Ballarat is so close to Melbourne it is often overlooked by long-haul travellers, especially those settling in for a drive interstate.
Lively with events year-round and surrounded by gold rush era villages, this gateway to midwestern Victoria is worth more than a casual pitstop.
Blending the best of urban and country itineraries, you can indulge your inner foodie, tour an art gallery and still make it off-grid by nightfall.
Here’s some inspiration to dust off the pop-top and hit the road to Ballarat, all without breaking the bank.
Even if you’re self-catering back at the caravan park or picnicking roadside, there’s no need to skip out on sampling some local produce.
You’ll find delicious sourdough, pies and pastries at 1816 Bakehouse, beestings at Beechworth Bakery Ballarat, gelato at Il Piccolo, gourmet sandwiches at Shep Street Sandos and Earls Deli, and a wide selection of local wines and beers at Campana’s.
You can also elevate your BBQ game with a stop at Saltbush Kitchen, purveyor of rubs and spice mixes inspired by the Australian bush. For dinner with a view, nab yourself a BBQ on the western side of Lake Wendouree. Just watch out for the black swans and gulls, as they’ll help themselves to your side of hot chips!
If you’re cooking up a one-pot-wonder, grab some fresh pasta and sauces at Carboni’s Next Door. As the name implies, it is next door to tasty pizza joint Carboni’s Italian Kitchen.
Craft drinks are something of an artform in Ballarat and there’s plenty of producers – like Itinerant Spirits, Aunty Jacks, Kilderkin Distillery and Grainery Lane – offering tastings or a casual flight alongside more in-depth workshops and masterclasses.
For those in town on the second or fourth Saturday of the month, there’s also the Ballarat Farmers’ Market at Lake Wendouree. Here you’ll find local favourites like Red Duck Brewing, Tim’s Toasties and Flying Chillies, alongside fresh fruit and veg from across the region.
Ballarat is infamous for being a bit chilly. While you might be tempted to hole up with a cider in a heritage pub, autumn is a great time to visit for outdoor events.
The Ballarat Begonia Festival takes over the Ballarat Botanical Gardens for the long weekend in March, with displays of rare begonias on show at Robert Clark Conservatory for a month afterward.
From 17–26 May, the Ballarat Heritage Festival features a vintage car show, evening projections, a tweed ride, rare trades demonstrations, and more.
If you’re rather avoid the festival crowds, spend an afternoon exploring the impressive (and weatherproof) Art Gallery of Ballarat. Entry to Australia’s oldest regional art gallery is free, with complimentary guided tours daily at 11am. For history buffs, the Eureka Centre is also an affordable museum stop, with entry just $6 for adults and $4 concession.
There’s also the Eureka Stockade Holiday Park, which neighbours the memorial gardens for the 1854 Eureka Rebellion.
At the nearby Eureka Centre, you can view the original Eureka Flag and enjoy brunch at Lilly’s, a pink-toned café with a menu curated by a chocolate maker (don’t worry, there’s savoury bites too).
If you prefer to stay outside of the city centre, the BIG4 Ballarat Windmill in Cardigan includes a BIG PAWS pet-friendly precinct. There’s even medieval-themed suites at Kryal Castle if you need a break from van life.
For freedom camping, check out Lake Burrumbeet Foreshore Camping Area, Smythesdale Gardens Reserves, Haddon Lions Park, Iron Furnace at Lal Lal Campground, Creswick’s Slaty Creek Campground, and the Surface Point Picnic Area at Enfield State Park.
Further afield in Raglan, Richards Campground is a great base for walks in Mt Cole State Forest and is the starting point for the 20km Beeripmo hike.
There’s so much to see and do in Ballarat’s rural fringe. And you don’t need to empty the fuel tank to get there.
NORTH (20-minute drive)
Creswick Regional Park offers shaded walking and mountain biking tracks, including the picturesque La Gerche Forest Walk which changes colour with the seasons. On your way through the town of Creswick, don’t miss Le Peche Gourmand for a mouth-watering pastry stop. Pick up a picnic rug from nearby Creswick Woollen Mills. Loop back to Ballarat via the village of Clunes to soak up the gold-rush era charm (and a good book or two).
SOUTH (15-minute drive)
The lookout tower at Mount Buninyong offers sweeping views, while nearby Lal Lal Falls are at their most impressive in the cooler months. Be sure to stop by the Buninyong township for a latte or settle in for brunch with a difference at The Shared Table.
EAST (15-minute drive)
Pick your own sunflowers on the Britt family farm near the village of Dunnstown. The fields bloom from mid-February to late March, so check the farm’s website for the latest seasonal updates. Pre-booking your session is essential.
Located just off the Western Highway at Warrenheip, the Ballarat Vintage and Collectables Market is also a must-do for bargain hunters.
WEST (30-minute drive +)
Heading west on two-wheels? Bike-packers can hit the Ballarat-Skipton Railway Trail, passing over the historic Nimmons trestle bridge. Travel 12km beyond Skipton for an off-grid stay at Mooramong Estate. The tiny homes are secluded but located on a working farm, so you might spot a moo cow or two, alongside abundant birdlife.
For more inspiration and ideas to extend your road trip into western Victoria, explore Beyond Ballarat.
Our What’s On calendar extends into the wider region, so whichever direction you’re headed, there’s always something new to explore.