Ballarat is one of regional Australia’s most emblematic and historic cities.
The wealth that poured into the fledgling settlement after gold was discovered in the 1850s blessed it with grand buildings and stately monuments. But it was the infamous Eureka Stockade rebellion that would assure Ballarat of its place in the nation’s folklore.
Today the city offers an engaging blend of gold rush heritage attractions, galleries and cultural events, and a burgeoning food and wine scene. At just 1.5 hours’ drive from Melbourne, Ballarat makes the perfect short break destination.
Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Ballarat.
9am: Enjoy a great breakfast brew at Ballarista
Start your Ballarat short break with breakfast and great coffee at Ballarista. This cosy cafe serves up a scrumptious breakfast menu covering everything from the big breaky fry-up to tasty toasties.
10am: Step back in time in Ballarat’s historic heart
Uncover the legacy of the gold rush in the elaborate Victorian-era streetscape of Lydiard Street and the nearby Town Hall. Visit Ballarat offers a selection of self-guided heritage walking tours. If you fancy a spot of shopping along the way, discover the fragrant delights at Sweet Fern perfumery or pick up something for home at Wen and Ware.
12 noon: Strike it lucky at Sovereign Hill
Ballarat’s best-known attraction, Sovereign Hill is an epic living museum that has meticulously recreated life on the gold diggings in the 1850s. Costume-clad staff, replica stores, theatre and workshops, even an underground gold mine, provide plenty to keep visitors engaged and entertained.
Grab lunch on the run with a famous meat pie or pasty from Hope Bakery before setting out to explore how the discovery of gold shaped the lives of miners, businessmen, tradespeople and immigrants and influenced the course of Australia’s history.
5pm: Try some top drops at Mitchell Harris
The very cool Mitchell Harris wine bar is renowned for its wine list. Around 25 wines are available by the glass, including ten of Mitchell Harris’ own wines. The Sabre sparkling is a standout. Close to 250 wines are available by the bottle from a vast ‘museum’ collection of rare drops.
7pm: Do dinner at The Forge Pizzeria
One of Ballarat’s most popular casual eateries, The Forge Pizzeria serves up delicious pizzas from its huge woodfire oven. The expansive pizza menu is filled with classics (and some unusual twists like the cheeseburger pizza!). The roast pumpkin pizza with roasted tomatoes, mozzarella, spinach, goat’s cheese, pine nuts and rosemary is a winner.
9am: Brighten up your morning with breaky at Yellow Espresso
Begin your day with breakfast at quirky Yellow Espresso. Build your own big breakfast from the big all-day breaky menu featuring free range eggs and plenty of sides, or keep it simple with sweet sourdough fruit toast served with jam.
10am: Meet PMs past and present in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens
The Ballarat Botanical Gardens is one of regional Victoria’s true gems. The gardens boast a stunning collection of ornate Carrera marble statues, manicured flowerbeds and significant trees. If you get the feeling you’re being watched, it could be the eyes of Australia’s past prime ministers following you – the best-known feature of the gardens is its famous collection of prime ministerial busts. See all the highlights of the gardens on a free guided tour with a passionate Friends of the Botanical Gardens volunteer.
12 noon: Ride a vintage tram past Lake Wendouree
While trams stopped operating as public transport in Ballarat in the early 1970s, a team of dedicated volunteers has preserved the city’s rich tramway history by lovingly maintaining a fleet of historic trams. Tram rides operate through the attractive Lake Wendouree and Botanical Gardens precinct on weekends and public holidays. At just $5 for a ticket, this vintage travel treat is also a bargain!
1pm: Indulge in coffee and cake at Kittelty’s
Back in the city centre, pause for a light lunch or indulge in coffee and house-made cake at Kittelty’s café, which is located just inside the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Then set off to explore the eclectic array of works held by one of Australia’s oldest, largest and most engaging regional art galleries…
2pm: Explore the Art Gallery of Ballarat
Even if you’ve visited the Art Gallery of Ballarat before, another visit is a must following the major reworking of the permanent collection that took place in 2019. Treasures of the colonial era now sit alongside newer works, which are organised around themes such as belief, country and home. A free guided tour of the collection’s key pieces is offered daily. The gallery also hosts regular temporary exhibitions. There’s bound to be something new and exciting to enjoy.
4pm: Sample the wares at Kilderkin Distillery
The gin-tasting experience at Kilderkin Distillery, a few minutes’ drive from the city centre, is a great introduction to local gins and the gin-making process itself. The distillery released its first Larrikin brand gin in 2017. It now boasts six gins, ranging from the classic London Dry and Navy Strength varieties to a uniquely Australian Sunburnt Country gin (which features native ‘bush tucker’ botanicals). The friendly team will guide you through the tasting.
6pm: Head to Hop Temple for dinner
Wrap up your Ballarat short break with a casual drink and dinner at Hop Temple. Tucked away down a hidden laneway (follow the trail of umbrellas to find it), Hop Temple offers a huge range of craft beers and cocktails and an upbeat atmosphere. There’s live music every Sunday afternoon. When hunger hits, dig into a juicy burger, a generous serving of southern fried chicken, or the lip-smacking pork ribs.
Need a place to stay?
Quality Inn Heritage on Lydiard offers boutique, heritage-style accommodation in the heart of Ballarat’s 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 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.
About the writer
Louise Reynolds is a Melbourne-based freelance travel writer. 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.