Adelaide, South Australia – The Ultimate Guide

Known as the “City of Churches”, Adelaide is now more famous for its events and festivals with tens of thousands of tourists flocking to the South Australian capital each year.

The city itself was planned before being founded in 1836. That planning can be seen today in the well-thought-out grid layout of the CBD (similar to Melbourne) surrounded by parklands.

Actually, in several aspects, Adelaide is very much a smaller, more casual version of Melbourne. But with its own distinct culture and atmosphere.

Adelaide is also the country’s fifth largest city (in terms of population) and the gateway to the nearby world-famous Barossa Valley wine region.

Having visited Adelaide many times over the past few years, I’ve compiled some of the best tips and advice that I’ve picked up during my time there.

Best Things To See And Do In Adelaide

Adelaide might not have the big city drawcard appeal of Sydney or Melbourne, but it hosts many events and festivals, encouraging thousands of visitors, both from around Australia and internationally.

But what else is there to do once you get to the South Australian capital?

Lucky for you I’ve been visiting Adelaide regularly over the last several years I’ve put together, and I’ve put together my picks for the things you must do once you get there.

Now, before we get too carried away, surrounding Adelaide, there are a number of amazing regional destinations that can be done as single-day/multi-day trips like Kangaroo Island and the Barossa Valley. I have not included those in this post as they warrant their own, which I’ll get to at some point.

Adelaide Oval Tour

Adelaide Oval

Ever wanted to step foot on the hallowed turf of a world-class sporting venue? The historic yet modern Adelaide Oval is South Australia’s premier sporting venue with a history as intriguing as the city itself.

The Adelaide Oval Tour offers great insight and behind-the-scenes access to this AFL (Australian Football League) and Cricket stadium including a look inside the 100-year-old heritage-listed scoreboard.

If you really want to step up the experience, the Adelaide Oval RoofClimb takes things to a whole other level, literally.

Adelaide Parklands

Adelaide Parklands

What makes Adelaide truly unique is the parklands that surround the entirety of the CBD.

This little nature buffer to the rest of South Australia was part of Colonel William Light’s originally planning for the city when he designed it back in 1937.

Now home to walking trails, sports fields and botanic gardens, Adelaide Parklands is the largest inner-urban park system in Australia and offers plenty of experiences especially when the numerous events are in town.

As you explore the city, you’ll discover plenty more about the parklands. And that’s probably the best way to find out more.

Central Markets

Adelaide Central Markets

Want to travel the world in just a few hundred meters? Part fresh food market and part touristy retail space Adelaide Central Market is a staple of any trip to South Australia.

The market stalls will take you on a journey with flavours from all around the globe. Adelaide Central Market (and the surrounding restaurants along Gouger Street) is hands down the best place to get a feed in Adelaide. So much so that you might want to visit a few times while you’re in the city.

Just take my advice and stop in for a visit. Make sure you take the time to walk around and really explore both the market and nearby restaurants. You’ll definitely find something that grabs your interest either day or night.

Victoria Square

Victoria Square, Adelaide

Once you’ve finished with the Central Market, wander across the road to check out Victoria Square.

The square in the heart of the city is most historically famous for the statue of Queen Victoria which has been there since 1894.

Over the years since Victoria Square has undergone numerous changes. Now it’s a green space in the heart of the city. The park has a number of uses, but what really makes it stand out, at least visually is the Three Rivers Fountain at the southern end.

One thing is for sure; if there is any sort of major event in Adelaide, there will be something going on in Victoria Square. So no matter why you’re visiting Adelaide, head to the square to find out what else might be going on while you are there.

South Australian Museum

South Australian Museum

Located in a complex of historic buildings in the cultural precinct along North Terrace, the South Australian Museum is home to the largest collection of Aboriginal (indigenous Australian) artifacts in the world.

The South Australian Museum is surprisingly large, with well-laid-out galleries creating immersive experiences, rivalling those from museums in bigger cities like Sydney and Melbourne.

Founded by the Government of South Australia back in 1856, this natural history museum now has a collection of over four million objects, and specimens in addition to its Aboriginal artifact collection also showcases exhibits on Australian Polar Exploration, Ancient Egypt, South Pacific Cultures, Megafauna, Minerals and Meteorites.

Best of all, unless there is a special travelling temporary exhibit, access to the museum is free.

Art Gallery of South Australia

Another resident of the cultural precinct along North Terrace, the Art Gallery of South Australia is also worth a visit while you are in the area.

Second, only to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, the Art Gallery of South Australia is home to around 45,000 works of art showcased over three levels.

Also free to enter, unless there is a special exhibition, it’s well worth stopping in to see the array of both local and international art the gallery has amassed since it opened in 1881.

Rundle Mall

Rundle Mall might be the main shopping precinct of Adelaide, but if shopping isn’t your thing, there is still plenty to discover there.

The pedestrian street mall is the central focus of Adelaide’s CBD with all of the major retail stores surrounded by the largest office buildings in the city.

A hive of activity during the day, Rundle Mall is also home to pop-up displays, musical acts, and other performances, and a number of fixed sculptures adding to the casual vibe of Adelaide’s city.

Rundle Mall is also a great place to discover cafes and restaurants if you are looking for somewhere to sit down and relax for a bit.

While you are in the mall, do yourself a favour and check out Haigh’s Chocolate store. This family-owned chocolate maker, a South Australian staple, originated in 1915 and continues to create award-winning chocolates to this day.

Mount Lofty Summit

Mount Lofty Summit

Located about 15 km east of the heart of Adelaide, Mount Lofty Summit offers stunning views out over the city.

The highest point of the Mount Lofty Ranges, which forms part of the Adelaide Hills district, the Mount Lofty Summit is a purpose-built lookout and tourist information area (with a cafe and function centre) with clear views across the city to the beaches in the west.

In addition to being able to get an overview of Adelaide’s well-thought-out design, Mount Lofty is also home to a number of hiking and mountain biking trails, the most impressive of which takes you down to Waterfall Gully.

Mount Lofty makes a great place to get out of the city for the day to stretch the legs, offering something a bit different while you are in Adelaide.

Hallett Cove

Sugarloaf, Hallett Cove

Speaking of different, if you really want to mix things up, head out to the Hallett Cove Conservation Park.

21 kilometres south of Adelaide, this park is home to cultural and geological heritage dating back to the Australian ice age some 280 million years ago.

Most notable of the geological sites is the Sugarloaf, but you’ll discover much more about the rock formations and the Aboriginal history of the area as you roam the many boardwalks and trails inside the park.

Once you’ve finished taking in all the park has to offer, drop into the cafe for a coffee or head down to the beach for a relaxing swim.

Adelaide Zoo

Adelaide Zoo

There really aren’t that many places in the world where you can see Pandas in person especially outside of China. In fact in Australia Adelaide Zoo is the only place you can see these unique animals.

Located just a 10-15 minute walk from Rundle Mall in the north eastern parklands around Adelaide, if just solely to see the Pandas it’s well the trip to Adelaide Zoo.

That said, Adelaide Zoo is a really modern zoo that also houses an impressive collection of other animals both local to Australia and from around the world with a number of interactive experiences definitely.

Take the Tram to Glenelg

Glenelg, South Australia

Many people, myself included, tend to think of Adelaide as a mini Melbourne.

That might be because of the climate or the grid-like pattern in which the city is laid out. But what really sells it is Adelaide’s tram line running through the city’s heart.

While the tram might be a bit of a novelty item for a small city like Adelaide, it takes you out of the city to the beachside town of Glenelg.

Glenelg is a great little escape from the city, whether that be to relax and cool off at the beach, explore the restaurants and cafes around the jetty or check out the attractions at The Beachhouse.

Popular with both locals and tourists the trip out to Glenelg, be it for the whole day or just a couple of hours, is definitely a must while you are in Adelaide.

Glenelg, South Australia

Where To Stay In Adelaide?

Much like any other capital city around Australia, there really isn’t a shortage of accommodation options in Adelaide.

That said if you are planning to travel during any number of the events that Adelaide hosts, then make sure you book your accommodation early if you’d like to stay within the CBD.

My first suggestion is to look in and around North Terrace, particularly near Rundle Mall if you’d like to stay centrally located and within easy walking distance to the key attractions.

For a shorter stay in Adelaide, the Holiday Inn Express and Ibis are comfortable and convenient, good for business trip options. If you are planning on staying a week or more, then the RNR Rundle Mall and Oaks Adelaide Horizons Suites are better suited for those longer stays.

Obviously with convenience comes a cost, so I have some cheaper options still within the CBD for you as well… Both RNR Serviced Apartments Adelaide and BreakFree Directors Studios are good options for a comfortable stay. While on the really cheap end, the Adelaide Central YHA is the best of the dorm-style backpacker options.

Pro Tip: If you plan on driving to or renting a car while in Adelaide, just keep an eye out for parking costs associated with your accommodation. While many hotels offer parking, it’s usually a paid extra at a fairly steep rate.

Once you start looking outside the CBD, you’ll have even more choice in both styles of stay and price points. While there are plenty of options, if it’s your first time in Adelaide, then Glenelg is your best bet.

Both by the beach and short tram trip into the city, check out Oaks Glenelg Liberty Suites and Ensenada Motor Inn and Suites for good alternatives.

Getting To The City From Adelaide Airport

Adelaide Airport is really close to the city, and the beach.

It’s about a 15-minute drive from the airport into the CBD, so whether that be self-driven or in a taxi or ride-sharing service like Uber. Taxis and Rental Cars are easily found right across the courtyard from the Airport terminal.

While the ride-sharing/Uber services have their own pickup area, just look out for the signs. To save yourself some time waiting book your ride before leaving the terminal. Often there aren’t any cars just waiting.

Adelaide doesn’t really offer a specialised shuttle bus service into the city, but the local public transport service, the Adelaide Metro, does offer a public bus if you are looking to save some money.

Getting Around Adelaide

Adelaide from Mount Lofty

Getting around within the city itself isn’t too difficult. Being a relatively level city laid out in a grid, you can easily walk around Adelaide without a map and still not get lost.

Most places within the city are within a reasonable distance, and that is how the locals tend to get around.

That said, the Adelaide Metro does run the single tram line through the centre (ish) of the city as well as public busses.

Currently (November 2020) the Tram is free to use between North Terrace and South Terrace, making it a good option to get from one side of the city to the other. Beyond that, you will need to pick up a local MetroCARD.

Getting Beyond The City

As I’ve just mentioned Adelaide Metro offers a couple of public mass transit options for getting beyond the city including busses, trains and a tram.

But as always, my main recommendation is going to be to rent a car. If you have any intention of heading out to the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills or any number of other places while you are in Adelaide then having your own transport is going to be the way to go.

Adelaide’s small size means the roads are pretty straightforward to navigate and at this stage, there aren’t any toll roads in South Australia. However, new motorways connecting the regions to the city are currently under construction so that might change in the future.

Where To Find Food/What To Do In The Evenings?

You are not going to have a shortage of options on places to eat and then kick on while you are in Adelaide. There are pubs and cafes on just about every corner.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Rundle Street Mall is a really convenient place to start with a good variety of dining options throughout the day and into the evening. But you should also head over to Hindley Street (directly across the tram line from Rundle Street) for the Pub/Nightclub scene.

Also, make sure you visit Adelaide Central Markets/Gouger Street while you are in Adelaide. Don’t even question me on this one; just check it out.

If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.

Also, make sure you check out the travel tools that I use the most to help you save some money when booking your next trip.

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About the author

Rhys Vandersyde

Traveller, Photographer, Content Creator - I've spent the last 20 years actively seeking out new destinations and new adventures. Find out more about me here:

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