Adelaide is one of Australia’s most historic cities, and a city tour is a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time.
With wide streets laid out in an easy to navigate grid, and a buffer of parkland surrounding the CBD, the city is a pleasure to explore. Here are ten of the best-loved landmarks that you’ll catch at least a glimpse of on most city tours. However, they are well worth coming back to and exploring in more detail during your stay.
1. Adelaide Park Lands and River Torrens
One hundred and eighty years after Colonel William Light envisioned the capital of South Australia, the layout of Adelaide is still regarded as a revolutionary piece of urban planning. A key aspect of his design is the vast green belt that encircles the city. The 700-hectare Park Lands were added to Australia’s National Heritage List in 2008.
The Park Lands to the south are home to sporting fields, public gardens and even a BMX track. In the Park Lands north of the city lies Karrawirra Parri. The Kaurna First Peoples’ name for the River Torrens reflects the forests of red gums that used to line its banks, and the Kaurna Walking Trail lets you discover some of Adelaide’s pre-colonial stories.
2. Adelaide Botanic Garden
At the eastern end of the city, the sprawling 23-hectare Adelaide Botanic Garden is a top spot for a wander. Winding paths take you through everything from wetlands to desert environments and past multiple lawns that make excellent picnic spots.
Discover unusual species like the ancient Wollemi pine or giant Amazon waterlily, learn about Madagascan flora in the exquisite Victorian Palm House, and walk through lowland rainforest in the enormous Bicentennial Conservatory. And the plants aren’t just for looking at; you can learn about their many uses in the Museum of Economic Botany or taste some of the produce from the onsite kitchen garden at the award-winning Botanic Gardens Restaurant.
3. Art Gallery of South Australia
The leafy boulevard of North Terrace is home to many of the city’s most august cultural institutions. First up is the Art Gallery of South Australia, which holds an outstanding collection of almost 50,000 works of art. Permanent displays show the evolution of colonial and indigenous art alongside contemporary works from around the world.
Free tours run daily and there are regular special events like First Fridays (on the first Friday of each month) featuring talks on music and art.
4. South Australian Museum
Continuing down North Terrace, the South Australian Museum boasts the most comprehensive collection of Aboriginal artefacts in the world. Exploring every corner of this grand sandstone complex would take days, but the Pacific Cultures Gallery, Ancient Egyptian antiquities and opalised fossils are well worth seeking out.
And for a tour with a difference, you can hire a tablet to play The Shadow Initiation — an adventure game that takes you throughout the museum on a quest for points.
5. State Library of South Australia
Right next door, the State Library is full of unusual South Australiana and special collections of rare books, maps and music from as far back as the 13th century. But one of the biggest surprises is the building itself. Head through the airy modern entrance to the Mortlock Wing and it feels like you’re stepping back in time. The 19th century French Renaissance interior looks like something from Hogwarts, and the magnificent two-storey space preserves many of the original furnishings.
6. Adelaide Oval
One of the world’s most picturesque cricket grounds, the Adelaide Oval now hosts weekly matches during footy season as well. Recent redevelopments mean that it can accommodate over 50,000 cheering fans, and they pour across the footbridge over the Torrens when a game is on.
There’s plenty of heritage on display as well, including the iconic hand-operated scoreboard and the Bradman Collection of memorabilia from the greatest batsman of all time. Daily tours explore different parts of the Oval, while RoofClimb takes guests 50 metres up to the top of the Riverbank Stand.
7. Beehive Corner
At the western end of the pedestrian Rundle Mall, there’s an iconic three-storey building known as the Beehive Corner. It’s a common meeting place for Adelaidians and an instantly recognisable landmark. The ornate Gothic Revival-style complex houses a range of shops and offices, and the ornamental turret is topped with a beehive and 45 kilogram gilded bee.
The building has a storied history and housed Adelaide’s first film screening in 1896. Today it attracts sweet-tooths visiting the original Haigh’s Chocolates store.
8. University of South Australia
Tucked away in the city’s West End, UniSA’s cultural institutions are among the city’s most progressive. Samstag Museum of Art hosts regularly changing exhibits featuring the work of a diverse range of contemporary visual artists, across several compact galleries.
Across North Terrace, MOD. is a museum with a difference. Here interactive exhibits explore abstract concepts like hedonism and climate change. Combining Kaurna stories and predictions for 2050, the galleries juxtapose Adelaide’s heritage and possible future.
9. Adelaide Central Market
The famous undercover Adelaide Central Market offers visitors a complete sensory experience. Listen to the sounds of vendors hawking fresh fruit and vegetables, inhale the aromas of exotic spices and imported French cheeses, and let your eyes feast on the dazzling array of colourful food and flowers. The market is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It’s a great place to shop for fresh produce for a picnic, or just sit and people-watch at one of the many cafes. And best of all, there are plenty of opportunities to taste-test the wares on offer in this 150-year-old icon.
10. Victoria Square
Sitting at the centre of Adelaide’s city grid, Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga has always been an important meeting place and today the spacious lawns host many events (including the Tour Down Under Village and Tasting Australia’s Town Square).
Colonial and modern architecture representing every phase of Adelaide’s development surrounds the square. Among the classical columns and glass-plated high-rises, the Italianate-style former GPO with its monumental clock tower stands out as one of the most beautiful examples. When it was constructed in 1872 it was the most expensive government building in the colony, and is currently being turned into a hotel and dining precinct.
This list of key sights is provided as a guide only and is not covered in its entirety on every Adelaide city tour offered by The Big Bus. Please check the itinerary notes for your preferred tour for a list of the included sights and stops.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
After spending years as a music journalist and beer taster, Alexis Buxton-Collins sold everything he owned and spent three years travelling the world. He now writes about his experiences on the road, both abroad and at home in Adelaide. Alexis has written for Australian Traveller, Qantas, Virgin, Lonely Planet, Wild, and many other publications. He’s currently undertaking a comprehensive search for McLaren Vale’s best value bottle of wine.
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