Fremantle is a hip and happening little city, overflowing with colonial history and modern style.
The port city is often sold as a day trip from Perth but it deserves more than a fleeting visit. There’s a really cool vibe to Freo (that’s what the locals call it), so if possible plan to spend a couple of days here (and even then you’ll be aching to stay longer or plan your next visit!).
Fremantle’s long and varied history is evident in its architecture. There are 2,500 buildings on the city’s heritage list and getting to know Freo by learning its history is part and parcel of any visit. But it’s not all a history lesson. There are plenty of other fun things to see and do.
Here are ten top experiences in Fremantle.
Get on 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 tour through the brewery is fun, informative and ends with tastings. Need I say more?
Scare yourself silly 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 and1859, 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. If you’re keen on being spooked, hop on The Ghostly Tour every Friday night to visit Freo’s scariest places.
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.
Get a caffeine fix at a cool cafe
Cappuccino Strip is not the only spot to head for great coffee. 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. Studio 37 and Moore & Moore Cafe also serve up fine java, food and a side of local art.
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.
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 and Broken Doll on Cantonment Street is fun for an afternoon of vintage clothing rummaging. Of course, no weekend is complete without browsing the stalls at the city’s original marketplace – the Fremantle Markets (Friday-Sunday only).
Walk the walk on a guided tour
A guided walking tour is a brilliant way to get to know a city, especially if you’re pressed for time. Book a walking tour of Fremantle and let local guides do a little show and tell. Bring your camera!
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.
Get festive at a festival
There are loads of festivals, events and concerts in Fremantle throughout the year, including Fremantle Festival – Australia’s longest running community festival. It’s a celebration of art and culture that happens each October. Also in October is The Blessing of the Fleet – a culturally significant custom that is carried out by fishing communities around the world. In Fremantle it includes a parade.
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.
Immerse yourself in Freo’s dark history with 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.
The twin ‘cells’ are located on the top floor and are not for the faint-hearted. I wasn’t brave enough to sleep in an upstairs cell alone, so I stayed 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.
Jennifer travelled as a guest of Fremantle Prison YHA.
Do you have any suggestions to add to this list of ten top experiences in Fremantle? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
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 even spent six months working on board 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 an airplane… or jumping out of one.