I've been waiting a long time to write about Fremantle, it's hard to sometimes find the words to describe a place that you feel in your heart. But this cute little port town really did become an unexpected home from home for me. It's ironic really, that I travelled to the other side of the world to set up camp somewhere just like home - a little port town by the ocean steeped in history and quirky culture. But perhaps the home we find is in the people we meet and the way that we feel rather than the place itself. After finding Perth a tad impersonal, Freo couldn't have been more different as it welcomed me with open arms. Read my Perth city guide here.
A good friend of mine drove me from the city to Freo one sunny afternoon, and even as we pulled in amongst the old fashioned buildings and smelt the sea air, I knew this was a place I would love. Walking into my hostel and seeing the family style tables across the courtyard and the group who were keen to invite me in to join them - it was just the kind of place I love to make my home. I was staying at Pirates Backpackers on Essex Street, right in the centre of Freo - it was just a minute's walk from the weekend markets and the harbour, close to the beaches and the shops. I'll be reviewing the hostel in an upcoming post - so watch out if you're looking for hostel recommendations.
Why was Fremantle so special to me?
It was the first place I had been in a long time where I felt I could really relax - Melbourne was full of working and living life to the max, Adelaide was a blur. Fremantle had a slower pace of life and because I wasn't planning to work, I could really relax and enjoy it, joining in with hostel life and having time to dedicate to my writing. I had a cafe I would go to for breakfast and coffee while I wrote my articles, I would go running each morning around the harbour and to the beaches. I could spend my nights laughing, playing cards and drinking with friends, or go to watch the sun set with a cute boy I met, or even hit the bars. The world was my oyster and I really enjoyed every second, especially those spent with the amazing group of friends I made while I was there, and the wonderful guy I met. I think I had been missing something from my life the previous few months and it was those incredible traveller personalities that really bring something new and exciting to the table. Freo brought that all rushing back into my life and was the perfect way to kick off my amazing Western Australia trip with the best people.
Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle
I might love to treat myself every now and again, but I'll always be a backpacker at heart and I'll always find ways to explore a new place on a budget. After all, the money you save on activities can always be put towards that next flight, an epic night out or a once-in-a-lifetime experience - I know what I'd prefer to spend it on. When I was in Freo, I knew the money I had saved working in Melbourne was to go towards my epic Western Australia road trip and had to pay for a road trip covering over 1,000km from Perth to Darwin for up to two months, and then setting up a new life in Darwin. So although I wanted to enjoy my life, I was very conscious that I had been waiting my whole two years in Australia to experience this trip and that I wanted to live it to the max. This meant cutting corners where I could to enjoy myself for a few weeks in Fremantle beforehand - here are my top 10 free & cheap experiences you don't want to miss when you visit:
1. Fremantle Markets
Without a doubt the best way to spend your weekend in Fremantle - running Friday, Saturday & Sunday in the market hall at the top of Essex Street - look no further for cheap, delicious food, live entertainment and fresh fruits and vegetables at great prices. Offering a huge range of street food stalls from all over the world, including the delicious bao buns, the gozlemes and paella, plus fresh teas and juices - it's the perfect place to pick up a cheap meal ($10-15) as you walk around the stalls. Make sure you walk around the fruit and veg stalls and pick up all the free tasters for your daily dose of vitamins, then head back to the market on Sunday afternoon to get your heavily reduced fresh foods shop. I used to buy all my fruits and veggies there for just $7 for 7 items - perfect for a backpacker budget.
2. Street performers
You'll see them all over Freo, whether it's live music, comedy, magic or something crazy that you can't take your eyes off. There's plenty going on around the markets at the weekends, but even during the week you'll often see performers take to the streets to entertain the crowds. I was gutted to miss the Street Arts Festival by a few weeks, it filled the streets with live entertainment and attracted thousands of visitors. Or why not grab a guitar or a ukulele and hit the streets yourself? I saw plenty of travellers doing just that to earn a few extra dollars and to have fun with their friends - if you've got a talent, why not use it?
3. Hostel activities
My hostel was great for group activities, the owner made sure there was something going on every night from movie nights to pizza and wine evenings, marshmallows on a log fire, paddle boarding or volleyball afternoons and even wine tours - see my Swan Valley review here. It was great and brought the whole hostel together for some fun afternoons and evenings, it even inspired us to hold our own group evenings like the family dinner one woman decided to cook for the whole hostel. On Sunday's we would drink for free at Left Bank bar thanks to a hostel organised trip. I got to go on a full day's wine tour with tastings & travel included for just $30. Another day, I went paddle boarding for the afternoon for just $10 and had a great time with the group. It's always worth seeing what is going on in your hostel.
4. Hire a bike
I didn't realise until some Canadian girls moved into my dorm that you can borrow bikes for free from Little Creatures Brewery (which is just across the park from my hostel). All you need is a passport ID and a credit card for them to keep on file, there is no charge unless you don't return the bike. We borrowed three cute little bikes for the afternoon and biked all the way from Fremantle to Cottesloe Beach where we sunbathed and relax all afternoon, diving into the waves to cool off in the sunshine, before heading back to Freo. It was a great afternoon and completely free - well worth looking into if you fancy getting out of the town with so many great beaches right on your doorstep.
5. Visit the beaches
Perth is known for it's beautiful beaches and I was lucky enough to catch the last few sunbathing days before the weather changed. While I was there I made it my business to explore as many beaches as I could, from the tiny Bathers Beach and South Beach which I went running between every morning. To the vast empty beauty of Scarborough Beach and City Beach - City Beach was actually my favourite by far because we had the whole place to ourselves when we went. And the famous Cottesloe Beach, which sadly was covered in smelly seaweed when I was there, but was still a great place to watch the surfers and enjoy the sunshine.
6. Take a culture tour
There are so many great historical sites in Fremantle and you can easily spend a day, or two, exploring these for a bit of culture and heritage. Why not check out Fremantle's Roundhouse for great views across the harbour, then explore The Shipwreck Galleries and Western Australia's Maritime Museum for a glimpse int the town's past. Don't miss a look at the war memorial and then head over to Fremantle Gaol for a wander around - you have to pay for entry to the tours, but you can have a good look at a gallery and the courtyard for free.
7. Fish and Chips by the harbour
Probably one of the priciest things on this list depending on where you go, but much like having fish and chips on Brighton Beach in England, it's something you just have to do. You'll be fending off manic seagulls but the freshly caught fish and chips is well worth it, especially overlooking the water at sunset. There are plenty of places to choose from so enjoy.
8. Little Creatures Brewery
One of my favourite experiences while I was in Fremantle, visiting the Little Creatures Brewery is definitely something to try. It's a lovely bar to sit and have a drink and food in, or take a free tour at 1, 2 or 3pm each day. Tastings are available for around $20 and give you an opportunity to taste each of their craft beers and a cider - a pretty good way to spend a sunny afternoon.
9. Breakfast with live music
Whether you fancy a laid-back breakfast with friends or want somewhere peaceful to work, look no further than Moore & Moore cafe. The food is fantastic and well-priced and they have a lovely sheltered courtyard with heaters for when the weather isn't great. The wifi is really good for those who need to work, and it's a nice relaxing atmosphere, often with live music in the background.
10. Watch the sunset with good friends
Always one of my favourite things to do - pick up some cheep wine and snacks, get a group of mates together and head to South Beach or Bathers Beach and end the day on a high. There really is nothing better than watching a beautiful sunset with people who mean the world to you.
What are your favourite free activities when visiting a new place? Have you been to Fremantle - can you add any suggestions to this list?