Best historical experiences in regional Victoria

old paddlesteamer on the Murray River

Danny Baggs

Posted June 23, 2022

Here are the top historical experiences across Victoria, from Ballarat to the Murray River.

Whether you’re a history buff or just enjoy a fun day out, Victoria has a wealth of old-timey historical experiences that expertly blend education and adventure.

Regional Victoria's best historical experiences

Sovereign Hill - Ballarat

Sovereign Hill is an award-winning ‘living museum’ that recreates the 1850s gold rush around the Ballarat-Bendigo area. With costumed actors, horse-drawn carriages, and faithfully recreated factories, shops and schools, it’s a truly immersive experience. At Sovereign Hill, you can pan for real gold in the original diggings site, make traditional boiled lollies, ride on a stagecoach, tour the Red Hill lead mines, watch $150,000 of molten gold being poured into a bullion bar, and much more.  
RACV Members receive discounted tickets to Sovereign Hill and its gold mine, plus 25% off accommodation at the nearby RACV Goldfields Resort. Eureka!


men and women dressed in gold rush era clothing walking through a historical town

Sovereign Hill in Ballarat employs many costumed actors to bring the town to life. Image: Visit Victoria

Central Deborah Gold Mine - Bendigo

At Central Deborah Gold Mine (1939-1954), pop on a hard hat and descend 61 metres underground Bendigo to walk in the footsteps of past gold miners. You will explore the hidden underground tunnels, experience the harsh conditions that miners faced in the gold rush era, discover how the mine’s 929kg of gold was extracted, witness traditional mining equipment in action, and see gold in its natural state.  
Back on the surface, you can chomp on a traditional miner’s pastie, climb the 22 metre poppet head for a birds-eye view of Bendigo, and step inside heritage-listed buildings that were essential to the mine’s operations. Make sure not to miss the Hand of Faith replica: a gold nugget weighing 27.2kg that was found near Bendigo and remains the largest gold nugget ever found with a metal detector.

Cattlemen's Huts - Victoria's High Country

Australian poet Banjo Paterson’s famous poem The Man from Snowy River (1890) immortalised the legendary cattlemen who lived across southern Australia’s hinterland. Its 1982 film adaptation was filmed in Victoria’s High Country, where many of these men built timber, stone and corrugated iron huts for shelter during their annual stock drives. In fact, Craig’s Hut was purpose-built as a set for the movie – as was Silver Brumby Hut for The Silver Brumby (1993). While they may look rustic or even quaint today, these huts were the difference between life and death for cattlemen and other bushies. Over 60 of the huts, built from 1889, survive today. Some families even lived in the huts for decades. These isolated huts are in such rugged country that you cannot reach them by car: you will have to hike or ride by horseback or bicycle to see them. Book in a guided horseback tour to really experience the sentiment of the Cattlemen's Huts.


man on horse next to a rustic fence and hut

Craig's Hut in the High Country was built for the film The Man from Snowy River. Image: Visit Victoria

Old Gippstown - Gippsland

Out in Moe, Gippsland, you can find Old Gippstown: a heritage township that portrays Gippsland’s settlement era. It’s filled with authentic 1840s-1930s buildings, plus one of Australia’s best collections of horse-drawn vehicles – including a World War I Mark VI Ambulance. Visit to see relics like Bushy Park Homestead, Calagero Log Cabin, Ashdale Farmhouse & Shearing Shed, and Rhoden’s Halfway House: one of the few remaining Cobb & Co. Inns in existence.

J Ward - Ararat

J Ward was originally the Ararat County Gaol (1861–1886) for goldfields offenders, but later served as a maximum-security psychiatric facility to house the criminally insane (1887–1991). The stories you will hear by booking into a guided tour are horrifying: both the heinous crimes committed and the barbarism that inmates were forced to endure. This imposing bluestone gaol includes gallows where murderers were hanged right in the middle of the ward, and the unconsecrated, unmarked graves where the hanged were buried. You will also see the Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) rooms, the straitjackets that kept prisoners from self-mutilation, the dining hall where a 100-year-old inmate stabbed another inmate through the hand for wanting some bread, and many other onsite locations. If you have time, head over to the Aradale Lunatic Asylum, where the non-criminal mentally ill were housed for 126 years (1867–1993).


an old photograph of five male prisoners

This old photograph depicts several J Ward prisoners against the 'sunning wall', where they caught the last warmth of the day.

Mont de Lancey - Yarra Valley

Mont de Lancey is a beautiful brick homestead that was built in the 1880s by stonemason and pioneer Henry Sebire. Sebire’s family continued living in Mont de Lancey until 1993, when it was donated to the Wandin township community in the Yarra Valley.

Sign up for a yesteryear tour that highlights the difference between a modern home and the historic homestead. You will see the homestead’s timber slab kitchen, home dairy, blacksmith’s forge and vintage machinery shed, plus the 1920s St Mary’s Chapel addition. You can walk through the homestead’s gorgeous gardens that include a 100+ year old oak tree.

Before you leave, visit the onsite museum, which showcases vintage photos, tools, radios, clothes, and much more. Mont de Lancey is also host to blacksmithing and woodturning courses, a machinery restoration society, and monthly country markets.

The Convent - Daylesford

The Convent at Daylesford is now a renowned art gallery and luxury hotel, but it has a long and interesting history. The property was originally home to Gold Warden and Magistrate James Daly, who had a house built high on Wombat Hill in 1862 to overlook the Daylesford township.

After changing hands several times, in 1891 the property became the Holy Cross Convent of the Presentation Sisters: a teaching order of nuns that originated in Ireland. Because this order was subject to enclosure, the house was converted into a convent and boarding school, with a new wooden school building erected onsite for the nuns to teach in. The Holy Cross Convent lasted for 90 years, educating hundreds of children. But with dwindling convent nuns and student numbers in its later years, the Convent and its gardens were abandoned in 1982 to decline into ruin.

Thankfully, art enthusiast Tina Banitska bought the Holy Cross Convent from the nuns in 1988. She spent two years working with local heritage architect Vladimir Chernov to transform the old convent into the restored Convent Gallery, which opened on Easter Saturday 1991 and immediately became a favourite destination for both local and international visitors.


old convent surrounded by a lush garden

The Daylesford Convent used to be called The Holy Cross Convent of the Presentation Sisters. Image: Visit Victoria

Old Beechworth Gaol - Victorian High Country

Are you a Ned Kelly buff? When you’re next in the Victorian High Country, swing into Beechworth to visit the Old Beechworth Gaol. This imposing prison (then HM Prison Beechworth) housed Ned Kelly twice, along with his mother Ellen, his brother Dan, and his compatriot Harry Power. Suspected Kelly sympathisers were also imprisoned here as authorities cracked down on popular support for the outlaw bushranger. Constructed in the 1860s with granite quarried onsite, the gold rush prison’s cell blocks, observation hall, watchtowers, exercise yards, iron entrance gates, gaoler’s quarters and more are all still intact. You can join a historical guided tour during the day, or a spooky ghost tour by night.

Kryal Castle - Ballarat

This castle is a portal back to medieval times, complete with jousting knights, spell-casting wizards and royal families. Inside Kryal Castle’s walls is a sprawling replica medieval village, a lavishly decorated castle, and the Labyrinth of Ushnagh, the Dragon of Kryal Castle. Kids will have a blast at Kryal as they attend the Jester's Theatre, study knighthood under the Master-at-Arms and try their hand at archery and axe throwing. There’s even a creepy Torture Dungeon & Museum to brave! RACV Members receive discounted tickets to Kryal Castle and 25% off accommodation at the nearby RACV Goldfields Resort.


knight on horse being handed a jousting lance by his squire

Kryal Castle is sure to delight kids of all ages. Image: RACV

Murray Paddlesteamers & Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement - Murray Region

The Murray River is an iconic waterway that spans multiple Australian states, carving through some of the densest and most wild Australian bush scenery and connecting truly rural townships. A trip to the Murray River isn’t complete without taking the opportunity to ride on board an old-school paddlesteamer like the PS Canberra or PS Emmylou. Departing from the historic Echuca port, these cruises give passengers a glimpse of Australia’s longest river, complete with skipper’s commentary on the port and its unique paddleboat fleet. Watch as the engineer stokes the steam engines with redgum wood, look out at the giant paddlewheels turning, and even try your hand at steering the boat in the wheelhouse!

While you’re in the Murray region, you can also visit Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement: a town full of professionally restored artefacts from the settlement era, like a print shop, woodturner, stereoscopic theatre, steam workshop, and much more. Ride on an original 1920s Dodge car, in the Settlement’s unique horse carriage, or on the PS Pyap, which in her heyday was used as a floating general store that visited small towns and farm stations along the lower Murray River. There’s even an award-winning, 360-degree water, light, laser, sound and special effects show called Heartbeat of the Murray to transport viewers back 30 million years to the river’s origins.

vintage red car

You can ride in an original 1920s Dodge at the Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement. Image: Swan Hill

Puffing Billy - Yarra Valley

Puffing Billy is one of Victoria’s best heritage train rides available for railway enthusiasts. This beautifully preserved steam locomotive was originally built in 1900 to transport passengers, livestock, potatoes and timber to the small communities living in the Dandenong Ranges hills. The railway is run by over 300 volunteers and often hosts unique events, like the travelling light show Train of Lights. Jump aboard any day of the year except Christmas Day to experience what travel was like in the age of steam engines. RACV Members can save on Puffing Billy ticket prices for train rides, museum entry and morning tea.