Ballarat and Bendigo are both important regional towns in central Victoria. Both located in the goldfields region of Victoria and built on the wealth generated from gold mining, Ballarat and Bendigo have shared a lot of similarities throughout history.
Since Ballarat and Bendigo are all popular day trip destinations from Melbourne, they have been frequently compared to by many visitors.
Ballarat and Bendigo both provide great insights into Victoria’s gold rush era and access to a plethora of elegant Victorian architecture. They are, however, also distinctively different in their locations, cityscapes, culture, food, and many more.
Location: Ballarat vs Bendigo
Ballarat is located in Victoria’s Central Highlands region. It is positioned about 110km northwest of its capital city, Melbourne. It takes about 1.5-hour to drive between Melbourne and Ballarat. If visiting Ballarat by train, the direct railway service between Melbourne CBD and Ballarat only takes 1 hour and 23 minutes.
Bendigo is located in Bendigo Valley. It is positioned about 150km northwest of Melbourne and 100km northeast of Ballarat. It takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes to drive between Melbourne and Bendigo. The direct railway service between Melbourne and Bendigo takes about 1 hour and 52 minutes.
Although both Ballarat and Bendigo are located in central Victoria, if you are heading to these cities from Melbourne, Ballarat is closer by about 40km. This will save you about 20 minutes by car or 30 minutes by train when heading to Ballarat from Melbourne CBD.
Hence, if you are only planning for a day trip from Melbourne, a return trip to Ballarat can save you in total about 1 hour in commute in comparison to Bendigo.
Population: Ballarat vs Bendigo
According to the 2016 census, there were just over 157K people in Ballarat and just over 153K people in Bendigo. Because of this, Bendigo is ranked the fourth most populated city in Victoria, behind Melbourne, Geelong, and Ballarat.
However, as can be expected from a regional city, the population density in both Ballarat and Bendigo is significantly lower than in Melbourne. You really can’t tell the difference between Ballarat and Bendigo during a visit, in terms of their population differences.
Food: Ballarat vs Bendigo
There is a general notion that Bendigo provides a better food experience than Ballarat. It may be true, but it shouldn’t impact your overall experience when visiting for only a day or two.
Bendigo has many buzzing laneways, which are similar to those in Melbourne. In these laneways, you can find a range of quirky cafes and amazing restaurants. Among them, Chancery Lane is a must-visit place for foodies. In addition, most of these eateries are clustered around Charing Cross, which makes it easy for people to find a place that suits their needs and preference.
In comparison, Ballarat‘s restaurants and cafes are mostly scattered around Ballarat CBD. This makes it hard to find a place to eat, especially when you don’t have a particular place or food in mind.
From my personal experience, the food in Ballarat was good, but it was lacking that wow factor. In comparison, my food experience in Bendigo was a lot more memorable.
Weather: Ballarat vs Bendigo
Both Ballarat and Bendigo experience four distinctively different seasons. Although they both share warm summers and cold winters, they also share some differences.
With an elevation of 440-meter, Ballarat is generally cooler and windier than Bendigo, this difference is especially prominent in the winter months. In addition, Ballarat experiences more rainfalls than Bendigo, this is also true during the warmer months.
In comparison, Bendigo is warmer and drier than Ballarat. However, you can still expect to see snow in Bendigo in the middle of winter.
Transportation: Ballarat vs Bendigo
Both Ballarat and Bendigo have a good public transport system, especially for a regional city. Taxi and ride-share services are also available in Ballarat and Bendigo. Both Ballarat and Bendigo train stations are only minutes away from their CBDs, so you can also walk to many of their attractions from the train station.
When visiting Ballarat or Bendigo by car, the roads within both cities are easy to navigate. However, I did find parking to be a real hassle in Bendigo.
From my experience, it was much harder to find a free parking spot near Bendigo CBD than Ballarat CBD. There was plenty of ticket parking all around Bendigo CBD, but free car parks were scarce and quite far from popular attractions.
Attractions: Ballarat vs Bendigo
In terms of attractions, Ballarat certainly has something unique to offer, which is Ballarat’s massive open-air museum, Sovereign Hill. Due to its sheer scale and interactive nature, Sovereign Hill has been seen as the best place to learn and immerse yourself in Australia’s gold mining history. Many people will travel to Ballarat just to visit its Sovereign Hill.
Apart from Sovereign Hill, Ballarat also offers a great collection of Victorian architecture, the stunning Lake Wendouree, and the beautiful Ballarat Botanic Gardens. However, none of these attractions is unique or special enough to make enduring memories for its visitors.
In comparison, Bendigo offers many unique attractions and experiences to its visitors. In Bendigo, you can visit Gold Dragon Museum and Bendigo Joss House Temple for a rich cultural experience; check out the Sacred Heart Cathedral and be amazed by its magnificent Gothic architecture; visit the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion and be inspired by this impressive temple and its 2.5-metre tall Jade Buddha.
When it comes to which city offers better attractions and experiences, it highly depends on your individual preference.
Ballarat and Bendigo both offer gold mine tours, art galleries, beautiful lakes, vintage trams, and picturesque streetscapes. However, Ballarat offers a more immersed experience at its gold mine museum (Sovereign Hill), and Bendigo provides a better cultural experience. Many people will find both of these cities enjoyable, but some may prefer one over the other.
For more detailed information on the attractions in Ballarat and Bendigo, you may wish to also check out my articles on:
Cost of Visiting: Ballarat vs Bendigo
In terms of the costs of accommodations, both Ballarat and Bendigo have relatively affordable hotels and holiday rentals. For a standard double room, most motels/hotels charges between AUD 100-200 per night in both Ballarat and Bendigo (Booking.com – July 2022). However, the hotel rates in Bendigo are on average AUD 10-20 (per night) more than in Ballarat (Booking.com – July 2022).
In terms of the costs of visiting each attraction, Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill is one of the most costly attractions in both cities. As of July 2022, an adult ticket to Sovereign Hill is AUD 39 & this does not even include access to its underground gold mine tours and certain experiences on site.
To put it into perspective, in Bendigo, the Vintage Talking Tram costs AUD 10 per adult, Gold Dragon Museum costs AUD 12 per adult, and the Central Deborah Gold Mine underground tour costs AUD 35 per adult.
Although many attractions in Ballarat are free, a visit to Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill will set you back by at least AUD 39. This is providing you are not even partaking in any of the additional tours or experiences in Sovereign Hill. In comparison, with similar or less cost, you can explore a lot more attractions and have a much broader experience when visiting Bendigo.
Final Verdict: Ballarat vs Bendigo
Both located in Victoria’s prime goldfields, Ballarat and Bendigo share a similar gold mining history. As a result, they come across as similar cities to many visitors. However, there are many differences between Ballarat and Bendigo, which can significantly impact one’s experience during a visit.
Ballarat is a city well-known for its unique Sovereign Hill, which is a great place for families with kids to visit. With its closer proximity to Melbourne, Ballarat also makes the perfect day trip destination from Melbourne. However, since there aren’t many other attractions in Ballarat, it will be difficult to make Ballarat a multi-day trip destination.
Bendigo is a well-balanced travel destination. In Bendigo, you can explore the underground gold mine at Central Deborah, check out a variety of temples and gardens, experience a different culture, and take a Vintage Talking Tram across Bendigo’s buzzing city centre. Bendigo is compact enough to be visited as a day trip from Melbourne, and it is also diverse enough to be enjoyed as a weekend getaway.
The choice between Ballarat and Bendigo is difficult, and it highly depends on personal preference. However, if time allows, I do suggest visiting both Ballarat and Bendigo.
I visited both Ballarat and Bendigo in May 2022 and loved both of them. I believe you will too!