Western Australia’s capital is in the midst of a cultural revival. Below, T+L's comprehensive guide to the city of Perth.
For many years, the rest of Australia turned its nose up at Perth—something that was easy to do, since it’s one of the most isolated cities in the world. In recent years, however, Perth has undergone a stunning transformation, and now has all the trappings of a world-class destination. These days, you can get your fill of art, food, and great coffee alongside what the city has always been known for—blue skies, outstanding beaches, spectacular weather, and the omnipresent Swan River.
How to Get There
You’re likely going to be spending a hefty number of hours in a plane, so be prepared. Vast numbers of airlines fly out of Los Angeles to Australia, with one stop before you arrive in the country’s west. On average, you’ll get to Perth within 22 hours after leaving L.A. United Airlines, Delta, Qantas, and Virgin Australia all have stopovers in Sydney, while Qantas and Virgin Australia have the option of a Brisbane layover. Alternatively, Emirates flies between New York and Perth via Dubai, with a flying time of between 25 and 28 hours. (Pro tip: the Australian winter—from about June to August—is considered the low season, so flights may be cheaper in those months.)
All international visitors, apart from New Zealanders, will need a visa. Tourists coming from the U.S. can apply online for an Electronic Travel Authority visa, which allows multiple visits for up to three months at a time during a 12-month period. It costs approximately $15 USD ($20 AUD) to apply, and must be done before visiting.
When to Go
There’s never really a bad time to visit Perth, especially when you take the weather into consideration. The city is blessed with a Mediterranean-style climate—cool, temperate winters and a hot, dry summer. The average daily temperature during summer is 84ºF, but over Christmas break, it’s not unusual for temperatures to reach—and even surpass—104ºF. In the afternoon, a strong breeze known as the Fremantle Doctor tends to cool the city somewhat. If you plan to spend time walking or even lying on the beach, it’s best to avoid the height of summer. Winters are mild, with daytime temperatures usually hovering around 64ºF (and 46ºF overnight). To make the most of everything the region has to offer, try to go during spring (September to November), when the days are warm and mild.
It’s best to avoid Australian school holidays, however, which take place in September and October.
What to Bring
Perth is a major city, so you can certainly buy whatever you forget. It’s quite casual, too, so there’s no need to bring a suitcase full of your best threads. You’ll definitely want to pack a cover-up, sunglasses, a hat, and a swimsuit, however. And even during winter, the sun is strong —so SPF is a must-pack.
What to Do
Perth is a relaxed city, and you’re likely going to spend most of your time strolling in the sunshine or swimming at one of its white sand beaches.
Beaches in Perth
It would be criminal not to head to the seaside while you’re here, as Perth is blessed with a number of urban beaches within easy reach of the city center. You’ll see kids catching waves on their boogie boards, locals walking their dogs, and families gathering beneath sun shades. City Beach is about five miles from central Perth and is one of the safest beaches for swimming in the region. A couple of other favorites are Cottesloe and Scarborough; there are numerous cafés nearby, as well as barbecue facilities, restrooms, and changing areas, so these beaches are perfect for spending the day hanging out and grilling.
If you’ve spent a few hours on the sand and decide you want to grab a coffee or a bite to eat, sarongs and flip-flops (Australians call them thongs) are perfectly acceptable attire at any beachfront establishment. There’s even an escape for those who prefer to take it all off: Swanbourne Beach, about a 20-minute drive from the city, is clothing optional. All are accessible by public transport.
Nature in Perth
Closer to the city center are a number of striking green spaces. In West Perth is Kings Park, home to the Botanic Gardens and 3,000 species of flora native to this part of the world. It covers a total of 990 acres and includes bush trails, play areas, a kids’ nature park, and picnic areas. There are a number of free guided walks every day, as well as Indigenous Heritage Tours, where visitors learn about plants used for bush food, medicine, and the local Wadjuk people.
Before European settlement, Lake Monger was an important gathering and hunting ground for Aboriginal people. Now, there’s a path around the lake where you can see flocks of black swans swimming, as well as nature trails in rehabilitated bushland.
There’s a particularly strong focus on local visual arts at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Since the first piece was acquired, in 1895, the gallery has formed a collection of more than 17,000 works, including many from Indigenous artists. If modern art is more to your liking, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, known as PICA, runs a program that includes dance and theater, as well as performance and visual art. Both of these galleries are housed in the Perth Cultural Centre.
Animals in Perth
Ever wanted to wander through bushlands spotting kangaroos, koalas, and Tasmanian devils? Or to stare through glass at some of Australia’s creepiest crawlies (think tiger snakes, pythons, and frilled dragons)? The Perth Zoo, located on 41 acres and just five minutes from the city center, has almost 1,300 animals representing about 170 species. There are also special experiences that allow visitors to get up close to some of their favorite animals, from little penguins to wombats. What resides beneath the sea is the focus at the Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA), where you can follow the underwater tunnels as sharks and rays swim above your head. Don’t forget to check out the sea creatures, including leafy sea dragons, that live off Australia’s southern coast, and immerse yourself in color while observing the reef fish of the Far North. For those with a taste for adventure, there’s also the chance to snorkel or dive in the shark tank.
Where to Stay
For absolute luxury, check in to COMO The Treasury, the first Australian property from the Singapore-based company. Opened in October 2015, the hotel sits within the 140-year-old Heritage-listed State Buildings. The site has 48 spacious yet understated light-filled rooms designed by architect Kerry Hill. The public areas are equally generous. Dining options include the all-day diner, Post, and Wildflower, a rooftop restaurant. The Como Shambhala Urban Escape offers spa treatments, yoga, and personal training, and has a 20-meter infinity pool, which is dappled with sunlight and protected by louvered windows.
Crown is a large casino and entertainment complex sitting on the banks of the Swan River and overlooking the city skyline. In December 2016, it welcomed Crown Towers into the fold, with 500 luxury guest rooms and suites in a building that reflects the tones and colors of the surrounding landscape. It’s much more of a resort than hotel, featuring an extraordinary multilevel pool complex with infinity edges, islands, and a retreat with cabanas, a bar, and a private pool area. There’s also a luxury day spa inspired by Roman baths, as well as easy access to all of Crown’s restaurants and leisure facilities.
Set in the vibrant suburb of Northbridge—a neighborhood just outside of the central business district that’s surrounded by galleries, bars and restaurants, Alex Hotel has a truly boutique vibe. Each of the 72 rooms is simple yet beautifully designed, with either windows that open or balconies perfect for sunset viewing. The hotel’s library is stocked with art and design books, and there’s a fleet of Lekker bicycles guests can borrow for free.
Set in the West End’s historic St George’s House is The Terrace Hotel, with its 15 heritage-style rooms, including black marble bathrooms. For anyone who wants to explore the center of Perth by foot, this is your best bet.
Designed by English architect Sir Terry Farrell, The Richardson Hotel & Spa has 72 rooms, including two-bedroom suites, with contemporary styling and thoughtful little extras like espresso machines. Relax in the indoor pool, sauna, and gym; have an ESPA treatment in the day spa; or meet friends and colleagues in the oak-paneled Residents Lounge, with its collection of Australian art.
What to Eat
The gourmet possibilities offered throughout the city and its inner suburbs may surprise you. There are countless restaurants and cafés serving cuisines from across the globe, many of which are prepared with the finest local ingredients.
Set in the old newspaper offices in the city, Print Hall has four levels of dining and drinking options visualized by one of Australia’s best restaurant design crews, Projects of Imagination. Make your way to The Apple Daily Bar & Eating House for Southeast Asian street food, like crispy smoked barramundi with seven-herb salad; oysters with lime and nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce); or grilled pork spare ribs with tamarind, lime, and chilli—all of which have been designed to share.
If you love spicy food, make a reservation at Long Chim. Chef David Thompson, who owns the award-winning restaurant Nahm, in Bangkok (which he opened after its London iteration won a Michelin star), is well known for his expertise in Thai cuisine. His most recent eatery opened to critical acclaim in December 2015. Craft beers, boutique wines, and specially crafted cocktails are matched to noodle dishes, curries, and fiery salads. Don’t miss the mashed prawn curry, a menu favourite.
Restaurant Amusé has been serving up some of Perth’s best fine dining in an unpretentious environment since 2007. The nightly $130 AUD (approximately $99 USD) degustation menu changes regularly depending on the seasons and has the best offerings from the local markets. There’s often a seven-week wait for a Saturday night table, so be sure to book well in advance.
When it comes to celebrity chefs in Australia, they don’t get much bigger than Qantas ambassador Neil Perry. His Perth outpost, Rockpool Bar & Grill, is a lesson in swank. Gloriously decorated, it oozes luxury—and the food is equally amazing. Really, it’s a fancy-pants steak house; the premium Australian beef, which is dry aged in-house, is the restaurant’s specialty. Those feeling slightly less carnivorous are well served by the range of seafood cooked in the charcoal oven. And don’t forget the side dishes: the cauliflower and cheese gratin and sautéed brussels sprouts with ginger and nutmeg are superb.
If you’re in Perth, you must take advantage of the ocean views—Cottesloe’s Barchetta is both relaxed and stylish. Its glass walls and balcony make the most of the adjacent beach, while the menu ranges from breakfast classics (like homemade granola and crab omelettes) to tapas, wood-fired pizza, and salads later in the day.
Mod Mexican joint El Público is another casual joint. Light, fresh dishes—like street corn with queso fresco, and fried chicken tacos—are served alongside an impressive range of mezcal and tequila, served for sipping or in a range of cocktails.
Francoforte Spaghetti Bar is definite proof that good things come in small packages. Here, you’ll get pasta just like grandma makes—that is, if your grandma decided to make Bolognese sauce from kangaroo, or pesto from kale. The small menu also includes the classics, like guanciale carbonara, all at a great value.
You’ll find hearty early morning offerings at Toastface Grillah, a hip café that tucked away in an unassuming laneway. Here, you can grab an espresso and toasted sandwich. There are plenty of flavors to choose from, including Pear Grillz (blue cheese, pear, and lime chutney), Three Cheese (gruyère, Emmental, cheddar) and Get Yo’ Veg (cheddar and Vegemite).
Where to Drink
There’s nothing quite as Australian as a cold beer at the pub with your mates. In Perth, drop by Cottesloe Beach Hotel, a landmark Art Deco pile that almost sits on the sand. There’s a large beer garden shaded with striped umbrellas, as well as the Verandah Bar—a perfect spot for a sundowner.
There are plenty of areas to settle yourself at the famous Brass Monkey Hotel, a three-story Federation pub built in 1896. Be sure to spend at least a little bit of time at the rooftop bar, which offers prime views of the city’s skyline and a huge screen for watching the latest sporting event.
Over at the famous Brass Monkey Hotel—a three-story Federation pub built in 1896—you’ll find a rooftop bar that offers prime views of the city’s skyline and a huge screen for watching the latest sporting event.
Like most other Australian cities, Perth is cashing in on the small-bar movement, with intimate venues for every occasion opening at a rapid rate. Hula Bula is a tiki bar reminiscent of Hawaii in the 1960s. There, you’ll find crowds sipping on tropical, rum-based cocktails while retro tunes play in the background.
In Northbridge, Alabama Song is a honky-tonk dive bar with more than 120 whiskeys, bourbons, and ryes on its shelves. There’s even live music played by bands behind chicken wire. While you’re in the neighborhood, check out the Mechanics Institute Bar, a low-key rooftop venue where you can sip on craft beers and a regularly rotating menu of cocktails.
You might feel as though you’re just about to be sent to the headmaster when you settle into the Classroom, with its school-days décor and a cocktail menu that’s broken down into history, art, and science lists. There’s an added dash of physics in drinks like the espresso martini, which uses liquid nitrogen to make it extra frosty.
Great Day Trips from Perth
People talk about Perth and Fremantle in the same breath, but Freo, as the locals call it, is a destination in its own right. Located at the mouth of the Swan River, it’s only 14 miles from the capital. It’s famous for its maritime and penal past, and there are plenty of historic buildings to explore, including the World Heritage-listed Fremantle Prison, which was built by convicts in the 19th century.
Little Creatures Brewery is another must-stop spot, with tours in the afternoon, free bikes for exploring the neighborhood, and, of course, a bar and kitchen. Check out the locally produced wares, from fashion to art, and enjoy street food, live music, and entertainment at Fremantle Markets, open Friday to Sunday. Rock fans might want to head to Fishing Boat Harbour to pay homage to AC/DC’s original singer, and Freo’s favorite resident, Bon Scott, who was immortalized in statue form by Greg James.
The Swan Valley
The Swan Valley—Western Australia’s oldest wine-growing region—is just a 25-minute drive from the center of Perth. It produces a wide range of styles, including fortifieds (wines that are blended with distilled spirits). Its food-and-wine trail is 20 miles of wineries, small farms, local galleries, distilleries, craft breweries, and excellent restaurants and cafés. You can get a map of the trail from the visitor’s center located in the village of Guildford. Remember: Australia allows random breath testing (police can pull anyone over to test their alcohol blood levels), so pick a designated driver or take one of the tours offered by the area’s operators, like d’Vine Wine Tours, to the many cellar doors.
If you can’t get enough of the ocean, plan a trip to Rottnest Island. The ferry takes 90 minutes from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty to get to the island’s main town. Rent a bike, mask, and snorkel from Pedal & Flipper and explore. The island’s not huge—only 7.3 square miles—but there are some spectacular beaches where you can splash around before checking out the marine life at spots like the Basin and Parakeet Bay. Of course, the island’s most famous residents are quokkas—adorable little animals that come from the same family as the kangaroo. Although they’re cute and friendly, you can aren’t allowed to pet them—so keep that in mind, unless you want to risk receiving a hefty fine. Migrating humpback and southern right whales can be seen in the island’s waters in April and from September to December. The visitor’s center has plenty of maps and information about all the activities and facilities on Rottnest.
Nambung National Park
Get up early for the 125-mile drive to Nambung National Park, north of Perth, to see its main attraction—the Pinnacles. These huge limestone pillars, which emerge from the yellow sands of the desert, are a fascinating sight to behold. The best time of year to visit is September and October, when the desert is blanketed in a stunning array of wildflowers.
On the way to Nambung is New Norcia, a Benedictine community and Australia’s only monastic town. There are some spectacular buildings, including the Abbey Church and old flour mill, all of which can be explored on the twice-daily guided tours from the Museum and Art Gallery.
If you have a little extra time on your hands, plan an overnight trip to Margaret River on the south coast of Western Australia, which is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Perth. After crossing a landscape of dry, low-lying scrub, this part of the country will seem like a lush oasis. It’s known for its spectacular surf beaches, wineries, boutique breweries, and tall-timber forests. Check in for the night at Empire Retreat & Spa, an exquisite, adults-only boutique hotel with just 10 luxury suites.
Tours to Take
Leave the driving and planning to someone else. ADAMS Pinnacle Tours has full-day trips, (with free hotel pickups) to all the locations mentioned in Great Day Trips, including one that combines New Norcia and the Pinnacles.
If you’ve ever dreamed of swimming with wild dolphins, now is your chance. Rockingham Wild Encounters operates its award-winning cruises daily from September 1st to early June. You don’t need to be a strong swimmer (the crew provides an introductory snorkelling lesson for newbies) and there’s a 99 per cent chance of encountering a pod. Wetsuits and equipment are provided, as is a light lunch. The company also offers a hotel pickup. For those less keen to get wet, there’s a 90-minute Dolphin, Penguin and Sea Lion Adventure Cruise to enjoy.
From mid-September to December, another marine mammal passes by Perth. Whale Watching Perth has three to four-hour cruises that take to the open ocean in comfortable, covered vessels, complete with underwater microphone so you can listen to their amazing songs as you watch for migrating humpback, southern right, and blue whales.
To get your bearings around the city, it’s worth grabbing a ticket for the Perth Explorer, the double-decker open-top buses that take in the city’s main attractions. For one price (tickets are offered in 24- and 48-hour variables), you can jump on and off as many times as you’d like, to discover all Perth has to offer.