10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Ballarat, Bendigo, and the Macedon Ranges
Known as one of the richest goldfields on earth; Ballarat, Bendigo, and the Macedon Ranges still harbor treasures in more ways than one. With a vibrant arts culture, historic buildings lining wide leafy streets, and more award-winning country restaurants than any other area of Victoria, the area is a mecca for tourists.
When the Gold Rush started in 1851, thousands of prospectors came here to make their fortune. Today, gold is still mined and the region attracts thousands of visitors every year. From panning for gold at Sovereign Hill and wandering the historic streets of the towns and villages to the impressive natural beauty of Lal Lal Falls, the region is a must do. Although a four-seasons destination, autumn is considered prime time, when the region is ablaze with vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges.
As Victoria's largest inland city, Ballarat is of significant importance historically, commercially, and culturally. The elegant facades of the many historic buildings are reminiscent of the gold rush days. The older part of town centers on Lydiard Street with the magnificent Her Majesty's Theatre, one of Australia's oldest surviving theaters; Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, featuring works from the gold rush artists; and historic churches. The Visitor's Centre (also in Lydiard Street) has a handy heritage walk brochure that explains the history of each building. On the banks of Lake Wendouree, the beautiful Botanical Gardens cover 40 hectares. The series of gardens, highlighted by a central conservatory, have been a part of Ballarat for more than 150 years and attract garden lovers from all over the world.
2 Sovereign Hill
Experience the gold rush day or night. Sovereign Hill is more than a living museum, it immerses visitors right back into 1851 to re-enact history. During the day, wander the quaint shops of Main Street mingling with actors dressed in period costume, explore the underground mine, ride the horse-drawn coach tour through the township, or strike it rich panning for gold in the river. At night, a spectacular sound and light show tells the story of the 1854 Eureka Uprising, an important part of Australian history. As a multi award-winning attraction, Sovereign Hill is considered one of the best authentic historical experiences in Australia.
Hours: Open every day of the year, except Christmas Day.
Admission: Adults $47.00; children 5 - 15, $21.40
Location: Bradshaw Street, Ballarat
3 Lal Lal Falls
A short drive from Ballarat, the Lal Lal Falls, meaning "dashing of waters" is a spiritually significant site in Aboriginal history. The spectacular falls sit majestically among a series of gorges with an easily accessible viewing platform. Walking trails link throughout the reserve. Another highlight is the unique preserved blast furnace, a relic of nineteenth century industrialism that centered on the manufacturing of bricks, pottery, china, and paper in the area.
Location: Moorabool, via Ballarat
Slightly smaller than Ballarat in population, Bendigo is an extravagant provincial town. Grand, European-style architecture with a distinctly Australian feel; wide tree-lined boulevards; and an abundance of art galleries and churches make for a surprise at every turn. The Bendigo Art Gallery often hosts world-class exhibitions in addition to a superb collection of Australian paintings. Bendigo Pottery is Australia's oldest working pottery and a great place to pick up a unique gift. Bendigo makes an excellent base for exploring not only the township, but the surrounding villages.
5 Bendigo Tramways
An 8.4-kilometer round trip takes in the best of historic Bendigo aboard a highly decorated vintage tram. The hop-on, hop-off journey can be extended over two days on the one ticket to enable time at each attraction. Highlights abound. To name a few, at the Central Deborah Gold Mine, visitors can take an underground tour to see where more than one ton of gold has been mined. The authentic bright red Chinese Joss House is a reminder of the important role Chinese immigrants played in the history of the gold rush. The magnificent Sacred Heart Cathedral is the most recognized landmark in Bendigo and is one of the largest churches in Australia. With 17 trams in the fleet, this is a time-efficient attraction enjoyed in a beautifully nostalgic way.
Hours: Open every day, except Christmas Day
Admission: Adults $16.00, children $10.00
Address: 1 Tramways Ave, Bendigo
Maldon is a model town. Surrounded by hills and a forested landscape, the main street is lined with perfectly preserved 19th-century buildings housing an eclectic collection of antique shops, cafés, restaurants, and galleries. Protected by the National Trust, Maldon was named Australia's first 'notable town'. A restored steam train chugs along the beautiful 18-kilometer journey from Maldon to Castlemaine most weekends and on Wednesdays.
In the heart of the goldfields, Castlemaine is another beautifully restored village. With wide streets and narrow laneways, the small town is popular with art, garden, and food lovers. There are several excellent, organic food cafés serving local produce. Over the past few years, a niche market in original one-off clothing shops have sprung up in Mostyn Street and the Restorer's Barn is a goldmine for anyone interested in antiques and building materials. There are also many antiquarian booksellers in the general region with several excellent shops in Castlemaine. The nearby tiny village of Clunes is renowned for its second hand bookshops. It's also the place where gold was first discovered in 1851.
Nestled on the edge of the Wombat State Forest, Daylesford is a gold town with a difference. Swiss and Italian immigrants settled here during the gold rush not only for the gold, but also the water. Together with twin town Hepburn Springs, Daylesford is the spa capital of Australia. Mineral springs complete with hand pumps are dotted throughout the area. There are also many wellness retreats specializing in spa treatments, and the superbly-located, state-of-the-art Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa has welcomed visitors since 1895. Walking "peace mile", the designated trail around Lake Daylesford, is considered a daily constitutional by the residents, and the many award-winning restaurants serve creatively prepared local produce. Located on the water's edge, the elegant Lake House is Victoria's most celebrated country house. Just over an hour from Melbourne, Daylesford is one of Victoria's most popular weekend getaways.
Located just out of Daylesford, Lavandula is a touch of Europe in an Australian landscape. The heady scent of lavender fields surrounds the ancient stone buildings, and the working farm is a perfect spot for a lazy afternoon. La Trattoria Café caters to indoor or outdoor casual dining and features a wood-fired oven. During summer, visitors can see the lavender being harvested by hand using traditional sickles, and the shop has a range of excellent body products made from lavender oil distilled on the property.
Address: 350 Hepburn-Newstead Road, Shepherds Flat
With a thriving art culture, Kyneton offers visitors a diversity of experiences. Historic Piper Street is lined with authentic, beautifully preserved buildings housing a collection of galleries, restaurants, and original shops. A lively farmers market is held the second Saturday morning of each month. The Campaspe River Walk takes in the Botanical Gardens as well as several significant, historic country properties.
Where to Stay in Ballarat, Bendigo, and the Macedon Ranges for Sightseeing
We recommend these highly-rated hotels with easy access to the top historic and natural attractions in Ballarat, Bendigo, and the Macedon Ranges:
- Craig's Royal Hotel: grand Gold Rush-era luxury, central location in Ballarat, ornate furnishings, high tea, free continental breakfast, L'Occitane toiletries.
- Braeside Mt Macedon Country Retreat and Bed & Breakfast: 4-star B&B in the Macedon Ranges, wonderful hosts, country retreat, peaceful setting, wood-burning fireplace, tasty breakfast.
- Best Western Cathedral Motor Inn: mid-range pricing, center of Bendigo, great value, friendly front desk staff, spacious rooms.
- Seymours on Lydiard: budget-friendly Ballarat hotel, suites and apartments with kitchens, free parking.