Small but perfectly formed, Adelaide is a city that follows a grand colonial plan. Stand on North Terrace to best admire its orderly layout, drawn up in 1837 by one Colonel William Light, an elegant English design that incorporates parkland at every turn. The huge sandstone villas lining North Terrace are backed by Botanic Park, the best loved of the 29 green spaces surrounding the city. Walking trails through these linked parks take visitors along river banks, boating lakes, past formal rose gardens, olive groves and out to the coast, just seven miles away.
Adelaide is a city that's easy to leave: its stellar wine regions, including the Adelaide Hills and venerable Barossa Valley, are all within half an hour's drive, dotted with wineries for tours, tastings and long lazy lunches. Within easy reach, too, are far wilder treats. This coastal city is closer to the outback than any other on the continent, so you can have a beach or bush experience and be back in time for dinner at one of the city's rising number of restaurants that serve sun-drenched regional produce. Traditionally something that was largely exported, regional produce such as oysters, lamb and beef are increasingly being put to very good use in city restaurants, paired with award-winning local wine.
Although Adelaide is arguably Australia's food capital (neighbouring Melbourne would, of course, beg to differ), it's not all about food and drink. This is a sporting city: Adelaide is the most romanticised leg for the Ashes Test cricket series, due to its beautiful village-green-style Oval cricket ground. The city also hosts Tour Down Under, the biggest pro cycling event outside Europe. But this month it's rugby that's bringing crowds to the city's otherwise peaceful parks: the International Rugby Sevens takes place in the Oval, this weekend.
Central Market. Rudely fresh oysters from nearby Eyre Peninsula, organic kangaroo steak and slices of smoked croc are just some of the delicacies you can expect at this, one of the Southern Hemisphere's largest markets. Also under this 19th-century roof are the city's best brunch spots (Zedz Café) and coffee (espresso at Lucia's).
South Australia Museum (samuseum.sa.gov.au). Apart from providing a splendid, shady pit-stop, this heavy-hitting cultural space has one of the finest collections of indigenous art in Australia.
A colonial tour. See the churches, cottages and colonial mansions of North Terrace (the stately boulevard south of Botanic Park). Take a guided tour through the colonial mansion of Ayers House Museum, a packed collection of 19th-century furniture, silver, paintings and costume illustrating life in 19th-century Adelaide.
Migration Museum (history.sa. gov.au). This former "Native School" was where Aboriginal children were forcibly boarded and educated by the colonial government. Now a museum, the exhibits include photos of 1940s' migrant life (including an endearing sepia gallery of Europeans setting up home in Nissen huts), and vintage luggage with stamps from China, UK, Italy and Russia. Plus some shocking facts about "White Australia" policy, which restricted immigration to Australia and ended only in 1973.
Bradman Collection at the State Library (slsa.sa.gov.au/bradman/). Adelaide is the Antipodean home of the Ashes' most contentious battles, yet its Oval is where cricket teams worldwide rejoice at finding a village green atmosphere and homely stadium. If you can't make a match, pop in for a tour of the ground (weekends at 10am), then head over to this museum to get a sense of how important Australia's powerhouse batsman, Don Bradman, was to the sport's historic development.
Sunday lunch out at the wineries. Take a half-hour drive out of the city into the vineyards of Adelaide Hills or the Barossa Valley – with cellars run by some of the continent's oldest viticulturist families, whose roots are intertwined with Australia's earliest migratory history. Venerable as it may be, this is where you'll find some of the region's most innovative chefs and pioneering wine labels.
Rundle Street East
North Terrace was the traditional home for Adelaide's hotels and cultural institutions, but lately the eastern extension to this "museum mile" and the tired Rundle Mall shopping area has been producing some of the city's most interesting bars and beds. The spanking new Crowne Plaza (crowneplaza.com) brings a bit of international buzz to Hindmarsh Square, and bars such as Distill offer youthful evenings, including "Au Haus" playing retro tunes in a space decorated with laundry lines and washing machines. Boutiques including Sooki and Birdcage show the latest designs from jewellery and frocks to surf kit.
Dehydrated pork scratchings, bubbly as packing material but far tastier, dusted with cumin and fennel: just one of the highlights on the menu at this new food science spot. Eggs are served at a precise temperature and the dish "vegetable patch" (above) comes complete with soil and snails. If this all sounds a bit last-century Heston Blumenthal, then just add some stellar South Australian produce to the mix. This makes for a must-eat (and must-be-seen-at) Adelaide dining spot.
Art Gallery of South Australia
The newly renovated Elder Wing of this landmark gallery will open its doors in June. This grand old building is upping its green credentials and exhibition space, so its fine colonial collection will be better displayed: the likes of H J Johnstone's evocative oil painting of the Murray River, and Tom Roberts's dramatic depiction of an outback sheep herder. Plus there will be temporary exhibitions, including the hotly awaited Relativity, from Australian artist and hyperrealist sculptor, Patricia Piccinini (16 April-26 June).
Tandanya, National Aboriginal Cultural Institute
Head here for some of Australia's most cutting-edge exhibitions by up-and-coming indigenous artists, with work that goes far beyond the usual dotty stuff. I was lucky enough to see a collection of photos by Bindi Cole documenting the "sistagirls", transgender islanders of the Torres Islands. Currently showing is a larger than life exhibition of Australian icons as seen by anarchic artist Reko Rennie.
"In Case of Emergency Break Glass" is a new show involving eight contemporary Australian glass artists, who use the medium as a conceptual tool to mine subjects as diverse as family, humanity, and the environment. The Jam Factory (above left) is Adelaide's coolest commercial gallery and exhibition space, subsidised by the South Australian government. Studios upstairs nurture graduate artists; shop and galleries below show accomplished collections, ranging from wildly conceptual to craft pieces that are temptingly pocketable.
Take a 20-minute tram ride to have sundowner cocktails at this new tapas bar, one of the handful overlooking the ever-expanding yachting marina at Glenelg. Sounds fancy, but Glenelg's small, colonial town centre, dolphin-populated waters and broad sandy beach are determinedly laid back.
How to get there
Sarah Barrell travelled to Australia as a guest of Tourism Australia (australia.com). Qantas (08457 747 767; qantas.com.au/uk) flies from Heathrow to Adelaide from £818 return. Crowne Plaza (00 61 8 8206 8888; crowneplaza.com) offers double rooms from £143 per night.