It’s been a while since I have visited a brand new city and Perth has been long on my bucket list. It means I have now visited my last Australian state. I’ve put together this list of the things we did – and a few extra ideas – to help you plan things to do in Perth on your first visit.
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A Little About Perth
Perth is the capital of the state of Western Australia. It sits on the western coast of Australia, and is the most isolated capital city in the world. The next closest city is my hometown of Adelaide, a bit over 2000km as the crow flies. It’s around three hours on a plane, or if you are planning to drive, a little under 3000km and 30 hours of driving.
The traditional owners of the Perth area belong to the Nyoongar nation, which is made up of fourteen distinct tribes. This important heritage is recognised all over Perth and the surrounding areas in the place names, artwork and memorials. While I think it will be almost impossible to miss, I do suggest learning at least a little about the Aboriginal history of the area.
Perth today has a population around 2.1 million people and it is known for being a hub of some of the richest mining and oil companies in the world. The city has more self-made millionaires per head of population than anyone else in the world, with the mining booms in the state making many people rich.
Western Australia itself takes up around a 1/3 of the whole of Australia. If it was its own country, it would be the 10th biggest in the world, slotting in between Kazakhstan and Algeria. With a total state population of only 2.8 million people, that’s a whole lot of empty land and wide open spaces!
Things to do in Perth
There is a huge amount to do and see here in Perth. Every day during my visit I found more and more I wanted to do. I visited in July, in the middle of winter, and had cool, sometimes rainy weather during my stay. This did influence what I did a little, so I will include that things I wanted to do and didn’t here as well.
There are also many day trips available, and even more 2-3 day trips (like Margaret River) that would be a great addition to any Perth visit, but I’m assuming that like me, you will be staying in Perth. These are those big, must-see Perth attractions to work into your itinerary.
Start with a Walking Tour
I love to start a visit to any new city with a walking tour. This gives you the opportunity to learn a little about the history of the city, some of the main landmarks, learn about attractions you may want to visit later in your trip and have access to a local to ask all those questions like “where is a great steak restaurant?” or “what is the best beach to go to?”.
Often there will be free (tips-based) walking tours offered, and I am a big fan of them. Covid seems to have slowed them down a little in Australia and I wasn’t sure if they were running in Perth, so instead choose to pay for a tour with the family-run Oh Hey WA!
Oh Hey WA! run a whole range of tours, but we chose to do their “THE ULTIMATE PERTH WALKING TOUR: History, Architecture, Art, Nightlife + More!“
This 2.5 hour tour gave us a brief overview of many of the aspects of Perth City and WA as a whole. Our guide, Peter, was fabulous, easy to listen to with fun anecdotes and very knowledgeable about the city. He claimed not to be a historian, but he did a good job of covering everything we needed to know. I happily recommend this tour as a good way to get you started in Perth.
Get your Quokka Selfie on Rottnest Island
If there is only time for one day trip when you are planning what to do in Perth, then this should be it! A day on Wadjemup (the traditional name for Rottnest Island, which is used much of the time) will give you a dose of history, nature, the beautiful beaches and of course, the quokkas!
Getting to Wadjemup requires a ferry, which can be taken from Perth or from nearby Fremantle. It’s easy to plan your day entirely yourself, or you could join a tour. We chose a middle ground, booking our ferry tickets and bike hire as a package, but then doing our own thing once we reached the island.
It takes around 90 minutes to get to Wadjemup by ferry from Perth. The first hour is along the Swan River, and then 30 minutes across the ocean. We then jumped on our bikes and spent 2-3 hours cycling around the island. We stopped often to look around, getting as far as the Wadjemup Lighthouse before looping back to Thomson Bay where the main settlement is.
You can’t help but spot the quokkas around Thomson Bay, they are everywhere. Take your quokka selfie, but remember these are wild animals. Don’t touch them or feed them. I found out the hard way that they can give a good bite if they choose to.
Don’t worry, I wasn’t trying to touch or feed them, but one had got inside the gates of the place we were eating, then jumped up on the table we were sitting at and tried to get at my food! Instead my fingers ended up being the target. This is exactly why they shouldn’t be fed – they now associate people with food!
We had a little time remaining to explore the area. We called into the Wadjemup Museum, and learnt more about the more macabre history of the island – this wasn’t a very nice place to be in the 1800s. The ferry back to Perth leaves around 3pm, this time stopping at Fremantle on the way back if you would like to jump off there instead of going the whole way.
One day on Rottnest Island not enough? How about staying overnight. Take a look at the accommodation options here.
Spend a Day in Fremantle
Fremantle is the historic port area of Western Australia, situated at the mouth of the Swan River. It’s an easy thirty minute train ride from the centre of Perth and makes another great day trip. In the 1980s, the Fremantle area had a lot of money spent on it to refurbish many of the beautiful old buildings. Walking around the streets reminds me more of a European town than an Australian one.
There are lots of things to do in Fremantle, but you must visit the Fremantle Prison. This was originally built by convicts for them to live in when convicts first came to WA in the 1850s. Later it became the main prison in WA, still operating until 1991.
Since then it has become an incredibly interesting tourist attraction. There are a range of tours available, and I recommend you do at least one of them. The cover all different time periods or different themes. We chose to do the Behind Bars tour which focuses on the years this was a prison.
Our guide Mannie was one of the best tour guides I have had the pleasure of learning from in ages, and the history here was fascinating. If we didn’t already have further plans, I would have done another tour straight after. Next time I am in WA, I will be ensuring I book the Tunnels Tour and the Torchlight Tour in advance so I don’t miss out.
There are a number of breweries and distilleries in the Fremantle area. The well-known Little Creatures is here, where you can pop in to taste the beer or do a tour. We decided to go to Gage Roads Brewery though, as it was new to us.
We enjoyed lunch on the riverfront in the sunshine, and tried some of the beer here too. This is a great way to watch the river traffic and see the goings-on of a working port. There are limited brewery tours available here to learn about the process too.
In the afternoon, make a visit to the WA Maritime Museum. Learn about the maritime history of the area, see one of the rarest sharks specimens (a Megamouth shark! I had never heard of them) and check out the famous winged keel that “stole” America’s Cup.
Learn More at the WA Museum Boola Bardip
Just over the railway line from the Perth city centre in Northbridge is Perth’s refurbished museum. Only reopened late is 2020, the museum has plenty of state-of -the-art exhibits using all sorts of technology to show off some of the millions of items it has in its collection. From dinosaurs and fossils, to shipwrecks and marine life, to Aboriginal and early settlers, there is something here from every part of WA.
The museum is quite large and you will need at least two hours to have a good look around, perhaps even half a day to explore thoroughly. Some of my favourite things were the meteorite astronaut Andy Thomas took into space, learning about the now dissolved Principality of Hutt River and seeing just how huge the blue whale skeleton is!
Entry to the museum is free, but there are usually paid exhibitions happening that you may want to visit too. During my visit it was the Dinosaurs of Patagonia. Boola Bardip is open almost every day of the year.
Join the Fun on a Swan Valley Wine Tour
You may not be able to visit the more well-known Margaret River wine region on a day trip, but you certainly can get to the Swan Valley, just 30 minutes from the centre of Perth.
The Swan Valley is the oldest wine region in WA, the first vines being planted right after the first Europeans settled here. There are around 40 cellar doors in the area producing a range of wines, but mostly white wines such as Chenin Blanc, Verdelho, and Chardonnay.
We considered doing a wine tour that included a boat trip along the river, but in the end went with this standard bus tour with Out & About Tours. We met our driver, Claude, in the city near the railway station. They offer pickups from many city hotels, but we were staying just outside the area.
This wasn’t an issue though, as Perth has an awesome free bus network, and we jumped on a bus just outside our door and went straight there.
We knew from the first minute that this was going to be a fun tour! Claude’s banter right from the beginning was so much fun. It was obvious he has been doing this for years, with both his ability to engage with the various visitors, his extensive knowledge, and his rapport with the wineries we visited.
During the course of the day we visited four wineries and all were different. There were small family affairs and larger corporate businesses. Our first winery provided a delicious cheese platter to go with the wine too.
There was a huge range of wine to taste and learn about – in fact, the number of wines was much larger than I would have expected. Many wineries restrict tasting to 5 or 6 wines, here there would have been more like ten to taste at each place.
Lunch was provided at one of the wineries, and dietary requirements were well catered for. There wasn’t a vegan option on the menu, but Claude called ahead and a delicious pasta waited for me.
Our last stop the day was the Margaret River Chocolate Company – heaven for the chocoholics amongst us. There were some free samples before everyone was given one of the truffles as part of the tour.
I have done a lot of wine tours, and this was one of the better ones. It certainly isn’t a second-rate choice if you can’t get to Margaret River, it’s a hidden gem that will show you another side to the WA wine scene. And go with Claude – he was fantastic!
Explore Kings Park
Most cities have some sort of park in or near the city centre, but there aren’t many that have a park like the one in Perth. Kings Park is huge. At 400 hectares, it dwarfs Central Park in New York (315ha) and Hyde Park in London (121ha) but that’s not the most amazing part. Two thirds of the park is undeveloped bushland, set aside for conservation.
Remember, this is right in the heart of Perth, and while we understand the benefits of conservation now, 200 years ago it wasn’t even considered, so for this bushland to have survived is almost a miracle.
Most of the one third of the park that has been developed is now the Western Australian Botanic Gardens and this is a great place for a stroll. There are lookout points with skyline views of the city and plenty of “weird” plants to admire. We saw lots of birdlife too, getting a close up view of a kookaburra who posed beautifully for some photos in a low branch.
Outside of the Botanic Gardens you can climb the 101 steps of DNA tower for 360 degree views over the park and city. Kings Park is also the location of the War Memorial, and there is a lovely gift shop and restaurant with great views too. If you are travelling with kids, there is a huge family area so they can let off some steam.
While it’s perfectly possible to walk to Kings Park (we did) it is also well connected to the city with one of the free buses making it very easy to enjoy Perth’s most visited attraction.
Challenge Yourself with the Matagarup Bridge Climb
Sydney and Brisbane have their bridge climbs, and yes, Perth has one too – the Matagarup Bridge Climb. This was firmly on my list of things to do before we arrived in Perth, but the weather meant we sadly didn’t get to do it. I will certainly be doing it next time I am in Perth.
The climb takes you to the top of the picturesque spiral bridge over the Swan River with fantastic views and just a little bit of adrenaline. You can simply choose to make your way back down, or instead you can crank up that adrenaline hit and zipline down instead. Now that’s something those other bridges don’t offer!
Visit the Beach
This is another thing the rainy weather stopped us doing – but the Western Australians keep going on about how amazing their beaches are so it is only right to visit them and take a look for yourself, just to see if they are right. Some of the most popular beaches to visit are Scarborough and Cottesloe, both of which look stunning in photos, with sparkling blue water and pristine white sand.
The Perth beaches of course face west, so a beach visit in the evening means you can sit and watch the sun sink into the ocean – this would be an awesome thing to do one your last night in Perth.
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