Progressive and hip, sunny Perth, sat out on Australia’s western coast, has really come of age. With green spaces throughout the city, lively restaurants boasting locally sourced food, and brave new architecture such as the new arena, this for many is the coolest city in Australia right now.
The so-called Transperth buses run until 11.30pm across Perth and out to its suburban areas, with two main terminals at Wellington Street Bus Station and the Esplanade Bus Port. Impressively, travel in the city centre is free, while tickets to other zones are valid for two hours. They can also be used on Transperth ferries and trains. Perth's main landmarks are all within reach of the Fremantle train line.
You'll want to start with the Central Business District, which combines 21st-century towers with 19th-century architecture. Despite Perth's keen modernity, 'old' is in vogue here, with a wave of boutique hotels, restaurants and bars opening in historic buildings and typically paying tribute to their past lives.
North of the city centre, Northbridge has been transformed in recent years from run-down to bohemian Mecca, with art literally filling the streets – graffiti artists are far from scarce here. The Perth Cultural Centre is an impressive complex that encompasses the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the Western Australia Museum, as well as the surprising Perth Institute of Contemporary Art; with its outdoor cinema and artificial beach, the complex's main square is perhaps its best feature.
About half an hour from the city centre, Perth's coastline of near-unbroken beaches is like another world. A Californian vibe pervades – all is pristine and trendy, particularly in Cottesloe and Scarborough, where the beach bars and top-notch hotels overlook gigantic waves.
Finally, Swan Valley is the nearest wine country to any of Australia's capitals and is filled with 19th century architecture. There are small wineries, microbreweries and distilleries to explore, as well as Aboriginal sites.
There are several cool neighbourhoods in Perth worth exploring apart from Northbridge. Take a ferry down the Swan River to South Perth and have a look around Subiaco and its famous market, or admire the 19th-century buildings harbouring restaurants and coffee shops in Fremantle. At the latter, the 1850s Fremantle Prison is notable for its museum, especially colourful murals and paintings in the Aboriginal art gallery, many of which deal with the community's awful past treatment by the criminal and justice system.
Claiming to have more restaurants per capita than any of Australia's capitals, Perth leaves you spoilt for choice when it comes to dining out. Eateries focussed on locally produced ingredients are ubiquitous, with seafood particularly popular here, as is the country-pub style of cooking. But the best thing about Perth's dining circuit is probably the wine. Apart from Swan Valley, the oldest wine-growing region in Western Australia, there's the Margaret River wine country a couple of hours south of Perth that produces a quarter of Australia's prime bottles.