Ballarat in regional Victoria is a travel destination that has plenty to tempt history lovers and culture vultures, including a great selection of walking tours. Here are five interesting options…
Ballarat, the jewel of Victoria’s Goldfields, is a perfect short break destination — and one that’s just made for exploring on foot.
The compact city centre is easily walkable, and jam-packed with heritage streetscapes, stunning gardens and top-notch cultural attractions. Get ready to pound the pavement on these five amazing Ballarat walking tours.
Delve into Ballarat’s dark side
True Crime buffs won’t want to miss the Bloody Ballarat walking tour. On this two-hour fully-guided walk you’ll uncover the darker side of Ballarat’s intriguing history. The walk concentrates on the heart of the city, and takes in backstreets and alleyways to reveal true tales of murder, mystery and mayhem. From the Wild West-style lawlessness of the city’s early gold rush years to unsolved crime files dating back to the early 20th century, the walk’s creator has used meticulous archival research to present an eerily absorbing vision of Ballarat’s past.
Explore Ballarat’s architectural heritage
Ballarat boasts many fine architectural reminders of its gold rush glory years. A great way to discover the stories behind the building facades is to join a guided walk with Ballarat Heritage Tours. The leisurely-paced 90-minute tour explores central Ballarat with a focus on the strip of heritage buildings along Lydiard Street — regarded as one of the best examples of preserved Victorian-era architecture outside of the UK. The walk is packed with historical information and anecdotes about the city’s history — and the cast of characters who made it all happen. See historic pubs, theatres and gorgeous heritage hotels.
Tour the Ballarat Botanical Gardens
A stroll through Ballarat’s expansive Botanical Gardens is a must-do, but before you set off to explore, get your bearings on a tour with the Friends of Ballarat Botanical Gardens. One-hour tours are offered on Sunday mornings as a fundraiser, and showing visitors around is a labour of love for the passionate and knowledgeable volunteer guides. They will tailor an itinerary according to the interests of the participants. Highlights include the gardens’ stunning collection of mature trees and the Italian marble statues that are scattered throughout the 40-hectare reserve. Tours also take in the long avenue of horse chestnut trees that is home to the gardens’ best-known feature — the rapidly expanding collection of busts of Australia’s Prime Ministers.
Discover the best of the Art Gallery of Ballarat
Founded in 1884, the Art Gallery of Ballarat is the oldest and largest regional art gallery in Australia, and holds an enviable collection of 19th and 20th century Australian, British and European art. Each day, volunteer guides offer free walking tours through the gallery to view key Australian works. If you are short on time, the tours are a great way to uncover the gallery’s many masterpieces, and hear some entertaining yarns — including the story of the theft of a work by Tom Roberts and the ransom payment that secured its recovery. In addition to Roberts, you’ll see works by a veritable who’s who of Australian Impressionism, including Streeton, Dobell, McCubbin and Heysen.
Walk in the shoes of a crime fighting doctor
Ballarat has played a starring role in the popular Dr Blake Mysteries television series. The 1950s-era drama — based on the crime fighting escapades of police surgeon Lucien Blake — is set in the city, and has proved to be a boon for Ballarat as fans arrive in droves to explore locations used in the show. The City of Ballarat has devised a self-guided Dr Blake Mysteries walk, which focuses on filming locations along historic Lydiard Street. Episodes in the first two seasons were filmed at the Ballarat railway station, Mining Exchange, Old Colonists’ Club, Art Gallery of Ballarat, and Choice Hotel’s Quality Inn Heritage on Lydiard. On the edge of Ballarat, Lake Wendouree (another series location), is encircled by a six kilometre walking trail that will get you up close to local water birds and the historic boat sheds.
Need a place to stay?
Quality Inn Heritage on Lydiard offers boutique, heritage-style accommodation in the heart of Ballarat’s historic city centre. The hotel occupies the former Bank of NSW building (which dates back to 1862) and combines heritage touches with stylish and contemporary finishes.
Quality Inn The George Hotel Ballarat is a fully restored historic gem located in the Lydiard Street North precinct and is within walking distance of Her Majesty’s Theatre, the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, cafes, restaurants and city retail outlets. Try traditional pub classics with a contemporary twist at the Heritage Bar and Restaurant.
Comfort Inn & Suites City Views provides modern accommodation in the heart of Ballarat on Bakery Hill. This four-star property is well located to explore everything the city has to offer. Sovereign Hill, the Gold Museum, the Aboriginal Cultural Centre, the Eureka Stockade Centre and Ballarat Visitor Centre, and the Botanical Gardens are all within a five-minute drive of the hotel.
Quality Inn & Suites The Menzies is another modern accommodation option, but with an intriguing link with the past. The hotel is built on the grounds of Public School No. 34, where former twice Prime Minister Robert Menzies was a pupil in the early 1900s. The heritage school building still stands today. Visit on-site Japanese restaurant Asahi during your stay.
For those planning to spend time at award-winning Sovereign Hill, Comfort Inn Main Lead features affordable, family-friendly accommodation just 500 metres from the recreated 1850s township. Ballarat Wildlife Park — home to koalas, kangaroos, emus and many other native animals — is also within easy reach.
Cover image courtesy of Visit Ballarat. Image: Tony Evans
About the writer
Louise Reynolds is a Melbourne-based freelance travel writer and a regular contributor to The Big Bus tour and travel guide. Louise made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world – and has so far visited around 30 countries spread across five continents. Her favourite way to explore the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand.