Sometimes when your next big trip is too far away but the travel itch is compelling you to do something, anything! It might pay to look at your hometown through the eyes of a visitor.
The port city of Fremantle, lies 22kms south-west of Western Australia’s capital, Perth. Initially a separate town, suburban sprawl has connected the two in the past few decades.
Young by European or even US standards, but old in Anglo-Australian years, it was settled only because they didn’t want those cheese-eating surrender monkeys (the French), to colonise part of Australia. They’d been hanging around the coasts and the British, who’d been a bit blasé about the west, finally gave in to Captain Stirling who was lobbying for a free settlement here.
Two years later in 1830, my 3rd great grandfather arrived at the new Swan River Colony which is why I feel such a connection with the place.
There are three main reasons for visiting Fremantle, the history, the café culture and the art scene.
Fremantle boasts the largest architectural collection of late Georgian & Victorian buildings anywhere in the southern hemisphere. While old buildings were being razed to the chants of ‘that’s progress’ up in Perth, the Government didn’t see the point in pumping money into what they then considered a backwater. Being the poorer cousin of the capital saved the majority of Fremantle’s old buildings which are celebrated today.
The historical West End from Market Street to the Round House, stands today as it did 100 years ago. New shops line the paths on the ground level, especially along High & Market Street, but the above façades are still the same. Check out the recently renovated 131 year old National Hotel for a great pub meal, Moore & Moore café for breakfast or head down to the Round House, to see the oldest building in Fremantle (1830), and the first prison for the colony. If you’re here at 1pm you can watch them blast a cannon over Bathers Bay, behind the Round House, which lets the ships know what time it is and in the old days would let them adjust their chronometers accordingly.
Head down to Bathers Beach through the whaling tunnel which runs through the limestone cliffs under the Round House, then turn left towards the Fremantle Fishing Harbour (different from Fremantle Harbour). Stop by the Kidogo Arthouse, built in 1884, and see what art exhibition may be on. If you’re feeling peckish, there are some great fish and chip shops, such as Kailis or Cicerellos, right on the water with lovely views of the fishing boats. Just don’t feed the seagulls!
Nearby on Marine Terrace, opposite the Esplanade Park, is the WA Shipwreck Museum which provides an interesting look into the history of shipwrecks in Western Australia.
On the corner of William and High Street, you’ll find the Fremantle Town Hall, built in 1887 and said to be haunted by the ghost of a councillor who was shot outside the hall, by the Publican of the National Hotel.
St John’s Church with its beautiful stained glass, lies in King Square next to the Town Hall. It was originally built in 1843 but later demolished, moved slightly and then rebuilt in 1887.
Further up William Street you’ll find the Fremantle Markets, (open Friday, Saturday, Sunday) the main entrance lies near South Terrace, but you can pop through the produce section to the main indoor market area. Lots of food here including crepes, bratwurst, jam doughnuts, monster dessert waffles, macarons, cupcakes, salami, ice cream, paella, fish & chips, tapas, burgers, Japanese and much more! There is also a great food hall just opposite the Markets in Henderson St Mall, called Old Shanghai, all great food here but I especially like the sushi at Taka’s Kitchen. You can also find Thai, Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, a small bar and fruit juice & icecream stall.
Opposite the markets, on Parry Street is Fremantle Oval, previously home to the AFL football club Fremantle Dockers and currently WAFL’s South Fremantle Bulldogs Football Club. You might find them training and are more than welcome to go in and watch.
Behind the oval is Fremantle Prison, built by convicts starting in 1852. There are a number of tours that go through the place. Check out convict art in the cells, or you can even choose to go down into the underground tunnels where you end up in a kayak 20m below the building in limestone tunnels. (Minimum age 12yrs allowed.)
Down at Fremantle Harbour you can find the E-Shed Markets and further along is the WA Maritime Museum, home to the Australia II, the winning yacht of the 1983 America’s Cup (the oldest international sporting trophy in the world). The only yacht to beat the US in the race in its then 132-year history and is a massive part of Fremantle history. There’s also a great view of the harbour and around the side you’ll find a Collins Class submarine.
Nearby at the B Shed is the ferry stop to go over to Rottnest Island, which I highly recommend… cos Quokkas! You can buy tickets online here, or as long as the service isn’t booked out, can get them at the B Shed office on the day.
Rottnest is fantastic with beautiful beaches, great diving opportunities, lots of history and of course, quokkas. So cute!
Fremantle has a great foodie scene, with both cafes during the day and restaurants at night. Here are a few of my tips!
- Little Creatures, Fishing Boat Harbour – just about everyone goes here, but for good reason. Great atmosphere, their own beer and cider brewed on site, fishing harbour views out back, sandpit to play bocce in and great food! Highly recommend the frites with aioli, wood oven pizzas and currently on the menu the slow cooked brisket with corn salsa and lime. OMG!
- Bread in Common, Pakenham St – communal dining hall with fantastic produce and fresh bread made from the on-site wood ovens named Hansel & Gretel. Try the Lamb Ribs, they’re like crunchy yet tender meat lollipops in a sweet and spicy lime/mint sauce.
- Kakula’s Sister, Market St – Named after the older Kakula’s Bros in Northbridge. This is a great gourmet (but cheap) produce deli perfect for an on-the-go picnic. Just grab some bread, cheese, salami and whatever else you feel like and head to the Esplanade for lunch. Highly recommend the lemon myrtle choc covered macadamias.
- Mexican Kitchen, South Tce – An institution for most locals, head downstairs into the kitsch basement full of sombrero hats, order a fishbowl cocktail and chow into a huge plate of nachos (or whatever takes your fancy). My tip is the chilli con queso dip… mmmmm warm, gooey cheese.
- National Hotel, cnr High & Market St – recently renovated after a fire, the place now packs a punch with pub food and great views.
- Gino’s Cafe, South Tce – The iconic Freo cafe which helped pave way for the famous cappuccino strip. Great for an arvo coffee and cake.
- Old Shanghai, Henderson St Mall – An Asian foodcourt, with cheap eats, plastic seats and awesome sushi.
- Sail & Anchor, cnr Henderson & South Tce – Either head out back to the restaurant next to Old Shanghai, or head upstairs to eat on the balcony overlooking the strip. Great food and serves their own range of beers. Cheap open-mic comedy night on Thursdays.
- Norfolk Hotel, cnr Norfolk & South Tce – Great for a Sunday sesh in summer. Sit outside have a few brews and tuck into some great pub food.
- Benny’s Cafe, South Tce – Excellent for breakfast and lunch. Transforms after dinner into a cocktail lounge, often with live bands.
- Pizza Bella Roma, South Tce – Always packed, but one walk past the restaurant at night and your nose will be heading for the queue after smelling the garlic bread. I swear they use garlic bread incense!
- The Federal Hotel, William St – Now back to its original roots after being an Irish Pub for many years, the Federal now offers great good in a historic Fremantle pub opposite the Town Hall.
- Kailis & Cicerello’s, Fishing Boat Harbour – Two great fish and chip joints on the water offering a range of seafood dishes. Don’t forget the chicken salt! Also try (if you dare) Kailis’ fish & chip flavoured icecream!
- Fremantle Markets, cnr Henderson St Mall & South Tce – an assortment of market stalls offering everything from crepes to bratwurst, paella, burgers, sushi and desserts. Moorish Nuts are my tip for takeaway treats.
- Nunzio’s, Essex St – Fancy Italian restaurant owned by the guy who first brought alfresco dining to Fremantle.
- Istanbul Restaurant, Essex St – Used to be a bit of a dive, but has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, offering traditional Turkish dishes and now one of the best-rated Freo restaurants.
- Ootong & Lincoln, cnr South Tce & Silver St – hipster spot with organic food and tea blends, good for breakfast. Great street art mural on side of cafe (see pic at bottom with zebras).
- South Beach Sunset Markets – every Saturday night (5pm-9pm) in Summer – assortment of different food stalls/trucks etc. Good atmosphere. Catch the free CAT bus down to South Beach from central Freo.
These are just a sample of what’s in Freo, there are a heap more restaurants and cafes to check out with many extending down South Terrace into South Fremantle.
Plenty of places to quench your thirst in Freo, but here are a few.
- Little Creatures, Fishing Boat Harbour – Onsite brewed beer and cider, great water views atmosphere and pub food.
- The Newport, South Terrace – Historical pub usually with a live band at night, lots of space to chill. Pool tables on hand and a little Tiki Bar next door.
- The Clink, South Terrace – next to the Newport, delve into Freo’s underground nightclub with its limestone police cells (from whence the name comes). Generally draws an older crowd.
- Benny’s Cafe, South Terrace – After dark turns into a cocktail lounge with live bands, generally playing jazz.
- The Monk, South Terrace – Offers small-batch, preservative-free, craft beers and cider while the kitchen offers simple, seasonal dishes.
- Sail & Anchor, cnr Henderson & South Terrace – Produces a range of boutique beers and the upstairs balcony is a perfect spot to people watch or view the bogans doing some bog-laps down South Terrace.
- The Norfolk, cnr South Tce & Norfolk St – Formerly the Oddfellows Hotel back in the old days, it now provides a great beer garden that’s perfect in summer. Offers a range of international and local beers, cider and ginger beer. Good food too!
- The Oddfellow, Norfolk St – Part of The Norfolk, this small bar has its entrance on the side and has a great selection of hard to find whiskeys.
- Ball & Chain, cnr Marine Tce & Collie St – Fremantle oldest new pub. Part of the historic Esplanade Hotel, the Ball & Chain is named after its former convict occupants who, in 1850, first used the place as a convict depot while they main gaol was being built. The pub has a wide range of specialty spirits.
- The National Hotel, cnr Market & High St – Built in 1868 but recently renovated with historical accuracy after a fire, the National evokes an old-time feel but with modern day food and drink.
- Whisper Wine Bar, Essex St – Best place for all the wino’s to head to for a quiet drink.
- Clancy’s Fish Pub, Cantonment St – Great if you want a beer but also have to tow along the kids who can run around the grassed area out the back. Good food and beer. Poppers rate a mention.
- The Federal, William St – Another historic pub with a great beer garden out the back or warm interior on a cold night.
Plenty of B&B’s and Air B&B’s around the place, so we’ll cover the basics.
- Pirates Backpackers, Essex St – good location near main pubs, clubs.
- Sundancer Backpackers, High St – they have a pool!
- YHA Hostel, Fremantle Prison – yep you get to stay in the prison!
- Old Firestation Hostel – it is what it is.
- The Federal Hotel, William St – step up from a hostel, reasonably priced for private rooms.
- The Hougoumont – new to the scene hotel with nicely decorated rooms made from sea containers!
- Quest Apartments, Pakenham St – close to the train station, but also near Centrelink.
- Fremantle Colonial Cottages, Fremantle Prison – stay in the historic prison cottages.
- Esplanade Hotel – fancypants hotel with great buffet breakfast.
These are a few of my favourite photography spots in Fremantle, if pics are your thing!
- Sunset at Bathers Beach
- Street art on the old building facade near corner of High & Cliff Street
- Fishing boats down at the Fishing Boat Harbour
- The Numbat, Henderson St Mall, by renowned street artist, Roa
- The Octopus, old Naval Stores at end of Freo Traffic Bridge, by renowned street artist, Phlegm
- Lighthouses out at South Mole looking over to the North Mole, Fremantle Harbour
- Fremantle Harbour near the old sheds, great for reflection puddles when it rains
- Head up to Monument Hill with its interesting war monuments and views overlooking Fremantle
- If in Fremantle over Christmas, check out the decorated trees in Kings Square
- The gates of Fremantle Prison give off a ghostly vibe at night
- Same with the whalers tunnel under the Round House, also at night
- Any time there’s a festival on is a great time to take photos. There are many different festivals on during the year so check online for the latest info