When visiting Perth in Western Australia, visitors often rush to the port city of Fremantle. With its museums, galleries, cool street art, coffee culture and pubs on every corner, I like to describe this place as the cool vibe of Perth. If you are looking for what to do in Fremantle, a two-day itinerary is a great option.
European history starts in 1829, when Captain Charles Fremantle takes possession of the West Coast of Australia on behalf of King George IV. The Swan River Colony makes little progress until the arrivals of British convicts in 1850.
What to do in Fremantle
Today, Fremantle is a bustling, fun-loving city, and still very much a port. When I first visited in the late 90s, things felt a little neglected, as if the city was in transition. Still, the creativity and the quirkiness were already there.
These days, much of the city is renovated, with well-preserved architecture, busy pubs and cool cafes open for brunch. There is so much stuff to do in Fremantle.
In order to experience Fremantle and its unique vibe, staying the night is a great idea. Accommodation in Fremantle is varied and suitable for all budgets and some new stylish places have appeared.
The grand old pubs of Fremantle also have renovated rooms. The National Hotel Fremantle has a rooftop bar and the Norfolk Hotel Fremantle, across the street from the Fremantle Markets has clean rooms and great meals.
If you want to stay in South Fremantle, closer to the beach, the Local Hotel Fremantle is an old renovated building with a fresh decor and shared facilities.
They say Fremantle has a pub on every corner and it’s not an exaggeration… For that reason, Fremantle tourism is by and large about having a cool drink. This is a destination of choice for Perth’s beloved “Sunday Sesh”, an all-afternoon drinking session.
As a port city, Fremantle has a long tradition of looking after thirsty sailors and some pubs, such as the Sail & Anchor and Little Creatures even hide a
On my last Fremantle day trip, I had lunch at the Norfolk Hotel, a beautiful old pub across the street from the Fremantle Markets and it was the perfect place to catch up with friends.
The town has a fairly strong Italian identity, as a lot of migrants arrived through Fremantle Harbour. Pizza restaurants and Italian cafés line South Terrace, some still looking a bit drab.
South Terrace, or Cappucino Strip is where most Fremantle restaurants are. So, before or after the pub, maybe an Italian meal or seafood feast is in order!
The Prison is probably the most striking building in Fremantle. In fact, its silhouette still dominates the city of Fremantle, in an ominous and slightly dark presence. Along with the Fremantle Arts Centre and the Round House, the Fremantle Prison is one of the earliest convict-built buildings in Fremantle.
The Fremantle Prison was built in order to house the first convicts brought in from Britain in 1850, and was initially called the Convict Establishment. After completion in the 1850s, it remained a prison until 1991. Throughout its history, the Fremantle Prison housed British convicts, local and military prisoners, enemy aliens and POWs.
Once one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire, the Fremantle Prison history is actually a goldmine of stories. Many of the important characters of colonial and Western Australia have a connection to the prison and I highly recommend visiting it.
My first visit to the Fremantle Prison goes back to 1997, when I first moved to Australia. Back then, there was one type of visit, mostly focused on modern times. The prison housed up to 1200 and 58 women at any one time however, some 350,000 people were incarcerated there in the course of its history.
Today, the Fremantle Prison is part of ten Australian Convict Sites added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010. I highly recommend a visit if you are interested in Australian convict history. Another good place for convict history is Tasmania, especially Port Arthur.
The Prison Tours
There are 5 different Fremantle gaol tours you can take, depending on what interests you.
The Convict Prison
This tour covers the period from the build in 1850 till the end of the convict era in 1886. This is a great option if you are interested in Fremantle convict history.
This tour involves quite a lot of stairs and is not accessible by wheelchair.
Out of the various Fremantle Prison tours, this one focuses on the more recent history and the maximum security jail. The period covered goes from 1887 and 1991. Starting in the commercial size kitchen, the guide will take through the process of arriving at the prison, show you around the different yards, the gallows (last used in 1964) and even the death row cells.
!00% wheelchair accessible.
This tour tells the real life stories of the most notorious inmates of the Fremantle Prison. From bushrangers to thieves, murderers, serial killers, bank robbers and escape artists, this is the story of 140 years of West Australia’s criminal history.
Please note that this tour is not for children under 10.
This is a Fremantle ghost tour and it goes through the more macabre aspects of the prison’s history, the ghastly and ghostly stories…
This Fremantle night tour goes for 1,5 hours and runs every Wednesday and Friday nights. Bookings are essential.
The Tunnels Tour
This tour is longer than the others (2,5 hours) and includes an underground boat ride and a visit of the tunnels built by the prisoners. There is a minimum age of 12 for this tour and you need to have a good level of fitness to explore the labyrinth of tunnels built by the prisoners.
This tour is not wheelchair accessible.
Fremantle Prison Tour Prices
Fremantle Prison tour times: The Convict Prison, Behind Bars, Great Escapes last 1 hour and 15
You can combine two of them in the Prison Tour Package for $32 per adult. You can also combine a tram tour and one prison tour of your choice on this ticket.
Fremantle Arts Centre
The Fremantle Arts Centre is the former lunatic asylum and one of Freo’s most significant landmarks, on Ord Street. Built by convict labour in the 1860s in colonial gothic style, the Fremantle Arts Centre has had many uses over the years.
After a time as an “Asylum for the Criminally Insane”, the building was used to house homeless women and delinquent girls. Then it became a midwifery school.
The WA Maritime Museum called it home for a while and the Migration Museum occupied some of the rooms until it was permanently closed in 2009.
In my view, the most fascinating aspect of the Fremantle Arts Centre is that it is said to be haunted. I’m not a big believer in ghosts but the Fremantle Arts Centre has the reputation of being one of the most haunted buildings in Western Australia. Visitors and staff have experienced creepy events, such as cold spots, voices, physical contact, black shadows and even apparitions.
When I visited the Fremantle Arts Centre in the late 90s, the Migration Museum was still open and even capitalised on the ghost reputation.
I remember going into a small room at the end of a corridor and being totally creeped out… Sure, the displays were quite “staged” to increase the feeling of a presence but still…
On my last Fremantle day trip, there was none of that. The Fremantle Arts Centre seems to be only dedicated to art events and workshops, and there is no mention of the ghost reputation… It’s a bit of a shame and it’s to you if you want to include it in your Fremantle itinerary.
Another historic place to visit in Fremantle is the markets, on the corner of South Terrace and Henderson Street. Built in 1897, the Fremantle Markets are the hippy heart of the port city.
The main hall is full of novelty stalls, jewellery, hats, wooden objects, art work and many more knick-knacks. There is also a fresh food hall at the back.
The Fremantle Markets haven’t changed much since I lived in Perth and remain one of the essential Fremantle attractions.
Fremantle Round House
Fremantle sightseeing includes a number of historic places. The Round House is one of the most interesting things to see in Fremantle. Built as a gaol in 1830, just after the establishment of the Swan River Colony, the Round House is the oldest remaining building in Western Australia.
Built on the model of panopticon, the Round House has eight cells, a jailer’s residence and a well in the courtyard. The cells are tiny, and yet held colonial and indigenous prisoners until 1886.
Like many colonial buildings, the Round House, Fremantle has had several uses: it was a police lock-up until 1900.
At the front of the Round House, overlooking Bathers Beach, is a deck with a cannon and time ball. The cannon is fired every day at 1pm. At the same time, one of volunteer guides drops the time ball from the mast. This process was used to help mariners adjust their chronometers.
This process is no longer required with digital timekeeping but it’s a nice tradition and one of Fremantle’s tourist attractions.
The Round House is a special place for me. I became a volunteer guide there when I first moved to Perth. So I did get to operate the time ball and I was involved in Fremantle tours.
Fremantle being a port city, you wouldn’t necessarily expect a pretty beach, but Bathers Beach is just behind the Round House. The Whalers’ Tunnel built under the Round House is now open so you can simply walk to the beach.
You can include this small beach in your list of Fremantle things to do.
This elegant colonial building sits on the location of the warehouse built by Fremantle’s first harbour master. In 1850, this was the first home of the 75 convicts brought in from Britain to help build the struggling colony.
There were many transformations after that and it finally opened as a hotel in 1895. If you are looking for what to do in Fremantle, why not try High Tea at the Esplanade Hotel.
Old Merchant Buildings
Creating your own Fremantle walking tour is a great way to discover the many aspects of the port city. High Street, Phillimore Street and High Street have an interesting collection of old shipping buildings. Those Edwardian mansions were built by wealthy shipping merchants and many of them have been restored. They are one of the things to see in Fremantle.
These stately buildings give a good idea of the past glory of the port city and make for great Fremantle sightseeing.
WA Maritime Museum
What better place than Fremantle to house a Maritime Museum? Indeed, Fremantle still has a very strong seafaring identity and purpose. The WA Maritime Museum is an attractive modern building on the edge of the harbour, shaped like a sail.
The museum is a comprehensive account of all seafaring and marine life. The museum holds impressive collections of objects relating to pilot boats, cruise liners, fishing, whaling and defence ships.
For the more technically inclined, there is even a section on ship engines and a lighthouse lantern.
The most spectacular aspect of the museum is how boats are hanging from the ceiling, including the famous Australia II, who won
I found the WA Maritime Museum really interesting, even though I’m not hugely into boats. The displays are really well done and full of interesting details. Visiting the museum on a Fremantle day trip is a good way to measure the importance and influence of seafaring for Western Australia.
Outside the museum are the “Welcome Walls” paying tribute to the many migrants who came to Western Australia by sea.
This addition to the WA Maritime Museum was recently opened in the newly renovated Commissariat building on Cliff Street. The entry is by gold coin donation and the WA Shipwrecks Museum
The coast of Western Australia is treacherous and there are many shipwrecks listed in the museum. The most extraordinary shipwreck in the museum is that of the Batavia, a flagship of the Dutch East India Company wrecked on the Abrolhos Islands, near Kalbarri in 1628.
A barely believable story of mutiny, mass murder and survival ensued and, whilst very well documented through survivors’ journals and accounts, discoveries are still being made.
The Shipwrecks Museum contains a number of relics from the Batavia but the most potent of all is the timber hull of the ship.
Fremantle Harbour and the Sheds
One of the very simple joys of visiting a port city is to watch the harbour at work. Victoria Quay and the sheds are a perfect vantage point and a departure point for cruises from Fremantle
Cruise ships, container ships, Rottnest Island ferries and other Fremantle cruises make for the bulk of the activity. The B-Shed has a nice bar with tables and chairs looking onto the harbour.
Nearby is the E-Shed, which contains a weekend market, however it’s not as good as the Fremantle Markets.
The cruises out of Fremantle are also an attractive activity as part of your itinerary. A day trip to Rottnest Island is a fantastic way to continue your exploration of Perth and its surroundings. Check out additional information and current tour prices.
There are also cruises going from Fremantle to Perth. Check out additional information and current tour prices.
Fremantle Street Art
The Perth street art scene is one of the best I’ve seen in Australia. Melbourne is still the strongest but Perth and Fremantle have some very impressive work. If you are looking for fun things to do in Fremantle, don’t miss some of the murals around town.
The Black Octopus painted at the entrance of Fremantle by Welsh-born artist Phlegm is a striking vision and one of the best examples of Fremantle street art.
One of the best places to see street art
A little further on South Terrace, there is a beautiful mural of two coloured zebras on the side of Ootong and Lincoln, by Anya Brock. Who would have thought that coloured zebras would look so good?
There are many more examples of fantastic street art along South Terrace. You can get there on the Fremantle Cat Bus.
The Rainbow Sea Containers
In another homage to Fremantle’s hippy and quirky persona, Perth artist Marcus Canning is responsible for a striking art installation at the north entrance of the port city. On Beach Reserve, the nine brightly-coloured recycled sea containers are clearly visible to all visitors, whether they come by train, car or boat on the Swan River.
The sea containers are joined to form an arch and painted the colours of the rainbow. It’s very popular with tourists for Instagram photos and it can get busy. Visit in the late afternoon to get the best light.
It’s one of the coolest Fremantle attractions! There is a car park along Beach Street below the containers,
At the end of my two-day itinerary, you need a break… And also to go back to what’s best in Perth: the beach! Western Australia has some incredible beaches, all the way up to Kalbarri.
Stop at Port Beach, the restaurant has a cool vibe and cold drinks, and is right on the beach!
How to get to Fremantle
The distance from Perth to Fremantle is only 18km. It’s an easy drive along the West Australian coast. You can also get there on the train from Perth CBD. Locally, the CAT bus can easily take you to South Fremantle and back.
Is that enough for two days? I’m pretty sure this itinerary will keep busy exploring Fremantle.
Fremantle Prison Review
Perth Street Art
Can you recommend other things to do in Fremantle, Western Australia? Tell me about it in the comments below!
Save these tips for a visit to Fremantle in Western Australia on Pinterest!