Launceston is the second largest city on the island of Tasmania. Launceston, also called “Lonnie” by the locals, is located 200 km north of Hobart. The city lies in beautiful surroundings where the rivers of South Esk and North Esk meet, forming the Tamar River which flows into the Bass Strait 58 km north. Launceston was founded in 1804 by British colonizers and is the country’s third oldest city. Fortunately, lots of history is preserved along the streets. Many pompous Victorian buildings remain from the heydays of the end of the 1800s and early 1900s. Launceston is not pretentious but is a charming small city that is still growing. The number of inhabitants is just over 100,000. The city feels safe and authentic. The area on the northern part of the island has four seasons and is a centre for food, drink and culture. The land is fertile and in addition to an abundance of fresh fruit and local dairy products, the area in the surrounding Tamar Valley is a large wine-producing district.
Launceston can be reached easily by air from the mainland or by bus and car from other cities and towns on the island. It is a place to relax. Parks with Japanese apes, a lively food market every Saturday, art exhibitions as well as cosy cafes and restaurants create a delightful setting. Within walking distance is the Cataract Gorge, a small piece of wilderness near the city centre. The Gorge is a popular place during the summer months. The river’s waters flow through the gorge, and the locals happily gather for picnics among strolling birds and lush trees. For those looking for some coolness, there is a swimming pool nearby. What is said to be the world’s longest chairlift takes you high above the water at the Cataract Gorge. The area around Launceston was long home to the black striped Tasmanian tiger. The tiger was also called Tasmanian wolf or Tasmanian hyena and the last specimen died in captivity in 1936 in Hobart. Although the tiger was considered extinct in the 1980s, there are those who claim to have seen the animals in the wild around Tasmania and on the Australian mainland. If you have time, spend a few days exploring the area, which includes national parks and beautiful courtyards.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
Cataract Gorge is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. A river cuts through the gorge and a suspension bridge leads over the water and links the two sides. A fifteen-minutes-walk along the river from the city centre will take you here. On the north side is The Cliff Grounds with a well-kept Victorian garden where birds stroll, and wallabies hide among the plants at dusk. There is a kiosk, restaurant, and a rotunda. A chairlift takes you over to the other side at a cost of 13 dollar for a one-way trip and 16 dollars for a return ticket. On the south side is the First Basin with a large open field and a swimming pool. If you feel like it, you can hike here from the south side of Kings Bridge along The Zig Zag Track (launcestoncataractgorge.com.au).
Northern Tasmania’s brewing company, James Boags (jamesboag.com.au/brewery), is located in Launceston and has brewed beer since 1881. Guided tours cost around 33 dollars and take an hour and a half and end with beer tasting for those over the age of 18. The tours begin at the James Boag Brewery Experience at 39 William Street and are organized three times a day, every day of the week. Reservation is required. But it is just as well to have a beer or a coffee in their cosy bar in the same premises. If you prefer wine, you can visit Josef Chromy Wines, about 15 minutes’ drive south of Launceston. In addition to wine tasting, a tasty lunch experience awaits with Tasmania’s striking landscape in the background (wotif.com/things-to-do/lunch-wine-tasting-experience.a308836.activity-details).
In the middle of the city is City Park. The entrance at Tamar Street has ornate iron gates that open at eight o’clock each morning and closes at five in the afternoon. It is a perfect place to meet friends for a picnic or for a stroll. At one location in the park, a group of Japanese macaque monkeys live, eager to get acquainted with the visitors. City Park is also the place where Festivale is organized every year. This festival is a tribute to Tasmanian food, drink, art and music and lasts for three days, usually in February. In the southwest edge of the park lies the Design Tasmania Centre (designtasmania.com.au), a place where contemporary arts and crafts from Tasmania are showcased and available for sale. The entrance fee is around five dollars.
Saturdays are synonymous with the local market. Between 08:30 and 12:30 the Harvest Launceston is open (harvestmarket.org.au), a large food market at 71 Cimitiere Street, in the parking area opposite Albert Hall. Sample local produce, fresh fruit and brewed coffee. You can try exciting hors d’oeuvres and tasty snacks here too.
Making a visit to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (qvmag.tas.gov.au) is a nice way to take part of culture and art. And a plus, the admission is free. The art gallery is located on 2 Wellington Street, while the museum is located on 2 Invermay Road. Both are open from 10:00 to 16:00 every day. The nearby Tamar Valley has over 30 vineyards divided into the three areas of The River, Relbia and Piper’s River. It is possible to visit all three in one day but better to allow a bit more time. If you have your own car, you can set up a plan using Tamar Valley Wine Route (tamarvalleywineroute.com.au). If you want to discover more of all kinds of the tasty things nearby, you can drive Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail (cradletocoasttastingtrail.com.au) leading through the north and north-western part of Tasmania. Otherwise, you can join a group trip with Wine on Wheels (valleybrook.com.au) or Prestige Leisure Tours (prestigeleisuretours.com.au) that takes you around Tamar Valley.
Food and drink
Good food and drinks are easy to find in Launceston. Smokey Joe’s Creole Café at 20 Lawrence Street is open from Tuesday to Saturday and has good food and a pleasant atmosphere. Amelia Espresso (ameliaespresso.com.au) at 56 George Street is open between 07:00 and 17:00 Monday to Friday and serves tasty coffee and sweet pastries. As much as possible is made from local produce, from milk to Danish pastry. If you are looking for a simple lunch, make a stop at the Morty’s Food Hall along Wellington Street where you can find affordable meals.
Several pubs can soothe your hunger in the evening. The Irish (theirish1835.com.au) is located on Brisbane Street and has in addition to good food and drinks also accommodation available. They are open late most nights. On Fridays and Saturdays, live music is played at the Alchemy Bar and Restaurant (alchemylaunceston.com.au) at 90 George Street. Here you will find tasty meals and filling pub food. And why not have a drink in their vault. Mud Bar and Restaurant is located near the old port at 28 Seaport Boulevard. There you can have a cosy dinner and a few drinks overlooking the water. For spicy dishes, visit the Indian restaurant called Pickled Evenings (pickledevenings.com.au), which is a local favourite. They also serve several vegetarian dishes.
Good to know
Launceston’s Visitor Information Centre is located at 68-72 Cameron Street and they can help you with ideas of sights in the city as well as in Tamar Valley and other nearby areas. They are open between 09:00 and 17:00 during weekdays and between 09:00 and 13:00 on weekends. You can also find activities with current prices on wotif’s website (wotif.com/discover/australia/tasmania/launceston.d553248635003664474).
Warnings and preparations
If you want to work in Launceston, you can ask around once you are in place. Maybe you can get a temporary job at a vineyard, pub or restaurant. Ask around at the hostels and in local shops. In winter, the nights are cold, and it can be zero degrees Celsius. Winters are often rainy. In summer the temperature rises to around 25 degrees Celsius, but it can still be chilly at night. Don’t forget to pack warm clothes and a rain jacket. Tasmania’s weather is known to be fickle.
Launceston’s airport is located 15 km south of the city. Several airlines fly daily to and from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane (wotif.com/Flights). If you are going into the city centre, you will find buses (airporterlaunceston.com.au) from around 18 dollar single way and 25 dollar round trip. Taking a taxi costs from around 30 to 35 dollars. There are several car rentals where you can rent a car straight from the airport (wotif.com/Car-Hire). Launceston can easily be seen on foot. With the bus company Tassielink (tassielink.com.au), you can get to Hobart and Devonport where you can find other means of transports to get around the island.
BIG4 Launceston has a large resort located near the city (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/BIG4_Launceston_Holiday_Park.htm). They have simple grass-sites for tents and areas for mobile homes and caravans. There are also simpler cabins for rent that cost from 110 dollars per night for up to six people. Launceston Holiday Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Launceston_Holiday_Park_Legana.htm) is located ten kilometres northwest of Launceston in Legana, and offers just like BIG4, several accommodation forms; from tent sites to more luxurious cottages. The resort is close to a petrol station, grocery store and a pharmacy.
Launceston Backpackers (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Launceston_Backpackers.htm) is a nice hostel located a bit on the edge of town at 103 Canning Street but still within walking distance of everything you need. Accommodation costs from 27 dollars per night for a single bed in a 6-person dorm. Arthouse Hostel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Arthouse_Hostel.htm) is located on the north side of the North Esk River and is Launceston’s first eco-friendly hostel. The place was recently refurbished. The cheapest beds cost from 24 dollars per night. Batman Fawkner Inn is another hostel in the city. The hostel is located at 39 Cameron Street and has rooms from around 25 dollars per night (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Batman_Fawkner_Inn.htm).
There are also some bed and breakfasts in Launceston. A popular alternative is Kurrajong House (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Kurrajong_House_Bed_Breakfast.htm) at 18 High Street in the eastern part of the city. The rooms cost from 145 dollars, which includes a filling breakfast. Clarion Hotel City Park Grand is in a building from the 1850s, recently refurbished to a high standard and is luxurious. It is one of the most famous hotels in Launceston (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Clarion_Hotel_City_Park_Grand.htm) and it is located at 22 Tamar Street. The hotel also has a restaurant to visit. A double room costs from 155 dollars.
A Saturday in Launceston
08:00 – Early harvest festival
Wake up for a stroll down to Harvest Launceston on Cimitiere Street. The food market is open every Saturday between 08:30 to 12:30. Take your sweet time when you cruise between the different stalls. Sample freshly baked bread along with a cup of steaming hot coffee. Buy some fresh fruit to put in your backpack for the day’s outings.
09:30 – More food
When you feel satisfied with the food market, you go looking for a coffee shop to have a proper breakfast. As a suggestion, you can walk a bit south to 242 Charles Street and sit down at Cafe Mondello (facebook.com/Cafe-Mondello-140425712704673) which serves tasty sandwiches and hot tea and coffee. After breakfast, you go to Coles at Wellington Street to buy some more food for a picnic later in the day.
11:30 – Hike towards the gorge
Continue towards Kings Bridge and follow the South Esk River to Cataract Gorge. If you have energy, wander to the north side and look for birds, or take the slightly longer paths to the vantage points. You might find a peacock feather to take home as a colourful souvenir. Find a grassed area on the south side and unpack your picnic or barbecue for free on the park’s barbecues. If the water looks inviting, take a quick dip in the pool.
15:00 – Brewery or gallery
After a relaxed day in the fresh air, head back to the city. If you still have time, you can book a guided tour around the James Boags Brewery, which starts at 15:00. But don’t worry if you are late, you can still taste their tasty beers and cheeses and either sit inside their cosy bar or outdoors if you prefer. If breweries and beers is not your thing, instead, visit the Queen Victoria Art Gallery which is open until 16:00.
17:00 – Choice of dinner
Leave James Boags, walk along the edge of the North Esk River until you arrive at Mud Bar and Restaurant at 28 Seaport Boulevard where you can have another drink but this time by the water. If you are hungry, you can dine here or at the Indian restaurant Pickled Evenings at 135 George Street.
20:00 – Dance the night away
Finish off your evening only a short distance away, at the Alchemy Bar and Restaurant at 90 George Street where they have live music. Enjoy the wonderful atmosphere. If you want to party all night long you can go to Lonnies Nightclub (facebook.com/lonniesniteclub) at 107 Brisbane Street and dance until the feet ache and the day dawns.