I knew very little about Broken Hill before being sent off on an adventure to this Outback town. In fact, I think the extent of my knowledge was that it was located in bumblef*ck New South Wales.
In my head I’d placed it somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne, but in actuality Broken Hill is closer to Adelaide if you can believe that. From Broken Hill, it’s about a half hour drive to the border of South Australia, 6 hours to Adelaide, 9 hours to Melbourne, and 13 hours to Sydney. Might I remind you that Broken Hill and Sydney are in the same state. It’s nuts, right?
So was it worth driving 13 hours from Sydney to Broken Hill to visit Australia’s Silver City? DEFINITELY. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring this old mining town as well as the Outback landscape surrounding it.
From quirky historic buildings to hipster cafes to nature, here are my picks for the best things to do in Broken Hill:
The Silly Goat
Our first port of call upon arriving in Broken Hill was The Silly Goat. I did a frantic Googling of “best coffee in Broken Hill” as we were approaching the town (as I do when I visit any city) and this cafe popped up with over 200 rave reviews – most of which referenced its fantastic coffee.
Consider this another one, because OH MY GAWD they serve up Melbourne-caliber coffee. And beyond that, the cafe is beautiful and buzzy and just a delightful place to hang out and escape the Outback heat for awhile. We stopped in all 3 days we were in Broken Hill and even spent one whole morning there working on our laptops. Definitely make a point to drop by for breakfast and coffee when you’re in town!
The Palace Hotel
Broken Hill earns its ‘Hollywood of the Outback’ nickname in part from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert being filmed in the iconic Palace Hotel.
This building is definitely worth a look inside for its epic murals which cover the majority of its walls. Even if you’re not a guest at the hotel you can enter through the pub, wander around the lobby, and climb upstairs to the wraparound balcony to ogle the murals and street views.
Old Heritage Buildings
Broken Hill is full of history and Outback vibes, perhaps best encapsulated in the plethora of gorgeous old heritage buildings scattered around town:
The main street is a visual feast of grand boom-era buildings, the laneways a quirky mishmash of corrugated iron and weathered bricks and the wide residential streets eclectically lined with ramshackle miners’ cottages and the odd stately manor. It’s a marriage of architectural styles unlike anywhere else, and it helped earn Broken Hill its National Heritage status.
Drawing from the distinct styles of three capital cities, Broken Hill’s built landscape serves as a tangible reminder of its rich history. As you drive the streets you pass residential buildings reminiscent of Adelaide, government buildings in the style of colonial Sydney and commercial buildings inspired by Melbourne’s Victorian architectural period.
These old buildings are what’s helped Broken Hill become Australia’s first Heritage Listed city as well as a ‘living museum’ of sorts. The best way to take them in is to just wander around town with your eyes (and mouth) open.
There are twice as many art galleries as pubs in Broken Hill. Let that sink in for a minute; then consider how deeply drinking is engrained in Aussie culture (if you’re not aware, my goodness do Australians love to drink; there are even public holidays unofficially dedicated to it).
Any way you look at it, it’s clear that the town and its surrounding rugged landscape has inspired an inordinate number of artists. The plethora of galleries in Broken Hill displaying local artwork are a testament to this.
We peeped the art at the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery (conveniently right across the street from The Silly Goat) and really enjoyed all of the Outback-themed paintings. Pro Hart was another gallery that locals recommended to us.
I was surprised at how many cute shops there were along Argent Street. We spent WAY too much time absorbed in the books at Under the Silver Tree Coop Bookshop (possibly a blessing that we hadn’t brought our wallets with us), ooh-ing and ahh-ing over all the cute home goods and accessories at Eclectic and Handmade Broken Hill, and ogling all the raw minerals for sale that had been mined from the Silver City and surrounds.
There’s also an amazing antique outpost somewhere in town that I’ve been sworn to secrecy about, but I hear it’s got some incredible gems if you can find it.
Regardless, you’ll find plenty of things to throw your money at in Broken Hill if you wander the shops.
Living Desert & Sculpture Symposium
The Living Desert Reserve is about a 15 minute drive north of town and hosts 12 sandstone sculptures set atop a hill overlooking the desert landscape (along with various walking trails, but let’s be honest, you may not want to hike in 40C weather).
Definitely aim to see the sculptures around sunset. Admission is $6 per person, which you pay at a kiosk near the park entrance.
Another must-do while in Broken Hill is exploring the nearby village of Silverton (about a 30 minute drive northwest). With a population of about 40, all sorts of abandoned buildings and old cars laying around, and a hot dry climate, this place feels very much like a ghost town – like maybe something akin to the Wild West.
And then you rock up to the Silverton Hotel and are greeted by a couple of donkeys lingering just outside and… nothing makes sense anymore.
Do take a look inside the pub, though: it’s absolutely brimming with oddities, funny quotes, and Max Max 2 memorabilia (yep, another film set around Broken Hill).
Mundi Mundi Lookout
If you make it to Silverton, you might as well stop at the nearby Mundi Mundi lookout, offering panoramic views of the surrounding Outback landscape. It’s a top sunset viewing spot, and also a great place to snap an epic shot of the road winding off into the distant desert.
Outback Sky Show
One of the best things about the Outback is how clear and star-studded the skies are there. Without the light pollution from nearby cities, you’re able to see thousands of stars on the average night – likely more than you’ve ever seen before.
Broken Hill is a top spot for star gazing. If you want to learn more about what you’re seeing in the sky, Outback Astronomy offers Sky Shows just outside of town for $45 per person.
Broken Hill Outback Resort
And lastly, a trip to Broken Hill would not be complete without a visit (or stay!) at its namesake Outback Resort. It’s centered around the landmark Mount Gipps Hotel, a newly restored pub with a wraparound veranda and beer garden – a wonderfully laidback spot to enjoy a drink or a bite to eat, as we did. The Broken Hill Outback Resort regularly hosts social events and live music nights as well.
At the moment the caravan park portion of the property is open for booking, while the cabins are expected to be completed in early 2019. We camped for a night on the property and made use of their new facilities. Unfortunately we had a cloudy night and so weren’t able to see many stars, but on a clear night we’d have fallen asleep in our swags staring up at the Milky Way. Another reason to return to Broken Hill someday!