(CNN) — It was the unlikely setting of a dark basement rock bar named Alfred’s Pizzeria that confirmed our suspicions about Perth.
Under a tongue-in-cheek sign proclaiming “No Stairway to Heaven,” brilliant cocktails, the perfect playlist and impeccable handmade pizzas came together in one of the coolest bars in what’s definitely one of the coolest cities in the Southern Hemisphere.
Even if, this being Australia, they’d never admit as much.
The capital of the vast state of Western Australia may be a long way from most destinations, but Perth’s remote location makes its appeal even stronger.
There’s the feeling that Perthites have long known that their city was a hidden travel gem, but it’s come into its own more than ever in the past couple of years.
That’s set to increase still further in March next year as Qantas makes it the hub for their long-range nonstop Dreamliner flights from Europe, meaning thousands more visitors will arrive each month.
Here are nine ways to enjoy Perth, which has earned itself a place with the more well-known state capitals of Melbourne and Sydney as must-visit cities when in Australia.
Bar and nightlife scene
Helvetica stocks more than 400 types of whisky.
Perth’s bar and nightlife scene has exploded in recent years, with scores of independent watering holes springing up around the city.
One man who has visited most of them is Canadian Ryan Mossny, Perth resident and co-founder of Two Feet and a Heartbeat, a popular walking tour highlighting some of the city’s best bars.
“Everyone talks about our amazing weather, blue skies and perfect beaches,” says Mossny.
“I love that we have a thriving art, culture and festival scene, but most importantly the incredible bars and restaurants that feature local produce.”
There are upwards of 30 small bars in the heart of the city center including Helvetica, which specializes in whisky cocktails and carries more than 400 varieties of the brown stuff.
The manager of the subterranean rock bar Alfred’s Pizzeria, Gillian Kady explains: “Everybody works very well together and there’s a lot of skill and talent in this town. Perth is now on par with Melbourne and staff are coming back from the east coast with their knowledge. They also try to use seasonal and native herbs and vegetables, while there are great local whiskies and gins too.”
Helvetica, 101 St Georges Terrace, Perth; +61 8 9321 4422
Bar Sequel, 532 Hay St, Perth; +61 8 9218 8121
Fromage Artisans, Basement Level 101 St Georges Terrace, Perth; +61 8 9321 6967
Alfred’s Pizzeria, 37 Barrack St, Perth
Another discovery on the walking tour is Wolf Lane, home to sensational street art by global artists invited to Perth by City Council. Highlights include Argentinian artist Pastel’s works inspired by intricate, indigenous Australian art and the characters of Stormie Mills, a local artist.
Wolf Lane itself is a pedestrian lane revitalized as part of a project to make the most of the city’s urban spaces. It sits between two shopping streets and features cafes and bars, but it’s the mix of huge murals and smaller artworks that catch the eye.
One notable work comes from Peter Drew, an Australian artist whose poster-sized images of real Australians from over the years come with the word “Aussie” prominently stamped in capital letters.
All the images stimulate discussion around the idea of national identity. Those immortalized include Monga Khan, a 19th-century turban-wearing Indian who brought camels to Australia.
Rottnest Island is a stunning city getaway.
It may not have the most enticing name, but Rottnest Island is an iconic spot for Perthites. It was originally named “Rotte Nest,” or “rat’s nest,” by a 17th-century Dutch explorer who mistook the island’s quokkas for giant rats.
What’s a quokka? The beloved creatures are ridiculously cute, herbivorous marsupials about the size of a domestic cat.
They’ve made the island even more of a draw as they show little fear of humans and are seemingly happy to “pose” for selfies with visitors, even if authorities are keen to point out that both touching and feeding them are illegal.
But Rottnest — or Rotto as it’s known locally — has much more to offer.
White sand beaches and aquamarine water feature in secluded coves, where snorkeling brings visitors up close with dazzling marine life.
Bike trails crisscross the island, while Wadjemup Bidi has 45 kilometers of paths highlighting cultural and environmental landmarks.
History also abounds in the island’s museum, which chronicles the island’s former role as a harsh prison colony, almost wholly for the local indigenous Australian Nyungar people.
Humpback whale hotspot
Rottnest Island sits 17 kilometers offshore and the channel between it and the mainland is home to an annual humpback whale migration that visitors can experience between September and early December.
The gentle giants pass down the coast of Western Australia, through Perth’s coastal waters, to feeding grounds near Antarctica.
They then form groups and migrate north to warmer winter breeding grounds nearer the equator.
If visitors on the whale-watching boat tours are lucky, they may catch a breach when the humpbacks throw themselves out of the water before crashing back down.
For added insights, scientists from Perth Aquarium join the tours.
COMO The Treasury is located in a 140-year-old former State Building.
courtesy COMO The Treasury
Perth has a wide range of accommodation at every price point, including COMO The Treasury, recently named by Condé Nast Traveler as Australia’s best hotel.
The conversion of the 140-year-old former State Building has also helped revitalize the downtown Cathedral Square neighborhood, thanks especially to its range of brilliant dining options.
Each of the hotel’s 48 enormous suites is distinct. Designed by Kerry Hill, they are serene in both look and feel, with huge windows and high ceilings that fill them with daylight, while the bathrooms alone are bigger than most hotel rooms.
There are multiple dining and drinking options, the standout of which is Wildflower under Chef Jed Gerrard.
The top-floor restaurant celebrates remarkable indigenous ingredients from the six seasons of the aboriginal Nyungar people’s calendar, worked into brilliantly crafted menus that have received both public and critical acclaim.
COMO The Treasury, 1 Cathedral Ave, Perth; +61 8 6168 7888
The Botanic Garden holds more than 3,000 species of flora.
Every city has a park of some description, so what’s so special about King’s Park, overlooking Perth? Much, as it turns out.
For starters it’s one of the world’s largest inner-city parks, 400 hectares in size, two-thirds of which is protected bushland that celebrates the region’s unique native biodiversity.
The Western Australian Botanic Garden holds more than 3,000 species of the state’s diverse and spectacular flora, while a giant 750-year-old boab tree is rightly an icon.
In 2008, it was bought to the park from Warmun in the state’s Kimberley region, almost 2,000 miles away, a reminder of the incredible size of Western Australia.
King’s Park is also rich with Nyungar and European history, something it shares through public education programs, walking trails, children’s play areas and more.
Visitors can also walk through the treetops, take in the graceful State War Memorial or just kick back and relax with views overlooking the city and Swan River below.
The selection and quality of Perth’s food offerings has to be seen to be believed, with delicious options at every price point.
The annual Night Noodle Markets have proved a huge success, with 20 stalls featuring great-value dishes from Asian destinations including the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, China and more, reflecting the city’s cultural diversity.
Eat Drink Perth is another annual event showcasing the best of the city’s exploding food and beverage scene.
Now in its twelth year, it features scores of stalls from restaurants and producers, a “Food Truck Rumble” and more than 90 special events running throughout March and April.
But for year-round dining, take your pick from more than 1,400 options.
That may mean restaurants by well-known chefs such as Neil Perry’s Rockpool or David Thompson’s fiery Thai cuisine at Long Chim, alongside gourmet French at P’tite Ardoise or waterside eats at Ku De Ta.
Rockpool, Crown Perth, Great Eastern Highway, Burswood, +61 8 6252 1900
Long Chim, Basement, State Buildings, Barrack St & St Georges Terrace, Perth; +61 8 6168 7775
P’tite Ardoise, 283 Beaufort St, Perth; +61 8 9228 2008
Ku De Ta, 306 Riverside Dr, East Perth; +61 8 6324 1100
Mandoon Winery’s history dates back to 1840.
Western Australia is well-known for its brilliant wines, notably in the Margaret River region a couple of hundred miles south of Perth.
But you don’t have to head that far for a vineyard experience as Mandoon Estate is just 20 minutes from the city center.
Mandoon means “place of many trees” in the Nyungar language and the estate is Western Australia’s most-awarded boutique winery. It’s been in operation in some form since 1840.
Eating options include contemporary fine dining at Wild Swan, matched with their own wines or beers from the on-site Homestead Brewery.
Their hugely popular beer garden, The Llawn, is casual and family-friendly, attracting hundreds of guests who kick back on tables by the river to enjoy spit roast, charcuterie, platters and pizzas.
A new accommodation block is set to offer 32 rooms to guests who want to make the most of their time, perhaps indulging in a wider tasting of their wines including Verdelho, Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Frontignac.
Mandoon Estate, 10 Harris Rd, Caversham WA; +61 8 6279 0500
Perth has no shortage of great ways to work out. The foreshore of South Perth, 62 hectares sitting along the Swan River, is popular with runners and bikers, with great views back towards the city. It also gets packed for the city’s annual fireworks display.
The Indian Ocean calls at every opportunity with countless stunning beaches to swim or, of course in Australia, surf. Scarborough offers a beach surf school, Cottesloe is another popular local favorite, but those in the know say Leighton tops them all, especially at sunset.
If watching others take the strain is more your style, then take your pick from soccer, rugby, cricket, basketball and more.
The Warriors are the state’s cricket team, Perth Glory are the city’s soccer team playing in Australia’s A league, while the Wildcats are the country’s reigning national basketball champions.
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