Expedia recently issued a fun study that looked at duplicate travel places; destinations that are similar to better-known spots but less crowded. For Sydney, they chose Perth as their “dupe” destination. As someone who’s been for extended visits twice in the past three years, I heartily agree. It doesn’t quite have Sydney’s harbour or the Opera House, but there’s a lively downtown, gorgeous beaches, excellent food and cool museums to check out, as well as a wonderful aboriginal tour I took on my last visit.
WHAT TO SEE
Fremantle has lovely, colonial-era architecture that feels a bit like New Orleans. Henry Street is maybe the hippest street in all of Australia, with remarkable bookstores, galleries and cafes. My fave is DaRaw Nature Studio Gallery, an indoor/outdoor café that’s filled with striking art and overflowing with tropical plants. They have great coffee, too.
Two Feet and a Heartbeat runs a fun and educational tour in Fremantle, showing off waterfront beaches, bustling cafes and historic sights. They also have cheese tours, walking tours of Perth and crime tours.
Nick Abraham of Warrang-Bridil leads a wonderful aboriginal experience and tour on the banks of the Swan River, next to the lavish Optus Stadium. When I visited, we began with a smoke ceremony using local gum tree leaves and a silent prayer. Abraham then showed me around the outskirts of the stadium, a former industrial site that’s been partly restored to natural wetlands and includes aboriginal art and descriptions of aboriginal culture. The stadium hosts Australian Rules Football and other sporting events, as well as concerts.
The WA Museum Boola Bardip is a terrific museum that explains some of the history of Western Australia, a state even a lot of Australians don’t know a lot about. One amazing thing you might learn is that some aboriginal people living in remote parts of WA didn’t have contact with white Australians until the 1970s.
The Art Gallery of Western Australia is a fantastic place with cutting-edge exhibits and a fine gift shop.
For something different, try a Segway tour on beautiful Rottnest Island, where you’ll find small, adorable, smiling (well, they LOOK like they’re smiling) marsupials called quokkas. It’s an easy ferry ride to the island from Fremantle, and there are great beaches, shops and restaurants. There’s also a bike rental shop.
A company called Oh, Hey, WA runs wonderful food and drink tours of Perth and Fremantle, as well as art and mural tours. Try to get a tour with Perth guide extraordinaire Adie Chapman.
WHERE TO STAY
The Ritz-Carlton is a relatively new property on bustling Elizabeth Quay. Rooms are as luxurious as all get out, with curved, floor-ceiling windows that offer terrific water and city views, as well as magnificent, super-sized bathrooms.
The Melbourne Hotel is a stylish, modern spot in the heart of the city. When I was there, I ordered the bircher muesli for breakfast at their Conservatory cafe and was given a massive bowl covered with a quarter ton of fresh fruit. When I commented, my waiter grinned and said, “Welcome to Western Australia, mate.”
The Novotel on Murray Street is a fine downtown property with a nice indoor swimming pool. It’s great for either a leisure stay or a business visit. There are tons of great bars and restaurants all around, including SIMPLE Italian Cucina.
I didn’t see the rooms, but the DoubleTree by Hilton Perth Waterfront has a lovely rooftop patio overlooking the Swan River.
WHERE TO EAT
Emily Taylor Bar and Kitchen is a fabulous dining spot in Fremantle with colourful paper umbrellas and tropical plants all around. Try the Peking Duck or the lobster and truffle dumplings, and order up an Uncle Tuck’s chilli margarita.
Isola is a bright, sunny Italian restaurant overlooking the water on Rottnest Island. There’s also a great patio.
Indigo Oscar is a great restaurant perched above perfect, white sand Cottlesloe Beach. It’s an older building with lovely stained glass and a relaxed, tropical vibe.
Hearth is the main restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton. When I was there, I had exquisite octopus and Wagyu beef so tender it almost cut itself.