Perth, the vibrant capital of the region of Western Australia, was the starting and finishing point of our fabulous roundtrip through South Western Australia. For us, Perth is typically one of those cities you fall in love with right away. There is so much greenery and water, extremely friendly people and great nightlife! It also has incredibly nice weather. In this blog, we’ll tell you what to do and see in the city. We’ll also give you some practical tips for a wonderful stay in this lovely city in South Western Australia.
Brief history of Perth
Perth has a rich and fascinating history dating back thousands of years. From its indigenous roots to its status as a modern metropolis, Perth has undergone significant changes over the centuries.
Long before European settlement, the Perth region was inhabited by the Noongar, who have a deep connection to the land. They maintained a semi-nomadic lifestyle and depended on hunting, gathering and fishing. The cultural heritage and traditions of the Noongar still play an important role in Perth’s identity.
Perth’s European history began in 1829 when Captain James Stirling established a settlement on the banks of the Swan River. The settlement was named “Perth”, after the city of the same name in Scotland. Initially, the colony faced numerous challenges, including a lack of fresh water and fertile land. Over time, however, the region’s potential for agriculture and trade became clear.
One of the major turning points in Perth’s history was the gold rush in the late 19th century. The discovery of gold in the nearby town of Coolgardie in 1892 led to a massive influx of immigrants and Perth’s rapid growth and development. The newfound wealth of the gold rush prompted major infrastructure projects. Such as the construction of large buildings, parks and railways that still adorn the city today.
Perth in the 20th and 21st centuries
Like many other cities around the world, Perth was deeply affected by the two world wars. During World War II, the city served as a base for Australian and Allied forces in the Pacific. After the war, Perth faced an influx of migrants, especially from Europe. They were seeking a fresh start and ended up contributing greatly to the city’s cultural diversity and economic growth.
In recent decades, Perth has been transformed into a thriving cosmopolitan city. The city’s skyline showcases modern architectural marvels, such as the iconic Bell Tower and the Elizabeth Quay on the waterfront. Beautiful Perth, with its stunning beaches, picturesque parks and nearby Swan Valley wine region, continues to attract visitors from all over the world.
Sights of Perth
With over two million inhabitants, Perth is a big city in Australia. Yet the city is excellent to explore both on foot and by bike. On sites like AllTrails and GPSmyCity, you can find several routes for a city walk through Perth. But be sure to check out the Visit Perth website as here there are several suggested (themed) city walks that you can do on your own, or even for free with a guide.
Would you rather go by bike? Perth is a bike-friendly city with an extensive network of cycle paths and trails that walkers share with cyclists. Many of the well-marked routes lead along the Swan River. You can find more information on where to hire a bike in the FAQs at the bottom of this blog.
Whether you wish to explore Perth by bike or on foot, be sure to include the following attractions in your route:
Kings Park and Botanic Garden
Perched atop the hill just west of Perth’s modern, commercial centre is Kings Park. This park, the size of 400 football pitches, offers stunning views as well as a beautiful setting with unusual native flora. From colourful wildflowers to majestic eucalyptus forests.
Besides its natural splendour, Kings Park also has deep cultural and historical significance. The park houses several memorials and monuments in tribute to the many victims of wars and conflicts. Moreover, Kings Park remains an important place of cultural significance for the indigenous people of Western Australia.
Kings Park also offers a range of recreational opportunities. From scenic footpaths and expansive lawns, to picnic spots and nice terraces. In addition, there are regular events, ranging from outdoor concerts and art exhibitions to educational activities. The days we were there were pleasantly quiet, apart from a few couples and small parties.
Perth Botanic Garden, located in Kings Park, houses a collection of over 3,000 species of Western Australian flora. In total, more than half of the 25,000 plant species is found in Australia. More than 60% of these are found nowhere else in the world. The Botanic Garden plays a crucial role in research and science, with a dedicated directorate specialising in the conservation and restoration of native species and ecosystems.
For us, the Botanic Garden is also, above all, a wonderful place to stroll through. Apart from the unusual plant species (including the baobab!), you can enjoy the beautiful and wonderfully peaceful surroundings. The garden is open to the public 24/7. Admission is free. For more information, visit the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority website.
Elizabeth Quay is a nice spot on the banks of the Swan River, in the middle of Perth’s commercial city centre. The location is a major urban renewal project from 2015 that has more than succeeded as far as we are concerned. Elizabeth Quay offers a nice mix of an idyllic waterfront with entertainment, restaurants, cafes and terraces, some architectural gems and public art. Alongside the river is a picturesque promenade where it’s great to amble. And wherever you are, there are views not only of the city’s impressive skyline but also of the other side of the river.
Elizabeth Quay hosts various events and activities throughout the year. From live music performances and art installations to (family-friendly) festivals. In short, there is always something going on. When we were there, for instance, there was a light festival entirely dedicated to Christmas. Furthermore, you can go on river cruises, rent kayaks or just enjoy the lively atmosphere of this dynamic waterfront location.
Bell Tower at Elizabeth Quay
One of the architectural gems in Elizabeth Quay is the Bell Tower. Also known as the Swan Bells Tower, the tower is an iconic, fascinating building with a distinctive copper and glass design. The Bell Tower houses a collection of 18 historic bells, including the 12 bells of St Martin-in-the-Fields. These date back to the 14th century and were donated to the state of Western Australia as part of the celebration of Australia’s bicentenary in 1988. You can visit the tower to learn more about the rich history and cultural significance of the bells. Namely about their origins, musical resonance and the role they play in Western Australia’s cultural heritage. Definitely worth a visit, also because of the beautiful views of the city and the Swan River!
Heirisson Island is a lovely quiet oasis in the big city. This small, pristine island lies in the middle of the Swan River, between East Perth and Victoria Park. It is a haven for nature lovers and peace-seekers alike.
One of the island’s most fascinating features is its kangaroo population. You can get up close and admire these iconic Australian marsupials in their natural habitat here. Heirisson Island is also of great cultural importance as an Aboriginal heritage site. The island is called Matagarup, meaning a place where the water is knee-deep. In ancient times, the Noongar could cross the river here.
Despite its natural location in the middle of the river, Heirisson Island is easily accessible. There is plenty of parking and some bus stops. The island has picnic tables, grassy areas by the water and walking paths. Really, just a lovely place to relax for a bit and to enjoy the beautiful views of the city and the river.
The University of Western Australia campus
The University of Western Australia (UWA) was founded in 1911, making it the oldest university in Western Australia. The university is ranked in the top 100 universities worldwide almost every year. Not surprisingly, many Australian and foreign students enjoy studying there. But UWA also has much to offer non-student visitors.
For example, the Swan River-side complex is considered one of Australia’s most beautiful university campuses. Beautiful gardens, magnificent buildings that contribute to its cultural heritage, academic atmosphere… Like the Sunken Garden, a serene oasis of tranquillity. Its lush greenery and carefully landscaped design make the campus a pleasant spot to chill out for a bit or go for a stroll. The garden also serves as a venue for several cultural events, academic meetings and social activities.
Another (literal) highlight and also eye-catcher of the university is Winthrop Hall with its tower dating back to 1932. Winthrop Hall, with its neo-Byzantine design and imposing bell tower, is an extraordinary and monumental stone building that you simply must enter. Its grand Mediterranean-style architecture, marble and mosaic foyer and vaulted ceilings make the hall an absolute landmark. It is also the cornerstone of UWA’s campus life, hosting various events and ceremonies. It is a picturesque place that couples often use for their wedding photos. So too on the day when we are there. We give the bride and groom a lot of credit for their choice of location!
The famous Sunset Coast near Perth
Lovers of beautiful white sandy beaches? Then be sure to visit the famed Sunset Coast. Located just west of Perth, this idyllic coastline takes its name from the beautiful sunsets. The 40-kilometre stretch of coast extends from Cottesloe in Perth to the northern Two Rocks.
The Sunset Coast is known for its pristine beaches, each with its own character and appeal. From the iconic Cottesloe Beach, with its lively atmosphere and beautiful sunsets, to the secluded shores of Trigg Beach, home to surfers and sunbathers. There is plenty to do on this part of the Indian Ocean. For instance, you can go on beautiful snorkelling or diving trips in the crystal-clear waters. Furthermore, the area is perfect for beautiful walks and bicycle rides. And if you need a snack: the entire coast here is dotted with cafés, beach bars and mostly really good restaurants.
Tip: do you have access to a (rental) car? Then be sure to visit Hillary’s Boat Harbour. In addition to a lovely beach, you will find spas, many charming little restaurants and the interesting Aquarium of Western Australia.
Answers to practical questions about a city break to Perth
Perth, the capital of Western Australia, is located in the south-west of Australia.
You can go to several locations in Perth to rent a bike. One such location is About Bike Hire, where you can rent both sport bikes and e-bikes. One advantage is that you can also rent a bike for just a few hours. A little closer to the city centre is Cycle Centre where they also have ‘regular’ bikes and e-bikes. Day rates are higher than at About Bike Hire.
There is so much to do in Perth and the surrounding area that you can easily spend several days here. To help you choose, in our blog we describe some of the sights we think you shouldn't miss. Such as Kings Park and Botanical Garden, Elizabeth Quay and the Bells Tower, Heirisson Island, the campus of the University of Western Australia and the Sunset Coast.
Basically, you can see a lot of Perth in just one day. But if you want to get to know and experience the city to the fullest, spend two or even three days in it. For us, Perth was the starting and finishing point of a tour of South Western Australia. We spent one full day there and three half days.
The most pleasant temperatures are in November, December, March and April. January and February can be hot. But as the air is usually dry, you are unlikely to suffer from the high temperatures in summer. Near Perth, by the way, there are some beautiful beaches. If you like to visit the city itself as well as the sea, March and April are the most ideal months. The average water temperature is around 23 degrees then.
Perth has the reputation of being an expensive city. Especially compared to Western European cities and other cities in Australia. We found it generally not too bad. For instance, accommodation was quite affordable (except when a famous pop group's concert is on). And if you paid a bit of attention, you could also eat well for a reasonable price. However, we did find beer and wine, and public transport, pricey.
Perth is home to a huge variety of dining options, from cosy cafes to upmarket restaurants. Each neighbourhood in Perth offers its own unique culinary experience.
We stayed in the Northbridge district, known for its multicultural atmosphere. Particularly on long William Street, you'll find predominantly Asian eateries. But there are also places serving delicious-smelling Middle Eastern dishes. And trendy fusion restaurants with international cuisine. Get inspired by this overview of good restaurants in Northbridge.
Perth's Central Business District (CBD) is a hub of culinary creativity. You'll find a mix of contemporary eateries and establishments serving traditional cuisine. This district includes fun rooftop bars with panoramic views over the city. But there are also trendy cafés where you can go for delicious coffee and really tasty brunch. Check out the list of good restaurants in the CBD. By the way, missing from this list is 'the Island': a beach bar-like eatery where we went a few times. Although the cuisine there is good but not very special, the ambiance is amazing!
Subiaco is a neighbourhood known for its charming streets lined with cosy cafes, wine bars, trattorias and gastropubs. Here you can take a culinary trip around the world: from authentic Italian pasta to spicy Thai food. Most eateries can be found on Rokeby Road, the district's main street. Check out the list of good restaurants in Subiaco here.
There is ample accommodation in Perth, ranging from bed & breakfasts and motels to flats and hotels. Although you have plenty of choice in the city centre (CBD), you often have a better and cheaper offer in the many neighbourhoods. Like in the Northbridge district where we enjoyed our stay. From our hotel, the city centre was easy to reach on foot. Can't get enough of the sea? Then consider the Scarborough district! Or looking for something truly unique? Then get inspired by TravelEssence's offer.