The heritage city of Fremantle is the yang to Perth's yin. Located just south of the Western Australia capital, it's a destination steeped in history and packed with character. Here's a handy checklist of top things to do during your visit.
Fremantle is a hip and happening city, overflowing with colonial history and engaging quirks.
It’s often sold as a day trip from Perth, but ‘Freo’ (as the locals call it) deserves more than a fleeting visit. There’s plenty to see and do, so plan to spend a couple of days here if possible. Even then, you’ll be aching to extend your stay.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Fremantle.
1. Hit the craft beer and ale trail
The craft beer scene is thriving in towns and cities across Australia and Fremantle is one of the pioneers. Little Creatures Brewery sets the bar high with its Pale Ale — the brew that put them on the craft beer map. A brewery tour is fun, informative and ends with tastings. Need I say more?
2. Do time at Fremantle Prison
Visiting Freo and not doing a tour of the Fremantle Prison is a crime. The vast limestone jail was built by convicts between 1852 and 1859, and housed thousands of men, women and juveniles until it was decommissioned in 1991. Rumour has it that the prison is heavily haunted — as are many historic establishments in Fremantle.
3. Hook the catch of the day
Fishing Boat Harbour is the place to go for fresh local seafood. Cicerello’s have been serving up scrumptious fish and chips since 1903 so they kind of have it down pat. Close neighbours include Joe’s Fish Shack and Kailis Fish Market. Lower South Terrace — also known as the Cappuccino Strip — serves much more than coffee. This area is the hub of Fremantle’s weekend nightlife and home to the iconic brewpub Sail and Anchor and several Italian and Greek eateries.
4. Get a caffeine fix
Cappuccino Strip is not the only spot to head for a brew. Some of Fremantle’s best cafes can be found on side streets that may not be on the tourist trail. The Attic on Bannister Street is a funky two-story cafe that does a good brew and yummy breakfast. Moore & Moore Cafe serves up fine java, food and a side of local art.
5. Explore the local arts scene
The art scene in Freo is hard to escape — everywhere you look there’s a gallery, a studio, or an exhibition on a cafe wall. The Fremantle Arts Centre is housed in what was formerly known as the Convict Establishment Fremantle Lunatic Asylum and Invalid Depot (yep, haunted), and offers an impressive display of art, history and culture. Another notable art hub is J Shed Art Studio, where you may get to see artists like Jenny Dawson, Peter Zuvela and Greg James in action.
6. Shop up a storm
High Street is a wonderland of shops and cafes. Bookworms and writers will love Bill Campbell Books and my personal favourite — First Edition. Compendium Design Store has many gifts for those hard-to-buy-for people, while Broken Doll on Cantonment Street is fun for an afternoon of vintage clothing rummaging. Of course, no weekend in Fremantle would be complete without browsing the stalls at the historic Fremantle Markets (open Friday to Sunday).
7. Pound the pavement on a guided tour
A guided walking tour is a brilliant way to get to know Fremantle. Enjoy a little show and tell from your local guide, and learn lots of interesting history along the way. Don’t forget your camera!
8. Immerse yourself in maritime history
A lot of Fremantle’s history and charm come from its maritime heritage. You can dive in deep with visits to the WA Shipwrecks Museum and Maritime Museum, and a stroll around the boardwalk at Fishing Boat Harbour. Most people don’t know that the Fremantle Navy Club welcomes non-member visitors. The club occupies the top two floors at 64 High Street, where you’ll find old school hospitality, cheap drink prices, Navy memorabilia and seasoned sailors to chat to.
9. Go to a festival
There are loads of festivals, events and concerts held in Fremantle throughout the year. One of the best is the Fremantle Festival — Australia’s longest running community festival. It’s a celebration of art and culture that happens each October.
10. Catch a spectacular sunset
Every list of ‘things to do in Fremantle’ needs ‘see a sunset’ on it, because they are truly breathtaking. The best place in Freo to watch the sun slide into the Indian Ocean is Bathers Beach. You can even book a lounge chair in the sand at Bathers Beach House and complete the sundowner experience with a drink in hand.
Where to stay in Fremantle
Fremantle Prison YHA
Tap into Freo’s dark history by spending a night at the Fremantle Prison YHA. The hostel is actually located in the historic jail and staying here is like spending the night in a museum. There are photos and copies of prison documents throughout the corridors and common rooms that give you a good rundown on what went on here over the years.
There are a variety of rooms to choose from, including cottages, dorms, private rooms, family rooms and even rooms that used to be actual jail cells. I wasn’t brave enough to sleep in an old cell alone, so I opted to stay in an ensuite room in the newly built section of the hostel. It was cosy, clean and comfortable, and no, I did not see a ghost. All clear.
Staying in Fremantle is like embracing your inner hipster, and Seashells Fremantle puts you right on the edge of the action. You’re far enough away to get a break from the hustle and bustle of the tourist centre, yet close enough to get into the urban groove with ease when you want to.
Located in East Fremantle near the Swan River, Seashells is more like a private apartment complex than a hotel. The accommodation options include spacious deluxe guest rooms, and one and two-bedroom apartments. They all come complete with plush triple-sheeted beds, stylish furniture, a smart TV, a fully equipped kitchenette, and a well appointed bathroom.
Other features to love are the free Wi-Fi, underground parking, and secure swipe-card access. Sweetwater Rooftop Bar is the perfect spot to enjoy a chilled cocktail at sunset.
The writer travelled as a guest of Fremantle Prison YHA and Seashells Fremantle.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Jennifer Morton is a freelance writer and photographer. The Canadian expat has lived all over Canada, New Zealand and Australia. She also spent six months working on a cruise ship in Europe. When Jennifer is not writing about travel, you may find her lounging on the beach, fishing with her son, sipping coffee at a cafe, reading a book or zooming in on a beautiful scene. She’s also likely to be boarding a plane — or jumping out of one.