to offer over a weekend. I do highly recommend making Ballarat your base and exploring some nearby towns and regions, such as the Pyrenees, Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges and Bendigo.
Here are some of the top local attractions and things to do in Ballarat, no matter where your interest lies.
This guide to the best things to do in Ballarat will cover:
Where to stay in Ballarat
What is Ballarat famous for?
Ballarat lies within the Goldfields region of Victoria. The gold rush, which began in 1851, saw thousands of prospectors from across the world flock to Australia, hoping to strike it rich.
You might have heard of the Eureka Rebellion, also known as the Battle of the Eureka Stockade, which marks a three-day battle between rebels and colonial forces. It’s become a key event in Australia’s colonial history.
I highly recommend reading The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, by Clare Wright before visiting Ballarat, which details the role women of the area played in the uprising.
While gold is still mined in the region, Ballarat is also known for its for its thriving arts and events scene and food culture.
When is the best time to visit Ballarat?
Do you have the luxury of deciding when to visit this regional city? Very lucky.
Ballarat is lovely during the shoulder seasons. The city is ablaze in gold, orange and red foliage during autumn. In spring, the place comes to life, especially within the local botanical gardens.
I will make the argument that, despite the cold, Ballarat is a delight to visit in winter. The city makes an extra push to deliver some spectacular events.
The natural cosiness of the place makes it a delight to explore during this time of the year, as well. Or to simply wrap up and bunker down in any of its beautiful buildings.
Intrigued? Read on to find out more about the things to do in Ballarat during the coolest season and why winter is a great time for a holiday in Australia.
Things to do in Ballarat
To kick things off, let’s discover some of the top Ballarat attractions.
I’ve also nominated some places to eat for any meal of the day.
1. Explore the Art Gallery of Ballarat
The Art Gallery of Ballarat is the oldest gallery in regional Australia. It’s not far at all from the main train station and is one of the best free things to do in Ballarat.
The gallery is home to roving exhibitions, as well as a permanent collection. To get the lay of the land, jump on a free guided tour at 11am, with a knowledgeable guide.
Many of the city’s best attractions are outdoors, so this is one of the best things to do in Ballarat on a rainy day.
2. Wander Lydiard St to take in the architecture
Get yourself familiarised with Ballarat by taking a walk down Lydiard St.
As previously mentioned, Ballarat was once one of the richest alluvial goldfields and this wealth can be easily be seen in the city’s ornate buildings, and stately hotels and homes.
3. Pan for gold at Sovereign Hill
Sovereign Hill is one of Ballarat’s main attractions. It’s an open-air museum that depicts the town during the Gold Rush era.
Expect a replica of gold mining town, complete with costumed actors. Visitors can even go panning for gold!
4. Time your visit with Winter Wonderlights
Remember how I repped winter as the best season to visit Ballarat?
One of these reasons is Winter Wonderlights, which is held at Sovereign Hill.
For three weeks from around late-June to mid-July, after the sun goes down (from 5pm-7pm), the ‘town’ comes alive with colour and light.
Animated videos are beamed onto the buildings and ‘snow’ falls from the sky. It’s delightful to take in, as you wander around, perhaps tightly clutching a cup of mulled wine.
5. And check out the Winter Festival
Winter Wonderlights is part of the Ballarat Winter Festival, designed to show off the city in one of its nicest seasons.
There’s ice-skating for kids and a series of events for adults, such as laser tag, truffle hunting and ‘Red Series’, a giant wine tasting event.
6. Drop into Kryal Castle
Did you know Ballarat is home to a castle?
Kryal Castle offers an opportunity to step back 1000 years in time, to experience the world through a medieval lens.
There’s jousting, potion-making, theatre and a medieval village. You can become a Knight, try your hand at axe-throwing or pick up some skills from the resident blacksmith.
Or join the fun during a murder mystery night. There’s a three-course meal on offer and the person who correctly guesses the murderer wins a prize.
It’s not the only castle in Victoria. In Melbourne’s north-west, you’ll find Overnewton Castle, a stately home offering up tours and high teas.
7. See a show at the Regent Cinema or Her Majesty’s Theatre
As a film-geeking theatre nut, I will travel to any destination that has a neat cinema or heritage-listed theatre showing something good.
Ballarat happens to have both these things – the Regent Cinema and Her Majesty’s Theatre are both gorgeous old buildings that stopped me in my tracks.
I was lucky enough to once catch the opening performances of The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez at Her Majesty’s. Montez was an Irish performer who was considered quite scandalous for her time, who journeyed out the Goldfields to perform shows across the region.
8. Venture out to the Pyrenees for a wine-tasting session
Ballarat is a hop, skip and a jump away from the Pyrenees wine region. Not to be confused with that other famous region in France!
This region specialises in rich reds, floral whites and fine sparklings.
You’d probably need a couple of dedicated days to properly experience the Pyrenees. If you’re strapped for time, I recommend dropping into Blue Pyrenees Estate and Mount Avoca, which has one of the prettiest cellar doors in the state.
Australian wine is seriously underrated, so long as you stay far, far away from Yellowtail and Jacob’s Creek. Victoria in particular has a hip, hop, happening wine scene – I’ve yet to head to any wine region in the state and return without at least two bottles of red in hand.
9. Tour the Botanic Gardens and get ahead on Prime Minister Avenue
How good are gardens and flowers? Pretty good, but even better in Ballarat, because you can venture out to their gorgeous Botanical Gardens and learn a little bit about Australia’s political history!
And who doesn’t love politics? Especially politics in this country, because they are utterly ridiculous.
The Gardens feature a pathway known as “Prime Minister Avenue”, upon which lies a bronzed bust of every PM this country has ever had – including one who served for a mere six days (Frank Forde, his name was). Notable figures include:
- Sir Edmund Barton
- Harold Holt
- Gough Whitlam
- Robert Menzies
- Bob Hawke
- Julia Gillard
– our first Prime Minister.
– who disappeared whilst swimming at a beach in the 1960s.
– a revolutionary PM, who led the Labor Party to power in 1972 and was dismissed from office three years later (for basically being too forward-thinking).
– our longest serving Prime Minister, of 18 years in total.
– the most popular PM in Australia, who once set a world record for sculling beer (truly a man of the people).
– Australia’s first female PM, elected in 2010.
If you’re after a relaxing, nature-filled visit, then this will be one of the top things to do in Ballarat for you.
10. Visit Lake Wendouree
The Botanical Gardens are located right near Lake Wendouree, a man-made lake just outside of the city centre of Ballarat.
There’s a 6-kilometre running and walking track, cycling trails and playgrounds. Pack a picnic to have by the lake or take some food for a BBQ.
You can also go fishing, sailing and rowing. Look out for the tenacious black swans, who call the lake home.
11. Check out Ballarat Tramway Museum
And to take in this part of Ballarat from a different point of view, head on over to the Ballarat Tramway Museum.
Learn about the history of trams in the city and see some of these trams in question, including Ballarat Horse Drawn Tram No. 1. This was the first tram to operate in Ballarat in 1887.
The museum is run by volunteers and open most weekends and school holidays.
12. Jump onto a ghost tour
Chance a sighting of some spooky spectres on a ghost tour of Ballarat.
You can choose between two tours:
- Ballarat Ghost Tour, which travels through the city’s gothic architecture, to the remains of the old Ballarat Gaol
- Ballarat Old Cemetery Night Tour, where you’ll hear all about the spooky side of Australia’s premier Gold Rush Cemetery.
This is definitely one of the more hair-raising things to do in Ballarat.
13. Take in the splendour of Lal Lal Falls
Lal Lal Falls is a waterfall located about 20 minutes outside of Ballarat.
The water flows through and drops into a large, rocky gorge. There’s a viewing platform looking over the falls.
Go a tad further around the gorge on the Von Guerard View Track for a long distance view across the gorge.
If you want decent photos of the waterfall, I recommend going in the afternoon rather than morning.
These falls are a place of great Indigenous significance too. They’re believed to be the earthly home of Bunjil, the All Father or Creator to most Victorian Aboriginal tribes.
14. Walk the Mount Buninyong Summit Loop
This extinct volcano is south of the city. It’s predominantly home to diverse birdlife and wallabies.
There’s a 2.6 kilometre tail that can be hiked or mountain biked. Considered to be moderately challenging, it takes around 50 minutes to complete.
The views from the top of the mountain are something else. High recommended.
15. Hop on a beer-brewing masterclass
Onto more unusual things to do in Ballarat.
Want the lowdown on brewing the perfect ale? Hop on over to Aunty Jack’s, a brewery in the city centre.
The brewery runs a bunch of events, from one-day beer-making courses, to ‘Tales & Ales’, where participants can explore, discuss and taste five different beer styles.
16. Bee-have at a beekeeping workshop
Okay, I will acknowledge that that was a terrible pun. I’m not sorry, however.
Backyard Bees Ballarat offer a range of beekeeping courses. Get an introduction to beekeeping, peer into an open hive, or sip on wine and snack on nibbles as you create four beeswax candles.
17. Tour the city during the Ballarat International Foto Biennale
This is one of Ballarat’s most popular events, for a good reason.
During this foto festival, the entire city is immersed in art. It’s considered to be Australia’s leading photography festival and is not to be missed by art enthusiasts.
18. Frolic among the flowers at the Ballarat Begonia Festival
This blooming beautiful festival celebrates all thing begonias.
Held in March, it showcases the city’s unique and rare collection of Begonias.
19. Visit the Ballarat Municipal Observatory & Museum
This observatory is located at Mount Pleasant in Ballarat.
Visitors can observe at the telescope, take a guided tour of the observatory and view 3D movies in the AstroTour theatre.
It also has a collection of some beautiful stained glass windows – all astronomically themed, of course.
Where to eat & drink in Ballarat
As you can see, there’s certainly many things to do in Ballarat. You’ll need to fuel up around your explorings, for sure. So, where should you go?
Breakfast in Ballarat
Clothesline Cafe is located in an old weatherboard home. The family-run business offers up a menu, lush with local produce. Artisan sourdough bakery 1816 produce house-made pastries, handmade pies and sandwiches.
Lunch in Ballarat
Mitchell Harris Wine serve up delectable platters within their cellar door. The Hydrant Food Hall can be found down a Ballarat heritage laneway. Choose between an all-day brekky and all-day lunch menu.
Dinner in Ballarat
How do I spend a day in Ballarat?
Here are my recommendations for what to prioritise during a day trip to Ballarat.
- Stop in at Lal Lal Falls
- Have breakfast at the Clothesline Cafe
- Drop into Sovereign Hill
- Order lunch platters at Mitchell Harris Wines
- Walk off lunch with a stroll along Lydiard St
- Drop into the Botanical Gardens
- Grab a meal at Roy Hammond or Ragazzone before you hit the road.
How do I spend a weekend in Ballarat?
Looking for things to do in Ballarat during a weekend trip? Follow the above itinerary for day one. After dinner, pop into either Bar Clara or RJM’s Wine Bar for libations (or jump on a ghost tour!). Sleep sweet dreams, close to the action at The Provincial Hotel.
The next morning, grab brekky at the hotel or pick up a pastry from 1816. Take a wander through the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Then either drop into Aunty Jack’s Brewery for lunch and a flight (if you’re not driving, of course).
Or, you can sniff, swirl and sip some cold-climate wine at nearby Michael Unwin Wines, Eastern Peake Vineyard and Captains Creek Organic Wines, before heading back to Melbourne.
Is Ballarat worth visiting?
It’s more than worth making a trip to Ballarat. With its unique blend of art, history, foodie scene and varied attractions and events, Victoria’s third largest city has something for everyone.
So, what do you reckon? Would you be keen to spend a few days discovering Ballarat? Let me know in the comments. And explore other fabulous weekend getaways from Melbourne.
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* This image was taken in partnership with Visit Victoria.
Please note, these experiences take place on the country of the Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung People. We acknowledge them as the Traditional Owners of these lands and pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.