You’ve decided to spend a few days exploring the beautiful city of Fremantle in Western Australia and one of the possible attractions you could visit it the Fremantle Prison. But is Fremantle Prison worth visiting? The answer is a resounding yes – this historic site is a fascinating journey all the way back to Australia’s convict beginnings all the way up to modern times.
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Fremantle Prison History
The notorious Fremantle Prison dates as far back as the 1850s where it began as a convict prison. Prior to this, the much smaller Fremantle Round House served as the colony’s gaol.
You might already be aware that east-coast Australia as we know it today began as a penal colony, settled by prisoners transported from the UK to Australia due to overflowing London gaols. The Swan River Settlement (which eventually became Perth and surrounds) was a little bit different in that it began as a free colony, however quickly the need for cheap labour in the form of convicts was identified and in the 1850s, convict boats began arriving.
Fremantle Prison was one such structure that benefited from the arrival of the convicts. The original limestone buildings of Fremantle Prison were built by convicts to house convicts.
The prison was operational all the way from the 1850s to 1991 when it was finally closed. It housed men and women alike and by the time it was closed, conditions in the prison were extremely dire – the prison facilities had not been modernised, there were no flushing toilets or running water in the cells and prisoners were provided with a ‘toilet bucket’ to take care of their ablutions. Yuck!
Despite the gross-out elements of prison life, all of these factors make Fremantle Prison worth visiting to understand the uniqueness of this particular gaol.
How to get to Fremantle Prison
From Perth (train)
Fremantle Prison is easily accessible from the Western Australian capital of Perth. There is a train line that runs directly from Perth station to Fremantle station and takes around 30 minutes. Simply board the Fremantle line and ride it to the end of the line.
From here, it is a brief 12 minute walk through Fremantle to the Terrace which is where the prison is located.
From Fremantle (walk)
Fremantle Prison is absolutely worth visiting if you’re staying in Fremantle itself. It is located pretty close to the centre of Fremantle’s main drag. From High Street, the limestone gate looms large a mere 8 minutes walk away and this ominous entrance can be spotted throughout the town.
From the Esplanade, it is approximately 10 minutes walk.
Where to stay to visit Fremantle Prison
I thoroughly recommend staying at least a couple of days in Fremantle as it is a stunningly beautiful waterfront town. If I’m being fully transparent, I preferred it to Perth by a long shot.
The Esplanade Hotel by Rydges is a great choice for accommodation. It is located walking distance from the Fremantle Prison and other attractions like the Fremantle Market, Maritime Museum and Little Creatures Brewery.
Alternatively, the Fremantle Prison YHA allows the unique experience of staying in a prison cell in the former Women’s Division.
The five-star Warders Hotel is another great choice for proximity to the Fremantle Prison and the Fremantle Market.
Which Fremantle Prison Tour is best
The gatehouse area of the Fremantle Prison can be accessed without a tour and is free to explore. However, anyone wanting to delve further into the prison’s past will need to take one or more of the offered guided tours available. However, if you’re running really short on time or cash, this part of Fremantle Prison is worth visiting to gain a little understanding of the history of the building and the area.
When it comes to selecting a Fremantle Prison tour, the question isn’t really which is best because they’re all really interesting and well-delivered. The question is probably more what interests you the most. The subject matter of the tour varies depending on whether you’re more interested in the early convict history or the later more contemporary history of the place.
Note: day tours usually run between the hours of 10am – 5pm and you are able to buy tickets direct from the gatehouse.
Behind Bars Tour
This one is probably my favourite tour offered because it focuses more on the years from the 1880s to 1991 when the prison closed. It is really fascinating because the conditions in the prison by modern standards were really quite squalid – it is incredible that people were able to be incarcerated somewhere like this. This tour also gives you a look at one of the more morbid sections of the prison – the gallows.
I found accessibility a bit easier on this tour compared to the convict prison, so I’d recommend choosing this Fremantle Prison tour for anyone with mobility needs. I was pregnant at the time and a bit clumsy on my feet so I definitely appreciated the lack of stairs to climb. This tour runs for 1 hour 15 minutes.
Convict Prison Tour
As suggested by the name, this tour focuses on the early days of the Fremantle Prison from its convict beginnings up until the 1880s. There are quite a few stairs as part of this tour so if you have specific mobility requirements or a pram, this tour may not be the best choice for you.
This tour runs for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
True Crime Tour
This tour is best for those less interested in the prison history and more in the real life stories of the more infamous prison inmates instead. A good idea is to pair this tour with the Behind Bars tour, so you get all the prison information and then layer over it the stories of West Australian criminals who were incarcerated within the walls of the gaol.
The run time of this tour is 1 hour 15 minutes.
This is a Fremantle Prison tour I am itching to get back to undertake as I imagine it makes Fremantle Prison worth visiting again.
Being pregnant at the time of my visit, I was not game enough to test out my sketchy sense of balance in the dark tunnels under the prison. The Fremantle Prison staff pretty firmly directed me away from picking this tour due to the physically demanding nature of the tour.
The tour sounds fascinating, though, which is why I’d love to go back now and do it. Participants climb down below the prison and explore the tunnels including taking a boat through some of the submerged passageways – a truly unique way to experience Fremantle Prison.
Given that this tour runs in some very tight spaces, I would not recommend this tour to anyone who has claustrophobia. The minimum age for this tour is 12 years old and participants must be sober (and are breath tested on arrival).
This is also one of the few Fremantle Prison tours where bookings are essential and it is by far the longest, running for 2.5 hours.
This option is a great tour for those wanting a more ‘ghost-tour-like’ feel to their Fremantle Prison experience. Obviously taking place at night, this tour again focuses more on the stories of the prisoners and events that happened rather than the prison history overall.
Due to popularity and limited tours running on Wednesday and Friday nights, bookings are essential for this tour.
The run time of this tour is 1.5 hours.
A note to families visiting: Fremantle Prison doesn’t recommend the True Crime tour or the Torchlight Tour for anyone younger than 10 years old. Even for 10 year olds and over, the content may be disturbing, so be sure to choose your prison tour carefully to avoid nightmares. The Tunnels Tour has a firm age limit of minimum 12 years old and children 12-15 years must be accompanied by an adult.
Picking the most appropriate Fremantle Prison tour for your group should take into account a few things, including what era you’re the most interested in, whether you have any mobility requirements and reviewing each tour to check the age restrictions in place.
The good news is, though, all the tours are great – so no matter which one you pick, you’re bound to enjoy it.
For those wanting to do multiple tours, Fremantle Prison do have deals on tour packages which allow you to undertake multiple tours at a discounted rate.
Interesting areas of Fremantle Prison
The Gatehouse is part of the original Fremantle Prison structure, built in 1855. This marks the entrance to Fremantle Prison and now serves as the ticket booths and is where tours start from. The Gatehouse area is free to explore and there are some interesting exhibits there including a video exhibit with inmates being interviewed shortly before the prison closed down in 1991.
This is a great spot to take in the true scale of Fremantle Prison. The lush green parade grounds are where prisoners used to be taken outside for line up and to join their work parties. Now, this area offers up great views of the cell blocks and is often used for events.
Undoubtedly the spookiest location at Fremantle Prison, the gallows room features an ominous noose and dim lighting. You can see the entire operation, from the noose that goes around the prisoners neck to the trapdoor that opened beneath them that they fell through and broke their necks (if they were lucky). If you want to see this room, you’ll need to book the Behind Bars tour.
The New Division
This cell block is part of the modern era of Fremantle Prison history. You’ll note the different look and feel to the stone of the older cells. There’s also some great artwork located on the upper level as you enter, painted by one of the prisoners.
The artist cells
Fremantle Prison is dotted with incredible art painted by the prisoners. There are a couple of cells in the main cell block that are on display for their beautiful paintings that you should definitely stop and check out. Your tour guides should point these out to you.
The kitchens of the Fremantle Prison come with some horrifying stories about the quality of the food inmates were served over the years. Still, if you got a job working in the kitchens, you were sure to be one of the best fed prisoners because you had access to serve yourself a little extra if you were hungry.
So, is Fremantle Prison worth visiting in 2023?
Fremantle Prison is absolutely worth visiting and is worth the trip to Fremantle alone. It is a fascinating journey into Western Australia’s convict era as well as the overall justice system in the region.
The prison is West Australia’s only UNESCO World Heritage site and the tours are wonderfully informative and reasonably priced.
Fremantle Prison FAQs
What should I wear to visit Fremantle Prison?
Because any visit to Fremantle Prison will involve a walking tour, it is best to wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Remember some tours spend time outside in the prison yards so if it is sunny, you may want to wear a hat and sunscreen. If it is winter, you may want to ensure you’ve got a beanie and a warm coat.
What are the Fremantle Prison opening hours?
Fremantle Prison is open from 9am – 5pm every day (except for Good Friday and Christmas Day).
Do Fremantle Prison tours run every day?
The True Crime, Behind Bars and Convict Prison tours run every day between 10am and 5pm. The Tunnels tour only runs on Saturday and Sunday (bookings essential). The Torchlight Tour runs Wednesday and Friday evenings only (bookings essential).
Is Fremantle Prison free to visit?
The gatehouse area and the exhibits there are free to visit, however to really explore the prison you will need to take one or more tours which do cost money. The cheapest tours cost $22 AUD for an adult.
How long should I spend at Fremantle Prison?
Fremantle Prison is fascinating and huge, so you will need at least 2 hours to undertake a tour and then explore some of the exhibitions around the gatehouse. If you took multiple tours, you could easily spend the whole day!
Do I need to book tickets to Fremantle Prison in advance?
If you want to undertake either the Torchlight or Tunnels tours then you must book in advance. Otherwise, you can just turn up and hop on one of the Convict, Behind Bars or True Crime tours without booking in advance.
Is Fremantle Prison scary?
Fremantle Prison is eerie and like any prison is a little disturbing. However the day tours of the Convict era and Behind Bars are the least scary for those faint of heart.
What else should I do in Fremantle?
Fremantle is full of awesome things to do. Continue to explore Western Australia’s convict and prison history at the Roundhouse. Otherwise the Fremantle Market is exceptional on the weekends, the Maritime Museum has some interesting shipwreck remains and the Little Creatures Brewery has great waterfront views.
Rottnest Island and its cute little Quokka inhabitants is also just off the coast for a fantastic day trip from Fremantle.
What other prisons are worth visiting in the world?
I definitely enjoy exploring prisons around the world on my travels. The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia is a really amazing prison to visit and one that should be on any prison-lover’s bucket list.
I’ve also visited Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just outside Berlin which was a mournful look into prison life in Nazi Germany. Tuol Sleng prison in Cambodia is one not for the faint-hearted but learning about the Pol Pott era is definitely an important period in the country’s history to understand.
Closer to home, the old Melbourne Gaol is a great tourist attraction in Victoria and boasts being the prison where infamous bushranger Ned Kelly was hung.
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