Port Arthur Day Tour from Hobart - The Penitentiary

The Best Day Tour of Port Arthur from Hobart

Are you interested in visiting Port Arthur in Tasmania from Hobart? Port Arthur’s penal settlement is Tasmania’s most famous penal settlement and an open-air museum. A Port Arthur day trip is one of the top popular day tours from Hobart that you can do.

Visiting Port Arthur’s historical site from Hobart is a great day out and we can highly recommend it.

There are two options available. You can hire a car or take an organised tour from Hobart. We chose the latter and we are so glad we did. Not only did we get to visit Port Arthur and the cruise around the Port Arthur Island of the Dead we stopped off along the way to visit the historic town of Richmond, The Remarkables, Tasman Arch and Devil’s Kitchen.

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You can watch our Youtube video of our day tour to Port Arthur below.

This post may contain affiliate links.  Please see our disclosure for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions About Port Arthur Australia

When was Port Arthur built?

In 1830 Port Arthur was used as a timber station and by 1833 it was used as a penal colony for convicts from the UK. Juvenile offenders from Hobart joined the worst of the convicts from the UK.

What is Port Arthur used for?

Port Arthur was used as a penal colony from 1833 to 1877.

Why is Port Arthur a historic site?

Port Arthur is one of the best-preserved penal colonies in the world. It was designated a World Heritage Site in July 2010 as part of the Australian Convict Sites that were included in the World Heritage List.

What is in Port Arthur?

Port Arthur is made up of 30 historic buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Did convicts escape from Port Arthur?

Port Arthur was remote and escaping seemed impossible as convicts had to either swim or pass the ferocious guard dogs that guarded the entrance to the isthmus. A few tried and failed. 3 prisoners did manage to escape in 1842 they were known as Cash & Co bushrangers and for 20 months created havoc by robbing homes, mail coaches and inns.

What is the Port Arthur Massacre?

The Port Arthur Massacre is one that locals would like to forget. On April 28 and April 29 of 1996, a gunman, Martin Bryant shot and killed 35 people and left 18 wounded. It is Australia’s worst mass murder and Bryant was given 35 life terms.

Is there a Port Arthur Ghost Tour?

Port Arthur Ghost Tour
Port Arthur Ghost Tour – image credit Experience Oz

This tour is available in the evenings and not part of the tour we experienced. You could do this tour if your visit was a self-drive tour to Port Arthur. Tours depart at 5.00 pm from Thursday to Saturday nights. Your lantern-lit tour includes hearing the stories of the prisoners and soldiers at Port Arthur. Duration: 90 minutes. You can book your tour here

How far is Port Arthur from Hobart?

Port Arthur is 91.3 km from Hobart with an average driving time of 1 hour 20 minutes.

When is the best time to visit Port Arthur?

The best months to visit Port Arthur are from January to April and from October to December.

What are the opening hours of Port Arthur?

Opening hours are from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm. The site is closed on Christmas Day.

Where is Port Arthur Located in Tasmania

Port Arthur is located 91.3 km from Hobart on the Tasman Peninsula. The driving time via Arthur Highway/A9 is 1 hour and 20 minutes.

What To Do in Port Arthur – Our Port Arthur Day Tour Experience

Our visit to Port Arthur took place in the month of April. Our guide from Grayline Tours warned us that it could be quite chilly, we thought he meant the weather which was around 12 degrees, but some of the homes we visited ourselves after the guided tour took chilly to the next level. At times I kept looking back expecting that someone was following me, especially in the Commandants Cottage.

Leaving Hobart early our first stop was in the historic town of Richmond, 27 km away via the Tasman Highway/A3 & B31 with a driving time of approximately 25 minutes.

Richmond Bridge
Richmond Bridge

In the heart of Richmond lies the Richmond Bridge, an arched sandstone bridge that was built by convicts from 1823 to 1825. It is heritage listed. The bridge is the oldest bridge still in use in Australia. The Catholic Church near the bridge is the oldest Catholic Church in Australia and is still used by locals and students of the St John’s Catholic Primary School.

Don’t forget your cameras, it is the perfect Instagram shot.

We had some time left to visit the centre of Richmond and its famous wine wall before heading back to the bus and to our next stop Dunalley.

Dunalley is a sleepy fishing village and bathroom stop for the tour. Dunalley Bay and Blackman Bay was connected when locals started to hand dig to create Denison Canal was opened in 1905 and built to shorten the fishing and trade routes from Hobart to the East Coast. The canal is 700m long.

Dunalley Canal
Dunalley Canal

As we headed towards Port Arthur our guide Phil explained the story of the Port Arthur massacre and advised us not to bring it up in conversation to any locals we chatted to. The pain of the episode still runs high!

Even before you head to the grounds of Port Arthur the entrance is full of things to do.

The 1830 Restaurant and Bar is open from 8.00 am till 10.30 am for breakfast, for drinks from 4.00 pm and dinner from 5.00 pm Thursday to Saturday. The menu highlights local Tasmanian wines and local produce.

The Port Arthur Cafe on the upper level offers cafe fare.

The Museum Coffee Shop in the Asylum/Town Hall building is where you can pick up coffee, pies, sandwiches, drinks and cake and have a break from sightseeing. The Coffee Shop is licensed. There are also toilet facilities here.

If you are visiting with children aged between 7 and 12 years there is a Hidden Stories Activity Book which is free and can be collected from the Port Arthur Visiting Centre Ticket Office.

If you would like a souvenir of your visit the Gift Shop is located inside the Visitor Centre.

Port Arthur Gallery Cards
Port Arthur gallery cards

Port Arthur Gallery Cards – each visitor on arrival will be issued with a playing card that depicts the story of a convict. Once you have received your card you need to match your playing card with one of the drawers, once you have found it you will be able to read all about your convict’s history.

At our allotted time we headed off to join our guide for our 45 minutes guided tour of the outside of the buildings on the main grounds area.

Our guide explained to us that Port Arthur was named after Sir George Arthur who was the Lieutenant Governor during 1823 – 1837 of Van Diemens Land. Port Arthur is located on Carnavon Bay, a natural harbour, which allowed ships to be able to dock with convicts and supplies and they departed with the natural resources of the area such as fresh water.

There are 30 historic buildings on the site to visit after the tour before we head off to enjoy a 20-minute harbour cruise around the Island of the Dead passing the Dockyard and Point Puer Boy’s prison.

The Pydarerme people are the traditional, original and continuing custodians of the site of Port Arthur.

Port Arthur History

The penal settlement of Port Arthur was established as a timber camp in 1830 with convicts doing the bulk of the work. In 1833 Port Arthur was the settlement for convicts who repeated offenders from the colonies. By 1840 there were over 2,000 living in Port Arthur made up of convicts, soldiers and civil staff.

The Penitentiary

Lower level of the Penitentiary showing some of the 136 cells

Back in 1845, the Penitentiary was used as a flour mill and granary. To produce the grain it was grounded by a water-powered mill but at times convicts walking on a treadmill were used if the water flow diminished. During 1854 – 1857 the mill was converted into the Penitentiary.

The lower level was converted into 136 separate cells which housed the convicts with the heaviest irons. The first floor housed convicts with lighter irons and 348 men in bunk style beds were housed on the top floor.

The Penitentiary was also home to a library, mess room and chapel. The building was devasted by fire in 1897. The building was renovated between 2012 and 2018.

The Church

The Port Arthur Church

The Church was constructed in 1837 but was never consecrated. On a Sunday in the penal settlement over 1100 people attended the compulsory services.

The Commandants House

The Commandants House
The Commandants House

The Commandants House was constructed in 1833 and grew over the years, it housed the most senior official at Port Arthur. This was the house that we felt the most uncomfortable. If you attend one of the ghostly tours you may hear children running up and down the stairs or peering out the windows. During our visit, I felt someone was walking behind me but on checking there was no one in sight, there was a slight breeze or rustle as if someone had passed me soon after.

The Guard Tower

The Guard Tower at Port Arthur
The Guard Tower

Constructed in 1835 the Guard Tower was used to survey the Port Arthur Site and to ensure that the officer’s homes were secure and safe.

Inside the Guard Tower were three cells that were used for female convicts, soldiers and civilians who were locked up for minor crimes.

The Hospital

The Hospital was constructed in 1842 and treated convicts for respiratory and rheumatic illnesses that were caused by sleeping in cold cells and working in the cold wintery conditions of the Port Arthur site.

The Asylum

The Asylum
The Asylum

The Asylum was constructed in 1868 and used for those convicts who were suffering from mental illnesses. The bushfires of 1895 destroyed the original building and it was soon rebuilt. Today it houses a cafe and a small museum.

The Separate Prison

Constructed in 1849 the Separate prison was used to contain convicts in their cells for 23 hours each day, a new form of punishment, only allowing them one hour of exercise, alone in the high walled yard daily.

Junior Medical Officer’s House

Originally built in 1848 it has been used to house medical officers of Port Arthur, colonial surgeons and doctors, and twice as a hotel during the early 1900s. It was also used for cast and crew on the set of the movie “For The Term of His Natural Life”. it has been restored beautifully.

Trentham

Trentham Cottage
Trentham Cottage

Trentham was built between 1898 – 1904 and was the home of the Trenham family up to 1920. The cottage has been beautifully restored back to what it was like during the 1910s.

Port Arthur isle of the Dead Cruise

Cruise to the Island of the Dead
Cruise to the Island of the Dead

The island is the final resting place for convicts, military officers and their families and civilians. 1100 people in total were buried between 1833 and 1877.

There are two options when visiting the Isle of the Dead on the Port Arthur Cruise:

The Harbour Cruise – which passes the dockyard, Point Puer Boys Home Prison and the Cemetery

Isle of the Dead Cemetery Tour – a guided walking tour that departs several times a day

Master Shipwright’s House

Constructed in 1834 the Master Shipwright’s House was for the family of Joh Watson. Not only was it is home but his office and the heart of the dockyard.

Broadarrow Cafe and the 1996 Memorial Garden

The Port Arthur Massacre happened on Sunday, April 28 in 1996. 35 people were killed and 19 wounded. The garden incorporates the shell of the Broadarrow Cafe, the gardens a place to reflect and remember the 20 people that were killed there that day.

What to see after your visit to Port Arthur

Port Arthur Remarkable Cave

Remarkable Cave
Remarkable Cave

There are 115 steps down to the Remarkable Cave after viewing Penguin Rocks and the bay from a special viewing platform.

Taken from Tasmania Parks website

The tunnel-shaped cave was formed through years of torment from crashing waves, eventually causing a wall of the sandstone cave to collapse and create the tunnel that stands today.  Some of the collapsed rock from the cave can still be seen at the base of the cliffs.  

At certain times of the year, the waves rush through the tunnel creating a thrilling spectacle for those lucky enough to witness it. Be prepared to get a little wet!”

Good to know: We had the choice during the tour to visit the Remarkable Cave or spend longer at Port Arthur. We made the right choice!

Tasman Arch and Devils Kitchen

Tasman Arch
Tasman Arch

As part of the return journey from Port Arthur to Hobart, a visit to Tasman Arch and Devils Kitchen is included. They are a short walk from where the bus stops.

Tasman Arch is a naturally carved bridge and Devil’s Kitchen is a deep 60m trench that has been eroded by the ocean over the years.

Good to know: there is a short walk around the cliffs to view the breathtaking scenery before heading back to Hobart.

Book your tour from Hobart to Port Arthur and Isle of the Dead Cruise here.

General Travel Information on Visiting Tasmania

Flights to Hobart

We use Skyscanner to book our flights. For their latest deals click here.

Car Rental

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Accommodation in Hobart

We stayed at the centrally located Vibe Hotel which was several minutes walk to the waterfront and about 15 minutes to Salamanca Place. We stayed in a luxurious King size bedroom with views over the waterfront. After a day of sightseeing, we sat by the fire and enjoyed a few cocktails before heading into their Belvedere restaurant for dinner. Breakfast is also available at the Belvedere Restaurant and is quite popular with locals.

Address: 36 Argyle Street Hobart

Book your room at the Vibe Hotel here

For more hotel options in Hobart:

Booking.com

Conclusion

The visit to the Port Arthur Convict Site is one of Hobart’s most popular tours. You can visit by yourself but we found in this instance taking a bus tour from Hobart gave us more information into the history of the penal settlement and also about the massacre which the locals feel they don’t want to keep discussing it. Visiting the sites of Richmond, the Remarkables, Tasman Arch and the Devil’s Kitchen which was a bonus that you might not have visited if you had hired a car and driven yourself.

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