Australia’s most southerly city, state capital HOBART is small but beautifully sited. On one side is the broad Derwent River and behind rises Mount Wellington, often dusted with snow in winter and a hint of the southwest wilderness beyond. Both conspire to make the city feel that bit more remote than other Australian capitals. For decades Hobart was derided as the backwater of Australia and the tourist experience was low-key; visitors came to eat and drink at the pubs near the old docks, or to browse the craft shops at the historic stone warehouses of Salamanca Place. But the opening of MONA gallery in 2010 has been a game-changer. Hobart has always had an alternative, creative streak, and nowadays it positively hums with optimism. Every weekend, interstate visitors fly in to see the gallery, sample the profusion of restaurants, cafés and shops and sample the city’s relaxed lifestyle. And in 2013 Australian luxury travel magazine Gourmet Traveller named Hobart the most happening city in Australia.
This newly acquired gloss is laid over a fine architectural heritage, accounting for much of Hobart’s appeal. Australia’s second-oldest city after Sydney, Hobart escaped the worst excesses of developers, and its early buildings are better preserved than those in any other antipodean city. There’s a wealth of Georgian architecture – over ninety buildings are classified by the National Trust, most on Macquarie and Davey streets – while urban village Battery Point can hardly have changed in appearance in 150 years.
Yet architecture is not really the point. A couple of outstanding museums aside – not least MONA – Hobart has little that demands your attention, but much to enjoy. With its blossoming arts and food cultures, and its backdrops of water and historic buildings, Hobart has matured into a nicely quirky, quietly self-assured capital. It’s not nearly as contemporary as Sydney, Melbourne or even Perth, of course, nor would Hobartians want it to be. As they never tire of telling you, its small size and relaxed pace make it one of Australia’s most liveable capitals, and for visitors that makes it a great place in which to simply hang out. There are some great walks in its backyard, too.