In Wadjuk country, way out west in the Indian Ocean breeze, Perth regularly attracts that most easy-going of adjectives – 'livable'. Under a near-permanent canopy of blue sky, life here unfolds at a pleasing pace. Throw in superb beaches, global eats and booming small-bar and street-art scenes, and Perth seems downright progressive. Free from the pressures of congestion, pollution and population afflicting Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, Perth and neighbouring port town Fremantle are uncomplicated, unfettered and alive. Yes, it's the most isolated city of its size on the planet, but this remoteness fosters an outward-looking world view. Instead of heading east for their holidays, locals – who suffer the ugly, geologic-sounding moniker of 'Perthites' – travel to Bali, the Maldives, Singapore, Sri Lanka… Currency-exchange reports include the Indian rupee, while the Perth-to-London 'Dreamliner' direct flight delivers Europe's virtues in a tick under 17 hours. Forget about isolation: Perth is going places.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Perth.
The 400-hectare, bush-filled expanse of Kings Park, smack in the city centre and enjoying epic views, is Perth's pride and joy. The Botanic Garden contains over 3000 plant species indigenous to WA, including a giant boab tree that's 750 years old. Each September there's a free festival displaying the state's famed wildflowers. A year-round highlight is the Federation Walkway, a 620m path leading to a 222m-long glass-and-steel sky bridge that crosses a canopy of eucalyptus trees.
With its forbidding 5m-high walls, the old convict-era prison dominates Fremantle. Various daytime tours explore the jail's maximum-security past, give insights into criminal minds and allow you into solitary-confinement cells. Book ahead for the Torchlight Tour through the prison, with a few scares and surprises, and the 2½-hour Tunnels Tour (minimum age 12 years), venturing into subterranean tunnels and doing an underground boat ride.
Located within an 1852 commissariat store, the Shipwrecks Museum is considered the finest display of maritime archaeology in the southern hemisphere. The highlight is the Batavia Gallery, where a section of the hull of Dutch merchant ship Batavia, wrecked in 1629, is displayed. Nearby is a stone gate, intended as an entrance to Batavia Castle, which was carried by the sinking ship.
Dividing WA's vast coastline into five distinct zones (Far North, Coral Coast, Shipwreck Coast, Perth and Great Southern), AQWA features a 98m underwater tunnel showcasing stingrays, turtles, fish and sharks. (The daring can snorkel or dive with the sharks with the aquarium's in-house divemaster.) By public transport, take the Joondalup train to Warwick Station and then transfer to bus 423. By car, take the Mitchell Fwy north and exit at Hepburn Ave.
Significant West Australian boats are suspended from the rafters of this sail-shaped museum building. There's the yacht that won the America's Cup race in 1983, pearl luggers and an Aboriginal bark canoe. Take an hour-long tour of the submarine HMAS Ovens; the vessel was part of the Australian Navy's fleet from 1969 to 1997. Tours leave every half hour from 10am to 3.30pm. Book ahead.
Founded in 1895, this excellent gallery houses the state's preeminent art collection as well as regular international exhibitions that, increasingly, have a modern, approachable bent. The permanent collection is arranged into wings, from contemporary to modern, historic to local and Aboriginal. Big-name Australian artists such as Arthur Boyd, Russell Drysdale and Sidney Nolan are there, as are diverse media including canvases, bark paintings and sculpture. Check the website for info on free tours running most days at 11am and 1pm.
Perth's safest swimming beach, Cottesloe has cafes, pubs, pine trees and fantastic sunsets. From Cottesloe train station (on the Fremantle line) it's 1km to the beach; there's a free shuttle that runs between the stop and the sand during the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition in March. Bus 102 ($4.80) from Elizabeth Quay Busport goes straight to the beach.
Completed in 1831, this 12-sided stone prison is WA's oldest surviving building. It was the site of the colony's first hangings, and was later used for holding Aboriginal people before they were taken to Rottnest Island for incarceration. At 1pm daily, a time ball and cannon-blasting ceremony just outside reenacts a historic seamen's alert. Book ahead to fire the cannon.
This pointy glass spire fronted by copper sails contains the royal bells of London's St Martin-in-the-Fields, the oldest of which dates from 1550. The 12 bells were given to WA by the British government in 1988, and are the only set known to have left England. Clamber to the top for 360-degree views of Perth by the river.