One perfect day in Ballarat

If Sovereign Hill is all you know about Ballarat, its time for another visit
Photograph: Roberto Seba
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10am-noon

There’s a lot to do, so we recommend rolling in early. Your first stop is L’Espresso. With the best coffee in town, you could sit here for hours, listening to soulful tunes and people watching – it’s the perfect start to the day. The food stacks up too. We recommend the French toast with poached pear.

Grab another coffee and walk down Sturt Street to the Art Gallery of Ballarat. One of the oldest and biggest regional art galleries in the country, it boasts a huge collection of Australian art as well as special exhibitions throughout the year.

Noon-1pm

From the art gallery, take a short walk back to Sturt Street and walk down a block to the Known World Bookstore, specialising in rare and collectable second-hand books.

Sturt Street is home to many of Ballarat’s best little shops, including retro clothing store Miss Behavin’ and homewares store Wen and Ware. If you’re driving around, be sure have a look in Studio Gas, the Upholstery Gallery and Inexterior for homewares, clothes and jewellery. They all happen to be cafés too. Did someone say coffee?

1-3pm

Once you’ve finished moseying around the streets and shops, head to lake Wendouree to Pipers by the Lake café. The 120-year-old building is ideally positioned on the foreshore of the lake and just opposite the beautiful Botanical Gardens. It has all the usual suspects, including pizza, pasta and steaks.

Head across to the Botanical Gardens and have a look at the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial, the Conservatory and Prime Minister Avenue, featuring sculptures of every past Australian PM. When you’re done, a walk around the lake is a perfect way to take in the sights of Ballarat; or you can catch the vintage tram that runs through the Botanical Gardens and around some of the lake. The journey takes about 20 minutes.

If you’ve brought the kids with you, a pit stop at the adventure playground is a must. Just along the path from Pipers by the Lake, the playground will be crowded with kids and families enjoying the weekend.

3-4pm

If you need a pick-me-up after that walk, check out Vegas and Rose for some of the best cakes in town. Try a redskin macaroon – yes, that’s a thing, and it’s incredible. Or stop by Sweet Decadence – it’s a chocoholic's dream. You can buy housemade chocolates or sit down and enjoy a pure chocolate hot chocolate.

4-5pm

Now that you’ve had a sugar overload, visit the interactive Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE). With the 1854 Eureka flag as its centre piece, MADE explores the evolution and future of democracy, focusing on culture, civics history and citizenship.

5-7pm

Feel like exploring? Go check out the Lal Lal Falls and just sit, relax and take in the scenic views. They are a 15-minute drive south of Ballarat; be sure to bring your camera.

7-9pm

For the best steak in town, head to the Ballarat Steakhouse. The chargrilled steaks are cooked just the way you like them, with a range of sides and fully licenced bar. It's easy to see why it’s a local favourite.

If you’re catching the train down, VLine trains to Melbourne roughly run on the hour. The last one leaves Ballarat station at 11.37pm on a Saturday and 10.12pm on a Sunday.

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