We’ve been in Perth for about three months now and have slowly been ticking off the “Must Do” experiences in the area. The city itself isn’t quite the tourist hotspot that cities like Sydney or Melbourne might be, but there are still plenty of things to do and see. After all, how can you go wrong in a place with over 300 days of sunshine per year? So read up, get out there, and enjoy!
Fremantle is a little bit like Perth’s hippie sister. It has a busy but laidback vibe compared to Perth, with a thriving night scene as well. (Night life in Perth is relegated to a corner of the city center, or else you have to head out to Northbridge, Leederville or Subiaco.) Highlights in Fremantle include Little Creatures Brewery, with a prime location right on the harbor and a fun atmosphere including, you guessed it, the brewery. The Fremantle Markets are another personal favorite of mine, filled with almost anything you could want to buy, from food to art to clothing and every little trinket in between, for relatively inexpensive prices. It’s only open Friday to Sunday, but it’s worth fitting into your schedule to experience a fun and legit market in Oz, with some pretty interesting people to boot.
Other tourist favorites in Fremantle are the Fremantle Prison and the many museums (including maritime and art). All in all, Fremantle is a great place to explore and spend a day or two wandering around. Having first visited it only in the day, I highly recommend also visiting at night (especially on the weekend) as everyone comes out for a drink or meal, creating a really great, buzzing atmosphere.
Believe it or not, Perth has the largest inner city park in the world. Yes, Kings Park is even bigger than Central Park! As you can imagine, there are plenty of things to see and do in a park this big. The highlights of Kings Park are in the Botanic Gardens, easily accessed from the city (one way is up via Jacob’s Ladder, a killer set of stairs many enthusiastic exercisers like to run up and down). The gardens host plants from all over Western Australia (my favorite is the boab tree), which are fascinating to see and of course attract lots of animals, including birds such as black cockatoos, kookaburras and twenty-eights (AKA ringneck parrots).
A favorite activity in Kings Park is the Tree Top Walk along the Lotterywest Federation Walkway. It may not be quite as intense as the Tree Top Walk in Walpole, but it’s still pretty cool with great views of the trees around you and the Swan River and the Old Swan River Brewery below. If you don’t feel like exploring all the flora and fauna, the grassy picnic areas along Fraser Avenue offer a great place to sit back, relax, and enjoy the views over the Swan River and the CBD. Or go further into the park and enjoy a movie at the Moonlight Cinema (Dec-March). It’s like a drive-in without the cars. BYO picnic and drinks!
Like in most cities, Perth’s CBD is a good place to do some shopping or museum hopping (though the museums are more scattered around the CBD). The very center consists of the pedestrian-only Murray and Hay Street Malls. Here you can wander through shop after shop and have a grand time just people-watching (trust me, it can’t be beaten!) or enjoying the various buskers that frequent the CBD throughout the day. Throughout the daylight hours the CBD is usually hopping, but come evening it empties out pretty quickly.
One of the tourist highlights in the CBD is the Swan Bell Tower. It’s a bit surrounded by controversy — some love it, some hate it, I think it needs to be bigger! — but it’s still a sight to see and it’s a great way to start or finish a stroll along the Swan River shore or a ferry ride on the river. Other places of interest around the CBD are London Court (a bit touristy but also cute and fun to visit), the Perth Mint, and the Western Australia Museum and the Art Gallery of WA (both in Northbridge). But overall, wandering around the CBD you will find that Perth is full of a lot of little weird and wonderful things.
Hillary’s Boat Harbour
Honestly, Hillary’s is really just a combination of a number of things you could get elsewhere, but that’s what makes it so great. Going to Hillary’s, for me, was like being taken back to my childhood of exciting summer days heading to the waterpark. Except this isn’t a waterpark, it’s a real marina that people are allowed to swim, kayak and play in, complete with real beaches they can relax on. But there also happens to be a small amusement park with kiddie rides and games. And a climbing wall and obstacle course. And an aquarium. And lots and lots and LOTS of dining and shopping options, from takeaway fish and chips to fancy I’d-propose-here restaurants. And it rattles on all night, with a few bars and night clubs on offer as well.
The only downside to Hillary’s is that it is a bit of a pain to get to on public transport. As we were warned, the buses can be a bit unreliable so you might want to allow an hour or so to get here from the city center by train and bus (though it could take much less than that). But it’s worth it.
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one beach, but anyone will tell you that beaches in general are a Perth draw. Of course, up and down the coast away from Perth there are also plenty of amazing beaches (it’s kind of WA’s thing, isn’t it?), but Perth does the best job of combining a city lifestyle with easy to reach beaches. And they have beaches for everything: surfing, swimming, nude bathing, you name it.
One of the local favorite beaches is Cottesloe, a top spot for a Sunday Session (i.e. where tons of Perthites gather in the bars across from the beach on a Sunday afternoon and have a beer with friends while gazing out over the ocean – what better way could there be to close out a weekend?). Other favorites are Floreat, Sorrento, City Beach and Scarborough, to name a few.
Honorable Mentions: Rottnest Island and Swan Valley
Neither Rottnest nor the Swan Valley are technically Perth, but they’re worth mentioning since they’re so easy to reach from Perth, and if you’re visiting the city there’s a good chance you’ll want to make a day or weekend trip out to these two spots.
After finally making it out to Rottnest Island I’ve got to say, it’s a must-do! It’s only a short ferry ride from Perth or Fremantle, and the island is like another world. Rotto is car free, so most people choose to bicycle around the island. There are great beaches (something like 63 of them!) and snorkeling all around the island, as well as opportunities for surfing, diving, fishing and kayaking. The island is also home to the infamous little quokka, which is like a tiny kangaroo. (Or an oversized rat, as the Dutch named Rottnest, meaning “Rat’s Nest,” supposedly in reference to these little creatures!)
On the other side of things is the Swan Valley, just northeast of Perth. You can easily take a day tour out to the region, or rent a car and explore it from yourself. There’s plenty of indulgent tastings to be had in the Swan Valley, including heaps of wines, beer, food and chocolate. Yum! Visiting a wine region is pretty much always a good time, but the Swan Valley also has some beautiful scenery and a great wildlife park, too, to get up close and cuddly with some kangaroos and koalas.
If you find yourself looking for a bite to eat while you’re out and about in Perth, check out my tips on Eating Out in Perth.
And if you’re really looking to kill a weekend and get out a bit out of the city, the best getaway trips from Perth would be to go south and check out Margaret River, where there are world-class wines to be tasted, fun breweries to explore, and great scenery, beaches and surfing to round things out. Or if you’re looking for a more adventure and less people, take the brand spanking new Indian Ocean Road (no traffic and fantastic scenery!) north to visit the mysterious Pinnacles Desert and the windswept sand dunes of Lancelin and Cervantes. Go now before this becomes a big tourist draw!