You’ll need to set aside at least half a day to visit this fascinating re-creation of Ballarat's 1860s gold-mining township. The site was mined in the gold-rush era and much of the equipment is original, as is the mine shaft. Kids love panning for gold in the stream, watching the hourly gold pour and browsing ye olde lolly shop. While it's especially popular with children and families, it'll be enjoyed by all.
The main street is a living history museum, with people performing their chores dressed in costumes of the time; check the schedule for daily parades and demonstrations. Sovereign Hill opens again at night for the impressive sound-and-light show Aura, which through projections in the night sky tells the story of the Indigenous Wadawurrung, and describes the discovery of gold in Ballarat and how it shaped the town and beyond. Times vary, so check in advance; bookings are essential. The spooky lamplight tours, comprising a night walk through Sovereign Hill to learn the darker side of life on the goldfields, are also popular.
In July the blockbuster Winter Wonderlights festival brings in the crowds for wintry Christmas festivities.
Your ticket also gets you into the nearby Gold Museum, which sits on a mullock heap from an old mine. The museum has imaginative, modern displays and samples from all the old mining areas, as well as gold nuggets, coins and a display on the Eureka Rebellion.
To get here from town, take bus 21 from Ballarat Station, or better, the free Gold Rush Express, which departs Ballarat Station at 10.40am (to meet the 9.16am train from Melbourne) and returns at 3.25pm; this service also gets you a 10% discount on entry fees.