The Top Things to Do and See in Alice Springs

Ellery Creek Big Hole, Australia, invites you to an unforgettable swim
Ellery Creek Big Hole, Australia, invites you to an unforgettable swim | © Samantha Ohlsen / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Cassie Wilkins
10 September 2020

As the heart of the Red Centre, as well as the physical and spiritual hub of Australia, Alice Springs is a town steeped in culture and history, surrounded by vast red desert, ancient landscapes and awe-inspiring natural beauty. From its fascinating indigenous culture and unique pioneering history to its diverse wildlife, Alice Springs is filled with a rich array of sights and activities guaranteed to enthral and entertain every visitor of the region.

Alice Springs Desert Park

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Australia, Alice Springs Desert Park entrance sign
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Part botanic garden, part animal sanctuary and part museum, Alice Springs Desert Park is one of the best places you can visit in Alice Springs, especially if you’re short on time. Located at the base of the West MacDonnell Ranges, the Desert Park is divided into three different desert habitats – desert rivers, sand country and woodland – and is home to lots of local wildlife, including impossibly cute bilbies and big birds of prey. Closely connected to the local Arrernte communities, it’s also a great place to learn more about the area’s indigenous culture and its connection to the natural world, from survival to spirituality.

The Alice Springs Art Trail

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Explore the Red Centre’s deep connection to art on the Alice Springs Art Trail. One of four art trails that traverse the region, the Alice Springs Art Trail loops around seven of the town’s most impressive and varied galleries and workshops within an easily walkable route. Encompassing everything from Aboriginal artworks to jewellery and crafts, most spots on the trail are owned and operated by local indigenous people or are community-based initiatives, like the Tjanpi Desert Weavers, the Bindi Mwerre Anthurre Artists Studio and the Tjutangku Tjukurrpa. The art trail also includes two annual events — the Alice Springs Beanie Festival and the Desert Mob Exhibition, which are both pretty incredible in their own right.

The Araluen Cultural Precinct

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Desert Mob 2019. This annual art exhibit highlights the very best Aboriginal artworks from across central Australia.
© Samantha Ohlsen / Alamy Stock Photo

A must-visit spot in Alice Springs, the Araluen Cultural Precinct encompasses some of the most important historical, cultural and artistic experiences in the town. A ‘keeping place of stories’, the precinct covers the Museum of Central Australia, the Araluen Arts Centre, the Central Australian Aviation Museum, Central Craft and Yaye’s Cafe. It also includes some important Arrernte cultural sites connected to the local Caterpillar Dreaming stories, Arltyerre, and public works of art.

Museum of Central Australia

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Did you know Alice Springs was once home to the largest bird that ever lived? Well, it was, and you can see its giant skeleton in the Museum of Central Australia, along with that of a colossal croc and plenty of other cool finds. Part of the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory, the museum is a great place to learn more about the ancient history of this incredible landscape and the animals and plants that have called it home. The museum also houses the Strehlow Research Centre, one of Australia’s most important and culturally significant collections of archival records, artefacts, sounds and films about indigenous ceremonial life, gathered between 1932 and 1970 by anthropologist and professor TGH Strehlow.

Todd Mall Markets

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Operating for over 20 years, Alice Springs’ Todd Mall Markets are beloved to both locals and visitors alike. On every second Sunday from March to December, these outdoor markets sell and showcase a wide variety of art, crafts, jewellery, books, food and gifts. Between March to December, Todd Mall also hosts the Alice Springs Town Council’s Night Markets. Held once a month, or so, on a Thursday night, the Night Markets are the best way to ‘shop the outback’, with a wide selection of Aboriginal art, jewellery, clothing and much more. Sometimes themed to match local events and occasionally featuring live music, the Alice Springs Night Markets are a great place to sample local food and enjoy a lively atmosphere.

Explore the Heritage History

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Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve on a clear sunny day in Northern Territory, Australia
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Alice Springs first came to prominence in the 1870s as the central point of the Darwin to Adelaide telegraph line. Visit the restored Old Telegraph Station Reserve to learn more about this extraordinary feat, see some of the first buildings of Alice Springs, and to find out what life was like for the early pioneers of the Red Centre. You can also visit the site of the world’s first Royal Flying Doctor Service, the School of the Air, the Australian remote learning program for kids across the territory, and explore Central Australia’s first town, Hermannsburg.

Emily Gap

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Located in the East MacDonnell Ranges, 10km (6mi) out of Alice Springs, Yeperenye – or Emily Gap – is a sacred spiritual site to the Eastern Arrernte people, due to its importance in the Caterpillar Dreamtime story. Featuring a large Aboriginal rock painting of the caterpillar dreaming, Emily Gap is believed to be where the caterpillar beings of Mpwarntwe, now Alice Springs, originated. From Emily Gap, you can also continue to Trephina Gorge, which has over 5,000 ancient rock climbings and explore the ghost town at the Arltunga Historical Reserve.

Simpsons Gap

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A real must-do experience in Alice Springs, Simpsons Gap, is a gorgeous natural plunge pool in the middle of a towering gorge. Perfect for swimming, Simpsons Gap is also a great hiking spot, with several short walks including ancient Ghost Gums and incredible vistas over the West MacDonnell Range. Known as Rungutjirpa to the Arrernte people, this sacred gap was once home to a group of mythological giant goanna ancestors.

Explore the West MacDonnell Ranges

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From Simpsons Gap, the West Macs span a further 150km (93mi) or so to the west. While you could spend a few days traversing the entire range, there are plenty of incredible places to explore that are closer to Alice Springs, including the epic Standley Chasm, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen and the Ochre Pits. You can also go for a swim in Ellery Creek Big Hole and stop at Tyler’s Pass for a great view over the Tnorala (or Gosses Bluff), a 5km-wide (3mi) crater believed to have been created by the impact of an asteroid approximately 142.5 million years ago.

Trek the Larapinta Trail

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Ormiston Pound at sunrise, Larapinta Trail, Northern Territory, Australia
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One of the finest extended walks in the world, the Larapinta Trail, was voted by Nat Geo as one of the top 20 trekking experiences to be had on the planet. Covering 223km (139mi) from Alice Springs to Mount Sonder, the Larapinta Trail is split into 12 sections and can be broken down into short walks, including some that are just a couple of hours, or the full shebang, which takes around 20 days. The trail covers many famous attractions like Simpsons Gap, Glen Helen and Ellery Creek Big Hole, along with epic vistas of the bush and the rugged landscape and some of the best stargazing opportunities in the world.

Kangaroo Sanctuary

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Just outside Alice Springs, the Kangaroo Sanctuary is the home of Kangaroo Dundee, Chris ‘Brolga’ Barnes. Initially opened in 2005 to care for orphaned joeys, the sanctuary – and Brolga – reached international fame when they were featured on a BBC documentary. You have to join a small-group sunset tour to visit the sanctuary, where you will come face to face with some of Australia’s much-loved marsupials, red kangaroos, and see the fantastic work that Brolga has done to protect these incredible animals.

Olive Pink Botanic Gardens

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Annie Myer's Hill, Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs, Northern Territories, Australia
© Geoff A Howard / Alamy Stock Photo
A short drive from the town centre, the Olive Pink Botanic Garden was founded in 1956 by Miss Olive Pink, an anthropologist, Aboriginal justice-fighter, artist and passionate gardener. Today, the garden is a great place to learn about some of the native plants in the area, along with the 80 different bird species that call them home. There are also lots of walking trails to explore, including Tharrarltneme – or Annie Meyer Hill – a sacred site to the Arrernte people that offers impressive views over Alice Springs, the Todd River and the MacDonnell Ranges.

Additional reporting by

These recommendations were updated on September 10, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.