Sun-soaked and healthy? Perhaps. A decent gateway to Western Australia? Definitely. But a cool place to spend a few days? Until recently Perth just couldn’t muster enough hipster hangouts to keep visitors interested, and even the locals would leave the city centre come nightfall. The city earned the moniker “Dullsville” and a reputation for being tucked up in bed early every night.
But that was then; this is now. Because in 2016 Perth is reinventing itself – and even rivalling its east coast counterparts for vibrant nightlife thanks to its increasingly relaxed liquor laws.
Not just one but two brand new developments in the CBD have opened this year (Elizabeth Quay and the State Buildings), bringing with them dozens of new places to eat, drink and generally hang out. The locals have returned to the CBD and Dullsville has finally come out to play. It’s time to get involved.
The best beaches
All the best days in Perth start on the beach – and there are 19 of them within the city limits.
Cottesloe Beach has long been the strand of choice, with its creamy pavilion building facing out over a crescent of soft white sands, but the new place to be seen will be Scarborough, where the buttery sands will soon be backed by a brand new outdoor swimming pool, open 24 hours a day. For now though, you’ll have to make do with the Miami-style Matisse Beach Club, where you can book a private, pastel-painted cabana and order cocktails by the pool. Don’t forget your shades.
The coolest restaurants
What a difference a year makes. In 2016 Perth has cut the ribbon on the much anticipated Elizabeth Quay development on the banks of the Swan River, as well as at the renovated State Buildings precinct.
We should have guessed that Elizabeth Quay would near instantly be nicknamed Betty’s Jetty – as well as the fact that it would become the new place to see and be seen. It all happens at the Reveley, where a restaurant on the first floor offers city skyline and Swan River views over your Margaret River wagyu and Carnarvon pink snapper; come at sunset to watch it all light up around you. There’s a riverfront café on the ground floor too, and Henry’s Bar on the roof.
More bars abound at the State Buildings, home to Petition, named for the lobbyists who used to line Barrack Street outside this nineteenth-century red-brick building when it was home to the state government. Today its grand halls and high ceilings are home to some of the city’s best new bars and restaurants. Try Petition Kitchen for local produce cooked by creative chef Jesse Blake or Long Chim for Thai street food from award-winning chef David Thompson.
Perth’s port of Fremantle is also reinventing itself, and it’s worth the 30-minute metro journey out here for Bib and Tucker alone. Every dish is packed with flavour and texture. Here, the words “local produce” don’t just mean produce from WA, they mean Fremantle octopus and mushrooms grown in coffee grounds from Fremantle’s coffee shops.
The hippest bars
Fremantle has long been known for its coffee shops (thanks to a strong Italian community), but today it is also the place for a classy night out. Start your evening talking wine with Parisien Thierry Rodari at his Whisper Wine Bar before moving on to a seat at the bar of Strange Company where the staff will whip you up something heady from the locally produced Hippocampus gin.
Back in the CBD the craze for small bars continues to gather pace, with new names joining the old favourites. Helvetica remains the place to come for whisky, with more than 100 on the list from around the world, while newcomer the Flour Factory has turned an old flour mill into a gin palace, complete with a wheel of fortune – spin for a gin, randomly chosen.
If beer is more your thing it has to be Petition Beer Corner, where an ever-changing assortment of local craft beers is served in small enough measures that you’ll be able to try them all and still walk out on two legs at the end of the night.
The top places to stay
If a night out at the State Buildings is on the cards, you could book into the brand new COMO The Treasury, which occupies most of the building. The rooms here are sleek, with cream and taupe furnishings that let the historic building flaunt its tall windows and high ceilings. There’s even an indoor pool on the third floor, for a swim between the skyscrapers.
In Fremantle, the new kid on the block is The Hougoumont where rooms are built in stacked shipping containers and called Staterooms – no prizes for guessing the theme here. Far from cheesy though, it’s a chic place to stay.
The best outdoor attractions
A jetpack might make you think of your favourite childhood superhero, but at Rockingham, just south of the city, you can have a go with one yourself. JetPack Perth will gear you up, with either the jetpack or a more Back to the Future-style Flyboard, before whizzing you out on a jetski to a safe distance from the shore and launching you several metres into the air. If you get the hang of it you can even steer yourself around the bay, or perform a few tricks for the camera.
Sound too energetic? Take the short ferry journey out to Rottnest Island instead, where you’ll find the loveable quokka, a miniature marsupial with a happy, human-loving demeanour, who seems to pose for photos. Get involved with the hashtag #quokkaselfie.
Explore more of Australia with the Rough Guide to Australia and see more information on Western Australia at westernaustralia.com. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.