Where the Swan River meets the sea lies Fremantle, popularly known as Freo. It is a relaxed and sunny little city with a colourful personality. The city is full of Victorian buildings with beautiful mullions and single-storey houses in soft pastel. The streets are lined with beautiful gardens full of fruit trees of lemons, pomegranates and avocados. Here, pots of homemade pottery decorated with turquoise mosaics, are leaning against every other wall. Freo’s population is a wild mix of people which has made the city also go under the less flattering nickname Freakmental. Both serious artists and odd eccentrics, alternative oddballs as well as overwintering hippies share the same postcode and have one thing in common, the love of Fremantle’s atmosphere and its eternal sunshine.
The Aboriginal people called Whadjuk Nyoongar lived here before the Europeans founded Fremantle in 1829 as a colony for prisoners. Fremantle had its glory days during the goldrush at the end of the 1880s. Even today, many buildings are preserved from this time. The city underwent a lasting transformation in 1987 when Fremantle was the host of the yacht race the America’s Cup. Lots of money went into a proper refurbishment as the city would be showcased for the rest of the world. Streets, squares and hotels were renovated before the event and the city’s café culture emerged. Fremantle quickly went from being an unknown small port city on Australia’s west coast to becoming famous for its unusual and wayward style.
At the main street Cappuccino Strip lies restaurants, cafes and bars wall-to-wall, attracting a lot of visitors during the summer months. A short walk into any side street means you’ll find even more cosy cafés with outdoor seating where you can sip a perfectly frothed latte in peace and quiet. Although Fremantle is not very large, there is a rich variety of places to visit. You can spend the evening tasting beer in the city’s own brewery Little Creatures or why not spend a day of relaxing on the wide South Beach.
Fremantle has a Mediterranean climate with cold wet winters and hot dry summers. During the summer, the sky is almost constantly free from clouds, making it perfect for long lazy days by the sea. During the afternoon, the wind blows in and cools everything down for a while, a phenomenon called the Fremantle Doctor. The sea is just a few blocks away from the city centre and close to expansive beaches, clear blue waters and cooling winds. Fremantle appeal to both lazy sun worshipers, agile swimmers and sporty kite surfers.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
Fremantle is a small city built on a hilly area, but the central parts are relatively flat. The centre is compact and easily accessible, making it easy to travel on foot or on two wheels. The Visitor Information Centre at Kings Square rent out bicycles and helmets free of charge for a deposit.
A straight walk down from High Street is a small beach strip, Bathers Beach, where you can head out if you need a dip. But South Beach is better for longer beach stays. Down by Fishing Boat Harbour, luxury yachts and sailboats are moored, and the restaurants prepare tasty seafood dishes. Relax and watch people come and go as the sea breeze cools you off.
South Beach is a popular spot during the afternoons. The beach stretches far and the sea glistens in tones of blue and green. Further south is a part intended for walking dogs. A running track on a soft surface runs along South Beach’s southern part and is an excellent jogging track. Free buses run to South Beach throughout the day. During the summers, the South Beach Sunset Markets at South Beach (facebook.com/BathersBeachSunsetMarkets) is open, where food, drink and lots of gadgets are on sale.
History and parks
To understand the city and its history, the prison is a good place to start. A visit to Fremantle Prison (wotif.com/discover/australia/western-australia/perth/fremantle/fremantle-prison.d502261) becomes more vivid (and scary) if you choose to participate in any of the walks organized daily. The prison is among the most popular tourist destinations in Perth and is an UNESCO World Heritage-listed site. The most exciting thing to do is to follow a guide through the tunnels that the prisoners themselves dug.
Head to the western end of High Street to admire the city’s architecture. There you will find well-preserved Victorian buildings from the goldrush. South of Fremantle offers plenty of pleasant one-storey houses with inviting verandas and lush gardens.
Sports, entertainment and events
Fremantle Festival is Australia’s oldest festival and is held one week at the end of October each year. This culture festival full of parades and events start with a fireworks display down at the Fishing Boat Harbour (fremantlestory.com.au/your-story/event-festivals.html). Fremantle International Street Arts Festival (streetartsfestival.com.au) is another annual festival arranged around Easter. Expect music, art, theatre and various types of performances along the streets of Fremantle.
The city’s pride is the Fremantle Dockers. They play Australian Rules Football in the Australian Football League dressed in white and purple. Usually, they train at the Fremantle Oval. If you want to see a game, check out their website for more information (fremantlefc.com.au).
Art and culture
Fremantle is teeming with art and culture. There are several art galleries in the city and some specializing in Aboriginal art. Visit the Fremantle Story (fremantlestory.com.au/your-story/arts-culture) for more information. In a converted department store at 46 Henry Street you will find the cosy Moore & Moore Cafe (mooreandmoorecafe.com) whose premises also serve as an art gallery. The gallery exhibits the works of new and young artists working in the area.
The main street, South Terrace, also goes under the name of Cappuccino Strip which runs through the city centre. In the northern part of the street are a few vintage shops followed by some souvenir shops and then a whole bunch of cafes and restaurants. Since 1897, the Fremantle markets at Henderson Street have been open during weekends and holidays. They are located at the southern end of Cappuccino Strips and have around 150 different stalls that among other things sell printed t-shirts, leather hardcover writing books and handmade jewellery. In one part of the premises you can buy food, coffee and smoothies. Further in, exotic fruits are lined up in neat pyramids. Come here a Sunday evening, just before the market closes for the week to buy fruit and vegetables that are being sold at a fraction of its original price.
The pub at the Norfolk Hotel (norfolkhotel.com.au) at 47 South Terrace has a heavenly ginger beer on the barrel from Billabong Brewing. Sit on the rustic benches at solid wooden tables surrounded by greenery and talk the evening away. A parasol gives shade during the hottest hours of the day. The venue is centrally located and attracts many people during the weekends.
Fremantle’s brewery called Little Creatures Brewing (littlecreatures.com.au/locations/fremantle), has a magnificent view down by the port at 40 Mews Road. The place is full of people during the evenings, so come early or be prepared on queueing. The staff is often young but experienced with well-tanned arms taking orders with a friendly smile. Order a stone-oven-baked pumpkin pizza together with a glass of their bestselling pale ale. The place is in a slightly higher price range, but it is worth it. During Sundays, a troubadour plays jazz music in the nearby lounge-looking building called NextDoor.
Head south along South Terrace to visit the Bohemian Café Ootong and Lincoln (ootongandlincoln.com.au). At 258 South Terrace you can order vegan pastries and fantastic salads full of healthy choices. Choose a flat white and try their chocolate beetroot cake which is addictive. At 18 Collie Street lies Yocal Cafe (facebook.com/yocalcafe) which has a really good coffee. You can also enjoy a filling brunch while early morning turns into early lunch. The place has a cosy little backyard with palm trees and other green plants. Their poached eggs are well worth leaving the bed early.
Studies and work
University of Notre Dame (nd.edu.au/fremantle) has a campus in the centre of Fremantle. You can study a wide range of topics, including law, art and philosophy here. Murdoch University has a campus eight kilometres east of Fremantle (murdoch.edu.au). There are buses to and from the city.
Good to know
There is a Visitor Information Centre with friendly staff located at Kings Square. For ideas on activities, you can also visit wotif’s website (wotif.com/things-to-do/search?location=Fremantle,%20Western%20Australia,%20Australia).
Warnings and preparations
It is not uncommon for sharks to appear around the coast. Sometimes they come into the Fishing Boat Harbour. Planes are circulating to see that they don’t get too close to the beaches. If they do, an alarm sounds and everyone gets out of the water. Be vigilant and don’t swim out too far.
Two bus lines called CAT, Central Area Transport (fremantlewesternaustralia.com.au/fremantle-maps/fremantle-cat-bus-map.htm) runs around the city. The two bus routes are operated throughout the day and are free of charge. Keep an eye out for the orange buses that have stops here and there. Together they cover most of the sights of Fremantle.
The train station is a 5-minute walk from Cappuccino Strip. Trains to Perth normally run every 15 minutes and the journey takes half an hour. There are also several buses between the cities. If you plan to travel a lot by bus and train, you should get SmartRider, an electronic bus card from Transperth (transperth.wa.gov.au). They cost ten dollars and can be charged with any amount in the vending machines available at most train stations. If you travel sporadically, it is cheaper to buy single tickets. You can do this on buses or at train stations.
If you arrive at the airport in Perth (wotif.com/Flights) you can either take the bus into Perth city centre and from there switch to train for Fremantle (perthairport.com.au/to-and-from-the-airport/transport-options/public-transport). Or, just take the bus myAirshuttle all the way to Fremantle (visitfremantle.com.au/Tours-and-tickets/myAirshuttle-Fremantle).
Hippies and hardcore surfers park their equipped vans at South Beach and spend the night at the parking lot near the beach. In the evenings, they spread out their camping gadgets and cook dinner over a gas burner. This is clearly the cheapest way of accommodation. But if you want some more comfort, there are plenty of options to choose from.
At 80 High Street is Sundancer’s backpackers (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Sundancer_Backpackers_Resort.htmt). A cheap hostel in several floors with a large kitchen. Air conditioning is missing, instead you get a tired fan next to the bed if you are lucky. Your own alcohol is forbidden since they have their own bar. The hostel is on a good location, and you might get the rent down by helping with the cleaning.
Pirates Backpackers (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Pirates_Backpackers.htm) is located on 11 Essex Street and is a homely smaller hostel with a housecat. The owner who has lived in Fremantle for a long time greets all the newcomers. The hostel arranges various activities. A minus is that the kitchen is crowded. There is a backyard with barbecue and light chains. Popular during the summer.
Located close to everything, at 5 Mouat Street, is Fremantle B&B (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Fremantle_Bed_and_Breakfast.htmt). Stay centrally in a historic stone building fully equipped with air conditioning, a small spa area and Internet access. They have a nice little restaurant with floral tableware. Esplanade Hotel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Esplanade_Hotel_Fremantle_Perth.htm) is located where the Marine Terrace and Essex Street meet. A beautiful Victorian building with large airy rooms, a luxurious outdoor swimming pool and a good restaurant.
A Saturday in Fremantle
08:00 – Hip caffeine kick
Start your day with a rich breakfast at Kazoomies (nimrodkazoom.com/kazoomies) where the chef draws inspiration from North Africa and Spain. The food is spicy and different. This place has won several awards for best breakfast and has quickly become a hip place in the city. Try any of the meals with falafel, pumpkin or poached egg.
11:00 – Discover The Strip
Stretch your legs and discover the Cappuccino Strip, Fremantle’s bustling shopping street in the middle of the city. Look at the patterned tops in the vintage shops and why not buy a pair of beautiful flip flops in one of the sport stores. Visit Fremantle Markets at Henderson Street Mall and find bargains among all kinds of novelties, artwork and clothing.
13:00 – Colourful bungalows
Time for some refuelling. Walk towards the southern part of Freo and turn onto Ootong and Lincoln at 258 South Terrace. Buy a tasty takeaway coffee and a slice of chocolate beetroot cake if they have any left. Outside, you will find a man from California who sells used bikes at bargain prices. Then ride around in south Freo and look at all the nice bungalows with beautiful gardens.
16:00 – Peaceful beach life
After a busy morning, you go home to get your swimwear. You get aboard a CAT bus and push the stop-bell when you spot the sea and approach South Beach. Cover yourself with a thick layer of sunscreen and race into the sun-warmed water. Feel the Fremantle Doctor blowing in while you are lying on the beach, enjoying a good book.
18:00 – Hidden sea delicacies
When you feel satisfied with the beach and the tummy is screaming for food, take the bus back to the city. Opposite Fremantle Markets you will find the Old Shanghai Food Court. Walk in as far as you can to your left and order a 15-pieces mixed Sushi plate and a bottle of water. You will soon be served a mountain of the freshest sushi in the area.
20:00 – Sunny finish
End the evening by the sea. Buy a six-pack of ice-cold beer from the nearest store and follow Fleet Street all the way out towards Fremantle’s lighthouse called North Mole. Watch the sun slowly descend over the horizon while gigantic cargo ships on their way to Europe cast off, and one or two fishermen try their luck. If you are lucky, a bunch of curious dolphins will show up to play while you cheer for a perfect day.