Launceston, the second-largest city in Tasmania, is
often overshadowed by the capital, Hobart. But with the MONA FOMA summer festival switching from the south to the north of the state, and the arrival of a benchmark new hotel, things are looking up.
Launceston is the gateway to the Tamar Valley Wine Route, the longest-established wine trail in the island state. It’s also home to several natural attractions, including Cataract Gorge, which boasts the longest single-span chairlift in the world. Around the city, many historic buildings in Federation, Victorian and Georgian styles remain impeccably preserved. At its heart, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, established in 1891, is the largest museum located outside a capital city in Australia. The bustling Harvest Market, held every Saturday morning, is arguably the best farmer’s market in the state. The event attracts vendors from all over the north of Tasmania.
Wineries and breweries in Launceston
The major appeal of the Tamar Valley Wine Route is the fact that many of the wineries are family-owned, so you will usually be served at the cellar door by someone intimately involved with the wines. The region boasts excellent Chardonay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. But the star of the show is undoubtedly Tasmania’s sparkling wines. They are widely considered to be second only to those from Champagne. Véelo Wines at Legana, the closest cellar door to downtown Launceston, is about 15-minutes drive from the city. While you’re there, pop into the winery’s cafe, Timbre Kitchen.
Josef Chromy Wines just down the road from Launceston Airport, Pipers Brook/Kreglinger, Bay of Fires/House of Arras, Dalrymple and Tamar Ridge are key cellar doors in the region. Smaller operations include Holyman/Stoney Rise, Delamere, Holm Oak, Moores Hill, Winter Brook, Grey Sands, Sinapias and Goaty Hill. You can also sample a wide range of local drops at Tamar Valley Wine Centre in the hamlet of Exeter.
In town, the James Boag Brewery offers both tastings and brewery tours and has a beer garden where visitors can sample the Wild River Lager, the first new Boag’s brew in a decade. Geronimo Aperitivo Bar and Restaurant also shines a light on local beverages, along with boutique beer destination Saint John Craft Beer Bar. Launceston’s latest bar is Bar Two, a hole-in-the-wall that serves a range of Tasmanian wines, gins and produce. The “two” stands for Tasmanian Wines Only. It offers platters and finger food and wines from boutique producers. Coffee hangouts include hip breakfast spot Bryher Cafe, Sweetbrew and Coffee Republic, all of which have firm local followings.
Restaurants in Launceston
There are several top-notch restaurants, with two standouts both under the same management. Fine diner Stillwater, overlooking the Tamar River, is a long-time favourite. Red meat fans will enjoy the range of Tasmanian beef cuts at the Black Cow Bistro downtown. A newcomer challenging that hierarchy is Grain of the Silos Restaurant at Peppers Silo Hotels. The outfit boasts celebrity chef Massimo Mele as consultant, and delivers paddock-to-plate eating. Head chef Peter Twitchett showcases Robbins Island beef as well as local wasabi, black truffles, hazelnuts and the humble Tasmanian potatoes.
Other popular dining spots include the Italian-accented Novaro’s Mud Bar and Restaurant and Brisbane Street Bistro. For lovers of quality fast food, Launceston has the original (and still the best version of the) Burg Got Soul chain, while Pickled Evenings is a standout Indian eatery. Me Wah is a long-standing Chinese favourite with a good wine list. The best winery dining takes place at Josef Chromy Wines at Relbia where local flavours can be enjoyed along with spectacular views.
Hotels in Launceston
The opening of Peppers Silo Hotel in 2018 provided a boost to Launceston’s tourism industry. Originally erected in 1960, the Kings Wharf grain silos were left unused for decades. The redeveloped site is now a nine-storey hotel featuring 108 guest rooms, including 52 inside the barrels of the former silos. Amenities on-site include a gym, day spa, child-minding facilities, hairdressing salon, function centre and private dining rooms.
The upscale Peppers Seaport Hotel on the opposite bank of the Tamar is under the same ownership and is seen as the best address in town. Among the best mid-range hotels in town is Balmoral on York. It’s a just a little out of town and up a hill, but with excellent hospitality and free, fast WiFi. Other choices include centrally situated Hotel Grand Chancellor, the upmarket Mantra Charles Hotel and the Mercure.
For those who like to self-cater, TwoFourTwo’s apartments are a short walk to the Charles Street cafe precinct, the CBD and local galleries. There are myriad B&Bs and cottages on offer. Hillview House is a standout, with budget “capsule” accommodation at Pod Inn in the heart of Launceston CBD.