ST GEORGES TERRACE
A city stroll is Perth’s easiest brief diversion. Close to major hotels, the steel-and-glass St Georges Terrace strip is a gleaming monument to the biggest Australian state’s mineral-driven prosperity. Turn onto Barrack Street towards the Swan River to reach the Swan Bells – an 82.5m bell tower offering splendid views of this city of 1.66 million people that calls itself the world’s most isolated metropolis. The glass-shelled edifice houses a gift to the city: historic bells from London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields church.
Back on St Georges Terrace, you may take a short cut through weird but wonderful London Court, a quaint shopping arcade built 74 years ago in mock Tudor style and now an attraction in itself. After a few minutes you will see the pedestrians-only sections of Hay and Murray Streets – heart of the city’s mall-studded shopping hub. Tel +61 8 9483 1111; www.experienceperth.com
Fremantle is, these days, very much a suburb of expanding Perth. Tours, rental cars and buses are alternatives but it’s hard to beat the train – it’s comfortable and takes just 35 minutes. Much of the historic port of Fremantle was built from stone by British convicts.
The area is today very much a tourist precinct, with gift shops, pavement cafes, restaurants, pubs and a market. Attractions include former Fremantle Prison and the Maritime Museum. Local residents suggest skipping the latter and heading instead to the nearby Shipwreck Galleries, an internationally lauded archaeological facility with well-mounted reconstructions of wrecked sailing ships. Tel +61 8 9431 7878; www.fremantlewa.com.au
Aptly named Northbridge sits just north of a bridge over Perth’s railway station. A few minutes’ unhurried walk from downtown, it is a lively entertainment zone during the day and after dark, with its mix of shops, restaurants, wine bars, pubs and alfresco cafes. The Brass Monkey (at the corner of James and William Streets, +61 8 9227 9596) is a classic Aussie pub serving a selection of Western Australian beers, while Ayami (182 James Street, +61 8 9328 2525) is an unpretentious and popular Japanese eatery in an extremely cosmopolitan area. But don’t plan too rigidly: Northbridge is a graze-on-impulse area. Though it can be a tad rough late at night after the pubs close, it is otherwise fine for wandering. Tel +61 08 9483 1111; www.northbridgealive.com.au
On the same train line as Fremantle (or 15 minutes by taxi or rental car), Cottesloe is the epitome of Perth’s celebrated beach culture – even if some residents argue other beaches are better. On a warm day, the white-sand beach is crowded but it’s backed by a quaint suburb, crammed with good eateries and shops (including arts-and-crafts outlets) that beg to be explored on foot. The Cottesloe Beach Hotel (104 Marine Parade, +61 8 9383 1100) is the busiest hang-out, with beach-attired crowds thronging its several bars. Prime spot for just-shucked oysters (or memorable fish and chips) accompanied by a chilled Western Australian white is the Beach Bar of the Indiana (99 Marine Parade, +61 8 9385 5005), a grand-looking historic pavilion that’s a Cottesloe landmark. It’s particularly popular at sunset. Tel +61 8 9285 5000; www.cottesloe.wa.gov.au
Rottnest Island is a major leisure destination both for Perth residents and visitors. The easiest way to reach this flattish isle is by fast ferry: 25 minutes from Fremantle or 45 minutes from Hillary’s Boat Harbour in suburban Perth. Rottnest is famed for bird watching, swimming, snorkelling and a plethora of trails that lure walkers and cyclists.
The island is also a particularly easy place to see the cute quokka, a cat-sized herbivorous marsupial closely related to the kangaroo and – though found in other parts of the state – native to Rottnest.
Pushbikes can be hired so, when time is tight, they are a mode of transport worth considering.
After a quick ride, enjoy a snack and glass of chilled Western Australian white at one of several beckoning restaurants and bars and you will still have plenty of time to catch a pleasant cruise back to Hillary’s Boat Harbour on the mainland. Tel +61 8 9372 9732; www.rottnestisland.com
THE WEST END
Formerly a dowdy district of flaked-paint warehouses, low-rent offices and seedy shops, the West End – handily positioned at the edge of downtown – has been reinvigorated over the past decade to become the city’s hippest precinct. One restaurant, 44 King Street, spearheaded a relocation that had canny business folk rolling their eyes. The move, widely dismissed as doomed, proved pioneering. Other businesses followed, creating a new retail, dining and after-hours quarter. It definitely demands a visit.
With King Street’s chic shops as its heart, the area is awash with international designer brand outlets, hotels, restaurants and a charming Belgian beer café. A scarcity of premises to rent means the West End continues to spread into adjoining streets and lanes. The most famous building to admire in these parts is His Majesty’s Theatre, built in Edwardian wedding-cake style. Construction began in 1902 but it remains one of the city’s leading venues for music, drama and dance. Backstage tours are available but must be booked in advance. Tel +61 08 9483 1111; www.westernaustralia.com
Allow a couple of hours to wander through the Art Gallery of Western Australia, between the city and Northbridge. Entry is free, except to special exhibitions. Exhibits filling a succession of gigantic halls encompass works from Asia and Europe, colonial Australian art, contemporary Aussie works and an impressive collection of Aboriginal art. Across the street from the gallery is the smaller Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA). It’s also free, but more youthful, experimental and cutting-edge in its choice of paintings, sculptures and installations; it certainly doesn’t shy away from showing controversial work. Tel +61 8 9492 6600 and +61 8 9228 6300; www.artgallery.wa.gov.au and www.pica.org.au