Funky Fremantle, Perth’s hip historic seaside city makes a great day trip or, even better, a great base for exploring the Western Australian capital. Loft cafés, contemporary art galleries, unique concept stores, and vintage shops line the laidback streets of this cool beachside city.
When locals in Western Australia’s capital Perth want to kick back on the weekend, they head to Fremantle – or ‘Freo’ as it’s fondly called. A lovely, low-rise, low-key little city at the mouth of the Swan River, with a pretty boat harbour, sandy beaches, and sprawling pine-covered park, Fremantle is one of Perth’s oldest and most charming areas.
Over the years, we’ve settled into the city, on a couple of occasions renting apartments for a few months to spend time with family while updating Perth and Western Australia guidebooks. We’ve often thought that when we move back to Australia, Fremantle would make a lovely home.
Funky Fremantle, Perth’s Hip Historic Seaside City and Cool West End
Settled thousands of years ago by the Noongar people, Europeans arrived in 1829 and used convicts to build Fremantle’s splendid sandstone buildings such as the Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle Prison, and the Round House, where my Mum used to work as a volunteer guide.
When Fremantle’s port boomed with the 1880s Gold Rush, prosperous merchants established grand headquarters here and constructed majestic hotels with intricate wrought iron balconies. Freo’s most handsome façades can be found on the quiet streets of West End, a compact quarter sandwiched between the port and harbour.
Freo’s laidback atmosphere has long attracted musicians, artists and writers, giving the place a bohemian hippy vibe, but in recent years a more contemporary creative scene has been taking shape in the West End where chic boutiques, concept stores, retro cafés, and contemporary art galleries have moved into historic buildings.
Traditionally, a Fremantle visit involves a museum – the Western Australian Maritime Museum, Shipwrecks Galleries and Fremantle Prison are all worth your time – the lively weekend Fremantle Markets on South Terrace (also known as ‘Cappuccino Strip’, because of its abundant cafés), and an amble through Esplanade Park with its colossal Norfolk Island pines, to the boat harbour for fish and chips followed by beers at boutique brewery Little Creatures.
Now, a visit to Freo also requires some time shopping the hip West End.
The Cool West End – Fremantle’s Hippest Quarter
You should still enjoy Freo’s quintessential experiences – coffee at Gino’s (which offers 21 different cups of coffee), Perth’s best fish and chips by the water at Cicerellos, and icy beers in the sun overlooking boats bobbing on the harbour at Little Creatures. Order the White Rabbit Pale Ale and a crispy woodfired pizza. But after, walk across the park to the West End.
On Henry Street, Moore & Moore in a historic merchant house dating to 1868, is popular with university students and local shop owners. The quirky space is furnished with vintage pieces and curios, there’s a sunny courtyard out back and a studio for artist’s-in-residence, while in the adjoining Moores Building Contemporary Art Gallery, you can browse art – anything from installations to videos.
Nearby on High Street, home to the West End’s best shops, is the B&M Store, where owners Jayden and Jess offer a carefully curated selection of design favourites from Australia and abroad, including their own colourful woollen felt products – coasters, placements, laptop covers, and wallets – to lifestyle essentials like Hookturn BYO Coffee Cups from Australia and Baggu Bags from the USA. Ask them to point out Australian products from PageThirtyThree, Ink&Spindle, Lad & Lass, and Not Tuesday. The FutureShelter timber brooches make unique souvenirs. Sadly, this store is now closed.
Local designer Sheree Dornan has filled Love In Tokyo with her ethereal creations – flowing layers of silk, slip dresses and dainty camisoles – along with floaty Eastern-influenced clothes, scarves and textiles, many embellished with gems and beads, as well as handmade jewellery. Sadly, this store is now closed as well.
Don’t miss Australian labels Vixen and High Tea with Mrs Woo. Sheree works on site, as does designer Liz Dawes, across the road at Cocoon Textiles, who you might see cutting her fabrics on the big table in the centre of the store. Along with her original bold printed fabrics and fashion, Liz devotes rack space to Western Australian designers like Ashe, Chinky Wooster and Petals in Disarray.
The shelves at Remedy hold lovely sustainable and eco-friendly products, from antique-style stamp sets in recycled wooden boxes to colourful baskets handmade made by indigenous women. Buy Australian-made Aesop skincare products and illustrated tea towels by Third Drawer Down.
Close by, Irene Daly has decorated Kartique with her favourite things, as if it was a beautiful home, with handcrafted furniture, vintage apothecary cabinets, and antique chests. Pre-loved garden benches are strewn with colorful handmade cushions, a stack of magazines sit atop a vibrant embroidered ottoman. And glass cabinets display idiosyncratic pieces of jewellery.
In keeping with the West End’s vintage style is The Attic on Bannister Street. A funky retro-inspired café opened last year by graphic designer Conrad and tea-obsessed Jess, the loft space is decorated with second-hand furniture and a ‘chandelier’ of old suitcases.
While the coffee is superb (and the freshly roasted beans are for sale), try the masala chai with a homemade orange and almond or chocolate and beetroot cake – two quintessential Freo creations.
Also see our guide to Fremantle for Families.
Flights to Perth to work on stories were provided by Tourism Western Australia. Accommodation was provided by Number Six, a locally owned short-stay rental company we’ve been renting apartments from for years. A version of this story appeared in Sawasdee, Thai Airways in-flight magazine.