It’s hard to believe now, but Perth was dubbed ‘Dullsville’ back in 2000. The city has spent the last two decades flipping the script.
Wrapped around the broad blue swathe of the Swan River, its streets have an ego-free blend of street art, speakeasy-style bars and excellent restaurants headed up by top chefs. It’s home to an oddly charming clashof old and new architecture, from the mock-Tudor alleyway of shops called London Court, comparable to Diagon Alley in Harry Potter, to the skyline of mirrored skyscrapers.
Oh, and this is Australia’s sunniest state capital — with an urban green space bigger than New York’s Central Park. Its refashioning started a decade ago when construction of Elizabeth Quay broke ground, transforming the riverfront into an illuminated pedestrianised loop, lined with restaurants and hotels.
For the first time in a century, the government buried the train tracks separating the nightlife hub of Northbridge and the Central Business District (CBD) and connected the two with the new Yagan Square. This is named after a Nyoongar warrior in recognition of the Whadjuk Nyoongar, the traditional owners of the region. The area now also breezily merges with the little-sister suburb of Fremantle (‘Freo’), whose lively calendar of artistic and musical offerings set amid gold rush and convict-era heritage buildings make it the place to hang out on weekends.
City officials have taken a leaf out of Melbourne’s book and zhooshed up the laneways — previously dingy alleys and forgotten spaces — inviting a range of WA-based artists to transform blank walls with art. You might spy the haunting black-and-white figures by legendary graffiti artist Stormie Mills in unexpected corners, or the thought-provoking murals of Indigenous artist Kambarni. The reasonable cost of liquor licences also allows passionate bartenders to open their own spots that reflect their individual passions.
Perth is one of the world’s most remote cities, but with 50 miles of white-sand Indian Ocean beaches stretching either side of it and an ever-evolving reinvention of public spaces and events, you won’t feel it. Dull doesn’t factor into it.
What to see and what to do:
There’s no better way of getting to know a city than putting trainers to cement. Vivacious local sisters, Adie and Robyn Chapman, crackle with enthusiasm on their walking tours, uncovering quirky corners of art in the laneways while delivering a punchy historical overview. The best bit? They have such a rich stream of connections that they don’t just take you to the newest bars and restaurants — they’ll have you hobnobbing with the owners over cocktails.
Boola Bardip means ‘many stories’ in Whadjuk Nyoongar — the regional Aboriginal language — and that’s exactly what’s on offer at this unmissable museum. Start with the ground-floor display of Western Australia’s Aboriginal culture, then seek out Otto — the 79ft-long blue whale skeleton found on Busselton beach in 1897.
Slip into the Swan River on a ‘Cliffs and Caves’ inflatable kayaking tour that explores a side of the city few see. This gentle two-hour paddle is led by Matt Baldock and Kevin Lampard, whose narrative of the city’s history is brilliantly interrupted by cameos from cormorants, Australian darters and — if you’re lucky — grey bottlenose dolphins. The clear waters are even home to a resident seahorse colony.
Join naturalist Jamie Van Jones — named 2022 Top Tour Guide of Australia in national tourism awards — and geologist husband Base on a nocturnal walk in Island Point Reserve near Yalgorup National Park, just over an hour’s drive south of the city. Spy kangaroos, bandicoots, Perth-native Tuart trees and the critically endangered Western ringtail possums.
It’s hard to miss the brightly coloured Matagarup Bridge that, come night, lights up Perth’s skyline like a rainbow serpent. Shimmy, climb and crawl your way to the top, where there’s a sky-view platform, and then descend on a zipline 1,312ft across the Swan River. It’s Perth’s newest adrenaline fix and suitable for children aged eight and upwards.
This sunny, mostly car-free isle just off the coast of Perth welcomes 800,000 visitors annually, who come to see the world’s so-called happiest animal — the quokka. Locals come for the holiday cottages and the chance to pedal between sandy coves and spy fur seals and migrating whales offshore. The million-dollar refurbishment of the Wadjemup Museum, opened during lockdown, tells the story of the island’s history, including its 19th-century prison. You can catch a Sealink ferry from the city.
Where to stay in Perth:
In the centre of Perth, this high-end, design-led hostel offers a mix of shared and private rooms. Come for the buzzing social spaces, including a café/bar serving toasties and craft beer and a cinema room with tiered cushion areas.
The former home of warders for the now UNESCO-listed Fremantle Prison, this historical row of limestone cottages has been repurposed as a hotel. Boutique rooms have quaint features and come with vouchers for a breakfast pastry and coffee from the attached bar, Gimlet.
A beacon of shimmering copper in prime position on Elizabeth Quay, the Ritz is flawless. Of the different room styles — all with Frette linens and Asprey toiletries — plump for Swan River King Studios with a curve of floor-to-ceiling views. Watch sunset from the Songbird rooftop bar, refresh in the open-air vitality pools and book dinner at the Hearth’s open grill.
Where to go shopping:
Squirrelled away on the grounds of the Fremantle Arts Centre, FOUND sells the creations of WA-based artists, from ceramics and woodworks to books and art. Visit on a Sunday between October and March and you can browse to the soundtrack of free concerts by touring and local bands performing in the centre’s beautiful front garden.
Lovers of vintage should make a beeline for this bijou shop, beloved of locals in Northbridge. They come for its urbane and curated selection of vintage and pre-loved clothes, crates of vinyl records, soy candles and cold-pressed soaps.
If you want to invest in Aboriginal Australian art, this is the place to start. Displaying the works of Indigenous artists from across Australia, this gallery sells mesmerising canvases. Many of them are vast, but there are smaller, suitcase-friendly pieces too. Prices range from the thousands to under A$300 (£160).
Perth night life spots:
Barely a year old and already a firm favourite with locals, this city-centre two-level kitchen, bar and terrace combines owner and award-winning bartender Xander’s love of booze and partner Verity’s love of plants. Be sure to try the Ananas, a twist on a dirty martini starring pickled pineapple.
Jason Townes and friends Matt Giudice and John McVeigh set up this gin distillery using two-storey-high brass stills from Germany. The refined on-site bar prepares faultless martinis and sumptuous small plates, such as pickled mussels and buttermilk-soaked leeks, rustled up by Emily Jones, the 2021 Best Young Chef of the Year.
Housed in an underground 1887 bank vault and decked out like a hunting cabin with Chesterfield couches and stuffed animals, Foxtrot avoids being kitschy because their bartenders are reputed to shake, or stir, the best cocktails in town. Try one with a toasted cheese sandwich, to stop things getting too highfalutin’.
Where to eat:
This restaurant with black-and-white decor, just south of the river, is named after the brother of AC/DC’s lead guitarist Angus Young — whose hit song Highway to Hell was based on the nearby Canning Highway. Run by chef Melissa Palinkas and her wife Susan Wheelan, it offers mains and great-value sharing plates with a dash of Asian flair. The ramen-fried chicken milk bun is unmissable.
Named after an 1800s ship that sailed from England to Fremantle via Asia, this hangout in the Warders Hotel has upbeat funk music, fruity cocktails and a fast-served fusion menu. Try the lobster-and-truffle dumplings and coconut-based massaman curry.
A newcomer with a bijou cocktail bar whose motion-sensor door slides back to reveal an intimate dining room and open kitchen ruled by the dynamic Josh Gray — one of Perth’s rising star chefs. Ditch the a la carte options, grab a barstool at the open kitchen and splurge on the delectable five-course tasting menu that changes with the seasons.
Like a local:
Every Saturday at 11am, Aboriginal Nyoongar performers put on a free 45-minute boomerang dance and smoking ceremony outside WA Museum Boola Bardip to showcase their culture and history. It always stops locals and visitors in their tracks.
From Tuesday to Sunday in summer, pack a picnic and head to Kings Park and Botanic Garden after dark to watch screenings of films from blockbusters to corny classics beneath the starry sky. Hire bean-bag beds for extra comfort. Book ahead.
One of Australia’s last remaining market halls, this 1897 institution is well known, but still the place to spend a Saturday or Sunday sipping Bloody Mary’s while listening to buskers, or shopping for boho dresses and fresh fruit.
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