A city guide to Adelaide

With a host of new hotels and airline routes, a thriving local music scene and two renowned wine regions on the laid-back city’s doorstep, Adelaide is a city with mass appeal.

By Shaney Hudson
photographs by Chris Van Hove
Published 23 Aug 2019, 15:27 BST
East End, Adelaide.
Travellers heading to Adelaide's East End will find boutique ateliers, local fashion houses, charity shops and vintage clothing stores, as well as a selection of street art and small bars and cafes.
Photograph by Chris Van Hove

It’s rare a city will catch you by surprise, but Adelaide likely will. For a long time, the Australian metropolis was overshadowed by Sydney, Melbourne and even Perth. Known as the City of Churches, it was no match for Australia’s east coast cool or its west coast wealth. And yet what was once a second-tier capital city best known as a jumping-off point for Kangaroo Island, is a destination in its own right. 

Both the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale wine regions are around a 45-minute drive from the CBD (Central Business District). From cellar doors to distilleries and farms to fine dining, tour operators, owners and growers have upped their game, with a new range of bespoke experiences available. 

The ambitious d’Arenberg Cube in McLaren Vale made its mark on the international scene when it opened in a vineyard in December 2017. Part museum, part restaurant, part winery tasting room, the striking building — loosely resembling a Rubik’s cube — could easily have been a white elephant, but instead it helped Adelaide recast itself as the city of wine. 

The payoff of it all has begun: in the year to March 2018, the number of international visitors to South Australia increased by 9% to 475,000, while Adelaide itself has been in the spotlight for a number of high-profile awards. These include the 2018 Basque Culinary World Prize for chef Jock Zonfrillo, whose restaurant, Orana, claimed the top spot at the 2019 Good Food GuideAwards (Australia’s equivalent of the Michelin Guide). This followed the city being named Australia’s first UNESCO City of Music in 2015, in recognition of its thriving music scene.

Beyond the accolades, the city is also increasing its capacity to accommodate visitors. A new international terminal at Adelaide Airport is being built as an expanding number of international carriers begin to offer new routes to the city. A series of luxury hotels are under construction, too, including Sequoia at Mount Lofty House — set to become one of the city’s most iconic designer hotels when it opens in December.

It’s the relaxed feel that makes Adelaide distinct from any other Australian city. It’s hard not to be envious of the lifestyle enjoyed by the locals here. Adelaide has the culture, nightlife and amenities of a big city, but the benefits of a regional food and wine scene on its doorstep — and there’s never been a better time to discover it.

‘The Mall’s Balls’, two reflective steel spheres stacked one on top of the other, at Rundle Mall, the city’s main shopping district in the CBD.
Photograph by Chris Van Hove

See and do

Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute: Aboriginal owned and managed, Tandanya is one of the best places to connect with indigenous culture in Adelaide. It contains a performance space, galleries and a gift shop stocked with authentic arts and crafts, while exhibitions focus on the modern indigenous experience, touching on a range of environmental and social justice issues.

Art Gallery of South Australia: Bold, progressive and exciting, the Art Gallery of South Australia arranges its collections thematically rather than according to established art movements (it also lets the artists scribble on the walls). Expect to see the largest collection of Rodins in the Southern Hemisphere, alongside a five-legged headless horse hanging from an oil rig and a red room woven with over 100 kilometres of wool.

Museum of South Australia: As well as being home to everything from an 11-metre giant squid suspended in a darkened, disused lift shaft to a stunning opalised dinosaur fossil, the Museum of South Australia showcases the biggest collection of Aboriginal Australian artifacts in the world, highlighting the incredible depth and diversity of indigenous culture across Australia.

Mounty Lofty Summit: The mountaintop lookout offers stunning views of the Fleurieu Peninsula and the ocean beyond. Keep
an eye out for wild koalas in the trees — largely unnoticed by visitors passing below.

Adelaide Central Market: The biggest covered market in the Southern Hemisphere is the perfect place to get a feel for what makes produce in South Australia so special. Don’t miss the Indigenous food stall and for an insider’s perspective, consider taking a guided tour of the market with Food Tours Australia.

Wine country: Adelaide has two spectacular wine regions: Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale. The former is renowned for its small farms and sophisticated cellar-door experiences, as well as the ‘German town’ of Hahndorf, Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement. Located by the coast, McLaren Vale (home to the d’Arenberg cube) is best known for its Shiraz. To get there, rent a car, or take a wine tour with Coast & Co that includes 4x4 drive along the beach.  

Magill Estate Cellar Door: Five miles from the CBD, this wine estate dates back to 1844 and is home to one of the world’s few urban vineyards. While here, take a tour of the barrel and fermenting rooms, with tastings and lunch available at the historic cellar door.

Adelaide Bar Boys offers tours of Adelaide’s bar scene, including hidden speakeasies and bars with board games.
Photograph by Chris Van Hove


Sho: This eight-seater yakitori (grilled chicken served on a skewer) bar is part of Japanese restaurant Shobosho. Alongside this main snack, it also serves dumplings and ramen, with beer and Suntory whisky highballs on tap.

Osteria Oggi: Book ahead for a meal at popular modern Italian restaurant Osteria Oggi, where the pasta is handmade and served at communal tables, the aperitif selection is inspiring, and the espresso among the best in the city.

Orana: Fine dining restaurant Orana showcases the cuisine of acclaimed chef Jock Zonfrillo — Scottish born with Italian roots and a passion for Australian produce. The tasting menu draws heavily on native seasonal ingredients sourced by indigenous communities throughout Australia, while standout dishes on the tasting menu have included emu with wild plum and mountain pepper.

After hours

The Gov: At this live music venue, the Front Bar hosts everything from the Adelaide Ukulele Appreciation Society to open mic sessions, while the Venue, its larger space, attracts big-name acts.

Adelaide Bar Boys: The company offers tours of Adelaide’s bar scene — stops include a speakeasy hidden behind a fireplace (Lindes Lane) and a bar with board games (BrainHackr: Board Game Bar & Cafe). Drinks and food included.

West End: Head to the West End for two of Adelaide’s nightlife hotspots. On Leigh Street, pop into Pink Moon Saloon’s House of Fire & Drink — a Scandi-style hut. Peel Street, meanwhile, is home to a number of small bars, including Maybe Mae, a speakeasy located in the basement of Bread & Bone wood grill.

Like a local

On two wheels: Adelaide’s CBD is surrounded by a ring of green spaces — and free bikes are available throughout the city centre. A popular route to the northern suburbs heads along Frome Street and across the river, past the zoo, where giraffes can often be seen craning their necks over the fence at rush hour. bikesa.asn.au

Slice of life: Grab a coffee and a bite at Lucia’s Pizza and Spaghetti Bar at Adelaide Market, one of the oldest cafes in the city and also the first place in Adelaide to serve pizza back in the 1950s.

Time for a tipple: Occupying 207 acres in the Adelaide Hills, Lot 100 comprises five local producers, making cider, wine, fruit juice, craft beer, and gin and whisky, respectively. There’s a tasting space-cum-restaurant that specialises in Italian-inspired cuisine, and visitors can picnic on sprawling lawns.

Bird in Hand Winery, Adelaide Hills.
Photograph by Chris Van Hove


Rundle Mall: As well as being the city’s main shopping district, Rundle Mall, in the CBD, is home to some quirky street art, including life-size brass pigs and the ‘Mall’s Balls’, two reflective steel spheres stacked one on top of the other.

Haigh’s chocolates: Australia’s oldest family-owned chocolate producer, Haigh’s selection boxes make the perfect gift option for friends, family and colleagues — if they make it home. Our pick? The giant milk peppermint chocolate frogs.

Adelaide Arcade: Opened in 1885, Adelaide Arcade is home to a number of small businesses (cobblers, coffee shops and button sellers) and a museum displaying local artifacts.

East End: Located between Frome Street and East Terrace, the East End is home to boutique ateliers, local fashion houses, charity shops and vintage clothing stores, as well as a lively selection of street art and small bars and cafes.


Ibis Styles Adelaide Grosvenor: Expect top-notch facilities as well as clean, functional guest rooms and an excellent location on North Terrace, near the train station, museum and gallery.

Majestic Rooftop Garden: Situated near the vibrant East End, rooms at the Majestic Rooftop Garden are refreshingly classic, with no unnecessary design flourishes. Instead, the focus is on comfort (king-size beds in every room) and efficient, fuss-free service.

Mayfair Hotel: Guests at the Mayfair can enjoy honey from the hotel’s rooftop hives as part of their breakfast, a free mini-bar stocked with bottles from Hills Cider Co. Cider, and a 13th-floor rooftop bar with stunning views across the city.


Getting there & around

Qantas flies direct from London to Perth with connections to Adelaide. Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and China Southern Airlines all offer connections from London. 

Average flight time: 23h.

Adelaide is known as the ‘20-minute city’, as most key sites are no more than 20 minutes from one another. During the day, free public hire bikes are widely available, while a free City Connector bus service covers the centre and north, and a free tram runs between the South Terrace and Festival Plaza. The A$25 (£14) Visitor Pass grants three days unlimited travel on trains, trams and buses. adelaidemetro.com.au  bikesa.asn.au

When to go

With its Mediterranean climate, Adelaide is a great year-round destination, although summer (December-February) can be very hot, hitting 35C. Spring (September-November) and autumn (March-May) are best, with temperatures in the low 20Cs. Winters average around 16C.

The Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Fringe and WOMADelaide festival take place in February/March, one of the busiest times for the city. festivalsadelaide.com.au

More info

Lonely Planet South Australia & Northern Territory. RRP: £15.99.

How to do it

Expedia has three nights at the Mayfair Hotel, including return flights with Singapore Airlines from Heathrow from £1,305 per person.

Published in the September 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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