1. Western Australia Maritime Museum
Fremantle is a compact little slice of Western Australia just across the Swan River estuary south of Perth. For generations the indigenous Noongar people have called the place Walyalup and gathered her for cultural ceremonies and trading. The town is imminently walkable, with plenty to fill the time and more besides.
Since Fremantle Harbor is a major port that serves Perth, it’s only fitting that we begin at the Western Australia Maritime Museum on Victoria Quay. The billowing modern architecture is a reminder of Fremantle’s connection to the sea, a history that predates the arrival of Capt. Charles Fremantle in 1829. Exhibits cover the natural wonders of the Indian Ocean and the history of maritime warfare and trade, and include the Australia II, the racing yacht that won the America’s Cup in 1983. A tour of the HMAS Ovens, reveals what life was like aboard a Cold War-era submarine. The vessel is perched on the historic World War II submarine slipway, which was the Allied navies’ largest submarine port in the Southern Hemisphere.
Hours: 9:30-5:00 PM, admission A$15 ($10). Western Australia Maritime Museum, Victoria Quay, tel: 61 8 9431 8334; museum.wa.gov.au
2. Fremantle West End Heritage
Just outside the museum, the Welcome Wall, a series of over 400 bronze panels engraved with names, commemorates the migrants who have come to Western Australia by sea over the years. It was here we met Michael Deller from Fremantle Tours, our guide and unabashed Fremantle enthusiast, who started us off with a stroll down Mouat Street into what’s known as Fremantle West End Heritage. This warren of narrow streets is home to an impressive collection of 19th and early 20th century architecture dating from Fremantle’s early days as a center of commerce. Today the area, which includes some 250 historic buildings, is on the State Register of Heritage Places, and is home to coffee shops, bookstores and bistros. Many of the buildings are now part of the University of Notre Dame Australia campus. If time permits, a visit to the Shipwrecks Museum in the 1852 Commissariat Buildings on Cliff Street provides a fascinating glimpse into the region’s seafaring disasters.
3. Fremantle Markets
Fremantle’s charming historic architecture and varied cuisine are by no means confined to the West End; an amble down South Terrace presented us with a jumble of food and beverage options with names like Gino’s and Pizza Bella Roma, not to mention Mexican Kitchen and the Sail and Anchor Pub. At Parry Street, we came upon another Victorian confection in brick and wrought iron, the Freemantle Markets. Once a wholesale market, this 1897 structure now houses over 150 craft shops, fashion and home goods stores and restaurants in the Hall, with fresh produce and food retailers in the Yard. Adding to the lively air, dozens of buskers are allowed to share their talents on a carefully controlled schedule (to avoid chaos).
Open Friday through Sunday, plus holidays and special trading days. The Yard opens at 8:00 AM, the Hall at 9:00 AM, closing time is 8:00 PM Fri, 6:00 PM Sat-Sun; fremantlemarkets.com.au
4. Fremantle Prison
Just across Parry Street from the market is the Fremantle Oval, historic home to a game called Australian Rules Football, less formally known simply as ‘footy.’ On the other side of the oval is the infamous Freemantle Prison. While this may not sound like a must-see venue for the casual visitor, the former prison is a World Heritage Site and one of the country’s most significant cultural settings owing to its ties to Australia’s early days as a penal colony. Built in 1854 by convict labor, the foreboding gatehouse welcomed prisoners to the ‘gaol’ for 140 years, until it was decommissioned in 1991. Since then it has been welcoming tourists by their thousands; today the prison offers a number of tours that cover the prison’s history, a convict’s daily life and more gruesome true crime stories. The tours last about an hour and 15 minutes and cost A$22 ($15). Lengthier tours include the spooky Torchlight Tour and the Tunnel Tour exploring the shafts and submerged passageways dug from the limestone by the prisoners themselves.
Open 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, 7 days a week; Freemantle Prison, 1 The Terrace, tel: 61 8 9336 9200; fremantleprison.com.au
5. The National Hotel
Wrapping up our prison tour, we doubled back toward the harbor, taking the long way round via Point Street to get a look at the statue of the late AC/DC front man and Fremantle favorite son Bon Scott. Our destination is the National Hotel, another one of the town’s Victorian-era gems. Originally the High Street site was a shop, then home to the National Bank of Australasia; when the bank moved out in 1886, the building became a hotel but retained the National moniker. The current building dates back to the early 1900s, so needless to say, it’s undergone some considerable renovations, modifications and updates over the years. The latest of these was the stunning rooftop bar, which opened in 2018. It was the perfect end to a few hours in Fremantle; the drinks were cold and refreshing and the sunset over the harbor was spectacular.
The National Hotel, 98 High Street, tel: 61 8 9335 6688; nationalhotelfremantle.com.au