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.
Over the years, the Big Merino has become a recognised Australian landmark and the place to stop when driving between Sydney and Melbourne. But Goulburn is evolving beyond its agricultural roots into a regional hub with cool cafes, fun festivals and other things to do in Goulburn.
- 17 Surprising Things To Do In Goulburn
- 1- Discover Goulburn’s grand buildings
- 2- Explore Grafton Street
- 3- Admire Goulburn’s Cathedrals
- 4- Visit Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre
- 5- Goulburn Brewery
- 6- Visit the Rocky Hill War Memorial
- 7- See the Goulburn Historic Waterworks
- 8- Admire the Goulburn Court House
- 9- Take a photo at the Big Merino
- 10- Visit the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery (Closed for renovations until 6 December 2019)
- 11- Go shopping at a market
- 12- Dress up for the Steampunk Victoriana Fair
- 13- Listen to music at the Australian Blues Festival
- 14- Go to the Goulburn Show
- 15- Visit Belmore Park
- 16- Drive around the Southern Tablelands
- 17- Explore Wombeyan Caves
- Goulburn restaurants and cafes
- Where to stay in Goulburn
17 Surprising 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- Visit 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- Admire 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- Take a photo at the Big Merino
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.
Inside is a shop that stocks high-quality wool and Australian-made products like fine wool jumpers, boots, socks, toys and cosmetics.
It’s worth checking out if you’re looking for a quality souvenir or gift.
Next to it is a large service station with fast food, cafes and clean toilets.
10- Visit the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery (Closed for renovations until 6 December 2019)
Goulburn Regional Art Gallery is a hub with displays of contemporary art that is intended to provoke debate.
The gallery’s growing collection has 563 works, mostly part of a permanent collection showcasing Australian artists.
Two works in the collection came from the Moffitt Bequest in the 1950s when Dr Charles Gordon Moffitt worked with modernist painter Roy de Maistre to create a colour therapy treatment for patients at Goulburn’s Kenmore Hospital.
De Maistre had already come up with his own colour theory based on musical scales.
The collection includes textiles, ceramics, paintings, video installations and other works using various mediums.
The Gallery Store is a good place to shop for a gift
Goulburn Regional Art Gallery is located in the Civic Centre on Bourke Street, Goulburn (entre through Church Street). Admission is free.
11- Go shopping at a market
Saturday is market day in Goulburn and the local markets are great for gifts, food, farm implements and a place to buy home decorations that have a local touch. Here’s a list of Goulburn markets:
1st Saturday of each month
Lilac Country Markets – 9 am to 2 pm every month except for January at Goulburn Public School, 204 Bourke Street, Goulburn.
St Saviour’s Community Craft Market – 9 am to 2 pm except for January at St Saviour’s Cathedral Hall, Bourke Street, Goulburn.
2nd Saturday of each month
Parkside Community Markets is a Rotary market from 8.30 am to 1.30 pm at Montague Street (next to Belmore Park) in Goulburn.
Twice a year
Riversdale Car Boot Sale – 9 am to 2 pm on the 3rd Saturday in March and September at Riversdale Homestead, Goulburn. It’s also a good way to turn your unwanted items into cash.
12- Dress up for the Steampunk Victoriana Fair
Get into the groove at this retro-futuristic fair by coming dressed up in character.
The fair pays homage to the industrial progress made by mankind through the invention of all things powered by steam.
Set on the grounds of Goulburn’s Historic Waterworks, the Steampunk Victoriana Fair is a chance to be part of local creativity that melds the industrial age with the possibilities of the future.
The next Steampunk Victoriana Fair in Goulburn is on 19 and 20 October 2019.
13- 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.
14- 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.
The Goulburn Show is usually held around Easter time and the next show is on 7 and 8 March 2020.
15- Visit Belmore Park
Belmore Park is a lovely green space in the middle of the city to have a picnic or sit and sip coffee, however, you’d be surprised at how many memorials and fountains there are in the park.
Your eye might be drawn to the Lady Belmore oak tree, which was planted by the wife of the then governor in 1869 to celebrate the opening of the railway line between Sydney and Goulburn.
But you might also be interested to take a look at the Temperance Fountain, which was built in 1886 by the Temperance Society because at the time there were 74 hotels and the temperance movement was against alcohol.
The sculpture was made out of sandstone and designed as a drinking fountain.
The Victorian architecture is flanked by two stone piers (erected in 1902) to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII.
Also in the park, there’s the Quota Club Wishing Well constructed in 1959, a Victorian band rotunda (1897), Knowlman Memorial (1910) to commemorate the former mayor, Hollis fountain (1898), Davis memorial and a glasshouse conservatorium.
Don’t miss the Cenotaph Memorial constructed in 2002 in honour of 3000+ locals who served in WWII and other wars as well as the Boer War Memorial (1904).
The Meridian plaque is a reminder of the transit of Venus (when Venus passes between the earth and the sun), which was recorded in 1874 here by astronomers.
The longitude and latitude of Goulburn were calculated using this information.
The last transit of Venus occurred in 2012 and the next is in expected to happen in 2117.
Another interesting fact about Belmore Park is that from 1910 to 1926, the area was a miniature zoo housing a collection of animals.
16- 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.
17- Explore Wombeyan Caves
I resisted visiting Wombeyan Caves for years because of the winding road to the caves but having visited, I can report that the caves are impressive.
They have huge cathedral-ceilinged cavers, cave coral, stalactites, stalagmites, helictites and all the features you would expect to find in caves.
There are three caves in the 580 ha Wombeyan Karst Conservation Reserve and a swimming hole – Fig Tree Cave (which you can wander around on your own) or Wollondilly Cave or Junction Cave.
Wollondilly and Junction Caves can only be accessed on a guided tour.
Wollondilly has three sets of metal staircases to climb and you’ll get a close look at some of the cave’s features.
Tours can fill up quickly and on the day we visited, the Wollondilly tour had 47 people.
There’s a bit of an uphill hike to the mouth of the caves and if you prefer a more leisurely experience with no one around, exploring Fig Tree Cave on your own is a cool experience.
Camping is available and there’s enough to do if you’re staying for a couple of nights.
The Wombeyan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve is about a one-hour drive from Goulburn.
If you love wine regions, you may also like this Mudgee travel guide.
Goulburn restaurants and cafes
The Roses Cafe
Tucked away in a side street across the park, The Roses Cafe is a bit of a hidden gem frequented by locals.
It has a large space with a few outdoor tables that have green park views and soaring ceilings inside.
The long food cabinet display is impressive, with an assortment of delicious meals for a healthy lunch, from freshly made focaccia stacked with quality ingredients, baked muffins, quiches, homemade pies and other tasty things to try.
The Roses Cafe Goulburn is open from Monday to Friday (8 am to 5 pm), Saturday and Sunday (8 am to 2:30 pm) at 10 Montague Street, Goulburn, NSW.
Greengrocer is a bicycle shop and fresh food cafe, which also has a small selection of fresh vegetables for sale.
The bike shop sells bicycles that serious cyclists will love while the cafe has a bright and airy atmosphere.
Prices are very reasonable: bacon and egg roll costs $7 or try the Portuguese barbecue chicken with chips and salad for $9.90.
Greengrocer is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week (9 am to 4 pm) and for dinner on Thursday and Friday at 37 to 41 Clifford Street, Goulburn, NSW.
The Hibernian Hotel
I drove past the unassuming Art Deco exterior numerous times without realising The Hibernian Hotel has a pretty decent bistro out the back.
Bistro 1850 has a selection of decent pub grub and a warm local hotel ambience.
Happy Hour is from 4 pm to 6 pm and kids eat free on Thursdays.
The Hibernian is at 145 Auburn St, Goulburn, NSW.
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).