Port Arthur Historic Site | Is It Worth Visiting?

Hidden among the imposing seaside cliffs that make up most of the Tasman Peninsula, you’ll find a cove filled with historic remains from a time when most of Tasmania was still seen as un-liveable. 

Port Arthur is a UNESCO world heritage site that holds a dark history beginning back in 1830. The remains tell the story of the convicts’ lives and hardships and the grounds are strikingly beautiful, but there’s no denying that the price of an admission ticket is high. 

So is it actually worth paying the money to explore the ruins of Port Arthur?

While this isn’t an activity our adventurous souls would usually choose, we surprised ourselves with how much we gained from wandering the Port Arthur Historic Site and found the history sadly fascinating. 

Walking out of the Port Arthur Historic Site Museum

But would we go back? No. 

If there was one thing we would miss in the Tasman Peninsula it would be Port Arthur. The peninsula offers an abundance of remarkable landscapes and coastal walking trails that are far more appealing to us. But if you have time and need a rest day from the many hikes, a visit to Port Arthur is the perfect activity to break up your trip. 

In this post, we’ll provide you with a full rundown of what that admission ticket and other tour options offer to help you decide if a visit to the Port Arthur Historic Site is worth your time. 

And if you’re already set on exploring Port Arthur, this is the only guide you’ll need. 

Sun Rays Shining through the Port Arthur Penitentiary Windows

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Your Guide To Visiting The Port Arthur Historic Site In Tasmania

What Is Port Arthur? 

Ruins of the old Penitentiary in Port Arthur

Port Arthur was once a penal colony where the most hardened criminals or secondary offenders were sent to complete their sentences. Now a historic site, Port Arthur is a destination in southeast Tasmania where you can experience some of the best-preserved histories from that era. 

Where Is The Port Arthur Historic Site?

The Port Arthur Historic Site is located in a cove on the Tasman Peninsula, 90 minutes southeast of Hobart and 3 hrs 15 minutes south of Launceston. Surrounded by dense forests, secluded islands and the wild sea, Port Arthur is just as beautiful as it was the perfect location for a prison. 

How To Get To Port Arthur, Tasmania

Being so close to Hobart, Port Arthur is a popular day trip from the city and is often included in many tours around Tasmania. There are plenty of signs to help you navigate your way to the Port Arthur Historic Site, but make sure you allow enough time to stop along the way at the countless number of scenic locations en route. 

If you’re in need of a hire car, we suggest checking out Rental Cars to find the best deals for either a multi-day or single-day hire. 

Directions From Hobart To Port Arthur

To reach Port Arthur from Hobart, simply head east out of the city on the Tasman Hwy (A3) for 25 km until you hit Sorell. At the intersection in Sorell, take a right turn (east) onto Arthur Hwy (A9) and follow it all the way to the Tasman Peninsula. After 65 km, you’ll reach a sign indicating to turn left (south) onto Church St which will deliver you to the vast parking lot at the Port Arthur Historic Site. 

Public Transport From Hobart To Port Arthur

It’s possible to take public transport from Hobart to Port Arthur by grabbing the Tassielink bus (number 735) from the city and getting off at the Port Arthur General Store. However, the timetable forces you to spend two nights on the Tasman Peninsula as it arrives in Port Arthur in the afternoon and leaves early morning. 

Another alternative to public transport is to book a day tour from Hobart that allows enough time to explore Port Arthur. Surprisingly, the tour option below is cheaper than taking the bus.

Quick Info On Visiting Port Arthur

  • The Port Arthur Historic Site is open all year round (except Christmas day) from 9 am – 5 pm
  • Site Entry Tickets are the most basic ticket you can buy and costs $47 for an adult as of October 2022
  • A Site Entry Ticket includes a 40-minute introductory tour, a 25-minute harbour boat cruise, and access to the grounds
  • Your Site Entry Ticket is valid for two consecutive days
  • To avoid the bulk of the crowds, get there as soon as it opens and jump on the 9:30 am introductory tour
  • Allow for at least half a day to properly explore Port Arthur

Port Arthur Tours

The Penitentiary Courtyard in Port Arthur

Along with Cradle Mountain and the Freycinet Peninsula, Port Arthur is one of the most popular inclusions in a Tasmanian tour. There are plenty of options that range from a full-day adventure to a weekend or week-long trip. Below are the most popular tours that include a visit to the Port Arthur Historic Site.

Day Tours

Multiple Day Tours


General Admission To The Port Arthur Historic Site

To visit Port Arthur, a site entry ticket must be purchased. This is the most basic entry ticket for Port Arthur and grants you access to the grounds, including an introductory walking tour and a harbour cruise. 

Your ticket will allow you entry for two consecutive days and costs $47 for an adult, $22 for a child, and $38 for a concession.

Get your ticket here.

Note: It’s very common for general admission tickets to run out for Port Arthur so booking in advance, especially during summer, is recommended. When you book online, you can also book your tour and cruise to ensure you get a spot at your desired time. 

The Port Arthur Introductory Walking Tour

Port Arthur Introductory walking tour, through the old ruined church

When you buy a site entry ticket to Port Arthur, you receive a complimentary introductory walking tour that runs for 40 minutes. You don’t have to take one of these tours but it was worthwhile to learn a little about the history of the grounds before setting off by ourselves. 

Depending on which guide you get, you’ll also likely hear a few interesting stories you wouldn’t have otherwise known. 

The Port Arthur Harbour Cruise

Passing the Isle of the Dead on the Port Arthur Harbour Cruise

A cruise around the harbour of Port Arthur is included in your site entry ticket. This cruise takes approximately 20 minutes and passes the Isle of the Dead Cemetery and Point Puer where the boys’ prison was situated. 

If you choose to stand outside, it’s a little difficult to hear the captain as they provide information on the surrounding islands. But you will be rewarded with an all-encompassing view of the Port Arthur Historic Site. 

We recommend booking your harbour cruise at least an hour after the walk, or even an hour and a half so you have time to grab a coffee or look around before heading to the boat. 

Note: There are no stops on this 20-minute cruise, however, you can book a separate tour that stops at the Isle of the Dead for an additional $30. Unfortunately, there are no tours for Point Puer unless you’re with a school group. 

Exploring The Grounds At Port Arthur

Ruined Remains of the Penitentiary in Port Arthur

Your site entry ticket gives you unrestricted access to roam about the grounds of Port Arthur for two consecutive days. 

The grounds are strikingly beautiful, with ancient brick ruins on a grassy hill and well-kept gardens leading to the historically restored homes of the officers, commandants and other free workers. 

Each section of the grounds is laden with information about Port Arthur’s history, and how long you spend is entirely up to you. We took approximately 2 hours to wander through the grounds, stopping at each building and taking in the view from Scorpion Rock Lookout. 

Among the many sites you’ll explore, these are the ones we highly recommend visiting for various reasons, ranging from architectural beauty to the understanding of how brutal this prison was for the convicts. 

The Penitentiary
The Penitentiary at Port Arthur

Partly in ruins, the Penitentiary stands beside the cove and shows what life was like for the majority of the convicts. Wandering through gives you an idea of the size of each room and the plaques scattered throughout provide information on the individuals who served time within the walls. 

Some of the convicts were sent to Port Arthur for nothing more than stealing a loaf of bread twice… 

The Convict Church
The convict church at Port Arthur Historic Site

Built by the prisoners of Port Arthur and the juvenile boys of Point Puer in 1836, the gothic-style church was frequented every Sunday by the convicts. Although the Church is now roofless and partly singed by an accidental fire in 1884, it’s a strikingly beautiful building that holds a great deal of history. 

The Separate Prison
The separate Prison solitary confinement chambers

The Separate Prison harshly shows the brutality that these men faced, not in the form of physical pain but instead in psychological abuse. The cross-shaped building housed the hardened convicts in solitary confinement, where even voices were never heard by the inmates. 

As you can imagine, many went mad and some were even kept in total darkness. You can enter a completely darkened room to get a feel of what it may have been like. This section of the prison was the hardest to swallow as the treatment of these men was frankly inhumane. 

The Asylum
The Asylum Museum

What is now a museum of historic artefacts from the time of the convicts, was once the Asylum. Inmates that were then labelled as ‘lunatics’ were housed within these walls – most coming from solitary confinement in the Separate Prison. 

The building was eventually taken over by the Carnarvon town board in 1889 and used as the Town Hall. The fires of 1895 destroyed the old Asylum which was then rebuilt in the new design you’ll see today. 

Scorpion Rock Lookout
Port Arthur Historic Site from Scorpion Rock Lookout

Located just behind the Church, you’ll find a little trail leading to Scorpion Rock Lookout. From here, you have an uninterrupted view of the Port Arthur Historic Site and can take a moment to reflect on the past from this new and full perspective. 

The Port Arthur Massacre Memorial

Well after the Port Arthur Prison was shut down, it was once again the grounds of intense pain and suffering. In 1996, a single man opened fire on innocent tourists and staff, killing 35 and wounding 23 people. 

This is the worst massacre in modern Australian history and from that day, the Australian government tightened gun laws drastically, resulting in zero mass shootings since.

At the old cafe where most of the shootings took place, a memorial garden and reflection pool stands to remember those poor souls that were caught in an uncomprehending act of brutality. 

Visiting these gardens was tough but it felt important to pay respect to those lost and understand just how much pain Port Arthur has seen in the last 200 years. 

Tours Available At Port Arthur

Isle Of The Dead

Isle of the Dead Landmarks

As the name suggests, the Isle of the Dead is a small island cemetery where more than 1000 convicts, officers, women and children now rest. A tour of the cemetery will involve stories of those who lie beneath.

The tour runs every day at 12:20 pm, 1 pm and 3 pm, taking approximately one hour. Tickets are $30 per adult and $15 per child.

Commandant’s Tour

The Commandant’s tour offers a more in-depth journey through the site’s most significant buildings, including the Separate Prison, the Convict Church and the Penitentiary. Throughout the tour, your guide will provide interesting insights into the lives of the convicts and others who lived and worked at Port Arthur. 

This tour takes approximately 90 minutes and runs every day at 12:30 pm. Tickets are $30 per adult and $15 per child.

Escape From Port Arthur Tour

Dedicated to telling stories of the convicts who went to extreme measures to attempt an escape from one of the most inescapable prisons in Australia, the Escape From Port Arthur Tour goes deep into detail about those convicts who made these wild attempted escapes. 

The tour takes 60 minutes and runs every day at 11 am. Tickets for the Escape from Port Arthur tour are $20 per adult and $10 per child. 

Port Arthur Ghost Tour

Solitary Confinement in Port Arthur

Are you brave enough to walk the grounds at night? 

There have been many documented ghost stories from Port Arthur since 1870 and through a lantern-lit tour, you’ll hear all the dark and creepy stories. This clearly isn’t a tour for everyone but despite that, it fills up fast. It’s recommended to book the Port Arthur Ghost Tour in advance. 

The tour lasts 90 minutes and runs from Wednesday to Saturday, departing at 7 pm, 8 pm, 8:30 pm and 9 pm. Tickets are $35 for adults and $18 for children – an adult must accompany children under 17. 

After Dark Package

Office in the Officer's Quarters of Port Arthur

The After Dark Package incorporates a tasty two-course dinner at the 1830 Restaurant and Bar before embarking on the Ghost Tour. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to eat here but the restaurant has a rating of 4.4 stars on Google and serves seasonal dishes made from local Tasmanian produce. 

This package is available from 5 pm on Wednesday to Saturday and costs $105 per person. 

Wheel Of Fate

The Wheel of Fate tour offers a rather lavish experience for those looking for a little more. You’ll be guided behind bars to experience the ‘wheel of fate’ and learn the stories of some of the most notable people. 

In addition to the exclusive entry and information, you’ll also taste the region’s fantastic produce with canapes and a two-course lunch prepared by the in-house chef, followed by drinks at the Magistrate’s House. 

The Wheel of Fate tour takes approximately 4 hours, leaving at 10:30 am by reservation. Bookings must be made 7 days in advance and can cater from 2 to 10 guests. Tickets are $350 per person. 

Best Time To Visit Port Arthur

The Penitentiary and recreational oval at Port Arthur

Despite the price of an entry ticket, Port Arthur is continuously busy – especially during school holidays and in the warmer months. For this reason, we recommend visiting Port Arthur in winter or outside of school holidays if possible. 

To avoid as much of the crowds as possible, get to Port Arthur at 9 am and book onto the 9:30 am introductory tour. We found the grounds to be quietest in the morning and by the looks of the introductory tours after ours, we had about half the amount of people! 

Your site entry ticket is valid for two consecutive days, and if you have the time to spare, you could even choose to visit both mornings and leave before the crowd increases. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should you spend at Port Arthur?

The Port Arthur Historic Site entry ticket allows you two consecutive days to explore the grounds and purchase any additional tours you’d like. However, if you’re simply interested in a site entry ticket and wandering the ruins, we recommend allowing at least half a day. 

Is Port Arthur worth visiting?

The Port Arthur Historic Site is one of the best-preserved locations from the convicts’ era and offers a great deal of history and insight. While entry into the grounds is quite expensive, they’ve done a good job at creating a fascinating experience filled with interesting, yet oddly light, information on the lives of the convicts.

How long is the introductory tour at Port Arthur?

The complimentary introductory tour included in the site entry ticket to Port Arthur takes approximately 40 minutes. The first tour begins at 9:30 am and is the one we’d recommend booking to avoid the crowds. 

Can you do a day trip to Port Arthur from Hobart?

Port Arthur is a short 90-minute drive from Hobart, making it the perfect day trip for those in search of a little history. You can either drive yourself to the Historic Site or book a day tour leaving from Hobart. 

What time does Port Arthur open?

The Port Arthur Historic Site opens at 9 am and closes at 5 pm every day (except Christmas day) with the first introductory tour leaving at 9:30 am.

Other Things To Do Near Port Arthur

Port Arthur is located on the southern tip of the Tasman Peninsula, a place famous for its wild rock formations and world-class walking trails. There are plenty of things to do near Port Arthur that could fill a week. Here are a couple of our favourite things to do nearby. 

The Cape Hauy Walk

Over looking the Southern Ocean from the Cape Hauy Lookout

Cape Hauy is arguably the best short walk on the Tasman Peninsula, offering unrivalled views of the rugged coastline and ending at the iconic Totem Pole – a difficult rock-climbing route on a solitary dolerite pillar. The walk takes approximately 4 hours to complete and begins from Fortescue Bay. 

Visit The Unique Rock Formations

Standing over the Tessellated Pavement on the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania

Along the Tasman Peninsula coastline, you’ll find blowholes, caves and the tallest seaside cliffs in the southern hemisphere. A drive around to view these unique rock formations is the perfect plan for those wishing to pack a few sights into a day. 

Your drive can include the Tessellated Pavement at Eaglehawk Neck, the Tasman Arch, Tasman Blowhole and Devils Kitchen near Taranna and finally, the Remarkable Cave south of Port Arthur.

Walk To Cape Raoul And Witness Shipsterns Bluff

looking at the seal colony from seal lookout on the Cape Raoul hike in the Tasman Peninsula

Cape Raoul is our favourite day walk on the Tasman Peninsula and takes approximately 5 hours to complete. The walk is generally less busy than Cape Hauy and passes by some truly incredible seaside cliffs. 

If you’re feeling up for the walk, we recommend including Shipsterns Bluff in your Cape Raoul adventure, which will add an extra hour to your hike. 

The Three Capes Track

The Three Capes Track is perhaps the second most popular thing to do on the Tasman Peninsula, after visiting Port Arthur. The walk takes 4 days to complete and is a popular option for families who are introducing their kids to multi-day hiking.

To complete the entire track, you must book and pay just under $500 per adult and $396 per child. The price includes a boat ride to the beginning of the Three Capes Track, 2 years unlimited entry to Port Arthur, and accommodation for the three nights at self-catered cabins along the track. 

Alternatively, you can do part of the track as an overnighter for free, beginning and ending at Fortescue Bay and camping in your tent at the Bare Knoll Campground. 

Port Arthur Accommodation Options

There are no accommodation options within the Port Arthur Historic Site, however, there are many unique stays nearby to choose from. For camping, our favourite place to stay is at the campgrounds at Fortescue Bay.

Port Arthur


White Beach/Nubeena

Final Thoughts On Visiting Port Arthur

In all honesty, we actually surprised ourselves by appreciating our time exploring the grounds of the Port Arthur Historic Site. However, we’re not sure that we would recommend spending the time or money on this activity unless you were truly interested in the history. 

The grounds are stunning and well-kept, and the staff are very knowledgeable, yet we felt that the history they spoke of was very light and didn’t quite get into the depths that I expect surround Port Arthur. You have to dig a little deeper to understand the brutality that the men faced in the prison. 

In saying that, the upkeep of the remains is impressive and allows you to truly imagine what it must have been like almost 200 years ago. 

To put it in a nutshell, Port Arthur is worth a visit if you are interested in history and historical buildings, and have the time and money to make the most of the experience.