Before moving to Sydney in 2018, we lived for a number of years in Adelaide. I created a list of sights for our visitors to see, before we hit the famous wine country. It is definitely worth a stop over!
With a large range of cultural and gastronomical highlights, the old sandstone buildings and the tram still driving through town, it feels a bit like a mini Melbourne but without the traffic that goes with that big city.
The busiest time in Adelaide is from the Tour Down Under (in late January) to late March (Adelaide Fringe and Adelaide Festival). Getting accomodation during this time can be very hard. But there is plenty to see outside of that time period.
Adelaide is the perfect sized town to walk around in. It is one of the few cities that were completely planned from the start. The CBD is a near perfect grid pattern within one square mile, surrounded by parklands. You really, really have to try very hard to get lost. The locals are very proud of this non-convict heritage. Most of the interesting sites for me are in the North East corner of this square mile, between North and East Terrace.
The following are my top spots. I have ranked them to fit into a one, two or multi day itinerary, and have also added my personal shortlist for exploring the wine country around Adelaide.
If you only have One Day in Adelaide
- Adelaide Balls
- North Terrace
- River Torrens
- The Botanical Gardens
- Adelaide Central Market
- Mount Lofty
1. Adelaide Balls
Sydney has its Opera house, Adelaide has its balls. In the middle of Rundle Mall are two shiny mirror balls, stacked one on top of the other. They have been here for years, and naturally, a visit to Adelaide is not complete without a photo next to those balls.
The mall is also a good place to discover some of the local chocolatiers. Discover the lovely Adelaide Arcade building right next to the balls. It has a Melbourne based Koko Black on one end, and Adelaide’s Haigh’s Chocolate on the other end.
Head to Rundle street, the eastern extension of the mall, to find more boutique stores as well as some great feature murals!
We often do my top sights in one walk: follow Rundle street to East Terrace, turn north and then follow North Terrace westward to King William Street (Parliament House). Then head north another block to follow the river Torrens from the Festival Centre and Oval to the Zoo. Zig zagging through what I call the best part of town.
2. North Terrace
North Terrace is the northern boundary of the Adelaide CBD square mile and runs from East to West. Wherever you start, just walk along it one way and then the other. There are plenty of spots to sit, admire a range of memorials, and those gardens that Adelaide is famous for.
This is Australia’s only European style boulevard, a lovely wide road, with a wide pavement, framed by old sandstone buildings. The buildings include from east to west the old hospital and the University of Adelaide campus on the eastern side, the Art Gallery of SA, the Museum of South Australia, the State Library and the Anzac memorial. It then continues on past Government House, Parliament House and the Central Train Station. The Adelaide Festival Centre is located behind the Train Station.
Government House is only open a couple of days a year, but you can visit the other buildings for free during the year.
Parliament house can be visited on weekdays, when the members are not sitting, with a free guided tour.
3. Walk along the river Torrens
Turn North from North Terrace, and descend down to the Torrens River. Alongside this river is a lovely park with a distinct English feel. Lots of trees, roses and terraced gardens. To the west the river turns into a small lake, that ends at the Torrens Wier. There is a shared pedestrian and bike path around this lake, which is an easy but delightful walk of just under an hour.
There are a large number of bridges over the Torrens, including a number of pedestrian bridges. Our favourite one is a real swing bridge, the Gilberton Swing Bridge which connects Severn Street in Walkerville with Swing Bridge Lane in St Peters. Quite a surprising feature in the city!
The original bridge was build in the 1920’s, when this area was a town beach and swim spot. It was recently updated to meet modern safety standards. This bridge is an easy walk from the Zoo, about 3 km / 30-40 mins, just follow the Torrens river path to the East.
If you have more time, get one of the Adelaide Free City Bikes. You only have to hand over a driving license or passport as security. Cycle from the CBD along the pedestrian / bike path along the Torrens River Linear Bike Trail to Henley Beach. It is a lovely gentle ride of just over an hour, 12 km. This path has underpasses under all the roads and pretty regular sign posts, so you don’t get lost (too often).
It is a lovely ride, and treat yourself to an ice cream or iced chocolate when you get to the beach!
4. Botanical gardens
A visit to Adelaide is not complete without a visit to the botanical gardens. The amazing fig tree lined Murdoch Avenue steals the show. The gardens are very well maintained, have a great range of natives and introduced plants, and are a great spot for a picnic lunch or just to wander around in.
Don’t forget to also visit the buildings in this garden, entry to all is free!
- There is the amazing 1877 glass palm house, set in a garden of succulents and cacti.
- Our favourite is the 1879 Museum of Economic Botany. This building is one of only two surviving in the world. The other one is in Kensington Gardens in London. The collection and layout is amazing, following the old style of cataloguing, with labels dating as far back as the 1880’s.
- And then there is the rainforest in the Bicentennial conservatory building. This building was opened in 1989, and its shape reminds us of one of the sails from the Sydney Opera House. It is also the largest single span conservatory in the Southern Hemisphere.
5. Adelaide Central Market
Every visitor to Adelaide should visit the Adelaide Central Market. It is a lot like the famous Melbourne Victoria Markets.
Established in 1869, the Central Market is open five days a week and closed on Sundays and Mondays. The market can be found between the small China Town and Victoria Square, in the centre of Adelaide’s CBD.
It has a large produce section, as well as local specialities (jams, cheeses, breads, meats, honey, soaps, etc). There are also craft vendors, a good place to pick up some souvenirs, and to have breakfast, lunch or brunch. There are often cooking demonstrations on Saturdays next to the dining area, so keep an eye out for those.
6. Mount lofty
The best spot for a good view over Adelaide right from the edge of the Adelaide Hills. Go in the morning, before 11 am, to have the best view without having to look into the sun. You will have to go here by car (hire or Uber), or a bus.
If you are in for a heart pounding walk close to town, head up Waterfall Gully. The path here ascends up to Mount Lofty and takes you to the viewing platform. Amazing walk, with increasing views as you climb higher. Note that there isn’t much of an undulation, you go up and up and up!
If you have Two Days in Adelaide, add some of the following:
- Adelaide Zoo
- Glen Elg
- Art Gallery
- St Peters Cathedral
- Wine Tasting (Melbourne St or East St Cellars)
- See Koalas in the Wild
7. Adelaide Zoo
Adelaide Zoo is a small zoo, placed in a corner section of the botanical gardens. It is small enough to walk around in just a couple of hours. It was originally part of the Botanical Gardens and has some very large fig trees which are well over 150 years old. Just to see the monkeys in those trees is worth the visit. Be careful when you walk under the branches though, as they are not house trained as we discovered!
Adelaide Zoo is also famous for having the only giant pandas in the southern hemisphere, Wang Wang and Fu Ni. Until now breeding attempts have not delivered a panda baby yet, but who knows. The whole of the city holds its breath during breeding season which is a 48 hour slot around September!
8. Glen Elg
I you have a couple of hours spare, visit Glen Elg for a stroll along the beach. Our favourite way of getting there is taking the tram from Victoria Square. You will need a public transport card, tag on and tag off.
Note that the Adelaide city beaches do not have a surf, but there are a number of old jetties along the coast. You can often see dolphins along the shore and in the marina in Glen Elg. As everywhere in Adelaide, there are plenty of walking and cycling tracks alongside the beach here.
A nice experience is a sunset sail from the Glen Elg marina. You will definitely see dolphins on this trip!
9. Art Gallery of South Australia on North Terrace
The general exhibition has an interesting range of paintings and art, both international and Australian. The total collection has 45,000 pieces of art, spanning over 2000 years. About half of that is on display, and makes it a nice size gallery to stroll around in. The building is from 1886 and by itself is definitely worth a visit.
This gallery is open from 10-5 every day, entry is free except for special exhibitions.
There is a nice shop as well as a nice little cafe at the back, with outdoor seating.
I have highlighted the Art Gallery, but if you have more time, the South Australian Museum is excellent as well. It has a great mineral collection! And the State Library building could have been the background for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter Movies. Just pick one that suits your taste best to get a feeling for the buildings and the collections on offer here.
10. St Peter’s Cathedral
This 1878 Anglican Cathedral, build in the Neo Gothic style, is a lovely building. It is located just North of the Oval, on 27 King William Road in North Adelaide. The South front is similar to the Norte Dame in Paris and it also has a similar rose window.
As with other gothic buildings, there is a smart use of architecture to trick the eye, for example, check out why the nave looks so much longer than it really is.
The stained glass windows are interesting, the lower row of windows in the Nave are in a more classical style, but the upper row and the large window on the road side are modern, only from 2001 and created by Cedar Prest. Take your time to have a look at the roadside Magdalene rose window,. It has the rainbow flags displayed, and a modern role of women in the gospel.
The Cathedral is open to visitors on a daily basis. But if you have time, try and visit during one of the services on Sundays (10.30 or 6 pm) when the famous choir is in residence. One of the few choirs that has both adults and children singing together. Enjoy the music, and listening to those choristers reach the high C!
11. Wine tasting in Adelaide CBD
Melbourne Street Cellars in (lower) North Adelaide (on Melbourne Street) has just about the best wine collection in Australia. On Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings they offer free wine tasting from a range of vineyards in the state. An excellent way to try something new without leaving town, talk to the wine makers, and go in the raffle for a free bottle.
Another good spot is East End Cellars, which is on 25 Vardon Ave (close to the corner of East and North Terrace). They have a large range of wines, and you can get nice cheese and meat platters to accompany the tastings, or should I say, drinking……
12. See Koalas in the Wild
Due East of the Adelaide CBD, just 11 km from the city centre at the base of the Adelaide Hills, is the Morialta Conservation Park. This small area has a number of short and easy, as well as longer walks. There is a very nice 45 mins walk along the river, past some nice rock overhangs, to a waterfall.
Just look around as you leave the carpark, and you will spot plenty of koala’s in the trees on the way! Funny thing is, I never saw koala’s in those same trees on the walk back, always different ones in different trees!
If you have more time, visit the wine regions around Adelaide
Adelaide is the gateway to (some of) the best wines in Australia.
Unless mentioned, wine tastings are usually free and go the full flight from sparkling via white and rose to red and dessert wines, also known as “stickies” here in Australia.
Plan to have a designated driver, as it is easy to have the equivalent of at least three standard drinks in one tasting session!
On a good day, you might be able to do three cellar door tastings in a day, but your palate gets tired. So take it easy, choose one area, go for quality and enjoy the experience!
The Adelaide Hills are closest to town, only a 30 minutes drive and easy to do in an afternoon or morning. The area is concentrated around Hahndorf, a cute German village where the smell of saurkraut can be overwhelming. But look beyond it, there are some nice restaurants, interesting shops, and also good wine and beer tasting venues.
- Tapanappa – boutique vineyard, no busses, and a nice selection of wines from different areas in South Australia. It has vines growing on one of the oldest pieces of rock exposed on the earths surface (seriously cool!), ask to see the rock!
- If you do stop in Hahndorf, go to Somerled Cellar Door on western end of the Hahndorf main street. The wine maker here used to be in charge of the Penfolds Grange range. They don’t do tastings anymore but you can still buy a glass of wine with a cheese or meat platter.
- Shaw and Smith – great cellar door, modern and airy, set amongst the vines. These guys are serving a flight of 5 wines for tasting, which you pay around $20 per person for. Take the option that includes matching cheeses, and taste the wine first without, and then with cheese!
- Ashton Hills vineyard – declared best pinot noir in Australia. They also do an amazing sparkling pinot noir which sells out very, very quickly each Christmas. Very small boutique winery, no busses. Nice spot to grab a cheese and meat platter and spend the rest of the afternoon looking out onto the vineyards.
The Barossa Region is just under an hour driving North of Adelaide. It is a widespread area of rolling hills, wheat fields and vineyards. Dryer than the Adelaide Hills. The Barossa is famous for its shiraz.
Tanunda is the local town and an excellent spot to base yourself in. We always start with going to Red Door Espresso in Tanunda for a coffee and morning tea, prior to hitting our first vineyard. They also do nice breakfast and lunches, to provide some sustenance between tastings.
- Hently Farm – boutique vineyard, no busses, our personal favourite. Excellent wines, no charges for tasting (if you are a member) or a refund of tastings when you buy wine, but it can get very busy in the weekends. They also have an excellent restaurant with degustation lunch and dinner. Advanced booking absolutely required, and you will probably need to stay in Tanunda to sleep it off, but so worth it!
And, if it is available, their Black Beauty sparkling shiraz is amazing. As are the Beauty and the Beast shirazes.
- Langmeil – close to Tanunda town, a larger vineyard and does get busses, but has some of the oldest vines in Australia and great wines. The Freedom range of shiraz comes from these old, old vines.
- Rockford – their basket press shiraz is famous. This is also a nice winery in an older farm building type setting, like a lot in the Barossa. It does get busses though, so can get busier.
- Turkey Flat – excellent wines, set amongst the vines. Friendly staff, another place to while away an hour or two!
- Two Hands – great service, excellent place to sit outside in summer on the deck. They charge a donation for the tastings which goes towards their charity.
- Fransz Joseph – close to Langmeil, the wine make is a brother of Peter Lehman, and a relative new comer. Great wines and the most amazing artwork on the labels and bottles! Ask them about the stories behind the names of his wines! They also serve small meals, and have a selection of local products for sale.
- Maggie Beer has a shop and cafe on the edge of Tanunda, which is great for picking up local sauces, marinades, pates, jams, etc. before heading home again.
Traditionally famous for its riesling and shiraz, and more recently its grenache, McLaren Vale is just under an hour drive from Adelaide, to the south side of town. Again, a large region of green rolling hills and vineyards.
- D’Arenberg – an institution in McLaren Vale, it has a good selection of wines, both for the general and discerning palates. It also has an excellent restaurant (bookings required) and the recently opened Cube attraction. A multi venue experience, from cooking classes to degustation dinners and an art gallery.
- Wirra Wirra – a lovely rustic cellar door, with nice things to browse and shop for as you are tasting their amazing wines. It even has a trebuchet on its premises….
- Serafino – if you want to combine your love for wines with the feeling of having moved suddenly to Italy, look no further!
- Coriole – lovely small winery, definitely no busses here. Excellent wines.
- Maxwell wines – modern hipster type cafe where you may get a seat if you haven’t booked. Good wines, and also does excellent mead (our son’s favourite)!
This area is the furthest from Adelaide, another 30 mins beyond the Barossa to the North of Adelaide. They have a small number of vineyards and cellar doors but not in the same numbers as the Barossa.
- Seven Hills Cellars – This vineyard started off providing sacramental wine to the attached Benedictine monastery here. Lovely setting, great wines. If you are interested, I have actually attended a weekend retreat here, which was an amazing experience. Naturally, all meals are accompanied by their own wine!
- Killikanoon – has a consistent record of award winning wines, their reds are amazing. It is located in the small village. It has won the Mundus Vini award for best winery consistently since 2017.
- Taylors – besides wine tasting, relax in their gardens with a cheese platter and make it into an afternoon!
- Claymore wines – another one with quirky labels, these all based on music.
One advantage of visiting the cellar door is having an opportunity to talk to the wine makers and the families owning the vineyards. You will discover the interesting, quirky and at time hilarious reasons behind the names of their wines and the labels.
Believe me, the best wines do not leave the state! Most boutique vineyards just sell locally and have a dedicated following. And if you want to try something new, go for the sparkling shiraz, yes, sparkling wine can be red and gorgeous. The best versions get topped up with vintage port!