Launceston often plays little sister to capital city Hobart but is not to be overlooked during a trip to Tasmania. This smaller riverside city offers a quintessential country experience with its mix of Georgian facades and sprawling farmlands. Located on the north coast it is the perfect spot to commence or concluded a trip around the island state. Launceston’s attractions range from boutique shopping and wine tasting to rock climbing and river cruising. With so many experiences on offer if can be hard to know what to prioritise. And when your holiday is limited you want to know that any time you set aside here will be worth it. After spending two weeks in Tasmania I found Launceston to be the perfect summary of everything the state has to offer. Here are my favourite finds in the quaint city that make for a balanced trip…
QUICK FACTS ABOUT LAUNCESTON
- Launceston is Tasmania’s second largest city after the capital Hobart.
- The city is nestled along the Tamar River and part of the wider Tamar Valley wine region.
- First settled by Europeans in 1804, the city streets still maintain their traditional Victorian and Georgian facades.
- Flights to Launceston depart all Australian capital cities multiple times per day, with some stopping via Melbourne.
- You can also travel by ship on the Spirit of Tasmania which is a 9.5 hour journey. The vessel departs from Port Melbourne and arrives in Devonport which is 120 kms from Launceston. This is ideal if you want to travel with a vehicle but the swell can be quite rough and the trip is lengthy so I’d opt for a flight if possible.
- If you are visiting Hobart and want to know whether a trip to Launceston is achievable it’s less than a three hour drive through the gorgeous countryside. If you would like to drive between the two I would recommend sticking to the east coast roads and visiting the Bay of Fires and Wineglass Bay along the way.
Thanks to Launceston’s modest size, most hotels are walking distance to the city. For this reason I’d choose a hotel that matches your personal taste, whether it be a riverside view or a historic facade. We stayed at The Sebel Launceston which is a short walk to both the mall and the Tamar River esplanade. It’s a more modern building with spacious kitchenettes, private balconies and spa baths. The kind of place perfect for business travel or when you want a spacious room to relax in. We arrived late at night due to a campervan problem, which is a whole other story. The staff were so helpful with our check-in and let us order dinner ahead so that we wouldn’t miss out when we arrived.
If you’ve got your heart set on the waterfront I would look at Peppers Seaport where you can opt for a Luxury Marina View Suite. It’s further from the city attractions but right next to the esplanade walk which runs through Royal Park towards Cataract Gorge. For something a little different, decor lovers will appreciate the styling and design of Studio Ecoco on Airbnb. This renovated, heritage listed property features provincial decor from Launceston’s Ecoco Boutique.
The Sebel Launceston
THINGS TO SEE + DO
There are a few different ways for nature lovers to explore Cataract Gorge. If you’re just passing by on your way to the vineyards you can stop at the lower carpark and wander up Cataract Walk for some quick photos. Or if you’re like me you’ll plan to check it out from nearby Stillwater Restaurant with a glass of wine in hand (more on that later). If you’d like to spend some time at the gorge there is a restaurant at the top and a chairlift to take you across the basin. The activities onsite are more suitable for families with a swimming pool, kiosk, and peacocks roaming the lush gardens.
Launceston’s leafy mall makes for a great day of shopping in the sun and admiring the old facades that adorne high street stores. You will find lots of beautiful homewares shops in Launceston including my favourites: Hope & Me, Kika & Co, Ecoco and The Vintage Rose. They stock all of the country living essentials, from cheese knives and warm scents to linen and vintage furniture. Launceston also celebrates art through modern design studios and historic museum pieces. Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery is a great place to start for travellers seeking an understanding of the local history. If you’re on the lookout for something more modern head to Seagrass Design where digital prints are on display.
Tamar Valley Wine Tasting
The gorgeous Tamar Valley wine region is within a 30 minute drive from the city of Launceston. It’s easy to find your way along the West Tamar Highway with local producers sign posted on the roadside. Be sure to stop at Bradys Lookout for views across the grape vines down to the river bank. If you’re not up for driving (let’s face it, who is when there’s wine involved?) there are other ways to make it there. Wine on Wheels offer a full day wine tasting tour where they pick you up from your hotel and ‘drive you to drink’. There are also a range of Tamar River Cruises that serve local food and wine whilst cruising past the vineyards.
James Boag’s Brewery Tour
Okay, so maybe not what you were expecting from me but if you like beer (or are travelling with someone who does) then this is a must do. The tour takes you through the whole beer-making process, finishing with a tasting in the bar. Four kinds of Boag’s beer are accompanied with Tasmanian cheeses, which is obviously where I come in. The tour starts and finishes in a beautiful Georgian-style building with photos of the Boag family adorning the walls. If you’re not up for the educational tour it’s worth paying a visit just to relax in their olde-worlde bar.
Josef Chromy Wines
I grew a taste (read: obsession) for Josef Chromy Chardonnay after trying it on Bruny Island earlier in our trip. I was first drawn to the bottle by Josef’s life story, told on the label. Having fled war-torn Czechoslovakia at age 19, Josef immigrated to Australia and grew his brand to become an instrumental part of the Tasmanian food and wine industry. You can find Josef Chromy Winery just 10 minutes south of Launceston. The cellar door is set in an original 1880’s homestead and the restaurant is consistently listed as one of the best in town.
Hallam’s Waterfront Seafood Restaurant
EAT + DRINK
Launceston certainly holds its own in a state full of delicious fresh produce and homegrown ingredients. There’s no shortage of fine dining and you may find it hard to fit all of the best restaurants in. Here are the ones that I wouldn’t go past if you’re a foodie.
- Amelia Espresso: for a guaranteed great coffee when you’re walking through town.
- Cucina Cafe: for the most hearty and consistent brunch. We went there twice in two days (fans much?) and the place was packed with locals.
- The Black Cow: for a great steak in huge cuts. My husband swears it’s the best steak he’s ever had. I wouldn’t know because I barely got any off the plate ;-)
- Stillwater: for fine dining at lunch and a beautiful river view. I had a reservation here which I had to cancel when we got busy and was devastated about. The restaurant occupies an old mill and pays homage to its heritage through warm decor.
- Hallam’s: for an authentic seafood experience in a waterside boatshed. As with Stillwater, make sure you book well ahead for this place. It was booked out while we were there but it didn’t stop me from stalking its charismatic exterior.
- Mud Bar: for their degustation menu and perfect cocktails. We tried an Asian-inspired tasting menu and it was absolutely delicious. Add to that, lilac coloured cocktails infused with rosemary, and you’ve got a winner.
- Charlie’s Dessert House: if you have any room left after all of this! Travel Blogger Brooke Saward opened up Charlie’s to showcase her favourite sweet treats from around the world.
Cocktails at Mud Bar.
Pancakes at Cucina.
The Boatshed at Hallam’s Seafood.
A selection of dishes from Mud Bar.
TIME IN LAUNCESTON
We spent 3 nights in Launceston which allowed us to see the town, take a tour of Boag’s Brewery, drive the Tamar Valley, visit Bridestowe Lavender Farm and basically stuff ourselves silly with food and wine. Given that we didn’t check in until 9pm, we would’ve had enough time to add other highlights like Josef Chromy and Cataract Gorge if we’d arrived during the day. I would recommend a minimum three night stay to relax into the Launceston lifestyle and take in its picturesque surroundings. This is one city not to be missed on a culinary and historic trip to Tasmania.
All images by Escape Button.