14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Adelaide & Easy Day Trips
Elegant and refined, Adelaide is Australia's fifth largest city and justifiably proud of its affluent heritage. Like Melbourne, this vibrant capital of South Australia remains unsullied by a penal colony past. Instead, free immigrants, mainly from Britain, founded Adelaide between the rugged south coast of Australia and the foothills of the Mount Lofty Ranges. Its layout was carefully crafted imparting a welcome sense of order balanced by a laidback vibe.
Today, Adelaide's prosperity, built on mining and agriculture, is still proudly on display. Magnificent private mansions and grand public buildings command an important place amid modern high-rises. Museums, galleries, and gardens are some of the city's finest treasures, and lovers of the arts can indulge in opera, symphony, and a flourishing live music scene. But despite these big-city tourist attractions, parklands ring the city and wide boulevards seem refreshingly uncrowded, while rural landscapes and day trips are a mere 20-minute drive from the bustle.
See also: Where to Stay in Adelaide
1 North Terrace
A handsome tree-lined boulevard graced by historic and cultural treasures, North Terrace is a great place to kick off a city tour. Parliament House, at the intersection of King William Street and North Terrace, is perhaps the most imposing building in Adelaide with its monumental colonnade. Just down the street, cheek by cheek, the State Library of South Australia, the South Australian Museum, and the Art Gallery of South Australia, offer a triple dose of art and culture and are three of the city's top attractions. Bordering these, the main campus of the University of Adelaide hosts the Mitchell Building, one of the city's finest examples of Gothic Revival style. Other North Terrace treasures include the Migration Museum, Ayer's Historic House, and the Adelaide Botanic Garden, a green thumb's dream.
2 Adelaide Botanic Garden
Wander through the wrought iron gates at the east end of North Terrace and enter a wonderland of botanical treasures. Established in 1855, Adelaide Botanic Garden features educational themed plantings such as medicinal plants, a Mediterranean garden, Australian native species, and a wetland designed to sequester enough water to eventually irrigate the entire grounds.
The Santos Museum of Economic Botany provides insight to the important role plants play in everyday life through a series of permanent collections. Other garden favorites include the palm house, the Bicentennial Conservatory with lowland rainforest plants, night-flowering Amazonica water lilies, and Australia's oldest avenue of Moreton Bay Fig trees. After strolling around the museum and gardens, visitors can enjoy lunch at the café or restaurant. Another of the three public gardens, Mount Lofty Botanic Garden is also worth a visit with 100 ha of cool climate plants and a heritage rose garden.
Hours: Weekdays Feb-March 7:15am-6:30pm, April 7:15am-6pm, May 7:15am-5:30pm, June-July 7:15am-5pm, Aug 7:15am-5:30pm, Sep 7:15am-6pm, Oct-Nov 7:15am-6:30pm. Weekends and public holidays the gardens open at 9am. Free guided walks, daily, 10:30am from the Visitor Information Centre
Address: North Terrace, Adelaide
3 Art Gallery of South Australia
In the heart of Adelaide's cultural precinct, the Art Gallery of South Australia exhibits one of Australia's finest art collections. The elegant Victorian building established in 1881 and fronted with a colonnade sets the tone for the eminent works within. The collection crosses all mediums, from sculpture, paintings, textiles, metalwork, and photographs to ceramics, jewelry, and furniture. The Australian collection spans the colonial days to the present, including indigenous and Torres Strait Islander art. European works highlight pieces from the Renaissance to the present day, and Asian exhibits include Australia's only dedicated Islamic gallery. Important North American pieces are also on display, as well as some evocative avant-garde sculptures.
Hours: Open daily 10am-5pm, closed Christmas Day
Admission: Free, except special exhibitions
Address: North Terrace, Adelaide
4 South Australian Museum
The South Australian Museum, adjacent to the State Library, is a top research facility renowned for its Aboriginal heritage collections. In addition to the excellent Australian collection, visitors can peruse artifacts from the South Pacific Islands in the permanent Pacific Cultures Gallery, gaze upon Egyptian antiquities, and learn about local flora and fauna in the South Australian Biodiversity Gallery. Children love the natural history exhibits with stuffed specimens, fossils, and skeletons. Afterwards, visitors can stop by the café for a bite to eat or browse the gift shop for postcards, books, and souvenirs.
Hours: Open daily 10am-5pm, closed Christmas Day and Good Friday
Address: North Terrace, Adelaide
5 State Library of South Australia
The State Library of South Australia surprises first-time visitors with its dramatic juxtaposition of old and new. The contemporary Spence Wing with its sharp lines and glass-fronted entrance offers modern facilities and free Wi-Fi. From here, visitors should ask for directions to the original library, housed in the adjacent 1884 French renaissance building known as the Mortlock Wing. Entering this grand old space is like stepping back in time. Multi-tiered galleries beckon high above, edged by elaborate wrought iron balustrades, and ladders reach up to leather-bound books neatly propped in the wooden shelves. Highlighting this flashback to libraries of old is a stream of natural light flooding through the glass dome in the roof. The Mortlock Wing is also worth a visit for its special collection of works on the history of South Australia.
Address: North Terrace and Kintore Avenue, Adelaide
6 Adelaide Central Market
A few paces west of Victoria Square, on the south side of Grote Street, the Adelaide Central Market is a favorite shopping spot and one of the oldest indoor markets in the world. Founded in 1870, these colorful markets feature fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, baked goods, cheeses, and a mouth-watering array of multicultural culinary treats. After browsing the produce-packed stalls, shoppers can enjoy a meal at one of the many cafés in the area or the Asian restaurants in nearby Chinatown. Visitors should bring their own shopping bags or baskets. Saturday afternoons are prime time for bargain hunters when some vendors slash prices to move their produce.
Hours: Open Tues-Sat 7am-3pm
Location: Between Gouger and Grote Street, Adelaide
In the sheltered and surf-free Gulf St Vincent, the seaside village of Glenelg is a popular escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. To get here, most visitors opt for the 25-minute trip on Adelaide's only surviving tram, which departs from Victoria Square in the city center. As well as its beach appeal and many tourist attractions, Glenelg has a fascinating history. The first group of free settlers disembarked from HMS Buffalo in Holdfast Bay here making this the oldest European settlement on mainland South Australia. Sidewalk cafés, boutique hotels, and lively summer entertainment impart a holiday feel, and tourists will find plenty of family-friendly attractions. Kids can catch their thrills at The Beachouse, an amusement park packed with rides including a giant waterslide, bumper boats, and Ferris wheel. Those seeking a quieter visit can bask on the beach, or cast a fishing line off the pier. Sailing and swimming with dolphins are other popular activities.
8 Adelaide Zoo
Adjoining the Adelaide Botanical Gardens on the northwest, the Adelaide Zoo was established in the late 19th century and is much loved for its educational focus and charismatic collection of animals. The giant pandas are the stars here, delighting young and old alike. Other popular attractions are the aviaries, orangutans, and the Envirodome, an interactive visitor center with a vertical garden and terrarium. Kids will love the petting zoo where they can cuddle, kiss, and feed a cast of furry and feathery farmyard friends as well as kangaroos, quokkas, and wallabies.
- Panda Exhibit 9:45am - 4:45pm
- Zoo Shop 9:30am - 4:45pm
- Reptile House 10:00am - 4:30pm
- Nocturnal House 10:00am - 4:30pm
- Walk-through Aviaries 9:30am - 4:30pm
Address: Frome Road, Adelaide
9 Cleland Wildlife Park
Less than a 20-minute drive from the city center on the northwestern slopes of Mount Lofty, Cleland Wildlife Park cares for a cute and cuddly bunch of Aussie animals in a naturalistic environment. Kangaroos, wallabies, potoroos, and emus roam freely in the wide-open spaces, and visitors can wander among them, feed them, and enjoy close-up encounters. Photographers will have a chance to capture some excellent shots, and the interactive keeper presentations provide interesting details about the animals and their habitats. For an extra fee, visitors can cuddle a koala and take home a souvenir photo.
Hours: Open daily 9:30am-5pm, closed Christmas Day
Admission: Adult $20, child (4-15) $10, concession $16, family $50
Address: 365 Mount Lofty Summit Rd, Crafers
10 Adelaide Festival Centre
A 5-minute walk from North Terrace and Rundle Mall, the Adelaide Festival Centre was Australia's first multi-functional arts venue and excites both locals and tourists with its lively cultural calendar. Its white tent-like roof structure is a distinctive landmark along the River Torrens. In addition to the large 2,000-seat Festival Theatre, the venue is home to several smaller theaters, a banquet room, light-filled gallery, and an amphitheater for concerts and recitals.
The center hosts the highly regarded Adelaide Arts Festival with theater, opera, ballet, exhibitions, lectures, and readings by writers. Those who don't have time to attend an event can join a behind-the scenes tour of the dressing rooms and performance spaces. Ample parking and easy accessibility enhance the appeal of this multi-faceted venue.
Address: King William St, Adelaide
11 Ayers Historic House Museum
Ayers House is one of the finest examples of Regency architecture in Australia. Originally a modest house built in 1846, it was owned from 1855 to 1878 by Henry Ayers, for many years prime minister of South Australia. Ayers transformed it into an elegant 40-room mansion with a large new dining room and a ballroom. It now belongs to the National Trust of South Australia and is a popular event venue, but visitors are welcome to view the house on a guided tour. During the tours, guests learn fascinating tidbits about the social history of the period as well as the life and work of Sir Henry Ayers. The interior is famed for its beautiful decorative painted finishes on internal walls and ceilings. On display is a superb collection of period decorative arts, furniture, silver, and artwork as well as changing exhibitions. Entry to the house is only permitted on a guided tour.
Hours: Open Tues-Fri 10am-4pm, weekends and public holidays 1-4pm
Admission: Adult $10, concession $8, child (13-16) $5, child 12 and under and National Trust members free
Address: 288 North Terrace, Adelaide
12 Victoria Square
In the center of the city, at the intersection with Grote Street and Wakefield Street, King William Street opens out into the revamped Victoria Square, an event venue with beautifully laid out gardens. The square is also known by its aboriginal name, Tarndanyangga. In the shadow of the modern high-rise blocks (among them the Hilton Hotel), a few handsome 19th century buildings have been preserved. On the south side, stands the imposing Magistrates' Courthouse (1851) with a Doric colonnade and the neoclassical Supreme Court (1868). On the east side of Victoria Square lies the Treasury Building adjoining the Town Hall, and St Francis Xavier Cathedral (1856-1926).
Other features of the square include a statue of Queen Victoria and a charming fountain by John Dowie, with figures representing the three principal rivers of South Australia, the Murray, the Torrens, and the Onkaparinga. Victoria Square also hosts the popular Adelaide Central Market, and the city's only surviving tram departs from the square to the seaside suburb of Glenelg. North of Victoria Square, the busy pedestrian-only Rundle Mall runs east from King William Street, lined with large department stores, boutiques, and arcades.
13 Port Adelaide
Port Adelaide, about 14 km northwest of the city center, is a popular tourist destination with museums, restaurants, and well-preserved heritage buildings. Much of the town is a State Heritage Area. A number of imposing 19th century buildings such as the 1879 Customs House and the Courthouse bear witness to this city's early prosperity as a thriving port. Top tourist diversions include dolphin-spotting cruises and a clutch of intriguing transport-themed museums including a National Railway Museum, South Australian Aviation Museum and the South Australian Maritime Museum where visitors can browse interesting exhibits on the region's seafaring history. Seafood lovers head to the Fishermen's Wharf Markets on Sundays to buy fresh-caught fish straight from the boats.
14 Migration Museum
The Migration Museum, housed in the beautifully restored former Adelaide Destitute Asylum, traces three centuries of immigration history in South Australia. From aboriginal history before colonization to the impact of immigration on their culture and local communities, visitors will gain insight into the pioneering spirit and diverse cultures that changed the face of South Australia. Personal stories of some of the immigrants infuse a poignant note to this worthwhile museum, and the interactive displays will keep the kids entertained.
Hours: Open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, weekends and public holidays 1-5pm, closed Christmas Day and Good Friday
Admission: Free with an optional donation, guided tours are available for a fee
Address: 82 Kintore Ave, Adelaide
Where to Stay in Adelaide for Sightseeing
We recommend these excellent hotels in the city center, near Rundle Mall and the city's top attractions:
- Mayfair Hotel: luxury boutique hotel, heritage building, contemporary decor, comfortable beds, high tea on weekends.
- Majestic Roof Garden Hotel: mid-range pricing, great location, spacious rooms, rooftop garden.
- Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury: 4.5-star hotel, historic building, lovely courtyard, studios and apartments with kitchens.
- Ibis Adelaide: budget pricing, great location, free Wi-Fi, floor-to-ceiling windows.
Day Trips from Adelaide
Barossa Valley & Clare Valley
Settled by Prussian and English immigrants, the Barossa Valley is about an hour's drive from Adelaide airport and one of Australia's oldest grape-growing regions. Foodies will be in heaven here with the plethora of fresh produce and fabulous restaurants. In addition to all the gastronomic delights, visitors will find some cultural treasures in the region such as heritage trails, cookery schools, craft stores, galleries, and museums. A little further afield, the rolling green hills of the Clare Valley also nurture a rich grape-growing history and thriving gourmet food culture.
Less than hour drive south from Adelaide's city center, the Fleurieu Peninsula is one of Adelaide's most popular day trip destinations. Rolling hills, farms, fantastic surf beaches, and upscale dining lure foodies and city slickers looking for a slower pace. Victor Harbour is the largest and one of the most popular towns along this rugged peninsula. From here, visitors can hop aboard a seasonal whale-watching cruise or fishing charter, surf one of the south coast swells, cast a line from one of the windswept beaches, or take a horse-drawn tram to Granite Island with its dwindling colony of Little Penguins. Goolwa, by the Murray River, is another popular peninsular town as are the inland towns of Strathalbyn and Mount Compass.
In the beautiful Adelaide Hills, about 20 minutes from the city center, Hahndorf is Australia's oldest surviving German settlement having been established 1839 by German Protestants from East Prussia. Tree-lined streets, half-timbered houses, and steeple-topped Lutheran churches infuse the town with the charm of a European village, and the many farms and German restaurants will delight foodies.
A great place to start a tour is the former 1857 schoolhouse, which houses the visitor center and the Hahndorf Academy, an art gallery spotlighting local artists. Hahndorf is famed for one of its talented residents, Sir Hans Heysen (1877-1968), a German-born landscape artist who came to Australia in 1883 and later built an Alpine-style house on the outskirts of Hahndorf. Today, visitors can take a guided tour of his home and studio, known as The Cedars, stroll through the colorful gardens, and view some of his paintings. Sightseers can easily spend a relaxing day in this charming village picking fruit at nearby farms, browsing the craft shops and galleries, and dining at the excellent restaurants.