Isolated on a peninsula facing the Tasman Sea, the once-feared Port Arthur Penitentiary was where Britain’s most-condemned convicts were sent to endure harsh conditions. Today, the UNESCO-listed site has been restored and preserved to remember Australia’s past; a visit here sheds light on the darker days of Port Arthur.
Highlights include the penitentiary building, a former granary and flour mill; the prison, where convicts were sent to endure solitary confinement and sensory deprivation; and the Commandant’s House. More recent dark history is on view at the shell of the Broad Arrow Café, the site of the 1996 Port Arthur mass shooting that’s been preserved as a memorial garden.
Though there are interpretive and interactive displays, the site is best understood alongside guide commentary on a tour, many of which depart from Hobart and include a harbor cruise.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Some areas are wheelchair accessible, while others may require assisted access.
- Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash.
- Printed visitor guides are available at the entrance.
- There’s a restaurant, café, and coffee shop on site.
How to Get There
Port Arthur Historic Site is a scenic 1.5-hour drive from Hobart. Driving along the Arthur Highway takes you through forest and past beaches so allow time for stops along the way. Free parking is available on site. Using public transportation would take close to three hours so, if you don’t have your own vehicle, skip the hassle and join a tour.
When to Get There
The visitor center at Port Arthur Historic Site is open from morning until the end of its nightly ghost tours. The grounds stay open until dusk while you can access the buildings from morning until early evening, sometimes later in the summer. Visiting earlier in the day helps you avoid crowds.
Every night after dark, Port Arthur Penitentiary hosts a ghost tour. More than 1,000 people died at Port Arthur and some believe they never left. Ghost tours typically guide you by lantern light through some of Port Arthur’s more infamous buildings and ruins, and reveal vivid stories of paranormal activity and unexplained events.