If your style of travel involves getting in, doing all the main ‘attractions’ and then getting out again, you could probably race through Adelaide in a couple of days.
There’s not a lot of ‘sights’ as such and you could see the city in a day, another couple of days for Kangaroo Island and the Barossa Valley wine region and you could probably consider the job done.
It’s a small city, with just 1.3 million people. Even the locals say it is ‘more of a county town really’ although they are quick to point out that it is modern and cosmopolitan all the same. The city itself is a small area surrounded by parks and grassland on all sides. The suburbs, where most people live, stretch out in all directions from there.
A short tram ride from the city gets you to the beach in Glenelg and a short drive gets you to the Adelaide hills and the wine growing region. A car would make life a lot easier, and is really essential if you want to travel out of the city to the surrounding parts. I managed without. The city itself has an efficient bus service, it’s just a bit sporadic in the evening or at weekends.
Some of the more unusual/quirky things to do in Adelaide
So, you’ve done the ‘obvious’. You’ve visited the art and museum quarter, you’ve walked along the riverside and you’ve eaten your way around the ‘gourmet’ market. What else is there?
Track down all the street (and other free) art.
There is a lot of street art to find in Adelaide. OK, it’s not Melbourne, but there is still some really magnificent pieces. Adelaide is a lot more ‘curated’ than Melbourne, with the local authority commissioning pieces rather than graffiti-ists simply getting up and having a go. Some would say this improves the quality, but it depends how you look at it.
Good places to start looking are around Hindley street, Little Rundle street in Kent town.
Rundle shopping mall is also a good place to find art, including this cute little piggies sculpture:
Visit a former home for the criminally insane
Hidden away in Glenside, a leafy suburb of Adelaide (you can get a bus with just a short walk the other end), is this gem. Known as Z ward, originally it was called L ward but went for this name change after people started referring to it as Hell ward.
Many inmates were simply left there to see out their lives, since there was nowhere else to put them. The place closed in 1973 and the few remaining inmates were moved to various prisons in the state. The whole building was then left to decay, before being rescued by some local enthusiasts. The National Trust of SA now runs a programme of tours.
You can only go inside as part of an organised tour, they run day tours on some Saturdays (I took one of these) and also evening ghost tours.
The hospital would have housed up to 40 inmates. One feature is the ha-ha wall, a wall with a trench, so that it looks like a normal sized wall until you try to climb it. This is a technique brought over by European farmers as a way to keep their cattle from wandering, without building a high wall that is an eyesore for their neighbours.
Visit Hahndorf, the oldest German settlement in South Australia
You can get the bus to Hahndorf, although it’s easier and quicker by car. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops. Expect lots of German-themed gifts, cheese, wine, beer, chocolates and that sort of thing.
I found it a bit touristy, but I went on a Saturday; possibly a weekday would be a better choice. Some of the shops and cafes are quite unremarkable; they have a captive audience and so don’t put in a lot of effort, or that’s how it seemed to me. That said, I really enjoyed just walking around the place.
If you have your own transport there is a pick-your-own strawberry farm nearby, or you can visit the home of landscape painter Sir Hans Heysen. On the bus you’re limited to the small town itself really though, so I didn’t do either of those things.
Sunset at the beach, plus the Gumtree where Adelaide was founded
Glenelg is the nearest beach to the city. You can get the tram there. Really you can’t go wrong since there’s only one line, which goes from the city to the beach and back again.
Not only is it a nice beach with plenty of shops and cafes (plus a more up-market marina area depending how your budget stretches) but it does have the most spectacular sunsets too.
Whilst you’re there you can visit the spot where Adelaide was first declared by white settlers. In 1836 a group of British settlers, along with some indigenous people, gathered and proclaimed Adelaide officially a British colony. A kind of finders/keepers proclamation.
The spot is marked by a gum tree, bent over and long dead, now filled with concrete to preserve its heritage. It lives in a local park, just a short(ish) walk from the beach. Free.
I enjoyed the month or so I spent in Adelaide, although I went in January/February during the worse heatwave for decades and whilst I was getting over a bad chest infection, which is why I was moving incredibly slowly and didn’t do as much as I had hoped.
Last time I was in Australia I had been disappointed to have missed Adelaide and had been determined to get there this time. If I had been feeling better I would have hired a car and got out into the surrounding area a bit more, however I was beaten back by the extreme heat and by my own lethargy following more than a month of illness. Not to worry; the city itself had a lot to offer. It is a nice place to simply spend time, rather than race around ticking things off a list.
Where I stayed: Airbnb near Melbourne street. I would certainly recommend the area; there were plenty of restaurants with a mix of different foods plus a plethora of nearby parks. However prices were not cheap, either for the accommodation or for the nearby cafes.