Adelaide is the capital and largest city of South Australia, but for most of its history, it’s always sat in the shadows of its larger rivals, Sydney and Melbourne. But if you’re looking to escape the usual tourist route, then we can’t recommend a visit to Adelaide enough!
This charming city is as boutique as it gets in Australia. The city is known for the extensive public parklands that line the River Torrens, where you’ll find botanical gardens, stadiums, and cultural and historical institutions like the South Australian Museum in a beautiful, nature-filled setting.
After exploring Adelaide Gaol, the Art Gallery of South Australia, and eating your heart out at Adelaide Central Market, you can escape the city with a trip by land and sea to Kangaroo Island. There’s much more to see in the region, too, and you can take a day trip to the rural wineries of the Barossa Valley or use Adelaide as a launch pad for road trips into Western Australia, Victoria, and the Northern Territory.
With so many great things to see and do you might not know where to begin. To help you out, we decided to compile our list of the absolute best things to do in Adelaide for you. Give these fun and unique Adelaide bucket list recommendations a try, and there’s no doubt you’re going to have an incredible time exploring this beautiful Australian city!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase or booking through one of our links we may earn a small commission (don’t worry, it’s at no extra cost to you).
15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Adelaide
1. Join a walking tour of Adelaide
If you’ve just landed in the city, then one of the best things to do in Adelaide is a walking tour. Adelaide is a very walkable city, provided it’s not too hot, and there are some beautiful city center sights to spot and acres of green public parks to enjoy.
There are several different walking tours you can join during your stay in Adelaide. There are free walking tours led by local guides that offer a budget way to experience the city’s sights, for example. You’ll be taken past places of interest like the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Town Hall, and Adelaide Central Market. It’s a great way to orient yourself, and you can return later to visit the museums and galleries in depth.
There are also self-guided heritage walking tours that focus on historical buildings, such as Ayer’s House, Government House, and Adelaide Gaol. You can join foodie tours, a walking tour of Port Adelaide, or a street art tour of the city’s best outdoor murals!
2. Step back in time at the South Australian Museum
If you’d love to learn more about the region’s rich natural history, then a trip to the excellent South Australian Museum is one of the best things to do in Adelaide.
You’ll find the South Australian Museum is located in the Adelaide Parklands, where many of the city’s best cultural and historical institutions are all based. The museum has a long history stretching back to 1856, when the government established a library and gallery to begin preserving local history.
There are five extensive floors to explore, covering a range of cultural and natural history topics that tell the story of South Australia. You can learn about the region’s ancient landscapes, prehistoric dinosaurs, and geological history, while there are sections on humanities, biological sciences, and mineral sciences.
The most fascinating section of the museum is devoted to Aboriginal heritage. The South Australian Museum is home to the largest Aboriginal collection in the world, where you can learn about the tens of thousands of years of indigenous history and culture that continues to this day.
3. Uncover ghost stories inside the Adelaide Gaol
The Adelaide Gaol cuts an imposing figure in the Adelaide Parklands. This colonial-era building is one of the oldest public buildings in South Australia, and it was used as a jail from 1841 until 1998.
Adelaide Gaol no longer holds convicts, but the stories they left behind still fill the cells and corridors in a haunting way. It’s said to be one of the most haunted buildings in Australia, and it’s now preserved as a fascinating, if spooky, museum that you can visit during your stay in Adelaide.
You can take a self-guided tour of the cells, but if you can, why not join a ghost tour? Lantern Ghost tours of the premises take place after dark, while True Crime tours are guaranteed to leave you spooked by the real-life crimes of the prisoners that were sent here.
4. Admire the artwork held in the Art Gallery of South Australia
With an exalted history dating back to 1881, the Art Gallery of South Australia is one of the most respected art institutions in Australia. The museum has collected some 45,000 individual works of art since its founding, which makes this the second-largest state-held collection in the country.
That’s a lot of art to see, and we know you’re going to love browsing the corridors and galleries in search of your favorite pieces. The art museum is largely devoted to Australian art, which means you can expect to find a large number of works from Aboriginal artists. The indigenous legacy is strong, and the Art Gallery of South Australia became the first art gallery to display an Aboriginal artist’s work in 1939.
There’s also a large focus on the post-1800 legacy of European-descended artists who began painting Australia after colonization. Many of Australia’s most highly regarded homegrown talents have works on display, including Tom Roberts and Charles Condor.
5. Visit the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute
If you’d love to learn more about South Australia’s long Aboriginal history, then a visit to the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute is one of the top things to do in Adelaide!
This fascinating institution is a part art gallery, part museum, and part cultural center. It has the unique distinction of being the oldest indigenously owned and operated cultural center in Australia, although it’s rather telling that it only opened its doors in 1989 (almost a century after the Art Gallery of South Australia was founded).
You’ll find paintings and portraits by indigenous artists on display in the galleries at the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, as well as other creative outputs, such as music and Aboriginal storytelling. The institute also organizes and hosts Aboriginal events throughout the year, including talks, workshops, and an annual art fair once a year.
6. Take a foodie tour of Adelaide Central Market
If you’re hungry for local eats, then there’s no better place to visit than Adelaide Central Market. This central marketplace dates back to 1869, and it’s grown in size and diversity every year since!
From the beginning, Adelaide Central Market has always been devoted to food. It was a place for farmers and fishermen to bring their produce and sell it to the hungry citizenry of Adelaide, and it continues in this role today.
There are some 70+ market stalls spread out over 8,000 square meters of market space. Many of these stalls are still devoted to the sale of fresh, local produce from the countryside, and it’s a fantastic place to pick up super-fresh supplies if you’re cooking for yourself during your stay in Adelaide.
But the breadth of products on offer has changed remarkably since the market first opened. As well as fruit, vegetables, fish, and meat, you’ll find artisanal cheeses, wines, olives, and bush tucker (native Australian foods). There are also street food-style stalls cooking burgers, hotdogs, noodles, and much, much more.
There’s a lot to see, so to really get a taste of the market, we recommend taking a dedicated food tour. There are several tour operators offering walking and tasting tours that involve good food, history, and in-depth chats with the local stall holders!
7. Explore the flora of Adelaide Botanic Gardens
One of the best places to visit in Adelaide is the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, which is easily one of the most incredible public gardens in Australia.
Adelaide Botanic Gardens consists of 51 hectares of land that first opened to the public in 1857. Pagodas, terraces, and attractions based on famous European sights like the Parthenon and Kew Gardens were later added, and all the while, the garden’s extensive collection of plants, trees, and other flora expanded.
There’s much to see here, including the iconic Victorian-built glasshouse named Palm House, the Museum of Economic Botany, and even an art installation located inside an old asylum that’s also located on the grounds.
Adelaide Botanic Gardens are located in the northeast of the city. You’re within walking distance of the CBD, but you’re also so far removed from the hustle and bustle of Adelaide’s city center that you could very well be a million miles into the Outback!
8. Visit the National Wine Centre of Australia
South Australia is highly regarded for its wine industry, so a visit to the National Wine Centre of Australia is one of the must-do things in Adelaide.
The National Wine Centre of Australia is located in a sleek, modern building by the botanic gardens. The modern architecture, created by one of Australia’s leading architects, represents the progressive nature of Australia’s wine culture.
The building was opened in 2001 and has since become an integral stop on the wine circuit of South Australia. The center is dedicated to all things wine, and from the moment you arrive to find vines growing at the entrance until the tastings you enjoy at the end of your visit, you’ll love learning all about the different grapes and vintages the area is famed for.
You’ll learn more about the history of winemaking in Australia as well as the ever-changing process that allows the country to compete on an industrial scale. You’ll also have the opportunity to try different wines from all over the nation, as the tasting tours are designed to show visitors how each different region produces varied vintages.
9. Enjoy a leisurely cruise along the River Torrens
The River Torrens flows for 50 miles from its source at Mount Pleasant in the Adelaide Hills and across the Adelaide Plains until it empties into the ocean. For several miles, the river passes directly through Adelaide, which was built here specifically to take advantage of the river’s course.
Of course, the river had been here long before Europeans arrived, and to the local Kaurna people, it’s called the Karrawirra Parra. In 2001, this was recognized with the official dual-naming of the river in English and the Kaurna language.
The river is the soul of the city, and you can enjoy pleasant walks through the parks that line its banks just to the north of the CBD. But you can also explore further afield by taking a leisurely and enjoyable cruise along the River Torrens.
Cruises depart from the Elder Park Landing, taking you on a 45-minute voyage along the river. You can order a Devonshire Cream Tea or a glass of bubbly as you take in the sights of the city center and listen to the historical commentary from the guide as you cruise out into the suburbs.
10. Watch a game of Cricket or Aussie Rules Football at the Adelaide Oval
Aussies are big sports fans, and you’ll find one of Australia’s biggest and best sporting venues in Adelaide. The Adelaide Oval is located on the north bank of the River Torrens, and it’s been hosting cricket matches since 1871!
What started as a simple oval field on the edge of a growing city has now morphed into an enormous, modern stadium that still preserves its prestigious sporting history. The capacity of the Adelaide Oval is just over 50,000, and you can expect huge turnouts whether it’s the local cricket team playing or an international match against their New Zealand or English rivals.
The Adelaide Oval isn’t just a cricket ground though. The huge venue and oval pitch are also used by Adelaide’s Aussie Rules Football team, and it hosts Aussie Rules Football matches throughout the season.
If you don’t know what Aussie Rules Football is, then get yourself a ticket to a game to find out. It’s best described as a mix between rugby and soccer, with an egg-shaped ball being kicked through goals, but full contact tackles are allowed!
11. Admire the views from the summit of Mount Lofty
To the east of Adelaide’s CBD, you’ll find one of the best vantage points in the city. Rising to a height of 2,385 feet above sea level, Mount Lofty is the tallest mountain in the southern section of the Mount Lofty Ranges.
It’s a fantastic place for a view, and once you’re at the top, you’ll have sweeping vistas all around you. Adelaide is some 10 miles to the west, while the Piccadilly Valley is to the east.
The summit is home to a lookout and Flinders Column, a large monolith dedicated to the explorer Matthew Flinders. Around the summit, you can find some of Adelaide’s most historic and prestigious homes and hotels, as traditionally, the cooler climes made this the perfect escape during the height of summer for the city’s elite.
You can drive to the summit itself, but there are also countless walking paths and bush trails leading from, to, and around the top of Mount Lofty. There are easy walks that loop around the summit, offering panoramic views as you go, or there’s the more difficult trek that takes you down to the beautiful Waterfall Gully in the valley below.
12. Tour the Barossa Valley Wineries
Not far from Adelaide, you’ll find one of the largest wine-growing regions in the world. South Australia is home to the Barossa Valley, a tract of land dedicated to the cultivation and production of some of the country’s best wines.
Grapes have been cultivated in the Barossa Valley for over 150 years. Despite the relatively young age of the modern Australian nation, the area is home to some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, the earliest of which is thought to have been planted by German settlers in 1847.
Shiraz is the big name in the Barossa Valley, and you’ll find some beautiful vintages being produced here every year. Other grapes are quite popular, too, including Riesling, Semillon, and Cabernet Sauvignon, giving the valley an eclectic mix of different wines you can try when in the region.
You can join a day tour from Adelaide if you’d like to stop at multiple wineries, enjoy a few tastings, and not have to drive back. Alternatively, the area is a well-established tourist destination, and there are rustic rural farmsteads where you can spend the night and awaken with views over the vineyards!
13. Take the ferry to Kangaroo Island
To the southwest of Adelaide, Australia’s third-largest island sits off the mainland. Known for its large population of (you guessed it!) kangaroos, a visit to Kangaroo Island is one of the best day trips from Adelaide.
It’s just 90 miles long and 50 miles wide, but Kangaroo Island is home to some of South Australia’s best nature preserves. Although recent wildfires devastated parts of the island and showed how fragile Australia’s climate and wildlife are, the sheer beauty of Kangaroo Island makes it well worth the journey from Adelaide.
To get there, you’ll need to take the ferry or a short hopper flight (we recommend taking the ferry). While you can explore parts of the island on a day trip, the best way to see everything is to spend a few days soaking up nature by camping out in the wilderness.
There are several protected areas to visit, including Flinders Chase National Park and Seal Bay Conservation Park. Kangaroo Island has unspoiled beaches, a rugged coastline, and many endemic species of animals that are only found here.
14. Take the tram to Glenelg
Overlooking the shores of Holdfast Bay, Glenelg is an Adelaide suburb that’s home to beautiful white sand beaches and gorgeous coastal scenery. If you’re in the mood for a beach day, taking the tram to Glenelg is one of the coolest things to do in Adelaide!
The beaches of Glenelg are some of the most accessible in Adelaide, and the best thing is you can take the tram from the CBD right to the coast. For much of the journey (within the CBD), the tram is completely free of charge, although you’ll need to pay a fare heading all the way out to the beaches.
The tram is historic, too, as the line has been ferrying tourists and locals to Glenelg since the late 19th century. When you arrive, you’ll have a spectacular stretch of beach to enjoy, as well as the countless restaurants, cafes, and pubs that line the shorefront. You can rent paddleboards, try surfing, or join dolphin-watching cruises that explore the bay.
15. Rent a car and plan a road trip from Adelaide
Look at a map, and the sheer distance of Adelaide from any other major Australian city might make the idea of a road trip a little daunting, but trust us when we say that the city is a great starting point for several major road trip routes into Australia!
Rent a car in Adelaide, load up on supplies, and start planning your dream Australian road trip with the city as your starting point. From Adelaide, you can drive southeast, roughly following the southern coastline on your way toward Melbourne. You’ll join the Great Ocean Road if you take this route toward the state of Victoria, which is one of the world’s greatest road trip itineraries.
Head north, and you’ll pass through the Flinders Ranges before entering the great Red Centre of Australia. There’s nothing but mile upon mile of road (and only one road to follow) as you head to Coober Pedy, a mining town so hot that the miners dug their homes underground to escape the heat. Continue north, and you’ll cross into the Northern Territory, where you can visit Alice Springs, Uluru, and, eventually, the tropical coast of Darwin.
Or, to the west, you have the equally empty tracts of the Nullarbor Plain, where you’ll find the longest stretch of straight road in the world. Crossing the Nullabor is a rite of passage for many road trippers, and it will bring you west into Western Australia, from where you can eventually reach Perth.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Adelaide. What’s your favorite thing to do in Adelaide?
Planning a trip to Australia? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!