As I step into the crowd to get a better view of the street performer outside the market, my eyes are drawn up the precariously stacked chairs – on top of which he is juggling large knives!
The performer jumps down with a final flourish, and the crowd erupts into rapturous applause. Welcome to Fremantle – Western Australia’s colourful port city, where old meets new, the vibe is relaxed and easygoing, and you’re invited to come as you are and join the party!
‘Freo’, as the locals call it, is often done as a day trip from Perth but it deserves a much more thorough visit. The city offers an incredibly rich colonial and maritime history to explore, along with a world-class culinary scene and an eclectic range of retail experiences.
Enjoy this Fremantle travel guide.
Need to know
Base yourself: City, Esplanade, East Fremantle
Average hotel price per room/per night: $180 AUD
Best breakfasts: City, South Fremantle
Great coffee: City, Fremantle Markets, South Fremantle
Top spots for a beverage: Market Street, Esplanade, East Fremantle (waterfront)
Must-do tours: Hop on hop off tram tour, Fremantle Prison ghost tour
Best times to visit
Fremantle, located just south of Perth, is a year-round destination and enjoys superb weather. The pick of the seasons for us are spring and autumn, when days are characterised by mild to warm temperatures and balmy nights.
For beach bunnies, summer is of course your best bet and with some of the best beaches anywhere in Australia, you’ll love your time in Perth and Freo. Expect temperatures in the low to mid 30s.
Winter brings periods of rain and cool but sunny days with low humidity.
Established in 1897, the heritage-listed Fremantle Markets are the heart and soul of Freo and home to a diverse mix of retailers and food vendors.
Immerse yourself in more than a century of market culture and tradition – and do not miss the organic doughnuts at Levi’s Doughnuts! The Fremantle Markets are open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The Fremantle Arts Centre is located in a gothic building (circa 1864) that was originally the Convict Establishment Fremantle Lunatic Asylum and Invalid Depot. There’s a bustling gallery, café and gift shop on site, and the centre hosts local and international exhibitions. The centre’s gift shop – FOUND – sells unique homewares made by local artisans. The centre also offers live music on weekends and an art market throughout the year.
In addition to visual arts, Fremantle is home to performing arts groups like Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, which will charm you with whimsical puppet shows.
Street performers frequent the area around the markets. Think a Doc Martin-wearing, kilted Scotsman playing flame-throwing bagpipes and you get the idea. Fremantle is so in love with its street performers that they are celebrated annually with the Fremantle Street Arts Festival – one of the top cultural things to do in Fremantle. It runs over the Easter long weekend.
Explore Fremantle’s extraordinary heritage architecture, including the Round House – the city’s first prison.
Built in 1831 from local limestone and Yorkshire flagstone, the Round House offers sweeping views out to Garden Island and Rottnest Island. Don’t miss the cannon firing at 1pm – a tradition since 1900, which enabled sailors to set their watches and navigate effectively.
Walyalup Aboriginal Cultural Centre is located just past the Round House. Here you can learn about bushfoods, Indigenous art, woodworking and the Nyoongar language spoken by the traditional owners of the region.
Western Australian Maritime Museum offers visitors a march back in time – from historical exhibits detailing the conditions faced by colonial sailors, to the HMAS Ovens submarine tour. The Welcome Walls – 400 granite panels etched with the names of migrants who arrived by sea – is located here.
Away from the foreshore, the imposing limestone structure of the Fremantle Prison houses a small museum and gallery of art created by convict inmates. There are tours throughout the day (and ghost tours at night!). See the gallows where many nefarious residents met an untimely end.
The hop on hop off Fremantle Tram Tour offers a broad overview of the city’s history (and a convenient transfer between attractions!). There are six stops around the city and drivers provide commentary along the way.
A guided walking tour is also a great way to go. Hear tales of the city’s past as you visit various period buildings with a local guide.
Fremantle has a seriously dynamic culinary scene that will satisfy the most ardent of foodies.
Slick gastropub Strange Company occupies a refurbished garage and delivers a tapas-style dining experience, accompanied by creative cocktails and an Australian-centric wine list. Head there on Sunday afternoons to hear live jazz.
Bread in Common is a mecca for foodies travelling to Fremantle. Virtually everything served is made on the premises in the open kitchen. There’s a kitchen garden on the pavement out the front, and wood-fired ovens out the back that pump out aromatic loaves of fresh bread.
For something different, head to The Raw Kitchen. Catering for any dietary requirement, this multipurpose venue is a restaurant, shop and yoga studio. Grab a seat in the shipping container set up as a living room.
Head for High Street for an afternoon of indulgent shopping in Fremantle.
The unusual furniture and plush cashmere scarves will draw you into Kartique. Check out their amazing jewellery too. With locally designed and carefully curated vintage pieces, you’re bound to find something you love.
Book lovers, head straight for New Edition Bookshop, where you can cozy up among the pressed wood shelves and browse the latest best sellers. The humour section of this indie book store will have you in stitches.
Don’t blink or you might miss Eclectic Ladyland, which offers unique women’s clothing and accessories.
With its prime waterfront possie, there are plenty of relaxing things to do in Fremantle.
Firstly, put on your togs and head to Bathers Beach to enjoy its calm, protected swimming area. When you’re done, head up the sand to Bathers Beach House for a cool cocktail. Try their upstairs bar for fantastic sunset views.
Stroll along Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour and check out Little Creatures – a fabulous brewhouse that also serves upmarket pub fare and pizzas. Creatures Next Door is a relaxed extension of the brewery, and offers an elevated aspect on the harbour, along with live comedy on Saturday nights and live music on Thursdays and Sundays.
Esplanade Park is located just behind the harbour, and is home to the 40-metre high Tourist Wheel. With its shady trees, the park plays host to a variety of festivals and events, including the Laneway Festival in February and the Chilli Festival in March.
Review: Jennifer Morton
Staying in Fremantle is like embracing your inner hipster. The seaside city is one of Greater Perth’s coolest, most laid-back centres, and choosing to stay at Seashells Fremantle puts you 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 super fast.
Located in East Fremantle near the Swan River, Seashells is more like a private apartment complex than a hotel. The luxury accommodation options include spacious deluxe guest rooms, and one and two-bedroom apartments. All options feature plush triple-sheeted beds, stylish furniture, a smart TV, an in-room safe, a fully equipped kitchenette and modern bathrooms with natural toiletries.
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.
Do you have any tips to add to our Fremantle travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Gayann Walker is a Perth-based freelance writer with a passion for travel, adventure and a good feed! Born in Boston, Gayann has lived in Perth since moving from the Gulf Coast of Florida in 2010. She has an eclectic travel style that varies from rugged adventures – such as climbing Mt Kinabalu and roughing it in the jungles of Borneo – to relaxing on beautiful beaches and sipping tropical drinks from luxury villas. Gayann has travelled extensively through Australia, Asia, Europe and the United States. Her favourite destination on the planet is Exmouth on the north-west of Western Australia – home to the stunning Ningaloo Reef, which is teeming with pristine natural beauty and sea life.
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