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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Adelaide

Adelaide, the laid-back capital of South Australia, is a world away from the urban powerhouses of Melbourne and Sydney. The only one of Australia’s state capitals to be founded by free settlers, Adelaide retains its independent spirit to this day, and it feels more like an oversized village than the country’s fifth most populated city. Guided tours are an ideal way to get the lay of the land—and, as a bonus, you're likely to end up seeing far more of Adelaide and her environs than you’d manage on your own. With its proud Victorian architecture, picturesque waterfront, and burgeoning art scene, effortlessly cultured Adelaide (the annual Adelaide Festival of Arts draws huge crowds) can be easily explored on a walking tour. Stroll the beachside promenade of Glenelg, soak up the atmosphere of the Adelaide Central Markets, or tour the famous Adelaide Oval stadium. The area’s real highlights lie just beyond the city borders. Food-lovers can venture into the Adelaide Hills, then indulge in wine tasting amid the vineyards of the Barossa Valley or the McLaren Vale wine regions; while nature lovers can discover Australia’s longest river on a Murray River cruise. Those who venture a little farther afield can swap the city for the tranquil resort of Victor Harbor along the Fleurieu Peninsula, or spot loads of wildlife on the most quintessentially Aussie of all islands—Kangaroo Island.
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North Terrace
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For a taste of new-world Adelaide, travelers make a stop at Rundle Mall. But for a look at the city’s historic past and contemporary culture there is no place better than North Terrace. The mile-long avenue passes by the art center, parliament house, national library, university and Botanical Gardens, as well as an iconic church from 1838 and a restored 1920s railway station. Large grassy fields and tall shade trees provide the perfect resting place for an afternoon picnic, while a number of pubs mean travelers are always within reach of a cold, refreshing drink.

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Haigh’s Chocolates Visitor Centre
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When most people think of chocolate they think European. Belgium, Switzerland—these are nations known for creating smooth and creamy pure cocoa treats. But Aussies know some of the most decadent chocolate pleasures are made at their very own Haigh’s Chocolates. Since 1915 this fourth generation, family owned company has been churning out candies that are worth the trip. From classic dark chocolates to new salted caramels, travelers can find a taste of Australia at one of the company’s 14 retail stores across the country—including six in Adelaide.

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Adelaide Botanic Garden
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Stroll, jog or find yourself a grassy patch to read a book in the splendid, city-fringe Adelaide Botanic Garden, established in the 1850s. Highlights here include a unique prefabricated palm house (1877), the Museum of Economic Botany (check out its stencilled ceiling), and the 1988 Bicentennial Conservatory, which recreates a tropical rainforest environment.

Comprising the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide are two other sites: the Mount Lofty Botanic Garden and Wittunga Botanic Garden. Mount Lofty is less than half an hour from the city centre and has plants which thrive in cooler climates than those of the plains below. Wittunga in the Adelaide Hills was once the private Garden of Edwin Ashby and has been open to the public since 1975. It is a popular place for picnics.

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Adelaide Oval
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People come to America to watch baseball and they go to Australia to watch cricket. The Adelaide Oval, located in the parklands between city center and North Adelaide, has been home to two teams, as well as the South Australian Cricket Association. Built in 1871, lights were not added to this 54,500-seat stadium until 1997.

The Adelaide Oval is an ideal spot for catching both international and domestic cricket, as well as Australian rules football games, rugby and soccer. The stadium has also proved a successful music venue, with acts like Paul McCartney, Madonna and Michael Jackson taking the stage.

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Adelaide Central Market
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Remember the days of buying your fresh fruit and vegetables direct from the people who grow it? The thrill of bargaining, and buying according to what's in season, with a recommendation of what's best tasting at the moment and how you should eat it? You can still experience that at Adelaide Central Market.

For 140 years this market in the heart of the city has been providing residents with fresh produce. Over 80 stalls selling direct from the producers, include fruit and vegetables, meats and seafood, bakeries, cheeses, small goods and plants and flowers. There are cafes to rest in with a coffee or snack after an invigorating session of bargaining.

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Victoria Square
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Victoria Square is actually a rectangle—a cheeky point of geometric contention amongst the locals who sprawl on its grass. Every day, particularly around lunchtime, you can find office workers enjoying an outdoor lunch on a shaded table or bench, or families playing with young children around the famous three-spouted fountain.

More than just a public square, however, Victoria Square is where the Adelaide community gathers for outdoor events. Enjoy outdoor yoga classes and community vegetable gardens or evening concerts in the park, and since the square is within walking distance of notable sights such as the teeming Central Market, it’s always a flurry of pedestrian activity and is unbeatable for its energy and people watching. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the ground where the modern day square is built was a traditional Aboriginal gathering place, and cultural groups still assemble today to partake in ceremony and song.

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South Australian Museum
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This museum, with its huge whale skeleton in the front window, is one of Adelaide's landmarks. The enthralling exhibits showcase Australia's natural history and include a gallery devoted to Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson (with expedition footage). The absorbing Aboriginal Cultures Gallery displays artifacts of the region's Ngarrindjeri people.

Six floors of exhibits range from the focus on Australian and Pacific collections all the way through to the popular Ancient Egyptian room. There is a major fossil collection including perhaps the oldest piece found at 550 million years old. You can bring your own finds in for identification at the Discovery Center and visit the Information Center to find out more about Australia's Indigenous cultural heritage.

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Rundle Mall
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Some 400,000 customers flock to this shopping Mecca every week—including 85% of Adelaide’s international travelers. With 700 retailers it’s no surprise. Make a stop at the Adelaide Visitors Information Center, where friendly staff and a library of brochures offer up advice on what to do, where to go and what not to miss in the area. Next walk through Adelaide and Gays Arcade, where beautiful skylights line the ceiling. Retailers here were the first in the country to have electric lights, and locals believe six ghosts live in the arcade, including a caretaker who fell to his death repairing the generator that powered the lights.

Browse the shelves at one of the mall’s dozens of books stores before heading to Haighs for a famous chocolate frog. The fourth generation family owned business is an Australian staple, and has been whipping up its famous cocoa treats since 1915.
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Adelaide Zoo
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Around 1,800 exotic and native mammals, birds, reptiles and fish reside at the 8-hectare Adelaide Zoo, comprising 300 species. Major attractions include the Southeast Asian rainforest exhibit, Immersion, a walkthrough jungle environment where tigers and orangatuns feel within reach. Also the giant pandas Wang Wang and Funi!

Opened in 1883, it is Australia's second-oldest zoo and the only not-for-pro fit zoo in the country. Many of the structures are National Trust registered although these, such as the elephant house, these days are used for educational exhibits while the animals have moved to more natural environments. There is a Children's Zoo where you can pet animals including kangaroos and koalas, and the Envirodome, an education/interactive center.

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More Things to Do in Adelaide

Parliament House

Parliament House

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It took 65 years for this building to be erected, but despite major delays it’s a stately structure Aussies are seriously proud of. Daily tours provide access to Chambers and the chance to view historic documents, like the Magna Carta, up close and in person. Permanent exhibits on women in government and an impressive art collection—including one of the world’s largest tapestries and an outdoor sculpture garden—make this a cultural destination for visitors locally and aboard.

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National Wine Centre of Australia

National Wine Centre of Australia

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Australia is known for its excellent wine and South Australia has always been at the heart of this thriving industry. But how do all those grapes you see growing as you drive by end up in your glass and tasting so delicious? The National Wine Center of Australia aims to explain that. In an impressive architecturally-designed building overlooking the Botanic Gardens, you can take the Wine Discovery Experience and have an interactive lesson in wine-making. Don't know your Shiraz from your Merlot? There are courses in wine appreciation: impress your friends with your knowledge of grape varieties and wine styles.

If just enjoying the stuff with good food is more your style, head for the Concourse Cafe and taste and purchase the wines you try with your meal. After, stroll through the center's own vineyard and appreciate just what a high tech business wine-making has become.

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Adelaide Gaol

Adelaide Gaol

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This now defunct prison in the heart of Thebarton was the first home of criminals in South Australia. While it serves as a museum today, Adelaide Gaol held lawbreakers and convicts between 1841 and 1988. Life was hard here and executions and torture were a part of daily life.

Travelers who journey to this top attraction will find plenty to do and see on a tour of this historical icon, and visitors say the guided day and evening tours are an ideal way to not only learn about the history of Adelaide Gaol, but those who once called its walls home, too. Travelers who opt for a self-guided tour will still find impressive displays with well-marked information and plenty of historical context.

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Light's Vision

Light's Vision

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Sometimes referred to as Light’s Vision, this lookout on Montefiore Hill is named after Colonel William Light, the founding father of Adelaide. During the summer of 1837, Light was put in charge of selecting and surveying the site for the city. A life-sized statue of Colonel Light sits here, having been originally erected in Victoria Square but moved in 1938 to create Light's Vision on top of Montefiore Hill. Local legend says it’s where he looked out and began planning the city.

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Waterfall Gully

Waterfall Gully

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Migration Museum

Migration Museum

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Present-day Australia is a country based on immigration. This fascinating and unmissable museum tells the stories of the migrants who came from all over the world to make South Australia their home - where did they come from, why, and how did they get here? There's information on over 100 nationalities in their database, along with poignant personal stories displayed to full effect including some hands-on displays.

Paying respect to the indigenous people of the country, there are also displays of Pre-European Australia and the impact that immigration has had on Indigenous people. Through its education service, the museum actively works to teach about cultural diversity and tolerance.

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Glenelg Tram

Glenelg Tram

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The city of Adelaide is close to the beach, but isn’t exactly on it. To reach the white sand beaches of Glenelg—a teeming suburb of streetside cafés and fiery evening sunsets—all that’s required is a short ride on the historic Glenelg Tram. Dating back to 1873, the Glenelg Tram line is an Adelaide icon that’s beloved by city residents. It’s the only remaining tram line in the city and a physical link to yesteryear, and it’s also a convenient and affordable way for moving about the town.

Historic H-class cars were used on the tram up until 2006, and while they’ve since been replaced by a more modern fleet, the original cars will sometimes be inserted on Sundays and public holidays. From the large glass windows of the slowly moving tram, watch as the scenery gradually changes from city, to suburb, to beach. The tram is actually free to ride within the downtown city center, although passengers traveling all the way to Glenelg can buy their tickets on board.

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R.M. Williams Outback Heritage Museum

R.M. Williams Outback Heritage Museum

This one-of-a-kind museum showcases the life and times of Australia’s most successful businessman. Housed on the land where RM William’s original iron woodshed once stood, the Outback Heritage Museum is an homage to the famous icon from Down Under. Travelers can comb through a collection of saddles and horse riding paraphernalia, old journals and well-worn clothes and boots. Plus, DVD touch screens and detailed texts allow visitors to learn more about RM William’s life from the man himself.

In addition to impressive family archives, travelers can learn more about the history of Australia’s bushmen and stock up on RM Williams brand boots and shoes—one of the museum store’s hottest sellers.

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Mt. Lofty

Mt. Lofty

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The highest point in the aptly named Mt Lofty Ranges, Mt Lofty is a luxurious place to get sweeping views of Adelaide and out onto the Indian Ocean.

The views aren’t all there is to Mt Lofty. A comprehensive visitors centre, shop, and fully licensed café are situated on the mountain’s summit, giving visitors information on the area, a place to shop for souvenirs and a beautiful place to eat lunch. Mt Lofty isn’t just about views – even if you can see all the way out to Kangaroo Island on a clear day. Though only a short drive from the CBD, the area around Mt Lofty is covered by bushland. Mt Lofty is surrounded by the Cleland Conservation Park on one side, and hosts its own botanic garden in which visitors can see a host of native Australian plants and the wide variety of birdlife that is drawn to them. Getting off the summit, hiking and mountain biking are popular ways to take advantage of the mountain’s relative wilderness.

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McLaren Vale

McLaren Vale

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McLaren Vale is an area just outside Adelaide towards the coast which is renowned for the wine it produces. With 76 cellar doors to visit, it's worth spending at least a day exploring, if not a weekend. And it's not just wine, the local foodies are passionate about what their kitchens produce.

When you've eaten and sipped your fill, there are many other things to do including bushwalking, heading to the surf beach, following the Art Trail, going fishing, horse-riding, cycling or just sitting on a cliff watching the sunset.

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Hahndorf

Hahndorf

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As Australia’s oldest German settlement, Hahndorf is a unique tourist destination. Hahndorf is nestled in the Adelaide Hills just 20 minutes’ drive from the Adelaide City CBD. German influences are the key to Hahndorf’s charm – architecture, stores, bakeries, restaurants and wineries all owe their style to the German heritage of the town.

The first residents of Hahndorf arrived in Adelaide in 1838 – the name of the town coming from the captain of the ship on which they arrived. When war broke out in 1914, the South Australian Government at the time decided to change the very German name of the town. Hahndorf became Ambleside until the late 1930s, when the name was reverted to its original German. For visitors, Hahndorf offers the experience of Europe just outside an Australian metropolis. Day-trippers can indulge in tours of the local wineries which produce some of the world’s finest cold weather wines and eat at gourmet restaurants.

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Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island

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Kangaroo Island is a bit of paradise off the coast of South Australia. 96 miles (155 km) in length with a population of just 4,400 people, it is an unspoiled haven for Australia's native birds and animals. Kangaroos and koalas abound, and on the beaches sealions bask while pelicans fly overhead. From sand dunes to rugged cliffs, golden beaches to dense forests, the island really has it all. As well as natural beauty, Kangaroo Island is known for its good eating. Wines, fresh fish, local honey and goats' cheese are just some of the specialties. A popular but unspoiled holiday destination, the island also has art galleries, massage and spa retreats and swimming with dolphins . Kangaroo Island is surprisingly large and though the island can be visited in one day trip from Adelaide, spending at least two days will allow to further discover the beauty and wildlife diversity the place has to offer.
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