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Victoria Park Ballarat tree-lined walk
Photograph: Supplied/City of Ballarat Victoria Park

Five reasons to love Ballarat in winter

From belly-warming food to heart-pumping adventure, there are plenty of reasons to visit Ballarat in the colder months

Time Out in association with Visit Ballarat
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Regional Victoria is fortunate for now not to be impacted by the recent renewed lockdowns. If you're based in Melbourne or Mitchell Shire, then you will not be able to visit Ballarat until the situation changes. But Ballarat will still be there when you can! 

Just 90 minutes' drive from Melbourne, Ballarat makes the perfect day trip or weekend getaway – and there's no better time to visit than winter

There's no reason a bit of cold weather has to mean the end of outdoor adventuring. Embrace the bracing weather and rug up to run, cycle or walk through gorgeous scenery, taking in the region's lakes and mountain terrain. Make sure your camera or phone is fully charged – you're going to want to stop to take plenty of pictures to make your mates back in Melbourne jealous. 

Want to keep that heart rate up after night falls? The Ballarat ghost tour will take you back in time (and across the CBD), where you'll learn true tales of historical hauntings and some fascinating facts about the past of this gold rush gem. 

Prefer that your pulse race from gastronomic delights than gremlins and ghouls? Ballarat is known for its paddock-to-plate dining scene, and numerous award-winning wineries dot its landscape. Spend a night cosied up in front of a roaring fire with a gourmet cheese platter and a fine bottle of red. Now that's doing winter nights right. 

As with travelling everywhere, be kind to yourself and everyone you meet, stay safe, maintain physical distance and use common sense.

Eat and drink in Ballarat
Eat and drink in Ballarat
Photograph: Visit Ballarat | Moon and Mountain

1. Eat and drink

If you think weekends are for brunch, start your day at Higher Society, a popular café on Sturt Street in the heart of the city. There are all the breakfast favourites, like smashed avocado on toast, here, but you can also try something slightly outside the canon with white chocolate-raspberry chia pudding or vegetarian black bean chilli. Even in the depths of winter Higher Society's iced lattes are popular, which proves just how cosy it is inside. 

Slept in and missed brunch? Nearby café Johnny Alloo serves breakfast until a very respectable 3pm, with an overlapping lunch menu of things like Reuben sandwiches and Wagyu beef burgers providing heartier fare after 11am. 

One of Ballarat's newest restaurants, Dr Fill, is your go-to spot for good-time food like tacos, loaded fries and hot dogs, with cocktails and beer available to round it all off. 

A must-stop in the region for oenophiles is Mitchell Harris Wines, which specialises in cool-climate drops. The best seat in the house is by the open fireplace, which is the perfect spot in which to taste your way through the winery's pours and enjoy a gourmet lunch. For those who are really serious about wine, Mitchell Harris offers a personal tour through the vineyards with winemaker John Harris and his business partner, Craig Mitchell. Book in advance for that one.  

If you want to stay in the city to seek out sustenance, Armstrong Street North is a foodie's paradise. When you’re looking for somewhere to eat in Ballarat, you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice in Armstrong Street North. There's South American eatery Pancho (don't miss the grilled corn), upscale pizzeria the Forge (pancetta with Meredith Dairy goat cheese is our pick) and shrine to craft beer Hop Temple, which also has plenty of brew-friendly nibbles.

If you're up for a night of adventurous drinking, Moon and Mountain prides itself on its cocktail list, as well as its Asian fusion share plate menu.

With not all venues able to operate at full capacity due to government restrictions, make sure you ring ahead to make a booking. Heaven forefend you end up hungry.

If you're up for a bit of a foodie adventure, Black Cat Truffles is just 20 minutes outside of Ballarat and is taking bookings for winter truffle hunts. Accompanied by fearless truffle dogs Winston and Lottie, you will find these black gold treasures beneath the French and English oak trees planted throughout the property. And yes, at the end of the hunt experience you get to taste your bounty in various forms, such as truffled cheese, pasta and even dessert. 

Sovereign Hill
Sovereign Hill
Photograph: Visit Ballarat | Sovereign Hill

2. Things to do

There's something for everyone in Ballarat in winter. 

For those with kids, you can't go past historical attraction Sovereign Hill, which will reopen on Saturday, June 27, just in time for school holidays. The outdoor museum will be open from Friday to Sunday, and tickets must be purchased in advance. Take a step back in time, visit gold rush-era shops and even try your hand at panning for the precious stuff yourself. 

Kids will also love Ballarat Wildlife Park, home to animals like kangaroos, meerkats, little penguins, crocodiles and even Sumatran tigers. There's lots of space for little feet (and paws) to roam and burn off some energy.

Lake Wendouree Fairyland and the Ballarat Botanical Gardens are popular places for an afternoon stroll. Rug up warmly and explore the 40-hectare gardens, perhaps with a coffee in hand from Industry Beans, which was founded by two Ballarat locals and is sold in Webster’s Market and Café

Biking is a popular way to explore Ballarat's wide boulevards and gorgeous surrounds. If you've got an hour to spare, the Coffee Ride will take you on a loop through the north of the city and up into adjourning Creswick State Forest and have you back for coffee in an hour. You can choose whatever level of difficulty suits you, with easy city rides perfect for novice cyclists, and longer forest journeys challenging enough for those who own Lycra shorts.  

Rather go at a slower pace? Brand-new Woowookarung Regional Park includes numerous walking paths and lookouts. The 641-hectare park welcomes dogs (on lead), as well as walkers and runners of all abilities. For something slightly longer, head to Creswick and wander through 100-year-old trees along the La Gerche Forest Walk.

If you'd like a little history with your walks, the self-guided tour of Ballarat’s historical precinct could be just the ticket. You'll learn about the city's history and culture, with a particular emphasis on the gold rush period. 

Have a strong constitution? If you ain't afraid of no ghost, the ghost tour from Eerie Tours could be for you. You'll learn a lot about Ballarat's early history, as well as spine-tingling tales of ghostly encounters.

If you like your holidays more 'unwind' than 'undead', then Ballarat's Sanctuary Day Spa might be more your speed. It includes six luxury treatment rooms, private bathing and a floating pedicure lounge. It's just the place to chase away the winter blues (and winter chill). 

From hydrotherapy to retail therapy, Ballarat has numerous specialty shops where you can buy a gift for a special someone or just treat yourself. You'll find a new signature scent at fragrance boutique Sweet Fern, or a cosy new jumper to keep even the coldest nights at bay at womenswear boutique Teddy and Fletch

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Places to stay in Ballarat
Places to stay in Ballarat
Photograph: Visit Ballarat | Lascelles Ballarat

3. Stay

We don't know about you, but it's been a long time since we got to stay in a hotel. Crisp sheets, soft-as-clouds mattress, heavenly pillows and crucially someone else to do the housekeeping.

If you want to sleep in the comfort of royalty, you can't look past Ballarat's Craig's Royal Hotel, a 167-year-old edifice that has rested the heads of people like Dame Nellie Melba and Prince Alfred.

If you want the feeling of a house, rather than a hotel, boutique hotel Lascelles Ballarat comprises two conjoined Victorian terraces that have all the comfort of home – if your home were a super-luxe historic home, that is.

Want more space for the kids to run around?

Check out the BIG4 Ballarat Windmill Holiday Park. There are numerous affordable accommodation options, and you can either set up your own tent or rent one of the park's cosy cabins. BIG 4 is dog-friendly too.

Looking to splash out? Treat yourself and someone special at award-winning boutique hotel the Provincial Hotel. Each heritage room has its own personality and décor, and the hotel is within a stone's throw of the heart of the city. There are apartment options as well as traditional hotel rooms, so whatever your preference, you'll find it here.

Beyond Ballarat
Beyond Ballarat
Photograph: Visit Ballarat | Mount Buninyong

4. Beyond Ballarat

There are plenty of things to keep you fed, watered, exercised and entertained in Ballarat itself, but it's also nice to get out of town sometimes and explore regional Victoria.

You can base yourself in Ballarat and visit these surrounding areas for a few hours or a day trip.

Buninyong

This regional town is 11km from Ballarat, at the foot of dormant volcano Mount Buninyong. If you're feeling like a bit of exercise, the climb to the top of the mountain is well worth it, with views stretching for kilometres in all directions. Reward yourself with a meal at the Shared Table, which specialises in regional produce. Stretch you legs through the town's main street and pop into boutique clothing and homewares shop Three Times Blest to find something for yourself or a gift for a friend.

Creswick

After some woollen goods to keep you warm during the winter months? Creswick Woollen Mills is just the place to find throw rugs, jumpers, beanies, cardigans and more.  If you love seafood, Tuki Trout Farm is a must-stop. You can catch your very own fish (you're guaranteed to catch one) to take home, or you can ask the chefs at Tuki's to cook it up right then and there for your lunch. If you decide to bring the fish home, make sure you stop at Creswick Market to pick up some fresh fruit and veggies as an accompaniment. There are also plenty of stalls selling everything from arts and crafts to home-made relishes, cakes and jewellery.

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Watch this space
Watch this space
Photograph: Visit Ballarat

5. Watch this space

There are some pretty exciting openings coming to Ballarat soon, so keep your ear to the ground to make sure you don't miss these much-anticipated new venues.

Modern Italian restaurant Ragazzone is set to open on Mair Street soon, promising plenty of delicious pasta and wine.

Also opening soon is a Ballarat branch of popular Geelong bar the 18th Amendment. The Prohibition era-themed bar takes you back in time to 1930s Chicago, where sly grog came from speakeasies and gangsters in natty suits controlled the trade. They take their liquor very seriously at the Geelong branch, including making their own liquors and barrel-ageing unique cocktails. It will be opening in the basement of Ballarat gallery the Lost Ones soon.

And two of Ballarat's most beloved venues have new leases on life. The 163-year-old North Star Hotel has just undergone a major renovation, with a classic but modern new interior and a two-storey glass atrium. It will open its doors July 1.

And the Pub with Two Names has changed ownership, with Christine Molloy and Richard McKeown (formerly of the Farmers Arms Hotel Creswick) now taking the reins. The food menu focuses on the freshest possible Victorian produce.

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