Perth, Australia was founded on June 12th, 1829 (my birthday…not the year though!) by Captain James Stirling as the center of the Swan River Colony, and it has developed into a clean, friendly, easily accessible, and beautiful city, right on the ocean. To me, it embodies everything that defines Australia—rugged yet sophisticated, modern but rustic, relaxed but bustling. Fewer people venture here because it’s further from main attractions on the East Coast of Australia, making it a great spot to immerse yourselves into the local flare. The city is now a hub of activity and growth thanks to mining and off-shore oil drilling but has gotten a little pricey over the last few years. It often gets skipped because it is so far west but I can tell you it’s worth the journey (all of Western Australia is!)
Hostel prices — This city is one of the more expensive cities in Australia due to the high cost of living from all the mining money in town. Good, central, and cheap accommodations are hard to find. You can find beds in dorm rooms that sleep 10-12 people start around 16 AUD. Smaller dorm rooms (4-6 beds) start around 20 AUD per night. Private rooms that sleep 2 people with a shared bathroom start around 60 AUD. If you’re looking for a good time and solid value, check out The Witch’s Hat.
Budget hotel prices — Hotel rooms that sleep 2 start around 195 AUD. These hotels usually have air-conditioning, a private bathroom, free WiFi, and most offer free breakfast. On Airbnb, a shared room in a home averages about 26 AUD. You can find whole apartments starting around 85 AUD per night.
Average cost of food — Restaurants in Perth are really expensive. Most main dishes are 20-30 AUD, though cheaper, less fancy restaurants are closer to 15 AUD. If you cook your meals, expect to pay 90 AUD per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs. Grab and go places cost around 8-10 AUD for sandwiches. Fast food is around 15 AUD for a meal. The best value food are the ethnic restaurants where you can get a really filling meal for 10 AUD!
Transportation costs — The city is very spread out and not very walkable, so you might have to resort to paying a bit. There’s a free bus service (the CAT bus) in the CBD, otherwise, you can ride in on the paid bus (the train is best for getting to suburban areas). A ticket is good for 2 hours of unlimited travel within your chosen zones. Travel within zones 1-2 ranges between 3-4.60 AUD. Rides that are 3.2 km or less cost 2.10 AUD. A one-day pass costs 12.40 AUD. A “SmartRider” card can save you 15% off every ride, but it costs 10 AUD and you must put a minimum of 10 AUD onto the card. Taxis are crazy expensive so if you aren’t going to walk, bus, or train it, use UberX. It’s much cheaper. An Uber to the airport is 20 AUD versus 35 AUD with a taxi!
Suggested daily budget — 60 AUD / 43 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
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Money Saving Tips
- Plan your budget for a Sunday Session — On Sundays, Cottesloe fills with young adults engaging in one of the country’s favorite tradition. Aussies love to drink and love Sundays, so a Sunday Session is a great combination. Save some money so that you can partake in all the local rituals.
- Watch for sales — Airfare to Perth is usually very expensive, which is why so few people are able to visit the city. Tiger Airways has great fares from the east coast – check mid-week when fares are the cheapest.
- Take the ferry — If you are going to Fremantle, take the ferry, which while slower, is also cheaper than the train. Bonus—it’s also much more scenic.
- Clean for your room — Many hostels offer travelers the chance to work for their accommodation. In exchange for a few hours a day of cleaning, you get a bed to sleep in. Commitments vary, but most hostels ask you to stay for at least a week.
- Couchsurf — Accommodation in Australia can be quite pricey. If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts all throughout the country. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Drink goon (box wine) — Goon is infamous on the Australian backpacker hostel trail. This cheap box of wine is the best way to drink, get a buzz, and save a lot of money at the same time. Four liters typically costs 13 AUD (compared to a six pack of beer for the same price). Drink this before you go out and save on spending money at the bar (where it is about 10 AUD per drink).
- Cook often — The best way to reduce your costs is to cook as many meals as possible. ALDI is the cheapest supermarket in the country, followed by Coles and then Woolworths. All hostels have large kitchens.
- Seek out free internet — The internet in Australia is painfully slow and expensive (just ask any Australian how they feel about this), but libraries and McDonalds have free WiFi that you can use.
Top Things to See and Do in Perth
- Take in the history — The Perth Royal Mint provides a fascinating demonstration of how to pour liquid gold and transform it into solid gold bars. You’ll also learn the story about how the notorious gold fields in Western Australia were discovered, including the harshness of those early Gold Rush days.
- Head to the Art Gallery of Western Australia — This gallery was founded in 1895 and houses the state’s most distinguished art collection. It includes post-WWII works, as well as Indigenous pieces. It’s open Wednesday-Monday from 10am-5pm. Admission is free but donations are accepted.
- Hang out in Northbridge — Northbridge is the hub of nightlife here and is also home to amazing restaurants and clubs. It’s a great place to eat but an even better place to party at night!
- Visit Kings Park and Botanic Garden — After a day in the city, hop on the free CAT Bus up to Kings Park with its 990 acres of landscaped gardens and bushland. You can get impressive views of the city and river, walk through the eucalyptus tree canopy, explore native habitats, and take in the rich bird life. Kings Park is also host to many music and theater events, so be sure to look out for what’s going on.
- Visit the Perth’s Cultural Center — The center contains an art gallery, museum, the state library, and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. On a rainy day, the museum has a very engaging exhibit on the history of the area.
- Head to the famous beaches — Perth has a number of good beaches—Cottesloe Beach (one of the most popular), Swanbourne Beach (nude beach), City Beach (also very popular), Scarborough Beach (great for surfing), and Trigg Beach (can’t get enough surfing). These beaches alone are one of the top reasons to visit Australia!
- Have a Sunday Session — The Aussie tradition of a “Sunday Session” (Sunday drinking) is at its finest in Perth. Perth’s Sunday Sessions are famous throughout the whole country — people get dressed up like they are going out on a Saturday night. Make sure you go to the Cottesloe Hotel for the best scene in town.
- Take a day trip to Fremantle — Fremantle makes for a great day trip from Perth. It’s only an hour by train and the city has great restaurants, a beautiful water area, and nice parks. Make a visit to Fremantle Prison, where the convicts constructed this beautiful pale limestone structure. Moreover, Fremantle is home to Little Creatures, one of the best micro-breweries in Australia.
- Climb the DNA Tower — From this tower, you can get panoramic views of the city skyline, Swan River, Darling Scarp, and the Indian Ocean. It is the highest point in Kings Park. You only have to walk up 101 steps for the view!
- The Aquarium of Western Australia — This is a good stop on a cloudy, rainy day. They have a very extensive collection of fish from this area, as well as sharks, tropical fish, and sea cucumbers. If you are going to dive or go to the reefs, this is a good way to learn about the different species you will see prior to heading out. A weekday is the best time to go if you want to avoid a mass of people and children. Admission is 30 AUD.
- Hike the Bibbulmun Track — Stretching over 950km long, this trail is one of the world’s greatest. It winds through karri and tingle forests, down misty valleys and along the coast. Trails vary from one day long to several weeks for the whole hike. Cabins are offered along the entire way for pit stops and rest breaks.
- Mandurah Estuary and Peel Inlet — Just an hour south, Mandurah is a hidden gem perfect for boating, fishing, dolphin watching, and crabbing. Be sure to check out the Mandurah Crab Festival if you’re in town during March.
- Plan an adventure on Rottnest Island — This is one place that virtually everyone will tell you to visit. Just an hour from town, it is the perfect spot for a day trip. In addition to awesome beaches and the native Quokkas, there is snorkeling, bike rentals, camping, restaurants, and plenty of activities for children. Just make sure to avoid “schoolies week” in late November, early December when the island becomes a drinking festival for 18-year-old Aussies who just graduated from high school.