Ballarat is a popular destination thanks to being an easy 100 kilometres from Melbourne and home to the fantastic Sovereign Hill. I came here twice as a kid even though I grew up in Tasmania and only left the state four times. However, both times were as a day trip from Melbourne. This is a shame as Ballarat has more to offer than Sovereign Hill and it is a great place for a short, easy trip.
We recently spent some time in Ballarat with kids and had a fun time exploring the tourist attractions in Ballarat. We visited with our 6 year old, 4 year old and just turned one month old. Whether you have kids or not, there is enough to do in Ballarat and surrounds to fill at least a few days.
Below you will find our guide to what to do in Ballarat, information about where to stay and other info to ensure you have a great trip as well!
The biggest attraction in Ballarat is Sovereign Hill and for good reason – this place is great!
Sovereign Hill has a 25 acre setting on an old mining site from the Victorian gold rush. It’s set up to be like a mining town from that time with old fashioned shops, theatre, costumed characters, factories and old mines. There are many working exhibits where you can learn how blacksmiths worked, people made sweets and how to pan for gold – including the opportunity to look for your own gold.
There is a lot to do – many of the individual attractions have demonstrations and there are also shows. We watched hilarious plays of Jack and the Beanstalk and Snow White. There are also shows which keep in line with the times like one involving redcoat soldiers. Additionally, there are art and craft activities for the kids. You should not be bored here.
There are plenty of shops and places to eat. The food is overpriced but it could be worse.
We all enjoyed this attraction very much. There is so much to do that even the 6 hours that we visited was not enough to see it all – we missed out on a lot. This may have also been because it was the Victorian school holidays as well as the Winter Wonderlights program. There were so many shows and demonstrations that it would not have been possible to do everything in the one day.
They also had a special wonderlights program at night where the main street is all lit up. The photos look amazing but unfortunately, we were just too tired to head back for that. There was also Christmas theming and carols during our visit. They had snow machines up and down the main street as well so we were snowed on a couple of times during our visit.
With all this going on, I think winter is actually a great time to visit even though it is cold. My only complaint is that the crowds did make it tough at some of the shows and demonstrations when visiting with little kids. There usually wasn’t enough space and people could be quite rude, standing right in front of our kids. Getting to things early wasn’t always a solution either as if there was a tiny space, some rude adult would fill it.
The kids especially loved the shows, getting to visit a mine and panning for gold. 6 year old S was ecstatic that she actually found some gold by herself while panning for it. It’s definitely not just a place for families with plenty to entertain and educate adults as well.
If you are going to visit just one of the Ballarat tourist attractions then this should be it.
You can find more information about visiting Sovereign Hill including the latest prices here. We used a carrier, but the site is reasonably pram friendly – but be mindful that the “roads” are all gravel.
Kryal Castle, just outside Ballarat on the Melbourne side, is a “medieval land” set up for people to explore. It’s a surprisingly good option for what to do in Ballarat which is perfect for families.
The journey starts with a walk through the Dragon’s Labyrinth. There’s a tale to listen to as you walk through caves and dungeons. 4 year old Z did find this a bit scary but overall it was a hit. At the end, we entered the outside part of Kryal Castle where there was a range of buildings, attractions and activities to visit.
You definitely should get the map and activity schedule on arrival – the attractions themselves are quite low key and it’s worth making the effort to get to the set activities as these are the highlight – particularly watching a joust. When we were there, the knights not only had a joust, but did so with fiery swords, both on horses and on the ground. It was great to watch.
We could also try archery, calligraphy writing, making potions, bracelets and shadow puppets. The kids particularly enjoyed the shadow puppet show (actually so did we – it was very well done), and there is an outside maze which was a big hit.
There is also a torture museum which we skipped as it’s not recommended for young kids. However, I do remember going there as a 14 year old and thinking it was awesome!
We had a great time visiting here despite the fact that it was the middle of winter and very cold! It is definitely somewhere worth going to if you find yourself in this part of the world.
Find more information, including ticket prices, here. There are quite a few stairs but most individual attractions are pram friendly. If you are looking for school holiday activities in Ballarat, Kryal Castle has special schedule.
Lake Wendouree is an artifical lake close to the centre of Ballarat. It’s one of the lovely places to go in Ballarat and a great place for a walk. It’s also adjacent to the Ballarat Botanical Gardens and is a worthwhile place to add to your list of things to do with kids in Ballarat – because there are some great playgrounds.
Pictured above is the massive adventure playground but there is also a small indigenous playground which has some stories and descriptions as well as clever musical instruments.
If you are looking for things to do in Ballarat for free or want to get some fresh air while exploring more of this city, this is a great place to head! The Ballarat Botanical Gardens are located on the west side of Lake Wendouree and also incorporate the playgrounds mentioned above and the Ballarat Tramway Museum.
There are several attractions in the Botanical Gardens including the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial shown above and the Prime Ministers Avenue which has bronze busts of all the Australian Prime Ministers. I imagine it would be a great place to visit on a sunny day.
In the Botanical Gardens, a few minutes walk from the ex-Prisoners of War Memorial is a small tram museum. I didn’t know Ballarat even had trams before we came so it was nice to read their history.
For the kids, there’s some old but well preserved trams spanning the life of the network. Some of them you can climb into and pretend you’re going for a ride, or even a drive! There’s not much to see and your visit might be short but it was a fun thing to include in our visit to the Botanical Gardens.
Entry is free and there is also the paid option to take a 15 minute tram ride on a preserved Ballarat tram around the gardens. When we visited, the museum and tram rides only operated on weekends, public holidays and during the school holidays. You can find more information here.
The Plaster Fun House is a great choice of the fun things to do in Ballarat for kids especially if it’s raining.
It’s basically a cafe which sells many different plaster objects. You buy whatever you like and then you can paint it for free. The kids loved it and it’s a great way for them to do this type of activity without you having to worry about paint in your home.
The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) is a small museum honouring the events of the Eureka Stockade and connecting it to demonstrations of people power since then.
Located near the site where the famous stockade stood, its centrepiece is the original Flag of the Southern Cross – or what’s left of it – which became a rallying point for disaffected miners in Ballarat and flew over the stockade before it was torn down and seized. It also houses interactive displays and short films on the events at Eureka as well as changing exhibits connected to the Gold Rush era.
I love museums however something about MADE left me a bit underwhelmed. There was less information about the events at the stockade than I expected and there wasn’t a lot to see although it was great to see the flag.
However, it turned out to be a great Ballarat attraction for kids. There was a small kids’ activity area and the staff there were great at engaging 4 year old Z, getting him to design his own flag (which he got to stick up on the wall) and talking to him about what was around him in the museum.
Thanks to this, I actually got to spend time by myself looking around the museum. It is small enough that the kids’ area was just about always in my line of sight and Z was well occupied.
There’s also a “stockade” playground out the front, so it’s one of the free things to do in Ballarat. Between this and the museum, there was more for Z than for me. I may have been done in 20 or 30 minutes but we spent more than an hour there. I’m not sure I’d go back by myself but I’d happily go back there with the kids.
There’s a small cafe on site and decent toilets. Being new its made for accessibility and so caters to families with strollers well.
Australia doesn’t have many places that embody significant moments in time but this is one of them and it is worth a visit.
Another of the free things to do at Ballarat is to go on a walking tour – an easy way to get a sense of the history of the place. This is a first hand way to see the wealth generated during the Gold Rush with many Victorian and Edwardian buildings, churches and statues. Many are in great condition and it’s also a good way to visit many of Ballarat’s attractions.
To start your walking tour, check out the article here.
Although not located in town, if you are looking for things to do near Ballarat then the Tuki Trout Farm is a winner! It’s about a 40 minute drive from Ballarat and is a fabulous place for a meal which is delicious, educational and fun!
You are able to fish for your own rainbow trout which they will then prepare and cook for you. You can also choose to fish for trout to take away.
There are multiple ponds – we picked the one that is easiest and weren’t disappointed. It didn’t take long for each of our kids to catch a fish. We watched as the fish was cleaned and prepared. It was then cooked and served at our table.
Along with delicious potatoes and salad, it was one of my best meals ever. Add to this the lovely interior of the restaurant and stunning location and this place is definitely one of my favourite things to do in Ballarat and surrounds. It was also great for the kids to get a better understanding of where their food came from.
If you are feeling lazy or don’t eat seafood, you don’t need to fish. There is a full menu and the restaurant is a nice place to eat. There is also on site accommodation – we talked about coming back, staying and eating the same meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner 🙂
You can find more information on their website.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit all the places to see in Ballarat that we would have liked to. Here are some more Ballarat things to do and places to visit near Ballarat which we are saving for our next visit:
We had a great stay at this holiday park in Ballarat. It’s a lovely site with attentive and friendly staff and great facilities for families.
There are sites for caravans and camping as well as a range of cabin types. We stayed in a 2 bedroom homestead cottage which was a good size for the 5 of us. More importantly, it had great heating as we visited in the middle of winter. There was also a fully equipped kitchen which made self catering easy.
There are fabulous facilities in the park including an indoor pool, outdoor and indoor play areas and a jumping pillow. We visited during school holidays and there was a kids club for an hour in the early evening which was a massive hit as well as free movies with popcorn. We have no complaints at all about our stay here and our kids loved it.
If you aren’t travelling with kids, despite being school holidays and fully booked, the park did not seem full of kids and we never heard any from inside our cabin (well apart from our own!) so this could also be a great choice for you.
You can get to Ballarat via train or bus quite easily. However, I would recommend bringing your car. Most attractions we visited in Ballarat are quite central, but you are still going to want a car to get around once you are there.
As with everywhere in Australia, Ballarat is not cheap. If you choose Ballarat activities like Sovereign Hill, Kryal Castle and Ballarat Wildlife Park, the entry prices can start to add up. However, we did find everything was great value and with our 4 day weekend only coming out at $1060 for a family of 5 for everything – including all food, but not transport as we had our own car – we were very happy.
What helped us save money was the fact that under 5’s were generally free which meant we only needed to pay for one child and that we had Entertainment Book coupons for Kryal Castle, Sovereign Hill and Tuki Trout Farm which generally saved us about 25%.
The Entertainment Book is an awesome book full of coupons that you buy based on a city in Australia. We have the Melbourne book which had all of these coupons as well as Ballarat Wildlife Park. We saved more money just in Ballarat than what the book cost so it’s worth considering it, especially if you live in Melbourne. We use it all the time in Melbourne too.
We bought the book here through the Cancer Society which means they also made some money from the purchase. Win, win!
We also saved money by buying our groceries online from Woolworths before we left home and then picking them up when we arrived. We then self catered two meals a day.
We had a great, easy holiday in Ballarat. It’s a fabulus location for a family holiday especially if you are coming from Melbourne, like us.
There are some fun things to do at Ballarat which made it simple for us to have a good mix of relaxing family time and the opportuity to explore new places and things together. We especially had fun exploring Sovereign Hill, watching the shows there and panning for gold. It was our kids’ highlight too.
If you need a change of scenery, there are also some places to visit near Ballarat which are worth the effort – we especially recommend the delicious Tuki Trout Farm. Truly one of my best meals ever,
It was our first trip as a family of 5 and we were happy to find that was a huge success as well. I may have a new favourite age to travel with – newborns! Baby J basically slept and ate the whole time we were out sightseeing. We’d just stick him in the carrier and pretty much not hear a sound. It was easier than being at home.
I am not sure why it took us so long to explore Ballarat but I do know one thing – we will be back!