Launceston offers many rewards for those in search of a short break destination in Tasmania.
This boutique heritage city has outstanding natural attractions within easy reach and a fabulous food and wine scene, thanks to the close proximity of the Tamar Valley. There are also several affordable, family-friendly things to do in and around the CBD.
One of the best things about visiting ‘Lonnie’ is that it has its own airport. You’ll spend less time travelling and more time enjoying everything the city and surrounding region have to offer.
Here are some of the top things to do in Launceston on a first-visit. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.
1. Step back in time
Launceston is a city that has managed to preserve much of its European architectural heritage. The streets are lined with beautiful Georgian and Victorian-era buildings, so take a wander along Elphin Road, High Street or upper Charles Street. You may wonder at times what century you’re actually in (but the hip cafes, galleries, bars and boutiques will bring you back to the present). Take in the classical-style General Post Office (the chimes from the clock tower echo across the city), and ornate Albert Hall.
2. Take a walk in the park
Parks and gardens abound in Lonnie. The largest is City Park, which has lots of lovely heritage features and hosts festivals and events throughout the year. It’s home to a splendidly ornate conservatory and an enclosure of monkeys. Yes, monkeys! The family of macaques was a gift from Launceston’s sister-city Ikeda in Japan in 1965. The north-west corner of the park is where you’ll find Albert Hall. It was constructed for the Tasmanian Industrial Exhibition of 1891.
3. Fly high across Cataract Gorge
Launceston’s best-known attraction, Cataract Gorge, is just a few minutes’ drive from the city centre (you can even walk there). This impressive canyon has been carved out over the centuries by the South Esk River, which now winds its way through a series of basins. The First Basin is the most popular with visitors. The southern bank is dominated by sprawling lawns and a large open-air swimming pool (which operates seasonally). There’s also a kiosk and café. On the northern side is a wonderland of Victorian-era parklands, complete with roaming peacocks and a band rotunda.
You can cross from one side to the other via a weir or the incredible Alexandra Suspension Bridge (and yes, it does swing a little as you walk!). But the most relaxed way to get across is on board the world’s longest single-span chairlift.
4. Explore the Tamar Valley
Sitting at the confluence of three major rivers (the North and South Esk come together to form the Tamar) Launceston’s urban footprint quickly gives way to the vineyard-draped hills and artisan hamlets of the Tamar Valley. The valley follows the course of the Tamar River as it flows 70 kilometres to the coast, before emptying into Bass Strait. A day taking in the delights of the valley is time well-spent. There are numerous cellar doors to visit, along with cider houses and boutique distilleries. Gourmet food producers will tempt your taste buds, while roadside stalls beckon with the promise of crisp, crunchy apples (or in summer, sweet, juicy raspberries!).
Cross the Tamar at the Batman Bridge – named after John Batman the colonial grazier, not the caped-crusader – and head through George Town to the Low Head Lighthouse and Pilot Station. This precinct has a rich maritime history to delve into, and if you stay until dusk, you may spot some of the resident little penguins.
As an alternative to crossing the Tamar, continue heading north through the pristine countryside and take in historic towns like Beaconsfield and Beauty Point. Learn about the region’s gold mining past at the Beaconsfield Mine and Heritage Centre. The kids will love Platypus House and Seahorse World.
5. Do a day trip to Evandale
It’s a 20-minute drive south of Launceston to the beautiful town of Evandale. If it happens to be a Sunday, check out the popular Evandale Market. It features more than one hundred stalls, pony rides, face-painting and a jumping castle. If not, simply spend your time soaking up the heritage setting.
6. Visit a national park
Just an hour’s drive east from the city is one of the locals’ favourite getaway destinations – Ben Lomond National Park. In summer, the plateau (1,200 metres above sea level) is carpeted with vividly coloured wildflowers. In winter, this becomes one of only two ski fields in Tasmania. Regardless of the season, all visitors are left awe-struck by the drive up the mountain. Access is via Jacobs Ladder – a series of steep switchbacks. A lookout at the top provides an inspiring view of the winding road, and also Mount Barrow to the north (and on a clear day, as far north as Bass Strait!).
2.5 hours’ drive west of Launceston will bring you to UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park – home to iconic Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake. The lake is supremely tranquil and surrounded by walking trails. If you plan to do a walk, ensure you have plenty of water with you and advise the park authorities of your plans.
Need a place to stay?
Constructed back in 1847 to house a grammar school, Quality Hotel Colonial Launceston offers an atmospheric stay in a fabulous heritage setting, right on the edge of the Launceston CBD. The hotel couples modern facilities with old-world class, character and charm. Enjoy the period touches on display throughout the main building, including the QC Brasserie (originally a chapel) – where breakfast is served daily. Set aside at least one night during your stay to enjoy a great value dinner at Three Steps On George – the hotel’s onsite eatery. It occupies what was once the school gymnasium.
Words by Paul Fleming (https://www.instagram.com/lovethywalrus/) and Adam Ford