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Visit Victoria Ballarat/Lola at the Provincial Hotel
Photograph: Carmen Zammit/Visit VictoriaLola at the Provincial Hotel

Your essential road trip guide to Ballarat

There's more to this town than its gold rush history including a thriving creative scene and some of the state's best food and drink

By Time Out in association with Visit Victoria

Ballarat is famed for its involvement in the gold rush, but there's much more to this flourishing regional town. Its original custodians are the Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung People and its traditional name was one letter off what it is now – Ballaarat in Wadawurrung language, meaning 'resting place'. Its creative scene is growing steadily by the day and there's plenty of art to not only witness, but to partake in creating with local makers. In fact, Ballarat is listed as a UNESCO Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art, so the locals know their stuff when it comes to the arts. The colonial bones of the city also boasts a restaurant by a chef who has worked in Michelin-starred venues amongst its thriving food and drink scene, and its locals are all smiles.

We’re showcasing road trips across this glorious state alongside Visit Victoria’s ‘Stay close, go further’ campaign. These road trip guides are meant to help you rediscover all the natural beauty, one-of-a-kind towns and covetable dining experiences Melbourne and Victoria have to offer. Below, we’ve laid out an itinerary perfect for a day trip or for a longer trip that requires you to pack the boot a little more. Here’s what to do the next time you find yourself in Ballarat.

Pick your trip:



Visit Victoria Ballarat
Photograph: Carmen Zammit/Visit VictoriaThe Shared Table

Day trip

It’s too easy to visit Ballarat for the one day when it’s based just a one-and-a-half hour drive away from Melbourne. That’s the amount of time it takes to buy groceries and commence cooking, but you could have Ballarat’s exceptional dining scene at your beck and call instead.

Eat and drink

Just outside of Ballarat is the cosy little town of Buninyong. A stone’s throw away from its town hall is a slice of Melbourne’s distinguished dining scene – The Shared Table. Founded by chef Dianne Ray, this remarkable restaurant invites guests to sit at a communal table and sample her set Dine without Decision menu that changes up monthly and offers seasonal produce sourced from locals. Expect experimental dishes such as soy and quince roasted chicken served with tarragon and black garlic brioche pudding, Jerusalem artichoke, mushrooms and carrots. Or dine in at lunchtime and choose from her a la carte menu, which boasts egg roll tacos that transform egg roll wrappers into crisp, pappadum-like taco shells, loaded with slaw, Chinese five spice-braised Western Plains pork and Yuzu Kosho salsa verde. The minimalist space itself is stunning and was designed by IF Architecture, the brains behind Attica and Cumulus Inc’s interiors, to name a few, with accoutrements hand-picked by Ray herself paying homage to Buninyong and its surrounds. 

You might need a coffee once you get in town, in fact, it’s a must if you want to try some of the best brews outside of the big smoke, served up by one of Melbourne’s most passionate baristas. Cobb’s Coffee, opened up by bean aficionado Brendan Wrigley (who might have helped you wake up at venues like Top Paddock) is set in one of Ballarat’s beautiful mid-19th century buildings and takes an ethical stance when serving up coffee to the masses by ensuring farmers are paid fairly.

You probably aren’t going to Ballarat for a taste of Paris, but here it is, smack bang in the middle of town. The Provincial Hotel is a pop of Alaskan Blue (as dubbed by paint brand Dulux) and white and features on-site accommodation along with a French-inspired restaurant that’s worth the visit to Ballarat alone. Head chef Philippe Desrettes dishes up refined bistro-style eats at the hotel's restaurant, Lola, like medallions of tender Waubra scotch fillet with umami blocks of pressed potato and horseradish remoulade that cuts through the richness of it all. Go for a relaxed brunch, lunch or dinner and pair it all with a glass of Champagne. Don’t miss the courtyard and the venue’s cocktail caravan, Clara in warmer months too.

Visit Victoria Ballarat
Photograph: Carmen Zammit/Visit VictoriaThe Shared Table

See and do

Ballarat is a city that’s passionate about its begonias, so much so that the city has an annual begonia festival that’s held at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. But outside of this time the gardens 40 hectares of flora proves to be the perfect spot for picnic-goers or those looking for a scenic afternoon stroll.

The Art Gallery of Ballarat has a purpose and prides itself on involving the local community and taking note of social issues. The gallery also has an impressive rotating collection of artworks above its grand staircase that showcase different social themes and a roster of creative, collection-based exhibitions.

Explore the galleries, studios and makers of Ballarat to discover why the city has earned its UNESCO recognition. Wadawurrung woman Tammy Gilson is an Aboriginal consultant and expert weaver who tells the stories of her ancestors through her craft and impressive eel traps, while Benny Mitchell is a Ballarat local who, despite only having been in the leatherwork trade for a few years, tailors sturdy belts and gorgeous bags. Rachel Grose who has a residency with Mitchell at the Lost Ones Gallery also showcases her silversmithing skills through her unique jewellery influenced by Australia’s native landscape. 

Visit Victoria Ballarat
Photograph: Carmen Zammit/Visit VictoriaWadawurrung woman Tammy Gilson

Stay a while

There’s so much history to cover in Ballarat, and only staying overnight means you're only skimming the surface. Extend your visit and be rewarded with long, lazy lunches, fabulous drinking holes and engaging local activities.

Eat and drink

1816 Bakehouse is your one-stop shop for coffee and a morning pastry. The pain au chocolats here imitate striped bumble bees and the almond croissants are studded with mohawks of slivered almonds and icing sugar. Make sure to grab some bread on the way home, our pick: the soft, dense pumpkin sourdough which melts in your mouth when lathered in butter. Or suss out one of the venue’s fresh baguettes loaded with the filling of your choice.

Step inside Pancho for lunch and be transported to a traditional Mexican home with its pastel pink stucco walls. Stay for the shared plates of food, deep-fried discs of plantain with diced tomato, onion, avocado, black beans and pulled beef that’s juicier than a prickly pear. Margaritas are the name of the game here at Pancho, be sure to try the tangy hibiscus version. And make sure to follow-up your meal with the Peruvian dessert, suspiro limeño, a caramel custard topped with blow-torched meringue that is almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Head to Ballarat’s coveted fine diner Underbar (pronounced as oon-der-bar like the Swedes would) as night falls on Fridays and Saturdays to sample a multicourse degustation. The hidden hole-in-the-wall disguises a schmick interior with a sheer curtain and is set on a very unassuming block in between motels and Indian diners. Headed by chef Derek Boath (who has worked at Michelin-starred New York eatery Per Se), the venue is a dimly-lit affair seating just 16 at a time, with a local, biodynamic-leaning wine list and considerate seasonal dishes dotting a weekly-changing menu. It’s a place where freshly-baked clouds of brioche mop up ocean trout dip and pops of fish roe, and culminates with the playfulness of coating your own thick doughnut in dark chocolate, hazelnut or coffee, washed down with 2018 VP Crazy Shiraz Liqueur that evokes fruity red cordial.

Quench your thirst at Comfort of Strangers. The little, casual bar by former actor Torquil Neilson is the epitome of cosy. Two booths sit to the side with candles alight in every nook and cranny, while Grifter Brewing Company’s sour pink lemonade beer, Pink Galah flies off the bar fridge’s shelves. A compact cocktail list boasts the classics and the phosphorescent glow of the White Negroni contrasts against the moody interior.  

Visit Victoria Ballarat
Photograph: Carmen Zammit/Visit VictoriaUnderbar

See and do

How often can you say that you spent some one-on-one time drinking beers with and learning directly from Dr Beer? At Aunty Jack’s brewery and restaurant, the mezzanine comes to life every Sunday with a beer school put on by head brewer and lecturer in brewing and biochemistry, Dr Peter Aldred and brewer Matthew Ives. The two provide a boozy education into varying beer styles and flavours that delve into the science behind beer. The best part? You get to sample six or more pots of beer that you might never have tried otherwise and walk away with knowledge that will make you sound like an expert at the pub.

Ballarat also has a flourishing ceramics scene and rich local clay deposits. Local ceramacist Beck Davies runs daily pottery and handbuilding classes and workshops for those looking to get their hands dirty. Join an intimate class of two with Beck at the wheel and spin your own wild and wonderful creations which she later fires and glazes according to your colour preference in her bright and vibrant studio. She also offers Friday night clay dates for couples that involve wine and cheese, but without the infamous scene from Ghost.

The Lost Ones Makers Studio is a dedicated studio and workshop space that makers such as Benny Mitchell and Rachel Grose create their beautiful wares in. The space is situated above the illustrious 18th Amendment Bar and is often used for exhibitions, too. Talented artist Lily Mae Martin can often be seen painting scenes inspired by motherhood or figments of anatomy inspired by her nursing studies here too.

Visit Victoria Ballarat
Photograph: Carmen Zammit/Visit VictoriaBeck Davies

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