Whilst researching places to stay in Perth, I found an Airbnb in nearby Fremantle at a very affordable monthly price. Fremantle is technically a separate city from Perth, however it connects by train and bus. The train from the centre of Perth to Fremantle station takes 30 minutes.
Fremantle has a slightly different vibe to Perth. Obviously it is smaller but it does very much have its own personality. There is a great cafe culture going on, giving it a Mediterranean feel. A big part of that is due to the influx of European immigrants after the second world war.
Freo has attracted artists, musicians and other alternative types to move here and now there is a thriving art scene, a great cafe culture, a fair program of live music and a reasonable multi cultural mix. Vintage and independent shops are everywhere, with comparatively few chain stores.
Things to do in Freo
Fremantle often gets tagged on as a day trip from Perth, which is a great shame as it really deserves a stay in its own right.
But however you visit here is a selection of things to do and see.
European settlers arrived in 1829; before that the land belonged to the Nyongar Aboriginal tribe.
The city is full of fine old victorian buildings to look at.
Fremantle prison was built in 1850; the first wave of convicts from Britain arrived before the prison was built, so were put to work constructing the building. There is an information centre that you can walk around for free but to get inside you need to take a tour. The tour was excellent and they do a night time ghost tour too by torchlight, which was very entertaining.
The smaller women’s prison next door is now a YHA hostel.
Old port area
A walk along the esplanade and old port area is always fun. You don’t really need to do a lot of research before as there are a whole heap of handy signs giving you all the information you need. There is a maritime museum and a shipwreck gallery there if you feel that, actually, you do want further information.
There is a constant program of art in Freo, so it is worth checking what is on whilst you’re there.
Fremantle Arts centre is housed in the old mental hospital. This building was also built using convict labour; ironically, the main inmates in the hospital were prisoners who spent too long in solitary confinement and went crazy.
There are also numerous festivals throughout the year, so it is worth checking if you can coincide your visit with one of those. A lot of it is free.
Street art is popular and always free of course. Around Easter time there is a Street Art Festival in Fremantle; so if you’re coming around that time I am so envious.
If you are here longer there are many workshops or classes to attend. I joined an art class at the Pickled Parrot, where you are encouraged to bring alcohol and snacks with you and combine art with a social night out. There are other courses for more serious artists, learning ceramics or glass blowing for example, but none of them worked with my schedule unfortunately.
There are plenty of independent shops, selling arty products and vintage stuff. Second hand bookstores are popular too. Retailing is in decline in Fremantle just like everywhere else, due to increased internet shopping and a preference to drive to large out-of-town shopping centres. For the time being the independents are hanging on here.
Sells everything from fresh produce to hot food to gifts, cosmetics, fashion and all kinds of things you didn’t know you needed. Prices are not low, but it’s a great place to walk around. There’s normally a busker or two lurking outside. Someone suggested to me that it was ‘like Covent Garden in London’. It isn’t quite as touristy or expensive as Covent Garden, but I see what they mean.
Market is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
There’s quite a healthy live music scene going on in Fremantle. Expect a lot of tribute acts, as everywhere in Australia. My favourite place for music was the Newport on South Terrace. The Arts centre runs a programme of Sunday afternoon concerts throughout the summer, held in the grounds outside.
Fremantle’s cafe strip is a fun place to stop off. A lot of my money disappeared here; every time I passed by I felt duty bound to stop for a drink and/or a snack. Never found a bad place there.
There are a couple of independent breweries. I took a tour at the Little Creatures brewery. It was very entertaining and at the end we got to sample of many of their beers. This cost AU$15.
Afterwards you can wander a bit further along the port and find one of the award-winning fish and chip shops to soak up the alcohol a bit. Cicerello was my favourite with lots of space to sit either inside or out, but there are others.
South beach is good (although I could be biased since this is walking distance from my flat). The (free) Cat bus goes to South Beach from the centre of Fremantle.
There is also the popular dog beach, where locals come to exercise their dogs. Coogee beach is nice too. Really you won’t struggle to find a beach, it just depends how far you want to travel.
Bon Scott the original lead singer with ACDC is buried here, should you be looking for something a little alternative to do. There are also some other notable Australians and the odd criminal or two.
Weather – Fremantle in September
September in Perth was a mixture of sun and showers. Days were very changeable and dull drizzly mornings opened out into beautiful sunny days, or vice versa. I carried my umbrella with me constantly, because you never knew.
Temperatures were comfortable during the daytime, late teens/early 20s normally, good for walking, cycling and other activities. At night it was a little cold.
By the end of the month it had improved considerably and probably October or November would be better choices weather-wise. But September is good if you don’t like the weather too hot and if you remember to bring warmer clothes with you.
In case you can’t tell from this post, I have fallen head-over-heels in love with Fremantle. Freo is such a laid-back little city. Maybe it’s the relative isolation of this part of Australia (Perth is nearer to Singapore than it is to Canberra) but I felt instantly as if I could belong.
It elicits in me the same feeling I had when I first visited Melbourne, where I fell in love with the art and the Mediterranean style cafe culture, Unfortunately, like Melbourne, Fremantle is not a cheap place to live.
Let’s see what happens.