Adelaide is one of Australia’s hottest destinations, offering a cocktail of sophisticated culture, heritage architecture, abundant natural delights and a vibrant food and drink scene.
From sports venues and wineries to markets, beaches and museums, South Australia’s thriving city has it all, but we’ve done our best to narrow it down. So, without further ado, here are Culture Trip’s must-visit attractions in Adelaide that you have to tick off on your next visit.
The South Australian capital is nicknamed the City of Churches, but its most famous cathedral is dedicated to sport, a venue that routinely draws a crowd of 50,000-plus to worship at the altar of cricket and Australian football. Rock up in summer for a game of cricket – either the Australian national team or the Adelaide Strikers Big Bash franchise – or in winter to see the city’s beloved AFL clubs, the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide Power.
If there’s one thing South Australians love more than sport, it’s wine. With a clutch of world-class wine regions sitting right on Adelaide’s doorstep, who could blame them? Dive headfirst into the wine-making process at this modern exhibition known simply as the Wine Centre, which also showcases some of Australia’s finest drops, alongside a fresh seasonal menu once you’ve finished your tour.
The name sounds very British, but Victoria Square’s history dates back a lot further than European settlement. Also known as Tarntanyangga, the space was used as a meeting place by local Indigenous people for millennia before the British colonists arrived. Renamed Victoria Square in 1837 and Victoria Square/Tarndanyangga in 2002, it is still one of Adelaide’s must-visit attractions, with its historic fountain and green grass a focal point in the heart of the city. It is also once again host to important Aboriginal events, including the National Sorry Day commemoration held every year on 26 May.
Continue the celebration of local food and drink at the Adelaide Central Market, the most-visited attraction in the state. More than eight million visitors a year flock to the market, which has been the buzzing hub of Adelaide’s culinary culture since it opened way back in 1869. The 80 stalls make it one of the largest covered markets in the Southern Hemisphere.
Adelaide’s most popular city beach is a 25-minute tram ride from the city centre to Moseley Square, where it drops you off just metres from the ocean. A must-visit spot when in Adelaide, it’s not just the miles of golden sand, the picturesque jetty and the stunning sunsets that make Glenelg so special, but also the trendy boutiques, heritage hotels and cafés and eateries along Jetty Road.
Established in 1989, the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute is the oldest Indigenous-owned and run cultural centre in Australia. Deriving its name from the Kaurna name for Adelaide, Tarndanya – meaning ‘place of the red kangaroo’ – Tandanya celebrates Aboriginal art and storytelling in all its incarnations, including visual art, music, print, video and written word, and has a café with Indigenous-inspired food. They also host several events throughout the year, including the Spirit Festival, Survival Day, NAIDOC Week, exhibitions and an art fair.
For over 150 years, the South Australian Museum has expanded the minds of visitors to the South Australian capital. The Museum includes over four million items – including the largest collection of Indigenous Australian cultural artefacts anywhere in the country. The best part? Entry is free! Check the website for free guided tours as well as events and temporary exhibitions.
Adelaide’s not short on wildlife reserves – there’s Cleland Wildlife Park in the Adelaide Hills, the open-range Monarto Zoo an hour’s drive out of town and the gorgeous Botanic Gardens on the northern edge of the city centre. But the Adelaide Zoo is perhaps the pick of the bunch, housing 2,500 animals across 250 species. The star attractions are a pair of giant pandas called Wang Wang and Fu Ni.
Everyone loves a good ghost story, and the Adelaide Gaol contains plenty of them – 45 people were executed at the site following the first hanging in 1840. The prison was decommissioned in 1988, but that wasn’t the end of South Australia’s second oldest surviving building. Adelaide Gaol lives on today as a museum and function centre, complete with spooky guided tours.
Right next door to the South Australian Museum sits the Art Gallery of South Australia, one of the country’s finest collections of artworks from every corner of the globe. Established in 1881, the gallery is renowned for its collection of Australian art. It also hosts the annual festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art (Tarnathi). Part of Adelaide’s cultural precinct of classic sandstone buildings on leafy North Terrace, AGSA and the South Australian Museum are also flanked by the University of Adelaide, the State Library of South Australia, the National War Memorial, the Ayers House Museum and the Parliament of South Australia, which is also worth visiting if you have the time.
Adelaide’s laneways are home to plenty of fun and exciting hidden bars, where you’ll find the best spots hidden behind secret doors, tucked away in basements, on rooftops and down secret alleyways. The go-to spots for boutique bars in the city are Leigh Street and Peel Street, but there are plenty of others to choose from, including rooftop spots offering great views over the city.
Head underground and take a unique tour through the old treasury to uncover the history of colonial life in one of Australia’s oldest buildings, the Old Adelaide Treasury. Although the building has been refurbed into hotel apartments, it can still be explored as part of a tour, including the old government cabinet room, and the tunnels underneath the treasury. Built in 1850, the tunnels were built to secretly deliver government mail and store gold from Victoria’s Goldfields, which would eventually be melted down to form the Adelaide pound, Australia’s first gold coin.
Right next to the National Wine Centre of Australia, the Adelaide Botanic Garden is an oasis of calm in the city. Opened in 1857, this is one of Australia’s oldest botanic gardens, with over 50 hectares (124 acres) of lush greenery, exotic plants, ponds and heritage architecture. Don’t miss the Bicentennial Observatory, the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion or the famous wisteria arbour.
Once home to South Australia’s criminally insane patients, Glenside Hospital, formerly known as the Parkside Lunatic Asylum, amongst others, was designed in the mid-19th century by EJ Woods. Completed in 1885, it served as a psychiatric hospital until the 1970s when it was largely abandoned. Now, the hospital’s infamous Z Ward – where the criminally and mentally insane were held – is open to the public, running both day tours and ghost tours that tell the stories of the inmates and this fascinatingly dark side of colonial history.
There are immigration museums all over the world these days – Ellis Island’s offering in New York is probably the most famous – but Adelaide’s Migration Museum was the first of its kind anywhere on Earth when it opened in 1986. The facility promotes multiculturalism by tracing the social history of the generations of new arrivals that have made such immense contributions to South Australian society.
Adelaide is home to the oldest surviving clipper ship in the world, the City of Adelaide. Five years older than London’s famous Cutty Sark, the City of Adelaide was built in 1864 and made 23 return trips from England to South Australia, with an estimated 250,000 Australians being able to trace their ancestry to the famous ship. The City of Adelaide was moved to its final destination in Port Adelaide’s Dock 2 in November 2019, and it is now open for self-guided tours.
Only 20 minutes from downtown, the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary is a protected area of coastline that is home to over 30 wild bottlenose dolphins, and regularly visited by many more. Encompassing a 10,000-year-old mangrove forest, along with saltmarsh, seagrass and tidal flats, the dolphins share their sanctuary with stingrays, long-nosed fur seals, endangered Australian sea lions and plenty of diverse Australian birdlife. The best way to explore the sanctuary is by water, with paddleboarding and kayaking popular pastimes, but you can also stay high and dry and watch the dolphins and birds from the mainland.
Just 10km (6mi) northeast of the CBD, the rugged gorges, cliffs, waterfalls and woodlands of Morialta Conservation Park in the Mount Lofty Ranges have been Adelaide’s outdoor playground for over a century. Perfect for hikers, birdwatchers and rock climbers, the park features three waterfalls along Fourth Creek, aptly named First, Second and Third Falls, which are their impressive best in the winter months after heavy rainfall.
One of Australia’s most unique museums, MOD. – the Museum of Discovery – is part of the University of South Australia. Bringing together science, art and cutting-edge technology, MOD. demonstrates how researching and understanding the world can help us to create a better future. The modern building in the city features seven dynamic gallery spaces with rotating exhibitions, as well as a café and a shop.
About 22km (14mi) from Adelaide’s centre, the Cleland Conservation Park is home to the Cleland Wildlife Park, Mount Lofty Summit, Mount Lofty Botanic Garden and Waterfall Gully. Making for a great day trip from the city, you can combine visiting the animals at the wildlife park with the flora and fauna of the Botanic Garden, before braving the hike up to the top of Mount Lofty, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic vistas over the city all the way to the coast. Take the scenic route down through Waterfall Gully, before heading back to the city and treating yourself to a well-deserved meal at one of the city’s great restaurants.