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19 best things to do in Ballarat, Victoria

As Victoria’s third biggest city, Ballarat is a city 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.

Some of Ballarat's beautiful and historic buildings, bathed in evening light.
Golden hour in the town centre.

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.

Looking down Lydiard Street in Ballarat.
Lydiard Street, one of the main streets of Ballarat.*

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.

Band marching through Sovereign Hill in Ballarat.
All the action at Sovereign Hill.*

This guide to the best things to do in Ballarat will cover:

  • What Ballarat is famous for
  • The best time to visit Ballarat
  • Things to do in Ballarat
  • Where to eat & drink in Ballarat
  • Where to stay in Ballarat
  • How to spend a day in Ballarat
  • How to spend a weekend in Ballarat
  • Whether Ballarat is worth visiting

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.

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Need a set of wheels for your weekend getaway to Ballarat?

Breakfast plates at Hydrant Food Hall in Ballarat.
Dining at the Hydrant Food Hall in Ballarat.*

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.

Outside the old Mining Exchange building in Ballarat. Walking along the main Lydiard Street to take in the architecture is one of the best free things to do in Ballarat.
Another historic building in the city – the inside is as nice as the exterior.

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 and where to stay in Ballarat.

A woman stands at the top of stairs, staring at the art on a wall inside the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
Inside the Art Gallery of Ballarat.*

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.

Sovereign Hill in Ballarat.
Gazing across Sovereign Hill.*
People panning for gold at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat.
People panning for gold.*

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!

Winter Wonderlights at Sovereign Hill, where animated art is blazed upon the replica buildings within the open-air museum.
Sovereign Hill during Winter Wonderlights.*

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.

A suit of armour, inside Kryal Castle, a unique thing to do in Ballarat.
Inside Kryal Castle. Image courtesy of Visit Victoria.

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.

The conservatory at Ballarat Botanical Gardens, one of the best things to do in Ballarat.
Inside the Botanical Gardens.*
Bust of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard along Prime Minister Avenue in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens.
Julia Gillard represented on Prime Minister Avenue.

9. Head to the Botanic Gardens and tour 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
  • – our first Prime Minister.

  • Harold Holt
  • – who disappeared whilst swimming at a beach in the 1960s.

  • Gough Whitlam
  • – 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).

  • Robert Menzies
  • – our longest serving Prime Minister, of 18 years in total.

  • Bob Hawke
  • – the most popular PM in Australia, who once set a world record for sculling beer (truly a man of the people).

  • Julia Gillard
  • – 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.

Black swan swimming on Lake Wendouree at sunset.
A black swan, one of the locals of Lake Wendouree. Image courtesy of Visit Victoria.

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 three tours:

This is definitely one of the more hair-raising things to do in Ballarat.

View of Lal Lal Falls in the early morning.
Looking out at Lal Lal Falls in the early morning.

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.

Inside Aunty Jack's in Ballarat. The bar counter, where a sign reads: 'Aunty Jacks. New IPA: Joe's blood orange. Try our award-winning beers! Beer paddles: $25!!!'
Drink the beer, or have a go at brewing it.*
Beer tasting paddle at Aunty Jacks in Ballarat.
Beer tasting paddle at Aunty Jacks.*

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.

More historic houses lining Ballarat's Lydiard Street.
The Foto Biennale sees art crammed into every corner around Ballarat.*

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 and 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 of the most beautiful stained glass windows – all astronomically themed, of course.

Breakfast plates at the Clothesline Cafe.
Digging into brekky at the Clothesline Cafe.*

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.

Plates of food and wine at Mitchell Harris Wines in Ballarat.
Plates of food and wine at Mitchell Harris Wines in Ballarat.*

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

Settle in for cocktails and Asian-inspired cuisine at Moon & Mountain or Roy Hammond. Or dig into perfect plates of pasta at Ragazzone. Round off the evening with a tipple at RJM’s Wine Bar.

Bed inside a suite at the Provincial Hotel in Ballarat.
Inside the Provincial Hotel.*

Where to Stay 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.

Cocktails on a table out the front of the Bar Clara caravan at the Provincial Hotel.
Delicious cocktails at Bar Clara.*

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.

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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.

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2 Comments

    1. I think it would have definitely improved! I feel the same way about my university town… it’s so much cooler now than it was a decade ago.

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