When an audacious art museum opened a decade ago, Australia’s second-oldest city shook off its sleepy reputation once and for all.
The ‘Mona factor’ continues to influence Hobart’s popularity as a tourist destination, but there’s much more to the story. Also rich in colonial history, and with epic nature-based escapes right on its doorstep, deciding what to see and do around town can be a daunting task.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Hobart on a first visit.
Step back in time on the fascinating Grand Hobart Walk, which begins where the British established a settlement in 1804 — Sullivans Cove. Discover remnants from those early years and throughout the 19th century — from Battery Point’s picturesque stone warehouses and steep steps to the more gracious 1866 town hall. Other highlights on the three-hour guided tour include the Salamanca Place park dotted with weathered gravestones and other funereal markers from its former life as a cemetery, and the 1875 Hobart Real Tennis Club. The original, royal version of tennis is played on its Tudor-style indoor court.
Another great way to get acquainted with the capital is by taking to the broad river running through it. There are several cruises available, including on replica 19th century tall ships — the Windeward Bound and Lady Nelson. Revel in the sound of waves on wood and wind in sails while gliding by the city’s sights. Alternatively, Hobart Historic Cruises offers short scenic and longer lunch and dinner joyrides on a cute vintage ferry. For a more active aquatic experience, join Roaring 40s Kayaking on a guided paddle around the waterfront. It’s easy going, and suitable for kids and complete beginners.
Instantly putting Hobart on the international map when it opened in 2011, Mona (Museum of Old and New Art) isn’t just for art lovers. Ever-changing highlights from local multi-millionaire David Walsh’s eclectic, sometimes confronting collection stop everyone in their tracks. The monumental, architecturally daring building houses everything from ancient artefacts to contemporary installations. There are also massive outdoor sculptures, bars and restaurants (some among Tasmania’s finest), and luxe accommodation. Arrive in style on Mona’s outrageously arty ferries; a Posh Pit ticket gets you drinks, bites, private lounge access and bragging rights.
Get a more local artistic perspective at the Salamanca Arts Centre, which stages exhibitions by Tasmanian creatives, live music and theatre. It’s also well worth checking out the fantastic (and free!) Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
Every Saturday since 1972, the Salamanca Market has been bringing Tassie creativity and deliciousness together in Hobart’s heritage centre. Loved by locals and visitors alike, it’s an amazing outdoor parade of stallholders offering artisanal knitwear, hats, wood and metal work, leather goods, jewellery, skincare and more. Get the stories behind your souvenirs from the makers themselves, including purveyors of local wine, beer, spirits, honey, jams and relishes. Goodies like these make tasty reminders of your Hobart holiday weeks and months later, but be sure to also get instant satisfaction from the food stalls and vans. Treat yourself, from fresh berries to the island’s famous scallop pies.
There is no lovelier spot in all of Hobart than the 14-hectare Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Highlights at Australia’s second-oldest botanic gardens include the pretty lily pond and tranquil Japanese garden — both made all the more charming by the resident ducks. Other must-visit gardens-within-the-gardens are the Subantarctic plant house, French explorers garden and flower-filled conservatory. Also look out for heritage architecture like convict-built walls, elaborate iron gates and a grand 1913 archway. Have a picnic on the lawns or indulge in lunch with views across the gardens at pleasant on-site restaurant Succulent.
Rising 1,271 metres and ever present in the background of Hobart life, kunanyi / Mount Wellington often looks forbidding but is actually amazingly accessible. Drive from the CBD to the peak in minutes for panoramic views, or try bushwalking, mountain biking, abseiling, rock climbing and even winter snow play. There are 18,000 forested hectares to explore via Wellington Park’s network of rails, and the Lost Freight shipping-container cafe half way up the mountain provides restorative coffee and snacks as needed.
Popular adventures on the mountain include the 20-minute Zig Zag lookout walk and the three-hour hike past a sheer wall of volcanic columns known as the Organ Pipes. It’s one of Tasmania’s Great Short Walks. If you are striking out on your own, remember that weather conditions can change rapidly. Always let a local know of your plans.
One of the capital’s signature experiences is getting tucker from the floating fish ‘n’ chip shops along Constitution Dock. Slightly fish-shaped Flippers is a consistent favourite with both Hobartians and out-of-towners. Choose from their generous menu, which includes trevalla, blue grenadier, flathead, scallops, prawns, calamari, and fish burgers. Find a seat overlooking Sullivans Cove and dive into your cardboard box of crumbed or battered treats.
Prefer a waterfront meal that’s a little — or even a lot — more formal? From its casual lower deck to upper-deck restaurant, Mures has been serving up fine seafood for decades. For even finer dining plus posh drinks and the city’s best waterfront views, head to Aloft or The Glass House.
The early 19th-century stepped stone facade of Cascade, Australia’s oldest continuously operating brewery, is a Tasmanian icon. So having a beer here has long been popular with visitors, but it just became an even more tempting experience with the opening of the new bar. Natural colours and textures of stone, wood and metal make this space warmly welcoming — especially when another log is thrown on the fire. Will you relax with a tasting paddle near the flames, or park yourself and a pint by the big windows that overlook that famous facade? You can also go behind the scenes on a history or brewery tour.
This city pretty much came into being because of crime and punishment, and the most significant remnant of that purpose is the former prison barracks that inmates called ‘The Tench’. Some 40,000 men did hard time at what’s now known as the Hobart Convict Penitentiary. Built in the early 1830s, it has 36 solitary confinement cells (that were eventually declared inhumane), underground tunnels, a chapel, courtrooms and gallows — all of which are creepy enough during the day, but may make you really shudder on an evening ghost tour. A 21st-century highlight of this National Trust property is Pandemonium — The Convict Film Experience. A four-metre-tall projection on the chapel walls immerses visitors in the sights, sounds and misery of the convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land.
If you’re without wheels and wanting to tick off multiple attractions around town, a 24 or 48-hour Hobart hop on hop off bus ticket is the way to go. There are stops at 20 key locations, including Brooke Street Pier (for fish ‘n’ chips, boat tours and Mona ferries), the Penitentiary, Botanical Gardens, Salamanca Place and the Cascade Brewery (so there’s no need for a designated driver!). You can even purchase an extension to the Mount Wellington summit. The regular, wheelchair-accessible buses have informative commentary in eight languages and open top decks that maximise your views of the city.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Hobart? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Samuel Shelley. Additional images: Bigstock
Patricia Maunder has been a media professional for more than 20 years, and has worked in print, online and radio. Currently based in Melbourne, she considers the Canadian city of Montreal to be her ‘other’ hometown — having lived there from 2012 to 2016. Patricia has travelled in every continent except the one that’s beckoned since she was a child — Antarctica. A travel writer as well as an arts journalist, she enjoys culturally themed journeys and nature-based adventures.