Situated on the remote western coast of Australia and surrounded by thousands of kilometres of ocean and desert, Perth is sometimes described as one of the world's most isolated cities. However, travellers who journey across Australia to its 'wild west' will be pleasantly surprised to discover a beautiful modern city with an ancient cultural heritage and thriving arts scene.
To learn more about Perth, first-time visitors are strongly encouraged to visit Perth Cultural Centre in Northbridge, the city's creative and intellectual heart, where you can visit world-class art galleries, learn about the state's Indigenous heritage and natural history, enjoy the performance of talented buskers or simply relax in the urban orchard. Located between Roe, Beaufort, Francis and William Streets, it's just a few minute's walk from Perth's city centre and easily accessible by public transport. The following is a list of some of the best things to see and do in this vibrant cultural precinct.
Western Australian Museum If you want to learn more about Western Australia's rich and unique natural heritage, the Western Australian Museum is the place to head to. The museum consists of several galleries which focus on various subjects including the history and culture of the state's Indigenous peoples (in the Kaata Dijnoong Gallery), the Dampier Marine Gallery (showcasing the Dampier Archipelago on the remote north coast) and the outstanding Western Australian Land and People Gallery, which explores relationships between people, the land and the natural environment. Of course there is much more, and regular touring exhibitions from interstate and abroad are also a popular draw-card.
A lovely retro-themed garden cafe is situated in a historical part of the museum, as well as a very good gift-shop, where attractive and classy souvenirs, crafts and books can be purchased.
Art Gallery of Western Australia Situated just a short walk from Perth railway station, the Art Gallery of Western Australia is another must-see destination for every visitor to Perth and houses an impressive collection of works by Australian and international artists, as well as regular travelling exhibitions. You can see exquisite works of traditional Indigenous Australian art, paintings by early colonial artists and numerous works by contemporary artists. The Gallery also houses one of Perth's best retail outlets for high-quality locally-produced crafts and designer ware, and a cafe.
Perth Institute of Contemporary Art The Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (better known as PICA) is located just minutes away from the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and is one of Australia's leading centres for the development and presentation of contemporary art, focusing on the visual, performing and cross-disciplinary arts.
State Library of Western Australia So much more than 'just' a library, the State Library of Western Australia is a top spot to spend some time at during your sojourn in Perth. Apart from the massive selection of books which it houses, there's a gallery on the bottom level where exhibitions, mostly with a local theme, are held as well as a cosy cafe, cool gift-shop and a theatre, where regular movies, documentaries and lectures are held, mostly free of charge. These also often have a Western Australian orientation, so are a great place to learn more about the state. There is free WiFi access throughout the library (and outside) or if you don't have your own computer, you can use one of the library's, which are also free of charge. To find out more, speak to the staff at reception.
Perth Urban Orchard Perth's Urban Orchard is a lush garden area situated just across from the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Comprising of raised garden beds planted with a variety of flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruit trees, it's a refuge from the concrete jungle and a great spot to relax in the sun while you're exploring the Cultural Centre. It's also the perfect place to learn about growing your own fresh healthy food at home. Perhaps you'll be lucky enough to visit on one of the community planting and harvesting days which are held every few months. It's a popular spot for buskers and during spring there are sometimes free yoga classes.
Big Screen Located in front of the State Library, the Big Screen is a great place to chill out at as you explore Perth's cultural heritage. Throughout the day and much of the evening it shows a great range of documentaries, short films and arty presentations, all totally free of charge.
Wetlands Area Situated next to the Art Gallery of Western Australia is an attractive freshwater ecology wetland: an area that has been transformed from what was previously a chlorinated water feature. Prior to European settlement, the Perth area was dotted with numerous wetlands and this specially-created space provides a refuge for species that were once common throughout Perth such as native fish, frogs and invertebrates. Not only visually attractive, this wetland now serves the purpose of educating people, both locals and visitors, about the importance of protecting our natural environment. It's a lovely spot to sit quietly, watching the world go by, and is also a popular venue for various cultural presentations such as musical performances and poetry readings.
Festivals and Special Events Situated in the heart of the city, Perth's cultural centre is also where many of our festivals and special events are held. It's here that many of the events for the Perth Fringe Festival, the Perth Arts Festival, the KickstART youth festival and the Perth Festival of Christmas are held each year, and even outside these major events there's usually something exciting going on.
For The Children Perth's cultural precinct isn't just for the grown-ups and special care has been taken to ensure that it's somewhere that children will also feel welcome and enjoy. Most of the institutions in the area provide special activities for little ones, ranging from the Discovery Centre in the museum where they can learn about the amazing world we live in, to the kids' art activities in the Gallery and the various fun literacy programs offered in The Place, the purpose-build children's space in the State Library.
Outside the Museum there is also an awesome sensory play area for kids. Not your typical play-ground, it contains no swings and slides but has lots of intriguing bits and pieces which your child will be just itching to explore.
If you're only visiting Western Australia for a short amount of time but want to experience the best the state has to offer, a visit to the Perth's Cultural Centre should be at the top of your list. Just a few minutes' walk from Perth Railway Station and the nearest bus-stop, it's extremely accessible. It's also regularly serviced by Perth's Blue CAT bus, which provides convenient travel within the inner-city area totally free of charge: good to keep in mind if you're travelling on a budget. It will drop you off right outside the Western Australian Museum.
Where: Between Roe, Beaufort, Francis and William Streets in Northbridge
When: Any time of the year
Cost: Most of the places listed offer free admission but donations are appreciated