The wonder of Perth’s environment has never been in doubt; set astride the Swan River and spanning an immaculate coastline, the city boasts the sparse, sun-blasted beauty of big skies and wide horizons. But like its deep, dark shadows, the nature of the city itself has always been a little more ambiguous. A long way from anywhere and with a “big country town feel”, Perth has, historically, been a make-your-own-fun kind of place. It rewarded effort and fostered the emergence of strong creative communities and subcultures. “If you’re bored then you’re boring!” was the common riposte to people who would dub Perth Dullsville.
While the wider city remains alluring languid, the loosening of regulations has prompted a flourishing of new enterprises around the CBD; small bars and restaurants have emerged to fill numerous corners of the city that were once quiet. A spate of large construction projects has also injected new vitality into the inner city, with new hubs of activity springing forth.
Be it natural wonders or indulging in culture, Perth in 2015 is mastering the art of having the best of both worlds.
(Lead image: Faridoa Ridzuan/Flickr)
Where To Stay
If public transport or self propulsion are to be your main modes of transport, the city centre is a good place to look, with all rail lines radiating out from there and plenty of accommodation options in Perth. Across the (now buried) tracks, Northbridge is also worth a look, with a number of cheap backpacker style options, and with the added bonus of putting a number of interesting suburbs such as Mt Lawley and North Perth within walking or cycling distance.
The port town of Fremantle is a great option if you’d like to be beside the sea, with its own vibrant town centre and easy access to the rail network. The Perth CBD is less than 30 minutes away on the train.
CHEAP AS CHIPS
Emporer’s Crown Backpackers, 85 Stirling Street, Perth
Set back on a quiet street behind the Perth Cultural Centre, this cheap and clean hostel keeps you well placed at the heart of the action, but in a spot where you’ll still get a good night’s sleep.
Prices from: $23/night (dorm room)
WON’T BREAK THE BANK
Norfolk Hotel, 47 South Terrance, Fremantle
Set in a historic 19th century limestone building, these comfortable rooms will have you well placed to explore all that Fremantle has to offer. The pub below is one of the best in town, and the bar below the pub has and continues to play host to the best original musicians in Perth.
Prices from: $90/night
Alex Hotel, 50 James Street, Perth
A recent addition to the hotel scene in Perth, the Alex Hotel is an artisan inspired boutique establishment that wants its guests to truly know where they are, with spaces that are warm and homely, but fancy enough to ensure you get what you pay for.
Prices from: $200/night
How To Get Around
There’s a good and reliable public transport system in Perth, with train lines radiating out from the city in all directions, and a dense network of bus routes filling in the gaps. Transperth runs bus services that will take you from the domestic airport to the CBD. A ferry service can also get you across the Swan River from the CBD to the South Perth foreshore. The best way to access the system is to get a SmartRider card, which can be purchased from train station kiosks, newsagents and other outlets. These rechargeable tap-on and tap-off cards function on all Transperth vehicles.
Transperth also runs a fleet of CAT buses, a free shuttle service around major urban centres including inner Perth, Fremantle and Joondalup.
With a footprint larger than those of Los Angeles and Tokyo, Perth is still a city beholden to the car, and access to one will go a long way toward gaining both a more holistic and authentic experience, particularly if your interests extend beyond the urbane. To take in all that the natural surrounds of Perth offers, hiring a car for a day or two is a worthwhile option. A small car can be hired from about $60/day. Better yet, trawl your social networks and find a friend or a friend-of-a-friend who lives locally and has a car of their own.
When it comes to self-propulsion, two wheels are better than none for getting around this sprawled city. Bicycles are a great way to get around the inner suburbs and to explore Perth’s pristine coastline, and there’s a growing network of cycle paths for those with the patience and/or fitness. Bikes can be taken aboard trains too, so you can avoid an arduous return journey; just avoid peak hours.
What To Pack
The mercury is high and the sky is dry for much of the year in Perth. The summery side of the year requires little more than single layers; shorts, singlets, dresses, bathers, hats, sunscreen and sunglasses will get you through the day. Don’t forget to bring a towel. A mask and snorkel wouldn’t go astray either. Throw in a light jacket or cardigan to fend off the stiff seabreeze in the afternoons and a pair of light trousers and a dress shirt for nights out.
In winter months a bit of layering is the best way to maintain comfort. The sun still shines for most of winter and will raise a sweat if you’re out and about, but the nights that follow can see the thermometer plunge toward 0°C. Jeans or tights and a warm jacket will get you through most nights, however. Rain events tend to be short and sharp; heavy but rarely ruining an entire day, so keep an umbrella or rain jacket handy, or find shelter and wait it out.
Bring sandals or “thongs” for summer on the sand, as well as a neat and tidy pair of boots or runners to get you from the bush to the bar at all times of the year.
Ten years ago, the CBD after dark resembled an eerie scene from The Walking Dead, but today it is once again alive at night, and good for far more than just shopping and resting your head. Seasonal festivals and events are scattered across the calender year, while all year round, the Perth Cultural Centre is home to the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Western Australian Museum, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, and the State Theatre Centre. Smaller galleries such as FORM and independent innovators MOANA and Paper Mountain are also scattered throughout the city.
If you’re into cricket, the WACA oval is located at the eastern edge of the CBD and has a famously fast pitch, while nib Stadium in Northbridge hosts national and international rugby and soccer matches. The Perth Arena on Wellington Street hosts big name touring acts, stage shows and sporting events.
Transperth runs a fleet of CAT buses (a free shuttle service) around the city and into neighbouring suburbs. Finding a taxi in Perth can be problematic at night, particularly on weekends, so allow time or consider hot-footing it (or Uber…). Trains run until about 2:30am Monday-Saturday, and midnight on Sundays and public holidays.
The port town of Fremantle, at the mouth of the Swan River, should not be missed. This beautiful suburb has maintained much of its 19th century limestone streetscape and has a laissez-faire culture all its own, with strong creative communities and plenty of boho swagger. Like any maritime town, it doesn’t lack for watering holes and the best located of these is the Little Creatures Brewery, perched on and over the water. If you’ve been overindulging on your holiday, a meal and a yoga session at The Raw Kitchen might set you back on the right path.
The belt of inner-north suburbs hugging the city from Subiaco to Leederville to Mt Hawthorn to Mt Lawley to Maylands represent the zenith of the Perth suburban idyll. Amongst these lush tree-lined streets are playgrounds for foodies and shoppers alike. Highlights include small-batch coffee roasters Humblebee, delicious pizza at the BYO restaurant Neighbourhood Pizza, raucous Friday nights through the telephone box at the subterranean Jazz Cellar, a mix of live music, live art and all-round good times at the Corner Gallery, and exclusive custom collaboration kicks at Highs And Lows.
Take A Day Trip Here
An hour and a half to the north lies the Lancelin sand dunes, a 220 hectare natural and cultural spectacle of mountainous snow-white sand dunes being over-run by souped-up dune buggies, dirt bikes, tricked-out 4WDs and bus loads of tourists spilling down the sides of the dunes on sand boards. If you tire of the noise and chaos, the sheer size of the dune fields makes it easy to get away and find a quiet rise from which to take in the panoramic views of the coastline, township and islands just offshore.
On the drive there you’ll pass through hundreds of hectares of a veritable low-lying woodland made up of thousands upon thousands of iconic grass trees. Good surf can be had down at Lancelin’s Back Beach, and the genuinely rustic, weatherbeaten Endeavour Tavern, in the Tim Winton-esque townsite, has one of the best beer gardens in Australia from which to knock back a pint or a glass of Chardy. If you stick around for sunset (worth it), watch out for kangaroos on the drive back to Perth.
Go Here For A Breathtaking View
Lesmurdie Falls: Just a half hour drive from the city will see you perched atop a 50m waterfall as it spills from remnant bushland over the edge of the Darling Range, offering views across the Swan Coastal Plain and onward to the city. Bring an esky in the afternoon. Visit around early spring to make the most of rock pools still flush with winter rainfall.
Monument Hill: Do like the locals do and take in a sunset over Fremantle from this verdant park. From this vantage you score river, ocean, port and city views. Bring a picnic basket.
Take a Hike
The Kitty’s Gorge Trail starts from the town of Jarrahdale, an hour southwest of Perth. It winds it’s way through gorgeous Jarrah forest for 14 kilometres, following brooks and rivers and passing by historical cottages. The highlight of the walk is the Serpentine Falls, where the Serpentine River cascades over a sloping granite rock face into a deep pool perfect for cooling off. The falls, particularly in the warmer months, are languid and understated; a bit like Perth, really. If you see others jumping into the water from the clifftop, don’t presume it’s safe; it’s been fatal in the past.
Parks and Rec
At 400 hectares, Kings Park is the one of the largest inner city parks in the world and offers outstanding refuge for both visiting humans and native flora and fauna alike. Two thirds of the park is protected bushland, while the other third is taken up by parkland and the botanic gardens. An art gallery presents contemporary Indigenous artworks, and music concerts and an outdoor cinema are held at different times of the year. The park offers outstanding views of the Swan and Canning Rivers, the city and the Darling Ranges. Other park options include Araluen Botanical Gardens and Bold Park.
Mettams Pool, at North Beach, is a wonderful snorkelling spot with crystalline water and abundant sea life. The Marmion Marine Park extends in both directions, and if you opt to snorkel further north or south, you’ll be rewarded with a less crowded swim and bigger fish. A short and sweet walk to the south is Yelo Cafe, boasting what is arguably the best coffee or smoothee-sipping view in Perth. Other snorkelling options include Yanchep Lagoon in Yanchep and Point Peron in Rockingham.
Where To Eat/Drink
The Moon, 3/232 William Street, Northbridge: for live jazz, poetry readings, and a good hearty meal after midnight.
The Bird, 181 William Street, Northbridge; for great local live bands and DJs.
Mojos, 237 Queen Victoria Street, North Fremantle: for the same thing as The Bird, but in Freo.
Andaluz, 21 Howard Street, Perth: for cocktails and delicious tapas in the heart of the city.
Connections, 81 James Street, Northbridge: for more dancing when it’s past bedtime.
<h2class=”chapter” style=”text-align: center;”>Where To Shop For Bargains
MANY 6160, 2 Newman Court, Fremantle: a repurposed department store now colonised by a plethora of independent shopkeepers selling locally designed and made wares.
Northside Books, 212 William Street, Northbridge: because James knows more about books than you, in the best kind of way.
Claremont Quater, 9 Bayview Terrace, Claremont: a shopping centre featuring high-end designers and big name labels in fashion and home wares, and great dining options nearby (try Typika)
DaDa Records, 36 Pier Street, Perth: Perth has a marvellous musical pedigree and there are few who’d know more about it than these aficionados who’ve been around for almost half a century. They sell old and new stuff; first and second hand.
Jones Street, Guildford: this street in the village suburb of Guildford (accessible by train) is know as the “Antique Strip” for good reason; vintage pieces abound.
Watertown, 840 Wellington Street, Perth: a shopping centre filled with brand outlets flogging factory seconds and surplus stock at the right kind of prices.
Locals Go Here For Breakfast
Mrs S, 178 Whateley Crescent, Maylands: I always make sure it’s “brunch” at the earliest, because what I really want is Mrs S’s Steak Sandwich.
Little Willy’s, 267 William Street, Northbridge: for tasty breakfast burritos courtesy of “Handsome Rob”.
The Cool Room, 2/114 Holland Street, Fremantle: for big servings of dynamic specials in a space that used to be a butcher’s. The name aint a misnomer, whichever way you look at it.
Piccolo’s Corner, 58 St Leonards Street, West Leederville: they’ve apparently just refreshed the breakfast menu, but trust me, it’ll be delicious. And they’re delightful!
Gusto, 86 Angelo Street, South Perth: if you find yourself hungover south of the river, their Pulled Pork Benedict will make you feel human again. But you might not be able to move for a while.
Where To Have An Indulgent Night Out
Aqua Bar, Barack Street Jetty, Barrack Square, Perth: this new bar perched on the edge of the Swan River with views of the city skyline isn’t relying on vantage alone to get by. A cocktail at sunset is just the right way to kickstart an especial evening.
Amuse, 64 Bronte Street, East Perth: within a bizarrely mundane red brick building on a quiet street you’ll find Hadley and Caroline Troy’s uber-celebrated degustation. Book well in advance if you fancy a feed on the weekend ($210/pp with drinks).
Malt Supper Club, 677 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley: a decadent late-night parlour house with impeccable Champagne and whiskey menus and live entertainment that makes for a perfect place to kick-on after an indulgent dinner. The kitchen stays open until 3am; handy if you hang around long enough to get hungry again.
Barque, 125 George Street, Fremantle: incredible Asian dishes with on-point wine matching. There’s live music on weekends and great cocktails inspired by the food menu. Don’t skip on the duck and shiitake spring rolls!
Clarences, 566 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley: the folk at this restaurant and bar nail the balance between class and cool, and they won’t bruise your hip pocket.
Helveticas, down Howard Lane, off Howard Street, Perth: for a dizzying array of whiskey options (plus wines, beers and cocktails) in a small, sumptuous setting that’s stylish but not pretentious. Opt for a WA local and try one of Limeburner’s single malts.
Worth The Hype
Toward the end of summer the Perth International Arts Festival (Australia’s longest running) and the Fringe World Festival (now the world’s third largest fringe festival) bring the city to manic and eclectic life for over a month. PIAF brings big-name national and international acts and artists to town, while Fringe fills every available nook and cranny of the city centre with all sorts of dynamic shows; in 2015 there were over 3500 performances.
The Bell tower. It’s pitched as a kind of architectural marvel, but in reality it’s an underwhelming spire of mediocrity that represents the worst of Perth. It was originally intended to be at least twice the height, but it’s stingy dimensions are neither here nor there.
The “Cappucino Strip” in Fremantle. Patrolled by police keeping a wary eye on drunken boofheads and filled with tired and lazy restaurants and bars, South Terrace’s main drag is a textbook tourist trap. The emergent strips where the savvy locals lurk can be found on George Street and along North Fremantle’s Queen Victoria Street.
Don’t Leave Perth Without…
Taking in a sunset over the Indian Ocean. Whether you’re sitting on the sand, bobbing about on a surfboard, or perched with one leg out the window of the Ocean Beach Hotel a few beers into a Sunday session, get it done. It’ll make you feel real good.[qantas_widget code=”PER”]Ready to go? Check out Qantas fares to Perth here.[/qantas_widget]