Perth is well-known for being the most isolated city in the world, with the nearest big place with a population over 100,000 being Adelaide – more than 1,300 miles away! WA also has the nick name ‘the Wait Awhile state’ because things generally take a little while longer there… but don’t let that put you off! Home to fantastic beaches, a thriving cultural scene, a beautiful cityscape and parkland, and of course almost all year round sunshine, it’s a brilliant city.
With the introduction of Qantas’ direct flight from London to Perth, it has made a visit to the WA capital a lot more attractive. Many couple it with a trip onto Melbourne (3 and a half hours south east), Sydney (4 hours east) or Bali (3 hours north) or simply choose to make Perth and the surrounding area their place of choice for a fun and relaxed two week stay.
One thing to know about Perth is, they LOVE swans. They’ve named a river and a valley after them, have swans on top of their stations (Fremantle), have two bridges that are in the shape of swans, have a black swan fountain in Burswood Park, a whole brewery producing Swan Lager, and there is even the hugely popular ‘Swan River Saga’ written by Dame Mary Durack. That’s just the start! And that’s because there are a LOT of black swans who cruise majestically up the main river, as if they KNOW this land is their’s, so it is only right that the Aussies name everything after them.
So here’s a list of the top 10 things to do in Perth while you’re there…
1. Visit the Swan Valley
The Swan Valley is just a 45 minute drive out of the city and there are lots of different wine tours you can do as a group where you’re taken around in a mini bus, or you can simply allocate a poor, designated driver in your group to do it for you. The Swan Valley is most famous for it’s regional specialities of Verdelho, Shiraz and Cabernet so make sure you test them out – for research purposes, obviously.
And of course, if you LOVE wine and you’re staying in WA for a while, a trip to the Margaret River – a 4 hour drive south of Perth, is a MUST. It’s home to some of the best vineyards in the world, as well as dairies to try cheese, yoghurt and of course the famous Margaret River Chocolate Factory. Well worth the visit!
Perth is bustling with artsy culture and entertainment and in January and February of each year they host the Perth Fringe Festival where singers, dancers, actors, comedians, circus acts, acrobats and drag queens congregate to entertain and amaze! The vibe of the Woodside Pleasure Gardens in Northbridge where a lot of the acts perform is totally relaxed, supportive and enjoyable where there’s a lot of love for the performers and the audience alike.
And out of Fringe season, Northbridge is just as fun with it’s busy bars and clubs, rooftop cinemas, and vast selection of restaurants. Just watch out if you’re there past midnight, it does feel a little like hot Shoreditch on drugs.
Northbridge is also home to the Art Gallery of WA and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA). The Art Gallery has an amazing array of pieces – specialising in works by WA indigenous and non-indigenous artists as well as a number of fascinating pop up exhibitions. However, the WA artist exhibition is so varied and interesting it’s usually enough to spend a good few hours in.
3. Kings Park
King Park was officially opened in 1895 and is one of the largest city parks in the world – yes, even bigger than Central Park, stretching over 990 acres! It has incredible views over the city and a huge botanical park with a glass bridge that makes the perfect place for a Sunday stroll.
The memorials throughout are something to behold. You can enter via the Honour Avenue which is lined with Eucalyptus trees planted to honour the local men killed in World War I. Each tree has a plaque on it dedicated to an individual who died in service and there’s over 1600 to see.
The State War Memorial Precinct is located on Mount Eliza, overlooking Perth Water, all paying tribute to those who have fallen during the Boer War, World War I, World War II, Korean War or Vietnam, as well as those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most moving is the Flame of Remembrance on the Pool of Reflection which burns continuously to honour those who died.
To get to Kings Park, you can get a bus very easily from the city, or for the more energetic out there, there’s Jacob’s Ladder which is a 242 stair climb up. Just watch out for all the sporty people using it as their exercise routine – hundreds of Perthies use Jacob’s Ladder as their Rocky style workout route each morning!
4. Perth’s Beaches
WA has undoubtedly the best beaches in the world. Yes they may contain the odd shark or jelly fish and the rips can be deadly but with their beautiful white sand, clear waters and the ridiculous amount of space you get all to yourself it can be very easy to forget that Bondi Beach even exists! They’re clean and well looked after and the surf clubs are on call when you need them, and of course there’s usually a nearby beach bar or café to resort to when you need that well-deserved cooling drink.
I’d recommend Port Beach (and Coast for a drink!) in East Fremantle, Cottesloe and Floreat Beach. Cottesloe is particularly popular to watch the sunset because it’s got a lovely grass area that you can sit on away from the sand – and it has a shark net up for those weary of big fish!
5. The Perth Hills
The Perth Hills are another best kept secret of Australia. Just an hour’s drive out of Perth and you come to some incredible views overlooking the city, the river and the water as it stretches out as far as the eye can see.
It has some wonderful walking tracks (just beware of snakes… and drop bears, of course) and if you’re lucky, kangaroos. Kalamunda is just a 45 minute drive outside of Perth and is one of the best locations to hike from and is the starting point for the world-famous Bibbulman Track which goes all the way down to Albany, 1000km away! Another great option is the John Forrest National Park which is full of forest trails and waterfalls (in the wetter months!). The highlight for us was a post hike drink in the John Forrest Tavern where kangaroos literally sit in the bar with you! There’s dozens outside lounging in the parkland so you can take lots of pictures, but on resting our weary legs in we were faced with two 6 foot kangaroos the bar staff called ‘Manky’ and ‘Dribbles’ (because of his manky ear, and Dribbles’ inherent dribbling because of an unfortunate jaw accident years previously). Manky is apparently 22 years old which is about 156 in human years and just sat with us and told us a few jokes. It was such a highlight.
6. Rottnest Island (aka Rotto)
If you like Aussie animals then you’re going to love Rottnest Island – home of the quokka. An hour’s boat trip outside of Perth, it is so called because Dutch Captain, Willem de Vlamingh spent six days exploring the island in 1696, and saw these quokkas, which he mistakenly described as ‘giant rats!’ And so, Rat Nest Island was formed which gradually changed into the more complimentary ‘Rottnest Island.’
Today though, the quokka, which looks like a cross between a wallaby and a cute rat, is revered with the ‘quokka selfie’ being the must-have island memento, with the likes of Margot Robbie, Roger Federer and Chris Hemsworth getting one. While some of the quokkas stick to themselves, the majority who hang out near the main Settlement town are very friendly, happy to be photographed. Just don’t feed or touch them as they can’t process human food properly.
You can take the hop on and hop off bus that drives past every 15 minutes from each location, or hire bikes. I’ve done both and the bikes are great as they give you the freedom to go off the beaten track to the quieter locations but of course you can get further on a bus, seeing all corners of the island. At Cathedral Rocks you’ve got basking seals, at Geordie Bay you’ll enjoy beautiful crystal clear waters, at Little Salmon Bay you have fantastic snorkelling, and of course at Thomson Bay you’ve got the Rottnest Hotel which does wonderful cold beers overlooking the water, accompanied by quokkas and peacocks.
Rottnest does have a dark past though. In the 1800s it was used as a prison for over 3,700 Aboriginal men, many of whom were unfairly incarcerated on the island. By the 1880s, overcrowding peaked and disease was rife and at least 400 Aboriginals died, mainly of influenza and infection brought in from the mainland. So, be respectful that while today it’s a beautiful tourist ground for those looking for a swim and a selfie, it has a dark past which shouldn’t be forgotten.
Fremantle, or ‘Freo’ as it’s known, was the first area settled by the Swan River colonists in 1829, with many of the original convict-built colonial-era buildings still in tact. It’s home to the famous Fremantle Prison which was actually built by the original convicts in the 1850s and finally went out of service (bucket toilets and all!) in 1991. You can do some brilliant tours here, led by former prison guards who talk with such vigour and enthusiasm you’ll think you were a guest in the prison for much longer than a couple of hours.
In the afternoon the ‘Freo Doctor’ arrives – a cool wind named because of its healing powers during the hotter months, bringing a welcome reprieve. A relief it may be but just be weary of beach time in the afternoon as a windy beach doesn’t always make for a happy beach – think mini sand storms, know as willy willys here!
One of the many highlights of Fremantle is of course, Little Creatures. This is an enormous brewery right on the water’s edge where they make their own beer transported across WA and beyond. It has a super fun atmosphere, great food, a huge selection of beers on tap and is the perfect location for a chilled out drink with friends. Fremantle also has a number of cool and quirky second hand bookshops to browse through for hours.
8. The WA Maritime Museum & The Shipwreck Museum
The WA Maritime Museum is an enormous building (akin to the Sydney Opera House but cleaner looking) in Fremantle. Here you can see the winning America’s Cup boat, The Australia II (along with some pretty dubious wax works of the winners), a real life shark (affectionally called Megamouth) and you can learn all about the very first immigrants sent to colonise the Swan Valley, as well as the area’s pearl hunting history. It’s a fantastic exhibition where you’ll need at least a half day to see.
Not far away is The WA Shipwreck Museum which details acts of bravery, and deception in the aftermaths of shipwrecks up and down WA’s treacherous coastline. The most exciting is the Batavia, some of which they have on display that you can see. No spoilers but it’s the story of a ship that was travelling from Indonesia and wrecked on the Housman Abrolhos, off the coast of WA – and with the mutiny and murders that followed, wrecking their ship became the least of their worries.
9. Elizabeth Quay
If you see pictures of Perth these days, it’ll be of the iconic bridge and city scape in the background. While some of these buildings were built as far back as the 1970s, Perth has experienced an enormous change in the past 20 years. New buildings are popping up each year and in 2012 work began on transforming the Esplanade Reserve into the beautiful Elizabeth Quay – a manmade quay costing $440 million! The results are stunning and it’s kept immaculately clean and pays tribute to the country’s Aboriginal roots with statues and references across the area.
Perhaps one of the most iconic places to visit is ‘The Lucky Shag’ – a popular bar on Barrack Street on the water’s edge. It was apparently named after the owner was watching a shag (or cormorant) dive in and out of the water and each time he came out with a fish, with one of his colleague’s saying “Wow, that’s a lucky shag!” And so history was made and a statue of the shag stands outside the bar on the water’s edge for all to stroke the beak for luck.
10. Nostalgia Box
Ok, so this isn’t a very cultural or outdoorsy option but Nostalgia Box IS lots of fun if you were into gaming when you were young – or still are. Based in Northbridge in central Perth, it’s not just a museum, home to the archaic Atari, SNES and Sega Megadrive – it’s a celebration of them where you can actually play them! Relive your youth, see if you’re as good as you remember and challenge your loved ones to games of Space Invaders, Duck Hunt, Mario Cart, and a personal favourite, Striker. Yes, the graphics might not be as good as FIFA 20 but you really have to work hard to control the characters, hold the ball for longer than 2 seconds and indeed score here. The staff are super friendly, clearly impassioned by the love of the games and ready to encourage and enable your childhood thrills.
You can fly to Perth direct from London Heathrow with Qantas . Travel to Rottnest Island with the Rottnest Express.