Perth sometimes gets a bad rap from Australia and the international community because it’s so isolated. Sure, it’s on the other side of the country from the capitals of the other states, but that just brings it closer to Asia, Europe, and oh — the rest of the world.
Besides its location, Perth has a lot going for it. It’s friendly, hot, and has a huge range of events in summer, not to mention the many year-round free attractions.
Perth is one of the most isolated cities in the world. It’s closer to Singapore than Sydney!
The CBD is spread along the River Swan where you’ll also find the Esplanade and Bell Tower complex. Like most cities in Australia, Perth spreads into surrounding suburbs which seem to continue forever.
To the north of the CBD, you’ll find the party and restaurant suburb Northbridge. Beyond that are the two cafe and fashion regions of Mt Lawley and Leederville. If there are no events happening, these areas are much more lively than the city centre.
Place: Capital of Western Australia, Australia
Population: 1.6 million
Known for: Swan River, Kings Park, nearby wine districts, surf beaches and water sports. It’s also home to the WACA, well known in cricketing circles.
Average temperatures: summer 25-40 / winter 10-20
Airports: Perth airport is both international and regional. See flights to Australia.
Price of a pint: AUD$7
Price of a dorm bed: AUD$25 to $35
Price of a public transport ticket: free in city centre, around AUD$1.50
We’ve been to review a few hostels around the city and those in the city suburbs seem to be nicer than those right in the middle of town. Three that caught our eye were Billabong Resort, Witch’s Hat and Emperor’s Crown.
In the mid-range, there are countless hotels in Perth and, to be honest, we haven’t been in many. One thing to note though, is the word “hotel” on the side of a building is not a guarantee of accommodation. Throughout Australia, but particularly noticeable here, a hotel is actually a pub. There are also a lot of B&Bs to choose from, but make sure you look into transport options before you book one, as it might be far removed from the city centre.
Chains like Hilton, Hyatt, Holiday Inn, Mercure all have 4.5 and 5 star hotels in Perth. They’re mainly situated in the CBD or the Burswood casino and entertainment complex which is home to many of Perth’s big events.
Australia’s food is based on its colonial British foundations but then spiced up by its closeness to Asia and the large Italian, Greek and other European communities. Perth is no different and a full variety of food can be found.
Once again, the suburbs outdo the CBD with Northbridge, Leederville and, to a lesser extent, Mt Lawley serving great dishes in small, friendly restaurants. Han’s cafe is somewhere to look out for: they have dozens of locations and serve good, cheap food from a variety of Asian countries. Or try Siena’s for Italian fare.
In the city, there’s a vegetarian Indian place where you can eat for a donation: Annalakshmi on the Swan by Bell Tower. It’s a budget traveller’s dream. As is Miss Maud’s factory sale on Saturday mornings, where you can get upmarket bakery food for a fraction of what you’d pay in the Miss Maud’s cafes.
Head to Fremantle or other markets for fresh fruit and veges, and there are a lot of good butchers and specialist shops to choose from.
Perth’s real glory isn’t its food, it’s the drink. Two micro-breweries are really top notch: Little Creatures, based in Fremantle, has a cafe that’s perfect for Sunday brunch, and Feral Breweries in the Swan Valley is a worthwhile stop during a winery tour. If you are going wine-tasting, we recommend Houghtons for their gardens, Upper Reach for the quality and range of their wines, and Jane Brook for their service and fantastic gold-leaf wine.
Transport in Perth is constantly being upgraded, and the current system is mostly efficient and well-priced. The train network especially is great: the trains are clean, they run on time, and the price is fair. If only it was more extensive, it’d be perfect.
As it is, if you catch the train you’ll probably need to catch a bus as well to ultimately reach your destination. That’s fine, buses are frequent but don’t always run to schedule. You’ll spend more time than you want to waiting for a bus.
Luckily, the transport system is integrated — you can buy one ticket for all your journeys on Transperth services, which also includes a ferry across the Swan. The SmartRider card gives you an additional discount, but you have to pay for the card to begin with, and you have to tag on and off or you get a fine (and it’s easy to forget to tag off, let me tell you).
The best part about Perth transport is the FTZ — the free tranzit zone. This basically means you can travel for free in the city centre, on any bus or train. There are even special buses that just trawl the city centre, called CATs (or Central Area Transit buses for the uninitiated). The three routes – red, blue and yellow — cover most of the city centre between them.
Attractions – free
There’s a wealth of free things to do in Perth. Start with Kings Park — have a picnic or explore the gardens, which have plants from all over Australia. Take a walk along the banks of the Swan River and go shopping in the city malls or Harbourtown. Jump on the CAT buses for a free city tour, but jump off to visit the museum, the art gallery, and to hear the Swan Bells ring on the hour down by the jetty.
Beachlovers will enjoy Cottesloe and Scarborough, and partygoers will find all they need in Northbridge. Plus you can go wine tasting in the Swan Valley, walking in the Perth Hills, or shopping at the Fremantle markets.
Attractions – paid
If you didn’t find enough to do for free, never fear. The central city itself is a little short on things to pay to do, but the Perth mint should tide you over while you plan your trips slightly further afield. Within an hour, there’s AQWA — the aquarium of WA; Penguin Island — a chance to see some cute penguins and lazy sealions; and Caversham Wildlife Park — a really good place to see Australian animals.
Rottnest Island is a 90-minute ferry trip from the city, but well worth the journey. Hire a bike and see as much as you can, but watch out for the imaginatively-named “brown snakes” – they’re highly venomous.
Consider a day trip to New Norcia or the Pinnacles — you can hire a car and drive yourself, or hop on a tour bus — the commentary can be very informative.
Attractions – seasonal
Perth is also full of seasonal attractions. Summer is the best time for events and festivals, but there’s usually something happening — check out www.perth.wa.gov.au for upcoming events.
Summer kicks off with Melbourne Cup celebrations — it’s not even held here, but the whole country dresses up and lays a bet. Then there’s the Red Bull Air Race, which draws crowds to the banks of the Swan River to see the amazing acrobatics the pilots pull off. At Christmas, everyone heads to their local park and joins in on the carols by candlelight — and if you’re from the northern hemisphere, you might want to try a barbecue on the beach for your Christmas dinner.
Around January, the outdoor cinemas start to open, showing everything from Hollywood blockbusters, to international independent films, to local short films. Plus there’s a lot of outdoor music festivals and events, including the Big Day Out and Opera in the Park. Some are free, some are horrendously overpriced — choose one that takes your fancy and go for it.
Then there’s Australia Day on January 26, when the young ‘uns don their Aussie flags and pass out from beer, and the older generation get together for a barbie and … pass out from beer. It’s cultural.
In spring, the Swan Valley celebrates with Spring in the Valley, and in autumn the Margaret River holds its festival. And there’s always some sort of sporting event to attend.
Cheap tours in Perth
GuidebooksPerth & Western Australia (Regional Guide) is a solid book, if a little old. Offbeatguides.com will do it for you and send you a pdf for $10. It’s pretty, but probably not worth it.
Where to next?
Depends on where you’ve come from. Explore WA a bit more, head up to Monkey Mia and Broome or into the interior. But whatever you do, don’t miss out on the Margaret River wine region. Hire a car and head south for a few days, then come back to catch your onwards flight. It’s a bit far to drive across Australia, and we don’t recommend it.
If you’ve come from overseas, see more of Oz. Visit Uluru in the centre, or one of the other state capitals (Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart) or the big one, Canberra (by all accounts, a little dull). If you’ve arrived from the Eastern states, grab a cheap ticket to Singapore, KL or some other Asian city — Asia is JUST THERE! (This is a big thing for us, being from New Zealand, one of the most isolated countries in the world).
The Indie Travel Podcast guide to Perth, Australia, is sponsored by Travellerspoint.com.
Travellerspoint is a a friendly community where you can connect with other like-minded travellers, as well as uploading your photos and keeping a blog. There are forums, photo galleries, and wiki travel guides to a variety of places around the word, including Perth.
You can also book accommodation through Travellerspoint, with hostel beds in Perth starting at AUD$20. If that’s not your thing, check out one of the many hotels, guesthouses or B&Bs.
This month, Travellerspoint are running a competition and giving away a $100 accommodation voucher. All you need to do is write an article off their Suggested Articles list, before March 16, and you’ll go in the running for some free accommodation!