48 Hours In: Adelaide

As summer begins in South Australia, the state capital is about to get easier to reach. Anthony Lambert celebrates this garden city

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Travel Essentials

Why go now?

The relaxed and friendly capital of South Australia gets better connected to the UK from 1 November, when Emirates starts flying from Dubai with links from six British airports.

The move coincides with early summer in Adelaide, showing the city at its best as life moves outside – with citizens taking advantage of the city's parkland, pavement cafés and the long beach that fringes the west of the city.

When the new year begins, Australia's equivalent of the Tour de France takes place around Adelaide. The Santos Tour Down Under (20-27 January 2013; tourdownunder.com.au) is the first step in the UCI WorldTour world cycling calendar.

Touch down

From November, Emirates (0844 800 2777; emirates.com) will fly non-stop from Dubai to Adelaide, with connections from Birmingham, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow, Manchester and Newcastle. The service expands from four times a week to daily in February. The existing one-stop alternatives, from Heathrow only, are on Singapore Airlines (0844 800 2380; singaporeair.co.uk) and Qantas via Singapore (08457 747767; qantas.co.uk).

Adelaide's handy airport is only 6km south-west of the city centre; the 15-minute journey by taxi costs about A$20 (£13) and the fare on JetBus routes J1 and J2 is A$4.40 (£3).

Get your bearings

The central business district is easy to navigate thanks to its grid layout. The "CBD" is separated by the River Torrens from the largely 1880s residential district of North Adelaide, a swathe of pretty single-storey houses with lots of frilly ironwork and verandas. Both areas are surrounded by loops of green belt, giving Adelaide the feel of a garden city.

Verdant Victoria Square is the planned heart. The quadrant to its north-east is the principal shopping district, surrounding pedestrianised Rundle Mall.

At its west end is the main tourist information centre (1) (00 61 8 8203 7611; southaustralia.com).

The city has excellent public transport; Adelaide Metro buses and trams within the central area are free. The single tram line runs the length of King William Street from the city's main concert stage at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre (2), and the railway station (3) to the coastal resort of Glenelg.

Check in

Almost on Victoria Square, the Medina Grand Treasury (4) at 2 Flinders Street (00 61 8 8112 0000; medina.com.au) occupies the former 19th-century Treasury and Mint building and has doubles from A$200 (£133) including breakfast.

Overlooking Victoria Square, the Hilton Adelaide (5) (00 61 8 8217 2000; hilton.com) is close to Chinatown and the covered Central Market, with dozens of artisan food producers. The hotel has an outdoor heated pool, tennis court and sauna. Doubles start at A$164 (£110), including breakfast.

The modern Central YHA (6) at 135 Waymouth Street (00 61 8 8414 3010; yha.com.au) is one of Australia's best hostels and has doubles with private bath from A$88 (£59), excluding breakfastanded.”

Day One

Take a view

The Adelaide Oval (7) is one of the world's most attractive cricket grounds and the scene of epic Ashes battles, most recently during England's victorious tour in 2010/11. Just to the north, fringed by a homogeneous collection of buildings dating back to the 1880s, is a statue of Colonel William Light known as Light's Vision (8). Adelaide's first surveyor-general, laid out the city in 1836 to a regimented pattern but with parklands, planning a southern Utopia. It was on this rise, known as Montefiore Hill, that Light is thought to have surveyed the terrain.

Take a hike

Continue from Light's Vision (8) up Jeffcott Street to reach Wellington Square, at the heart of a grid of tree-lined streets that predate England's Garden City movement by almost two decades. The tree-filled centre of the square is overlooked by the Wellington Hotel (9) (00 61 8 8267 1322; wellingtonhotel.com.au), now a restaurant and pub with half a dozen beers on the pump.

Many buildings are of historical and architectural interest and have discreet blue plaques to that effect. Nearby, the former Primitive Methodist Church, which was built in an exuberant classical style, is a complete contrast to the austere style favoured by the faithful back in England and Wales.

Turn east off the square along the wide Tynte Street and you'll come to the buildings that would have fostered the civic life of the new colonists fresh out from Britain: the Friendly Society Hall of 1879; the North Adelaide Hotel of 1881 (now an Irish pub); the 1884 North Adelaide Institute, and the Rechabite Hall built for the undoubtedly optimistic South Australian Total Abstinence Society in 1858.

Lunch on the run On the corner of Tynte Street and O'Connell Street is a popular neighbourhood café, Scuzzi (10) (00 61 8 8239 2233), which serves a variety of Italian dishes and pizza from A$13 (£8.50). A smoked salmon bruschetta with cream cheese, lettuce and pepper is A$8 (£5) and a warm chicken salad costs A$16.50 (£11).

Window shopping

RM Williams (11) at 6 Gawler Place (00 61 8 8232 3611; rmwilliams.com.au), specialises in durable Australian-made clothing, especially handcrafted boots.

On the pedestrian part of Rundle Avenue is the ornate façade of the Adelaide Arcade (12) (00 61 8 8223 5522; adelaidearcade.com. au), lined with pendant globes and tiled floors. Besides an organic café, there are small shops selling specialist items from pens, coins and militaria to penknives, banknotes and buttons.

Scrumptious luxury chocolates made by the oldest family-owned chocolatier in Australia, Haigh's (13), can be found at 2 Rundle Mall (00 61 8 8231 2844; haighs chocolates.com.au).

An aperitif

The bar of the Lion Hotel (14) at 161 Melbourne Street (00 61 8 8367 0222; thelionhotel.com) serves wines by the glass from A$6.50 (£4.50). All cocktails cost A$16 (£11); sample the Salivation of Pampero with rum, cherry bitters, mint and maraschino cherries.

Dining with the locals

For refined cuisine, try D'Artagnan's (15) at 26 O'Connell Street in North Adelaide (00 61 8 8267 6688; dartagnan.net.au; closed on Sunday and Monday). The cosy, stylish restaurant with dark grey and purple decor serves modern Australian cuisine, with Italian and French influences.

Pheasant terrine with apple, celeriac remoulade, tempura onions, mustard cress and cider is A$17 (£11.50), and pan-fried "fish of the day" served with seafood tortellini and braised endive is A$36 (£24).

Alternatively, try Bistro Dom (16) at 24 Waymouth Street (00 61 8 8231 7000; bistrodom.com.au), which occupies a long, thin building in the heart of the Central Business District. Gilt mirrors line one wall and the menu offers down-to-earth bistro fare, such as goat's cheese salad for A$16 (£10.50) and wild mushroom risotto at A$27 (£18).

Day Two

Sunday morning: go to church

Prominent on the slope leading up to North Adelaide, the stone neo-Gothic St Peter's Cathedral (17) was consecrated in 1878, though not completed until 1911. Symmetrical spired towers flank a rose window depicting scenes from Australian life and stories from the Bible. Sunday services are held at 8am and 10.30am.

Out to brunch

The National Wine Centre (18) (00 61 8 8303 3355; wineaust ralia.com.au) serves brunch from 9am at the Concourse Café overlooking the Botanic Garden (19). On offer are buttermilk pancakes A$10.50 (£7), eggs Benedict A$12.50 (£8.50) or a "big breakfast" at A$18 (£12).

A walk in the park

The outstanding Botanic Garden (19) (00 61 8 8222 9311; environment.sa.gov.au) features the Tropical House of 1877, with a grotto at one end contrasting with the rainforest Bicentennial Conservatory of 1988, taller than those at Kew.

Cultural afternoon

At 288 North Terrace is one of the city's grandest properties: Ayers House (20), now in the care of the National Trust (00 61 8 8224 0666; ayershouse.com). The former owner, Sir Henry Ayers was a beneficiary of the regional copper boom and the great rock at Australia's heart – now known as Uluru – was named after him. His Adelaide home was built for parliamentary dinners and grand balls, but many of the rooms have a domestic feel.It opens 1-4pm at weekends, 10am-4pm from Tues-Fri, A$10 (£6.60).

Take a ride

Board the Glenelg tram to the terminus near the beach (A$4.10/£2.70). The last stop is alongside the former town hall, which is now the Bay Discovery Centre (glenelgsa.com.au/ baydiscover; 10am–5pm daily). It tells the story of South Australia's colonisation, and describes the first royal visit, in 1867 when Prince Alfred landed at Glenelg pier. A walk along the front takes you past past a swimming pool with some impressive slides. There are miles of beaches – or join the locals diving off the pier.