Sometimes heritage can feel a bit like a time capsule, a moment of history preserved and protected to stay just as it was.
In the small Victorian town of Kyneton, though, it seems like heritage is a container in which to create new and exciting projects.
Most of the historic part of town is from the age of the Victorian Gold Rush in the 1850s. Hopeful miners came here hoping to make it rich – and many did. Consequently, the town blossomed.
But although the buildings left from this period are charming (and exploring that history is one of the best things to do in Kyneton), it’s what the locals have done to some of them that I think are the real highlights here.
Take the old Royal George Hotel, for example, its location the home of a pub since the 1850s. The exterior remains, the internal layout remains, but it’s no longer a pub.
All the rooms on the lower floor are now used for a cool furniture and homewares store called Kabinett, while upstairs is a hip cocktail bar specialising in vermouth and amaro.
There’s the art gallery called Stockroom, in the shell of an 1850s butter factory, or the Asian restaurant Fook Shing in an old temperance hotel.
There’s even the bright new star of town, the Kyneton Springs Motel, which has turned a daggy old motel (not from the Gold Rush era) into a retro Palm Springs style destination.
At first, visiting Kyneton feels just like many of the other small charming towns here in the Macedon Ranges, with its historic centre, boutique shopping, and surrounding wineries. But it’s this reclamation of the old spaces that makes it feel so special.
Combine that with some of the other great things to do in Kyneton – its excellent food scene, walking trails, and easy access to surrounding attractions – and you can see why it’s become so popular.
Just over an hour’s drive from Melbourne, or with easy access on a direct train, it is close enough for a day trip. But I think part of the appeal is the relaxed getaway you can have in the region with an overnight stay, or part of a road trip to Bendigo, for instance.
To help you plan your time, here are my tips for what to do in Kyneton.
Although it’s not the only thing that makes Kyneton worth visiting, the town’s heritage is certainly a highlight, with its charming main streets boasting a lovely collection of old buildings and landmarks.
Historic town walk
Some of Kyneton’s most important heritage buildings are obvious, but others are a bit tucked away in the side streets. To make sure you don’t miss any important ones, head to the Visitor Centre to pick up a map for the ‘historic town walk’.
The official route is about 1.75 kilometres long, but you can make your own adjustments, leading you down the main drag of Mollison Street, the heritage hub of Piper Street, to churches, and even down to the river.
Some of the key landmarks to look out for are the Sacred Heart College, the Albion Hotel, the Shire Hall, Kyneton Courthouse, and St Paul’s Church.
Special mention needs to go to Piper Street, the focal point of town during the Gold Rush, which would’ve been a hub of activity (some nefarious) in the 1850s.
Some stretches of the bluestone-paved street are dominated by traditional shopfronts, while there are also houses, public buildings, and warehouses (plus, of course, a pub).
A range of styles means it’s not quite as cohesive a streetscape as you might find in some other heritage towns (like Daylesford) and it’s not nearly as impressive as Ballarat, but there’s lots going on and this is where you’ll find many of the best Kyneton attractions.
To help you understand some of what you’re seeing, you might like to pop into the Kyneton Museum, which is located on Piper Street.
It’s in a former Bank of New South Wales building from 1856, and you’ll see the original banking chamber and the bank manager’s residence, for example.
But there are also other exhibitions about different topics like fashion or craft. And outside are the stables and servant kitchen, along with a collection of carriages and historical agricultural equipment.
There’s a creative atmosphere to the town and its surrounding region, with artists and producers settling here in recent years because of a lower cost of living but easy access to Melbourne.
Discovering what they now offer is among the best things to do in Kyneton when you visit.
Kyneton has more art galleries than any other town in the Macedon Ranges, with a variety of exhibitions that focus on local artists as well as some from interstate.
A good place to start is Stockroom, which has turned an 1850s butter factory into regional Victoria’s largest privately-owned contemporary art space, with some gallery spaces even still with old industrial equipment.
Other art galleries in Kyneton worth visiting include the Old Auction House Gallery, John Lloyd Gallery, The Golden Dog, Art on Piper, and Lauriston Press Art Gallery.
As I mentioned, lots of the Gold Rush-era buildings on Piper Street have been given a new lease on life, many of them as shops with wonderful displays of local produce and curated treasures.
For homewares, head to Kabinett, Nickleby’s, or Red Cart Vintage.
For fashion, there’s Camilla on Piper, or Love Spell.
And for local produce, Duck Duck Goose and Larder is a great option.
Of course, there are many more boutique shops and local producers on Piper Street and up in the main part of town, so the best thing really is just to go for a wander and see what you can find.
Did you know that this part of the Macedon Ranges has the largest concentration of natural mineral springs in Australia?
To get a taste (literally), you can pop to the Kyneton Mineral Springs Reserve and fill up your bottle at the old pump. The locals claim its got special health properties!
To soak in the water, you can drive about 30 minutes to the Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa, which has outdoor bathing and salt therapy pools (among its numerous facilities).
The Macedon Ranges are known for their beautiful landscapes, so I suggest taking some time to head out to the nearby natural spots – some of which are even within walking distance of the centre of town.
Kyneton Botanic Gardens
The Kyneton Botanic Gardens were founded in 1858 and officially protected as public space in 1867, after which they were used for informal gatherings and official functions by local residents.
They’re considered among the finest of Victoria’s goldfields towns, with the plantings lining walkways and set in lawns that slope down to the river. The gardens have some historic features like a rotunda and a drinking fountain from 1902, along with modern art and a restored gardener’s cottage.
Among its interesting collection of trees, including palms, cedars, and oaks, are 17 that are listed by the National Trust of Australia. Although not huge, they make for a lovely spot to relax while you’re in town.
Campaspe River Walk
You can start the Campaspe River Walk from the Kyneton Botanic Gardens, or use them as a destination if you’re coming from Piper Street.
In total, the walk is 3.5 kilometres long (although you can just do a part of it), following the course of the river as it meanders along the western side of the town.
Plaques along the route point out spots of interest like the railway weir, sculpture park, and old saleyard pig enclosure. There is also plenty of natural elements to enjoy like the willow trees, birdlife, and even a platypus habitat.
Black Hill Reserve
And about ten minutes’ drive north, Black Hill Reserve is a gorgeous woodland reserve that’s known for its impressive granite rock formations – particularly The Monolith, one of the largest granite features in Victoria.
There are walking trails here that you can take to discover some of the landscape, or you might like to just relax in the areas intended for picnics and other gatherings.
While there are other natural reserves and noteworthy sights a bit further away, Black Hill Reserve is the easiest to reach, which means you can pop out for a visit and still have lots of time to do things in town.
Food and drink
Recently, Kyneton has made a bit of a name for itself as a foodie destination, with excellent restaurants providing a good range of meals from casual to fine-dining.
Whether it’s a pie, an elegant dinner, or just a casual drink, there’s plenty here to fill your time on a visit.
Let’s start with the best restaurants in Kyneton, most of which are found along Piper Street.
One of my favourites is Fook Shing, a blend of Asian styles in an old temperance hotel. It’s named after an infamous Chinese detective who was posted to the goldfields during the Gold Rush.
At the fine dining end, there’s Midnight Starling, which has a French-inspired menu; or there’s Tansy’s, which is also French but with a slightly more homely feel.
For a quick lunch, there’s the Country Cob Bakery which has won gold a few times for the best pie in Australia! In 2023, it won for its fish amok pie (a Cambodian curry) so give that a try if you want to taste an award-winner!
For a pre-dinner drink (or, let’s be honest, any time of the day) there are some great bars in Kyneton.
Right on Piper Street, there’s the award-winning Animus Distillery where you can try one of their famous gin cocktails or something from their whisky collection. A bit further up the street, Miss M’s is a very cosy space with tapas and Spanish wines.
Or my recommendation, Botanik, a funky cocktail on the upper level of the old Royal George Hotel that specialises in vermouth and amaro, with a large verandah decorated in pot plants for sale (there is also a store here with lots of botanical-related wares).
Around the Macedon Ranges, there are 27 wineries with cellar doors, and many of them are within easy reach of Kyneton, offering tastings and more.
The region is known for its cool-climate wines, particularly chardonnay and pinot noir, but there’s actually a total of 21 grape varieties grown here.
One of my favourites is Mount Monument, which doesn’t just do great wines, but also has a fantastic restaurant offering set menus with sweeping views across the vines. Its garden serves as an outdoor gallery for a series of monumental sculptures.
Of course, there are lots more options so it’s easy to put together an itinerary to do a whole day of tastings.
Out of town
Although it’s definitely possible to do a day trip from Melbourne to Kyneton, I would recommend staying overnight so you can also spend your time exploring the region.
Kyneton is a great base to head off on trips to some of these local highlights.
One of the most popular destinations in the Macedon Ranges, Daylesford is just a 30 minute drive away from Kyneton.
A heritage town that also boomed during the Gold Rush, there’s a notable collection of historic buildings focused on the town centre, where you can easily spend the day browsing the shops, eating at the cafes, or exploring the galleries.
But the highlight in Daylesford are its spas, which draw mineral-rich waters from natural springs. I’ve already mentioned the nearby Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa, but Daylesford also has some excellent baths, including at Peppers Mineral Springs.
Many of us know the name Hanging Rock from the film (based on a book) Picnic at Hanging Rock, but there’s more here than just a cultural reference.
The Hanging Rock itself is one of the world’s best examples of a volcanic plug and has a long and spiritual connection for the Indigenous people of the region.
There are walks around the reserve here, including a hike to the summit, plus areas for picnics and a visitor information centre where you can learn more about the site’s history and geology.
Macedon Regional Park
The lush forests of Macedon Regional Park create the scenery for a series of trails that can be used for bushwalking or bike riding, with a chance of spotting wildlife like kangaroos, wombats, or echidnas.
The striking granite lookouts add a dramatic texture to the skyline, with lookouts at the two highest peaks of Mount Macedon and Camels Hump.
There are picnic areas to relax at and roads that can be accessed for scenic drives. I think if you’re looking for a good natural day trip from Kyneton, this is one of the best options.
And finally, for something a bit different, there’s Turpins Falls, where the Campaspe River flows over a 20-metre-high rock wall that surrounds a pool on three sides, creating a stunning and dramatic scene.
The pool itself is huge – larger than an Olympic swimming pool – although the water is normally really cold so swimming isn’t recommended.
It’s only a 20 minute drive north from Kyneton and can be combined with a visit to Black Hill Reserve.