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City guides

Adelaide city guide: Where to stay, eat, drink and shop in Australia’s cool south-coast city

This southern coastal city has lovely architecture, a mega-stadium, and dolphin-spotting and wine tastings on its doorstep, says David Whitley

Thursday 23 February 2023 15:56 GMT
<p>Rymill Park and Adelaide’s skyscrapers </p>

Rymill Park and Adelaide’s skyscrapers

There was a time when Adelaide was Australia’s dullest major city, with few draws for tourists (at one point, tourism authorities promoted it as being great for having lots of churches). Mercifully, times have changed. These days, the South Australian capital brims with laneway bars and restaurants, revels in the world class wine regions on its doorstep, and throws itself whole-heartedly into a gargantuan festival calendar.

On top of this, the Adelaide Fringe festival, running from 17 February to 19 March this year, is the second biggest annual arts festival in the world after Edinburgh’s. Crucially, though, Adelaide is a fantastically easy-going introduction to Australia. Beaches, parks and hills make the most of the sunshine, while cultural and indulgent streaks also get ample attention.

Read more on Australia travel:

Adelaide works as a gateway in its own right – land here to explore wine and wildlife in South Australia – and an urban change of pace at the end of the extended, nature-packed Great Ocean Road driving holiday from Melbourne.

You can see dolphins off the coast of Adelaide

What to do

Stroll North Terrace

You’ll find the handsome heritage buildings that have long been Adelaide’s calling card clustered around North Terrace. A stroll east from the shamelessly grand railway station to the sprawling-but-serene Botanic Gardens passes a blizzard of 19th century government and university buildings.

The essential stop, however, is the South Australian Museum (free entry). The Australian Aboriginal Cultures gallery here does a brilliant job of preconception-busting, showing how hundreds of different Indigenous cultures have evolved in Australia over 65,000 years.

Swim with dolphins from Glenelg

Beach suburb Glenelg, a 35-minute tram ride from central Adelaide, is all fun, sun and fish and chips – look out for daredevil kids jumping off the jetty. But it’s also the starting point for Temptation Sailing’s dolphin-watching cruises ($130/ £75). The twist on this tour is that guests can slide into the water, grab on to a rope, and get pulled along by the catamaran as curious wild dolphins swim alongside.

Climb the Adelaide Oval

Adelaide’s answer to the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb involves clambering all over the scallop-shaped roofs of the city’s beloved cricket ground. The Adelaide Oval Roofclimb (from $109/ £63) is a low intensity adventure, where harnesses are clipped on to specially-installed rails at all times, and the prime stadium and coastline views are undeniably splendid.

Sports-lovers might prefer the standard stadium tour ($25/ £14), which heads inside the giant, gloriously idiosyncratic, manually operated scoreboard.

Adelaide Central Market

Spot Aussie wildlife at Morialta

A yearning for wholesome outdoorsiness can be indulged at the Morialta Conservation Park, on the city’s western fringe. This bushland reserve has a series of waterfalls daintily plunging through it. There’s also a network of walking trails through trees where native birds – and more importantly, koalas – like to hang out. The 1.6km First Falls Walk through Morialta Gorge is the classic easy intro, but there are half day hikes for anyone coveting a more vigorous workout.

Where to stay

The Hotel Indigo Adelaide Markets greets with an assault of colour and a deliberately social lobby and café area. There’s a genuine sense of place, with Adelaide Festival posters over the walls, all-local items in the mini bar and red décor flourishes that nod to the Chinatown setting. The Merrymaker rooftop bar, with its pink chairs, 270 degree views and lychee martinis, has quickly become a hangout for locals.

Inventively wrapped around the city’s famous cricket ground, the Oval Hotel could have fallen into the trap of sports-themed tackiness. Instead, rooms opt for the gentle hug of wood panelling, savvily designed touch button controls and soothing views over the surrounding riverside parklands. You can also have breakfast overlooking the immaculately-trimmed cricket pitch.

As ever in Australia, there’s great value in the holiday parks. But Adelaide is rare among the big cities in having such parks in genuinely desirable coastal spots. The Big4 West Beach has a plum beachside location and surprisingly spacious family-friendly cabins with kitchenettes. There may be issues getting the kids away from the poolside splash park and mini golf course, mind.

Where to eat

Restaurant Botanic is Adelaide’s truly world class place to eat – expect it to be bothering the upper reaches of world’s best restaurant lists soon. It is proper splash-out, once in a decade dining experience territory, with set menus of 20-plus “flavour combinations” costing from £152pp. Many ingredients are foraged from the Botanic Gardens, with dishes served in leaves or skewered on sticks. There’s a commendable devotion to Indigenous fruits, meats and plants and everything is served with theatrical flourish.

Less fancy, but overlooking the gardens in a foliage-drenched, verandah-decked North Terrace heritage building, Golden Boy offers tarted-up Thai dishes such as a wagyu massaman curry and a whole barramundi with mango salad. Mains cost around £15.

The biggest concentration of good quality restaurants and bars, however, comes in the Peel Street and Leigh Street laneways. You can’t go too far wrong picking at random here, but Fugazzi on Leigh Street is the buzziest spot for sharing plates and seriously impressive steaks. The lavish, marble-topped Italian-American vibe is reflected in the menu. This is the sort of place where a meal out with friends becomes rowdily decadent, and extra bottles of wine are ill-advisedly ordered.

Penfolds Magill Estate winery has views over the city

Where to drink

An underground cocktail joint hidden behind a circular door between Peel and Leigh Streets, Maybe Mae is deliberately dark and old school. It’s a joint where the bartender’s conversation counts for as much as their concoctions, and the menu puts heavy focus on seasonal ingredients. The “Clare de Lune” with quince, pear, vanilla, pisco and Lillet blanc is incredibly seductive.

Penfold’s, Australia’s most-celebrated winemaker, started at the Magill Estate in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs. You can just rock up to the bar and buy a glass of whatever you fancy, but the £15 history-drenched winery tours and £23 guided cellar door tastings of the premium Shiraz range are more memorable.

Between December and April, a Balearics-style beach bar comes to the sands of Glenelg Beach. The Moseley Beach Club does a good line in cold beers and thirst-quenching cocktails in deckchairs and day beds. For the rest of the year, the Marina Sunset Bar is the default spot for Glenelg glam.

Public art in Adelaide

Where to shop

Rundle Mall is the main shopping strip, although it mostly houses Aussie equivalents of our own high street comfort blankets. The exception is Haigh’s Chocolates in the ‘Beehive’ building at the front. Haigh’s has been an unshakeable Adelaide institution for more than a century, with the chocolate frogs and honeycomb bars being much-loved signatures.

But your shopping is best saved for the justifiably beloved Adelaide Central Market, which has been ladling on the authenticity since 1870. There are strong European influences here, with Polish delis and bewildering collections of olives. But the cavalcade of South Australian cheeses, cured meats from the Adelaide Hills and small batch Kangaroo Island gins are what makes the stall-browsing session uncopiable.

The Oval stadium, Adelaide

Architectural highlight

The Adelaide Oval is the modern day star, but for sheer incongruity, it’s tough to top Ayers House. This 1870s mansion made of local bluestone sits in front of an ever-expanding roster of skyscrapers.

Nuts and bolts

What currency do I need?

Australian dollars.

What language do they speak?


Should I tip?

Tipping’s genuinely optional, and there’s no need for more than 10 per cent.

What’s the time difference?

GMT+ 10.5 hours

How should I get around?

The centre’s walkable and Adelaide Metro’s well-run collection of trams, trains and buses covers everywhere else.

What’s the best view?

See the city panorama from the summit of Mount Lofty, south-east of the centre.

Insider tip?

A few back alleys have been covered in street art devoted to local music legends. Sia Furler Lane, devoted to the singer Sia, who was born here, is just off Morphett Street.

Getting there

Trying to fly less?

Then you should probably avoid Australia, or swap this ultra-long-haul trip for several shorter ones: Adelaide involves a 22-hour connecting flight from the UK, followed by a two-hour domestic flight south. The best way to minimise the impact of a visit is to go just once and spend some time on the ground, really maximising that ultra-long-haul flight. Travel overland once there, and look into offsetting your carbon emissions as well.

Fine with flying?

British Airways, Qatar Airways, Qantas and Cathay Pacific, among others, have multi-leg flights to Australia.

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