Perth is one of the most isolated major cities on the planet. Framed by endless cobalt skies, it stands remote at the western edge of Australia's massive expanse. Northwest across the Indian Ocean, the Asian megacity of Jakarta is closer than Melbourne or Sydney to Perth's east. This geographic exile has instilled its population with confidence and verve.
The economic benefits of Australia's resources boom continue to inspire central Perth's ongoing urban makeover, while a creative and entrepreneurial spirit drives the reinvention and renewal of inner suburbs and the nearby port town of Fremantle. This whistlestop weekend itinerary will steer you through Perth's unmissable sights, sips and sea views.
Kick-start your time in Perth with coffee and a relaxed breakfast at funky Little Willy's in gritty and bohemian Northbridge. Try not to spend too much time in the neighbourhood's design shops and vintage clothing stores before strolling to Perth's nearby Cultural Centre (facebook.com/PerthCulturalCentre). An essential first stop to understand Western Australia's sprawling heritage and diverse natural history is the Western Australian Museum. Follow up with a visit to the adjacent Art Gallery of Western Australia – the indigenous galleries showcasing Aboriginal art are a highlight – before focussing on more cutting-edge works at the nearby Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. For lunch, celebrate Northbridge's emerging foodie credentials over Swan Valley wine in Lot Twenty's brick-clad courtyard. Look forward to a strong focus on locally sourced produce.
After a morning of culture and cuisine, continue to Kings Park for excellent views of the city and the silvery expanse of the Swan River. The park's meandering bushwalking tracks frame Perth's Botanic Garden, a colourful and well-ordered 17-hectare showcase of more than 2000 plants indigenous to Western Australia. Visit during a southern hemisphere spring – from September to November – for a riotous palette of wildflowers. All year round you can stroll past towering eucalyptus trees on the striking glass and steel elevated bridge of the Federation Walkway. Time your Kings Park visit from Monday to Friday to join the 1.30pm or 3.30pm Indigenous Heritage Tour (indigenouswa.com), a 90-minute guided walk explaining the significance of the area to the local Wadjuk and Noongar people.
Negotiate your way to one of Perth's new breed of small bars, often concealed in the laneways and quiet backstreets of the city's revitalised CBD. Head to Helvetica or Greenhouse for cocktails, or Lalla Rookh for one of the city's best wine and beer selections, before continuing to the sprawling former headquarters of the West Australian newspaper for excellent grills at Print Hall or southeast Asian street food at the more casual Apple Daily Bar & Eating House. For a more edgy evening, mix and match South American and Asian flavours at the cosmopolitan Pleased to Meet You in Northbridge, before whiskey or cocktails at Varnish on King nearby on the fringe of the CBD.
After breakfast in the inner suburb of Leederville – both Duende and Sayers offer Perth's tastiest ways to start the day – get to the Perth Mint when it opens at 9am. Much of Perth's growth has been fuelled by the boom, bust and boom again cycles of the mining industry, and the Gold Exhibition in the stately 19th-century building is a shimmering showcase of bullion and bling. Australia's biggest collection of natural gold nuggets shows why prospectors were lured from around the world to work in the harsh environment of the country's Outback, and valued at AU$50 million, the Australian Kangaroo One Tonne Gold Coin is the biggest and most valuable coin on the planet. From the Mint, wander downhill (around 20 minutes) through the emerging Elizabeth Quay development linking the Swan River with Perth CBD, and catch Captain Cook Cruises' 11.30am lunch cruise departure to Fremantle from Barrack St Jetty.
Secure free-of-charge bike rental from the Fremantle Visitor Centre and explore the port town's well-preserved Victorian townscape on two wheels. After coffee at Moore & Moore Cafe in the relaxed campus of the University of Notre Dame, visit the fascinating Shipwreck Galleries of the Western Australian Museum. The museum's highlight is the Batavia Gallery telling the compelling story of the Batavia, a Dutch merchant ship that foundered off the western Australian coast in 1629. Continue around 1km to the foreboding 5m-high walls of the convict-era Fremantle Prison. Guided walking tours include the poignant Doing Time tour, which takes in the unbearably small solitary confinement cells, and the Great Escapes tour introducing infamous past inmates including bushranger and recidivist escapee, Moondyne Joe. From the prison, coast downhill back to central Fremantle – your bike will need to be back at the visitor centre by 4.30pm.
Your two-wheeled escapade definitely deserves rewarding, and luckily Fremantle is the hoppy hub of Perth's craft beer scene. Essential stops include buzzy Little Creatures with waterfront views of Freo's Fishing Boat Harbour, The Monk Bar & Kitchen for eight beers brewed on site, or the confounding but delicious 27 taps at the Sail & Anchor pub. For a more refined pre-dinner drink, head to the elegant Whisper wine bar before sharing a long table with friendly locals for dinner at Bread in Common. House-baked sourdough bread partners with cheese and charcuterie platters, and shared plates and salads strike a delicious balance between culinary flair and comfort food. After dinner, adjourn for a final nightcap back at your favourite Fremantle craft beer emporium, before making the 30-minute train journey back to Perth.