The old mining town of Broken Hill is famous for pubs, art galleries and drag queens. If that wasn’t enough, the tiny town of Silverton next door was where Mad Max 2 was filmed and has a herd of roaming donkeys that like to visit the pub and meet the people… it’s no wonder it’s been on the Differentville ‘must visit’ list for a while. Let our list of fun and unusual things to do in Broken Hill and Silverton convince you that it should be on your list too.
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Some of the main must-see sights in Broken Hill include the Living Desert Sculptures, the Daydream Mine, the old buildings of Argent Street, the Pro Hart Gallery, The Flying Doctor’s exhibition and the Miner’s Memorial.
The list of things to do in Silverton, a short 25km drive from Broken Hill, is headed up by the Mad Max 2 Museum where you’ll find lots of pictures, old cars and other exhibits on the film, plus an old jail and schoolhouse. All of them are definitely worth a look, but don’t also miss out on these smaller – or stranger things – to do in Broken Hill.
1. See the Vegemite Volkswagen
For some reason it seems to be the done thing in Silverton to paint on Volkswagen bug cars; there’s a few of them dotted around including some at the top of the town that I though were painted in a kind of rusty paint – but, apparently not.
They are the work of artist Peter Brown who used to live in town and he has a thing for painting in Vegemite – and, apparently the Volkswagens are one example of this!!
I didn’t find this out until after I left so I didn’t get it confirmed, that they still owe their designs to Australia’s favourite breakfast spread, but it certainly does look like it might!
Whatever they’re painted with they’re pretty cool though.
2. Check out the Abandoned Mine
Broken Hill is a mining town rich in lead, silver and zinc. Two active mines still exist in the town, but a number of older shafts have been shut down – and some of them can still safely explored on tours, or solo – most notably Junction Mine which towers over town as you approach from the airport.
It’s all fenced off, but it’s still a great place for photographs.
3. Meet the Silverton Pub Doggo
The Silverton Hotel is a cool old pub in Silverton – it’s been in a few films, including Mad Max 2, and the less well-known Razorback, about a mutant killer pig – which I had to watch in aid of research and still don’t quite know what to think about it!
After that introduction, I also wasn’t quite sure what to expect when we pulled up at the pub, but I wasn’t expecting a very waggy shepherd-type dog heading rapidly towards us…for pats. All of the pats. About 30 minutes of pats.
At one point we thought we were going to be taking him home as he seemed to have adopted Mr Differentville as dad for the day!
His real dad did appear though and it turns out he has the run of the town and absolutely loves people – so much so, he regularly wakes him up at 4am to be played with.
If you see him, give him a pat from us – and grab a beer in the hotel.
They seemed pretty friendly, no mutant killer pigs or worryingly-attired kangaroo hunters with mullets, were spotted on our trip.
4. And the Donkeys
Doggo almost made up for the fact that the famous wild donkeys who also wander the town – and quite often like to hang around the pub weren’t in residence – but we did find them later as we drove to the nearby Mundi Mundi Lookout.
Apparently four donkeys live in the town and roam about at will. You shouldn’t feed them, no matter how much they beg! But they do pose for cute photographs.
5. Attempt Parmageddon
The Tydvil Hotel is a little bit outside the centre of Broken Hill, but I’d heard that their Chicken Parma had been voted the best in NSW and so we had to spend an evening there.
I can attest that it is pretty good – I had the Mexican one with extra sour cream, guac, chili beef and a fresh chilli pepper on the top.
But, the thing that peaked my interest most, was the Parmagedden – a $49 stack of 3 Parmas (chicken or beef) on one meal.
I’m not sure how hungry you need to be to manage to eat that (along with the chips and salad it’s served with) but, if you manage it, please let me know on the comments!
6. Drink Broken Hill Gin
Next to the Tydvil is Broken Hill Gin Distillery and yes, they do make it on the premises. Ginmaker Paul told me it can get up to 95 degrees in the room when the still is cooking!
The Distillery do tours at 11am each morning (see those here) – or, at any time of day you can buy a tasting flight for $20. This contains three half measures of gin – and full size mixers for each, which I think makes it pretty good value.
I like neat gin and so I drank the gins, then the mixers! The Gunpowder scored highest for me.
If you have non-gin makers in your party, they can head into the pub for a beer or wine, the two premises share the same owners and the same garden.
7: Find The Shelley’s Shop
I have never had as many likes on an Instagram photo as I did with a picture of this old shop on the corner of Iodide Street and Lane Street.
Shelley’s was a soft drinks firm that started in Broken Hill in 1893 and this old building used to be a milk bar that sold them.
Now it’s home to Deebee’s Deli and a fantastic old building to check out.
8. Have Cheeseslaw
The local delicacy.
This is a mix of cheese and coleslaw, that’s going to see you waving goodbye to your diet in seconds. What I didn’t know until I ordered it though is that it’s toasted – and so, it’s actually coleslaw and melted cheese!
This made me exceptionally happy!
I tried it as one of the famous ‘Chicken and Cheeseslaw’ sandwiches at Charlottes at the Grand on Argent Street – and it kept it me full from 10am in the morning until 7pm at night – and it’s rare to find something that does that!
Mr Differentville was also very pleased with his full ‘English’ breakfast – and he’s very fussy about those so, that’s high praise indeed.
9. Visit the Priscilla Shoe
If Silverton is famous for it’s role in Mad Max 2, Broken Hill – and specifically, The Palace Hotel – is famous as being in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
And the famous silver shoe on the top of the bus can be found in the lobby of the Palace. Along with a fascinating set of murals.
Story has it that the Palace owner Mario wanted a beautiful frescoed ceiling. He started painting nymphs, cherubs other suitably Italianate images on one panel, but decided he needed help to get the rest finished.
Indigenous artist Gordon Waye took on the job painting the Australian scenery he was more familiar with – but, adding water features!
If you really want to get into Priscilla mode book a night in the suite the movie was filmed in. Staying in the hotel also gives you a change to get up close with murals that the ‘general public’ don’t get to see as they can’t go upstairs.
Priscilla fans might also want to check out our Coober Pedy post and the bright pink bus we found there.
10. Play 2Up
If you’re not from Australia you’re probably wondering what on earth that is – it’s basically a game that was played by the ANZAC soldiers. It involves flipping two coins in the air and betting on the outcome with other people in the crowd.
In much of Australia the only day of the year you can officially play 2Up is ANZAC Day (April 25th) but the Palace Hotel is allowed to play it all year – and they have a game every Friday night at 9pm.
It’s a fun game to play – just don’t get too carried away with the betting and make sure you take lots of small notes if you want to play.
11. The Big Ant & The Big Bench
The Big Ant is actually a sculpture by Pro Hart, one of the most famous artists to come from Broken Hill.
It’s designed to represent the miners that made Broken Hill the town it is today.
Pro Hart and his art loom large in Broken Hill. You can visit his gallery (which includes some painted Rolls Royce), a small sculpture park outside the gallery and even his grave.
The Big Ant also isn’t the only big thing in Broken Hill, there’s also The Big Bench which is on the hill where you’ll also find the Line of Lode Miners Memorial – unfortunately you can’t sit on it for photos any more so in pictures it just looks like a strange red bench!
12. Meet Kevin and Betty
Owners of the Whites Mineral Art and Mining Museum these were two of my favourite people I encountered on this trip.
I had no idea what to expect when we arrived for our tour – but without spoiling anything, half of the museum is devoted to Kevin and his work.
He uses minerals from the Broken Hill to tell the story of the mines and the workers within them and his talk is fascinating. You can then wander around the small mining exhibition.
On the other side of the premises you’ll find the Doll and Teddy Bear Museum. At first I thought that curator Betty had bought all the dolls, bears and other toys in it, but she told me no, she actually made a lot of them.
It all started because when couples arrived at the ‘museum’ the men would be fascinated by all the trinkets Kevin had collected, but the women would go and sit in the car – and so Betty decided she needed to so something to appeal to the rest of the family.
It’s a little bit out of town, but if you have time and transport, then definitely go and visit and support this unique thing to do in Broken Hill
13. See the ‘Sht Happens’ Sculpture
Next to the Big Ant is a white sculpture of the microscopic view of a crystal made by local art students.
The problem is, that naturally this crystal only has five spikes and this sculpture has six. When questioned why, the art teacher in charge of the project reportedly just said ‘sht happens.’
This was just one of the fantastic facts we learned from Gigi, who takes the free walking tours from the Broken Hill Tourist Information Centre at the weekend.
It’s a great tour full of amazing things you would never learn otherwise. Book in at the Information Office – the tour is free, but Gigi does take donations (and it’s worth every penny of one).
They also offer tours in the week with another volunteer if you’re not around at Saturday or Sunday.
14. Book for Broken Heel
Every September, around September 8th which was the date the original Priscilla film was released, Broken Hill gets a dose of glitter when the The Broken Heel Festival comes to town.
This is a full on fabulous-filled 5-day Festival to celebrate all things drag.
There’s concerts, cabarets, a full of sequinned-up display of day-drag down the High Street in the annual parade (when even the Priscilla shoe gets an outing), handbag throwing competitions and more campness than you can shake a shiny stick at.
Attending Broken Heel is one of the things left on my bucket list… If it’s now also on yours, you’ll need to book tickets in advance. Find out more details here.
If you’re coming from Sydney, you might want to go full Priscilla and book on the Broken Hill Bus with Planet Dwellers.
15. Have a 1950s Milkshake
Bells Milk Bar is famous for it’s ice cream filled milkshake and it’s 1950s decor.
It’s a bit of a walk from town (I know because we did it) so you might want to jump in the car or a cab.
Warning – if you’re looking for something savoury, the only lunch option is cheese toasties (which admittedly were pretty good), the rest of the food is firmly in the waffles and ice cream camp – yummy, but maybe not what needed at 12.30 when I haven’t had any breakfast.
While you’re there take a look at the small museum at the back and the cool vintage shop a couple of doors down.
16. Visit the Big Picture
Okay, as reportedly the most popular attraction in Broken Hill, this isn’t exactly a secret – but, it’s The World’s Largest Painting people, do you think I wasn’t going to mention it!
The painting by artist Peter Anderson aka Ando measures 100 metres long and 12 metres high. It’s held in place with a series of weights and pulleys.
I also like the little fake countryside that surrounds it – if I ran the Big Picture, I’d stick the odd real life lizard or friendly snake in there just to freak people out a bit when it moved. This is why I have to write about tourist attractions rather than running one!
It’s in the Silver City Mint and Art Centre.
17. Buy a John Dynon Emu
I’ve wanted a painting by this artist who works out of Silverton for ages and on this trip, not only did I get a print, but he signed it for me too.
Definitely pop into the gallery when you’re there.
Dynon specialises in painting images of the Outback – be that emus, wildflowers, landscapes – or long drop bathrooms! There’s another one of those cool painted Volkswagens outside too.
18. Visit VB Man
For a town full of artists, there’s not a lot of street art in Broken Hill, but one wall close to the Council Chambers on Beryl Street is full of murals of people who sum up local life – my favourite of whom is VB Man here.
Also look out for the 3D train murals on the side of the train station and a mural of The Ghan on the wall of Sufis Bookshop.
19. ‘Drive’ a Train
The Sulphide Street Railway & Historical Museum is way more than it’s name suggests.
Yes it has trains you can walk through, sit in and pretend to drive, plus exhibits of rail paraphernalia, but it also has a small medical museum that will send chills through you (not least as there’s a speculum on display) and a cute room showing entertainments of Broken Hill days gone by.
There’s a lot of mini museums in Broken Hill, but this one is definitely worth the (very small) entry fee.
20: Go Stargazing
This was the one thing I would have loved to do but couldn’t. Mostly because it was going to be cold when we were there and I didn’t have enough clothes with me for that…
If you’re braver than us, though check out Outback Astronomy for what looks like a beautiful night. It’s a bit out of town but if you’re lucky, the pick up service the company used to offer will be back up and running when you read this. You can also book to stay on the property in their Glamping Tent.
There’s lots more fun things in do in Broken Hill, but these were our favourites – but you might have a few more questions about the town, so let’s try and answer those now…
How to Get to Broken Hill
You can drive – Adelaide is the nearest big city if you want to pick up a rental car and it takes about six hours to get between the two.
If you’re driving from Sydney, it will take about 13 hours of driving – so you’ll probably want to stop half way.
There is a train that goes between Sydney and Broken Hill – but that only goes once a week, so you’ll need to either stay for seven days or use another way to get home.
Because, Mr Differentville was still scarred from the time I made him drive between Adelaide and Coober Pedy (twice in five days), we flew.
The only airline that flies directly between Broken Hill and Sydney is Rex Airlines – and, while I was a bit apprehensive about my first flight in two years being on a tiny propeller plane, we thought they were brilliant and now want to go everywhere on them!
Just one word of warning. The overhead lockers are VERY small. We went back via Adelaide and my squashy bag didn’t fit (I could have forced it but my emu print was in it) and I was in the very front seat where you can’t have any baggage.
The staff were great though and just popped it in the back of the plane and it was at the steps when I got off. Rex include checked luggage for everyone so if you do fly with them, you might want to use it even if you normally travel with hand luggage.
Our flight stopped in Dubbo briefly on the way there, but we didn’t have to deplane so it really wasn’t a big issue.
Where to Stay in Broken Hill
There’s no shortage of accommodation including everything from camp sites, rooms over pubs or in old pubs like the
Palace above or the Imperial Fine Accommodation – which even manages to sneak a pool into the property.
If you’re looking for a big name brand, you might want to check out the the Ibis Styles.
We stayed in a house though. Iada on Iodide was just a short walk into town and gave us plenty of space to hang out when we weren’t exploring.
It’s beautifully fitted out inside with a good size lounge, huge kitchen and two bedrooms and has everything you need for a short trip. It was also spotless.
It is on a main road so very light sleepers might be disturbed a bit by the trucks that go past, but we were fine with it. The other downside was I now want a new kitchen as theirs was so lovely!
Hosts Ian and Danielle were really helpful when we had questions and they left Mr Differentville a lovely birthday present. Definitely recommended. You can check availability and rates here.
Getting From the Airport
I’m not normally a fan of booking airport pick ups as we’re normally off the plane and out of the airport in minutes and hanging around for a late taxi is frustrating so, when our cabin steward asked if she could book anyone a taxi at Broken Hill we ignored her.
We weren’t expecting a big airport, but I did kind of think that a couple of taxis would be there when a plane came in – but they’re not. We managed to grab a taxi number and order one, but had to wait about 20 minutes.
So – take the taxi offer, or, if you do need a cab at the airport, Independent Taxis saved our bacon – their number is (08) 8087 7744. We also used Yellow Cabs around town for the weekend when we weren’t driving or walking. (08) 8087 2222.
Once you’re in town, most things inside Broken Hill are in walking distance – albeit possibly a bit of a walk if you want to go to Bells or the Pro Hart Gallery.
If you want to go to Silverton, or out to the Living Desert Sculptures you are going to need a car. We had one for 24 hours which was enough to see everything we needed to drive to.
The road from Broken Hill to Silverton is fully tarmacked so don’t worry about driving it – unless it’s been raining. We saw a lot of flood signs so do keep an eye on things if it’s been raining.
You can also take tours out to Silverton and the sculptures. Have a look at Away Tours for a good selection.
There’s no Uber yet in Broken Hill, but there some taxis which brings me to…
The Most Important Thing to Know
Broken Hill might look like a fairly large town (in outback terms) but it definitely has a small town feel.
We ordered a taxi to pick us up one night but got the pick up and drop off addresses slightly wrong (don’t ask, Mr Differentville was in charge). Our taxi driver told us he nearly drove off thinking it was a fake booking telling us ‘I used to own number 286 that road and my cousin is at 264 but so I didn’t know what was at that address and, I know the lady that lives at the address you’re going to and she doesn’t get taxis.’
We were also due to pick a car at a big rental car name at 9am – we got there a bit late to find it closed, The guy had gone to pick someone up at the airport.
When I booked Gigi’s tour on Friday for the Sunday, the Information Centre said, ‘you’re the only one on it right now so just turn up and if she’s here it’s on.’ Thankfully it was very busy so no worries there.
Shops also close early, particularly on Saturday and most don’t open on Sunday’s so check opening hours when planning your trip.
None of this is a criticism, it’s just to let you know you’re not in the big city any more even though it is a tourist town, turn up for things on time and, if you have to get to or from the airport, book your taxi in advance or you might find they’re all booked.
Where to Eat and Drink in Broken Hill
This was the only thing that disappointed us a little bit about our trip. Broken Hill used to be home to over 70 pubs and we’d heard there were still 25 in town – we found about 8!
And one of those literally locked their doors as we got to them at 5pm on a Thursday (which felt a bit like a scene from a Zombie movie where the locals all stay inside after dark and only the unsuspecting people from out of town get picked off) – and we didn’t see it open again all weekend!
It didn’t spoil the trip, but we did find ourselves wondering where to go next. Sadly, I hadn’t read this list from the Away Tours Pub Tour (it wasn’t running when we were there or we’d have gone on that) or we could have added a couple more to the list.
Of the ones we did manage to visit, the most cosy was the Astra. The main meals here also looked really good although we only managed dessert.
The Broken Hill Pub is cavernous.
The Palace is definitely worth a visit – I preferred the back seating area to the front, but the front is easier to get a seat in. On a hot day the balcony would be lovely.
We also went to their restaurant on ‘birthday night’ and the curry was great (make sure you book).
The Tydvil is also worth a trip if you don’t mind a walk or cab ride out of the main town.
Charlotte’s is a must for an unfussy breakfast or lunch.
There are plenty of other restaurants in Broken Hill if you want something a bit less pubby – Ian from Iada also recommended S-Que at the Ibis, the Junction Hotel, the Haven Motel. The Silly Goat also had lots of people outside on the Sunday morning.
So there you have it, our guide on what to do in Broken Hill. Let me know if I missed anything in the comments