Finding free things to do in Adelaide is not hard, in fact after spending 11 days in the city last May we probably tried more than the average visitor and possibly even more than some South Australian locals. Check out what we enjoyed before you plan how many days to stay. We think too many people don’t give this beautiful city enough credit.
Earlier this year, we found ourselves “stuck” in Adelaide for a little longer than planned. Our 2-week visit to the state turned into a five-week visit thanks to border closures. Along with exploring plenty of the best towns in South Australia, we found plenty of fun things to do in Adelaide, the city of churches.
We spent our first four days in Adelaide city staying at Ibis down by East Terrace. We thought this would be all we had so we were armed with a pretty fast-paced itinerary. We didn’t get through it so when we found we had some extra time to fill after our South Australia road trips before we could arrange flights back to Sydney we were more than happy to return to the capital and explore further.
Our second 5 days were spent at the other end of the city in a great apartment on King William Street near South Terrace.
- Getting the lay of the land.
- Book an Adelaide Greeter and get a local’s view
- Taste the foods Adelaide is famous for
- Check out all the Cultural Attractions on North Terrace
- Take a tour of some historic Adelaide pubs
- Ride the Adelaide Free Bus
- Rundle Mall
- Discover the city’s very impressive Street Art
- Explore the city’s Green Spaces
- Get out of the city centre for the day
- Where to stay in Adelaide
Getting the lay of the land.
Adelaide is an easy city to explore. Set out on a grid and surrounded by parkland and green spaces it does not take long to learn the lay of the land. In this respect, it reminded me very much of NYC, albeit much, much smaller!
Running down the centre is King William Street which joins South and North Terrace. Trams run along King William St, so if you get lost you can easily make your way back to the trams and orient yourself. For this reason, staying along this main street or nearby is a good choice.
Designed by Colonel William Light, he is the guy on the statue of him on the hill between North Adelaide the city was developed by free settlers who were cashed up enough to support the grand architectural style we see today.
One benefit of this planned city is the space. Adelaide has a number of hire scooter services and unlike in Sydney where this would cause complete chaos, the wide footpaths make this work really well. In fact, in 2021, Adelaide was named the third most liveable city in the world by The Economist and we quickly came to see why.
Book an Adelaide Greeter and get a local’s view
There are a bunch of great tourist attractions in Adelaide CBD and one of the best ways to orientate yourself and get local tips on how to make the most of your days here is to book an Adelaide Greeter. The free Greeter Service is offered via Adelaide City Council and we were lucky enough to meet one of their main volunteers Anne.
After a couple of brief email exchanges, we agreed to meet nice and early on Sunday morning, our second day in the city, and took a 2-hour stroll around Adelaides main sites. Anne shared some of the history of the city, pointed out some cafes and restaurants to try during our visit and taught us how to use the local free bus service. We took a stroll through the Botanic Gardens and along the Torrens. I can’t recommend this service highly enough – this is THE best free thing to do in Adelaide!
Taste the foods Adelaide is famous for
Adelaide has a reputation as a food city and the number of great bars and restaurants we tried supported this. It was easy to find great food so I am not going to fill this page with tips because we know you will find them easily enough. However, two places we really enjoyed were Bread and Bone in Peel Street, who along with great burgers do really tasting vegetarian eats and Miss Malay, a cheap and cheerful find on King William Street.
But Adelaide also has some iconic foods that every visitor should try starting with Australia’s favourite chocolate.
Haighs is a are a South Australian institution. Since 1915 this fourth-generation family-owned business has been serving delicious chocolate treats to Aussies. While you will find their stores across the country there are two local stores in the city centre worth noting. The larger is the shop at the top of Rundall Mall in the beautiful Beehive building, this was the first store opened. The other is in the historic Adelaide Arcade. You can also find them in the Adelaide Central Market. Pop in and grab a famous chocolate frog or chocolate fish.
Their other foodie claim to fame is the invention of the Aussie pie floater, a meat pie served with thick pea soup. Two companies battle it out for the title of the best meat pie in Adelaide, Vilis and Balfours. We tried both and it was a tie for us. I liked the Vilis better and Charles the Balfour, mind you, it did take him at least three to decide!
Other foods you should really check out include an incredibly sweet pink or green frog cake made by Balfours, the local cold cut, fritz (called devon on the east coast – this really did taste much better than the Sydney version) and Fruchocs, chocolate covered fruit (peach and apricot) which ended up being our new favourite car snack.
If you want to learn more from a pro you could do what we did and book The F Factor tour!
Visit Adelaide Central Market
One of the first places we head when we travel to a new city is the local food market. The Adelaide Central Market has legendary status and is a must for at least a bit of window shopping, or to stop for a meal, shop for a picnic or buy some souvenirs to take home. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday and you can check the hours here.
Check out all the Cultural Attractions on North Terrace
A stroll along North Terrace is the perfect way to spend the day when the weather is not behaving. There is so much to see and do here, and not just for kids or museum buffs. There is something that would interest almost any visitor.
We started at the bottom of East Terrace. The first museum you come to is the Australian Space Discovery Centre, one of the newest museums in the country. We skipped this one but if you are a science nerd or travelling with kids it should be on your list. Entry is free.
From here stroll past the University of Adelaide, a very attractive campus that proudly displaces banners of some of its most successful graduates. Included were Howard Florey who discovered penicillin and Andy Thomas Australia’s first astronaut. We popped in to pick up a cheap lunch, the food hall is open to visitors and a great spot for a bargain lunch. You can also see one of the city’s popular murals Simchoon by Fin Dac.
The Art Gallery of South Australia
Next up it was time for some art. The Art Gallery of South Australia turned out the be one of our favourite galleries of recent travels. The collection, one of the largest in the country, is diverse and arranged to encourage you to view the full spectrum of styles rather than by style or period. There is a number of classic Australian works by the likes of Fredrick McCubbin, Tom Roberts, Margaret Preston and Charles Condor alongside works by contemporary pieces by Ben Quilty, Chiharu Shiota and Tracy Emin. Entry is free – allow about 45minutes for a quick look around.
The South Australian Museum
We only popped in for a very quick look but the Museum of South Australia has a fantastic collection of taxidermy animals on the ground floor. There is also an extensive collection of Australian Aboriginal art and artifacts.
State Library of South Australia
Most people visit the State Library of South Australia for one reason, to find the Harry Potteresque Mortlock Wing. Listed on many lists of the world’s most beautiful libraries, the Victorian-style reading room opened in 1884. Apologies for the less than stellar shot, it was the best my phone could manage on the day.
It’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and study in a room of musty old books. At the very least pop in for a quick walkthrough as it really is quite lovely.
Centre for Democracy
On our visit to Canberra last year we had visited the Museum of Australian Democracy Old Parliament House and found it really interesting so we were keen to see what South Australia might have to offer in their collection. Among the things you might learn on a visit are that South Australia was the first state in Australia where women could vote. It became law in 1894.
Best suited to kids over 10 years of age, it’s a small collection but with no entry fee and its convenient location with all the other museums in the cultural zone is well worth a short visit.
Tucked in behind the Centre for Democracy you will find the rather small Migration Museum. Along with its regular exhibitions on migration to South Australia in the 20th and 21st Century, the museum usually hosts a number of small temporary exhibits. Unless you want to read all the details thirty minutes is likely long enough here. Not a great choice for kids and really best suited to history lovers.
Make your way back up to North Terrace and continue west. Along the way, you pass the National War Memorial commemorating WW1. If you have been observant you may have noticed a number of bronze plaques in the footpath along the walk today between the University and Parliament House. These commemorate people who made major contributions to the early days of South Australia. on this block of North Terrace between Kintore Ave and King William St are a number of busts and statues of famous South Australians.
You will pass Parliament, the Casino and Railway Station, The Riverside Theatre and the Convention Centre before you finally come to MOD.
MOD. at UniSA (The Museum of Discovery)
With the aim of inspiring teens and young adults to science and technology, MOD. is the work of students and staff from the University of South Australia. From the Cave of Sound where you get to create music using light to footage of marine life captured by Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV). We loved our visit and suggest you allow about 45 minutes to explore here. The museum is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 4pm.
Adelaide has a bunch more museums we missed if you have more time or hit really bad weather!
Take a tour of some historic Adelaide pubs
Adelaide saw a boom of pubs built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Grand buildings with large verandahs and lots of ironwork we are lucky so many have survived. They are a gorgeous part of the streetscape. Today Adelaide city hosts 70 pubs, the oldest is the Edinburgh Castle in Currie Street which has been continually licenced since 1837.
Italianate style of the Botanic Hotel is on the corner of North and East Terrace is one of the grandest and home to one of Adelaide’s hottest restaurants Africola. Another historic pub we enjoyed was The Whitmore, home to Australia’s first female-founded and led brewpubs. We visited as part of a street art tour and loved the beer and the ambience. Pop in if you can.
Ride the Adelaide Free Bus
This free bus service is a great way to see the city when your feet start to give out. The connector bus operates every 30 minutes from 7am each day and finishes just after 7pm most nights, 9pm on Fridays. There are two loops one that travels the CBD (99) and the other that extends to North Adelaide (98). An A or C is added to the number to show which direction they are travelling. Use the bus to pop over to North Adelaide for lunch or brunch. There are so many good options. You can then walk off your meal by making your way back to the city on foot.
Another great budget tip is that trams that run through the city are free. Join any tram between the Botanic Gardens and South Terrace and you don’t need to pay. This is handy after vising the market as a quick way to get to the river or botanic gardens to eat your way through your purchases.
Hot tip for any Aussie seniors – head to the tourist information centre, show your card and you will get 2 weeks free travel (off peak).
As far as malls go this one is great, with over 700 retailers and while the temptation to shop may be strong take some time to look up. Many of the buildings that line the mall have beautiful facades that really should not be missed. The council have a great audio tour and pamphlet “Above the Canopy” that is a must for anyone interested in architecture.
Take a wander and find the Mall’s Balls, the famous pigs, the most recent artistic addition, the giant 2-metre tall pigeon. Named “Pigeon”, the bird, by artist Paul Sloan, set the city back $174000, is on the corner of Gawler Place and Rundle Mall just a minutes walk from the pigs.
Did you know the Rundle Mall pigs have names? The four life sizes pigs by artist Marguerite Derricourt, were named Horatio, Oliver, Truffles and Augusta after a public competition.
Discover the city’s very impressive Street Art
We love street art and usually spend at least a day hunting it down when we visit a new city. Adelaide had enough great walls to keep us busy for more than a few days. Pick up a map or some tips from the info booth at the top of Rundle Mall.
The city has a second street art hub in Port Adelaide with equally impressive work.
Explore the city’s Green Spaces
Take a stroll along the river Torrens – the walk is officially the River Torrens Linear Park Trail, a 30km path from Athelstone to Henley Beach. We only covered from Hackney Road to the footbridge near the Adelaide Festival Centre opposite the famous Adelaide Oval. This is the perfect spot for the picnic you purchased at the central market. If the budget will stretch a river cruise is a lovely way to spend an hour.
Sitting along the bank of the river is the Adelaide Oval Stadium it’s used for test cricket and AFL games. Cricket fans will likely be happy to join an official tour but you can also access the Bradman Museum to see the official collection of memorabilia for free!
Visit the Adelaide Botanic Gardens
Adelaide Botanic Gardens are perfect to explore in the early morning with gates opening daily at 7.15am. If you want to learn more about the garden there are free daily tours at 10:30am. Features include the stunning Victorian Glasshouse, known as Palm House featuring plants from Madagascar.
There is also the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion that we somehow completely missed even though we visited twice and the Bicentennial Conservatory which features rainforest plants from northern Australia and the Pacific. Our favourite stop in the gardens was the Australian Wine Centre which you will find in the southeast corner. While entry is free and you can explore a pretty interesting exhibition about the industry I can’t guarantee it won’t hurt your wallet. Mine left pretty bruised! 😉
Explore the Parklands
The city grid is surrounded by parklands which were part of Colonel Lights design for the city. A mix of playing fields and planned gardens, the parks are numbered 1-29 and most also have a name. Our favourite was the stunning Japanese Garden on South Terrace.
They are perfect for running off some of the food and wine this city will tempt you with day after day.
Get out of the city centre for the day
If you are looking for free things to do in Adelaide that are outside the city centre these are all great escapes.
Check out the Beaches in Adelaide
Take a break from Adelaide’s city centre and head to the beach. Just a 30 minutes tram ride from the city centre is the popular beachside suburb of Glenelg. We snuck a couple of nights in here mid-trip when we got back from Kangaroo Island and it was lovely. There are plenty of restaurants and you can stroll along the waterfront 6km to Henley Beach. Then grab public transport back to the city.
If you have a car take a drive along the coast south from Glenelg as far as time allows. We made it all the way to Rapid Bay and stopped at almost every beach for a look. It was May when we visited so most of the beaches were cold and completely devoid of people. I can imagine in summer things maybe just a little different!
Explore Port Adelaide
Jump on the train to Port Adelaide where you will find a couple of interesting museums, including the South Australian Maritime Museum and a very impressive range of street art. We took a stroll with our friend, local writer Josie and shared a lovely breakfast at the Banksia Tree Cafe – highly recommend you pop in if hunger strikes.
Mount Lofty Summit
Take the bus to the Mount Lofty Ranges where you can take in the great view of Adelaide’s city centre. You may even spot kangaroos and even a koala if you are lucky. Another popular spot up here is Waterfall Gully
Belair National Park
One national park within easy reach by public transport is Balair National Park. Just a 20-minute drive or 45-minute bus ride from King William Street will get you a range of walking tracks from short strolls to 3-hour hikes complete with waterfalls. It’s a great place to spot kangaroos and emus, particularly at the end of the day.
Other spots to consider for your visit, especially if you are travelling with kids:
Where to stay in Adelaide
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