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With a population of just over two million, Perth is Australia’s fourth largest city as well as the largest city and the capital of Western Australia. It was founded in 1829 as the administrative center for the Swan River Colony. Today it is a bustling modern city that headquarters most of the mining companies that are the mainstay of Western Australia’s economy.
Getting there from the suburbs is pretty easy as the Perth Metropolitan Region has an extensive modern rail transit system. Perth serves as a central hub with rail lines going out in five directions like spokes on a wheel. The system extends all the way from Butler in the North to Mandurah south of Perth, a distance of 109 kilometres and from Fremantle in the West to Midland in the East. You’ll find a bit more on the TransPerth rail system in my post about Mandurah.
While Perth Station is the main hub, if you want to visit the downtown, it may be better to get off at the Perth Underground Station. It’s only a few blocks from the main station but comes out right at the Murray Street Mall.
Perth has two pedestrian malls – streets from which vehicles are barred and pedestrians can walk around freely. They are parallel to each other and run three blocks from William Street to Barrack Street. These two malls form the central shopping district of Perth. You’ll find lots of shops and restaurants here. And buskers. Lots of them in the summer.
On our first visit in May 2015, there was a demonstration happening, a protest about aboriginal rights. Officers on horseback patrolled to keep order. The picture was taken from an elevated crosswalk at the midpoint of the mall. Northeast is an open plaza, Forrest Place, which has a large fountain you can walk through on a hot day as well as an interesting sculpture.
Proceeding northeast along the elevated walkway brings you to a pedestrian overpass that takes you to the main Perth Station.
Beyond Perth Station is an older section of the downtown which includes the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Across James Street from the art gallery is the Western Australia Museum which has been closed while a new museum is being constructed. But outside the museum is a fascinating children’s playground, an audio workshop. No swings or slides. Just xylophones and percussion instruments for kids to bang away on.
Down the street is an older section of town where you’ll find some old New Orleans style architecture, like the Brass Monkey Hotel. There are some modern plazas in the area as well.
Perth’s Youth Hostel is in this area and it is where my daughter stayed for a while on her first arrival in Perth.
Heading back over the tracks we head up Williams Street towards the Hay Street Mall. Williams Street has a number of excellent restaurants as well as a superb book store.
The Hay Street Mall and Murray Street Mall are connected by a couple of arcades, passageways with shops on each side, as well as a larger indoor mall called Carillon City. This mall features an actual carillon on the Hay Street side.
Hay Street Mall includes some of the more upscale shops including Pottery Barn. You’ll also find a sculpture of a busker doing a hand stand, hat by his side. But the most interesting thing on Hay Street is the London Court mall connecting Hay Street with St. Georges Terrace.
The mall is an open air affair that looks like an old London street. There are a variety of shops along both sides, including some excellent souvenir shops, one of which has a nice collection of hand carved boomerangs and digeridoos.
At either end of this mall are two statues, one of William Shakespeare and the other of Dick Whittington and his cat.
Heading towards Barrack Street you’ll pass an overhanging mirror, great for a selfie. And at the corner of Barrack and St. Georges you’ll see Stirling Gardens kitty corner. The entrance to this beautiful garden features a statue of Alexander Forrest, one of the early explorers of the region who also served as mayor of Perth.
More interesting are a few statues near the park just up St. Georges a bit, brass statues of a family of kangaroos.
Stirling Gardens itself is a beautiful garden that includes many native plants as well as a bamboo grove. I’ll include some pictures in a separate photo gallery. Behind the garden is the historic Supreme Court of Western Australia.
A little bit past the court and garden is the Barrack Street Jetty on the bank of the Swan River. This is the home of Swan Bells, more commonly known as the Bell Tower, a landmark 82.5 metres or 271 feet high. The tower was built at the end of the last century and opened in 2000 to celebrate the millenium. It came about as the result of a gift of the historic bells from St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, London in 1988 for Australia’s bicentenary celebrations.
The twelve St. Martin bells date from the 14th Century. They were recast during the reign of Elizabeth I and again in the mid-18th Century. They were due to be recast once more leading up to 1988. But, Wikipedia tells us, “instead they were tuned and restored at London’s Whitechapel Bell Foundry and donated to Western Australia, on the initiative of local bellringer and businessman Laith Reynolds. The bells are known to have rung as the explorer James Cook set sail on the voyage that founded Australia.”
The bells stayed in storage as Perth did not have a belfry large enough to house them. They stayed in storage until the millennial project was decided on. Six more bells were added to the original twelve.
The tower is open to visitors for a fee but we haven’t toured it yet. However we did dine at one of the restaurants on the jetty.
The Swan River widens out to the size of a large lake at Perth. And during our first visit, a large part of the waterfront adjacent to the jetty was blocked off for a major redevelopment of the area, the Elizabeth Quay. When we returned in February 2016, the public spaces at the quay had just opened. They include a magnificent footbridge across the water of an artificial inlet, public squares and a children’s water park, currently closed for repairs as children recently got sick from the water.
Part of the area remains behind construction fences while commercial and residential construction continues. These include the centerpiece Ritz-Carlton Hotel and a luxury residential complex called The Towers. The project, when completed in 2018, will have nine buildings with 1700 residential apartments, 150,000 square meters of office space and 39,000 square meters of retail space.
Perth is a vibrant and exciting city to visit with shopping malls, restaurants and parks to visit and explore. We’ve been several times and will be back again. Perth is also home to the Perth Zoo in West Perth and to King’s Park, ranked as one of the world’s ten best urban parks in the world according to Trip Advisor in 2014. I’ll write about King’s Park in a separate post some time in the future. Meanwhile, check out the additional Photo Gallery for more pics. Click on the links or if you are on the main page, scroll on down.
- Photo Gallery: Downtown Perth 1
- Photo Gallery: Downtown Perth 2
- The Bell Tower website
- Elizabeth Quay website
- The Towers at Elizabeth Quay website
- TransPerth website
- Western Australia Museum website
- Hello Perth tourism website
See also my previous blog posts on attractions in the Greater Perth region.