Learn all about the island state’s colonial and Indigenous history, see some truly mind-boggling art and get out in nature over a few days in and around the Tasmanian capital.
Start your Hobart adventure down by the docks at the city’s waterfront, where fishing punts bob and seagulls stalk as you feast on salty chips. Lined with grand old sandstone buildings that tell tales of the town, the area is a fantastic place to discover on foot. For a portal into Antarctica, some 5000 kilometres due south from here, don’t miss a visit to Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum, opened in 2013 on the 102nd anniversary of Douglas Mawson’s famous expedition from Hobart. Made using Baltic pine from the same Scandinavian region that was used in the original timber huts, the museum is a true replica packed with fascinating details about life on the white continent. Under 10 minutes’ walk from here, Salamanca Place is home to galleries, theatres and restaurants tucked into its 1830s Georgian warehouses as well as the must-visit Salamanca Market on Saturdays, where you’ll find purveyors of the best local produce and plenty of kid-friendly diversions.
Is it a laundry? Is it a cafe? It can be two things. Kids will love the novelty of Machine Laundry Cafe in lively Salamanca Square, which serves breakfast, brunch and lunch dishes the likes of roti bread filled with herbed scrambled egg and brioche French toast, many of which can be ordered as small serves. Then amble back towards the docks and dip into the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) for a few absorbing hours. This excellent museum is great for children and offers an insight into the land you’re standing on, including important learning on the history and culture of the Tasmanian Aboriginal, or palawa, people. With specially developed exhibitions for young people and curiosities galore, it also hosts an annual festival held in April for children and young people called LIFT OFF!
In The Hanging Garden is hidden in plain sight in the CBD. You’ll feel like Alice going down the rabbit hole as you slip, via 112 Murray Street, into this multilayered venue with festival vibes that encompasses nearly an entire city block. Here, much-loved Tassie producers such as Bruny Island Cheese and Oryza dish up plates like decadent cheesy fried potatoes and handmade dumplings to devour in the al fresco dining area, which is heated, sheltered and comes complete with pretty hanging plants and twinkling lights.
First, fuel up on freshly baked pastries at Daci & Daci Bakers. Then, make sure you’re at the front of the queue for the Mona Ferry, which departs from nearby Brooke Street Pier, so you can snag the best seats in the house: the ones out on deck shaped like sheep or tigers (depending on which of the two high-speed catamarans you’re on). Watch the centre of Hobart get smaller as you begin your 25-minute sail up the River Derwent to the city’s marvellous madcap museum. Once you alight, climb the 99 steps to arrive at MONA (open Fridays to Mondays; book ahead). It might take you a while before you make it past the museum’s grounds, which serve as both a site for interactive artworks and a playground, with a musical trampoline, mirror maze and giant bronze sculpture that children can climb.
Then venture into the subterranean museum’s belly. While Mona has a reputation for artworks that prod and provoke, there’s a lot more besides and plenty here that kids will simply be awed by. Julius Popp’s monumental Bit.Fall sees words sourced from live news feeds cascading like a waterfall; see if you can pick out what’s trending online. Trace a familiar wiggling form created from 1620 individual panels in the Sidney Nolan masterpiece Snake. And hold your nose at Cloaca Professional – otherwise known as the poo machine – as it replicates the actions of the human digestive system, complete with a daily deposit at 2pm. And if that hasn’t put you off your lunch, seek out on-site vegan burger bar Dubsy’s on the lawns when tummies are rumbling.
Allow for the better part of a day at Mona and, when you’re galleried out, head back down the river and cosy up in an old tavern – a quintessential Hobart experience. And the Hope and Anchor, just 450 metres from where the ferry alights and dating back to 1807, lays claim to being Australia’s oldest continuously licensed pub. All quaint, atmospheric and ‘olde worlde’ inside, and stuffed with all manner of interesting artefacts to ogle, this local haunt is good fun for children. Its kids’ menu includes fresh fish of the day and chicken schnitzel, while its grown-ups’ menu covers off everything from Tasmanian scallops to a house Wellington that heroes slow-braised Tassie beef cheek.
Rise and shine early to get a taste of the wilderness Tasmania is renowned for by heading up to the summit of kunanyi/Mt Wellington for spectacular panoramic views back across the city and its wild surrounds; on a clear day you can see all the way to Bruny Island. It’s 25 minutes from the city by car or the hop-on, hop-off Explorer Bus. And it’s 10°C cooler, too, so make sure to bundle up. Stop for hot chocolate on the way at Lost Freight Cafe.
Head back down the mountain and 25 minutes north-east out of town to the historic village of Richmond in the Coal River Valley wine region. Stop on the way for lunch at family-friendly Puddleduck Vineyard and choose from its ‘pecking menu’ with options for you like a vineyard platter or gourmet toasties. Kids, meanwhile, get their own dedicated menu, a playground and plenty of space to run around in. Then set about exploring Richmond itself with its myriad allures and intrigues including Georgian buildings, both the oldest bridge (hand-built by convicts in the 1820s) and gaol in Australia, and the double whammy of both a chocolate and a lolly shop within a minute’s walk of each other on the main street. And don’t miss the Old Hobart Town Model Village, which delights young and old with its window into the life of settlers in the 1820s – in miniature size.
Back in Hobart, catch a show at the Theatre Royal, a beautiful old venue that regularly stages family-friendly plays. Book ahead for performances that this year include Patch Theatre’s state-of-the-art storytelling in Zooom; the folk music, puppetry and song combo of The Old Man and the Old Moon from Jack Lark; contemporary puppeteer Terrapin’s A Not So Traditional Story by palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) playwright Nathan Maynard; Shake & Stir Theatre Co’s adaptation of Animal Farm (ages 12 and up); and Hobart’s youth dance company Drill’s Leviathan.
Drive just over an hour south-east of Tasmania, over the Eaglehawk Neck isthmus, to the Tasman Peninsula and a zoo with a difference. The Tasmanian Devil Unzoo is all about embracing natural habitats for native animals and offers encounters in a wild setting with the state’s most famous marsupial as well as wallabies, echidnas, pademelons and more.
Continue on to Port Arthur Historic Site 10 minutes’ drive away. Have lunch in the on-site cafe before spending the afternoon exploring this World Heritage-listed convict site, the best preserved in Australia. Site entry tickets include a guided introductory walking tour, a 25-minute harbour cruise that takes in the mysterious Isle of the Dead, and access to more than 30 historic buildings, ruins, restored houses and heritage gardens. It makes for strange and compelling stuff.
All tuckered out after a long day, end your adventure back where you started with a fish and chip dinner by the waterfront as the sun goes down over those bobbing boats.
Finding the start of Kelly’s Steps in Salamanca Place is a bit of a treasure hunt in itself. Once you’ve located this old secret staircase, zigzag your way up for five minutes to explore the historic suburb of Battery Point – home to Narryna Heritage Museum, an 1830s merchant’s house that tells the story of early colonial life in Hobart, and some of the city’s earliest cottages at Arthur Circus. You’ll also find the famous Jackman And McRoss Bakery, which spills over with freshly baked breads, pastries and cakes and also serves sandwiches, soups and more.
This leafy suburb rewards with plenty of hidden gems. From the Hobart Rivulet Walk, good for stretching those legs, which offers glimpses of the city’s history as it winds towards kunanyi/Mt Wellington. Along the way is the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site, where you’ll learn the stories of the female convicts this institution housed in the 1800s, with plenty of lively interpretation to engage kids (the site is currently closed for redevelopment and due to reopen late December). A 10-minute walk from here, warm and inviting Ginger Brown Cafe is a local favourite.
It might not be known as a beach city, but Hobart boasts some beauties. Head out to Long Beach in the elegant riverfront suburb of Sandy Bay on a hot day in summer. It’s great for families complete with playground near the beach and a pontoon for splashing into the water from. From here, you can also take a gentle meandering walk along the River Derwent to Nutgrove Beach with its scenic views towards kunanyi/Mt Wellington.
Getting from A to B
Hobart’s city centre is compact and walkable, though be prepared for a little light hiking up its not-insignificant hills.
Hiring a car to zip around in allows the extra freedom of exploring Hobart’s fringes, from Richmond to Port Arthur, though plenty of local operators offer well-orchestrated day trips if that’s not an option.
In the city itself there is a good Metro network of local buses, most departing from Elizabeth Street, that can run you between some of the city’s key spots, as well as the Red Decker hop-on, hop-off bus, which takes in key attractions like Salamanca Place, Battery Point, Wrest Point, Cascade Brewery, Female Factory, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.
Meanwhile the kunanyi/Mt Wellington Explorer Bus is the official shuttle bus for kunanyi/Mt Wellington; the two-hour return tour includes 30 minutes to take in the views at the summit, or you can choose to hop-on hop-off at five Wellington Park bus stops to explore its variety of alpine walks.