We love Fremantle, or Freo as it’s known to the locals. It’s vibe is very different to Perth city. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time as you wander around the quaint streets choc-a-bloc with heritage buildings and history. Then onto the waterfront and the bustling water scenes with fabulous restaurants and fresh fish ‘n chips to be savoured.
Today, we’re going to share some of the very best things to do in Fremantle.
First up a little video.
So different to Perth City
Fremantle is always a surprise. I never tire of wandering around its historic streets. It has a totally different ambiance to Perth, which is so close in distance, yet so far in character.
Freo is quaint and quirky with old buildings which line the streets in faded glory giving a glimpse into life in days gone by. There’s history on display. You don’t have to seek it out.
But Freo is modern too. There’s a thriving arts’ scene, fabulous restaurants and a vibrant weekend market in front of which you’ll generally find a performing street artist or two.
We love the vibrant sidewalk cafes and restaurants along the well known ‘cappuccino strip’ and the seafood restaurants down at the fishing harbour. You’ll find art galleries, museums, quirky shopping precincts and colourful courtyards, while everywhere you look you’ll see historic buildings dating back to Victorian times.
In the early days, convicts were landed and detained in Fremantle while later, particularly in the period during the wars and after the second world war, a large number of migrants came to WA in search of a new life, arriving after many weeks at sea. The Welcome Walls at the maritime museum have an intriguing list of the families who arrived by sea, showing the dates they stepped ashore.
Spoilt for Choice
There are plenty of things to do in Fremantle that have made it onto our list at one time or another.
Although we’ve never taken a raccoon, hamster, ferret, lizard or armadillo for a drink!
Eat Drink and Be Merry
Let’s face it, we’re always going to want to have a good nosh, and Freo provides a wonderful selection of eateries from a variety of seafood restaurants at the Fishing Boat Harbour and along the fantastic sea front boardwalks, to bistro type eateries tucked away in cute courtyards, and always plenty going on along the Cappuccino Strip in town.
We loved the Moules Marniere at the Mussel Bar, or how about a sumptuous steak at Char Char Bull? Head into town for a home brew and pizza at The Monk micro brewery, or go and dance a salsa or two before dinner at Soho Swing. When we’re with our grown up children we often head for a cleansing ale and dinner at Little Creatures micro brewery where the pale ale is Dave’s favourite.
To finish up, perhaps a little true indulgence at the chocolaterie, San Churro in Market Street?
Take a Boat Ride
From Victoria Quay you have a few choices. A ferry – to Rottnest Island, where you can explore 63 idyllic bays, hire a bike and snorkel, or Cruise – up the Swan River.
If you’re after an adrenalin rush then you might rather a fast jet boat ride that departs from The Fishing Boat harbor – shown in the top picture above the ferry.
Visit the Markets
Fremantle Markets – 150 stalls under one roof, consisting of fresh produce at The Yard and artisan products at The Hall. Open all day Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The stalls are in a grand old Victorian building originally used as a market hall in 1897.
The E-Shed Markets have a variety of nikky-nakky-noos and you can find them at the main harbor on Victoria Quay. They’re open Fridays, Saturday, Sundays and Public Holidays 9am – 5pm.
The markets are housed in a historic timber building known as “E” Shed that was constructed in 1929 further up the quay and closer to the wharf.
You’ll often find street performers in the courtyard outside the Fremantle Markets (in town) at the weekends, and one such itinerant busker who intrigues us is The Bad Piper, a local institution having found nationwide notoriety on Australia’s Got Talent on TV.
Tune into the local vibes because Freo is home to a great music culture. Some of Australia’s top musos have called Fremantle home; members of ACDC, The Waifs, Jonathan Butler, David Hyams to name a few.
Sleep Over – Where to Stay in Fremantle
There are lots of places to stay from 4 star hotels to quaint B & B’s. I’m just going to mention the three establishments where we’ve stayed and been happy.
The gracious Esplanade Hotel has a 4 star rating, two outdoor heated swimming pools, outdoor spas, sauna, fitness centre, and two restaurants. It’s in a great location, and rooms on the upper levels all have balconies.
Walking into the tranquil courtyard of Port Mill B & B with its fountain and bougainvillea is like stepping into a Tuscan story. The buildings are picture postcard pretty and once inside the courtyard you feel far from the madding crowd and the markets of Freo, but you’re actually right in the heart of town. Port Mill is a quaint place to stay if you’re after a luxurious and cosy experience in a heritage building.
Fothergills of Fremantle is situated in three grand heritage listed buildings high on the hill above Freo. A stay at Fothergills is a unique experience because every nook and cranny of the property is home to an eclectic collection of art; from deck chairs to cows, sculptures, violins and paintings. Stay in one of 7 spacious rooms named to reflect local history. Occasionally musical events are held in the courtyard.
At every turn in Fremantle you’re likely to bump into another piece of street art. Look out for Greg James’s sculptures in particular at the Footie Oval, and a series of sculptures around Town Hall Square, and don’t miss his works of art, “Iris” in the gardens of Fothergills – 4 full life-sized sculptures that depict the blooming of a beautiful woman, half plant, half beauty.
Swim, sunbathe, take a dive
Fremantle has a couple of beaches, and Bather’s Beach below is close to the restaurants of the Fishing Harbour.
The Western Australian Maritime Museum
The jewel in the crown of one of Australia’s most significant historic maritime precincts. It’s in the west end of Fremantle and consists of the beautifully designed Maritime Museum and the convict built Shipwreck Galleries beside Fishing Boat Harbour.
You won’t only be blown away by the exhibits, but you’ll also be amazed by the architecture, brilliantly conceived on a number of levels enabling visitors to view the crafts on show from all perspectives – below – level – and above.
The museum is appropriately home to Australia 11 winner of the Australia’s Cup in 1983, and one can argue that this was the boat that provided Fremantle with its most recent renaissance.
Take time out to look at the intriguing Welcome Walls outside the museum and if you have time visit the Shipwreck Museum, and do a Submarine Tour as well.
Watch a Sunset
Sunsets in WA along the coast are nearly always spectacular, and there’s nothing we like more than to take a glass of wine and watch the sunset.
Visit the prison
In 1850 the first of about 10,000 convicts arrived in Fremantle as a labour force to help construc infrastructure for the Swan River Colony. One of the first things they had to do was build their own home, the Convict Establishment which later became Fremantle Prison.
It’s the most intact convict establishment in Australia and was only decommissioned as a maximum security prison in 1991. 43 men and 1 woman were hanged here, and it was a place of execution between 1888 and 1984.
Have a convict experience and book on one of the several tours available that include a tunnels tour and an eerie tour by torchlight, not for the faint hearted.
Hop on Hop Off
A great way to see all the sights if you have limited time, is to hop on a Fremantle Tram Tour which gives you a guided tour of the city and its sights. You can hop off at various points and rejoin the tour later. There are several tour options one of which includes a cruise on the Swan River, another a tram and prison option. The tram also meets the Perth to Fremantle ferries making it easy for Perth visitors to hop on.
Visit the historic sights
I’ve already mentioned the prison and shipwreck museum, but there are many more historic sights. The Round House is the oldest public building in WA and was the town gaol back in 1831, from here there’s also a great view of the town and Bather’s Beach.
Underneath the Round House you’ll find Waler’s Tunnel cut through the cliff with information boards about the whaling industry, and a little out of town is the iconic Fremantle Arts Centre which is housed in a gloomy, gothic fascinating Harry Potter type building that was once used as a lunatic asylum, a women’s poor house and a navy base. It’s situated in beautiful grounds and its history is fascinating.
Get on your bike
The roads aren’t too busy yet in Freo for a scenic cycle, and there’s a 25km route you can take to Perth along back roads and cycle paths that often hug the Swan River.
Look out for quirky sculptures all around Fremantle.
Some of the statues we discovered include Bella a life size bronze bathing beauty seated at the entrance to Bathers Beach just off the waterfront. The sculpture is created by iconic Fremantle sculptor Greg James.
Other sculptures by Greg James include the Coastguard, outside of the seafood restaurant Cicerello’s, which is a huge steel sentinel looking out to sea. Along the waterfront there’s the Fishermen statue, and also a statue of Bonn Scott Jovi the iconic ACDC frontman rocker who hailed from Fremantle. You’ll also find a beautiful series of sculpures of Greg James interpretation of blossoming womanhood at historic Fothergill’s B & B.Near the entrance to the Fremantle Oval is a bronze of a great Aussie rules player rising to take a flying mark. We were lucky when we discovered this piece of art as we wandered free into the oval to watch The Dockers in pre-season training.
Street art in Fremantle
The area around the Church is a wonderful place to while away some time with morning markets, public table tennis and giant chess under a magnificent shady fig trees.Freo has some great street art too and it’s fun to wander the streets taking in the local creativity on display.
We found no street art more impressive than the incredible fresco at East West …. we found out that artist Graham Richards has been working on this fresco for more than a year and is still painting. It covers the entire length of the East West emporium – more than 100 metres in length. Various scenes are depicted from the parts of the world where East West sources it’s furniture and collectibles; Africa, India, Hong Kong, the Far East and the sub Continent. The fresco is bursting with colour and it transforms you into worlds far away with quirky humour and insights. Should not be missed and nor should the pandora’s box of furnishings and collectibles inside this gigantic warehouse.
There’s plenty of other cool street art displayed on shops and facades around Freo too. One of my favourites is the psychadelic zebras on the wall of Oolong Cafe.
Tramping the streets and taking in the flavours you can’t help but be tempted by the abundance of coffee shops and cafes at every twist and turn in the city and on its outskirts. Freo hosts unique cafes where you can put up your feet and enjoy the passing parade sipping on fair trade coffee and home made delights or raw food.
Some that caught our eye were Poppy, Bread, Oolong, Kand (with pretty sofas) and we had breakfast at Mill House.There are lots of places to eat at night. We chose one of our favourites CharChar Bull sitting on their balcony overlooking the fishing harbour as the sun set.We started off with a couple of cocktails; a champagne cocktail and cosmopolitan. Although CharChar Bull is renowned for its steaks, we chose seafood; scallops, mussels and salmon.
Where to wine and dine
There are lots of other seafood places to eat along the waterfront along the boardwalks including Kailis, Cicerellos, and The Mussel Bar.
The Fremantle Doctor
Perth can be pretty hot in the summer but Freo is blessed with a cooling sea breeze affectionately known called the Freo Dr, but if you need to cool off there are plenty of options in the vicinity, from Bathers Beach set right in the heart of Fremantle with cool boardwalks and cafes, to the beaches further south; South Beach and onto Coogee. The colour of the water in summertime has to be seen to be believed.
On our travels we discovered the newly built and innovatively designed skateboard park which was teeming with youthful young athletes honing their extreme moves beneath Freo’s Big Wheel.
This is a really cool place to watch the world go by and stunts in the making – another form of Freo’s creativity.
The street art in Freo really blew us away on this visit. I’m sure there are other great places in the world where street art is fabulous – so tell us – where is your favourite piece of street art and what is it?