When you think of visiting Australia, Melbourne or Sydney probably pop into your mind immediately. But we think you should make your way to Fremantle instead.
Lonely Planet recently described Fremantle as “a raffish harbour town with sea-salty soul to burn.” This is why the port city in Western Australia was among its top 10 recommended cities in its Best in Travel 2016. Our friends in Fremantle (or Freo as the locals call it) put together an insider’s list of the do’s and don’ts for exploring this up-and-coming city.
1. A warm welcome awaits at Fremantle Visitor Centre!
Whether you want to pick up a map to explore Fremantle’s treasures on your own, hire a bike (it’s free!), find some last-minute accommodation or just book a tour, there is a warm welcome waiting for you at Fremantle Visitor Centre. They take pride in answering any question you throw at them. And to be honest, a bit of inside knowledge can be useful to keep up with what’s happening in Freo. These local experts know the best places to stay, the newest bars and gorgeous shops, pop ups and impromptu happenings to catch while you’re in town.
2. Hire a bike and explore Freo from South to North
Fremantle is a compact city that is very walkable. You can easily explore on foot but it’s also the perfect city to explore by bike. There are dedicated bicycle lanes and the most interesting parts — the city centre, the historic West End precinct, Fishing Boat Harbour, the Swan River, and the beaches of Leighton, Port and South Fremantle — are reasonably level and easy to ride. If it gets a little warm, you can stop and have a quick dip in the Indian Ocean , with more than a few choice drinking spots along the way. Free bike hire is available at the visitor centre and there are several new self-serve bike hire places available at Esplanade Hotel, opposite Little Creatures and outside Sweet Lips Fish & Chips.
3. Do the foodie trail: discover Freo’s new small bars and urban restaurants
Fremantle is the home of alfresco dining in Western Australia. One of the first cafes to adopt this approach was Old Papa’s and it started a revolution of sorts that formed what is now known as the Cappuccino Strip. This casual and laidback atmosphere, sense of community, and eclectic street life previously found on the strip has expanded into new areas of Freo. Today there is a diverse mix of new style eateries and restaurants – from casual and fine dining, shared tapas style to street food, markets, and roving street trucks. Try some of the new places like Strange Company, collective eatery The Mantle on Beach Street, Bread in Common on Pakenham Street or Bathers Beach House (great spot to watch the sunset!). A little further afield but worth the trip are Mrs Browns, Flipside (HRH Prince Harry paid a visit this year) or beachside icon Bib & Tucker in North Fremantle. For the more adventurous (or health conscious) try the Raw Kitchen on High Street, but get there early!
4. Find the best coffee in town
Coffee is big in Freo … in fact, it’s huge. Fremantle’s European influences date back to the 50’s and 60’s when there was a large influx of European migrants to the city. As such, it was one of the first places in Western Australia to really embrace the alfresco style of eating and drinking at tables lining the streets. The section of South Terrace from the corner of Bannister Street to Parry Street is renowned as the “Cappuccino Strip” for the many cafes and resident baristas that prepare an almost unending variety of coffees. Locals will order their coffee and sit in the sunshine or shady courtyard depending on the season. These days it’s not just the strip that makes a good coffee. Check out these hidden gems in back streets and laneways – Hush, Moore and Moore, Blink, The Yocal, Grumpy Sailor, Gesha, Ootong & Lincoln (with the zebra mural), and the Roasting Warehouse.
5. Try one of the locally brewed beers
Fremantle is home to the resurgence in boutique handcrafted beers. Kickstarted by the Sail & Anchor Brewery in the 1980s, there are now three breweries within walking distance of each other in central Fremantle: Little Creatures, Monk Brewery & Kitchen, and the Sail, all of which have many awards notched up on their walls. Little Creatures love to show people around and run brewery tours at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm every day.
6. Explore Freo’s eclectic and quirky shops
Shopping in Freo is for those that love to wander, browse, and simply bask in the enjoyment of retail therapy. Artists, creatives, and designers have always been attracted to Fremantle and the shopping on offer reflects that influence. Here are some spots to get you started – MANY6160, Found (Fremantle Arts Centre), High Street West End, and the Wray Avenue Precinct (10 minutes walk South of the Fremantle Markets along South Terrace).
7. There’s always something happening in Freo – you just need to know where to look
Fremantle has a legendary (and year-round) festival and events scene that stretches across local music in hidden venues in the West End, exclusive beachside fashion events, skate clinics and insta-meets, impromptu pop-ups and blogger sale nights, magazine launches, free Sunday afternoon music at Fremantle Arts Centre to the biggest and best of them all – the annual Fremantle Street Arts Festival which takes place over the Easter Weekend (26 to 28 March 2016). There is always something happening in Freo, check the local listing website fremantlestory.com.au for what’s on.
8. Venture a little further and explore new precincts
Over the last couple of years, Fremantle has becomes busier and there are now several new new precincts to explore. You don’t need a car to reach these areas – there is a regular and free central area (CAT) bus service and you can hop on and off as much as you like.
Wray Avenue Precinct
Just a few minutes’ walk south of the Cappuccino Strip, you’ll find Wray Avenue Precinct. It’s the place where the locals shop, have coffee and read the weekend paper. Start your day with brekkie at Lenny and the Ox, Vanilla Bean or The Little Concept (also affectionately known as TLC). For shopping, there’s South of the Border, Pehko: wear + wares, the gorgeous shop and studio of local textile artist Madame Bukeshla, or try Indi + Em for local fashion. Finish your day with a drink at funky urban bar, Who’s Your Mumma.
The action continues with a leisurely stroll further south (or you can jump on the free CAT bus) and hop off at Ootong & Lincoln. Next stop is The Roasting Warehouse, with its spacious wooden deck out front bordered with potted red geraniums. The cafe has a funky Freo feel and a menu to match. Further south and on the way to South Beach, check out the East West mural in the Trompe-l’œil style (French for “deceive the eye”). It’s over 80 metres long and 12 months in the making; in fact, it is a work in progress (it’s continuing on the beach side of the warehouse). Stop and get a selfie here!
When you get to South Beach (you’ll know it for the rolling lawns, large pine trees, and view of the ocean), hop off and have a swim. Get back on the bus and it will take you back into Freo.
You can reach North Fremantle by train from Fremantle Railway Station. It’s the first stop across the Swan River. Wander over to Leighton Beach (the swell is a bit stronger here so make sure you swim between the flags) and stop in at Bib and Tucker with its stunning location right on the beachfront. Or perhaps head South instead from the station to the Queen Victoria Street area where you’ll find a little strip of cafes and shops, as well as one of the best and original live music clubs in Freo, Mojo’s.
9. Arty types will be spoiled for choice in Freo
You could spend a whole day exploring the galleries, studios, museums, and exhibitions in Fremantle. Check Fremantlestory.com.au to see what’s on before you arrive as sometimes there can be a gap while exhibitions change over. There is always something happening at MANY6160, the Artisan Gallery on High Street, Bathers Beach Art Precinct (including Walyalup Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Glen Cowans underwater photography) and the Fremantle Arts Centre (exhibition spaces and stunning shop FOUND). Places that work to a more formal exhibition program include Moores Building Contemporary Art Gallery, Kidogo Arthouse, Merenda Gallery, and PS Art Studios.
Public art and street art projects
Continuing on our arts theme there is a heap of wonderful public artwork dotted around Fremantle. The Fisherman sculpture at Fishing Boat Harbour celebrates Fremantle’s fisherman and their families. Just across from this, you’ll find a life-size bronze of the infamous and diminutive ACDC front man Bon Scott – both have been created in bronze by local sculptor and resident of the J shed Studios in the Bathers Beach Art Precinct, Greg James.
As you explore Fremantle, you’ll also spot some wonderful street art projects in unexpected places – laneways, on the sides and back of buildings, and even inside cafes. The most significant of these are the eight Fremantle works created by for Public 2015 a project undertaken by FORM WA.
10. Watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean
A spectacular sunset is a great way to finish a day in Fremantle. Whether you sit at one of the bars overlooking the ocean or pick up takeaway fish and chips at the famous Fishing Boat Harbour, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures.