Ballarat is a big place. There are so many things to do in Ballarat for people of all ages. My last visit to Ballarat was over 10 years ago. Too long. From experience I can say I had a great time. I spent two weeks in Ballarat and enjoyed every day.
Just an hour away from Melbourne by car, those visiting Ballarat from Victoria’s capital can catch the train. The train takes around 90 minutes to arrive from Melbourne and runs daily. As a result, its a popular service for those taking a day trip. Lets take a look at Ballarat’s history and culture.
The original landowners of the land where Ballarat is built in were the Wathaurong people, an Indigenous Australian nation. It lies in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range in Central Victoria.
Six Scottish settlers from Geelong were the first Europeans to spot the area. These settlers arrived in 1837 and were led by Somerville Learmonth. They were looking for land less affected by drought for their sheep to graze.
The first houses in Ballarat were built near Woolshed Creek. A member of the settling party, William Yuille, built a hut at Black Swamp in 1838. As a result. this would later become known as Yuille’s Station. Yuille also named the area “Ballarat”. The name is derived from a local Aboriginal phrase “resting place”.
Gold Rush of the 1850’s
Gold was first discovered near Ballarat by Thomas Hiscock on 2 August 1851. In addition, this brought other prospectors to the area. Later that month John Dunlop and James Regan found a few ounces of gold. As a result of this find thousands of prospectors came to the Yarrowee Valley.
Yields were reportedly high in the early days. Ballarat therefore gained a reputation as a rich goldfield. Immigrants from Ireland and China arrived soon after. These arrivals also built shanty towns around the creeks and hills. In just a few months the local population grew to over 1,000 people.
The first post office opened in 1851. By 1852 land sales grew quickly in the new township of West Ballarat. Most of the early streets were named for police and gold commissioners of the era. The first local newspaper, called the Banner, was also published in September 1853.
Eureka Rebellion (Stockade)
Civil unrest in the new town led to an armed civil uprising. The Eureka Rebellion is commonly known as the “Eureka Stockade”. It took place in Ballarat on 3 December 1854. The event also saw 22 miners killed by local troopers.
Post Gold Rush Era
Ballarat’s gold rush saw many impressive, Victorian style homesteads and buildings constructed. The wealth ran wild in it’s early days. Many settlers struck it rich and lived the high life. Yields started declining in the 1860’s. As a result, the city made a transition to a more industrial economy. The city went through a tough period around the turn of the century and therefore the population declined rapidly.
In the 1960’s Ballarat began to cash in on its rich history by preserving many historical buildings. Surrounding agriculture poured wealth back into the city. Soon after the local council identified tourism as a potential industry. Since the 1960’s the city of Ballarat has enjoyed steady growth. As a result it’s population has gorwn to over 100,000 residents.
Like most Southern Australian cities Ballarat is hot in Summer and cool in winter. The record high temperature of 44.1C was recorded on 6 February 2009. Average temperatures in Summer are mild, 22.7C in December, 25.4C in January and 25.6C in February.
In Winter conditions are cold. The average temperature for June is 11.4C, in July just 10.4C and in August 11.7. The area also receives plenty of rainfall. On average over 630mm per year. Around 200mm of this rainfall occurs the winter months.
Lets check out the top 9 things to do in Ballarat.
Things To Do In Ballarat: Sovereign Hill
Sovereign Hill take guests back to the 1850s gold rushes. It has also been named Australia’s best ‘Major Tourist Attraction’ four times. Sovereign Hill provides a unique experience for visitors along with a full day of activities and education.
Entry to Sovereign Hill also includes entry to the Gold Museum. This museum is so jam packed with displays and things to do it has its own place on this list later in the article.
At Sovereign Hill, guides will teach you how to pan for gold the right way. Also, whatever gold you find you keep. Other attractions include a tour through an underground gold mine and street theatre shows. You can also watch workers pour gold in the blacksmith’s forge. There is even a confectionery factory for those with a sweet tooth!
Visitors who want the full experience can also stay on-site at the refurbished Sovereign Hill Hotel. Room options include superbly appointed Governor’s rooms. There are also rooms for couples and families. You will need more than one day to see everything on offer at Sovereign Hill. Their website and Facebook page is the place to go for more information.
Top of the list for things to do in Ballarat.
Things to do in Ballarat: Eureka Centre
The Eureka Centre is located at the site of the 1854 Eureka Stockade rebellion. This event is part of Australian history with the centre hosting many artefacts. These also include one of Australia’s most important cultural pieces, the Eureka Flag.
The Eureka Centre displays the impact of the gold rush on the city. It also tells the stories of those who risked their lives in the fight for miners’ rights.
Read More about the Eureka Stockade here.
The Eureka Centre is led by professional educators. They share their knowledge of the Stockade and the political reforms that followed.
Also, at the Eureka Centre is the Ballarat Research Hub. Here the combined resources of the Public Record Office, the Archives Centre and the Ballarat Genealogical Society can be found. If you’ve ever wondered if your family had relatives involved in the Eureka Stockade, this is the place to found out.
Also, the Australiana Research Collection is housed at the Eureka Centre. This is an extensive collection of books, newspapers, maps, plans, and indexes. The collection features several rare books of national significance.
The centre is close to the Eureka Stockade Memorial Gardens. A café on site is the perfect place to grab a coffee. After that, its a regat place to enjoy the surrounds.
The centre is open daily, from 10am until 5pm, with adult tickets costing just $6. Visit their Facebook page.
Things to do in Ballarat: Kryal Castle
The Eureka displays might take you back to the 1800’s however Kryal Castle takes guests back much further. Medieval displays are few and far between in a country less than 300 years old. This complex is the best in Australia by far.
The Castle was built in the 1970’s and named for its original owner Keith Ryall. The castle also features a drawbridge, towers, stocks, a medieval themed maze and an armoury.
Kryal Castles imposing walls greet guests on arrival. From there you are thrown back in time. Visitors will discover myths, magic and legends. Entertainment also comes in many forms with daily shows, tours and even a torture museum!
Fans of the TV show Game of Thrones will love this experience. Live jousting is one of many shows that will keep visitors on the edge of their seat. At night there are also special tours for those staying on site and even on old fashioned ale house.
Kryal castle has rooms on site for guests and can host weddings, birthdays and other special functions. Also, roving jesters provide laughs and pop up when you least expect them. I loved every minute visiting Kryal Castle. One of the best things to do in Australia… and Ballarat. Check out their Facebook page for more details.
Things to do in Ballarat: Creswick Woollen Mills
Whilst not technically in the city of Ballarat, if you have access to a car you’ll want to visit this attraction. Just 15-minute’s North of Ballarat is the town of Creswick. Home to all things agriculture it is also the home base of Creswick Woollen Mills.
Guests can take in the award-winning interactive exhibition ‘A Very Fine Yarn’. This exhibit runs through the proud history of the Mill. Also, you’ll learn about how natural fibres become the jumpers that keep you warm in winter.
It’s not just sheep that make up those natural fibres. A trip to the Mill includes a chance to meet the stars of the show. These include alpacas, goats and sheep. Guests can feed and pat them making it a great family day out.
Free self-guided tours are available all day. For large groups, bookings are essential. A guide will accompany groups on the tour. Group tours cost $10 per person with up to three children in a group entering for free. However, if you spend $40 in the store at the end of the tour, its free!
The Mill café is the perfect place to finish the tour. Enjoy a cup of coffee and the range of locally produced cakes and slices. A great experience for family members of all ages. If you visit Ballarat, make the effort and take the short drive. One of the great things to do in Ballarat.
Things to do in Ballarat: Hop Temple
Most brew houses are unique however this place is something else. Hop Temple is very enthusiastic about good beer, wine and food.
This place is family orientated however it really is a beer lovers dream. Do not drive here. If you do drive, hand over your keys to the barman on entry and get an uber home. Relaxing with friends over an ale is the name of the game at Hop Temple.
Ironically located on Hop Lane, the walk to get to Hop Temple takes you down a 150-plus year old laneway that oozes history. Once inside you’ll find history mixed with modern convenience.
The venue has multiple function areas, regular live entertainment and one of the largest selections of beers in the Southern Hemisphere. They host special events weekly and monthly such as Drag Queen trivia nights, musical bingo and paint your mate sessions.
The managers are always looking for new ways to entertain guests. Therefore, there is bound to be something unique to do here during your visit. Check out their website and Facebook page for events coming up. Put it on your list of things to do when visiting Ballarat.
Things To Do In Ballarat: Gold Museum
The Gold Museum could have been covered in my earlier run down of Sovereign Hill. I believe the Gold Museum commands its own addition on this list.
The Gold Museum is the complete collection of mining memorabilia for Ballarat. Its cultural footprint is undeniable. History is everywhere you look. It is part of the Sovereign Hill Museum Association; however, it can be toured separately to Sovereign Hill itself.
The Gold Museum extends Sovereign Hill’s story of Ballarat. It is Ballarat’s social and cultural history museum. It has two permanent exhibition spaces that showcase the people, places and events on which the city was founded. Also, a rotating program of temporary exhibitions and public programs give guests a unique learning experience.
The Jessica & Paul Simon Gold Pavilion is one of the permanent exhibitions on display. Here guests get up close with pure Ballarat gold. Nuggets, alluvial samples and elaborate jewellery. The second permanent exhibition is titled “Inspired by Gold”. This looks at how Ballarat transformed from a tent city into the thriving community we see today.
As a result, this is a must-see thing to put on the list when visiting Ballarat.
Things to do in Ballarat: Art Gallery of Ballarat
Cultural experiences are high on the list of things to do in Ballarat. The Art Gallery of Ballarat operates as a Not for Profit organisation run by a board of directors. The Ballarat City Council is the sole shareholder.
The gallery was founded in 1884. As a result. this makes it the oldest and largest regional art gallery. The collection here enables visitors to experience the evolution of Australian art. From early colonial works it also shows more contemporary pieces.
The Gallery places its focus on history and the cultural life derived from it. The gallery regularly hosts concerts, talks and other special events.
The gallery shop is the place to go for souvenirs. It also includes jewellery and ceramics made by local artists. The gallery’s café is one of the best eateries in town. I loved the home-made chocolates.
The Art Gallery of Ballarat website is the place to visit for details of upcoming events and shows. Call in, catch a show or enjoy the ongoing displays. A great place to visit during your stay in Ballarat.
Things to do in Ballarat: Wildlife Park
Families will love this experience. The Ballarat Wildlife Park is a privately owned business. The Park offers guests one of the most picturesque walks you will find anywhere in the world. You’ll also get the chance to get up close to some of Australia’s most loved native animals.
Over 100 Kangaroos roam free around the Park. Guests can feed them, interact with them and learn more about them. Also, on site are Koalas, Wombats, Snakes and even Little Penguins! While you are up close with these cute critters you can even get a professional photo to take home as a souvenir.
The Ballarat Wildlife Park is open every day. There are guided tours available from 11am daily. These tours are the best way to see everything the park has to offer. For those looking for more VIP Tours are led by the parks most senior wildlife Keepers. During this tour guests get close encounters Tasmanian Devils, the Goodfellow Tree Kangaroo and a giant Tortoise.
The Ballarat Wildlife Park is an animal lovers dream. Also, one of the great things to do while visiting Ballarat.
Ballarat Tramway Museum and Botanic Gardens
The Ballarat Tramway Museum preserves the tram history of Ballarat from 1887 to 1971. The trams still operate for guests. They run along a public road on an original section of the track. This experience includes everything you would expect from the era. Conductors, paper tickets, also staff uniforms.
The museum houses the tramcar collection. This is a museum display with photographs, videos, tramway memorabilia and book shop. It’s open from 11am on operating days. Also, opening some afternoons from about 4 pm. Also, a self-guided tour is available. Guided tours are subject to volunteer availability.
The tram depot is located at the south end of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. These Gardens are also an attraction on their own. Peaceful, beautiful and incredibly manicured. The gardens feature a large modern conservatory, war memorial, and the heritage pavilion.
These amazing gardens cover 40 hectares. The gardens start of the Western shore of man-made Lake Wendouree. These gardens also contain bronze busts of every Prime Minister in Australian history.
The Ballarat Tramway Museum and the Botanical Gardens is a perfect day out. Family friendly, relaxing and educational. In conclusion, these attractions are a great way to finish the list of things to do in Ballarat.