Things to Do in Hobart
Tasmania’s number one visitor attraction is the former convict settlement of Port Arthur, a ghostly and eerie heritage area just outside Hobart. Built to reform and rehabilitate convicts, Port Arthur was a key part of convict discipline within the Colonial system whose philosophy was "a machine for grinding rogues into honest men." Today, the site is part of the Australian Convict World Heritage Sites and UNESCO World Heritage Site listed.
Covering about 100 acres (40 hectares), the crumbling ruins of the penal settlement include the Penitentiary, the Separate Prison, the Dockyard, the Port Arthur gardens, the Coal Mines Historic Site, Cascades Female Factory and Gothic church.
The stories of Port Arthur are told in many different ways. Interactive displays tell the tragic story of the 12,500 convicts who served time here from 1830 to 1877, and after-dark ghost tours reveal the presence of the site’s many ghosts.
Standing sentinel over Hobart, Mt. Wellington is known by locals simply as ‘the Mountain.’ A visit to the Pinnacle is an essential Hobart experience.
At the Pinnacle you’ll find a glass lookout building and boardwalks. In every direction the views of Hobart, all the way to the sea, are incredible.
The weather can change very abruptly up here, and it’s often freezing or can even be snowing when fair Hobart Town is experiencing mild weather.
If you’re feeling active, come to Mt Wellington to go bushwalking, bike riding, horse riding or rock climbing, or pack some lunch to enjoy at the sheltered Springs picnic area.
For beer tastings and a glimpse inside a historic brewery, book a tour of the 180-year-old Cascade Brewery, the oldest in Australia. The 1.5-hour tours of this Gothic brewery include tastings and insights into the brewery process, plus lots of stair-climbing to work up a thirst.
Dress comfortably but safely to tour the brewery, wearing long trousers and flat shoes, rather than sandals. After the tour, take a wander around the brewery’s large landscaped gardens or relax in the cafe. Cascade brews premium lager, barley blonde-style beer, stout and pale ale, and the label features the trademark Tasmanian tiger.
Outdoor activities, fishing and relaxing are your reasons for coming to Bruny Island, off Tasmania’s south-east coast. Two north and south islands joined by a long narrow isthmus, Bruny is a favorite destination for weekending Hobart residents and visitors wanting to escape the rat race.
Along with surfing and exploring the wild windswept coast, spotting wildlife is a highlight of a visit to Bruny Island. If you’re lucky, you might spot penguins, echidnas, mutton birds and cormorants.
The vibe is low-key on Bruny, with no resorts just holiday homes and guesthouses. There are a few shops for supplies and a museum detailing the history of the island and the explorers who came here, from Bligh to D’Entrecasteaux. The lighthouse is one of the island’s few landmarks.
In the Coal River Valley, the historic town of Richmond is one of the most popular visits in Tasmania. Known for its 19th-century Georgian buildings and cottages that are today home to galleries and teashops, boutiques and museums, the small town is half an hour from Hobart by bus. Richmond began life in the 1820s as an important military staging post and convict station that linked Hobart with Port Arthur. Known for its excellent restaurants and for its wines grown in the fertile soils nearby, wine-tasting tours of the surrounding vineyards are a popular daytrip. The town’s most popular photo stop has to be the picturesque Richmond Bridge. The oldest stone bridge in Australia, it looks straight out of Stratford-upon-Avon, but it was actually built by Tasmania’s convict workers in 1825.
Whether it’s settling in for a sunset viewing of Bruny Island’s Little Penguins, or climbing the 273 steps up towards the Truganini Memorial, visiting the famous Hummock Lookout is a highlight of Bruny Island. At this windswept promontory overlooking Bruny Island Neck, visitors can get a panoramic view of the thin isthmus of white sand that connects the two parts of the island. Penguins are most commonly sighted on this shoreline between the months of September and February, and since they’re officially the world’s smallest species of penguin, there’s an undeniable cuteness factor to watching them waddle ashore. During sunny periods in the middle of the day, it’s possibly to make out the Tasmanian Mainland across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, and visit the memorial at the top of the stairs that’s dedicated to the last known, full-blooded Tasmanian aborigine to live on the island.
Cape Bruny Lighthouse is situated on Bruny Island in Tasmania and is the second oldest lighthouse tower in the country. Commissioned by Governor George Arthur following a series of mishaps and shipwrecks just off Bruny Island, the lighthouse took two years to build by convict labor and was first lit in 1838.
Technological advances in the 1980s and 1990s meant that the Cape Bruny Lighthouse was lit for the last time on 6 August 1996 and replaced by a solar powered light nearby. In December 2000, the lighthouse was declared part of the South Bruny National Park. Visitors should be prepared for rough roads and a steep walk to reach the lighthouse, although you’ll be well rewarded on arrival; with some fantastic views out to sea, migrating humpback and southern right whales have been spotted from this vantage point.
Experts at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary have been nursing some of Australia’s most-beloved creatures back to health since 1981. When the park first opened, its team of passionate volunteers worked tirelessly to provide orphaned wildlife, like its family of 17 Tasmanian devils, with a safe home and adequate care in a near-to-natural environment. For more than 20 years the sanctuary has continued to promote its mission of reducing rates of extinction by raising community awareness.
Visitors to Bonorong get a guided explanation of the sanctuary’s rehabilitation efforts, as well as a real-life lesson on the impact of wildlife conservation while on a tour of the grounds. Guests of the park can also get up close and personal with Australian animals by feeding one of the largest mobs of free-range kangaroos and wallabies in the world.
More Things to Do in Hobart
This all-female prison is one of 11 places that make up the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. Between 1788 and 1853 approximately 25,000 women—and even some of their children—were held in one of Cascade’s five structures. High rates of illness and infant mortality, as well as grim conditions led to tragic ends for many of the inmates who were forced to sew and mend to repay their debts to society.
Three of the five original buildings are open to the public, so visitors can see the heavy stone walls and thick metal bars that held so many women captive. The Matron’s Quarters in Yard 4 provides travelers with details about the lives of civilians who were charged with punishing and reforming Cascade’s wayward women. This female factory is a fascinating introduction to Tasmania’s role in convict transportation for Great Brittan.
The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens opened in 1818 and its impressive collection of indigenous plants, trees and unique Asian-inspired gardens span some 35 acres of scenic countryside. Perhaps the garden’s most unusual exhibit is the Subantarctic Plant House, which displays plants from the remote Macquarie Island. In addition to environmental conditions that mimic the wild, audio from the island—like sounds of Elephant seals and penguins—is also piped throughout the space, giving visitors a full sensory experience.
After wandering the grounds, relaxing by the lily pond or exploring the French Memorial Garden and Fountain, stop by the Royal Tasmanian’s restaurant, which sources produce from its very own vegetable garden for a truly Tasmanian farm-to-table experience.
This chapel, nicknamed "The Trench", designated for male convicts in Hobart Town was a less than holy place. With poor ventilation, 36 solitary confinement rooms and separate punishment chambers hidden beneath the chapel floor, it was truly a spot for torture and despair. The dark cells, referred to as “dust holes” were deemed inhumane and closed in 1849, but visitors can still catch a glimpse of the horrid conditions on a Penitentiary tour, where guides remind guests about the terrible sounds that could be heard coming from convicts chained beneath the floors.
The grounds include a prison yard, barracks, punishment chambers and an execution yard, as well as the chapel, which was partially transformed into courtrooms in 1859. Visitors who opt for the ghost tour can wander the tunnels and gallows by lamplight while hearing stories of the more than 30 individuals who were executed here.
The name suggests this hilly bushland is ruled by royalty, but the grassy fields of Queens Domain were actually designed for the Tasmanian people. In 1860, the then governor ruled this park that passes along the Derwent River become a community green, with meeting halls, barbecues and picnic areas for gathering with family and friends.
Queens Domain is a perfect place to people watch on a sunny afternoon, or relax after a visit to the nearby Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Visitors can take a dip at the Hobart Aquatic Centre or play a match at Hobart International Tennis Centre. Enjoy a leisurely walk over the scenic Tasman Bridge after unwinding at Queens Domain and then enjoy dinner at one of the nearby restaurants.
Nowhere is Hobart’s communion with the sea more evident than Constitution Dock, where commercial fishing boats share the harbor with sailboats and luxury yachts. Each summer, Constitution Dock is the ending point for the Sydney-Hobart sailing race, which is generally regarded as one of the world’s most challenging offshore races. Even during other times of the year, however, Constitution Dock is a buzz of activity with visitors and Hobart locals, as fishermen hoist up crates full of fish, and waterfront restaurants serve some of Australia’s freshest fish and chips. When visiting the coastal Tasmanian capital, the dock is the perfect place for a stroll and feeling the city’s pulse. In the area surrounding Constitution Dock, many of Hobart’s historic buildings all line the action-packed waterfront, where buskers, fishermen, merchants, and tourists combine to create an energetic, yet authentic Tasmanian scene.
This quiet suburb just south of Hobart was established in 1818, and while extravagant houses and luxury homes now dot the landscape of this prestigious town, a walk through its shaded streets offers visitors a look at how Tasmanians used to live.
The old warehouses of Salamanca Place are still visible from atop Kelly’s Steps, a series of hand-carved stairs built in the 1800s. Travelers can explore Battery Point’s colonial past at the Narryna Heritage Museum, then trek to the town’s highest point at St. George’s Anglican Church, built in 1936.
No trip to Battery Point is complete without a visit to Arthur Circus—one of the nation’s first official subdivisions. Today, visitors can wander around the original cottages, which are now some of the most expensive and sought-after homes in the area.
Bruny Island has a reputation as an Australian foodie paradise, and the Bruny Island Berry Farm is part of the reason why. Here on this family-owned berry farm near the shores of Adventure Bay, locally-grown berries are deliciously transformed into ice cream, scones, jams, cheesecakes, and a wide assortment of desserts. If some of the farm’s 7,000 strawberry plants happen to be in season, visitors have the chance to wander the fields and pick their own berries from the vines. Blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries, and youngberries all sweeten a visit to the farm, and even if the berries aren’t currently in season, the rural café is a relaxing spot for a coffee, tea, or scone.
Hobart’s heart lies on the sea, and as an island Tasmania’s history is inextricably bound to the water. If you’d like to learn more about Tasmania’s maritime history, the Maritime Museum of Tasmania provides all the answers.
You’ll see models of the ships that docked at Sullivans Cove, hear the stories of the men who sailed in them, learn about Australia’s first explorers and see the navigational instruments they used. The watercraft of Tasmania’s original inhabitants, the Aborigines, are also displayed, along with artifacts rescued from shipwrecks, photographs, paintings and whaling equipment.
Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art showcases modern and contemporary art alongside antiquities to create a surreal museum experience.
Opened in January 2011, MONA has quickly become one of Hobart’s top museums. The museum primarily sources its art from the private collection of owner David Walsh. Described as a ‘ghost train for adults,’ MONA is certainly a unique experience. Exhibitions are intense, the experience larger than life.
Exhibitions in MONA change regularly. Currently on display are three exhibitions ranging from 10 to 3 months in length, as well as the permanent ‘Monaism’ collection – described as an evolving exhibition of the highlights of the collection. Recent and future exhibitions include showcases of world theater, an exploration of Lewis Carroll’s The Red Queen character, and the work of specific artists. Themes, concepts and the work of individuals form powerful exhibitions within the building.
From Richmond to Eaglehawk Neck and Port Arthur, take the Convict Trail from Hobart to get a real feel for Tasmania’s history and natural beauty. To get the most out of your visit, take a leisurely approach and spread your tour over a couple of days. Take a cruise on the water lapping the Tasman National Park, then allow at least a couple of hours to take in the history of the Port Arthur penal settlement. Detour to visit a wildlife park, for a face-to-face encounter with a Tasmanian devil.
Then visit Richmond, an intact Georgian town of lovely houses, restaurants and its famous convict-built bridge over the Coal River. The tiny Richmond Jail pre-dates Port Arthur, with its well-preserved cells and flogging yards. Along the way, drop into produce stalls and vineyards, antique shops, tearooms and yet more wildlife parks.
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