There are so many things to do in Ballarat, but we’ve rounded up the must-see and must-do activities for your next visit. Around town, there’s an impressive array of attractions and destinations for families, couples, art connoisseurs, nature lovers and history buffs. Read on for the 10 best things to do in Ballarat.
Sovereign Hill brings to life Ballarat’s exciting gold rush history. It’s an open-air museum in Golden Point where you can travel back in time to the 1850s and experience the city’s rich gold mining era. It’s a living museum that depicts Ballarat's first decade after the discovery of gold there in 1851. Activities include historical reconstructions, panning for gold in the diggings and coach rides, plus the streets are brought to life with characters in costume. Open 10am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday. Click here to plan your visit and for the latest visiting updates.
The Mining Exchange is a must-see for history and architecture buffs. Situated in historic Lydiard Street, The Mining Exchange is one of Ballarat’s best examples of extraordinary Victorian architecture on the goldfields. The building was built between 1887 and 1889 and was used for trading of shares in mining companies during the gold rush. Today, the building maintains its original design and is managed by Her Majesty's Theatre and is also the home of Red Series, the mid-winter wine festival featuring Grampians and Pyrenees wineries. After your visit, head to the new Provincial Hotel, also on Lydiard Street, for a drink or bite to eat at the elegant hotel restaurant Lola, where the produce is local but the flavours are European-inspired.
The Art Gallery of Ballarat is the oldest and largest regional art gallery in Australia. Built in 1884 as the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, both the building and part of its collection are heritage listed and claimed by the National Trust of Victoria. It’s located in the heart of Ballarat's central heritage precinct, and boasts a stunning collection of Australian art. Step back in time and view The Eureka Flag, as well as major collections in the history of Australian art, from the early colonial period to present day. The Art Gallery of Ballarat also plays host to regular travelling contemporary art exhibitions.
Another highlight on the calendar for art-lovers is The Ballarat International Foto Biennale – Australia's leading photography festival. This year, it opens on August 28, 2021. The festival showcases work from significant international and Australian photographers that is new, previously unseen in Australia or contextualised afresh. During the 60 days and 60 nights of the festival, photographic exhibitions take over the city’s laneways, cafés, galleries and grand historic venues.
Ballarat Wildlife Park was founded in 1985 by the Parker family through a passion for conservation of wildlife and the environment. On your visit, you can hand-feed the free-roaming kangaroos, and see koalas, wombats, ‘Crunch’ the five-metre super croc, and the newest arrivals – two Sumatran Tigers. Daily tours and conservation presentations will immerse you into the animal world, and around the park you will also see southern cassowaries, giant tortoises, dingoes, emus, meerkats and a colony of penguins. There’s a reptile house with snakes, frogs and lizards, and you can spend time one-on-one with an animal with an Animal Encounter experience. Pat a koala, cuddle a wombat or have a snake wrapped over your shoulders. Open 9am-5pm, 7 days a week.
Lake Wendouree and the adjoining Botanical Gardens are the perfect way to get back to nature without leaving town. Admire the local population of swans gliding along the glistening waters as you walk, run or ride around the six-kilometre lakeside Steve Moneghetti track. Stop by one of the lakeside cafes for a coffee break, or picnic by the water’s edge as the kids explore the much-loved Adventure Playground.
From the lake, pebbled paths lead to the historic Ballarat Botanical Gardens. The gardens were planted in the 1860s, and on your visit, you can soak up the beauty of the grand floral displays, heritage oak trees, Italian marble statues and the iconic Prime Ministers Avenue. There are free guided tours departing from the Conservatory, and a nursery on-site where you can purchase plants to take home.
You could spend an entire day at The Mill Markets Ballarat. This labyrinthine collector’s market is a treasure trove of quirky collectables, vintage fashion, antiques, art, furniture, curiosities and jewellery. It’s a dream destination for vintage lovers and there’s a cafe and coffee van onsite to fuel your foraging. Open 10am-6pm, 7 days a week.
If you’re visiting Ballarat with children, be sure to put Kryal Castle on your itinerary. It’s a medieval castle that takes you back in time with activities such as archery, street theatre and arena shows. There’s a medieval stone maze and torture and dungeon museum to explore and even accommodation, if you want to sleep over and explore the park outside of opening hours. Open 10am-4pm, Saturday and Sunday, with accommodation available 7 days a week.
Another favourite for families, Gold Rush Mini Golf Ballarat has two 18-hole putt putt golf courses, both designed to take you back in time. The outdoor course brings to life Ballarat’s gold rush history with themed facades, props and Ballarat’s historical streetscape. Experience life in the 1850s Ballarat gold mining days by putting through mine shafts, beside a flowing stream and around a nineteenth century township. The indoor course is Jurassic-themed and you can venture into a lost world of dinosaurs, medieval castles and pirate hideouts whatever the weather.
Don’t forget that a trip to Best’s Wines Cellar Door is approximately 1.5 hour drive from Ballarat. A great day trip or your next destination to add to your itinerary. We’d love to show you around our historic cellars and introduce you to our range of wines. Book in for a tasting.
Plan your stay with our insider guide of Where to Stay and Where to Eat in Ballarat.
Plan your journey to Ballarat and Best’s Wines with our guide to the best Places to stop between Melbourne and The Grampians.