Perth, at the far western edge of the Australian continent, feels like the most “American” of the Australian cities. It is a sprawling city, stretching out for miles to the north and south along the coast of the Indian Ocean, and to the east along the Swan River and up into the Perth Hills.
When you google “things to do in Perth”, there appears to be little that is located in the city itself. Perth has for years been dubbed “Dullsville” by many of the Eastern Seaboard Australians, and that may be a bit too harsh for this place. It is borrowing popular event ideas from the other Australian cities, but somehow it can’t shake this moniker.
Perth’s location is picture perfect, alongside the Swan River with its majestic black swans. This river is more of an estuary than a river, and it has a resident pod of dolphins which you can often see frolicking around. There have been the occasional visits by sharks, but that doesn’t stop the local residents from enjoying the river as their playground.
The Perth CBD is on the northern shore of the river. The city of Fremantle is effectively the western most suburb of Perth, located to the west of the CBD on the Indian Ocean. It still has a working harbour with the occasional container and livestock freighter visiting, as well as a growing number of cruise ships. To the east of Perth the Swan river takes you as far as the Swan Valley with its wineries.
Amazingly, unless you know somebody local or book an organised cruise, it is quite hard to actually get on the river. So you may just have to settle for walking alongside it. On Australia Day (26th January), make sure you obtain a spot on the southern foreshore to watch one of Australia’s best fireworks displays. Yes, seriously, from barges and from the buildings in the CBD. Yes, this comes close to the Sydney NYE fireworks, and ranks up there with the Brisbane RiverFire.
There are a number of things to do in and around the city, but be prepared for the CBD to turn into a ghost town after 6 pm and in the weekends. There are a good number of pubs, cafes and restaurants, from casual to high end, present in the city, but these cater predominantly to the office crowds. So that place that was buzzing on Friday afternoon, it will have a very different vibe on a Saturday or Sunday evening.
There are a couple of places worth visiting in the city though. Free CAT busses run on three loops (blue, red and yellow) in and around the CBD, so you can easily hop on and hop off.
- Kings Park – one of the gems of Perth, with great views over the city and the Swan River. Allow yourself some time to wander along the large range of paths and tracks, or take a book and a picnic blanket and relax on the grass. Do ensure you did not park yourself within sprinkler range….,
- Museum of West Australia has a pretty cool minerals selection as well as indigenous art. It is centrally located next to the train station and very easy to get to.
- Hay Street mall is the main shopping area in the centre of town. Most Perthonians will shop in the local mall in their own suburb though.
- The Barrack Street Jetty / Elizabeth Quay area has been redeveloped over the last 10 years and it makes for a nice photo opportunity. This is where you can catch the ferry to the Zoo, or a tourist cruise to the Swan Valley, Fremantle or Rottnest. It doesn’t rock my boat, but I am probably jaded from having to deal with the years of redevelopment traffic and noise….
- Perth Zoo is just south of the CBD, you can catch a ferry from the above mentioned Barrack Street jetty. It is really well set up and a lovely place for both young and old to stroll through, and do an animal encounter.
There are a couple of inner city suburbs that are well worth a visit if you are in town, or if you are staying in town, to go to for a drink or a bite to eat:
- Northbridge, the area to go for night life and great asian cuisine.
- Mount Lawley, with its “Melbourne like vibe” social and casual dining scene.
Having lived in Fremantle for nearly a decade, I am not surprised that when you open a magazine about places to visit in Perth it seems to focus mainly on Fremantle. Especially since the old Perth football stadium in Subiaco was demolished, which turned that once buzzing inner suburb into a sleepy hollow.
Fremantle was originally settled by Italian immigrants, and their food and coffee culture is still strong in this small town. You will see small groups of old men visiting over a strong espresso, and then there is the annual church procession to bless the fleet.
- Visit the Fremantle Markets on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Lots of produce to taste and buy, as well as the usual range of souvenir and craft stalls.
- There is a free CAT loop bus specifically for the Fremantle area. Get on and rest your feet while having a nice ride around past all the spots worth visiting.
- Fremantle has two Maritime Museums, both of which are definitely worth visiting, as well as an Art Gallery in the former Lunatic Asylum.
- Fremantle means beers to us, Little Creatures started here along the harbour, and there are now a large range of other micro breweries in this area. Most offer excellent good value casual dining.
- Sample the local “Fish and Chips“, this is after all a fishing town with its own fishing fleet!
- Fremantle is home to the Fremantle Jail, visit this establishment that was a working jail until very recently. There are guided tours of the jail, and our favourite is the tunnel tour; a boat ride through the tunnels that were dug in the rock under the jail to provide drinking water for the jail. Book online!
- The “Round House” is the original jail, not to be confused with the Fremantle Jail. It is definitely worth a quick visit (gold coin donation) to get an insight into the life of the first settlers and enjoy a nice view over Fremantle and the coastline.
Indian ocean, turquoise waters and blue skies, what more is there to want in life? Perth is famous for endless white beaches, and everybody has his or her own favourite. Whether you want a swim, surf, go kite surfing, snorkelling, take the dog for a walk or are looking for a safe kiddies beach. There is plenty of choice, just bring lots of sunscreen!
One tip: arrive early! The Fremantle Doctor is a breeze that cools the beaches in summer, it starts of as a gentle cooling breeze around 8-9 am, however, it may sandblast your skin by around midday, so be prepared.
- Cottesloe Beach; with the lovely Indiana Teahouse. This is also one of the few beach areas that has a selection of cafe’s and restaurants to choose from while watching the sunset over the Indian ocean.
- Scarborough Beach; watch the kite surfers and go for a bracing beach walk. One of my favourites is the section from Scarborough to Trigg Beach, where there are cafe’s at both ends.
- Hillaries Boat Harbour, home to the Aquarium of West Australia which is well worth a quick visit. See the amazing jelly fish, go and find Nemo, and pat a sting ray.
Day trips from Perth:
Tour the Swan Valley, do some wine tasting (like in most of Australia, wine tasting is usually free, or for a small fee which you get refunded if you buy a bottle), and make sure you don’t forget the chocolate factory.
Rottnest Island with those amazing quokkas, Australia’s equivalent of the meerkat in social media standing. Rottnest is an easy ferry ride from Fremantle or from the Barrack Street Jetty in the Perth CBD.
The island is best discovered on bike and you can book bike rental with your ferry ticket. Besides the quota selfies, there are a number of lovely coves and beaches and a great opportunity to do some snorkelling. Do keep an eye out for sharks!
North of Perth are the famous Pinnacles in the Pinnacles Desert. These are pillars of limestone that can be up to several meters in height. The setting is pretty amazing, and with low light (like late afternoon or at a thunder storm) provide amazing photo opportunities. The Pinnacles are a 2 1/2 hour drive from Perth, and best combined with a short stop and a dip in the ocean at Lancelin.
Rockingham just south of Perth has a number of organised boat trip options, great for a day away. My favourite one is a visit to Penguin Island to see the little penguins up close, and a boat cruise to see dolphins and seals in their natural habitats.
Margaret River is a lovely weekend trip. Located nearly three hours south of Perth it has a large range of wineries, boutique hotels and stays, as well as an amazing coastline for walkers and surfers. Make time to add a quick visit to Bunbury, Dunsborough and/or Busselton on the way to Margaret River, and visit Canal Rocks and the caves at Yallingup.
The South East corner of Western Australia is well worth a longer visit but be prepared for long, long drives. You can head further south to the amazing forests around Pemberton or the historical town of Albany. And if you are in for a really long drive, the beaches at Esperance are the best in the world in my humble opinion, and I have seen a couple!
Perth has a chain of restaurants called “The Dome”, they provide an excellent selection of breakfast, coffee and lunch options at a very reasonable rate and can be found in a large number of suburbs AND the CBD.
Finally: There is no such thing as a “black swan” event here, let me know if you see a white one!!!