For many travellers, visiting Perth is all about a stopover to a different destination: Margaret River, Ningaloo Reef, Broome… But this world-class city is quietly moving from a being a nice place to live to a family holiday destination in its own right. As a quintessentially Australian city there is the sun, sand and surf in the mix with top class restaurants, wonderful, chilled-out cafés and multitudes of beautiful parks. Perth with kids really is all about easy living, so get ready for a relaxing break (with a little culture and good food on the side).
It might have a quieter feel than its eastern seaboard neighbours, but Perth is a surprisingly vibrant city. With its proximity to Asia there is a high migrant population which means a cosmopolitan feel with all the benefits of a safe and chilled environment, perfect for traveling with kids. For an easy, relaxed city family vacation with many cool suburbs to hang out in, Perth is perfect place to travel with kids.
The city centre has been rejuvenated over the past few years, but this is mostly to do with nightlife. If you do have a babysitter while you’re here, explore the range of new bars around the Brookfield Place area. Otherwise, the bell tower and the foreshore are nice to explore with the kids. Elizabeth Quay is a new foreshore development due to be finished mid-2015 and is sure to be an interesting spot. If you do find yourself exploring the city during the day (it’s still a good place for shopping) and need somewhere to let the kids loose for a while, try Forrest Place, just off the Murray Street pedestrian mall.
For a no-fuss way to explore the river, jump on a River Cat. It takes a long time to get all the way to Fremantle, but is a quick and easy way to get to South Perth where you can explore a lovely foreshore area (with playgrounds for kids and great views of the city, particularly at night) and Perth Zoo. The River Cat leaves from the just near the bell tower.
Kings Park overlooks the city and while it is worth a visit simply for the stunning and unique view (from the war memorial or the DNA tower). But there is much more for families to explore there. The parklands are generally lovely (try a walk along the Federation Walkway), in the right season the wildflowers are spectacular and, for kid-friendly, fun the Lotterywest Family Area has been designed especially for children under 6. The park is built for walking, so it’s very pram friendly, but it is large, so check distances before you set out on foot. The Visitor Information Centre has all the information you will need, or try the official website.
On the other side of the city is the vibrant Northbridge. Filled with interesting second hand clothes stores, yum cha restaurants and funky cafés this is a cool place to wander during the day (it might get a bit rowdy for families at night though). Northbridge is also one of the cultural hubs in Perth, being the location of the new Heath Ledger Theatre, the Western Australian Museum and the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Now is a great time to visit the art gallery thanks to a series of exclusive exhibitions featuring artworks from MoMA in New York (jealous much, Melbourne!?). Be sure to check the website to ensure you time your trip for one of the exhibitions.
Not much further away you’ll also find the new Perth Arena and Scitech, an indoor educational play centre that has lots of interactive activities for kids of all ages (just perfect for one of those rare rainy days!). Other wet weather places worth visiting are the State Library (we know it sounds dull, but there is plenty to entertain the kids such as writing competitions and storytime) and Café Myriad, a board game-themed café in Northbridge.
Fabulous Fremantle is connected to Perth by train or is about 25 minutes drive from the city and is a must-visit. Find out what backpackers, artists and sailing enthusiasts have known for decades. Cafés, pubs, art galleries (plus several art-galleries-and-cafés-in-one), the Fremantle Art Centre, live bands, the Esplanade (with a big ferris wheel!), fishing boat harbour, festivals, the Maritime Museum, sailing, the Fremantle Markets, the Fremantle Prison (a surprisingly fun educational experience for older kids) and probably a heap more. It should be noted that we think that a trip to Perth without seeing Fremantle should be a criminal offence in WA!
Some other great areas for cafés and cool shops are Leederville (the lovable if slightly shabby Greens & Co (123 Oxford St., Leederville, Western Australia, Australia, Ph: +61 8 9444 4093) is a great kid-friendly option for lunch or a coffee pitstop), Mount Lawley and Subiaco. Subiaco is also home to Pattersons Stadium, just in case the sports lovers in the family want to catch some Australian Rules Football (AFL). Just be sure to get in early for good tickets and try to catch the train there as Perth love their Aussie Rules just as much as Melburnians, so game days can be hectic. The AFL season usually runs from March through to September.
For a dose of vitamin D, head to beautiful Cottesloe. There are plenty of cafés, a few cheap and cheerful takeaways plus playgrounds for the kids (try surfing lessons or paddle boarding for the older kids) and people watching for the adults! And let’s not forget the turquoise blue surf, fringed by white sand and overlooked by the iconic Indiana building. On most days you can see Rottnest Island shimmering in the distance.
Further north on the coast are City Beach, where you can get great fish and chips at the kid-friendly Clancy’s Fish Pub, and Hillarys Boat Harbour which hosts the Aquarium of WA (AQWA) and The Great Escape play and waterslide park (with its rock climbing, trampolines and kangaroo rides!).
[For some family beach safety tips, see the suitcases&strollers interview with the team from Bondi Rescue here.]
There are plenty of hotels in the city and it is a good, central place to stay. Serviced apartments provide additional facilities that are useful if you have children – such as full kitchens and separate bedrooms. For instance, Quest on James in Northbridge has a swimming pool and barbeque facilities while Waldorf Serviced Apartments have additional tennis court, bicycle hire and high chairs.
Fremantle has a variety of lovely accommodation on offer, but only stay here if you intend spending most of your time in the area. The Esplanade Hotel has family-friendly packages that include entry tickets to Adventureworld theme park and is also conveniently located opposite a public park and playground.
Even when travelling with kids, you may be tempted to stay at the Crown Casino. There is a dazzling array of quality restaurants there (Nobu and Rockpool head the list) and the parklands on the Crown Metropol side are actually a great place for kids to release some energy. You will need a hire car to ease the commute, but the location is reasonable being just a short drive to the city.
There are free CAT buses around the city and around Fremantle which are very handy if you are staying in either location. While the trains and buses are regular, easy to use and reliable, as with so many Australian cities, they don’t connect you to every part of town, so a hiring car might be a good idea.
If you are driving, be sure to read parking signs carefully. While the cost of parking in Perth is still often significantly cheaper than Sydney and Melbourne, the good people from the local councils are keen to ensure you follow the rules (or pay a large fine). The good news about driving in Perth is that there are no toll roads and very few traffic problems outside the obvious peak hours.
Pre-book the right baby capsule or children’s car seats from your hire car company and ask them to install them for you in advance as the road rules about child restraints are very strict.
For more cheap and free family-friendly activities to do in Perth, read the suitcases&strollers story Family Days Out In Perth
By Alison Richmond; Images: Tourism Western Australia