Sovereign Hill is an open-air museum in Ballarat which recreates Ballarat's boom years in the 1850s as a world-famous goldfields township and Victoria’s largest inland city.
The theme park is spread over 25 hectares with many original buildings, shops selling authentic souvenirs and guides dressed in period costume.
It's a fabulous place to visit with kids, brimming with educational fun.
The first time I revisited Sovereign Hill with kids Baby 2.0 was 2.5 and Lady AB was 4.5 years old. I hadn’t been to Sovereign Hill since I was a child myself so I was concerned that as an adult I would find it naff and dull.
The recreations are very well done and there are lots of things to see and do, particularly if you enter all the buildings, peek down every mine shaft and read all the information plaques.
Since that first visit, we have gone to Sovereign Hill almost every year for Winter Wonderlights, a Christmas in July festival that's held over the July school holidays as part of the Ballarat Winter Festival.
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With preschoolers you should expect to spend about 2 hours there, so it’s a good idea to narrow down your tour to the key attractions as listed in the free map you’re given on entry. There is an excellent outdoor playground for a rest break too.
With older kids who have more stamina and who are able to read you might be able to stretch your visit to about 4+ hours. Though a ticket will get you in for entry over 2 consecutive days if you really want to delve into the experience.
One of the most famous activities at Sovereign Hill is the opportunity to pan for gold. Lady AB and Baby 2.0 are much impressed by this activity and no amount of warnings about getting their shoes wet will deter them. So wear or bring gumboots if you have keen gold panners with you!
The kids also love barrelling down the dusty car-less streets, pointing at the horse carriages and playing in the bowling alley.
Lady AB loves dipping her own rainbow candle for only $3.
No visit to Sovereign Hill would be complete without a visit to their famous lolly shop, where we buy a bag of boiled lollies for old times sake.
At night the streets become the set for a sound and light show AURA which explores the impact of gold through a variety of perspectives, including science, Dreamtime and historical recounts. Tickets to AURA are an extra cost on top of your Sovereign Hill Entry Ticket and it's best to book ahead of time to ensure you don't miss out, especially during weekends and school holidays. You can even package your Sovereign Hill general entry and AURA tickets with dinner!
If you don’t mind cold weather personally I think the best time to go to Sovereign Hill with kids is during the July school holidays. Every year it hosts Christmas in July and the streets fill with Christmas trees, decorations and carolers, snow falls, a full theatre program and hands on activities for kids. At night, the Main Street sparkles with lights and projections.
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- Entry is expensive so go with kids under 5 (who are free) or 7+ years so that they can spend the whole day there.
- If you buy an Entertainment Book you can get 25% off entry for 4 people. Note the Entertainment Book discount is not available for Winter Wonderlights entry.
- If you buy a Small Ideas membership or RACV membership you can get 10% off entry.
- If you have kids under 5 then go at 10am when it opens and be prepared to leave by about 12 midday.
- The area is a hilly and unpaved so not very suitable for prams.
- The trinkets and add-on activities are generally quite well priced, except for the exorbitant ye olde worlde dress-up photo session.
- The gold mine tour costs extra and is not suitable for young kids. The underground tour goes for 45 minutes and you can’t get out any earlier!
- If you want to take a horse coach ride then buy your tickets early as there's often a line.
- Bring lots of snacks (a thermos, even better) as the food is not great.
- You can get the award-winning pies and sausages rolls from the Hope Bakery within the Sovereign Hill cafe, though without the Victorian-era atmosphere;
- You can get a pass out and have dinner elsewhere – The Forge Pizzeria is recommended (you’ll need to drive) and a reader also suggests the Japanese restaurant across the road from Sovereign Hill;
- Peak times are school holidays and weekends;
- Most of Sovereign Hill’s attractions are outdoors so wear lots of warm gear in winter (waterproof coat, layers, gloves, scarf, hat). Ballarat experiences harsh winters and once the sun goes down it is really cold;
- Gumboots are a good idea as the pathways get muddy. For some reason my kids always love walking in the ditches too!;
- All the shops take EFTPOS (even for small amounts) but the horse carriage rides only take cash. There is an ATM at the entrance, Sovereign Hill cafe and the post office;
- Tickets to AURA are an extra cost on top of your Sovereign Hill Entry Ticket and it's best to book ahead of time to ensure you don't miss out, especially during weekends and school holidays. You can even package your Sovereign Hill general entry and AURA tickets with dinner!;
- Sovereign Hill is a comfortable 90-minute drive from Melbourne along the Western Highway;
- train and tour coach services which operate daily from Melbourne; and
- Parking is free on site, though on busy days you may have to park in the Gold Museum or down the hill;
- For accommodation options in Ballarat, I recommend checking out what's available on Booking.com and Airbnb.
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