What To Do In Perth Australia
Where is Perth?
Perth, an up-and-coming destination.
Perth in Australia is rapidly becoming a popular destination for visitors to Australia.
Having been to Perth and loved it, I can understand why. There is something about Australia in general that to me felt almost magical, and it seems I am not alone.
But why is Perth in particular becoming so popular?
Some statistics about Perth give us clues.
- With 1.8 million inhabitants, Perth is the fourth largest city in Australia, after Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
- Perth is the sunniest capital city in Australia, with an average of between 8 and 9 hours of sunshine per day.
- The largest group of visitors to Perth comes from the UK, followed by Singapore and then New Zealand.
- Almost a third of visitors to Perth do not stay in hotels, but are visiting friends or relatives.
- Perth has many beaches within easy reach.
Perth Statistics examined
Let's look at those statistics, to see what impact they might have.
- One of Australia's major cities, many people have heard of Perth. (It has vastly outgrown the city in the UK that it was named after: population 43,000.)
- The sunniest city - does that need examining? Not if you consider where the largest group of visitors comes from: the UK is not known for its sunshine, but the British do love the sun! (And that includes me.)
- For the UK and Singapore, Perth is the closest of the large Australian cities. The flight time from Singapore is over 2 hours shorter than to Brisbane; Sydney and Melbourne are further still.
- Since almost a third of visitors stay with friends or relatives, that makes the trip more affordable.
- Beaches are like sunshine, and need no explanation!
Things to do in Perth
Being a large sunny city by the sea, for the visitor Perth has too many things to do rather than too few. We were there for 2 weeks and didn't see half of it! Since this review can't cover everything that Perth has to offer, I will cover general aspects that make it so special and give more details of the attractions our family particularly enjoyed.
These are the attractions and activities you really should try when in Perth:
Free Things To Do In Perth
You can visit all of the places listed below for free, though there are ways you could spend money at most of them. I'll do my best to let you know how to part with you Australian dollars when I expand on each one!
- Did I mention the beaches?
- The free barbecue stations (though some charge a small fee and you will need your own food!)
- Kings Park (or any of other other beautiful parks in Perth, including Sir James Mitchell Park.)
- Swan River.
- The Western Australian Museum and Art Gallery.
- Freemantle Market (you could spend lots and lots of money here if you choose.)
- A stroll around Freemantle Harbour, taking in the Round House: the oldest public building in Western Australia.
Easily affordable things to do in Perth
- Swimming pools. We heard that Perth has more 50 meter swimming pools than the entire UK. I don't know if that's true, but it seems likely, given the number we tested out.
- Aquarium of Western Australia
Things to do nearby Perth
As well as Perth itself, you can head north, south, east or west (yes even west) because the neighoring countryside has a wealth of things to do.
- To the north is Nambung National Park, with mysterious desert Pinnacles (limestone pillars that stand up to 3.5 meters tall.)
- Further south Margaret River has caves to explore and wineries to visit and a chocolate factory. (The Margaret River area is best done with an overnight stay.)
- To the east, the Swan Valley has: more wineries, another chocolate factory and Whiteman Park.
- To the west, Rottnest Island has yet more beaches as well as water parks or, for a more cultural visit, this island is steeped in history both aboriginal and western.
Perth beaches in Pictures
Perth Beaches: the Sunset Coast
Trigg Beach, Scarborough Beach, Cottesloe Beach, Rockingham: these are the beaches we visited, and there are others we didn't get to, including City Beach towards the center and Burns Beach to the north.
All around Australia stretches of vast beautiful beaches are named the something coast: in Queensland, for instance, north of Brisbane is the Sunshine Coast and to the south is the Gold Coast.
And because Perth is in Western Australia, and the sun sets in the west, its beach area is naturally named the Sunset Coast.
This is the Perth area's most popular beach, and it is beautiful, with pure white sand and spectacular sunsets. The sunset above right was photographed at Cottesloe. As well as being a beautiful beach, Cottesloe has great restaurants. We ate at the stunning Cottesloe Beach Hotel.
Trigg Beach: Surfing fun
This was my favorite of the beaches. I'm not entirely sure why, except that we had a great time there! Trigg is particularly popular for surfing and body boarding because it gets great waves and yet is safe for beginners. Western Australia's main surf school is based a Trigg beach. It was for the surfing that we went to Trigg beach, with our daughters and their friend having a first surfing lesson.
Like Cottesloe, Trigg also has a good selection of restaurants nearby.
Scarborough is just south of Trigg and also popular with surfers. When the water is calm it is also a good place to snorkel, with a good variety of fish. (At least that's what my daughters tell me, my friend and I got the job of trekking to the nearest shopping center to buy a picnic for lunch and by the time we got back everyone was out of the water!)
Rockingham is a short drive south of Perth. We went there on a Sunday morning, for a picnic, and were amazed how busy it was early in the morning. (Australians do get up early.) As well as ample barbecue facilities (of which I will explain more in a moment) a highlight of the morning was the strange buggy-cum-cycle that the girls rented for a drive along the seafront.
Rip Currents can be dangerous
Potential dangers along Perth beaches
There are 2 main potential dangers along the beaches: sharks and rip tides or currents.
Sharks are a very serious threat in Western Australia and in the last year 5 people have been killed by sharks off its coastline. Some experts consider it to be the most deadly place in the world for shark attacks. The Australian government has funded a program to monitor sharks. This uses acoustic tagging and sets off a warning if shark is near. The program shows that some sharks lurk off the coastline for months at a time.
To stay safe it is essential to heed all shark warnings and stay out of the water until danger has passed.
Rip tides, or rips as they are more commonly known, are not really tides at all but currents that take water from the shore out to sea. They can also take swimmers or surfers out to sea, but they will not pull you under. The video shows how to cope if you are caught in a rip.
Barbecue at Rockingham
I have travelled about a bit, and maybe I just missed them elsewhere, but the only place I have ever seen municipal barbecue facilities is in Western Australia. These stands are dotted all along beach promenades such as the one along Rockingham beach. They are also in parks such as Kings Park or Sir James Mitchell Park, and even in Whiteman Park out in the countryside. Generally these barbecue stands are free and you provide your own coals, or else they cost a small amount of money and fuel is supplied. Users are trusted to clean up after themselves, and generally seem to do so.
A bright parrot
Kings Park is right in the heart of Perth, and so large you could spend an entire day there. You could easily get lost. (We almost did.) As well as the barbecue facilities already mentioned, Kings Park has:
- Botanic Gardens
- Guided Tours
- Play areas for children
- Adventure playgrounds for older children (Synergy Parkland)
- A wealth of birds
It was the birds that most delighted our family. My daughter wrote in her travel journal, "It was impossible to look up without seeing a bright, singing bird chirping down at me."
One of Kings Park's bright singing, birds can be seen in the photo above right.
Swan River rises to the north east of Perth and runs through fertile Swan Valley before reaching the city. As it meanders through Perth, the Swan becomes so wide it could almost pass for a lake before narrowing again as it approaches the sea.
We went down to the river after picnicking in Sir James Mitchell Park on the south side of the river. There people were dipping in the water, fishing or walking along the sandbar. We also enjoyed the sandbar. The river is tidal at this point, and because the tide was coming in, we couldn't go too far out, but although our girls were initially disappointed, they soon were absorbed in splashing in the water and were delighted to see spotted jellyfish. They were even more delighted because unlike the box jellyfish we had been warned about in Northern Queensland, these jellyfish were safe.
A meteorite in the Museum of Western Australia
The Western Australian Museum and Art Gallery
The Museum and Art Gallery are both located right in the center of Perth and house a wide variety of exhibits. We were surprised to find a volcanic rock from our home city in Scotland among the geological exhibits!
The museum has a large selection of stuffed animals, and this was - almost - the first time I'd ever seen a Honey Possum. I say almost, because when I saw this small creature I realised I had seen one the day before in the mouth of my friend's cat!
Freemantle Market and Harbour
Freemantle lies to the south side of the Swan River, right on the coast. Although strictly speaking it is a separate city, it's not really possible to tell where Perth ends and Freemantle begins. It is locally known as Freo, and according to the friends we stayed with, it is the cultural area of the Perth region.
Freemantle market has a huge variety of stalls, many of them staffed by local artists and crafts people selling their wares. We bought jewellery and a painting, and some delicious organic doughnuts (and they were delicious because I don't like doughnuts!)
We strolled along the harbour at sunset, and the views were breathtaking. The round building in the photo is of the oldest public building in Western Australia, named - you guessed it - The Round House. It was opened in January 1831 and served as a prison until 1866. Later it became used as a storage facility for the port. It is open every daily from 10.30 - 3.30, staffed by volunteer guides, and entry is free. (And unlike its first visitors, you get to leave when you want!)
I have heard that Perth has more 50 meter swimming pools than the entire UK. I don't know if this is true, but is seems likely given the number we tested out.
The University of Western Australia houses a vast pool complex that includes a 10 lane 50 meter pool and an 8 lane pool as well a diving pool. When we visited the indoor pools were being used by swimming clubs and only the outdoor pool was open to the public. In Australia leisure pools are as warm as baths and 25 meter pools are pleasant, but 50 meter pools are often on the chilly side, and this one is no exception. Still it meant we swam fast!
The Belmont Oasis Leisure Centre was another pool complex we enjoyed. I took a quick dip in the outdoor 50 meter pool, but quickly decide the 25 meter indoor pool was more my style, while the girls enjoyed the leisure pool and slide.
Some of the Aquarium's exhibitsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Aquarium of Western Australia
Some sources say this aquarium is the biggest in the world. It certainly was when it was first built, but may have been surpassed now. However, it is definitely still big, with a wealth of features both inside and out.
If all the talk of shark attacks hasn't put you off, you can swim in a tank with sharks. You can also see crocodiles (safely behind glass and too small to harm you) and you can pet a starfish in the touching pool. My daughter who loves anything to do with water, had to be torn away from her new friends the starfish so that we could go on to see the equally beautiful tropical fish. (You can see her with a starfish in the photos opposite.)
Downside of Perth
In the interest of balance, I feel duty bound to share Perth's downsides. Western Australia is mining country, and although mines are at least an hour away from Perth this has meant that the city is a center for people working in the mines. These, mostly male, workers are away from home for 3 weeks, returning home for a week off. This means that many of them arrive in the city with money to burn and as a result Perth has become a fairly expensive place to live or visit. It is considered more expensive than the much larger cities of Sydney and Melbourne.
However, as you will have seen from this article, there are many opportunities to experience things for free in Perth. Additionally, not everything is more expensive than elsewhere. It costs less to rent a car in Perth than it does in New York or Edinburgh, but more than it does in Dallas. Eating out is reputedly expensive in Perth, and we did find it a little more pricey than we are used to. But when I compared prices on Nando's websites for the UK, the US and while Perth was the most expensive, the difference was marginal.
The Australian economy has held strong throughout the world-wide recession and so the Australian dollar is also strong, and now worth more than the US dollar. This means that visitors will find Australia in general slightly more expensive than it was a few years ago.
But, it's worth it, especially if like us you can stay with relatives or friends. We loved Australia and we loved Perth.