Adelaide travel guide and things to do: 20 things that will surprise first time visitors

1. Adelaide is playing possum

The city is at peace with its sleepy reputation, safe in the knowledge that it's quietly getting on with some really cool stuff. As well as the huge Riverbank redevelopment and burgeoning Laneway café/bar precinct, Adelaide is producing one of the world's fastest road cars (the blistering Brabham BT62R), its film studios have never been busier, Succession actor Sarah Snook came whisker-close to an Emmy and old North Terrace is now home to the new Space Agency (in Lot 14).

2. Adelaide is still good value

Hot ticket restaurants like Africola, Peel St and 2KW offer tasting menus under $80. Mid-week rooms in top-drawer hotels like The Oval and The Mayfair can be had for $200-$230.

3. Adelaide has one of the most accessible wine regions in the world

Golding Wine

Photo: Jess Clark/SATC

From the CBD it's just 20 minutes to reach the Adelaide Hills, home to primo cool climate Pinots, Chards and Sparkles. Stellar cellar doors include Shaw+Smith, Bird in Hand and Somerled; for elevated vine-and-view restaurants, try The Lane, Hardy's Verandah Restaurant and Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard.

4. You can look over the hallowed Adelaide Oval for the price of a beer

Opened in September 2020, The Oval is Australia's only stadium hotel and a chance for devotees of Bradman and the Biff to properly immerse. While the boutique rooms look out to the Parklands, the hotel's public bar and bistro, Bespoke, looks down on the fabled turf.


5. Adelaide has a mountain within its metropolitan area

Waterfall Gully

Waterfall Gully Photo: Ben Goode/SATC

It's only 727 metres, but Mount Lofty is right on the city's doorstep, providing spectacular views, wild forests and great recreation. For a proper appreciation, hike the steep, forested trail from Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty Summit (mercifully equipped with a café).

6. … and a mountain bike park, too

Eagle on the Hill Mountain Bike Park is 15 minutes from the CBD. The vertiginous descent is through forest and scrub on Lofty's east-facing slopes; DIY it for free or join an Escape Goat tour.

7. Adelaide has more than 50km of beaches

Aldinga Beach

Aldinga Beach Photo: Adam Bruzzone/SATC

Glenelg, Henley and Brighton are the closest city beaches, backed by pubs, cafes and sand-side distractions. They're rarely if ever crowded by eastern state standards. For seemingly endless open sands, head to Semaphore or Aldinga.

8. You can tour South Australia's entire food scene in one place

Fresh fruit and vegetables at Adelaide Central Market.

Fresh fruit and vegetables at Adelaide Central Market. Photo: SATC

A food tour of the 1869 Adelaide Central Market is a trip across the state's broad platter of goodies – from the seafood of Eyre Peninsula to the fruit of the Riverland to the beef of the Coorong.

9. Adelaide has wild wetlands

The lush waterways behind Port Adelaide are rich with birdlife, wrecked ships and bottlenose dolphins. A number of companies run kayak tours of this beguiling urban wilderness.

10. Adelaide Airport is home to a little-seen but once famous treasure

Sir Ross Smith's Vickers Vimy plane at Mascot, Sydney, circa 1920. Photo from the Fairfax Glass Plate Collection.

Sir Ross Smith's Vickers Vimy plane at Mascot, Sydney, circa 1920. Photo: Fairfax Glass Plate Collection

Turn left out of Arrivals and walk 400 metres to a hangar. Within is a huge Vickers Vimy WWI bomber, registration G-EAOU. In 1919 she flew from London to Darwin to achieve the first ever trans-planet crossing, one of the most significant aviation endeavours you've never heard of.

11. Adelaide is looking up

Rooftop Bar

Photo: Andre Castellucci/SATC

Although late to the rooftop bar thing, Adelaide is embracing its skyline. Drink in the CBD views from 2KW, glam Hennessy cocktail bar in the Mayfair Hotel or Adelaide Casino's new SkyCity bar (late 2020).

12. Adelaide's city grid is easy to navigate – just don't expect to understand it

In 1837, Adelaide was designed with a New York-style road grid. The key to it is the North-South main drag, King William Street, crossed by East-West streets named for various colonial founders. So far so simple. It gets tricky because all the E-W streets change their names on reaching King William. The reason? A commoner should never cross a king.

13. You'll party with the Buoys

BBQ Buoys on the River Torrens in Adelaide.

BBQ Buoys on the River Torrens in Adelaide. Photo: BBQ Buoys

The BBQ Buoys are big rubber rings equipped with a motor on the side and a barbecue in the middle. Secure your BBQ pack, install up to 10 friends and sizzle sweetly while you putter up and down Torrens Lake admiring the Oval, Festival Centre and new Casino.

14. Adelaide loves its public artwork

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 20: A women walks past the giant pigeon statue in Rundle Mall on November 20, 2020 in Adelaide, Australia. South Australian premier Steven Marshall has imposed lockdown restrictions across the state for six days as health authorities work to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 in the community. The new restrictions came into effect at 12:01 on Thursday 19 November, with all South Australians required to stay home for the next six days and only able to leave home for essential purposes. People cannot leave their homes to exercise and only one person per household can visit a supermarket per day. All schools are closed except for children of essential workers and vulnerable children while childcare will be open only to essential workers. Aged care and residential disability care is in lockdown. Takeaway food outlets, restaurants, bars, cafes, pubs and other food venues are closed and non-essential business and industry will shut down while weddings and funerals will be banned for six days. The use of face masks or face coverings outside the home are encouraged but not mandatory. (Photo by Kelly Barnes/Getty Images)

A giant pigeon statue in Rundle Mall, Adelaide. Photo: Kelly Barnes

There's heaps of it. Look for the gorgeous "Aussie" nation-builders by Peter Drew, big wall work by Vans The Omega, and the new (and very large) stainless steel pigeon in Rundle Mall.

15. Adelaide's Laneways are small but perfectly formed

Sharp rise: In Adelaide, you now write Laneways with a capital L.

In Adelaide, you write Laneways with a capital L. Photo: SATC

Adelaide's Laneway scene is smaller than Melbourne's but no less energetic and inventive. It's invigorated by art, big love-vibes and a coterie of 50+ bars/cafés that constantly surprise. Heroes include Shobosho Japanese restaurant, Maybe Mae speakeasy and Pink Moon Saloon.

16. Panda paws have six digits


Panda-monium at Adelaide Zoo Photo: Greg Snell

While at Adelaide Zoo, look closely at how Fu Ni and Wang Wang grip their bamboo with a sixth digit. Keepers of the southern hemisphere's only pandas will be happy to elaborate on "opposable pseudo-thumbs".

17. You can play tennis in the sky

MegaClimb is a bonkers 26-metre (six-storey) climbing frame on West Beach. It features 70 obstacles and challenges including aerial tennis, a BMX bike on a parapet and a "MegaJump".

18. Magnificent St Peter's Cathedral has a very quiet neighbour

After being dazzled by the interior of St Peter's Cathedral in North Adelaide, slip next door to the Quaker's meeting house. In 1840, this humble structure came from England in 69 packing crates. The Quakers still gather each Sunday to sit in silence – their contemplations disturbed only by the rumbling of St Peter's organ with its10-metre Double Open Diapason pipes.

19. Adelaide is home to two especially creepy ghost tours

Take your pick: the decidedly grim 1841 Adelaide Gaol; or Z Ward in Glenside, home to the criminally insane from 1885 to 1973. After dark you'll enjoy plenty of ghoulish history, though beware, paranormal investigators rate both as highly active.

20. North Terrace is a 2.5km strip of cultural indulgence that costs nothing

From East to West you'll encounter: National Wine Centre; Botanic Gardens; Art Gallery; the beautiful Mortlock Wing of the State Library; Migration Museum; SA Museum; Centre of Democracy museum; Jam Factory (sublime designs); and new Museum of Discovery. All free, all served by a free tram service.

See also: Six of the best places to eat and drink in the Adelaide Hills

See also: 52 Weekends Away: South Australia's best weekend getaways for 2020