Lee Atkinson goes west for a taste of fun and a bit of history in this world-class heritage seaport.
On the mouth of the Swan River south of Perth, Freo has a thriving cafe culture, popular markets, boutique shopping, museums, art galleries and a relaxed coastal vibe. It's where the west has fun.
What's it known for?
Fremantle hit the world stage when it hosted the America's Cup in 1987, but its real claim to fame is that it's the oldest European settlement in Western Australia and one of the best-preserved 19th-century seaports anywhere. More than 150 buildings are classified by the National Trust, including a 12-sided tower at the end of High Street on Arthur Head that was built as a jail in 1831. Named the Round House, it is open daily from 10.30am-3.30pm. Entry is free.
What you didn't know
Fremantle's favourite son is Bon Scott, the lead singer of AC/DC from 1974 until his death in 1980. Scott lived in Fremantle as a teenager and even spent time as a guest in Fremantle Prison. His grave in Fremantle Cemetery is visited by thousands of fans each year and was given a heritage listing in 2006. In 2008, a statue of a singing Scott in his trademark skin-tight jeans was erected at the Fishing Boat Harbour.
The Duyfken, a replica of the first European sailing ship to visit Australia, is back where it came from in its home port of Fremantle. Taking four years to build, the tall ship was launched in 1999 and spent the past 12 years at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney when not sailing around the world.
The original Duyfken, or "Little Dove", was owned by the Dutch East India Company and was searching for gold and spices in the waters south-east of Papua New Guinea. It was under the command of Willem Janszoon in 1606 when those on board sighted the northern coast of Australia. They were the first Europeans to put the continent on the mediaeval map. The Duyfken is moored in the Fishing Boat Harbour and is open to the public from 10am-4pm on weekdays and 10am-5pm at weekends. Tickets are $10 an adult, $5 for children, and $25 for families. duyfken.com.
Built by convicts in the 1850s and home to the state's worst criminals until 1991, Fremantle Prison is Western Australia's only World Heritage-listed building. There are a range of tours available, including a Great Escapes tour, on which you can learn about successful and unsuccessful escape attempts, including the fascinating story of six Irish Fenians (Irish republicans), who managed not only to get out of jail, but to sail away in a waiting ship, the Catalpa, to the US and a hero's welcome in 1876.
Other tours include an underground tour of tunnels and submerged passageways (by boat), and the rather spooky night-time Torchlight tour. Open daily from 10am-5pm. Tours start at $19 for adults, $10 for children, $53 for families. 1 The Terrace. fremantleprison.com.au.
Where to eat
There's no shortage of places to eat and drink in Fremantle, but no trip is complete without a drink at Little Creatures, a brewery inside a converted boat shed at the Fishing Boat Harbour that also serves great pizzas and food to share. Open daily. (08) 9430 5555, littlecreatures.com.au. The Fishing Boat Harbour is also the place to go for super-fresh seafood. The best bets include Cicerello's, which has been serving fish and chips since 1903. Check out the aquariums while you're there: the 50 different species of fish were all collected in Fremantle waters. Open daily. (08) 9335 1911, cicerellos.com.au.
Where to stay
Given it's so close to Perth, most people tend to head to Freo as a day trip. It's got great restaurants and nightlife, so if you want to spend the night, the Esplanade Hotel is in a great location in the heart of town. Doubles from $250. Esplanadehotelfremantle.com.au. For water views, try Pier 21 Apartment Hotel on the Swan River. One-bedroom apartments start at $325. pier21.com.au. For those travelling on a tighter budget, the Norfolk Hotel has doubles with a shared bathroom from $140 a night, or en suite rooms for $180. norfolkhotel.com.au.
How to get there
Fremantle is 20 kilometres south of Perth, about a 30-minute drive or train ride from the city.
More information: fremantlewa.com.au.