There was once a time when visiting Port Arthur was akin with a sentence to death. Isolated on a scenic peninsula and facing the Tasman Sea, the famous and feared Port Arthur Penitentiary was where the worst of the worst of Britain’s convicts were sent to live out their days. Though not all convicts were sentenced to death, the harsh working conditions and manual labor were enough to drive convicts to literal insanity and commit murder for an early, death sentence exit.
For all of its grisly history, however, Port Arthur today is a sprawling historic site that’s been restored and preserved as the best example of Australia’s convict past. At the iconic Penitentiary building, gaze upon the concrete ruins where 480 convicts and prisoners spent days filled with toil and misery. The penitentiary ruins are rumored to be haunted, and with the eerie, abandoned exterior that the penitentiary exudes, it’s an historic, authentic representation of the darker days of Port Arthur.
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.
One of Tasmania’s most popular coastal holiday spots, Freycinet National Park is backed by the pink-tinged granite outcrops known as the Hazards.
Low-lying coastal heathland frames views of blue sea and sand throughout the park, with the Hazards looming large in the distance. Bushwalkers head here to follow coastal trails along the peninsula’s secluded coves, and the park is a popular holiday camping spot for families. The park’s white-sand beaches are beautiful but top marks always go to perfectly formed Wineglass Bay, which often appears in travel top 10s as one of the world’s most gorgeous beaches. It really does have a circular wineglass shape, fringed by white sand and untouched bushland.
Birdwatchers come to Freycinet to spot seabirds, and you might see cockatoos, wattlebirds and wallabies on the two-hour return walk to the lofty lookout over Wineglass Bay.
Launceston’s ruggedly beautiful Cataract Gorge is a popular highlight for visitors, combining dramatic natural landscapes and Victorian-era landscaping right on the edge of the city.
The reserve is surrounded by wild natural parklands, and near-vertical cliffs soar alongside the South Esk River as it enters the Tamar River.
Hikers and rock climbers head here to follow picturesque walking trails along the gorge’s northern bank, and the open-air swimming pool becomes a mini lido in summer, surrounded by beach umbrellas and sunbathers.
With picnic grounds, restaurant, kiosk, cafe, wandering peacocks, scenic lookouts, a lofty suspension bridge and walking trails, you can easily spend a day here. At night the gorge is beautifully floodlit, and a chairlift whisks visitors over the river to West Launceston.
Before Launceston’s hydro dam was completed in 1955, the waters here were channeled to create electricity.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
In the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, hip locals head to North Hobart and its main strip, Elizabeth Street, to visit its restaurants and coffee shops, bohemian bars, boutiques, bakeries and live music venues. A real “eat street,” Elizabeth Street cuisine ranges from Turkish to Spanish tapas, Indian to modern Australian. It’s also popular to visit North Hobart’s delis which sell local Tasmanian produce. With plenty of atmosphere day or night, on 375 Elizabeth Street the independent State Cinema is an institution that’s over 100 years old. Inside there’s a curated bookstore, rooftop cinema, and coffee shop.
A good spot for brunching and people watching, from North Hobart there are great views of downtown with Mount Wellington towering over the city. Wander the back streets off Elizabeth Street to check out the old Hobart homes, and to check out the street art and murals along Tony Haigh Walk.
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.
Originally, when this Georgian-style, 19th-century building was built near Sullivan’s Cove, it was destined to be a custom’s house for Hobart’s developing trade. As the politics of the island increased, however, and “Van Diemen’s Land”—as it was then known, grew as an independent colony, the building was chosen to house the customs, as well as the city’s Parliament. Today, Hobart’s Parliament House has been a hub of politics since 1841, and is still the site where Parliament and lawmakers gather to govern the state.
On a guided tour of the Parliament House, learn the fascinating history of the building and all of its renovations, as well as tour the underground basement full of history, legends, and lore. On the outside of the buildings, the surrounding Parliament House gardens are a relaxing place to either go for a stroll or rest in the shade of an oak, before venturing over to Constitution Dock or nearby Salamanca Market.