Why you need to visit Perth

Travelling Well | Story: Sofia Levin | Photot: Anne Morley | Posted on 01 May 2020

Forget mining. Perth is shaping up to be one of Australia's most exciting cities.

The four-year mining bust that saw businesses close, projects abandoned and record unemployment in Western Australia is over. Now it’s hard to keep up with Perth’s thriving restaurant scene and swish new hotel openings. Public renewal projects landed the city a place on both Forbes Travel Guide’s and the New York Times’ Places to Go lists last year. 

Ryan Zaknich, co-founder of Two Feet and a Heartbeat walking tours, says many visitors don’t recognise Perth in 2020. “They’ve heard about downtown Perth changing dramatically and either they’ve never been here or they have been a long, long time ago. Perth is new but layered on the old really nicely… People want to see something different from the east coast.” 

With the Perth City Link urban renewal project connecting the CBD with trendy Northbridge, and the Western Australia Gourmet Escape festival now extending from Margaret River to the city and Swan Valley, 2020 is a fine time to visit.

Perth skyline

Sunset over Perth skyline.

Why you should go west for your next Aussie holiday

Culture meets cool 

Arguably the city’s coolest neighbourhood, Northbridge is home to Perth’s Cultural Centre. The Western Australian Museum is not due to reopen until November, but you can visit the Art Gallery of Western Australia for free, head to PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Art) and catch a show at the State Theatre or more indie Blue Room. For a pre-performance bite try No Mafia, a cosy Italian wine bar, or Los Bravos, which serves tapas to a soundtrack of Spanish records.  

Stay on William Street to shop for clothing, fragrances and makeup from WA designers at Generics Urban Apothecary and pop into Mantle a few doors down for Perth-designed, Japanese-made clothing that’s as durable as it is stylish.  

Take tipples at The Standard, where cocktails and craft beer are served over two levels; rum bar Sneaky Tony’s, if you remember to check social media for the password on Friday and Saturday nights; or unpretentious Frisk, a small gin bar. Finish the evening with after-midnight dumplings at Uncle Billy’s in Chinatown.  

Where the chefs go 

Chef Joel Valvasori opened one of Perth’s best restaurants, Lulu La Delizia, in Subiaco in 2016. Having worked in Melbourne for a decade, it was a shock to return home. “I came back to boomtown Perth and everyone was making money hand over fist. Restaurants didn’t care about customers because everyone was making money. Now we’re starting to see the changes,” he says.  

Right now, he says the city is going through a wine-bar phase. “I like Juanita’s near us for a local wine bar, Wines of While is good and if you’re after a big, flashy-looking night, I’d suggest Santini. The guys at Madelinas are doing a great job down in South Freo. Of course Lalla Rookh wine store as well, and Canteen Pizza down in Cottesloe,” suggests Joel. 

Heritage revived 

Originally built in the 1870s, it took $110 million to revitalise the so-called State Buildings, three grand stone-and-brick edifices, formerly a post office, land titles office and treasury, off St Georges Terrace.  

Inside, luxury hotel Como The Treasury opened its 48 rooms in 2015. Attached to the hotel are The Treasury Bar (try the King’s Park cocktail), all-day Italian diner Post, and fine-dining rooftop restaurant Wildflower, which focuses on WA produce according to the six Indigenous seasons.  

General manager Anneke Brown remembers the empty State Buildings from the ’80s. “It was an abandoned, fairly average-looking old building with nothing going on,” she says.  

“People in Perth have been so impressed with the fact that it was restored to the standard it deserved that they’ve taken pride in it.” Within the precinct are other worthy venues, including David Thompson’s vibrant Thai restaurant, Long Chim; all-day Petition; Halford Bar downstairs in the former safe room of the titles office; Telegram, which serves some of Perth’s best coffee; and Sue Lewis Chocolatier and The Honeycake shop. 

 “The property is stunning, the food options are exceptional and you can walk through the building, not spend a cent and still appreciate the heritage and architecture,” says Anneke.  

Modern skyscrapers in Perth CBD
No Mafia bar Perth

The State Buildings, built in the 1870s, recently underwent a $110 million redevelopment (left). Stop in for a pre-show sip at Italian wine bar No Mafia in the city's arts precinct.

From the rooftops 

Every summer since 2012, from early November to the end of March, Rooftop Movies commandeers Perth’s Roe Street carpark in Northbridge and installs a big screen, beanbags and fake grass.  

QT’s rooftop bar is where beautiful people congregate over a spritz menu and views of the city, while night owls descend to the Jazz Cellar on a Friday night in Mount Hawthorn – $30 gives you access to the live music, food and wine are BYO. 

Another favourite music venue is the Quarry Amphitheatre, a former limestone quarry in City Beach converted into a stage for local and international acts between November and March.  

While Perth’s famous beaches are within 20 minutes of the city, the Lotterywest Federation Walkway in Kings Park is another must. The 620-metre glass-and-steel bridge is suspended among eucalyptus trees with views of Perth’s skyline.  

Then there’s Heirisson Island, a former hunting ground for the indigenous Noongar people, 15 minutes’ walk from the city centre. Great for families, it’s a popular spot to picnic and meet the resident western grey roos.  

Hot hotels 

The end of 2019 heralded two landmark hotel additions. Art Series Hotel by Accor opened The Adnate in October, featuring the work of street artist Matt Adnate in and around the 250 rooms (RACV members save 5 per cent on Art Series Hotels). Sprawled across one side of the building is an enormous work depicting three faces including Noongar man Nathan McGuire.  

The five-star, 18-floor, 205-room Ritz-Carlton boasts an infinity pool overlooking Elizabeth Quay, and its fine-dining restaurant, Hearth, uses only WA ingredients in breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Guildford, WA
Funk Cider in Perth

Ride the Heritage Cycle Trail, which starts at Guildford (left), and finish with a tasting paddle at Funk Cider in Swan Valley.

Day trip: Five reasons to visit Swan Valley 

Often overshadowed by Margaret River, Swan Valley, just 25 minutes’ drive from the city, is Western Australia’s oldest wine region – the first vines were planted in 1830. There are plenty of reason to visit – here are five of them.

1. Take it easy at Oakover Grounds 

Established in the 1850s, this hub features relaxed warehouse dining, a coffee roaster, a veranda overlooking the vines, vast green space and a lake dotted with free-to-use paddleboats. 

2. Give beer a chance 

Although the Valley is known for wine, stop by one of the craft breweries and cider houses. Favourites include the Homestead Brewery at stunning Mandoon Estate, Feral Brewing Company, Funk Cider and Fig Tree Estate. 

3. Cheese-making masterclass 

Take a hands-on course at The Cheese Maker, part of Swan Valley Central, and learn how to make cheese at home – no experience necessary. Check thecheesemaker.com.au/courses for dates. 

4. Ride the Heritage Cycle Trail 

Starting from historic Guildford, this 16-kilometre mostly flat bike ride takes in a multitude of fresh produce stalls, picnic spots, wineries and restaurants. Or take Meet the Winemaker route, a three-kilometre on-road, off-path ride featuring five wineries along Memorial Avenue. 

5. Attend a world-class food festival 

Western Australia Gourmet Escape is one of Australia’s biggest food festivals. Previously held in Margaret River over a long weekend, the festival has expanded to a 10-day November affair beginning in Swan Valley, continuing in Perth and finishing in Margaret River. Past international guests include Nigella Lawson, Marco Pierre White and David Chang.  

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