One of the great things about living in the South West is that we have a smorgasbord of choice when it comes to where to go for a long weekend.
Should we head south to the forests, wine estates and beaches or north along long stretches of open road to Perth and beyond, or perhaps East to the wheat belt and quaint towns where ‘country’ WA is still really visible.
Last weekend we decided to take off again for Fremantle, Western Australia’s principal port, situated at the foot of the Swan river on the shores of the Indian Ocean just 20kms from Perth.
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Fremantle, or Freo as it’s known to the locals, has a cosmopolitan feel laced with history. 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
You could stay in Freo much longer than a long weekend and still find plenty to do, but in the meantime here are 21 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!
1. 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 to bistro type eateries tucked away in cute courtyards, and always plenty going on along the Cappuccino Strip in town.
Try 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?
2. 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, or perhaps jump aboard Australia’s largest tall ship Leeuwin II for a 3 hour sailing experience.
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.
3. 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.
4. Be Entertained
You’ll always 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.
You’ll often find free concerts happening at the Arts Centre on a Sunday afternoon and interesting stuff happens at Kulcha (above Dome), and at The Fly by Night Musician’s Club in the heritage listed, previous artillery drill hall. There are also pubs where you’ll find a vibrant band scene happening too.
Don’t forget the West Coast Blues and Roots Festival held in April each year, and the Fremantle Festival (October/November), and the Street Arts Festival also in April, The Heritage Festival which runs from the end of May to beginning of June and the Hidden Treasures winter music series that takes place on Thursdays in July. Check out @freofestivals on Twitter or /fremantlefestival on Facebook.
And don’t forget the Footie! Fremantle is home to The Dockers team! They play at Patterson’s Stadium in Subiaco. Yay – Go Dockers!
5. 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. The property is owned by David Cooke a compulsive collector and patron of the arts. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
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.
13. 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.
Well, that’s a wrap for the things that we’ve done in Freo and can recommend, but it’s by no means an exhaustive list.
I’d love to hear any more suggestions you have – and if you haven’t had the opportunity to visit what would you most like to do in Freo given the chance?
If you enjoy travel stories then why not visit Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travellers Sandbox where you’ll find stories about other interesting places in the world.
But before you go … stay and chat a while in the comments – Freo, what’s your take?