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Despite not being as well known as nearby Melbourne, there a quite a few things to do in Ballarat that will keep you busy.
The most popular attraction, and the one Ballarat is most known for, is definitely Sovereign Hill. Sovereign hill is a essential an open air museum which is dedicated to the Gold Rush era. It’s especially a great thing to do if you have kids as its part attraction, part history lesson.
There are however more things to do in Ballarat if you want to take a weekend visit instead. Keep reading this article to find out about the city’s medieval parks, wildlife reserves and botanical gardens.
One of the most popular attractions in Victoria, Sovereign Hill depicts the 1850’s gold rush era in Ballarat. This open-air museum features sixty historically modelled buildings and costumed staff who never go out of character. Visitors can pan for gold in the diggings creek or marvel at the craftsmanship in the Gold Smelting Works. You may also go on a self-guided underground tour of Red Hill Mine. There’s also the “Blood on the Southern Cross” sound and light show which depicts the Eureka Uprising of 1854.
Kryal Castle is a replica of a medieval adventure park that has been entertaining visitors since 1974. Guests can travel back in time to a mythical land where dragons, kings, queens, knights and wizards freely roam. Tour The Dragon’s Labyrinth, visit the Torture Dungeon and Museum, and watch brave knights battle in the main arena.
Wander through the maze, observe the wizard mixing his potions and test your strength with the Sword in the Stone. There are dinner and show packages available and guests can sleep in the castle.
In 1956, the beautiful Lake Wendouree put Ballarat on the map by hosting the Olympics Rowing tournament. The lake was also the venue for the 2014 World Masters Rowing event. Today, the lake offers various activities including a walking and cycling track, BBQ facilities and a playground. Visitors can walk, cycle or drive around the lake and soak up the sights of beautiful historic boathouses and homes. The lake is also home to a diversity of birdlife including black swans that are happy to join your picnic.
Ballarat Botanical Gardens
Situated on the western shores of Lake Wendouree, the Ballarat Botanical Gardens are a series of splendid gardens. The gardens cover forty hectares and comprise one of the most remarkable cool climate gardens in Australia. Opened in 1857, the gardens showcase mature trees, a modern conservatory, a heritage statuary pavilion and Ex-Prisoner of War Memorial.
There is a Victorian garden and the Prime Ministers Avenue which displays busts of every PM since the Federation. There is also an impressive collection of twelve Italian marble statues donated in 1884 by Thomas Stoddart.
The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) immerses visitors in Australia’s history of democracy. MADE honors the events of the Eureka Stockade while connecting it to subsequent demonstrations of people power. The museum uses historical artefacts, art installations and digital technology to tell tales of the people who fought for freedom.
M.A.D.E has a permanent exhibition that features the Eureka Flag of the Southern Cross which was flown in November 1854. There are also interactive displays and short films on the events of Eureka, and exhibits on the Gold Rush era.
Ballarat Wildlife Park
The Ballarat Wildlife Park is home to native Australian animals including koalas, dingoes, wombats, crocodiles, reptiles and Tasmanian devils. The park aims to educate people on Australian wildlife through interactive experiences. The family-owned wildlife park offers daily guided tours, animal presentations and meet-the-keeper experiences.
There is also a souvenir shop and a café where you can refuel on hot and cold snacks. Guests can also join the animal adoption program where you get to be foster parent to an animal.
Ballarat Tramway Museum
The Ballarat Tramway Museum is a small tram museum located a few minutes’ walk from the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. Visitors can marvel at the old yet well preserved trams that span the life of Ballarat’s Tramway network. You can even climb inside some of them and picture yourself going for a ride or even a drive. It is also possible to go on a 15 minute tram ride on a historic tram around the gardens.
Ballarat Municipal Observatory
Opened over 100 years ago, the Ballarat Municipal Observatory and Museum is one of Australia’s oldest observatories. The observatory boasts a wide range of both vintage and modern telescopes. On a clear night, visitors can indulge in some beautiful stargazing.
Bookings are required in order to use the telescopes, and private bookings are also available.
High Tea at Craig’s Royal
High Tea at Craig’s Royal is a longstanding tradition in Ballarat that spans over a hundred years. The event is held in the hotel’s impressive Grand Dining Room with a selection of delectable treats. Once you’ve had your fill of tea and scones, you can go on a guided tour of the lavish hotel.
Visitors can experience the Royal Suites, historic banquet rooms and bluestone cellar in one of the truly grand Australian hotels. This event is a step back in time to a period of opulence at the Craig’s Royal hotel.
Tips for visiting Ballarat
- Although Ballarat has an airport, it’s not serviced by regular commercial flights so your best bet is Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.
- Temperatures in Ballarat are the most comfortable during the shoulder seasons of March to May and September to November.
- If you can overcome the cold weather, you’ll get the best hotel rates and travel deals during the winter months.
- As with any other city, always be on the alert for pick pockets and never leave your valuables unattended.
- Shops in central Ballarat are closed on Sundays for people to rest and catch up with family and friends.
- Before you travel, make copies of your personal documents such as your passport and ID in case they get lost.
- If visiting Ballarat during the hot summer months, always wear lots of sunscreen, cover yourself and drink plenty of water.
- Purchase good travel insurance that will protect you against injury, illness, theft or cancellations should anything go wrong.
- As with the rest of Australia, tipping isn’t expected or common
- Consider getting the Myki Pass – it may save you money if you intend to travel multiple times a day.
Where to stay in Ballarat
Luxury: Best Western Plus Ballarat Suites
The newly-built Best Western Plus Ballarat Suites is a hotel in Ballarat that provides its guests with luxurious 4-star accommodation. Some rooms have separate living rooms and bedrooms with king beds and spa bath, as well as hi-speed free Wi-Fi.
Mid-Range: Mercure Ballarat Hotel and Convention Centre
Mercure Ballarat is a mid-range hotel that is set amongst beautifully manicured gardens, complete with its own ornamental lake. The hotel is your best bet for travelers seeking an affordable private room in Ballarat.
Budget: The Western Hotel
Ideal for backpackers on a budget, The Western Hotel provides traditional pub-style accommodation with 8 rooms. Accommodation options include a dorm room, and a single or double room with shared bathroom, kitchen and TV room.
How to get to Ballarat
By Car: Located just over an hour’s drive from Melbourne, getting to Ballarat is an easy drive on the Western Freeway.
By Shuttle: If you will be flying into Melbourne, you can get the airport shuttle bus that operates daily services to Ballarat. If you’d rather drive than go via shuttle, there are also rental cars available for hire at the airport.
By Train or Coach: The V/Line rail service runs trains to Ballarat from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station, taking about one and a half hours. There are also several coach companies that provide transportation from Melbourne to Ballarat among other destinations.