The riverside city of Launceston is the gateway to a number of historic and natural wonders that northern Tasmania has to offer.
A relatively small city in terms of the rest of Australia, it’s still the second-largest in Tasmania. Located where the Tamar and Esk rivers’ meet in the north of island state.
Having spent a fair bit of time in Launceston over the last few years, I find the city has many similarities with those of Europe and in particular the UK. Something I’m sure you’ll notice too with both the climate and architecture.
In fact, much of the city was built in the late 1800s, really bringing out that British countryside feel with the Victorian and Georgian style architecture.
The Best Things To Do In Launceston
A trip to Tasmanian cities is like a journey into the colonial history of Australia that most cities have since moved on from.
But there is also plenty more to discover in Launceston, the best of which I’ve outlined below.
Not many cities have a natural wonder on their doorstep, but just a short 15-20 minute walk out of Launceston’s CBD is Cataract Gorge.
The reserve known locally as “The Gorge” is a unique natural formation that features a number of walking tracks with stunning lookouts over the rocky outcrops that line the South Esk River.
The natural wonders of Tasmania are one of the main reasons to visit. So if Launceston is your first stop, Cataract Gorge is a fantastic place to start your exploring.
There is a fair bit of history to Cataract Gorge, which you can also delve into on the river’s north side. Keep an eye out on the trails for old toll booth (don’t worry, access to Cataract Gorge is free now) as well as the historic Duck Reach Power Station hydro-electric facility that used to power much of Launceston until the 1950s.
If you are looking for something a little more relaxed, try starting at First Basin.
Should you choose to drive to Cataract Gorge, First Basin is the first place you’ll come across and features large grass area for picnics, a public swimming pool, longest single-span chairlift in the world and a couple of cafes. Making it a good place to start exploring the Gorge without being too adventurous.
Launceston City Park – Monkeys
Normally I wouldn’t add a public park to one of these sorts of lists, but Launceston City Park is a bit unique.
This free public park on the eastern side of the CBD (just off Tamar Street) actually has a fair bit of history to it. But what it is best known for these days is its Macaque monkey enclosure.
Launceston City Park isn’t a zoo, but it has a long history of animal exhibits, including at one time an extensive collection of the now extinct Tasmanian Tigers.
The current enclosure was constructed in 2000 for the Macaques that were given to Launceston as a gift from sister city Ikeda City (Japan).
The park is also home to the John Hart Conservatory, Albert Hall, senses garden, several historical monuments, a barbeque area and a children’s playground, and a miniature train to give children rides around the park.
Popular with locals and tourists alike, the park is well worth a visit, even if you don’t have children, to check out some of the key histories of the city of Launceston.
James Boags Brewery Experience
Is there anything more Australian than a refreshing beer?
Funnily enough, the island state of Tasmania is home to two of the seven oldest continually running and iconic breweries that Australia has to offer.
In Launceston that is the James Boag’s Brewery, which was founded back in 1883.
The great thing about James Boag’s Brewery, well in addition to being located in the centre of the city, is that you can do a tour of the facility.
The tour not only gives you an in-depth a look behind the scenes of how beer is produced locally. But you’ll also get the opportunity to sample the fine product at the end.
In addition to the tour option, you can also drop into the James Boag Brewery Experience inside the heritage-listed The Tamar Hotel to check out the two levels of James Boag’s history and memorabilia.
Bridestowe Lavender Farm
Australia’s largest lavender farm, Bridestowe Lavender Farm has also become the iconic Instagram photo stop during any trip to Tasmania.
I’m not really the go out of my way to see flowers type person, but the sea of purple (120 acres) in an otherwise green landscape, as well as the signature scent, sure grabs your attention making for a unique sensory experience.
Make sure you do the tour to get a better understanding of the history of the farm that dates back to 1922 and the products it produces (as well as scope out some Insta photo spots away from the crowds).
It’s worth noting that Bridestowe Lavender Farm is about 45-minute drive outside of Launceston and there is a cover charge to enter during peak season when the lavender flowers bloom – December and January. The rest of the year access is free, although not quite the same experience.
If you are super keen to get those Insta OOTD shots (or whatever you young travel folk like to do these days), you will need to be there early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Bridestowe can get quite busy.
National Automobile Museum
The National Automobile Museum of Tasmania recently moved (well, end of 2019) into a newer, larger, more modern facility.
In its new home on the northern side of the river (Lindsay Street), the museum hosts a stunning collection of meticulously maintained cars and motorbikes. Including a history of Holden, Australia’s last local car manufacturer.
With the additional room, the museum also hosts rotating temporary exhibits that feature a collection of Australian Muscle Cars at the moment (Jan 2021).
If you have any interest in anything automotive, the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania is one of the better car museums I’ve visited around Australia and well worth the price of admission.
Queen Victoria Museum
Queen Victoria Museum holds the unique distinction of being the largest museum not located in a state capital.
Located on the northern side of the river, the museum is home to many collections to give you a detailed look back on the history of Tasmania.
Of particular note are the exhibits on the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger and the First Tasmanians for that look back in time.
However, the Queen Victoria Museum has got a bit of everything from dinosaurs and shipwrecks through to astronomy. Plenty to discover inside, making it worthwhile a visit, mainly when the weather isn’t very favourable to exploring Launceston’s numerous outdoor attractions.
Hollybank Wilderness Adventure
Speaking of outdoors, is there anything more outdoorsy than mountain bike trails and ropes courses?
Hollybank Wilderness Adventure is a great way to both get in touch with nature and get the heart racing in a fun family/group activity.
Definitely worth testing yourself in the treetops with the different ropes courses with varying difficulty. While back on the ground level, either mountain bikes or Segways tours cater for all fitness levels.
A good one for the adventure seekers looking to break up their time between hiking trails.
After something a little more relaxed? The maybe the stroll out to Lilydale Falls might be more your style.
Home to two waterfalls (I found the second one more interesting than the first, but that could change depending on recent rainfall), and some abandoned train tracks.
This little nature reserve is well worth stopping in to explore, especially on your way to or from Bridestowe Lavender Farm (as mentioned above).
You won’t need a lot of time there, but well worth a quick detour while you are in the area to explore one of the lesser-known natural wonders around Launceston.
Just a 10-minute walk from Launceston’s CBD (right next to Cataract Gorge), Penny Royal is part historical monument and part adventure park.
The only way to really get your head around what Penny Royal happens to be is to actually visit it for yourself.
If you are looking for something adventurous to do the cliff walk, it is both fun and offers stunning views towards Launceston. The rock climbing, ghost tours and gold and gemstone mine experiences might also grab your interest.
If that is all a bit too much for you, check out the bar, cellar door and a restaurant onsite inside the heritage buildings.
Tamar River Cruise
As with all early inland settlements, the major river is the lifeblood.
In Launceston, that is the Tamar River (and the converging North and South Esk rivers), which is also Australia’s longest navigable estuary, and the best way to explore it is on the Tamar River Cruises.
Personally, I would recommend doing either the morning or afternoon Discovery Tours that they offer, to get a good feel of the history of the waterway that helped create the city while still making the most of your time in Launceston.
Tamar River Cruises also offer shorter tour into Cataract Gorge as well as a longer “all-day” option if you’d like to try something different.
Ben Lomond National Park
It’s no secret that the natural wonders of Tasmania are one of the key reasons for any visit.
An hour outside of Launceston, Ben Lomond National Park is certainly one of those natural wonders and one of just a handful a ski/snow resorts on the Apple Isle.
Obviously in the winter, Ben Lomond mountain range is best known for its snow sports with its seven lifts and variety of terrain for all levels of skiing and snowboarding on Tasmania’s second-highest peak Legges Tor, run by Alpine Enterprises.
During the warmer months, the unique landscape of dolerite columns and scree slopes make this park a popular hiking destination. Also offering stunning views over much of northern Tasmania.
But what Ben Lomond is most famous for is the sharply winding piece of road known as Jacobs Ladder that is truly unforgettable.
If you happen to be in Launceston during the summer during the better weather (always check the forecast before you go!), definitely make the drive up to experience it for yourself. Just remember that National Park fees do apply to enter the park.
Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre
Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre is a 40-minute drive out of Launceston, but well worth it.
Popularised by the rescue of miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb after a tunnel collapse back in 2006, the now-famous gold mine was in use between 1888 and 2012 (although it looks set to re-open).
The Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre documents the site’s gold mining history, from the original gold rush era through to more recent events, including an excellent display on the rescue effort back in 2006.
Between the interactive displays and the opportunity to explore some of the mining operation relics, this makes the Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre well worth doing as a half-day road trip out of Launceston.
Side note: Also check out Batman Bridge while you are in the area.
Bonus: Cradle Mountain
I think a lot of people would just include Cradle Mountain in any list about Launceston.
However at 2-2.5 hour drive outside of the city, its definitely more of a full day trip as a bare minimum. But could be treated as a destination in its own right.
One of the iconic natural wonders of Tasmania, Cradle Mountain, is part of the World Heritage Area and home to the world-famous Overland Track, a 6-day trek in its own right number of other popular hiking trails throughout the park.
The quickest and least strenuous way to experience Cradle Mountain is to visit Dove Lake via the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre.
The Dove Lake Loop trail is a great way to the park without too much of a challenge. While if you feel a little more adventurous, follow the path up to Marions Lookout for a different view.
Anything above and beyond that you will really want to plan to spend a couple of days in the park and really properly explore everything it has to offer. And a lot of those trails will require some preparation and previous hiking experience. Especially in the harsher winter months!
If you are doing Cradle Mountain as a day trip out of Launceston, also make sure you check out Knyvet Falls and Devils @ Cradle along the way.
Should you choose to stay in Cradle Mountain for a few days to explore it properly, I would recommend staying at either the Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge or the Cradle Mountain Hotel.
Best Places To Stay Launceston
I know I mentioned it before, but Launceston isn’t a huge city. That said, the city does offer a good range of accommodation options that are all fairly centrally located.
The pick of the premium accommodation options is around the river, along the waterfront. I would particularly look at either the Peppers Seaport Hotel or the new Peppers Silo for that more top tier experience.
Personally, I prefer something a little more middle of the range and both Hotel Launceston and Adina Place Motel Apartments fit the bill nicely. They are also within a just couple of minutes walk from the centre of the city.
For something a bit different, and a bit cheaper, check out the Pod Inn. I haven’t stayed there personally, but a friend has and said it was a good alternative. Also, the concept of pod hotels does intrigue me.
Getting To The City From Launceston Airport
Launceston is serviced by a very small regional airport about 15 kilometres out of the city.
That said all the major airlines offer flights there from most cities around Australia (possibly with a connection through Melbourne).
Now, public transport really isn’t Launceston’s strong point, but in reality, if you’re exploring all of what the city and the region have to offer, you’ll probably want to rent a car anyway. But I’ll get to that shortly.
In terms of getting to and from the airport as cheaply as possible, there is a shuttle bus service that you can book for about $15, all of the details can be found here.
However, given the city’s proximity and access to the motorway, I’ve found Ubers and Taxis pretty reasonable too. Between $35-$40 roughly depending on where in the city I’ve been staying.
Pro Tip: I’ve already mentioned that Launceston Airport is small, in fact it has only got four gates.
Inside there is a cafe, a bar and magazine store, and that is about it. It’s not the airport that you want to get to super early before your flight.
It’s also worth noting that the airport only operates in the morning and the afternoon, closing in the middle of the day and again overnight. So it’s a fair bit different to other airports you might have experienced. Just something to keep that in mind.
Getting Around Launceston
I just made mention of it before, but there is not much in the way of a public transport system in Launceston.
Tasmania does run a limited public bus service through Metro Tas that does service some routes through Launceston. The free Tiger Bus service interlinks a few key attractions within the city that can be handy if the times and days line-up for you.
What I’ve found, that within the city itself it’s just easier to walk everywhere. There are good walking paths all around the city, and the walk from the CBD to Cataract Gorge will only take you about 20 minutes.
Being a small city, nothing is ever too far away and parking can be a bit of a pain within the city, so walking is a really simple option. Personally, I find that walking is the best way to discover a city anyway.
Getting Beyond The City
As I mentioned in the airport section of this post, Launceston, in fact all of Tasmania, is one of those places that you really want to rent a car.
For most of the best of what the region has to offer, especially the natural wonders, you will want the freedom and flexibility of driving there yourself.
If I’m brutally honest, the roads around Tasmania are a lot of fun. Driving to places is half of the adventure, and with the well speed-limited roads, it makes for an outstanding driving experience.
Just do yourself a favour and make sure you rent a car while you are there so you can really make the most of your time in Launceston.
Pro Tip: Take advantage of the Google Maps (or your favourite maps application) offline maps feature. In the city, mobile phone coverage is good, but it can get a little spotty in the remote, regional areas.
Where To Find Food/What To Do In The Evenings?
Launceston is know for two things, its seafood and its pub grub.
Unfortunately, I’m allergic to seafood, so I really can’t offer recommendations on that front. The said some fancier restaurants do cater to that down by the river.
Now, pub grub is my jam, and there is no shortage of options with a pub on nearly every street corner around the city. Just look out for the Boag’s signs, they are effortless to find.
My personal picks would be either the Jailhouse Grill or the Royal Oak Hotel depending on which side of the city you happen to be on at the time.
That all said, there is no shortage of food options around the CBD, particularly near the Brisbane Street Mall area. It is well worth just taking a stroll around and seeing what grabs your interest. Asian, Indian, Italian, Greek, allsorts of tastes are catered for.
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