Nestled at the mouth of the Swan River, the picturesque city of Fremantle serves as the port for Perth and is located only 15 minutes from the sprawling metropolis. Though it can sometimes be overlooked by passengers passing through to reach their final destination, this quaint coastal town has a wealth of attractions for visitors. The area saw its first settlers in 1829 and a hundred years later was declared a city. It is home to a number of 19th Century buildings which have been well preserved, as well as several historic landmark buildings erected by, and for, the notable convict population that was sent to the area.
Whilst Freemantle is steeped in history, and there are plenty of historic buildings and attractions to be enjoyed throughout the city, they are certainly not the only activities on offer. Thanks to its pretty coastal location, visitors can take tours out to Penguin Island, see dolphins in their natural habitat or and on good days – and in the right season – spot migrating whale sharks in deeper water. There is some fabulous hiking in the area and the treetop walk is a fun family adventure that lets you see the city from a different perspective. With such a wide variety of things to see and do, here are a few of the highlights:
Freemantle Prison has become one of the area's main tourist attractions. Before it was built, the roundhouse was used as the main place of detention but with the swelling numbers of convicts arriving from England the need for a larger gaol led to the building of the prison. Along with the usual tours around the Main Cell Block and visiting the chapel, guides can show you some of the dangerous escape routes past residents used or take you down into the tunnels 20 meters below the prison where you can punt in a small boats along the submerged passageways. There is even the opportunity to see the prison at night by torchlight – definitely not for the fainthearted.
Fremantle sits next to clear warm waters in some sheltered bays, making it the ideal place to swim with dolphins in a natural environment. These magnificent creatures are used to human contact and a number of local operators run daily excursions to where they are most commonly found. It is a fun and exciting experience even for the most nervous swimmers. (Not recommended for under 6's due to swimming in open waters)
Take a tour of Fremantle with a bit of a difference and hop on the tram for a Ghost Tour of the city at night. Every Friday the tram, which has been converted to dining car seating, will take you around some of the city's oldest buildings and cemeteries, with a knowledgeable guide regaling you with some spooky stories over a dinner of fish and chips. There is an opportunity to step off the tram at points and have a walk around some of the attractions.
Shopping in Fremantle
As you would expect from a city there are plenty of large label shops and high street names to visit. However, Fremantle also boasts some wonderful independent art galleries and jewellery shops, as well as handcrafted furniture and freshwater pearls to buy. The town boasts a ‘pack and send' service which promises that they can send anything, anywhere – making buying bulkier items less of a problem.
Fremantle markets are frequented by locals and tourists and they offer a wide range of produce and wares. Surrounded by the picturesque 19th century buildings the area is steeped in history. There are bands playing and even a small petting zoo sets up in the centre, making it a really family friendly and fun place to shop.
Dining in Fremantle
Being a major port, Fremantle has blossomed into a multicultural hub, a status that is reflected in the wide range of cuisines on offer throughout the city. Joe's Fish Shack is located by the fishing boat harbour and makes great use of the city's fresh fish supply. Joe started out as a fisherman himself before opening his own restaurant built on the water. This laid back venue with an extensive outside eating terrace prides itself on serving only the best fish and seafood available.
If you've been enjoying the historical side of the city then stop off at the Sail and Anchor which is situated in the heart of the heritage area. It was established in 1884 and was one of the first pub breweries in Australia. Here you can enjoy 40 cold tap beer and 3 hand pumps as well as a ‘Hoppinator'. The menu is simple pub grub which compliments the beers beautifully.