Spend a Day in the 1850s Gold Rush at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat

by | Last updated May 13, 2024 | Discover Australia Now, Victoria | 10 comments

One of the best things to do while visiting Ballarat, Victoria is to spend a day at Sovereign Hill. This incredible living museum recreates the 1850s gold rush around the Ballarat and Bendigo area in Victoria. It is definitely worth while spending a day here, and this is exactly what I did to discover the gold rush at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat.

In this post on Sovereign Hill, I will run you though why you should visit, what to see and do when you visit and how to visit. Trust me, with all the faithfully recreated shops, schools and factories, costumed actors, horse-drawn carriages and the chance to pan for gold – you will come away with a great knowledge of the 1850s gold rush. And no matter your age and whether you are visiting as a solo traveller to Ballarat, on a weekend Ballarat visit or with your family to Ballarat with kids, you will have a great time and learn so much about a specific time in Australia’s history.

So step back in time with me on a visit to Sovereign Hill for one day. And maybe you might end up screaming ‘Eureka’! – A Greek word meaning ‘I have found it’ and what the miners yelled when they found gold!


What is Sovereign Hill?


Eureka! Gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851. As word got around, it triggered the world’s biggest alluvial (riverbed) gold rush. People came from all over the world to try their luck in the gold fields and many were rewarded. And towns grew from the wealth, particularly Bendigo and Ballarat. Today, Sovereign Hill is a living museum that recreates the historic 1850s gold rush. It covers some 15 hectares showcasing how people lived and worked during this boom time in Victoria. And you have come to discover it in one day.


Where is Sovereign Hill


Sovereign Hill is located in the town of Ballarat in Victoria. Ballarat is home to some of the biggest finds of gold including the ‘Welcome Nugget’ that was found on nearby Bakery Hill. It is the second largest gold nugget every found in the world. With so much gold being found in the area, you hear people saying “Ballarat was built from gold”. This is true, as gold was being found, people built beautiful large buildings, of which many of them can be seen when you walk around Ballarat CBD. And Sovereign Hill has been recreated to showcase how life was during the gold rush at Sovereign Hill Ballarat.


What to See and Do at Sovereign Hill


It is easy to spend a whole day discovering the gold rush days at Sovereign Hill Ballarat. You will step back in time and experience how people lived and worked in the 1850s. Buildings have been recreated, actors are dressed in period costumes and are happy to chat about what is in their shops and buildings. And don’t forget to try your luck at panning for gold!

TIP: The roads are dirt so best to visit on a non-rainy day. Wear comfortable walking shoes as you will do a lot of walking.

So what is there to see and do in Sovereign Hill on a day visit? 


  • The whole visit is quite interactive. There are tours of different areas. One of the best was the digging area where you could have a go a panning for yourself. There is also the gold mine to visit.
  • You will see people walking around in clothes of the period. They are happy to chat and to have a photo taken with you. 
  • There are plenty of stores on the Main Street that you can enter and have a look around. Like the bank, gold store, fire department. Plus plenty of the stores have staff inside to talk about what they are doing or selling. Like in the blacksmith shop, you can watch the blacksmith at work making iron products. 
  • If hungry or thirsty, there are places to eat. I popped into the bar for a coffee, though they had plenty of ales available. Or perhaps you’d like some lollies or a pie.
  • You will also see displays of how to load and shoot a gun or maybe some people singing a few old songs.


Here’s some of the things to see and do in Sovereign Hill in pictures.


How to Spend a Day at Sovereign Hill


Pan for Gold at the Diggings


Start your day at Sovereign Hill panning for gold. Head to the Diggings and go on the Diggings Tour then follow it up with some gold panning. And don’t forget to meet the Butcher carving up the mutton for the diggers. And there is other characters too providing services to the diggers like Pol the sly grog-seller. Then check out the accommodation and see if you could live in a one room tent or cabin!

panning for gold at Sovereign Hill

pan for gold

hut or cabin at Sovereign Hill the diggers lived in

could you live in one of these?


See How Things are Made


Industries were different in the 1850s. See how things were made. Pop into the blacksmith shop or the harness shop? And if you find all this interesting, across from Sovereign Hill is the Centre for Rare Arts & Forgotten Trades where you can go on a workshop to learn woodworking, silversmithing and working with materials making lace, learning embroidery or making a leather belt.


Blacksmith working with metal at Sovereign Hill

Blacksmith, blacksmithing

Harness making Sovereign Hill for the carts and coaches

harness making for the carts & carriages


Walk along the Main Street and check out the Shops/Services


Meander along the main street of Sovereign Hill popping in to all the shops. There is everything a gold miner would want.


Sovereign Hill Bank and Gold Office.

Two places every gold miner would go – the Gold Office and the Bank


Copy of Welcome Nugget at Sovereign Hill

Replica of Welcome Nugget in the Gold Office


Sovereign Hill Printer providing the latest news

getting the latest news from the printer


Fire Station at Sovereign Hill

emergency services – the Fire Station


Sovereign Hill Church.

get some religion in the Church


Sovereign Hill Coach Office.

Organise your transport to and from the gold fields


Eating and Drinking at Sovereign Hill


Of course you can take your own lunch and snacks with you on your one day visit to the gold fields at Sovereign Hill, however, there are a number of places to eat and drink at Sovereign Hill. There is the New York Bakery with its spacious Victorian-style dining room if you want to dine in. Or pop into Hope Bakery and enjoy a famous pie, pastry and other treats which you can take away and eat at the picnic tables at Sovereign Hill’s ornamental lake. Fancy something sweet? Head to the confectionery store for some Raspberry Drops or other boiled lollies – humbugs, barley sugar and butterballs! There is also a cafe for a variety of food where you could sit on the deck overlooking the adventure playground. If thirsty, there is the United States Hotel Bar serving plenty of cold ales or some of the other ‘best grog in Ballarat’. 


Sovereign Hill New York Bar for an alcoholic drink.

have a drink at the bar


Check out the Fashion


Clothes were mighty different in the 1850s compared to today. Just look at the fashion while walking around or pop into the Photography shop and have your photo taken in some.


Clothes worn in the 1850s gold fields in Sovereign Hill.

Fancy wearing this to school! or around town!


Organise Your Day to Sovereign Hill


Best Time to Visit Sovereign Hill


If you are wondering if there is a best time to go to Sovereign Hill, well, anytime is a good time to visit. It is open every day except Monday. It would be preferable to visit during dry weather as the ground is dirt and when wet, can be a little slippery.


Opening Times of Sovereign Hill

Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am-5pm


How Long to Spend at Sovereign Hill


You can spend a whole day, well from 10am to 5pm at Sovereign Hill. This will give you ample time to enjoy all Sovereign Hill has to offer. It is an easy day trip from Melbourne. But you may want to spend a few days in Ballarat. I stayed a few days and made it a part of a trip to the Gold Fields where I visited Bendigo and drove the Goldfields Way – a road trip linking Bendigo to Ballarat.


Where is Sovereign Hill and How to Get There


Sovereign Hill is in Ballarat Victoria on Bradshaw St. There are plenty of signs in Ballarat directing you there. You can get to Sovereign Hill a number of ways.


By train and Bus

You can catch a train direct from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station. A V/Line train takes around 90 minutes to reach the historic Ballarat Railway Station in the centre of town. From there, can catch bus route 21. Plan your journey by train and bus here.


By car

You can reach Sovereign Hill by car by driving to Ballarat along the Western Freeway which will take you to Adelaide, if you kept driving. When driving from Melbourne it takes just over an hour and 15 minutes, but that does depend on where in Melbourne you are coming from.


By Tour

You can go on an organised tour to Sovereign Hill Ballarat. Here is a popular one you can check out and book:

Tour to Sovereign Hill that includes transport and entrance ticket to Sovereign Hill + Gold Mine Tour


Sovereign Hill Website


For everything you need to know about visiting Sovereign Hill, visit the Sovereign Hill website where you will find all the details and can also purchase your entrance ticket.


Are You Ready to Spend a Day at Sovereign Hill in the 1850s?


My day at Sovereign Hill was a blast. Stepping back in time to discover the gold fields in the 1850s and learning about life in that time of Australia was so interesting. I hope you can do it too! Have you been to Sovereign Hill? I’d love to hear.

Extend your time in Ballarat to a few days by staying in some great accommodation. Check out accommodation options for Ballarat here.


discover gold at sovereign hill pin


  1. Tara | Where Tara Went

    This looks like a very interesting way to spend a day! I’m saving this for the next time I’m in Australia.

    • Sharyn McCullum

      It was super interesting and fun so I hope you get to visit next time in Australia.

  2. Laureen

    We are planning another visit to Australia in 2025. this would be a fun thing to see. Saving for later.

    • Sharyn McCullum

      It definitely would, I hope you get to visit. There are so many interesting regional towns in Australia, many of them built from gold – like Ballarat.

  3. Kristine

    This looks like fun! This is a great guide and overview of The 1850s Gold Rush at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat. Great photos too.

    • Sharyn McCullum

      I had a great day at Sovereign Hill so it was easy to write about it. Glad you liked my photos.

  4. Amy

    This looks like so much fun! We’re planning a visit to Melbourne in 2025 and will see if we can fit this in.

    • Sharyn McCullum

      I hope you can get to visit Ballarat, it is a super interesting town built on gold! People of all ages would love it.

  5. Heather

    This looks like a great time! Gold rush towns are always an interesting way to discover the past. I don’t think I could live in one of those homes and wow on the dress code of the time!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      It is a great time, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and, it was really interesting. I opted not to dress up.


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Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve Sign shaped like a big white wave with Sharyn McCullum On the Great Ocean Road.

G’Day! Sharyn here, an Aussie loving discovering Australia. Let me show you around so you can discover Australia too.  Read my story here.

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