Today I have been tasked with taking you on a digital tour of good old B-Rat, otherwise known as the city of Ballarat. Being a big animal nerd, my personal favourite is definitely the wildlife park, but I have a few fond memories of mining for gold at Sovereign Hill too. That’s really just touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what’s on offer at this little mining city that has grown a lot since the gold rush days. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Ballarat Wildlife Park
Ballarat Wildlife Park is a really interesting place. Most of the big zoos in Victoria are owned by Zoos Victoria, but this one is independent. It makes for a much more relaxed atmosphere, where you can hand feed kangaroos and wallabies that are just chilling about the place, and book really intimate meet and greets with a bunch of the wildlife. There’s also an extremely rare taxidermy of a now-extinct Thylacine on display – a Tasmanian Tiger, for those out there that aren’t as prone as I am to geek out over scientific names of critters. Most of the park is geared towards Australian native species, but then they randomly have this massive tiger enclosure off to the right of the entrance that is pretty neat too. There are frequent reptile displays including snakes, lizards, and crocodiles, and the keepers are all really nice. You can check out the gift shop on the way out, or grab a bite to eat and a cuppa at the cafe next to it before heading out the see the animals. Keep an eye out for the spotted quoll and eclectus parrots near the cafe back window. Ignore the possum – although native, he’s not part of the display! He just really likes snacks.
Dine in Pizza Hut Ballarat
I don’t know about you, but all you can eat pizza hut holds a special place in my heart and my childhood stomach. I’m not entirely sure how my parents tolerated taking me, because I’d inevitably make some sort of dessert monument on top of the table we were seated at, but the place was an institution. Did you know there are only 2 Pizza Huts left operating in the all-you-can-eat style in the entire state of Victoria? Although my local is long gone, there is one only an hour away in Ballarat. Definitely head in there if you’re craving some delicious junk food nostalgia.
Sovereign Hill Ballarat
If you grew up in metro Victoria, chances are that your school took you on an excursion to Sovereign Hill at least once. As we all know, there’s one thing about this place that holds a place in our hearts, beyond the history of the place and the rustic vibes and that’s those delicious handmade raspberry drop lollies. Once a year or so I’ll still order a jar of them and inevitably eat them way faster than I should. This is a great place to take the kids – they can pan for their very own gold and take it home, and the atmosphere here is highly entertaining with all of the olden-day dress ups and historical tidbits.
Kryal Castle Ballarat
What if I told you there was a place in Ballarat where you could see live jousting? No, I’m not kidding. Kryal Castle is a bizarre place that is quite literally a castle. A great place for cosplayers, lovers of the strange and families, the Castle will transport you back in time with its bright costumes and pomp. Book yourself an old-style photograph session, get involved in the kids craft activities, and just be generally confused and amused by the place.
You’re probably wondering how a humble McDonalds made the must-see list. Well, this is no regular McDonalds – this is a cool McDonalds. McDonalds Bakery Hill in Ballarat is located within an historic building and was the city’s first Maccas. It also has another claim to fame – it’s the largest McDonalds in the Southern Hemisphere!
Beechworth Bakery Ballarat
Writing about this place makes me want to get in the car and drive an hour to visit it. Pretty much the only thing stopping me right now is that it would be closed by the time I got there. I have very big feelings about custard-filled pastries, and this place knows custard-filled pastries. They like to call themselves “Australia’s Greatest Bakery”. I’m not about to argue with them on that.
No, this is not another eatery, this one is a huge festival that happens early December in Ballarat. Spilt Milk 2023 is on the 2nd of December. With Post Malone headlining and artists such as Dom Dolla, Peach PRC and Tkay Maidza in the line-up, it’s no wonder it’s sold out. If you’re lucky, you might find someone who has to cancel plans and will sell you a ticket. If you get that chance and you live live alternative music, jump on it.
Piano Bar Ballarat
If you’re a fan of campy, inclusive atmospheres, you’re going to love Piano Bar. Starting out in Geelong, Piano Bar has grown leaps and bounds, despite the challenges of lockdowns on live music venues. This cabaret-style venue opened in Ballarat back in 2020, and excels at live music requests of popular songs in a cabaret-style venue with room to dance and tasty cocktails. A great place for the adults.
Ballarat Botanical Gardens
Ballarat Botanical Gardens is arguably one of the nicest gardens in the state. Nestled around Lake Windermere, the place is a massive collection of rare plants, architecturally designed greenhouses, and peaceful nooks perfect for a picnic. There’s a really nice cafe inside one of the historic buildings on-site too. Grab yourself a cuppa and take a walk in nature here.
Ballarat Aquatic Centre
If you’re looking for a place to cool off with the kids or relax in a nice spa, Ballarat Aquatic Centre is open daily in the area. This place has something for everyone, with a dedicated waterslide and play area for kids, and a spa and steam room for the adults. They often hold school holiday events too, so you might even be able to book the kids in for some fun while you’re there.
Ballarat Art Gallery
The Art Gallery of Ballarat is famous as being the oldest regional art gallery in all of regional Australia, and it’s well worth a peruse. They have seasonal special exhibitions, local works, and a strong focus on acceptance and inclusion, with focus on the traditional custodians of the land and their beautiful artworks too. The current special exhibitions running at the time of this writing are People Power – Platon, Ian Kemp – Never Lasting, and Instant Warhol, which all run until October 22nd 2023. They also run a selection of events, including a daily guided tour, Early Strat: Art to grow up with (a kid’s event running during school holidays), and a public forum on how to produce an exhibition coming in the second week of September. They also do regular interactive Art Bites workshops for the kids.
Ballarat Golf Club
Over at 1800 Sturt Street you’ll stumble upon the Ballarat Golf Club. This is an 18-hole Championship level course that was designed by Peter Thompson and Ross Perret. The golf club is also home to an onsite bar, bistro, driving range, shop and practice facilities. They occasionally have function days here, so call ahead to ensure you can get in to sink a couple of holes. The club also caters to special events such as weddings and corporate days, so there are plenty of options for utilisation.
Ballarat is a pretty big place for a regional city, so let’s take a look at some of the local restaurant options going around.
La Porchetta Ballarat
This one is a pretty well known chain, but still very serviceable. La Porchetta specialises in Italian food at an affordable price point and is open daily for lunch and dinner. It’s probably not suited to your fancy date nights, but it’s a great place to drop into impromptu for a satisfying meal.
For something a step up from the local chain restaurant, check out Oscar’s Hotel and Cafe Bar. This place is really multi-functional, with separate bar, restaurant, beer garden, function venues and even places to stay for a few nights. Meet up with a couple of mates at the bar, or take a group out to dinner at the onsite restaurant. Oscar’s is a great all-rounder.
The Forge Ballarat
The Forge is a funky little pizzeria located in Ballarat Central, making it really easy to get to if you’re staying in town. It’s somewhere between a restaurant and a cafe in style, and has a really industrial feel. A great place to go for some rustic style pizzas, a few drinks, and some lovely filling pasta.
Ballarat has a couple of options for cinema venues in the area. Let’s compare them now.
Regent Cinemas Ballarat
If you’re after something with a little bit of spice to its design, definitely opt for Regent Cinemas Ballarat. The session times and movies are pretty standard fare, but the building itself is really something else. This building has been lovingly cared for since it was built in the 1930’s, and sports an Art Deco style that will definitely add some decadence to your movie night.
Showbiz Cinemas Ballarat
Showbiz is more of your regular movie joint, with session times, standard mainstream movie genres, and the good old candy bar. It’s still a locally owned company which is pretty cool, so definitely go ahead and support them if you’re in the area. At the moment they’re showing standard (yet quality) fare of the Barbie movie, Oppenheimer, Meg 3 – pretty much exactly what you’d expect if you pictured a standard movie cinema, and absolutely nothing to complain about either.
Op Shops Ballarat
Ballarat has a smattering of op shops within its city limits, so it can be a great little day activity to take a look at them all. You’ve got your standard Vinnies and Salvos stores here, but there are also a few less mainstream options in Ballarat that I would suggest taking a look at first. We’ve heard great things about the Ballarat Hospice Care Op Shop and Uniting Op Shop Ballarat in particular, and they are probably less likely to have overpriced items there too. Plus, who doesn’t want to help out by buying at a place that supports the local hospice? Get in and see what hidden gems you might be able to find.
You’ve got a couple of interesting options for markets in Ballarat, mostly focussed around good local food and second hand items. Here are a couple of the best market events to check out.
Ballarat Farmers Market
The farmers market nestles next to Lake Wendouree in town every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month. At the moment it’s running over on Windmill Drive, but the plan is for it to move over to North Garden Reserve for the September Markets. Keep an eye on their site to stay informed on where the next one will be.
Ballarat Swap Meet
The Ballarat Swap Meet is absolutely massive – in fact, it’s Australia’s largest swap meet. You’re going to find pretty much everything and anything you could imagine here. The swap meet runs in the last weekend of February every year, so check it out this summer. Unfortunately it was cancelled for the 2023 event due to flooding, but we have high hopes that it will be back up and running this time around.
That’s really just the tip of the iceberg for things you can do in and around Ballarat. It’s a pretty big place for being out in a regional area, and the activities available work for people from all age groups and walks of life. Which attraction will you be visiting first?