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Perth (Fremantle) Overview
It's the world's most remote capital city, but Perth -- capital of Western Australia (WA) -- epitomizes the essence of city living in Australia with an outdoorsy easygoing vibe in a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Throw in great weather, beautiful beaches, scenic parkland, a buzzing bar and cafe scene, and world class wineries, and you end up with one of the most livable places in the world. Many Australians and overseas visitors go to Perth and never leave; this place, which is all about lifestyle, has become something of a hedonists' playground.
The city of Perth is served by the port of Fremantle, which is 12 miles (19 kilometers) to the south. Despite its proximity, "Freo" (as the locals call it), it has a completely different personality. This is where artists, musicians and writers like to hang out; it's even more laid-back than Perth, with a fun and friendly atmosphere set among historic buildings, good museums, interesting art galleries and relaxed pubs and cafes.
On weekends, Perth locals make the short trek south to Fremantle to bar-crawl their way around the small city and mix amicably with the bohemian Freo crowd, something which pretty much sums up life in that part of the world.
If you're only there for a day, it's not really possible to visit both Fremantle and Perth; you'll have to choose one or the other. Fremantle is the easier option because of its proximity to the port and its compact size. However, if you want to experience a slice of "big city" life, and you've been to Freo already, then it's worth heading up to Perth for a look.
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The English spoken in Perth/Fremantle is much the same as in the rest of Australia. You're more likely to be greeted with a "howsitgoin'" or "howyadoin'" than the stereotypical "g'day mate," which is now something a "bogan," the Aussie equivalent of a redneck, would say. And if you're from the United States, don't be offended if you're referred to as a "seppo"; it's short for "septic tank," which is rhyming slang for Yank. Confused? Don't worry about it; just go with the flow, and you'll have fun.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the Australian dollar, and ATM's are easily found in Fremantle and Perth, most of which will take international cards. At the Port of Fremantle, where ships dock, there's a Commonwealth Bank ATM on the waterside external wall of the E Shed Markets, and a general ATM is located at the B Shed Ferry Terminal.
Where You're Docked
Ships dock at the Port of Fremantle which is only a couple hundred yards over a railway line to the compact downtown area and historic district.
The Port of Fremantle is a working port, but at the western end is Victoria Quay, which is being redeveloped. There's also an interesting Maritime Museum, and the historic B Shed has a ferry terminal and outdoor cafe. But Fremantle's town center is so close it's just as easy wandering around there.
Fremantle itself is easily accessible and walkable, but free Central Area Transit (CAT) shuttle buses pick up and drop off right at the front of the terminal every 10 minutes until 6:10 p.m. each day. It's a hop-on, hop-off service that covers all the main attractions. The Red CAT covers the area north of Fremantle Station, and the Blue CAT covers major attractions south of Fremantle Station. Most of the major attractions are on the south side.
If you want to go to Perth, there are usually taxis waiting outside the terminal. If you need to phone a taxi, try Swan Taxis (131 330), Black & White Taxis (131 008) or Independent Taxis (9375 7777). A fare to the Perth Central Business District (CBD) can cost up to A$60. The easiest and quickest way to travel between Fremantle and Perth, however, is by train. They depart from Fremantle station every 15 minutes or so, and it's roughly a 30-minute journey. The train station is right next to the port, about a five-minute walk over the railway line, and the best landmark to look for is the E Shed.
Most of the major car hire companies have offices in Fremantle. They include Budget, Thrifty, Avis and Europcar. This is a good option if you have enough time to kill and fancy taking a drive south to Rockingham, Mandurah, Bunbury or Margaret River.
Watch Out For
If you're tempted to go for a swim at one of the many great beaches in this area, bear in mind there are sharks, and swimmers and surfers have been attacked.
Just a short walk from where ships dock, the Western Australian Maritime Museum on Victoria Quay is a modern building housing several unique galleries that showcase WA's maritime past. It's also home to the winning America's Cup yacht, Australia II, a military submarine and many other iconic vessels that form part of Western Australia's maritime history. (It's open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Fremantle Prison, Western Australia's only World Heritage-listed building, was built by convict labor between 1852 and 1859. Today, it provides a fascinating insight into Australia's convict past. Its colorful history includes hangings, floggings, dramatic escapes and riots. The prison has been preserved and is now a historic precinct and one of the state's top tourism attractions. (It's located at 1 The Terrace, and it's open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
If you're in town on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, the Fremantle Markets on the corner of South Terrace and Henderson Streets are a fun and lively place to spend a few hours. More than 150 stalls sell everything from local fruit and vegetables to artisan cheeses, arts and crafts, jewelry, ceramics and antiques. This is where many of the local artists exhibit their works and is the place to grab a really unique souvenir of your visit to Australia. They also put on special events with buskers and petting zoos for kids and grownups who want to get up-close with Australian wildlife. (It's open Fridays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Perth is a cosmopolitan and pretty city with plenty of bars and restaurants, and the city's Central Business District (CBD) is a vibrant area well worth a visit in its own right. It's also where the locals work, shop and eat. The CBD is bordered by the Swan River, Kings Park (see below) and the railroad; the main retail district is the pedestrian malls of Hay Street and Murray Street.
Sitting atop a hill, above the Perth CBD, Kings Park and Botanic Garden is set among 2.5 square miles (4 square kilometers) of natural bushland with more than 2,000 Western Australian plant species. A glass and steel walkway takes you through the treetops to provide a fascinating angle on the amazing fauna; from there, you also get great views of the city. The walkway is free and open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If you want to visit the Swan Valley wineries, you have several options. Shore excursions are typically all-day tours that take in some of the region's most famous wineries, including Houghton, along with some smaller boutique wineries like RiverBank. The Swan Valley wine cruises, run by several companies, take you along the Swan River (an aquatic playground for yachts and smaller boats that cuts through the city), through modern-day Perth, past historic towns and into some great wineries to taste some of the region's finest tipples. It is also possible to book bus tours of the wineries independently, but you'll need to get yourself to whichever pickup points are nominated by the tour company.
Been There, Done That
Ferries run over to Rottnest Island from Victoria Quay near the port, and the 25-minute journey puts you onto a place that's a favorite day-trip for locals. "Rotto" is a nature reserve with classic white, sandy beaches; secluded bays; and unique wildlife, including the famous Quokkas -- small marsupials, which are too cute for words. Rottnest Express is one of the ferry operators, and it departs from B Shed at the Port of Fremantle.
One of Freo's classic pubs is the Sail & Anchor Pub, which has been pouring cold beer since it was built in 1854. The building itself has been restored to much of its former glory. It's a sprawling place with serious beer-drinkers downstairs and a more relaxed vibe upstairs on the verandah. (You'll find it at 64 South Terrace. It's open Monday and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday until midnight, Friday and Saturday until 1 a.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.).
Cottesloe in Perth is the most popular of all beaches in Western Australia, thanks to its fine white sand, framed by perfectly manicured lawns and Norfolk Pines. It's a great place to swim, surf or snorkel, and there are plenty of good pubs and cafes in the area. The Fremantle train station connects directly to Cottesloe train station, which is about 600 meters from the beach.
Scarborough is another favorite Perth beach. It's a long, straight stretch of sand that has consistently good waves, which means it's popular with surfers. There are also plenty of picnic areas and public barbecues as well. It's about a 20-minute drive northwest of the city and regular buses connect from the CBD.
City Beach is named because it's the closest one to the city center. Apart from good swimming and surfing, there's also a boardwalk that links up with Floreat Beach. Visitors will find plenty of cafes and restaurants, picnic areas and playgrounds for kids.
Bathers Beach is a nice swimming spot in Fremantle with calm waters, making it a favorite with families. It's an easy walk from the port, located between the Maritime Museum area and Fremantle's fashionable West End.
Both Fremantle and Perth have a plethora of quality lunch spots that range from small, trendy cafes to traditional pubs serving hearty meals and smart restaurants with fine wines.
It's almost impossible to single out any one lunch spot in a place like Fremantle, but the so-called "Cappuccino Strip" on South Terrace is probably the best place to start, as there are many worthy eateries. Truly, Fremantle and Perth are both foodie havens. The area is a great place to wing it for lunch and simply follow the old rule: if there are plenty of locals inside, it's probably really good.
The Sail & Anchor Pub is located on South Terrace, Fremantle, and does pub grub and modern Australian food in a busy atmosphere.
Also on South Terrace in Fremantle is Benny's Bar & Café>, a cute place that does Italian and Australian cuisines. Also nearby is Gino's, a dedicated Italian restaurant that's one of the best spots on The Strip.
Other popular joints include The Esplanade Hotel (corner of Maritime & Essex Streets, Fremantle), which serves an international menu and seafood specialties at its Atrium Garden Restaurant, and Cicerello's (Fisherman's Wharf, 44 Mews Road, Fremantle), a traditional Freo fish & chip joint that has broadened its menu.
Perth is also blessed with a wide variety of small cafes, bars and restaurants. Top picks include Lowdown (Shop 16a, Cloisters Arcade, Hay Street), which does great coffee and sandwiches; Zekka Cafe (76 King Street), which does the same; Nao Japanese (117 Murray Street) which offers cheap noodles; Annalakshmi on the Swan (Jetty #4, Barrack Street), which has Indian food; and Mama Tran (Shop 6, 36-40 Milligan Street) for Vietnamese.
Luxury: The Duxton Hotel Perth (1 St. Georges Terrace) is widely regarded as the city's most upmarket option and is a favorite with business travelers midweek and a real get-away-from-it-all place on the weekend. The Pan Pacific Perth is right in the CBD with views of the Swan River and has three levels of luxury accommodations.
Boutique: The Richardson Hotel & Spa (32 Richardson Street, West Perth) is one of the city's leading boutique hotels, with five-star service and a spa on site. The Pensione Hotel (70 Pier Street, Perth) has been recently refurbished, and the 98-room property is on the corner of bustling Murray Street.
Moderately Priced, good location: Comfort Hotel Perth City (200 Hay Street, Perth) offers 3.5-star accommodations in East Perth, and it's a short walk to the CBD. The Terrace Central B&B Hotel (79-85 South Terrace, Fremantle) is in the so-called "Cappuccino Strip" in Fremantle.
Great Value: The Goodearth Hotel (195 Adelaide Terrace) is a three-star, which is popular with visitors coming into town from the country. These self-contained apartments are in the Perth CBD and have little balconies, some with views of the river. The 180 rooms were renovated in April 2012. Rosie O'Grady's Irish Pub has 17 fully restored Heritage rooms, 9 Standard and 8 Deluxe, all with queen-size beds.
Off the Beaten Path: Rendezvous Hotel Perth (The Esplanade, Scarborough) is an iconic beachfront hotel with 333 nicely appointed rooms and a lagoon-style heated pool, tennis courts, a sports bar and a restaurant that specializes in seafood buffets.
Staying in Touch
Most cafes and bars have free wireless Internet in Fremantle, which makes it really easy to get online. Try The Travel Lounge (16 Market Street, Fremantle) if you want to surf the Web or print anything out, as it's probably the biggest Internet center in town. An alternative is Captain Munchies (2 Beach Street, Fremantle) for a real local Internet joint.
Best for First-Timers: The "Exploring Historic Fremantle" excursion is a four-hour narrated bus tour of the town's main highlights, including Fremantle Prison, the West Australian Maritime Museum and the Japingka Gallery, which specializes in Aboriginal Art.
Best for Nature-Lovers: Take a full-day excursion to Yanchep National Park, which is famous for its fabulous landscapes, wildlife and late-blooming wildlflowers. The reserve is home to koalas, kangaroos, emus and other wildlife. Many tours also visit an Aboriginal Cultural Centre and include lunch.
Best for Marine Animal-Lovers: If you've ever wanted to swim with dolphins, some cruise lines offer half-day dolphin swimming tours just south of Fremantle. You'll enter the water with wetsuit, mask and snorkel and swim with wild dolphins. Don't worry: the critters are well known to the tour operators.
For More Information
Fremantle Visitor Centre official tourism Web site: www.fremantlewesternaustralia.com
Perth Tourism: www.perthtourism.com.au
Tourism Western Australia: www.westernaustralia.com
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--by Joanna Hall, Cruise Critic contributor