Ballarat's not just a pretty face; it's a rich cultural hub, full of exciting experiences. Explore the city's gold rush heritage, dine in its renowned eateries and get a gutful of local art and culture. We've done the hard work in getting together a list of top experiences in this historic city and its picturesque surrounds. All you have to do is carve out some time to visit.

1. Festivals galore

It feels like there's always something going on in Ballarat. Attend the Ballarat Begonia Festival in March and take your taste buds out for a delicious day trip at the Pyrenees Unearthed Wine and Food Festival in April. The cooler seasons herald in the Ballarat Winter Festival and Winter Wonderlights at Sovereign Hill. Or make a dedicated trip for the Ballarat International Foto Biennale, which next graces the streets of the city in 2025.

2. Art for days

While away some time among an impressive collection of Australian and contemporary art. The Art Gallery of Ballarat is one of the oldest galleries in Australia, home to an extensive collection of paintings, photographs, ceramics and sculpture. Once you've drunk your fill, it's a short stroll to Art Space Ballarat; a community art gallery which showcases a new local artist, performer or maker every six weeks.

3. Travel through time

Step back in time at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat's open-air museum, which depicts life in the region during the gold rush era of the 1850s. Tour the diggings to pan for gold, hold a real gold nugget and snack on old fashioned lollies. Don't miss AURA, an immersive 90-minute show, which explores the impact of gold on the globe. Step even further back in time to the Middle Ages at Kryal Castle. Check out a jousting tournament, learn all about archery and axe-throwing and explore the castle's thrilling maze.

4. Fine feasting

If food is your thing, then Ballarat is certainly a destination worth getting to know. Break your fast at Yellow Espresso or Clothesline Cafe. In a hurry? Grab a coffee and house-made pastries to go at 1816 Bakehouse. Dine on Asian-inspired cuisine at Moon & Mountain or Roy Hammond. Ragazzone, The Forge and Carboni's Italian Kitchen serve up plates of pasta and pizza. For cool brews, drop into Hop Temple or Aunty Jacks. If wine is more your thing, round off the evening with a vino at RJM's Wine Bar or Mitchell Harris Wine Bar.

5. Beautiful blooms

Victoria is, after all, the garden state and during a visit to Ballarat, it's easy to see why. The first flowers of Ballarat Botanical Gardens were planted 150 years ago and today, the gardens remain a popular point of interest for residents and tourists alike. Pack a picnic and recline among the 40 hectares of parklands, see the seasonal floral displays at Robert Clark Conservatory and stroll down 'Prime Minister Avenue' which is lined by busts of Australian PMs from Federation, onward. 

6. Top drops

The low temperatures and fertile soil of Ballarat's vineyards are a match made in heaven for local winemakers, who specialise in pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling wine. For great grapes, drop in during July for the Ballarat Winter Festival's Red Series showcase. Slightly further afield are the fertile soils of the Pyrenees, which shares its name with the famous European wine region for good reason. If you're short on time, head straight to Avoca to try the wares at Mount Avoca and Blue Pyrenees Estate. Or, while away a weekend in the area, staying in its historic townships and dropping into many or any of its 40+ wineries.

7. Ghostly tours

Uncover the darker aspects of Ballarat by night, with a spooky ghost tour. Eerie Tours run walking ghost tours through both Ballarat's township and local cemetery. Beyond the city, dedicated ghost busters can continue the hunt at two reputedly haunted hotels; Railway Hotel at Dunolly and Kangaroo Hotel in historic Maldon.

8. Learn a new skill

The local Rare Trades Centre does what it says on the box, hosting classes in everything from sewing to locksmithing. Make a dedicated trip to the city in May for the Ballarat Heritage Festival. Held at the historic Ballarat Mining Exchange, the Craft Lab sees practitioners in weaving, metalworking, ceramics and more sharing knowledge and techniques with visitors.

Explore the art of brewing at Aunty Jacks and distilling at Kilderkin Distillery. Make friends with fungi with the help of Black Cat Truffles and learn all about, well, backyard beekeeping with Backyard Beekeeping Ballarat.

9. Lal Lal Falls and Lake Wendouree

Only a 20-minute drive from Ballarat is the spectacular waterfall Lal Lal Falls. According to Aboriginal lore, these falls are said to be the earthly home of Bunjil, a creator deity and ancestral being that takes the form of a wedge-tailed eagle. It's a short walk to the lookout for Lal Lal Falls and there's plenty of space for a picnic, alongside BBQ facilities.

Lake Wendouree is a delight to visit year-round. Enjoy an array of water sports such as canoeing, kayaking and sailing on the lake, or jump onboard the Golden City Paddle Boat. Run, walk or cycle around the lake and cast a line off purpose-built platforms. Relax by the water's edge or pair the view with a bite to eat at The Lake View Hotel and Pipers by the Lake.

10. Take a hike

For some nature time, head 20 minutes south of the city to Mount Buninyong, an extinct volcano with a lookout tower. It's an easy 4.2 kilometre round trip to the top, with gorgeous views at the summit. The nearby town of Canadian is home to Australia's first 'Dementia-friendly Forest and Sensory Trail', specifically located in Woowookarung Regional Park. The one kilometre walk in wheelchair accessible and contains quiet places for reflection in nature, designed to evoke memories, feelings and sensations.

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