In 1851, two women washing clothes in a creek in regional Victoria came across a large nugget of gold.
They took their precious find to a banker in Castlemaine — a town already heavily afflicted by gold fever. Within 48 hours more than 400 would-be miners had flocked to the spot and Bendigo was born.
Today, this elegant city of 100,000 people is packed with glorious period architecture, and draws visitors to its galleries, gardens, festivals and fashionable eateries. You’ll be amazed at the variety of experiences on offer in the unofficial capital of the Victorian Goldfields.
Enjoy this Bendigo travel guide.
Need to know
Base yourself: City
Average hotel price per room/per night: AUD $140
Best breakfasts: Wine Bank on View, Cortille, Wholefoods Kitchen
Great coffee: Get Naked Espresso Bar, El Gordo, Cortille
Top spots for a beverage: Wine Bank on View, The Dispensary
Must-do tours: Underground gold mine tour, Vintage Talking Tram hop on hop off tour
Best times to visit Bendigo
Located two hours’ drive northwest of Melbourne, Bendigo has a climate of dry summers and mild winters. Spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit, as temperatures during March to May and September to November average in the low 20s, with dry days most of the time.
From December to February temperatures spike, averaging in the high 20s, but heatwaves in the 30s and even low 40s are not uncommon. Pack warmly in winter and have an umbrella handy.
Top cultural experiences in Bendigo
Bendigo Art Gallery has become one of Victoria’s hottest cultural institutions.
It’s one of the key reasons this regional city attracts so many visitors. The gallery has staged some blockbuster touring exhibitions in recent years — including Grace Kelly: Style Icon, and a comprehensive showcase of the costumes and personal effects of Marilyn Monroe. It also has a stunning permanent collection of Australian colonial artworks, 19th century works by Heidelberg School artists Frederick McCubbin and Tom Roberts, and 20th century pieces by Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd. The building itself — which seamlessly melds the old and the new — is a must-see. Check the website to find out what’s on during your visit.
During the gold rush, thousands of Chinese prospectors headed to local diggings. The descendants of those who stayed became influential members of Bendigo’s community, and their story is told at the Golden Dragon Museum. Here you’ll find what are believed to be both the world’s oldest (Loong) and longest (Sun Loong) ceremonial dragons.
You can also learn about the region’s early Chinese immigration at the Joss House Temple.
Watch our video guide to the top things to do in Bendigo:
Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide’s YouTube channel. Only got a couple of days to get to know the historic city of Bendigo in regional Victoria? Thanks to Choice Hotels and NeedaBreak.com, in this video we bring you a Bendigo travel guide packed with culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos.
Bendigo for history lovers
Much of Bendigo’s back story is etched into the facades of the well-preserved Victorian-era buildings around town, which were built on the back of the gold rush.
Gold mining continued in and around Bendigo for several decades, and a tour of the Central Deborah Gold Mine — located right next to the CBD — provides a fascinating insight into life underground. Don a hard hat and a head lamp for the 75-minute Mine Experience Tour, which explores the second of the mine’s 17 levels (61 metres beneath the surface). The more adventurous can descend 85 metres on the Underground Adventure or 228 metres on Australia’s deepest underground mine tour. The latter takes around four hours.
To get your bearings above ground, and learn more about Bendigo’s history and architecture, take a ride on one of the city’s famous Vintage Talking Trams. Bendigo Tramways operates the fleet of fully restored tramcars. The hop-on hop-off tour is fabulous, and connects all the main tourist attractions around town. Tickets are valid for two consecutive days.
Great places to eat in Bendigo
Bendigo’s dining scene is another of the top reasons to visit the city.
There are so many amazing options to try, but here are just a few of the highlights.
Wine Bank on View has been a stalwart of the Bendigo culinary landscape for a while now and it just goes from strength to strength. The setting inside a heritage bank building is undoubtedly a big part of the appeal, but the a la carte menu and superb wine list also play their part. You can take a bottle away with you, having made your choice from the 1,000+ local and international wines on offer. If you are in town Wednesdays, there’s a free wine tasting from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.
Ask a local for their top pick for a place to chow down and Masons of Bendigo will probably get a mention. Bendigo’s only hatted eatery is well worth pushing the boat out on. The industrial chic interior frames the Modern Aussie fare perfectly. Expect impeccable service as part of the deal.
If you are lucky enough to be staying at the Comfort Inn Julie-Anna on the northern side of town, the hotel’s relaxed in-house eatery is open for dinner Monday through to Thursday. Enjoy plenty of hearty home-style Aussie favourites, served with sunset views over Lake Weeroona. There’s a fireplace on hand, should the need arise.
The nearby Lake View Hotel is renowned for its upmarket pub-grub. It’s very popular, so get there early.
Cool cafes abound in Bendigo. With three locations around town, Get Naked Espresso Bar has the shabby chic vibe nailed. The coffee is awesome. El Gordo in graffiti-emblazoned Chancery Lane also does top coffee, along with a menu of Spanish bocadillos and tapas.
Chancery Lane is the place to be when wine-o’clock rolls around. Drop by The Dispensary Bar & Diner, where you can choose from 80 whiskeys, 65 gins, 110 beers and a diverse and highly inventive menu of Modern Australian dishes. This is a must-try.
Where to shop in Bendigo
Bendigo draws modern-day fossickers to its popular antiques precinct, in search of a piece of yesteryear.
On View Street you can rummage for vintage fashion, retro homewares and other pieces of nostalgia at a range of stores, including the delightful View Street Bazaar.
For book lovers, a browse through the massive collection at Book Now is essential. An estimated 60,000 books line the shelves. The building dates back to 1894.
If you want to take home something uniquely Bendigo, head to Bendigo Pottery. Pottery has been handmade on the premises since 1858, making this Australia’s oldest working pottery.
Ways to relax in Bendigo
There are plenty of ways to relax and take it easy in Bendigo, making it a popular weekend destination for stressed Melburnians.
Rosalind Park, with its 60 acres of green space in the heart of the city, is ideal for a sunny stroll or perusing the papers. Be sure to climb the observation tower to take in the views across to Pall Mall and Bendigo’s many fine historic buildings.
Rosalind Park’s Conservatory Gardens are a popular spot to relax. The centrepiece is the conservatory, which was constructed in 1897 and has featured in thousands of wedding photos ever since.
Where to stay in Bendigo
Comfort Inn Julie-Anna
The thing that stays with you about Bendigo’s Comfort Inn Julie-Anna, long after you’ve checked out, is the level of service on offer. The welcome guests receive here is warm and heartfelt, and you’re made to feel like family for the duration of your stay. It’s easy to see why regulars return time and time again.
The hotel offers a range of modern, comfortable room styles, including deluxe rooms, spa suites, and one and two-bedroom apartments, which are perfect for self-catering. The hotel is located directly opposite glorious Lake Weeroona, which is a hugely popular spot with locals at sunset.
Amenities at the Comfort Inn Julie-Anna include complimentary Wi-Fi, selected Foxtel channels, mini-bar and a pool. Guest laundry facilities are available.
For more information, please visit www.bendigotourism.com.
Do you have any tips to add to our Bendigo travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Cover image: Alamy. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world — and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, Louise has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Her favourite way to explore the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. Louise also has a passion for her home state and loves exploring regional Victoria.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.