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Winter Wonderlights at Sovereign Hill
Photograph: Supplied/Visit BallaratWinter Wonderlights at Sovereign Hill

Top picks at this year's Ballarat Winter Festival

The temperature may be dropping, but things are just starting to heat up at the Ballarat Winter Festival

By Time Out in association with Visit Ballarat
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It’s that time of year again, when hibernating on the couch beneath a mountain of blankets starts to sound pretty appealing. But if you’re searching for a way to beat the winter blues, we’ve got just the remedy: a trip to the town that does winter supremely well. The Ballarat Winter Festival takes place from June 25 through to July 17 with a soul-warming line-up of family-friendly activities, epic light shows, markets, huge flying creatures and more. If you didn’t already have plans for this winter, you do now.

Lighting up the night at Sovereign Hill

Sovereign Hill is a delight to experience at the best of times – hello, who doesn’t love panning for gold and stocking up on raspberry drops? – but come the colder months when the Winter Wonderlights event kicks off, it truly transforms. From June 25 to July 17 you can stroll the (faux) snow-dusted streets, nibbling on gingerbread and admiring Christmas-themed arts and crafts, before night falls and the streetscape come to life in a dazzling display of lights and large-scale projections. And if you get lucky, you might even score a selfie with Saint Nick himself.

Hit the ice in the heart of the city

It wouldn’t be the Ballarat Winter Festival without the pop-up ice skating rink, so adults and children alike will be thrilled to hear that they can once again pull on their skates for some fun on the ice. Located in the heart of the CBD right next to Ballarat Town Hall, the rink will be open for the entirety of the festival, making it a fab option if you’re looking to tire out a bunch of rowdy kids, or need to impress with some smooth moves on a first date. Sensory and child-friendly sessions are available too, and disco and Bollywood on Ice sessions are available.

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Pageantry at Kryal Castle, big cats at Ballarat Wildlife Park

Enter a magical world of wizards and knights on a visit to Kryal Castle. The Knights of Fire program is running every day of the school holidays (Jun 25-Jul 10) and features puppet performances, potion-making workshops and archery classes as well as fire twirling and displays of knightly skills such as jousting. Can Snow Queen Neva save the kingdom from eternal darkness? Alternatively, you can get up close with creatures great and small at the Ballarat Wildlife Park. Meet Kai, the new tiger joining our old friend Satu, then keep exploring and say hi to the park's other residents including meerkats, koalas and roaming kangaroos.

Retail therapy can be found at the Ballarat Mining Exchange

Prepare to blow some serious cash as some of the state’s best independent designers, creators, artists and makers descend upon the Ballarat Mining Exchange for the two-day Design Exchange Market (July 9-10). Handcrafted jewellery, homewares and one-of-a-kind artworks are just some of the items you can expect to find, while a smorgasbord of baked treats will ensure no one is shopping on an empty stomach. It’s a welcoming and inclusive event celebrating small business and handmade, ethical trading. For one night only (Fri Jul 9) the Design Exchange team is also presenting Beyond Dark – a winter feast where you can warm your bones by the fire and shake off the cold on the dance floor. Expect fire pits, art, a big music stage, wintery foods and mulled wine.

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Exhilarating sculptures lift off into the blue

Two spectacular hot air balloon sculptures by renowned Australian artist Patricia Piccinini will take to the city’s skies as part of the Ballarat Winter Festival. Skywhales: Every Heart
Sings will be held on Saturday July 9 at dawn. To the accompaniment of music by Canberra musician Jess Green (AKA Pheno) in collaboration with Piccinini, and the ethereal sounds of a 100-strong children’s choir, the Skywhale and the Skywhalepapa will lift off into the air. Entry is free but visitors are encouraged to register on the Art Gallery of Ballarat website to be part of the action. Skywhales: Every Heart Sings is a National Gallery Touring Event supported by principal partner the Naomi Milgrom Foundation and Visions Australia. Skywhales: Every Heart Sings is the third instalment of the Balnaves Contemporary Series and is a Know My Name project.

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