Can you find a bargain in Perth? You bet! Here are the best free things to do in Perth - plus a few frugal meal suggestions too.
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Let's chat travel and economics for a moment, shall we? On some prosaic, theoretical level, I understand why many a price tag in Australia comes with sticker shock. For one thing, the cost of taxes and tips are included in the price you pay. Furthermore, I appreciate that Australia is an island - a lot of things are imported here and that means that costs are passed along. And of course, Australia also has a very high standard of living. The elevated cost of everyday items reflects the fact that the country has a correspondingly high minimum wage.
But you know what? All these sensible and logical explanations don't count for much when you're staring down $20 museum admissions and $50 bills for basic, boring lunches. Australia is an expensive travel destination. There's just no getting around it. And prices in Perth, the most isolated city not just in Australia but in fact the entire world, can sometimes feel like highway robbery. Rather appropriate, for a former penal colony settlement.
With a tight budget and a week to spend in Perth, I was determined to make our money go the distance. These are the best frugal and free things to do in Perth, with a focus on the city center. (Don't you worry - I'll be working on a list of the best free things to do in Fremantle and other nearby communities soon!)
FTZ and CAT: Perth Has FREE Buses!
Yes, you read that correctly. You can ride the bus for FREE in Perth. The Transperth bus system operates a free transit zone (an FTZ) and four free central area transit (CAT) buses. CAT bus stops have distinctive stands with real-time passenger information.
As a visitor, virtually every trip you make will be within the FTZ. Don't be confused like I was when you notice signs telling you to pay your fare or else. That's for folks who are getting on in the FTZ and riding all the way to the suburbs. As well, be aware that the generic tourist maps that are distributed at different points of interest don't always show the four CAT routes in detail. They offer more of a general outline.
By the way, if you're a fan of great transportation deals like I am, Cathay Pacific has terrific offers for those travelling to Perth.
Transperth bus timetable and information
This map and schedule is from Transperth's official website and is very helpful.
Wheelchair accessibility standards and information on mobility aids can be found here.
Free Walking Tours? Perth Has Them!
A free, no-strings-attached tour of the city centre with trained tour guides leading the way? Yes, please! This isn't one of those 'free but really pay what you can and you better tip big' tours. The knowledgeable volunteer guides are amazing Perth ambassadors with a passion for history.
I highly recommend doing this tour early in your visit. It's a lovely way to discover the city and Ryan and I picked up a lot of helpful tidbits from our guide that made a big difference for our trip. The choice between general orientation tours or from specialty tours (like "Convicts and Colonials" - how fun!) made sure that there's a good fit for every kind of interest.
Info and schedules for Perth's free city tours
Meeting point: iCity Information Kiosk in Murray Street Mall. (Hey, fellow North Americans! "Mall" here means pedestrian-only street, not indoor shopping center).
Schedule: The general orientation tour takes place every day but Sunday at 9:45 am. Specialty tours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:15 am (<--- in theory! We showed up for the Convicts and Colonials tour on Wednesday but it hadn't been scheduled. Double check to be sure).
The Information Kiosk also has brochures for DIY tours.
Wheelchair accessibility: In general, we judged the orientation tour to be wheelchair friendly, provided some minor modifications were made (for road curbs, etc). For more specific information, you'd have to contact iCity.
Visit the Art Gallery of Western Australia - And Take A Free Tour
One of the crown jewels in the Perth Cultural Centre and just a short walk from the train station, the Gallery of Western Australia is a must-see attraction in Perth. Their collection is accompanied by helpful descriptions to aid visitors who aren't familiar with the region's art scene. And their exhibitions are extraordinary. During our visit, there was an exhibition on jewelry and all things bling. So fancy and fun! Earlier in the year, they hosted an exhibition on Heath Ledger's life and art.
Visitor information for the Art Gallery of Western Australia
Location: The Perth Cultural Center Complex
Hours of operations: Wednesday to Monday, 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Closed Tuesdays, Good Friday, Anzac Day (25 April) and Christmas Day.
Special events and tours: The Art Gallery of Western Australia offers a number of free tours, from short talks to more in depth presentations, on a daily basis. You know how much I love FREE! You can see their schedule here and I highly recommend you coordinate your visit with one of these extra bonus freebies.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes. The gallery also provides free loans of mobility aids and has a disability access and inclusion plan.
Visit the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art.
Okay, I know what you're going to say. Contemporary art is just NOT your thing. That's a fair point. But stick with me! First of all, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art is FREE! Who doesn't love free? Secondly, it's located in the Perth Cultural Centre along with many other great attractions. If you're already there, hey, why not pop in? And finally - it's interesting. You will definitely walk away from your visit with some strong opinions about what you saw and that's a great thing.
It is also a venue for performances and events, some which are free but most with a moderate ticket price. If percussion workshops or festivals of exploratory music are your thing, this is the place to be.
Visitor information for the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art
Location: The Perth Cultural Center Complex
Hours of operation: Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
PICA is closed on Mondays and major holidays.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes, both for the gallery and the performance space. More information can be found here.
Tour The Western Australia Museum (Reopening in 2020)
The Western Australian Museum (another Perth Culture Centre resident) will be reopening in 2020 after a major refurbishment. Let's hope they'll still have free admission when they do! In the meantime, check out their other locations across Western Australia (including in nearby Fremantle) and follow them for special pop-up museum events.
Take a Guided Tour of King's Park and Botanic Garden
What's better than a free tour? How about three free tours at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 2:00 pm, every day of the year save for Christmas? Thanks to the Kings Park and Botanic Garden's team of 140 plus highly trained volunteers there is always something to see and do in the park. This is most beautiful of all the parks in Perth and it's fantastic to have a guide show you around.
Due to the large size of the park, there are several different routes that the guides follow. You can see the full schedule here. You could easily come a few times and get a different experience each time. My only regret is that we didn't visit earlier in our trip. We learned so much about Perth's flora and fauna, as well as local history and culture.
Now, if you're a native Australian, you might want to avert your eyes for these next few sentences. Everyone else: Take note. At the King's Park Kiosk cafe next to the tour meeting point on Fraser Ave, they sell flavored syrups to augment coffee and espresso drinks. Why is this important? Because it is nearly impossible to get a vanilla latte in Australia! Yes, yes, I know it's not "real" coffee like the lauded local flat whites. But trust me, you'll be thankful for this information after you fly half way around the world and you just want *your* coffee.
Information for visiting Kings Park and tour schedule
Visit Lazy Susan's Comedy Den for Amateur Night
At Lazy Susan's Comedy Den, every Tuesday is "Shapiro Tuesday" -aka amateur night - and admission is a mere $5. And in pricey Australia, $5 is essentially FREE!
Alas, despite the great deal, we didn't end up visiting. Sometimes even the savviest of frugal plans fall through. I don't normally recommend things we don't personally investigate but this is too good of a deal not to mention. If you're in Perth, PLEASE go. Report back to me and we'll update the post!
According to their website, the doors open at 8:00 pm and the show is at 8:30. Arriving early is recommended.
Have Lunch at Annalakshmi: Perth's Pay As You Can Indian Vegetarian Restaurant.
I think this might just be the first time I've ever recommended a city centre, waterfront harbour restaurant as a budget choice but Perth's Annalakshmi may just be the most budget friendly restaurant of all time. Its daily buffet of Indian food operates on a pay-what-you-can basis.
If you are familiar with cream and meat centered dishes like butter chicken or beef vindaloo, as well as Indian restaurant staples like naan bread, samosas, and skewers of tandoori chicken, the menu of Annalakshmi might take you aback. All their food is vegan and gluten free, reflecting their values of healthy, holistic living. You'll have a nourishing, no frills meal with about 3 main dishes, three side dishes, and rice to choose from. But if it's mango lassi and a creamy korma you're craving this might not be the spot for you.
The concept of pay-what-you-can isn't something you see everyday. Asking around, it sounded like a lot of people were contributing about $10 or so a head, with a lot of people rounding up to $15 or $20 if it fit within their budget. It wouldn't be wrong for a backpacker or student to pay $5 if that's what they can afford (and make note: the restaurant encourages you to go up for second helpings rather than wasting any food from a too-full first plate). Keep in mind that any extra generosity you show goes to offset the cost of meals for those who can't afford to pay anything. This is a great place to eat on your last day in Perth, ideal for using up small bills and coins.
Information for eating at Annalakshmi
Location: Jetty 4 Barrack Square Perth WA 6000 (Second floor).
Hours of operation: Open seven days a week
Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Dinner: 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Wheelchair accessible: Probably no. The main entrance is up a full flight of steep stairs. It's possible we missed a hidden elevator but it doesn't look good.
Pizza Hut. Yes, THAT Pizza Hut.
Getting your fix: Pizza in Perth
Location: 2/101 Murray Street
Hours of operation: Open seven days a week starting at 11:00 am. Closes at 10:00 pm on weekdays, open until 11:00 pm on Friday and Saturday.
Ordering: You can walk up to the kiosk and order in person, call in advance to arrange pick up at +61 1300 749 924 or order online at pizzahut.com.au or deliveroo.com.au
(Note: We had all sorts of problems placing an online order for pick up via the Pizza Hut website. Not having an Australian cell phone number kept crashing the site. We ended up using the hotel's phone number as our cell phone and we explained the situation in their section for general notes. Frustrating! But still. Pizza.)
Wheelchair accessible: Mostly. This is a kiosk, not a restaurant. The kiosk window opens to face the sidewalk and you pick up from their as well. However, the counter is high. Tables and chairs are set up on the sidewalk for anyone who wants to 'eat in'.
Perth Is Worth Every Penny
We really enjoyed our time in Perth - and not just when we were pursuing all the free and frugal things on our list. It's well worth the effort to travel there and we highly recommend it as a slightly-higher-than-average value travel destination. It's unlikely to ever be a serious contender for my $200 travel challenge but with a bit of planning and effort there are plenty of ways to stretch your money.
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