Perth, Australia, is the most geographically isolated city in the world, meaning that there’s no other city in the world so far from another city. But there’s nothing quiet or backwater about it. Perth is a fun, sophisticated, friendly city with a rich history and unique attractions. Whether you’re taking advantage of a layover, completing a circuit of Australian destinations, or stopping by while en route to the Outback, you should take full advantage of everything the city has to offer.
Assuming your flight lands at night like most international flights do, I suggest you ask your hotel’s staff members to recommend a nearby pub where you can enjoy a quick nightcap of local beer or wine (the nearby Margaret River region produces sensational wine). But don’t stay out too long! You’ll need to get some rest so that you’re ready for two days of action and exploration.
Day 1: Explore Central Perth
If you’re awake bright and early thanks to jet lag, head out for an early morning walk along the river and the Elizabeth Quay. This spot is also a transportation hub, and it’s a good place to get your bearings. Afterward (or if you’re just waking up), head to the iCity Information Kiosk in the Murray Street Mall. The staff members offer a free 90-minute orientation tour of the city starting at 9:45 a.m. The tour hits all the highlights of central Perth, and it’s the perfect way to learn more about the history, art, architecture, and gardens of the city’s downtown core. You can expect a lot of walking, but the majority of the route is flat and wheelchair-friendly, and it can be easily modified as needed.
When you’re done, grab an early lunch nearby. I love the creative grilled cheese sandwiches at Toastface Grillah, which is conveniently located halfway between the tour meeting point and the nearby Art Gallery of Western Australia and Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. You don’t have to linger long, but since both are free to the public, it would be a shame not to pop in for 30 minutes or so. If you’re passionate about art, both galleries offer free tours and special events throughout the day and have funky gift shops.
From the nearby train station and transportation hub, take the free bus to Kings Park & Botanic Garden. This gorgeous park and botanical garden sits above Perth like the crown jewel of the city. It offers spectacular views of the city and the Swan River, and the views within the park are equally lovely. Perth residents are justifiably proud of their park. It contains over 2,000 different plant species indigenous to Western Australia. It’s also home to the State War Memorial and the usual assortment of gift shops and cafés (perfect for a quick afternoon snack).
Kings Park offers a full schedule of free tours led by trained volunteers. I highly recommend arriving in time for the 2 p.m. guided tour. You’ll leave with gorgeous photographs and a headful of knowledge about Perth’s plants, flowers, birds, animals, soil, and climate, which will help put everything else you see on your trip into context. While they may not look too glamorous, a shady sun hat and sunscreen will be your best friends here.
You’ll probably be wiped out after a full day of exploring. However, if you have a bit of energy left for dinner (and perhaps more local wine), consider taking a picnic to one of the city’s beaches to watch the sun go down. If you’re more inclined toward a long, relaxing meal, St Michael 6003 is one of the city’s best restaurants and is especially well known for its seafood. Be sure to make reservations.
Day 2: Explore Fremantle And Rottnest Island
Start your day with a great breakfast. Australia is famous for its delicious breakfasts and coffee, and Perth is no exception. Ask the front desk staff about their go-to spots for avocado toast, homemade pastries, and flat white coffees. The city is well known for its cruffins (croissant-muffin hybrids), and they’re just as delicious as you might imagine.
The bulk of your second day should be spent outside Perth’s city center in the delightful suburb of Fremantle, where there’s plenty to see and do. Fremantle is also the gateway to Rottnest Island. This unique destination, which developed in geographic isolation from the rest of Australia, is home to the country’s beloved quokkas. Known as the “world’s happiest animals,” these adorable furry marsupials are famous for their curious and friendly nature (though you still shouldn’t approach them or pet them).
A visit to Fremantle and Rottnest starts with a 30-minute commuter train ride from the Perth city center. It’s just a short walk from the Fremantle Railway Station to the Rottnest ferry (which you should book in advance for peace of mind). Once you arrive, I highly recommend buying tickets for the island’s hop-on, hop-off bus tour. It’s the easiest way to see the car-free island, and it will bring you to destinations where volunteer guides lead presentations or short nature walks.
There is truly no place on Earth like Rottnest. The quokkas are every bit as adorable as they seem. If you sit on a park bench, they’ll likely hop over to say hello! They love photobombing selfies and checking out backpacks left on the ground. And they’re not the only ecological wonders on the island. From its plant life to its reptiles, Rottnest is distinct. I highly recommend an early morning train and ferry to see the quokkas before they take their afternoon naps. A complete loop of the island can take about an hour, and when you add in a stop or two, the time passes quickly. You’ll want to leave by early afternoon so that you still have some free time to explore Fremantle.
Fremantle is so much more than the ferry hub to Rottnest. It’s an interesting destination in its own right. For one thing, it’s home to one of the largest surviving convict prisons in the world. Today, the Fremantle Prison is a working museum with a wide range of tours and programs for visitors. It provides a fascinating look at one of the most important aspects of Australian history, and the tours are captivating.
Before leaving the area, take some time to explore Fremantle's streets -- there are a lot of great restaurants, cafés, and pubs there, and they are a much better value than the limited offerings on Rottnest. The Leake St. Cafeteria, a tiny café hidden behind a health food store, offers a nice mix of salads, sandwiches, rice bowls, and desserts.
If you have the time and energy, make a quick visit to the Western Australian Shipwrecks Museum by the waterfront. It’s free and a nice way to spend 30 minutes before enjoying the sunshine by the waterfront. Alternatively, Fremantle has a free bike-share program called Free Wheeling Fremantle that’s perfect for people looking to cruise around town and save money.
Once you’re back in Perth, head to Sauma for fun cocktails, local beer, and fantastic Indian food with a nice mix of classic dishes and innovative creations.
Day 3: Depart
Your two days are now up, and you have to head to the airport or on to your next destination. But if you can squeeze in a final activity before you head out, go to The Perth Mint. Perth was a hotbed of activity during the Western Australian gold rush of the late 1800s. Today, you can see replicas of the massive gold nuggets that were unearthed during the gold rush, as well as a live demonstration of a gold bar being poured -- all very cool stuff!
Planning a tour of Australia? Check out these things to see and do in Sydney.