Western Australia's modern hub of PERTH is home to just over 1.5 million people and has a reputation for endless sunshine and an easy-going lifestyle. After work, it's typical for people to go surfing, sailing, swimming or fire up a barbie somewhere on the shores of the Swan River, which forms a broad lagoon ideal for recreation and sport. This enviable social life partly explains Perthites' contented detachment from the rest of the country. Another factor is simply the physical distance: Perth is Australia's most isolated city, almost 4000km from Sydney by road, and in a different time zone (Western Standard Time, two hours behind the east coast).
The state's wave of mineral prosperity saw the city grow quickly in the 1980s, and, considering its modest population, development continues today. The city's Central Business District (CBD) is essentially an open-air shopping mall with two pedestrian-only retail precincts, museums, galleries, and some beautiful historic buildings. Strangely, the city fails to take advantage of its stunning riverside frontage, which is left to the joggers, cyclists and gulls. Just north of the CBD, Northbridge is the restaurant and club district, as well as being the centre for Perth's Asian community with a buzzy eat street, while the inner western suburbs of Leederville and Subiaco boast boutiques, cafés, restaurants and pubs galore. On weekends, city dwellers head for the hills (York and Toodyay are favourites) or wineries (Swan Valley and Margaret River are closest), or stay closer to home and hit the beaches (Cottesloe is the spot) and markets (Fremantle's are an institution, followed by fish and chips).
Enjoying more hours of sunshine than any other Australian capital, Perth is the place to take advantage of clean air, great beaches and a laid-back lifestyle. The city is located on the Swan River, with the suburbs sprawling out in a north-south direction, and east to the Darling Ranges. Locals refer to locations as being either north or south of the river, or in the Hills.
The Central Business District (CBD)
It is easy to navigate your way through the grid-like streets of Perth's central business district. A walk along St George's Terrace, is a walk on the windy side. Situated at the western-end of the city, with Adelaide Terrace at the eastern-end, the district's high-rise buildings create a notorious wind tunnel effect along this stretch of road. Nearby Barracks Archway , located at the very top end of St George's Terrace, is all that remains of the original military barracks, which were built by convict labor in 1863 and demolished in 1966. The city's shopping district centres on the Hay and Murray Street Malls, and the many arcades that join the two malls together. Forrest Place, is known as the city's “town square”, and is bordered on four sides by the Myer department store, Wellington Street, the Central Post Office Building and the Murray Street Mall. This area is often the site for free public entertainment and street theatre. Buskers are a regular feature, and the overpass from Myer department store to the Carillion Arcade offers a prime viewing spot. Across from Forrest Place is the Wellington Street Rail Station, the main terminal for the metropolitan train system.
Within the Hay Street Mall lies the entrance to London Court , a shopping arcade built in the style of Tudor England. Knights joust every hour as the entrance clock chimes. King Street, at the western end of the city, has seen a revamp that has transformed the once run-down warehouses into funky shops and apartments. His Majesty's Theatre is located here. This Edwardian theatre built in 1904, is now home to the Western Australia Ballet and Opera companies. Heading east along St George's Terrace, you will find the Gothic style Saint George's Cathedral (Anglican) and Government House , the home of the Governor of Western Australia. Next door to Government House is the Perth Concert Hall , which is the main venue for classical music performances.
The Perth Mint in Hay Street is Australia's oldest operating mint. Established in 1899, the Mint now specializes in producing gold, silver and platinum coins, and houses a museum with regularly changing displays. The Old Perth Port and Barrack Street Jetty is the base for Perth's ferry and river cruises, and is also the home to a number of restaurants and cafes. Terrific panoramic views of the city and Swan River can be seen from Kings Park , a 1,000 acre area of native bushland adjacent to the city.
Over the rail line from the city, lies Perth's nightlife centre. Every Friday and Saturday night, the streets of Northbridge overflow with people on their way to nightclubs, after eating out at one of the many nearby restaurants. A combination of Italian, Greek and Asian influences make for a wide variety of food and a cosmopolitan party atmosphere. As well as being the capital of the city's nightlife, Northbridge is also the place to take in some culture. The Art Gallery of Western Australia , the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA), the State Library and the Western Australia Museum are all located here. On weekends, you can browse through the open-air market held in the square outside the Art Gallery.
Although strictly speaking a suburb of Perth, Fremantle has its own unique style, and the locals consider the suburb separate from the rest of Perth. A major working port and fishing city, the town's history dates back to convict times. The National Trust has classified most of Fremantle's buildings. A major restoration occurred on many of these historical buildings, when Perth hosted the Australian defense of the America's Cup yacht race in 1987. Fremantle's culture has a dynamic multicultural influence. A visit is a gourmet dream, as the cafes and restaurants that line the streets offer an international feast of dining experiences. Sipping a cappuccino at an outdoor cafe, as you enjoy a spot of people watching on South Terrace, is practically compulsory.
Do not miss the Fremantle Markets at the corner of South Terrace and Henderson Streets. The original markets opened in 1897, and they still flourish today with more than 150 stalls selling fruit and vegetables, clothing, antiques and other assorted knick-knacks. Fremantle Prison is another must see. Ex-prison guards conduct guided tours of the heritage-listed prison. The eerie night tours take you through the prison and gallows by candlelight, and are a truly fantastic experience. A trip to Fremantle is not complete without a visit to Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour and a meal of fish and chips at one of the many venues like Kailis' Fish Market Cafe .
The Swan Valley, 30 minutes drive from the centre of Perth, is home to an excellent selection of wineries, restaurants, galleries and accommodation options. The Valley hosts two festivals each year. Taste of the Valley, held during April, and Spring in the Valley , held annually on the second weekend in October, showcase the region's finest food, wine and art. The region, one of the first areas settled within Western Australia, has a history of producing award-winning wines. Two of the state's largest wineries ( Houghton Wines and Sandalford Wines ), are located in the Swan Valley, along with many small boutique wineries.
Rottnest Island is Perth's own holiday resort and home to the famous quokka (a small wallaby unique to this area). The island is a great place for a day trip. It is reminiscent of bygone days—playing hide-and-seek in small coves, cycling across rolling hills and stopping for ice cream in a hidden local store.
Food gurus and wine buffs can tantalize their taste buds in Perth and be sure of an unforgettable experience. Surrounded by vineyards, orchards and market gardens, the city has delicious produce at its doorstep. Add to that the location—on the edge of the Indian Ocean and straddling the sparkling Swan River—the city offers a supply of succulent seafood as well as superb waterside venues. Then there is the dynamic cultural diversity and vivacious ambience. Dining and drinking in and around the city will not leave you disappointed.
If you are staying in the city centre there is a long list of eateries within walking distance. Head down to Barrack Street Jetty to dine outdoors at Moorings Cafe , or enjoy river views from Shun Fung on the River .
In the heart of the city, Hay Street and Murray Street Malls are dotted with food favourites, particularly for lunchtime diners. If you are in a hurry grab a delicious croissant . For those who like to indulge in a pancake , take a detour down Carillon Arcade, or if you are in the mood for sushi Jaws Kaiten Sushi should not be missed. Another heartland favorite is the Empire Cafe. For more up-market locations, Joe's Oriental Diner serves a choice selection of Southeast Asian cuisine, or meander through some fusion fare at Globe's Wine Bar and Restaurant .
Strolling along Murray Street you will find the stylish Cockatoo Island Cafe open until mid-evening most nights. For juice fanatics chasing a shot of wheat-grass, there is Java Juice . Next door to His Majesty's Theatre , the delightful CBD is the perfect spot for a pre- or post-theatre meal.
The other direction to head from the mall area is over the railway tracks to Northbridge, a bubbly hive of activity popular with hip suits and in-the-know locals. This area is pumping with trendy clubs, pubs, and cafes. Vultures is a great spot for kerbside viewing, and the brasserie balcony at the Brass Monkey is another place with a streetscape view. For an upbeat contemporary edge head to the Universal Bar , where the partying goes on until the early hours of the morning.
For the best coffee in the state, try Fremantle. The main thoroughfare is known as the "Cappuccino Strip". It is an outdoor haven, that promises a relaxing yet stimulating cafe experience. Both Gino's and Old Papas's are an institution, with delicious Italian dishes and mouth watering cakes. Just a few minutes from the strip you will stumble across an absolute gem for food, beer and music— Clancy's .
While exploring the sights stop for Tea at the Round House or treat yourself to ice cream at the fishing boat harbour. The harbour offers a challenge when deciding what to eat. You cannot go wrong choosing a fish and chip venue, as they all serve fresh fish and offer fast service. Other choices include, the exquisite Chunagon for Japanese cuisine, the Sicilian for a casual ambience and impressive menu, and Sails , with spectacular views across the Indian Ocean.
The Swan River
The Swan River offers a superb scenic backdrop for a number of venues. E Shed market at Victoria Quay has a food hall with entertainment on the weekends. For those with a passion for Sunday brunch The Red Herring has a wonderful location. While the nearby Left Bank is a favorite haunt for members of the Freo Dockers, (a national Australian Football League club), and is generally a very popular watering hole.
Beyond the City
Sitting at the edge of the ocean, alongside the river, in quaint suburbs and picturesque hills, there are many delightful venues worth seeking out. Indulge in a sunset view from the decks of the Blue Duck or take afternoon tea at the fabulous Indiana Tea House overlooking Cottesloe Beach. Enjoy a twilight stroll along Scarborough Beach before an evening meal at Savannahs . Spend a day at Hillarys Boat Harbour and stop for lunch at Jetty's Restaurant .
For exclusive service, excellent food and an exquisite setting, book a table at Meads in Mosman. If you prefer something a little more casual on the water, try JoJo's . South Perth is a haven for delightful restaurants like Plantation Estate and Holy Guacamole. For spectacular city views and stylish dining visit Frasers Restaurant at Kings Park. Whether it be vegetarian or a wood fired pizza , Mt Lawley has a lot to offer for the gastronome. Subiaco also has a fantastic selection of high quality eateries like the award winning Witches Cauldron Cafe .
The Swan Valley
The Swan Valley's tourist drive offers a selection of vineyards and attractions along the way. Pop in for lunch at Lamonts , then finish the day at Isadora's in Guildford, or grab a scrumptious burger on the way back to the city. Head to the hills for lunch at Araluen , or enjoy the live music and family atmosphere at the Mundaring Weir Hotel.
For something a little different, look for marron (freshwater crayfish), kangaroo and emu, all of which appear on menus throughout the city. For wine connoisseurs, there is an excellent choice of vineyards--watch for wines from the Margaret River region, Baldivis and the Swan Valley. If you prefer a nice cold beer, Western Australia has two favorite brews, Redback and Matilda Bay, plus a number of boutique breweries such as Inchant Brewery and Duckstein Brewery . Also worth a visit is the Sail and Anchor in Fremantle--you can tour the in-house brewery and taste a refreshing chilled beer.
To the east are the picturesque Darling Ranges. To the west the sublime Indian Ocean. The meandering Swan River runs through it, whilst in the south, find the ancient Karri and Jarrah forests. North it is golden sands and red-dirt dreamlands. Surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty, a visit to Perth guarantees an awe-inspiring range of tour opportunities.
Getting to Know the City
When you arrive in Perth, it is a good idea to orient yourself by jumping on one of the local buses. The Central Area Transit (CAT) system is a free service that loops central Perth. The blue CAT does the north-south round stopping at spots like London Court . The red CAT runs from east to west, including drops at the renowned WACA sports-ground and His Majesty's Theatre .
If you prefer a guided tour, then the City Explorer Tram is an excellent way to travel. It takes in the main sights including Kings Park & Botanic Garden , where you will enjoy a superb vista of the city and Swan River.
Once you have covered the central city follow the river on a ferry from Barrack Street Jetty to Fremantle. On arrival, you will find a similar service to the Perth system called the Fremantle CAT Service. Alternatively, climb on board one of the Fremantle trams , which leave from Kings Square at regular intervals.
The More Exotic
If you want something a little different, or indulge in a luxury-chauffeured tour . Perhaps a horseback ride along the Perth foreshore. Or, why not hire a bike from Barrack Street Jetty and soak up the riverside ambience. For a particularly unusual experience, join a ghost walk through some of Fremantle's haunted buildings.
Another option is a scenic flight with Kookabura Air . For those who like to shop, then Let's Go Shopping Tours will escort you to a variety of outlets. Other city tours options include the Perth and Swan River by Night tour , the Aboriginal Heritage Tour and the Perth and Fremantle Morning Sights tour .
Several tourist attractions also offer their own tours. Checkout tours held by the Perth Mint , Fremantle Prison , Kings Park , the Old Observatory and the Perth Zoo .
Beyond the Central Sights
While Perth and Fremantle have more than enough to keep you busy, visiting the surrounding areas is a must. Head north to the Sunset Coast, Yanchep National Park and the Pinnacles. Eco Activity Tours does a day trip to these attractions, or if you want to go further afield Bush Ecotours offers a variety of packages, including a tour of the beautiful wildflowers when in season. Another option is the Water, Wildlife and Winery Tour , which follows the coast north, to one of Western Australia's premier attractions, The Aquarium of WA , before heading inland to vineyard territory.
Swan Valley is renowned for its wines, arts and local produce. If you are in town in autumn you might catch the annual local event, Tastes of the Valley, or, later in the year, Spring in the Valley . If not, enjoy the sights on a wagon trail , where you will get the chance to test wines, visit historic sites and view local art.
Boat Torque Cruises combines a peaceful river cruise with a vineyard tour and delicious lunch at Mulberry Farm. Caversham Wildlife Park is situated in West Swan and an interesting way to visit here is on an After Dark at a Wildlife Park tour.
A little further south you will enter the magical hills area. Planet Perth Tours offers an excellent bush tour on horseback that includes a barbecue lunch. You could hire a car and drive the Cala Munnda Heritage Trail . For those chasing an adrenaline rush, try some rock climbing or abseiling with Adventure Out . For the more subdued, treat yourself to a Llama Leisure picnic. Another fun option is a camel trek . The Hills Forest Activity Centre has guided flora and fauna walks, and you can tour the Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre to see injured and endangered native animals. For those with a passion for the stars, Perth Observatory has star gazing tours.
Taking to the Water
Water plays an important part in the local lifestyle. If you have time, a visit to Rottnest Island is not to be missed. Rottnest Express has a day tour to the island and offers whale-watching tours from September until December. Regular ferries run to the island from Barrack Street Jetty , Victoria Quay in Fremantle and Hilarys Boat Harbour. There is plenty to do. The Visitor Centre organises free walking tours from 11.30am-2pm daily. You can hire a bike, and there is excellent snorkeling and diving. Diversity Diving Australia has a selection of dive tours that include Rottnest Island and other spectacular dive sites along the coast. Another great dive site is Penguin Island . Or you can swim with the dolphins in the Cockburn Sound.
If you would like more rigorous exercise while on holiday then checkout the kayak tours and Leeuwin Ocean Adventures . For a more leisurely water experience go sailing, try some beach fishing , maybe a bit of offshore fishing or surfing .
Beyond the City
This may be the city and its surrounds taken care of, but do not forget that further north there is the incredible Ningaloo Reef, one of the only places in the world where you can swim with whale sharks. Broome is another incredible town, with its amazing tides and sunsets. Then there is the southwest corner, and the major tourist drawcard—the spectacular Margaret River region.
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