If you swoon at the sight of heritage architecture and love the finer things in life (read: food, wine, art), then make a beeline for Bendigo – a regional Victorian city that straddles the past and the future with aplomb.
Drive north of Melbourne along the Calder Freeway and in just under two hours you’ll arrive at Bendigo, a gold rush town that has grown into a thriving regional centre experiencing yet another boom.
Immerse yourself in the rich stories of the town’s golden past. (Image: Visit Victoria)
As a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, culinary experiences should be at the top of your agenda when travelling to Bendigo, but there’s much more to see and do beyond dining at top-rated restaurants. Here’s a range of must-do experiences to add to your list.
Fun things to do in Bendigo
Home to talented artisans, thriving modern galleries and enduring institutions that have made their mark on history, finding fun is easy in Bendigo.
1. Get your bearings on a Vintage Talking Tram Tour
See Bendigo’s noteworthy landmarks and monuments while learning about the city’s past aboard a charming Vintage Talking Tram.
Explore Bendigo aboard a Vintage Talking Tram. (Image: Visit Victoria)
Easily one of the most fun ways to get the lay of the land in a new city, a 45-minute ride on a Vintage Talking Tram reveals tales from the gold rush, architectural trivia and stories of local legends – don’t miss it.
Hop on a tram to start your historical tour around the streets of Bendigo. (Image: Visit Victoria)
2. See artisans in action at Bendigo Pottery
Established back in 1858, a visit to Bendigo Pottery is a shopping trip, history lesson and art appreciation afternoon all in one. Watch artisans creating the famous pottery that’s found in homes Australia-wide, shop for unique vintage finds at the Antiques and Collectibles Centre, and refuel at the onsite cafe with some scones and tea.
Visit Australia’s oldest working pottery. (Image: Visit Victoria)
Want to pick up some pottery skills? Book in for a wheel throwing lesson, attend a clay decorating workshop or try some simple clay play – there’s plenty of interactive experiences to enjoy here.
Catch local artisans in action at Bendigo Pottery. (Image: Visit Victoria)
3. Get your culture fix at Bendigo Art Gallery
One of Australia’s oldest and largest regional galleries, Bendigo Art Gallery is a must-do when you’re in town. Founded in 1887, the gallery on View Street has hosted many noteworthy international exhibitions that sell out in advance, so hop online and check the gallery’s website to see what touring exhibitions are scheduled during your stay.
Get acquainted with Bendigo’s rich culture and heritage. (Image: Visit Victoria)
Regardless of what’s on, the well-curated gallery spaces are always filled with an interesting mix of contemporary and historical paintings, sculptures and ceramics from near and far. The Gallery Shop is also a top spot to pick up a unique souvenir to remind you of your time in Bendigo.
Browse through the extensive art gallery collection. (Image: Visit Victoria)
Free things to do
With plenty of free activities and experiences on offer, a trip to Bendigo doesn’t have to break the bank.
4. Explore the botanical beauty of Rosalind Park
Right in the centre of Bendigo you’ll find one of Bendigo’s most beautiful greenspaces, Rosalind Park. A paradise packed with horticultural treasures, on a hot day you’ll be able to cool yourself under the shade of grand, old elms and oaks.
Go on a relaxing walk under the shade of tall trees at Rosalind Park. (Image: Visit Victoria)
During spring, be sure to see the park’s annual display of colourful tulips. All year round, the walled Yi Yuan Chinese Gardens are a peaceful spot for quiet reflection. With a conservatory, fernery and several water features to see, set aside an hour or two to take it all in.
See colourful flowers inside its manicured gardens. (Image: Visit Victoria)
5. Find peace at the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion
Fifty metres high, the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion is the biggest stupa (or pagoda) in the Western world. A place for people to seek peace and learn about Buddhism, this stupa sits within 200-plus acres of bushland in the Whipstick Forest, so is a serene spot to spend a few hours exploring on a self-guided, free tour.
After you’ve explored the stupa, wander through the Peace Park where you can spin prayer wheels clockwise to send compassionate energy out into the world. The StupaView Cafe serves delicious vegetarian gyoza too!
Get up close and personal with the largest Buddhist stupa in the Western world.
6. Roam free at Bendigo Botanic Gardens
Located in the White Hills area of Bendigo, the sprawling Bendigo Botanic Gardens are nearly as old as Bendigo itself. The perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch followed by a wander, you’ll be able to see a wide variety of seasonal flowers in bloom during the warmer months. Kids getting restless? Reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, the whimsical children’s playspace is so impressive it’s won awards.
Things to do for families
Travelling with kids? Bendigo has plenty of hands-on experiences to keep visitors of all ages engaged and entertained.
7. Have your mind blown at the Discovery Science & Technology Centre
If you’ve got some budding scientists in your family, then visit Bendigo’s Discovery Science & Technology Centre. With more than 100 interactive exhibits, learning about physics, chemistry and beyond is fun at this centre that merges education with entertainment. Head into the planetarium to go on an interplanetary journey, feel a rush on the vertical slide, or build something with blocks in the Kaleidoscope space – there’s activities for all ages and abilities here.
8. Head underground at Central Deborah Mine
All the family will love putting on a hard hat to learn about Bendigo’s gold rush history at the Central Deborah Mine. Sixty-one metres below the earth’s surface, you’ll get to walk in the footsteps of the miners who worked hard in the underground tunnels searching for gold in challenging conditions. Above ground, you’ll also be able to see heritage-listed buildings including an engine room and blacksmith’s shop.
9. Bowl a few strikes at Bendigo Bowling Centre
Looking for a fun rainy-day activity? Book an afternoon bowling session at the Bendigo Bowling Centre. Operating since the 1960s, this longstanding ten-pin bowling centre is the official home of old-school fun in Bendigo.
Romantic things to do in Bendigo
From dining at a hatted restaurant to drinking cocktails at a rooftop bar, Bendigo has many special spots for loved-up couples to connect.
10. Share exceptional culinary experiences
As a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, a romantic night of wining and dining should be high on the list for couples. To celebrate in style, head to Masons of Bendigo (a table reservation is essential) to dine on the very best Central Victorian produce.
Experience paddock-to-plate dining at Masons of Bendigo. (Image: Visit Victoria)
What was once the basement of an old school hall is now Ms Batterhams, an exceptional dinner spot dripping with personality. Book the chef’s share menu to enjoy seasonally inspired plates prepared by Head Chef Travis Rodwell.
Leave room for dessert at Mrs Batterhams. (Image: Tourism Australia)
11. Pick up a paintbrush at Pinot & Picasso
Sipping wine while painting a canvas is a fun way to get to know each other on another level. Book a painting (and drinking) session at Pinot & Picasso Bendigo and you’ll get to leave with a unique memento of your trip to Bendigo to hang in your home. Who knows, you might uncover some hidden creative talents too.
Unique things to do
Searching for something out of the ordinary to do while you’re in town? Bendigo’s left-of-centre experiences are sure to leave a lasting impression on you.
12. Let the good times roll aboard Bendigo’s Blues Tram
Enjoy live music, local brews and a tour of the city all at once aboard Bendigo’s beloved Blues Tram – a heritage tram that rattles through Bendigo carrying passengers and musicians. With stops to purchase drinks along the way, a few hours aboard the Blues Tram listening to local musos tear it up is an afternoon well spent.
13. Uncover local history at the Golden Dragon Museum
You might be surprised to know that Chinese immigrants who arrived during the gold rush played an important role in shaping Bendigo. Opened in 1991, the Golden Dragon Museum is a cultural centre dedicated to preserving the heritage of Chinese culture in Australia. Spend a few hours here wandering around the beautiful gardens and seeing Loong, the world’s oldest surviving complete processional dragon. Feeling peckish? Visit the museum’s restaurant, Hawker to feast on Chinese cuisine.
Things to do at night
Whether you’re keen to catch a movie in a vintage cinema, slurp down a bowl of vegan ramen or laugh ‘til you cry at a stand-up comedy show, you’ll be spoiled for choice in Bendigo after dark.
14. Soak up some culture at Ullumbarra Theatre
Bendigo’s renowned Ullumbarra Theatre was once a gaol, but these days the heritage-listed venue hosts a rotating calendar of events all year round. From rock bands to stand-up comedy, classical music recitals, contemporary dance performances and beyond, this theatre is where creativity and culture come to life in Bendigo.
15. Step back in time at the Star Cinema
Located within the old Eaglehawk Town Hall, the Star is considered to be one of Australia’s most beautiful cinemas. Showing a range of new releases and classic movies, a night in this vintage cinema’s plush couches will delight film fans. Afterwards, head upstairs to the Chambers Wine Bar for a nightcap.
16. Toast your trip at Bendigo’s bars
Unwinding with a drink is a standard holiday ritual many of us partake in to kick off our break. When it’s sunny, head to Nimbus Rooftop on Mitchell Street for cocktails served with the best view in town. On High Street you’ll find Harpoon Social Club, a cool spot for some Japanese beer, sake or frozen cocktails (stick around and order some ramen or bao too).
Discover an eclectic mix of eateries and boutique-style shops along Bendigo’s endearing laneway. (Image: Visit Victoria)
On the ground floor of the Royal Mail Hotel, Hargreaves is a moody wine and cocktail bar that’s open late most nights. Stop in for an espresso martini to kick off proceedings or cosy up in a nook and polish off a bottle of pinot noir while grazing on an antipasto.
Don’t forget to pair your wine with Hargreaves’ must-try antipasto board.
Things to do around Bendigo
Forest-fringed walking trails, mountain biking spots, family-run vineyards and tiny towns with big personalities are all within striking distance of Bendigo.
17. Tuck into pies and ales at a classic country pub
Hop in the car, drive 50 minutes southeast and you’ll hit the small town of Tooborac. With a population hovering at around 300 people, this town punches above its weight thanks to the legendary bluestone Tooborac Hotel & Brewery – the oldest National Trust-listed country pub in Victoria. Enjoy a hearty Sunday roast by the fire washed down with a porter or pale ale. Or pop in next door to the cute pie shop for a just-baked beef and ale pie instead.
Grab a bite of Tooborac’s mushroom beef pie.
18. Get some fresh air in Harcourt
Drive half an hour south of Bendigo and you’ll hit the town of Harcourt which is home to wineries, distilleries and one of the best spots to mountain bike in Victoria. La Larr Ba Gauwa Park may be a mecca for mountain bikers, but it’s a top hiking and picnicking spot too. With a range of trails suitable for different levels of experience and fitness, the jumps and drops at this park will thrill adventurous mountain bikers. Prefer to kick back with a picnic lunch? Head to the magical Oak Forest to soak up the serenity in the shade.
19. Go on an antique hunting road trip
Central Victoria is home to many well-preserved gold rush-era towns packed with vintage and antique shops. Castlemaine, Maldon and Chewton can all be reached in under half an hour from Bendigo.
Stroll along the vibrant streetscape of Castlemaine. (Image: Visit Victoria)
Spend your day fossicking in this area’s incredible vintage stores, antique shops and op-shops to find one-of-a-kind homewares, vinyl records and rare books. Fair warning: you’ll need to set aside a few hours to hunt through all of Castlemaine Vintage Bazaar’s treasures.
Shop great finds at the vintage bazaar. (Image: Visit Victoria)
20. Enjoy a whistlestop tour aboard a heritage steam train
Train enthusiasts won’t want to miss a ride aboard an old steam train along the Victorian Goldfields Railway. Stretching between Maldon and Castlemaine, the journey winds its way through forests and farmland, offering passengers incredible views as well as insight into how steam trains operate. Run by a band of passionate volunteers, this is a feel-good trip that train lovers of all ages will delight in.