You may be surprised to discover that Goulburn is Australia’s first inland city. As a historic city with a legacy of imposing cathedrals and grand buildings, there are some really interesting things to do in Goulburn.
For a long time, Goulburn has hidden beneath its reputation as an agricultural centre for fine merino wool and a truck stop for travellers driving along the Hume Highway. But peel off the layers and you will discover a grand regional city with historic buildings and magnificent cathedrals.
My husband and I spend a few months a year on our farm in nearby Crookwell and, over the years, we’ve grown to look forward to spending time in Goulburn too. So, here are some things to do in Goulburn.
- 10 things to do in Goulburn
- 1- Discover Goulburn’s grand buildings
- 2- Explore Grafton Street
- 3- Admire Goulburn’s Cathedrals
- 4- Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre
- 5- Goulburn Brewery
- 6- Visit the Rocky Hill War Memorial
- 7- See the Goulburn Historic Waterworks
- 8- Visit the Goulburn Court House
- 9- The Big Merino photo stop
- 10- Listen to music at the Australian Blues Festival
- 11- Go to the Goulburn Show
- 12- Drive around the Southern Tablelands
- Goulburn restaurants
- Where to stay in Goulburn
10 things to do in Goulburn
1- Discover Goulburn’s grand buildings
Built in a potpourri of eclectic architectural styles, Goulburn’s architecture is subtle and the best way to appreciate the city is to take yourself on a self-guided heritage walking tour.
Majestic Victorian Italianate halls sit side-by-side with Art Deco buildings. Edwardian, Classic Revival and Spanish Mission styles dot the town, while rows of Victorian terraces lurk in the side streets.
Located in the Southern Tablelands, at the confluence of the Wollondilly and Mulwaree Rivers, Goulburn Plains was first discovered by explorer Hamilton Hume in 1818.
The first occupants were free settlers who were enticed to the area – which was named in honour of the under-secretary of state for the colonies, Henry Goulburn – by land grants.
By 1841 Goulburn had grown into a centre for sheep farming, with a courthouse, police barracks, churches, hospital, post office and a population of around 1200.
In 1863, the British government proclaimed Goulburn as Australia’s first inland city and from the architectural legacy left by the British, it’s evident that Goulburn was once destined to become one of Australia’s great cities.
2- Explore Grafton Street
Start at Grafton Street, the original village from which the city grew around.
Early settler cottages stand alongside buildings of more recent architecture.
Spend a couple of hours strolling down Grafton Street reading the plaques on some of these historic cottages. From governor to butcher, these plaques reveal intriguing tales about the original settlers.
Further along the street, on the top of the AMP building stands an intricate sculpture of the Goddess of Peace and Plenty.
This grand insurance building, with its heavy cedar doors, sits on the site where George Adams once ran his butcher shop.
George Adams later went on to become the founder of the Tattersall lottery sweeps.
3- Admire Goulburn’s Cathedrals
St Peter and St Paul’s Cathedral has an attractive bluestone façade while the sandstone building of St Saviour’s Anglican Cathedral towers above the city.
In the evenings, the cathedrals are floodlit to create an impressive outline against Goulburn’s clear starry sky.
Visitors to St Saviour’s are usually astounded to discover such a breathtakingly grand piece of architecture located in a regional centre of approximately 21,000 residents.
High archways are supported by enormous sandstone pillars, while Kauri beams adorn its ceiling.
Stunning 19th-century stained glass windows with vibrant colours depict tales from the Bible.
The building was designed by one of the leading experts in English Decorated Gothic Architecture, architect Edmund Thomas Blacket who also designed St Mary’s and St Andrew’s Cathedrals in Sydney, as well as the main buildings of the University of Sydney.
An imposing Fosters & Andrew’s organ, which was shipped to Australia in 1884, continues to fill its main hall with uplifting music.
Operas, international choir performances and orchestral performances are held regularly in the cathedral.
4- Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre
When Goulburn was an administrative centre for the railways, it was a much more important city than it is today.
This, you’ll discover at the Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre.
The centre is a workshop museum run by a group of volunteers who are passionate about preserving Goulburn’s railway history.
The Goulburn roundhouse serviced locomotives between 1918 and 1986.
It has a working locomotive turntable on which locomotives can still be turned around.
The stalls are filled with historic carriages and locomotives in various stages of refurbishment.
Check out the carriages, antique tools and machinery.
There’s an old motorised carriage which was used as a mobile pay office for railway workers in NSW.
This particular carriage was also made famous when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip rode in it.
5- Goulburn Brewery
The Goulburn Brewery (where the television series The Potato Factory was filmed) has a set of buildings where brewery activities were conducted (from brewing to malting and milling).
Take a tour of Australia’s oldest brewery, sample beer or have a spot of lunch.
6- Visit the Rocky Hill War Memorial
Overlooking the city is the Rocky Hill War Memorial, a 20-metre floodlit tower with a sweeping aircraft beacon.
The memorial base is inscribed with the names of 2,500 Goulburnites who served in World War I, while the caretaker’s cottage has been converted into a museum.
7- See the Goulburn Historic Waterworks
Another interesting relic of the past is the Goulburn Historic Waterworks Museum.
The museum is manned by enthusiastic volunteers who are passionate about Goulburn’s history.
Before 1886 the residents of Goulburn collected water in tanks or wells or purchased supplies from a carter.
The waterworks was installed on the Wollondilly River and powered by what is now Australia’s largest working steam-driven beam engine.
Water was pumped from the river to a filtration plant and reservoir before being gravity fed to residents of the city.
The 1883 Appleby beam engine and a Hicks Hargreaves Corliss valve steam engine are operated once a month for the public.
Set on the banks of the Wollondilly River, its pump house and working steam engines are unique features.
The lovely riverside setting is the perfect spot for a picnic.
8- Visit the Goulburn Court House
The Goulburn Court House was designed by colonial architect James Barnett, one of the most respected architects of the day.
Barnett was also the designer of Sydney’s General Post Office.
It was in this very courthouse where Australian law was passed making it illegal to harbour bushrangers.
9- The Big Merino photo stop
The Big Merino is a symbol of Goulburn’s agricultural history and its standing as a centre for Merino wool growing and agriculture.
Royal Letters Patent from Queen Victoria proclaimed Goulburn a city on 14 March 1863 and Australia’s first inland city quickly grew into a main administrative centre.
10- Listen to music at the Australian Blues Festival
Each February, the streets of Goulburn becomes a vibrant showcase of blues and roots talent where you can tap your feet to the beats belted out by home-grown and international performers.
Don’t miss the busking competition, which is a fun part of the festival and a chance for local buskers to win a spot in next year’s lineup.
The festival is held in 10 venues around Goulburn, including the main stage at Belmore Park.
Entry is free but some venues, such as the clubs and hotels may have age restrictions.
When: Second week in February. Find out more here.
11- Go to the Goulburn Show
The Goulburn Show has been running since 1880 and is a fun family day out with show bags, rides, amusement park attractions and food.
Being an agricultural region, of course, there’s a focus on farm and machinery displays along with animal shows, equestrian events and dog shows while the blacksmithing and woodchopping displays are fun to watch.
A cool part of the show are the displays of vintage farm machinery and vintage, classic and historic cars.
12- Drive around the Southern Tablelands
A thirty minutes drive north-west of Goulburn are the undulating hills of the Southern Tablelands.
The town of Crookwell is surrounded by the villages of Binda, Laggan, Grabben Gullen, Tuena and Bigga.
Wildlife such as kangaroos, wallabies and wombats can be found roaming around the country lanes at dusk while old stone ruins dot the landscape.
Another fun way to explore is to go touring on a motorcycle through the Southern Tablelands.
A good place to stop for lunch is Goulburn’s oldest bakery, Bryant’s Bakery in Auburn Street.
Alfresco café-goers sip cappuccinos and tuck into Bryant’s famous pies while admiring the view of the towering Victorian Italianate post office building across the road.
The post office sits snugly next to Goulburn’s original red brick classic-revival Town Hall.
Goulburn Workers’ Club
Further down the main street, The Brasserie at the Goulburn Workers Club has been cleverly renovated to imitate a wool store.
Goulburn Workers Club (236-238 Auburn Street and McKell Place, Goulburn, tel: (02) 4821 3355).
Step back into the 1940s at the Paragon Café, a classic eatery that serves hearty country sized meals.
One of the best times of the year to visit Goulburn is during the Australian Blues Festival held each February, when blues bands from all over the country bring this historic city to life.
The Paragon Café (174 Auburn St, Goulburn, tel: (02) 4821 3566).
Where to stay in Goulburn
Goulburn has a collection of hotels, motels and B&Bs that are well-priced, although if you’re after an upmarket escape here are some luxury escapes in NSW you will love.
Mandelson’s of Goulburn is a historic boutique B&B (160 Sloane Street, Goulburn, tel: (02) 4821 0707).
Trappers Motor Inn (2 Lockyer Street, Goulburn, tel:(02) 48 225 445).