A long way from anywhere, the Western Australian capital of Perth is a laidback, leafy metropolis with a style all of its own
Whichever way you approach it, Perth is a long way from anywhere. Geographically the most isolated city in the world, it’s closer to Singapore than Sydney and consequently has a city style all of its own. With the picturesque Swan River on one side and the pristine beaches of the Indian Ocean on the other, Perth boasts more hours of sunshine than any other Australian city, not to mention a couple of world-class vineyards right on its doorstep.
Everything is geared towards making the most of the fantastic climate and you get the feeling work is not taken too seriously around these parts – stroll through the city streets and you’ll come across bronze sculptures of kangaroos dressed as businessmen, complete with bowler hats. With just a handful of skyscrapers designating the CBD, Perth’s skyline is more about palm trees than office blocks, making for a laidback, leafy metropolis with a distinctly tropical feel.
The state of Western Australia may be mostly desert, but the people of Perth are born water babies. Surfers flock to the gorgeous beaches, windsurfers to the Swan River, and, from September to December, all eyes are on the ocean as humpback whales cruise off the coast: pull up a chair at a beachside bar and scan the horizon for the telltale spouts of water that reveal their presence. No trip to Perth would be complete without getting your feet wet at some point.
While Sydney and Melbourne compete for the status of Australia’s most cultural city, over on the west coast Perth quietly gets on with establishing a thriving arts scene all of its own. Visit the Art Gallery of Western Australia, which houses an unparalleled collection of indigenous art, providing a fascinating insight into the legends of the Aboriginal people and Australia’s history. The Western Australian Museum is another veritable treasure trove, with displays covering everything from mammals to marine life, birds to butterflies, alongside exhibitions devoted to telling the unique story of WA.
Lunch in a pavement café is de rigeur when in Perth, and there’s no better place than in the chic suburb of Subiaco. Trendy eateries abound and the food reflects Australia’s modern style of fusion cooking, best accompanied, naturally, by a drop of the local grape – the nearby Swan Valley and Margaret River areas produce world-class wines.
Take al fresco dining one step further and picnic in the wonderful King’s Park, which is a unique mix of carefully cultivated botanical gardens and untamed native bush. If you can’t face making your own sandwiches, pop into Fraser’s, serving delicious Australian cuisine in the heart of the park with stunning city and river views. For refuelling on the go, grab a smoothie from one of the hundreds of juice bars dotted around the city – don’t forget your shot of wheatgrass.
The CBD is home to several malls, largely clustered around Hay and Murray Streets, with all the usual high-street chains and designer stores to flash your plastic in. For more original gifts and souvenirs, take the train to the port of Fremantle. Arty and cultural, Freo, as it’s affectionately known, is an absolute delight, its streets lined with elegant 19th-century buildings and palm trees. Spend an afternoon browsing the colourful stalls in the markets, where you can pick up anything from fruit to sharks' teeth necklaces. Recharge on "Cappuccino Strip”, a long row of sunny, eclectic cafés where pavement tables are serenaded by the street performers who thrive on Freo’s vibrant arts scene.
As elsewhere in Australia, Perth is a sportsman’s paradise. Catch a raucous game of Aussie Rules Football at the Subiaco Oval (in winter) or join the spectators at one of the many impromptu kickabouts held in parks across the city. Fill up an esky with some beers and picnic on the grass verges at either end of the infamous WACA while watching a game of cricket – practically a religion for the people of Perth – or head to Pelican Point on the Swan River for a windsurfing lesson.
For more genteel pursuits, the Indiana Tea House, right on the seafront at the beach suburb of Cottesloe, is a step back in time to the colonial splendours of a bygone era. Recline in wicker chairs under humming ceiling fans and order afternoon tea as you watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean, silhouetting the surfers.
After dark, kick your heels up in Northbridge, the hub of the city’s nightlife, where businessmen rub shoulders with backpackers, and bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants jostle for your attention. Here, you can pick from just about any type of cuisine, be it Thai, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Spanish or Indonesian. The local seafood is best sampled in either The Fishy Affair, which is one of the longest established restaurants in Northbridge, or Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grill, which boasts several Australian tourism and catering awards. Both offer tempting platters heaped with ocean-dwellers.
After dinner, take your pick from one of Northbridge’s many popular pubs – the Brass Monkey is one of the best. Don’t forget to try a drop of the local brew – Swan lager is the amber nectar of choice around these parts.
Where to stay
Crowne Plaza Perth - reliable and good for business travellers.
Miss Maud Swedish Hotel - quirky and charming.
Mantra on Hay - central and stylish.