Of Australia’s major cities, Perth feels the youngest and arguably the most American in outlook. Closer to Singapore than Sydney, it’s grown up in relative isolation and has forged its own path. The gleaming glass skyline is part of this, but so is the sense of space. Built around the bulging Swan River and sparkling Indian Ocean beaches, the city has sprawled outward as migrants – particularly from South Africa, New Zealand and the UK – seek their own place in the sun. An outdoor lifestyle and what feels like a near permanent summer makes Perth easy to like.
But, until recently, a sense of dynamism was absent. That’s changing, partly because of a booming economy that’s funding massive development projects and partly thanks to residents wanting to live in the city centre again after years of suburban drain. The good life is suddenly becoming much more exciting.
A comfortable bed
In a city where demand far outstrips supply, the Pensione (www.8hotels.com/perth-hotels/pensione-hotel; 0061 8 9325 2133) represents a relative bargain. Rooms are small, but with enough stylish touches to elevate them above predictable budget hotel grimness. Doubles from 113.40 Australian dollars (Dh386).
At the higher end, the Richardson (www.therichardson.com.au; 0061 8 9217 8888) is classy and spacious – rooms are at least 50 square metres. Gourmet ready meals in the fridge, if you fancy a lazy dinner, match with the more impressive spa and pool. Rooms from 395 dollars (Dh1,344).
In Fremantle, the newly opened Hougoumont (www.hougoumonthotel.com; 0061 8 6160 6800) offers small-scale personality and contemporary pizzazz in a 19th-century building. Doubles from 194 dollars (Dh660).
Find your feet
Perth's greatest attribute is the glorious, 400-hectare Kings Park (www.bgpa.wa.gov.au/kings-park) overlooking the Swan River. The Botanic Gardens are there and walking trails wind through the imposing salmon gum trees. It's also where Indigenous Tours WA (www.indigenouswa.com; 0061 4 0563 0606) runs its excellent 50-dollar (Dh170) introductions to the area with an Aboriginal guide.
Two Feet And A Heartbeat (www.twofeet.com.au; 0061 18 0045 9388) runs superbly enlightening walking tours around the city centre for 40 dollars (Dh136), taking in its history but also the new independent ventures and major civic projects that are bringing life back downtown.
Of the attractions in central Perth, the Perth Mint (www.perthmint.com.au; 0061 8 9421 7376) is the most entertaining. It goes into the story of Western Australia's gold rush, lets you watch molten gold being poured and contains oddities such as the most valuable coin and second largest gold nugget in the world.
Meet the locals
Rottnest Island is hugely popular with both visitors and locals as a day out. A short ferry ride from the city, it offers a great combination of beaches, Second World War forts, easy cycling trails and wildlife. The resident population of quokkas – adorably cute small marsupials – tend to roam around the picnic grounds. Day returns on the Rottnest Express (www.rottnestexpress.com.au; 0061 8 9432 0890) from the Barrack Street Jetty cost 95 dollars (Dh316).
Book a table
Perth's restaurants have a tendency to be overpriced, a result of the city's economic boom. But the walk-in-only tapas joint Duendé (www.duende.com.au; 0061 8 9228 0123) manages to get the relaxed vibe and food quality right. The menu spans the Mediterranean, from lamb kofta to cod-stuffed pimentos, with each small dish costing about 15 dollars (Dh51).
The Delizioso Café (www.delisio.com.au; 0061 8 9485 0055) does extraordinarily good pizza. So good, that it's won an award for being the best in the world. Go by the slice – the potato, mozzarella and rosemary for 4.90 dollars (Dh17) is particularly useful for savouring the range.
You'll probably get raised eyebrows if you tell people that you've come to Perth to shop. Prices are high and most options tend to be of the bland, chainy variety. Opals are an exception. Around 95 per cent of the world's supply comes from Australia and Quilpie Opals (www.quilpieopalsperth.com.au; 0061 8 9321 8687) in the Piccadilly Mall has staff that know their stuff.
Otherwise, head to Fremantle, which is much more browsable in general. The Fremantle Markets (www.fremantlemarkets.com.au; 0061 8 9335 2515) are the highlight – with more than 150 stalls covering everything from fresh food to well-made, handcrafted souvenirs.
What to avoid
Perth has some fabulous beaches – Cottesloe being the most popular – but the Indian Ocean is no pussycat. The rips can be dangerous even for strong swimmers, so stick to the lifeguard-patrolled areas between the red and yellow flags to be on the safe side when having a splash.
Seaside Fremantle has a completely different rhythm to that of central Perth. It's a place of weekend mooching, cafe culture and 19th-century heritage buildings. Of these, the Old Fremantle Prison (www.fremantleprison.com.au; 0061 8 9336 9200) is the most fascinating. Tour guides take you to the old cells and the gulp-inducing hanging room, telling tales of ghosts, escapes and ingenious artists behind bars. Tour options cost from 19 dollars (Dh64).
Emirates (www.emirates.com) flies direct from Dubai to Perth, with return fares starting at Dh6,865. Etihad (www.etihad.com) is launching a new Abu Dhabi to Perth route in July, with economy class returns costing from Dh6,865.
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