Fun and memorable things to see, do and taste in Freo

Penny ThomasThe West Australian
Emily Taylor at Warders Hotel
Camera IconEmily Taylor at Warders Hotel Credit: Dion Robeson

Affectionately known as “Freo” to many, I like to refer to the port city of Fremantle as Perth’s better half.

With its beautiful heritage buildings, buzzing bars with live music and quaint bookshops and galleries, the city seamlessly blends the old with the new, and is large enough to have tons of things to do yet small enough for you to still get around on foot. With that in mind, I made my way to the vibrant and history-filled maritime city for a mini getaway and uncovered all sorts of thrilling, fun and wonderful experiences to try this summer.

Stay in a restored colonial heritage building

Fremantle is home to the largest collection of heritage-listed buildings in WA so it feels appropriate to be staying the night in a historic limestone cottage at Warders Hotel.

Located next to Fremantle Markets, the boutique two-storey hotel features a row of heritage-listed cottages on the ground and upper levels, which were built more than 170 years ago for the warders of the nearby Fremantle Prison and their families

Exterior of The  Warders Hotel , Fremantle
Camera IconExterior of The Warders Hotel , Fremantle Credit: Dion Robeson

The property got a new lease of life in 2018 when hotelier Patrick Prendiville from W1 Hospitality bought the cottages and enlisted local architect Matthew Crawford to give the interior a makeover while respecting the site’s heritage features. The meticulous restoration was completed in 2020 and today includes 11 elegant guest rooms, the Emily Taylor Bar and Kitchen and the cosy Gimlet aperitivo bar and cafe.

As for the type of accommodation you can expect here, there are five terrace cottages on the ground level which are ideal for families or people with two or more guests because they each have their own breakout dining area that can sleep extra guests. The six terrace rooms on the upper level — where I am staying — are better suited to singles or couples because they only include one king-size bed. Although the accommodation on the lower level sleeps more people, both room options give you a decent amount of space and include features like a private ensuite, handcrafted furniture, QR-code room-service menus and the coolest addition of all — still and sparkling water on tap.

Each room at Warders Hotel includes a still and sparkling water tap as part of the kitchenette
Camera IconEach room at Warders Hotel includes a still and sparkling water tap as part of the kitchenette Credit: Dion Robeson

The building is heritage-listed so the layout of my room is anything but stock-standard. When you first walk in to the room, there is a small landing area with a built-in cabinet and minibar. Next to the entrance is a hallway with a sliding door that connects to the bathroom which has a twin vanity, toilet and a large rain shower head.

Further down the hallway is a neat kitchenette with the fancy sparkling water tap. There is also a coffee machine and a few other practical items you can use to make fun things like a gin and tonic. Tucked away next to the kitchenette is a utility cabinet with a fold-out ironing station and other items like a hairdryer and additional bathroom supplies.

At the end of the hallway is where you will find the bedroom. Generous in size, this space highlights the building’s original timbers and stonework, and features custom-made furniture and artwork by Tessa MacKay.

The room feels light and bright thanks to two large timber-framed windows that overlook the street. Aside from being an excellent people-watching spot, the windows are perfectly positioned to take advantage of the Fremantle doctor’s afternoon sea breeze.

Other items in the bedroom include a large television with the ability to cast, an air-conditioning unit with an adjustable temperature setting, luxury bed linen, a selection of magazines and an intercom you can use to speak to hotel reception staff.

Once I have finished unpacking my bag, I put on my comfy walking shoes and venture back outside to begin exploring the streets of Fremantle.

Warders Hotel
Camera IconWarders Hotel Credit: Dion Robeson

Feast on fresh seafood

Less than a 10-minute walk from Warders Hotel is Fremantle’s most-loved seafood spot — Kailis’ Fishmarket Cafe.

Located along the boardwalk at the Fishing Boat Harbour, this place has been a cult favourite among tourists and locals alike since it opened in 1986.

While its exterior hasn’t changed too much over the years, its interior underwent a major revamp in 2019 and feels more like a high-end New York delicatessen than a fish market — there’s even a wine bar with a good selection of local and international wines.

Market crudo at Kailis' Fishmarket Cafe in Fremantle
Camera IconMarket crudo at Kailis' Fishmarket Cafe in Fremantle Credit: Supplied

I take a seat in one of the plush booths and Grant Fomison, the restaurant’s general manager comes over to run me through the menu. As he is speaking, I quickly realise this is no longer the typical fish and chip shop it once was, it’s much better.

While you can still get all the usual seafood favourites like oysters and local octopus, the menu has upped the ante with more creative dishes like a smoked salmon brioche, market crudo, Abrolhos scallops, Shark Bay cuttlefish and fried fish wings.

According to Grant, the fried fish wings are a real hit among patrons and are like the seafood equivalent of deep-fried chicken.

After tasting multiple seafood dishes, I left Kailis’ feeling completely satisfied and will certainly be coming back in the not-too-distant future to order the market crudo, smoked salmon brioche and Shark Bay scallops again — all three dishes were tremendously tasty.

Experience the thrill of a lifetime

As much as I would like to lie down and have a quick nap after the large seafood banquet I just devoured, I carry on with my day and walk over to Martin Pettifer from WestCoast Jet, who is standing on the boardwalk next to a large jet boat docked not far from where I was dining.

As the owner and skipper of the vessel, Martin greets me with a warm welcome and instructs me to jump aboard the boat and take a seat right up the front.

Joining me on the 20-minute thrill ride is a group of teenage boys who have just finished their final year of high school. They are all grinning with excitement and cracking jokes with one another, while I’m sitting in silence, quietly praying the only seafood I see again today is swimming in the ocean.

Before I can even think about backing out, the skipper powers up the engine and we make our way out of the harbour with tunes blaring from the boat’s sound system.

Shortly after, we blast off into the open sea, crashing hard into waves and leaving a trail of excited screams in our wake. I hold on tight and squint my eyes as the boat does all sorts of high-speed manoeuvres — the spine-tingling adrenaline rush has even helped suppress my fear of being seasick. As we continue to zoom across the ocean in a turbo-charged manner, I realise we are charging straight towards the Fremantle Sailing Club.

My heart starts beating faster and faster, convinced the boat’s brakes have failed us.

As I brace myself for the crash, the skipper spins the boat incredibly fast, and just like that we are speeding off in the opposite direction — I now know why they call it a thrill ride.

Westcoast Jet
Camera IconWestcoast Jet Credit: Supplied

Dine at the former Fremantle Synagogue

I return to my accommodation after the jet boat ride and freshen up before going to dinner at The Old Synagogue, which is within walking distance of where I am staying. Located on the corner of South Terrace and Parry Street in Fremantle, the site dates back to 1902, when it was as the name suggests, WA’s first synagogue.

The Old Synagogue Fremantle
Camera IconThe Old Synagogue Fremantle Credit: Supplied/Kate Drennan Photography

The heritage building has now been reinvented into a 1000-seat dining and bar precinct, which is home to four very different venues.

These include, Tonic & Ginger, which does South-East Asian fusion in a larger than life way; The Arbor, a hip beer and wine garden; Mr Chapple, a bar with delicious bites and a rooftop terrace that looks down Freo’s cappuccino strip; and L’Chaim, an intimate cocktail bar hidden deep below the synagogue.

For dinner, I am dining on the mezzanine floor at Tonic & Ginger. The two-level restaurant has a striking fit-out with a web of hand-blown lights suspended from the high ceiling. The menu is separated into bites, grazing plates and feasting-size dishes. Plates range from dumplings and kingfish tataki, to seared ocean trout and a sticky rendang curry of boneless beef ribs.

With all of its dishes designed to be shared, I opted to try the “Feed Me” menu, which gives you a selection of chef Leigh Power’s signature dishes from across the menu, including a dessert platter to finish.

Meander around Freo’s alleys and walkways

The next morning I enjoy a complimentary light breakfast with a barista coffee at Gimlet, which is near the hotel reception at the Warders Hotel. It overlooks Henderson Street, where I watch people of all ages make a beeline for the Fremantle Markets.

I decide to follow their lead and stop by the markets and discover stalls filled with fresh produce and handmade crafts.

Everywhere you look there is something different that catches your eye — from boomerangs and didgeridoos, to wind chimes and more. The Freo Markets offer freshness and fun.

For lunch, I grab a bite to eat at Emily Taylor before visiting a few other local shops.

Fremantle was a wonderful place to stay and soak up the laid back WA lifestyle.

Dining at Emily Taylor at the Warders Hotel
Camera IconDining at Emily Taylor at the Warders Hotel Credit: Dion Robeson

fact file

  • Fremantle is just south of Perth and can be reached via a 30-minute train ride from Perth’s city centre, or a short 25-minute drive along Stirling Highway.
  • The traditional owners of Fremantle and the surrounding area are the Whadjuk Noongar people.
  • The Whadjuk name for Fremantle is Walyalup, which extends south of the Swan River, from the Indian Ocean to Canning River.

Penny Thomas was a guest of Tourism Western Australia. They have not seen or approved this story.

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