I love big cities, and always enjoy returning to Hong Kong, New York, and Sydney—among many others. But what about those unknown gems that are off the beaten tourist path… those obscure places that are just waiting to be explored by real travelers?
Our new “Mini City Guides” are here to uncover those gems, and we’re looking to our favorite explorers—AONC readers—to give us the inside scoop.
Which accessibly obscure city would you like to share?
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
What makes it unique?
Hobart is a small city set on a big, beautiful island. It has all of the benefits and creature comforts of city life with deserted beaches, rolling countryside, and gorgeous forested areas just a short drive away.
What makes it special to you?
Hobart is where I have lived my whole life! As tends to be the case in small towns, many teenagers and young adults get the leaving itch and say things like “I can’t wait to get out of this place.”
I’m a voracious traveler myself and would love to experience living in Melbourne, or somewhere like the Bay Area in California or NYC; but I know I will always come back here. Nothing compares to the fresh produce, the stars or the Aurora Australis in the night sky just a little way out of town, and the atmosphere of this place.
I’m a musician and an artist, and there is quite a vibrant music scene here for such a small city. The art scene is vibrant and humming, thanks in no small way to MONA – The Museum of Old and New Art – our world-class, jaw-dropping, oddball museum & art gallery funded by a local millionaire to house his weird and wonderful art collection. MONA also runs two fantastic music & arts festivals, one in summer and one in winter.
What’s the best place to grab a bite to eat or drink?
The two key areas for restaurants and cafes are Salamanca and North Hobart.
Salamanca is a typical tourist destination, particularly for the big market there every Saturday, but the locals also hang out there for the great vibes and food. There are a few great cafés and restaurants for all ends of the price spectrum, many of which become nightspots and bars in the evening. There are also plenty of shops and art galleries to check out after your meal.
The North Hobart strip has a wide array of restaurants and cafes including Thai, Indonesian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, seafood, pub meals, and even a couple of fast food places if you’re really on the go. Because Hobart is small, a lot of places will close early unless it’s a Friday or Saturday, a lot of places will close early—generally between 8 and 10—so make sure to get your food early.
My personal tip for lunch or snacks – if you’re in the city and don’t want to go down to Salamanca or up to North Hobart, check out Frankie’s Empire at 129 Elizabeth St. It’s a gorgeous cafe with unusual and delicious food—most of which is allergy friendly if you’re a gluten-avoider or vegan—drawing on eclectic worldwide inspiration for their recipes, and a very homey atmosphere.
Where can you kick your feet up with a great cup of coffee?
Hobart seems to have been catching on to the Melbourne coffee scene and there are now a number of great little cafes around town serving top notch coffee. In the Central Business District (CBD), notable spots are Pilgrim Coffee (which also does some pretty amazing food), Villino Espresso and their baby Ecru. In Salamanca, try Doctor Coffee.
Are there any festivities that can’t be missed?
Hobart has a lot of great festivals. During New Year’s you can sample a large variety of Tasmanian produce and wine at the Taste of Tasmania. Ten Days on The Island is every 2 years in March and fills Tasmania with arts, theatre, and music events. In winter, the best way to warm up is by the giant bonfire the Festival of Voices builds in the middle of the street in Salamanca – and join in on the extensive singing workshops and concerts!
The absolute best, though, has to be the Museum of Old and New Art’s festivals: MONA FOMA in January, and Dark Mofo in June. You can find more information and see photos of these unusual festivals here – Faster Louder, Boudist, Sydney Morning Herald, The Mercury.
For Dark MOFO, there is a nude swim on the winter solstice at the crack of dawn. Did I mention we’re really close to Antarctica? Yeah, it is cold. You can check out photos of that event here (warning: nudity!).
What’s the best time to visit?
I despise the cold, so ordinarily I would warn against winter, but the Festival of Voices and Dark MOFO have certainly warmed up the winter for me this year. But really I would say in January-February, when you can catch some great summer weather and the festival season.
Be sure to bring clothes for all conditions at any time of year you visit – Hobart is one of those “four seasons in one day” places. If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes!
What’s the best way to get around town?
Because Hobart is pretty small, most of the great city areas can be seen on foot. We have public buses, but they don’t run frequently, particularly on weekends or public holidays.
Bicycling is always an option, particularly if you want to see art galleries, since they introduced the ArtBike program you can get a bike for a day for free—or even overnight for $22. But if you’re not an experienced cyclist, wanting to go anywhere other than the one flat bike track from the city to the northern suburbs, beware: Hobart is not a flat city, so you will be facing some hills.
If you want to go anywhere outside of Hobart, hiring a car—or perhaps recruiting a friendly local who feels like going on a road trip—is probably your best bet.
Any other areas around that can’t be missed?
Definitely make the short trip out to the Northern suburbs to see the collection at MONA. It’s weird and extensive and wonderful, and the museum architecture itself is jaw-dropping.
The generic response by locals of what to do in Hobart, before or after MONA, will be “Have you been up the mountain?” Only about 10 minutes drive out of the city, on a clear day you can get some beautiful views of the city. And there are quite a few hiking tracks around and up the mountain if you’re less of a driver and more of an on-foot explorer!
Reading this makes me to want to head south to Hobart the next time I’m in beautiful Australia. Thanks again to Bec Tilley for sharing the story of her hometown! More Mini City Guides are on the way.