Visiting Sovereign Hill is like stepping back in time, to the long by-gone era of the 1850’s gold rush period. Its a replica gold rush town where you can explore exactly what life would have been like during that time.
Sovereign Hill is a not for profit, interactive learning museum where kids will learn about the gold rush era while engaging and having fun. The town is set up just as it would have been back in the 1850s and a lot of the products for sale are still created the same way as they were back in the day. Many of those items can be purchased on site.
Gold was first discovered in Ballarat in 1851 and Sovereign Hill is home to over 60 historically created buildings that are all appropriate to the era. Sovereign Hill has been operating at the same location since November 1970 with the aim to preserve historic buildings and to recreate the gold diggings that built the city.
The current Main Street is a loose reconstruction of Main Street, Ballarat East, it consists of various shops, a couple of hotels and a theatre complete with a sandy, dirt road for the horse and carriage.
What type of stores do you think there would have been in the 1850’s? Certainly not McDonalds, Typo or Kathmandu! You can visit and learn about how the following industries flourished during this time period:
Blacksmith – produces ironware, each product an original piece and not mass-produced by large machines. The blacksmith was a hot and dirty job, physically demanding and not for the faint hearted.
Hope Bakery – this was our first stop, I couldn’t resist the famous wood fire baked oven pies, pastries, sausage rolls and of course sweet pastries. I had a steak, bacon and cheese pie and it was delicious.
Photographic Rooms – you can dress up in period costume and pose for souvenir photos in your very own modelling shot.
Printer’s Shop – create your own ad for the Ballarat Times! My girls purchased a ‘Dungeon’ sign for the bedroom they share.
Sweet Shop – every kids favourite stop and home to the famous horse head lollipop, I remember getting one on my school excursion to Sovereign Hill in primary school! The shop has a large range of boiled lollies that were the only lollies produced then. The traditional flavour is the raspberry drop but newer and popular flavours are sour grape and salted caramel.
Grocery – the place to get all you staples, homemade jams, sweets and spices. Most of the items would have been homemade, sugar wasn’t grown in Australia then and was imported from the Caribbean and very expensive.
Sovereign Hill Post Office – no post or letter boxes here, you would need to pick up your mail and drop of any letters or parcels you had here. Today you can purchase postcards and have them sent with the Sovereign Hill postmark. Or purchase your very own feather quill with ink well.
Jeweller – check out the Victorian style period fashion jewellery, no doubt the gold used would have been locally sources and of high quality.
New York Bakery – perfect place for afternoon tea and scones! A family friendly cafe with traditional menu items and some more recent additions that the kids will be familiar with.
Apothecary’s Hall – aka the doctor’s surgery. Doctors in the 1850’s were not tertiary educated, more like experimental and self educated. They were also the local pharmacist and roles included preparing medications for patients mostly consisting of herbal remedies.
Victoria Theatre – right in the heart of Main Street the theatre would have been popular with live shows and family entertainment. Its quite a grand building and likely only visited by the affluent in town. The pantomime Beauty and the Beast was playing during the time we visited.
Universal Transit Office – if the bakery and the cafe aren’t your thing, a delicious baked potato might hit the spot. I was a bit hasty and jumped straight to the steak, cheese and bacon pie but I would have loved to have had a baked potato had I remembered it was there!
Saddlery – home of all the leather goods including saddles for your horse, likely your main mode of transport. Cars weren’t introduced into Australia until the 20th century meaning most modes of transport during the gold rush era would have been on two feet, horse back or horse and carriage. The saddlery also produced leather hats and leather belts and other necessary products.
Criterion Drapery Store – here you’ll find the finest clothes and drapery, many of the women during the gold rush era would have been competent sewers and would make clothes for their family members. It would be much cheaper to purchase the material than it would be to purchase clothing.
Tinsmith – another necessary trade of the era, the tinsmith would create brass plates, ovenware, scone cutters and candle and gasoline lanterns. The gold rush era predates electricity so lanterns would have been used to get around in the dark. The gold pans used in the diggings creek would have been created by the tinsmith.
Candle Works – another important skill for the era, candles were used for getting around at night. Kids love the candle works, for a small fee they can create their own coloured candle by dipping it in different coloured wax. There are many different types of candles to purchase some with lovely scents.
Ragged School – these are a fair bit different to schools these days! Blackboards and chalk to write with, timber table with bench seat to sit on, ruler over the knuckles for naughty kids and you would likely walk a couple of kilometres getting to school and back. No school drop off’s then.
Bowling Saloon – with limited options for entertainment in the gold rush times, the bowling saloon would have been a family friendly activity for everyone to enjoy. The bowling saloon is still entertaining kids and adults 170 years on! With timber runways and a timber ball and pegs, its certainly more challenging than bowling saloons we know today.
Brown & Co Confectionary Factory – make sure you don’t miss the confectionery demonstration, they make all the sweets onsite and the demonstration will show how these lollies are created and each batch makes 2000 hard boiled flavoured lollies and how the famous toffee apples are made.
The kids will enjoy the taste testing at the end of the demonstration. Make sure you get there early as this demonstration gets very busy. Sweet making demonstrations run 3 times daily, at 11am, 1.30pm and 3pm.
Make sure you grab a map on the way in, this will provide you with a list of daily activities and a timetable outlining the schedule for demonstrations and performances.
Gold mine tours
There are a number of different options for exploring the gold mines, both self guided and guided tours.
The Red Hill Mine Tour is self guided and included in the price of your ticket. These tours run every 10 minutes during peak periods such as school holidays.
The Red Hill Mine is right near Diggings Creek, a big hit with all the kids especially when they find a speck of gold in their pans!
The New Normanby Mine Tour & the Gold Mine Tour are located in a restricted area of Sovereign Hill which is rarely open to the public. Bookings are essential, these tours explore some of the original mine’s under Sovereign Hill that still remain today.
There is a cost to explore these mines. This tours will take you underground so make sure you stay with your tour guide at all times.
Other tours that run once per day include the Orientation Tour, Goldfields Tour, Diggings Tour and the Golden Treasures Tour, make sure you check the schedule on the park map on arrival for exact times and locations.
What else goes on at Sovereign hill
Sovereign Hill holds extra events throughout the year to make things a little more exciting. We’ve had the opportunity to attend these events during the last 2 sets of school holidays and I highly recommend visiting during these event times.
The Sovereign Hill Spectacular
Running throughout the September school holidays the Spectacular has a bit of a carnival theme. Catch the Grand Parade at 1.30pm, the Red Coat Soldiers at 4pm and a Pantomime, this time it was Beauty and the Beast, at 2.15pm at the Victoria Theatre.
There’s plenty of extra activities to keep the kids busy and entertained.
Winter Wonderlights Festival
How do you get to sovereign hill
Driving to Sovereign Hill
Sovereign Hill is located in Ballarat, about 90 mins west of Melbourne on the Western Highway. The freeway is a dual carriageway and its an easy drive with 110km speed limit the whole way there.
Getting public transport to Sovereign Hill
Alternatively, you can get a VLine train from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station to Ballarat, then the 420 bus from Ballarat Station to Sovereign Hill. You could also get a taxi from Ballarat Station to Sovereign Hill which would not cost more than $20 and will drop you at the door.
How much does it cost to visit sovereign hill
Sovereign Hill tickets are valid for 2 days, it would be very difficult to experience it all in one day. I do recommend taking advantage of the 2 day pass and exploring the open museum as much as you possible can.
It is unlikely you will find a place like it anywhere else in the world. You can save a bit of money by taking your own packed lunch, we do this regularly to save a bit on costs.
Best place to stay close to sovereign hill
As stated above, Sovereign Hill tickets are valid for 2 days so I totally recommend you stay the night and take advantage of the 48 hour access to this amazing open museum.
Wondering about great places to stay in Ballarat?
I’ve got you covered. Below I have made some recommendations to suit all budgets.
What should you wear to sovereign hill
When visiting Sovereign Hill ensure you have comfortable walking shoes as you’ll be doing a lot of walking or gravel/dirt paths. As the name says, the site is on a hill so be prepared, the entrance is at the lowest point.
Ballarat gets very cold during winter and I strongly recommend you rug up accordingly. In fact even during the warmer months I would still take a light jacket as weather in Victoria and especially Melbourne is often referred to as experiencing 4 seasons in one day.
We visited in late September and the day was gorgeous, however it did turn in the afternoon and it quickly become quite cold and wet. You just never know so best you come prepared.
do i recommend visiting sovereign hill
Definitely, I highly recommend visiting Sovereign Hill. Its a great interactive learning space for kids, where they have the opportunity to learn while having fun.
Sovereign Hill is often experienced by Victorian kids through their primary school excursion program. Sovereign Hill accommodates schools well and will do a lot of behind the scenes experiences and tours with the school kids.
I have loved returning with my own kids and getting excited about the things I remember from my visits. I still always buy the raspberry drops when I visit, make sure you take some home with you.
I love that Sovereign Hill has evolved and offer more through their Spectacular and Winterlights Festivals. There’s always something new to see and do when visiting Sovereign Hill.
Australia is not very old compared to most other countries in the world but it is nice to have some history of our own to show the kids.
Have you been to Sovereign Hill? Leave your comments in the section below.
Sal, Craig & Our3kids