It's easy to be confused about where Perth ends and Fremantle begins. To clarify: they're both officially cities, but Perth straddles the Swan River while Fremantle is its port, at the mouth of the river. "Freo" has saltwater in its veins: ferries leave from there to go to Rottnest Island, its star attraction is Western Australia's Maritime Museum and its pubs all have seadog names like the Sail & Anchor. A good reason to visit soon is the month-long Fremantle Festival, which runs from October 28 to November 26 this year. It's also 400 years since Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog first set foot on West Australian soil and Fremantle is celebrating with its own Dirk Hartog Festival Weekend (October 14-16).
At Victoria Quay you can get up close to a working port, see the Leeuwin II (a replica Dutch tall ship that's Australia's largest sail training vessel), check out art spaces and markets in waterfront warehouses and visit the impressive Western Australian Maritime Museum. Inside this soaring, sail-like structure, WA's maritime history comes to life: from pearl luggers and surfboards to Australia II, which won the America's Cup in 1983 (you can touch its winning winged keel) and natural nautical wonders such as a rare megamouth shark that washed ashore in 1988.
You won't die of hunger, or thirst, in Fremantle. South Terrace, the main drag, is called the Cappuccino Strip for good reason: its wall-to-wall cafes, restaurants and pubs (including the Sail & Anchor). A couple of streets towards the sea you'll find Freo's real charm: historic buildings reborn as rustic restaurants and cafes such as Bread in Common, Stable Hands and The Attic. Bathers Beach House, right on the beach, is the perfect setting for Indian Ocean sunset drinks. Then there are craft breweries such as Monk and Little Creatures, which runs tours and serves food to go with its beers and its retro lounge, Creatures Next Door, has a deck overlooking the picturesque Fishing Boat Harbour.
Fremantle Prison is not only Western Australia's only World Heritage-listed building, it's Australia's largest intact convict prison (it was decommissioned only in 1991). Its award-winning tours, led by guides as theatrical as they are knowledgeable, shine a light into the darkest corners of Fremantle's past. For added adventure, take the Tunnels Tour into a watery underworld beneath the prison (helmets, lifejackets and gumboots provided) or a Torchlight Tour after dark (so scary it's not recommended for children).
If you're there on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, Fremantle Markets, which have been going since 1897, offer a chance to mingle with locals buying farm-fresh produce, listen to the next John Butler and buy Indigenous art and products from more than 150 stalls.
Two of the hippest places to stay are The Lodging, a four-suite guesthouse in a restored 19th-century terrace house (thelodging.co) and the Hougoumont, a boutique hotel with a seafaring theme and "staterooms" made from shipping containers (hougoumonthotel.com). At the other end of the budget spectrum are two options in Fremantle Prison: Fremantle Prison YHA in the former women's prison (yha.com.au) and three newly opened self-contained Fremantle Colonial Cottages (freemantlecottages.com.au).
Pick up a copy of The Fremantle Story, a free pocket-sized magazine that showcases cool things to see, eat and do and has discount coupons for shops, tours and attractions. See fremantlestory.com.au
Louise Southerden travelled as a guest of Tourism WA