The ultimate guide to Sovereign Hill

man panning for gold at Sovereign Hill

Danny Baggs

Posted January 23, 2023

Sovereign Hill is an incredible living museum chock full of actors and activities to make you feel like you’re living in the 1850s gold rush. Follow this guide to make the most of your day out at Sovereign Hill.

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 one of Victoria’s best regional historical experiences. Here’s how to spend the best day out possible at Sovereign Hill.

RACV Members receive discounted tickets to Sovereign Hill and its gold mine, plus 25% off accommodation at the nearby RACV Goldfields Resort. Eureka!

What is Sovereign Hill?

Gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851, triggering the world’s biggest alluvial (riverbed) gold rush. The resulting gold grew Ballarat from a small pastoral settlement into a wealthy provincial city. Sovereign Hill is a living museum that recreates the historic 1850s gold rush boomtown Ballarat. It covers 15 hectares of a former gold mining site, with gold diggings, underground mines, costumed characters, and traditional shops and dwellings. 350 staff and over 250 volunteers work to bring Sovereign Hill to life each year.


costumed actors in Sovereign Hill

Costumed characters can be found throughout Sovereign Hill. Image: Visit Victoria

Where is Sovereign Hill?

Sovereign Hill is located on Bradshaw Street in Ballarat, Victoria.

If you’re travelling from Melbourne by car, Sovereign Hill is just 90 minutes west of Melbourne along the Western Freeway. Once you’re in Ballarat, you can follow the white and brown tourist signs to Sovereign Hill, where there is plenty of visitor parking.

If you’re travelling from Melbourne by public transport, catch the V/Line train arriving at the Ballarat Railway Station, from which you can catch bus route 21 to Sovereign Hill. The free journey planner app arevo can help you find your way efficiently.

Is there food at Sovereign Hill?

There’s plenty of dining options to choose from at Sovereign Hill, so you don’t have to bring your own food or duck out for lunch. The United States Hotel Bar offers drinks and light refreshments at a solid timber bar with original Victorian fittings, while Hope Bakery provides pies, pasties and other delicious baked goods from a traditional wood-fired oven. On the weekends, Sovereign Hill Café serves hot and cold meals, sandwiches, baguettes and drinks.


apothecary at Sovereign Hill

There are many shops and eateries at Sovereign Hill. Image: Visit Victoria

How to spend the day at Sovereign Hill

Catch a coach ride

Your first stop at Sovereign Hill should be a horse-drawn coach ride from the Horse Bazaar*, running from 10am. It’s modelled after the Cobb & Co carriages that were established in the 1850s to run passengers, mail and gold between Melbourne, Bendigo, Ballarat and other goldfields. Experience the swaying coach and clopping horse hooves as you traverse the main streets of Sovereign Hill.

If you want to see the horses again, head to the Horse Harnessing demonstration at the Livery & Bait Stables at 1pm to watch the specialist horse handlers harness up the heavy horses that pull Sovereign Hill’s vehicles.


coach ride at Sovereign Hill

Don't miss out on an authentic coach ride. Image: Visit Victoria

Pan for gold at The Diggings

Gather at Government Camp at 10.30am for the Diggings Tour to see what life was like during the chaotic early days of the goldfields. Follow it up with some DIY gold panning in The Diggings to hopefully find some shiny treasure of your own.

Before you leave the area, make sure to meet the Butcher as he carves mutton for the diggers, and Pol the Sly Grog-Seller as she carves out a living on the goldfields – but watch out for the trooper who’s after her!


dirty man in costume as a miner at Sovereign Hill

There are plenty of colourful characters to meet around Sovereign Hill. Image: Visit Victoria

See the soldiers fire their muskets

Speaking of troopers, it’s time to see the Trooper Musket-Firing Demonstration at Government Camp. Troopers were usually mounted police who patrolled goldfields, escorted gold-laden coaches, and kept law and order in isolated communities. Their muskets were a sight to behold and were louder than you might think! Small children will be encouraged to cover their ears during the demonstration.

If you want to see some more controlled explosions today, head to the Voltaic Battery Blasting Demonstration behind the Post office at 4pm to witness the most dangerous part of the mining trade. But don’t worry – this demonstration is totally safe!


troopers firing their muskets at Sovereign Hill

Trooper muskets are louder than expected! Image: Visit Victoria

Have your photo taken 1850s style

Discover your goldrush alter ego at the Red Hill Photographic Rooms, where you can dress up in Victorian-era costumes and have your portrait taken solo or as a group*. Places are limited so bookings are essential.

If early technology interests you, don’t miss the interactive Special Effects in the Victorian Era tour at 12.30pm at the Victoria Theatre. People in the 1850s had to get creative to make special effects, and used a variety of props and lights to bring their ideas to life.


man and woman at viewing point at Sovereign Hill

Don't forget to take your own pictures around the park. Image: Visit Victoria

Discover how town life worked

Curious how people lived in the 1850s? Sovereign Hill has a wealth of intriguing demonstrations throughout the town. Watch the blacksmith beat red-hot metal into ironware at Dilge’s Blacksmiths, the wheelwright shape horse-drawn vehicles and wheels from scratch at Prcotor’s Wheelwrights & Coachbuilder, and the print maker producing and posters with the latest news using original machinery at the Ballarat Times Office.

You can also visit the Speedwell Street Cottages, where the neighbourhood’s residents can tell you all about home life in the 1850s as they rock and knit by the fire. At 2.15pm, join a tour guide as they explain the real estate market of the goldfields and how difficult it was to move from tent to cottage.


blacksmith working at Sovereign Hill

The blacksmith demonstration shows what hard work the trade could be. Image: Visit Victoria

Send the kids to school

On weekends and the school holidays, you can send the kids to the Red Hill National School from 2-3pm, where they’ll sit at traditional desks and handwrite with pen and ink while rehearsing the sixteen multiplication tables under the tutelage of the schoolmarm.

If school’s out, head to Main Street to try your hand at Victorian-era games and toys like hoop and stick, spinning tops and toy soldiers. There’s also traditional nine-pin bowling at the Empire Bowling Saloon all day long, which recreates the same game that real goldfields residents would play after a hard day’s work.


boy and girl running up the street at Sovereign Hill

Life for kids was very different in the 1850s. Image: Visit Victoria

Try Sovereign Hill's famous confectionary

Sovereign Hill is famous for their world-famous boiled lollies. Head to Brown’s Confectionary Factory to meet the confectioners and see them make lollies from scratch at 11.30am, 2pm or 3pm before purchasing your very own raspberry drops, barley sugars, butterballs, humbugs or horse head lollipops.


man rolling out boiled lollies at Sovereign Hill

Sovereign Hill is famous for its boiled lollies. Image: Visit Victoria

Make your own dipped candles

Kids big and small will love the incredible Hewitt’s Yarrowee Soap & Candle Works store, where you can dip a plain wax candle into pots of colour to make a rainbow candle*. You can also watch Mr and Mrs Hewitt hard at work making the candles with traditional methods and materials, hanging them to dry by their wicks all along the ceiling.


woman and two children dipping candles at Sovereign Hill

Candle dipping is a fun activity for the whole family. Image: Visit Victoria

Delve into the gold mines

Carve out 45 minutes in your day to visit the Sovereign Quartz Mine and head underground to discover life as a miner on the Gold Mine Tour*. You’ll explore original mine shafts and a labyrinth of tunnels hidden beneath Sovereign Hill. There’s also a free self-guided tour at Red Hill Mine, where you can venture into the deep lead mine and witness the famous 1858 ‘Welcome Nugget’, a giant gold nugget weighing almost 70kg – where it was discovered in 1858.


machinery at Sovereign Hill

Above-ground machinery helped the miners to work underground. Image: Visit Victoria

Visit the new Gold Museum

Once you’ve finished touring the outdoor museum, head to the onsite Australian Centre for Gold Rush Collections to marvel at the large and culturally significant collection of goldrush items. Here you’ll find Australia’s most significant collection of Gold Licences and Miners Rights, as well as the world’s oldest known guardian lion and third oldest Imperial Dragon from Chinese processional assemblages.

Next door, the Rare Trades Centre invites visitors to explore rare and forgotten trades from the old world. You can sign up to hands-on workshops* in fibre, leather, metal, wood and other textiles.


Sovereign Hill main street scene

Sovereign Hill has one of Australia's most significant goldfields collections. Image: Visit Victoria

Stay the night at RACV Goldfields Resort

Unwind in the heart of Victoria’s goldrush landscape at the RACV Goldfields Resort after your day out at Sovereign Hill. It’s the perfect location to head out to native Australian Ballarat Wildlife Park or Australia’s only medieval theme park Kryal Castle the next day. Plus, you can play a round of tennis or golf at the resort, see Victoria’s newest arts and culture destination at ArtHouse, and dine on signature dishes from the onsite restaurants before retiring to your spacious rooms with fairway or forest views.

RACV Members receive 25% off accommodation at RACV Goldfields Resort and discounts on other top things to do in Ballarat.


RACV Members get discounted tickets to Sovereign Hill.
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* Additional charge applies.