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HOBART is small but beautifully sited, and approaching it from any direction is exhilarating: speeding across the expressway on the Tasman Bridge over the wide Derwent River, or swooping down the Southern Outlet, with hills, harbour, docks and houses spread below. Green and red tin-roofed timber houses look over the harbour and climb up the lower slopes of Mount Wellington, snow-topped for two or three months of the year. It’s a city focused on the water: the centre is only a few minutes’ walk from the waterfront, where fresh seafood comes straight off the fishing boats in Victoria Dock, and former wharves are thronged with diners and drinkers at old pubs and stylish new restaurants. South of the docks is Salamanca Place, whose historic stone warehouses now host craft shops, cafés and bars and form a backdrop for the famous Saturday market, a Hobart highlight. Yacht races and regattas are held throughout the year, while at weekends the water is alive with boats; you can choose any type of craft for a harbour cruise – perfect in the summer when it’s dry and not too hot.

Australia’s second-oldest city after Sydney, Hobart has escaped the worst excesses of developers and its early architectural heritage is better preserved than any other antipodean city. There’s a wealth of Georgian architecture – over ninety buildings classified by the National Trust, most on Macquarie and Davey streets, while urban village Battery Point has hardly changed in appearance in 150 years – yet architecture is not really the point. A couple of outstanding museums aside – not least the must-see MONA art museum – Hobart has little that demands your attention, yet much to enjoy. With its blossoming arts and food cultures, and its backdrops of water and historic buildings, Hobart has matured into a quietly self-assured state capital. It’s not nearly as contemporary as Sydney, Melbourne or even Perth, of course, but as Hobartians never tire of telling you, its small size and relaxed pace make it one of Australia’s most liveable capitals, and, for visitors, a great place in which to simply hang out. There are some great walks in its backyard, too.

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