A month ago, I was walking around in the vineyards just outside Adelaide. The sun was at its highest point, coating the air and surroundings in a heavy cloak of warmth. I had just spent three weeks in the Adelaide area and, with my flight back home creeping closer and closer, I was actively dreading the idea of leaving Australia.
Before I left to visit my sister in Adelaide, people had asked me where I was going in Australia. “You’re definitely travelling the Great Ocean Road, right?” “You’ll spend most of your time in Melbourne or Sydney, obviously?”
Every time I said that I would be spending the entirety of my three weeks just in Adelaide, most people would respond with an “oh”. One person was bold enough to ask why I wanted to waste all my time in Adelaide, a city of just parks and churches.
Sometimes, I actually prefer the trips where I am just in one city for a long time. Sure, I love those jam-packed-itinerary journeys too, where every other day sees me packing my bags and rushing off to the next spot. But staying for longer in one place always makes me feel like I got to be part of that destination for a while – and that I truly got a glimpse of what life is like in that place.
I always think that your emotional state upon leaving a place gives you an indication of how you truly feel about a travel destination. Most of my quick trips within Europe are lovely but I generally look forward to getting back home to my own bed. In Adelaide’s case, I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to leave my sister, but I also ended up falling in love with South Australia.
So, to silence all of the naysayers out there, this is a list of reasons why Adelaide charmed me, but also, importantly, why you should include Adelaide on your Australian bucket list.
– The animal encounters –
Since I’ve already dedicated a full post on this subject, it should come as no surprise to see this at the top of my list.
I have always loved animals and nature, so I was full of hope that my trip to Adelaide would involve a few animal encounters. Happily, in Adelaide, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to making animal friends. You can encounter all manner of local and exotic wildlife at the massive Adelaide Zoo, or, when you want to escape the crowds, you can venture out to family-owned Gorge Wildlife Park. (You can cuddle a koala as part of your admission fee to the latter!)
But you don’t have to pay for all of your animal encounters. From my first morning in Adelaide, I was amazed with the abundance of wildlife all around. I’m used to seeing pigeons – and only pigeons – in my daily life in London, so I never got over the fact that I was constantly seeing brightly coloured parrots everywhere I looked in Adelaide. If just taking in the surroundings isn’t enough for you, I’d recommend venturing out to Belair National Park. Apart from being a photogenic spot, we saw numerous koalas, kangaroos and even an echidna roaming around here.
From that first morning when I was woken up by bird calls to meeting my first quokka, Adelaide is a must visit for all animal lovers.
– You’ll love wandering around Adelaide city centre –
Established as a British settlement all the way back in 1836, modern-day Adelaide measures 20 km from the coastline to the foot of the hills that surround the city. While I encourage everyone to see as much of the city’s varied areas as possible, from Glenelg to Mount Lofty, don’t miss out on exploring Adelaide city centre as well.
Rundle Mall is a good place to start; a pedestrian street lined with shops and cafes, this is a great spot for retail therapy, but is also an excellent vantage point for some people watching. There’ll be buskers, tourists and locals going about their daily business, but don’t forget to look out for art installations like ‘The Spheres’ (nicknamed the Mall’s Balls by locals) or the four metallic pigs. Just around the corner from here, you’ll be able to find North Terrace, where most of the city’s museums are located.
When it comes to seeing the rest of Adelaide’s city centre, my advice is to see where your feet take you. As the city is set out in a neat grid of streets and squares, you’ll never get horribly lost. And you can always hop on the tram or bus if you do manage to get horribly lost. My favourite moments in central Adelaide were the ones brought about by chance: noticing the contrast between the shiny new skyscrapers and squat, elaborate colonial buildings, clearing a street corner and finding ourselves in a park, or stumbling upon hip city markets or colourful neighbourhoods like Adelaide’s Chinatown.
Eventually, you’ll make your way to Adelaide Botanic Garden. Opened in 1857, the grounds, which are free to enter, cover 51 hectares. While there, you’ll see some of the oldest glasshouses in the Southern hemisphere, as well as a number of themed gardens, such as those dedicated to roses, native plantlife and wetland vegetation. Since we spent an entire afternoon doing just this, I can highly recommend the botanic garden as an ideal place for a picnic. If you’re keen on botany, the botanic gardens of Mount Lofty and Wittunga are also worth a visit.
– Most of the museums and galleries are free –
We all love free things, and the good news is that most of Adelaide’s main museums and galleries carry no admission charge. We went to three very different museums during our time in the city, with each highlighting a different facet of Adelaide life.
The South Australian Museum‘s primary concern is natural history. There are some fossils and animal specimens here, as well as a discovery centre with very-much-alive creepy crawlies. The highlight of this museum, however, has to be the Australian Aboriginal Cultures Gallery. Holding the largest collection of Aboriginal cultural artefacts in the entire world, this gallery celebrates the many achievements and discoveries made by this part of the population. Find out how the Aboriginals thrived in the harshest of conditions; I loved seeing the intricate spearheads as well as the row of Yuendumu school doors.
For the artistically inclined, venture a few doors down on North Terrace. The Art Gallery of South Australia occupies a grand columned building and, officially, it holds the second largest state art collection in the country. There are over 35,000 artworks inside and all I’ll say is this: be prepared for anything. From traditional portraits to more modern – and more controversial – pieces, the gallery is a great location to while away a rainy afternoon.
Providing a closer look at Australia’s past and present, the Migration Museum was one of our favourite discoveries. This museum deals with the immigration history of the country, from the first European pioneers who made their way to the country hundreds of years ago, while newer exhibitions focus on more recent waves of newcomers.
As all of these museums are a few hundred metres from each other, you could easily have a museum-and-art-filled day out if you’re in need of a hasty knowledge fix!
– You can go to church –
Don’t worry, this isn’t about to become a religious lecture… I opened this post by saying that Adelaide is often referred to as the city of churches. There’s no denying that there A LOT of churches in the city, but, regardless of your religious leanings, there’s one church you should definitely make time to visit.
Not far from the River Torrens and the shiny Adelaide Oval stands St Peter’s Cathedral. Founded in 1869, it’s said that the design drew inspiration from two Parisian churches, including the famous Notre Dame. The exterior is undeniably impressive, and, inside, the architecture is just as awe-inspiring. Filled with light, pillars and arches, take a look at the cathedral’s stained glass windows, which feature not only stories from the Bible, but tales from South Australia as well.
As an extra bit of trivia, you’ll be able to find a piece of London’s Westminster Abbey within the cathedral (keep an eye out for it on the pillars).
– You’ll face foodie temptation at Adelaide Central Market –
Arrive at the Adelaide Central Market anytime near noon, and you’ll find the crowds. Actually, since this place doubles up as both a fresh produce market as well as a street food affair, there are bound to be loads of visitors at any time of day.
The first version of this market began in 1869. Eventually, the market relocated to its current position near Adelaide’s Chinatown. Inside the market, you can expect countless stalls, the wares of which range from fresh fruit and vegetables to meat and seafood. You can also find speciality stalls here, such as those selling Polish, German and Italian ingredients. There are other visual distractions in the market too, as colourful street art adorns the walls of the dining areas.
If your stomach starts rumbling (ours definitely did), the market also happens to be a great option for travellers on a budget. Although I was tempted by several stalls, including those selling delicious-smelling pastas and decadent pastries, we opted for the French toast breakfast at Big Table. Let me describe it to you: two thick slices of French toast topped with a baked peach, mascarpone and chopped macadamia nuts, served with a tub full of syrup. It was the best breakfast I’ve had in a long, long time.
My tip: Be careful to check opening times before you set out for the market. At the time of writing, Adelaide Central Market is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays (closed on Sundays and Mondays).
– See the city come alive during festival season –
I’m of the opinion that anytime is a good time to visit Adelaide, but if you can plan your trip to coincide with the city’s festivals, well, that’s just an added bonus.
There are plenty of festivals held throughout the year, but there’s a concentration of them in February/March. We arrived while one of the city’s busiest – and most colourful – festivals was on the go – the Adelaide Fringe. For anyone who loves performing arts, especially those veering towards the alternative side, this is the festival for you.
Much of the city’s central green spaces became this year’s festival grounds, such as the Garden of Unearthly Delights, as well as the Royal Croquet Club. These grounds are an attraction within themselves, as you can pick up tasty food here or buy cheap last-minute tickets to the hundreds of shows on the go.
I was lucky enough to see a particular show in Dublin last year… and I got to see it again in Adelaide! Scotch & Soda (do see it if it arrives at a Fringe festival near you) is a circus-show-meets-live-jazz-performance and it’s a fun, if nail-biting at times, experience. But even if circus shows aren’t your thing, there are plenty of comedy, musical and dramatic shows to keep you interested.
Other festivals to watch out for are the Adelaide Festival of Arts (Feb/Mar), Womadelaide (Mar) and the Adelaide Film Festival (TBA).
– You can visit a German village –
Wooden chalets, German flags and a shop selling traditional wooden Black Forest clocks, I didn’t expect to see anything like Hahndorf during a trip to Australia.
Located in the Adelaide Hills area, Hahndorf is a quick drive away from the city centre. We got out of the car to see a main street lined with cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops. While it’s easy to get carried away with the eating and shopping side of things, we decided to make a stop at the Hahndorf Heritage Centre. With an on-site shop and art gallery, this mini museum highlights Hahndorf’s history.
Although the area was inhabited by Aboriginals for thousands of years, Hahndorf took on its name when German Lutherans arrived in this location after 1838. They had travelled here on board a ship captained by Dirk Meinhertz Hahn, hence the town’s name. Since descendants from those first 52 families still live in Hahndorf today, it’s considered the oldest surviving German settlement in Australia. You can see all sorts of relics from the pioneer era of Hahndorf, including artworks from Sir Hans Heysen, who was particularly gifted at capturing South Australia’s natural landscapes.
Once you’ve had your history fix, grab a German beer at one of the many pubs on the main street, indulge in a German feast or go for a stroll through the small but pretty Pioneer Memorial Garden. If you really want to splash out, those wooden clocks would make an excellent addition to any home decor.
– Take your pick of the city’s food and drink –
There’ll be a post on this topic soon, but let me assure you: you won’t go hungry (or thirsty!) while you’re in Adelaide.
I didn’t have a single disappointing meal during my time in the city. With a huge range of dining venues, varying from fine dining to casual cafes and food markets, there’s something for every taste and every bank balance. You’ll also be able to find every cuisine imaginable in the city centre itself.
There are plenty of options for those with food intolerances too. Overall, some of our favourite foodie spots included the likes of Joan’s Pantry, E For Ethel, the Central Market, Borsch Cafe and Hahndorf’s Seasonal Garden Cafe. When in doubt, order a meal that celebrates the fresh, local produce. The same applies to the drinks; since you’re on the doorstep to some of the best wine regions in the country (more on that below) as well as an established craft beer and cider scene, you’ll find yourself feeling very merry in no time at all.
– Sip your way through South Australia’s wine regions –
If you, like me, are a wine enthusiast, you’ll be pleased to know that South Australia has you covered.
Although there are wine regions scattered throughout the country, South Australia is home to some of Australia’s most well-known vineyards. There are many, many regions to choose from, stretching from the nearby Adelaide Hills area all the way to Kangaroo Island. We only drove out to two wine regions, and, judging by what we experienced in those, I wish we had time to see the rest too.
An hour’s drive out of Adelaide, our first vineyard foray was to the renowned Barossa Valley. It’s a spectacular place to drive through, with rolling hills and seemingly endless patches of growing vines. If you’d like to punctuate your wine tasting with some sightseeing, stop by the Whispering Wall. Part of the Barossa Reservoir, which was built between 1899 and 1902, the curved wall of the dam creates a unique auditory phenomenon. If a person whispers (see my sister demonstrating this above) on one end of the dam, this whisper can be heard – crystal clear – all the way over on the other end of the dam wall. Warning: You can spend a lot of time messing around here!
Once you’ve pulled yourself away from creating sound effects at the wall, it’s time to get down to the serious business of wine tasting. The Barossa Valley region is known for its Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Semillon. If you’re looking for something specific, you can check the official Barossa winery directory, or you can take a more spontaneous approach and stop by any estate that takes your fancy.
We followed the latter method, and came across two wonderful wineries. Chateau Tanunda is a spectacular estate, with a sprawling, French chateau-like headquarters, while Rockford is unique, as it adheres to traditional wine-making techniques to produce its wines.
Even closer to Adelaide, with a driving time of 40 or so minutes, is the lovely McLaren Vale. Unbelievably photo-ready and with plenty of history (grape vines were first planted here in the 1800s), there are over 100 wineries to explore in McLaren Vale. The region is specifically known for its red wines, but you can get decent whites here too; the main varieties here are Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Grenache.
Given the amount of weddings we saw happening on the weekend of our visit, I’m not the only one who’s fallen for the beauty of McLaren Vale. There was the Coriole estate (which was just about to host people making some important vows), set inside a stone barn on a hill, affording stunning views over the surrounding vineyards.
Perhaps one of the more famous wineries in the area, Wirra Wirra‘s name translates to ‘amongst the gum trees’. This was the busiest cellar we visited and, judging by the wine we tasted there, it’s easy to figure out why. Focusing on sustainability and the ‘fun’ side of winemaking, the free wine tasting extends to all of the estate’s wines, even the limited release ones. While there, don’t forget to pose with the gigantic Church Block wine bottle in the car park.
Our last winery in McLaren Vale was Chapel Hill. This is another wine estate with an interesting history, as the building it’s housed in used to be a Bible school for the local area. The school’s chapel was used until 1965, and the whole complex was later turned into the winery standing here today. Taste their wines in the chapel itself, or have a picnic under the huge trees outside.
So many wine regions, so many wineries, so little time. If you’re a wine fan, Adelaide makes the best base for exploring the best of South Australia’s wines.
– Laze around on Adelaide’s seriously beautiful beaches –
Bondi Beach. Whitehaven Beach. Byron Bay. Australia’s beaches are known as some of the best in the whole world. And Adelaide is no exception to this. There are some gems to discover in and near Adelaide and these are the places to head to when the sun’s out.
In the above-mentioned McLaren Vale, you’ll find one of the most Instagrammable beaches in South Australia. With its long stretch of seashell-strewn sand and the ruins of a jetty emerging on the shoreline, you can catch some spectacular sunsets at Port Willunga. Whether you’re keen for a swim, surf and kayak session, this beach seems to be popular with everyone. At low tide, you may be able to glimpse the wreck of the Star of Greece, a ship that ran aground here in the late 1800s.
Southport is another beach that will make you feel like you’re miles away from busy city life. Another short drive away from central Adelaide, this beach is one of the more dramatic you could come across. It’s the meeting point of the sea and the Onkaparinga River, and, to access the beach, you have to clamber down a long set of wooden steps. It’s worth it, though, as the river mouth features some delightfully warm water, and Southport is a reliable spot for surfers. As with all Australian beaches, watch out for rip tides; if you’re a nervous swimmer and there aren’t any lifeguards around, it might be better to just enjoy the sunshine on the sand.
There are plenty of other beaches to enjoy, including the likes of Moana, Aldinga, Glenelg and Brighton (for my British readers – this Brighton also has a pier). If your trip coincides with a scorching summer, I predict you’ll be spending most of your trip on one of these!
– Find Adelaide’s quirkier side –
You won’t have to look far to accomplish this one, and I guarantee that Adelaide will end up surprising you again and again.
Just one example of Adelaide’s unexpected treasures is the Himeji Garden. Located behind a high hedge just off South Terrace, you’ll find an authentic Japanese garden just behind the main bamboo gate. It was a gift from Adelaide’s sister city, Himeji in Japan, and, inside, you’ll find delicate water features and a perfectly raked zen garden. I could imagine taking a seat on a bench here and reading for hours; it’s a peaceful space in the middle of a busy city.
Now, if you’ve nurtured an affection for unusual tourist attractions, then you would have definitely heard of Australia’s Big Things by now. If you haven’t, then the description is simple: Big Things are, well, big things. These are massive structures of all sorts of, normally ordinary, objects. You can find a Big Banana, Big Koala and Big Guitar in other parts of the country, but South Australia has its fair share of Big Things too.
Located in the town of Gumeracha in Adelaide Hills, we paid a visit to the Big Rocking Horse. Standing at over 18 metres in height and weighing 25 tonnes, you can even climb to the top of this giant wooden toy (admission: $2). After conquering your fear of heights, pop into the adjoining toy factory to shop around and – importantly – to get your certificate for climbing the rocking horse.
The sights aren’t the only quirky things you might encounter. While Adelaide is full of activities to experience, there are two special ones I must mention. The first is the Hungry Hippo Cafe. The name may give it away, but this is a board game cafe. We loved it so much that we ended up spending two evenings here. The concept is simple: pay $5, get a three-hour board-game-playing session, buy some food and drinks, and play to your heart’s content.
Escape-room games seem to be all the rage in major cities across the globe, but I had my first opportunity to experience this for myself at Adelaide’s Escape Hunt. Just off Rundle Mall, we also visited this place twice (we’re predictable animals) and had a blast. Based on local Adelaide mysteries, a game master will give your team a mission and then you’ll have an hour to solve the mystery…and escape! This is a ridiculously fun activity for a group outing, especially if you’re in the mood for some quick thinking.
– You’ll have a wide range of day trips to choose from –
While this post is about why Adelaide itself should be on your Australian bucket list, the fact that it’s the ideal base for exploring the rest of South Australia shouldn’t be ignored.
I’ll be writing a full post on this, but these are just a few ideas to get you started.
We’ve already covered where the wine-lovers need to go for their day trips. But, for those wanting to get acquainted with Australia’s colonial history, you’ll have to take the drive out to Old Tailem Town. Known as Australia’s largest pioneer village, this site is full of pioneer-era buildings and vehicles, all there to give you an idea of what life in the Outback was like all those years ago.
Another popular day trip is Victor Harbour. An 80km drive from Adelaide, there’s much to do and see here. There are shops to peruse, ice creams to buy and, when the weather’s good, you can make the crossing to Granite Island. You can do so by walking or hopping on the horse-drawn tram; once on the island, there are a few trails to explore, each affording different views of the sea and coastline. Granite Island is also home to a small colony of tiny penguins, so see whether you’ll be able to spot them on your visit. From June to September, Victor Harbour becomes a whale-watching hotspot.
If wine tours and mini island excursions aren’t enough for you, then use Adelaide as a base before going off to explore further-afield destinations, such as the lovely Kangaroo Island.
– You won’t run out of things to do –
This has to be the last one of this list because, when I know I’m going to be staying in a place for a while, my biggest concern is that I’ll run out of things to do. This won’t be the case in Adelaide.
In fact, we’ve gotten to the end of this list, and I still feel like there are so many other spots and activities I haven’t written about. Your time in Adelaide will be the same: regardless of your interests, just when you’ll think that you’ve done all that the city has to offer, you’ll hear of so many other venues/festivals/food spots waiting to be discovered.
As with any post, there are plenty of things I could’ve added to this list – Adelaide’s nightlife, sporting tournaments or the city’s multitude of active pursuits – but the bottom line is this: for me, there are truly countless reasons why Adelaide should be on your Australian bucket list.
Once you’re there and have experienced what this city has to offer, I know that you’ll end up dreading your departure as much as I did.
Have you been to Adelaide? Do you agree/disagree with me on adding this city to an Australian bucket list? Let me know in the comments below!
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