Tasmania’s northern second city is at the head of the long Tamar River estuary.
Launceston has a few things you don’t come across very often, like an awesome river gorge a stone’s throw from the CBD, and a city park with an island inhabited by macaques.
The Cataract Gorge can be traversed via a record-breaking chairlift, while around the city there’s a lot of architecture harking back to Launceston’s early 19th-century origins.
Launceston can also be a platform to get out into Tasmania’s fabled wilderness, cruising along the Tamar River or journeying to the iconic Cradle Mountain.
1. Cataract Gorge
Not many cities can say they’ve got a majestic gorge only 15 minutes on foot from their CBD.
The first European known to have stumbled upon the Cataract Gorge was early settler William Collins in 1804. Nowadays it’s a fully-fledged tourist attraction, with a swimming pool, chairlift, funicular railway, scenic suspension bridge ,two cafes and the genteel landscaped gardens of Cliff Grounds, roamed by peacocks.
Ambling through bushland you can behold the gorge’s rocky walls and the arena-like bowl of the First Basin from walking tracks and scenic lookouts.
Upstream you’ll come to the old Duck Reach Power Station, which has been turned into an interpretation centre for this one-of-a-kind place.
2. Cataract Gorge Chairlift
Worthy of its own paragraph is the gorge’s chairlift, which is officially the longest single-span chairlift in the world.
This opened in 1972, with a length of 457 metres, and that record-breaking span is 308 metres, uninterrupted by pylons.
What you’ll get are spellbinding vistas of the gorge, South Esk River and the First Basin, with its wooded bowl of hills.
The ride also whisks you through the gorge’s magical landscaped parkland, overflowing with tree rhododendrons and ferns.
The chairlift goes slow to give you all the time you need to take it all in.
3. Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery
Launceston is home to the largest museum in Australia not to be set in a state capital.
This has two locations, at the Royal Park Art Gallery from 1891, and the industry-oriented railway workshop from the 1870s at Inveresk.
At the former, you can peruse art and objects from the colonial era, as well as contemporary design.
An enthralling exhibit at this location is a complete Chinese temple, built in the 1880s by migrant tin miners and replete with artefacts relating to the Chinese community that moved to northeast Tasmania for work.
The Inveresk site is a fun miscellany, showing off the contents of Australia’s oldest merchant shipwreck, dinosaur fossils, historic aircraft, Tasmanian natural history specimens and genuine death masks, and complete with a working planetarium.
4. Boag’s Brewery
This Launceston brewery was founded in 1881 by James Boag 1, a Scottish immigrant who had arrived in Australia some 30 years before.
The last Boag working in the business passed away as recently as 1976. The company is a big employer in Launceston and produces upwards of 80,000,000 litres annually.
As for its beers, Boag Draught has been made since the 1880s, and a few other more recent varieties include the Premium Lager, Premium Light, Strongarm Bitter, Draught Light and a host of limited editions and Tasmanian specific brews.
Tours are available seven days a week and set off from the James Boag Brewery Experience, housed in the old Lake Dog Hotel from 1826. On the 90-minute experience you’ll discover beer’s journey, from hop to bottle, and get to taste three labels from Boag’s range.
5. City Park
As of 2020 Launceston’s main urban park has been around in some form for 200 years.
This was initially a botanical garden for the Launceston Horticultural Society, before being taken over by the city council in the 1860s and adopting the early name, People’s Park.
The charming Park Caretakers Cottage, now the HQ for City Park Radio, is a holdover from the early days, and has wisteria vines that were planted in 1837. This is next to the Eclectic Albert Hall from the 1890s.
City Park retains its historic character, with monuments and amenities like the John Hart Conservatory, the bandstand and the intricate cast iron Jubilee Fountain.
The park is laced with themed gardens and even has a “Monkey Island”, with a colony of macaques separated from the public by a moat and glass screen.
6. Alexandra Suspension Bridge
About ten minutes from the car park at Cataract Gorge you’ll come to this handsome suspension bridge first completed in 1904. The bridge is 67 metres long and reinforced by two steel towers on either side of the gorge.
That first bridge was washed away by floods in 1929 then reconstructed in 1955 and retooled in 2004 to celebrate its centenary.
There are information boards recounting the bridge’s history.
Walking the span, there’s a supreme view along the gorge and over the First Basin to the north.
The way is narrow, but wide enough for two people to pass side-by-side, though you may notice some swaying.
7. Tamar Island Wetlands
On the edge of town, Launceston is blessed with an urban wetland ecosystem made up of islands, lagoons and mudflats.
This is a key habitat for many species of birds, amphibians, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates.
Among the 60 different birds recorded at the wetlands are several duck species, swans, cormorants, swamp harriers, egrets, as well as migrants from the northern hemisphere like the common greenshank.
There’s an interpretation centre detailing the site’s delicate ecology and cultural history, and from there you can set off along the boardwalk where there’s also a bird hide for some bird-spotting.
8. Franklin House
The only historic house museum in Launceston is this convict-built Georgian mansion, now cared for by the Tasmanian National Trust.
Franklin House was commissioned by brewer, inn keeper and former convict Britton Jones in 1838, later becoming a school for boys when it was extended.
An imposing Ionic porch greets you at the entrance, and the interior, filled with period furniture and decorative arts, is noted for its extensive use of imported Australian red cedar.
This became the National Trust’s first property when it was acquired in 1960, and opens for guided tours.
In the grounds there’s a stables, 180-year-old oak tree and a preserved Victorian kitchen garden.
After your tour you can pause for tea and scones at the tearoom.
9. Lilydale Falls
A simple but rewarding excursion from Launceston, Lilydale Falls is on the Second River in the countryside to the north of the city.
There are actually two waterfalls in the reserve, tumbling into mossy, fern-wreathed pools and accessed via stairs and viewing platforms.
The lower waterfall is the taller of the pair, at just shy of ten metres, while a trail will lead you up to the second one, at around five metres tall.
Both continue to flow in years with low rainfall, and are made more picturesque by their lush wooded surroundings.
The hike will take under an hour and can be done by families, while the reserve is equipped with barbecue facilities and a children’s playground.
10. National Automobile Museum of Tasmania
At a new location since September 2019, the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania first opened in 1987 by renowned racing car engineer Geoff Smedley and his partner Sylvia.
From an E-Type Jaguar to a whole fleet of motorcycles, the museum’s collection spans more than a century, and accompanies each exhibit with a helpful informative plaque.
The star of the show is the Hall of Muscle, devoted entirely to the Australian muscle car.
Some of the standouts here are a 1967 Ford Falcon XR GT, a 1969 Holden HT 350 Monaro, a 1973 Valiant Charger and a 1974 Holden Torana L34.
11. Josef Chromy Wines
Tasmania was one of the first places in Australia to be planted with vines in the early 19th century.
The temperate oceanic climate supports cool-climate varieties like Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Since the 2000s Tasmanian wine has unexpectedly benefitted from climate change, with longer summers allowing the fruit to ripen fully.
For an intro to the island’s wine industry, the Josef Chromy Wines estate is in the bucolic countryside southeast of Launceston.
The cellar door (tasting room) is housed in an 1880s homestead where you can try all of the varietals listed above.
This is open seven days, and a tasting session costs $5pp, which will be refunded with a purchase.
12. Tamar River Trips
Beginning at Launceston, the longest navigable river estuary in Australia snakes off towards the Bass Strait for 70 kilometres.
The best way to discover the estuary is on the water, and Tamar River Cruises has a wide choice of voyages departing from the Home Point Terminal, a short hop from Launceston’s CBD.
If you’re up for a whistle-stop tour of the Cataract Gorge there are departures throughout the day.
You could also set sail on a four-hour round trip to the Batman Bridge, some 30 kilometres down river, floating gently past the valley’s vineyards and old homesteads, to a landmarks cable-stayed bridge from 1966.
13. Penny Royal Adventures
The rocky walls of the Cataract Gorge set the scene for an activity centre that gives a taste of life in 19th-century’s Van Diemen’s Land.
The headline activity at Penny Royal Adventures is the cliff walk, in which you’ll shuffle along a dozen rope bridges and zoom across zip lines.
There’s also rock climbing and a 20-metre cliff jump on the course.
Elsewhere, kids can take the wheel on a brig cruise, and prospect for gold and gemstones, while the Matthew Brody Dark Ride introduces you to an escaped convict and pirate from the 1820s.
Finally, the Barefoot Sensation trail guides you over mud, bark, sawdust, sand, gravel, stepping stones, tea tree branches and more.
14. Cradle Mountain Day Trip
Launceston is in a handy position if you want to see more of Tasmania’s stupendous landscapes.
One image that is often associated with the island is the craggy ridge of Cradle Mountain in the Central Highlands.
This has all been protected by the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park for a century, and from Launceston you can spend a day revelling in the natural scenery.
Available through online tour platform GetYourGuide.com, the Cradle Mountain Day Trip entails a hike around the Dove Lake, at the foot of the peak, as well as a nature walk in rainforest, a stop to see the town’s of Sheffield’s famous murals and visits to local producers like the Ashgrove Cheese Farm.
15. Launceston Community Farmers’ Market
A nationally recognised farmers’ market trades in the shadow of Albert Hall every Saturday morning.
If you care about where your food comes from, this is a chance to meet the farmers and producers, who will vouch for their wares and tell you how to get the most from it.
A lot of the traders here are highly specialised, selling asparagus, cherries, hazelnuts, berries, mushrooms, olives or peonies, and little else.
Among the myriad other stalls you’ll find eggs, truffles, cheese, cider, fresh sourdough, seafood, coffee, ethically raised meat, honey, beer, kimchi, cider, and much more than we can fit on a list.
And for food on to go you can choose from crêpes, paella, gelato, Afghan bolani, vegan treats or Korean pancakes (hotteok).