As Australia’s third-largest inland city, Ballarat is a popular holiday destination for families, couples and solo travellers – its fascinating history, country ambience and diverse attractions have made it one of Victoria’s biggest draws.
And that’s exactly why we’ve put together this guide. We know adventurers like you are keen to make the most of Ballarat, so we’ve done the hard work and collected information about where to eat, what to do and where to stay in Ballarat. All you need to do is scroll down and start planning your itinerary.
This is the only guide you’ll need to discovering Australia’s most famous gold-rush city. Let’s dive into it.
Overview of Ballarat
Ballarat is Victoria’s third-largest city, after Melbourne and Geelong; its inland location and history have established it as a slightly off-track tourist destination that offers a markedly different holiday experience to its coastal neighbours.
Here, historic buildings dominate the city’s heart, and the skyscrapers of Melbourne are replaced, instead, by sprawls of red and yellow Victorian terraces. The city is girt by sprawling farmland, rugged mountain ranges and biodiverse national park – the urban attractions are impressive, but Ballarat itself is mostly a hub for adventure, and the best activities can be found by travelling around the region.
One of the most iconic aspects of Ballarat’s identity is the central role it played in the Victorian gold rush. Mining turned a tiny rural settlement into a massive boomtown in under six months, and, as a result, there are plenty of gold-themed attractions for visitors to explore, including Sovereign Hill.
For tens of thousands of years prior to European arrival, the region encompassing Ballarat was inhabited by the Wathaurung, one of Australia’s First Nations peoples. Composed of 25 clans, the Wathaurung, also known as the Wadawurrung, are today one of five peoples who comprise the Kulin Nation.
Scottish settlers arrived in the Ballarat region in 1837, and began using the land to graze sheep. In 1851, Ballarat’s future began to take shape – gold was discovered, prompting the start of the frenzied Victorian goldrush. Within six months, Ballarat had exploded into a town of tents and ramshackle buildings as miners from across the world – including places like China and California – began to arrive.
The city continued to grow, which, in combination with various regulatory pressures, catalysed the Eureka Rebellion. Ballarat’s miners opposed the harsh measures imposed by Victoria’s colonial government, and consequently resisted, which resulted in their massacre by Victorian troops at the Battle of the Eureka Stockade.
Despite the rebellion’s violent end, many modern-day Australians credit the Eureka Stockade as a turning point in the country’s fight for democratic freedoms.
The gold rush petered out in the 1860s. Ballarat, unlike many other boomtowns, made the successful transition to a true city, and continued to grow into its present-day form.
Places to Visit Around Ballarat
Remember how we mentioned that Ballarat is a great hub for exploring the surrounding region? There are lots of places to visit in the Central Highlands, and a quick glance at a map might seem intimidating, so we’ve put together our five favourite areas to explore outside the city.
Grampians National Park
The Grampians are central Victoria’s premier mountain range. Vast, rugged and strikingly beautiful, they’re a tangle of dry bushland, rocky outcrops and sheer sandstone cliffs, populated by native Australian wildlife. Visitors can explore dozens of different hiking trails, which meander past giant boulders, along panoramic ridgelines and through waterfall-fed streams.
The Grampians also contain 90% of Victoria’s Indigenous rock art, and are one of the most significant First Nations heritage areas in the state. Traditionally, the mountains and the region around them are known as ‘Gariwerd’.
Roughly 40 minutes from Ballarat is Daylesford, a town built around one thing: mineral springs. Bubbling up from deep within the earth at the Hepburn Springs, Daylesford’s mineral water is its defining trait, and has produced everything from bottled water companies to wellness centres.
The waters – rich with minerals like iron, nitrate, magnesium and calcium – have historically been venerated for their healing properties, which has given rise to the town’s plethora of day spas. Spend your day getting pampered, fill up your bottles at the Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve, or check out the beautiful Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens.
Clunes is unusual – it doesn’t fit neatly into the stereotypes of outback towns, substituting a history of mining and agriculture for its status as one of the world’s 15 internationally recognised Booktowns. Yes, it was the site of Victoria’s first gold find, and yes, there is historic Victorian-style architecture, but this is a nexus of literature, evidenced by its hosting of numerous book-related festivals.
Here, paperbacks and hardcovers populate coffee shops, and you’ll notice a disproportionate number of high-quality bookstores. Even if reading isn’t your cup of tea, you can explore the streetscapes featured in movies like Mad Max and Ned Kelly, or hike through the nearby Mount Beckworth Scenic Reserve.
Like Ballarat itself, Creswick offers a mixed bag of activities for tourists. The standouts are historical – the Buried Rivers of Gold Heritage Trail, which lets visitors explore Victoria’s second-richest gold mine, and Creswick Museum, which houses artefacts from Creswick’s long history.
For more active adventurers, there are plenty of walking trails in Creswick Regional Park, which also offers fossicking (as long as you have a miner’s licence) and boating in St George’s Lake. Got kids? Take them to the Creswick Trails Project. It’s set to become a 100-kilomtre mountain bike trail network, and the first stage is already open for business.
Most Popular Things to Do in Ballarat
Ballarat is packed with activities designed for travellers of all varieties. Here are our top five picks.
Sovereign Hill is Ballarat’s most popular attraction, and for good reason. Discover Victoria’s gold rush in all its chaotic glory at this spectacular open-air museum.
Ballarat Botanical Gardens
Wildflowers, water features and statues abound in a stunning 40-hectare garden.
Explore a world of knights, magic and medieval mythology in this castle-shaped theme park.
Full Flight Birds of Prey Centre
The magnificence of Australia’s mighty birds of prey is on full display – take the kids and check it out.
Black Hill Reserve
More forgiving than the hikes around the Grampians, Black Hill Reserve is great for quick bushwalks and hardcore mountain biking.
For our full list of Ballarat activities, visit The Top 10 Activities in Ballarat for 2021.
When to Visit Ballarat
Victoria’s cool inland climates mean Ballarat is a great city to visit at any time of the year. During January and February, daytime temperatures peak at about 26°C; winter is significantly colder, with July daytime averages of 10°C and overnight temperatures averaging 3°C. This makes June to August a great time to visit if you’re interested in outdoor activities – you can explore the Grampians and other walking destinations without dripping sweat. Unfortunately, winter is also the rainiest season, averaging 12 days of rainfall across July and August; January through to March has the fewest number of rainy days.
Victorian school holidays are dates you typically want to avoid unless you have kids of your own. Here’s when they fall:
- Summer: December 18 to January 30
- Autumn: April 2–18
- Winter: June 26 to July 11
- Spring: September 18 to October 3
Ballarat has plenty of different accommodation options. From budget-friendly motels to modernist hotels, the variety of places to stay means there’s something to suit every style of traveller.
Ballarat, though, is a town immersed in history, so it makes sense that your choice of accommodation should reflect the richness of Ballarat’s gold-rush days. Club Wyndham Ballarat does exactly that.
Occupying a heritage-listed mansion built in 1878, this spectacular resort is a tribute to Victorianism – its red-brick buildings sit at the heart of 55-acre gardens, connected by a network of meandering paths that flow under towering evergreens and past serene water features. A 13-minute drive from the heart of Ballarat conveys a sense of seclusion, making the resort perfect as an escape from the pressures of urban living.
Don’t worry though – you’ll still have all the luxuries that come standard with a brand like Wyndham. Each room features in-room air conditioning, a CD and DVD player (for those old-school vibes), a hairdryer, a kitchenette, a personal telephone and free WiFi. Choose between one-and two- bedroom studios and apartments, or scale up with two- and three- bedroom deluxe apartments.
Step outside the room, and things get even better. Club Wyndham Ballarat is a resort designed for everyone, so there’s plenty of activities for both kids and adults.
Keep your body active by going for a swim in the heated swimming pool, hitting the gym or playing tennis at the on-site courts, and then hone your mind with a trip to the library. If you’re having trouble focusing on your book, entertain the kids by directing them to the games room or the children’s playground as you head for the very cosy lounge (yes, it has a fireplace).
Other amenities include paddleboats, a fishing area, a spa and sauna, laundry facilities, a kids’ club, bike and equipment hire and a tour desk. Club Wyndham Ballarat isn’t just a beautiful property with exceptional rooms – it’s also the perfect place to stay on your Ballarat holiday. No matter who you are or how you like to spend your vacations, this is a resort that will help make your ideal getaway happen.
We can’t tell you everything about Ballarat in this article, but we’ve done our best to give you the most relevant information about this fascinating city.
If you’re looking to explore Ballarat in person, get in touch with our team, and we’ll guide you through the booking process.
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