Alice Springs will forever occupy a special place in the hearts of all who visit.
It may not look like much at first glance, but be warned: this place is addictive. You’re likely to hear tales from ‘locals’ time and time again of how they arrived here on holiday and never left. Immortalised in Nevil Shute’s novel A Town Like Alice and the cult Aussie film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the unofficial capital and spiritual heart of the Red Centre will delight, challenge and amaze as you chart your way around an endearingly rough and cheerfully ready piece of Australia.
Note: For those expecting to find Uluru on Alice’s doorstep, it’s actually a 4.5-hour drive to the rock. But don’t despair; there’s no end of stunning natural landscapes to experience within closer proximity, including Simpsons Gap, Emily and Jessie Gaps, Ellery Creek Big Hole and Rainbow Valley to name just a few.
Enjoy Alice Springs travel guide.
Need to know
Base yourself: City centre
Average hotel price per room/per night: AUD $110
Best breakfasts: Todd Mall, City, The Gap
Great coffee: Todd Mall
Top spots for a beverage: Epilogue Lounge, Lasseters
Must-dos: Alice Springs Telegraph Station tour, Outback hot air balloon flight
Best times to visit Alice Springs
Anytime is a good time to visit Alice, but spring and autumn are arguably the best times for active travelers. Expect daytime temperatures in the mid 20s from March to May, and September to November. It cools down quickly at night so pack warm wear for evening activities.
With its arid climate, the Alice experiences summer temperatures in the mid 30s (and as high as the 40s), but humidity is low. Daytime temperatures in winter hover around 20 degrees, but plummet overnight. Rug up!
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Alice Springs for history lovers
It’s not hard to be humbled by the sheer ancientness of the Red Centre, and Alice Springs has a rich history to explore.
Start with a visit to Anzac Hill just outside town (which is a particularly popular spot at sunset). There’s a monument on the hilltop dedicated to all those who have served in the defence of their country. Anzac Hill is also a great place to get your bearings, and from this vantage point you’ll enjoy sweeping views across the compact city centre towards the age-old East MacDonnell Ranges. For those interested in learning more about the natural history of the region, head for the Museum of Central Australia in the Araluen Cultural Precinct.
As in most parts of the country, relations between white and Indigenous Australians in Alice Springs have been tragically poor over the decades. Today there’s a new spirit of cooperation in the air and myriad opportunities to connect with the heritage and culture of the Eastern and Central Arrernte people. Do your research to find out which enterprises trickle down to grassroots level. There are several Aboriginal-owned and operated touring experiences on offer, including Jungala Enterprises, which provides a full day guided arts walk along a section of the MacDonnell Ranges.
The city’s European history began at the rustic Alice Springs Telegraph Station — located four kilometres north of town. While the region had been charted by explorers some ten years earlier, it was the completion of the overland telegraph line from Adelaide to the Top End in 1872 that saw the establishment of the station and a permanent settlement (then known as Stuart). Today there’s a collection of original buildings to explore, an interpretive exhibition, camel rides and a great little café. A guided tour is a great way to get the most from your visit.
An appreciation of the true meaning of distance is something every visitor to Alice Springs will come to possess, particularly following a visit to the Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility. The iconic Aussie institution began in 1928 with just one doctor and one pilot from the fledgling Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service (QANTAS) and went on to conquer the vast outback, at least in terms of providing emergency medical assistance. See the original Alice Springs radio room which opened in 1939, along with a range of other memorabilia. All funds raised at the facility go directly towards the continuing work of the service, so it’s a small but meaningful way for visitors to contribute.
Top cultural experiences in Alice Springs
The city offers plenty of opportunities for visitors to connect with Indigenous culture.
Albert Namatjira is a name many Australians will be familiar with. The artist who lived and worked in central Australia in the first half of the 20th century is cited as the father of the modern Indigenous art scene. Visit the Albert Namatjira Gallery at the Araluen Cultural Precinct to learn more.
The annual Desert Mob event held at the Araluen Arts Centre is an opportunity to enjoy the work of many of today’s Aboriginal artists working in a variety of remote communities. The event includes a symposium and art market held over three days in September.
The humble beanie is one item of clothing you might not necessarily associate with the hot, dry Australian interior, but with night-time temperatures in winter below freezing, a good woolen cap is an essential item of kit. The annual Alice Springs Beanie Festival began in 1997 to sell beanies crocheted by Indigenous women and has grown into one of the city’s biggest events. Prize-winning beanies are recognised in several colourful categories. The festival is held in June.
Watch our guide for Sky News Business Class to top places to stay and eat in Alice Springs:
Adam Ford, editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and host of Tour the World, regularly joins the team at Sky News Business Class to discuss top travel destinations around the world. In this interview Adam covers things to do in Alice Springs, the unofficial capital of Australia’s Red Centre and the gateway to majestic Uluru.
Great places to eat in Alice Springs
From casual eats to fine fare with an Outback twist, there’s no shortage of great places to get a feed in Alice Springs.
The shabby chic surroundings of the Epilogue Lounge tapas and rooftop bar make this a top spot to head for breaky, lunch or dinner. There’s a kicking live music scene, an open mic night, live comedy and more.
For a casual café breakfast or lunch, head south of town through the Gap to the Star Café at the Star of Alice Function Centre. It has a great outdoor space and an emphasis on local produce.
Back in the heart of town and Piccolo’s Café is super popular with the locals. It’s renowned for serving the best coffee in town.
For dining with a difference, say g’day to Raylene and her amazing Indigenous team at Kungkas Can Cook at Diarama Village. In addition to a traditional café menu, there’s a full range of awesome bush food products for purchase (including some seriously delicious quandong jam!).
Tali restaurant at Lasseters Hotel & Casino serves up modern Oz with all the trimmings in a sophisticated setting — and you can have a flutter at the gaming tables afterwards.
Where to shop in Alice Springs
It may feel like a million miles from anywhere but you’ll find the usual array of Aussie retail experiences around town, along with some local pearls that are all Alice.
From crocheted cushion covers to Himalayan head scarves, you name it, you can probably find it at the Todd Mall Markets. There’s an eclectic range of stalls and it’s a great way to mix with the locals. Check the website for a list of upcoming dates.
The mind-blowing work of Western Desert Dialysis — also known as The Purple House — in the Indigenous health space has seen thousands of Aboriginal Australians suffering renal failure in remote communities benefit from a life-changing mobile dialysis service. The centre’s Wellbeing Program supports this work with the sale of a range of health products derived from native plants. The Bush Balm range, including rubs, moisturisers, soaps and lip balms, is available online.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers is a not-for-profit social enterprise that represents some 400 Aboriginal grass weavers in around 26 remote communities. Pick up a piece of the weavers’ work at the Tjanpi Gallery in Wilkinson Street.
Ways to relax in Alice Springs
While a holiday in Alice Springs can be action-packed, there are plenty of opportunities for some quiet time as well.
You have to experience the gentle stillness of the Red Centre just before dawn at least once during your stay. Outback Ballooning provides a ringside seat as the rising sun slowly ignites the rich red of the surrounding landscape. If you’ve never taken a hot air balloon flight, this is without doubt the place to do it.
It may look like a harsh and unforgiving environment, but the desert is actually teeming with life. To learn more, the Alice Springs Desert Park provides a comprehensive range of family-friendly activities, including guided nature walks (don’t miss the fabulous nocturnal walk) and the wonderful Nocturnal House — home to all manner of furry native critters. Book your tickets in advance online.
One of the great joys of spending time away from Australia’s bigger cities is the lack of light pollution and the vividness of the night sky. Learn more on a range of activities offered by the fascinating Earth Sanctuary World Nature Centre. The Spirit of the Outback Dinner & Show includes pick-up and drop-off at your Alice Springs accommodation and plenty of star gazing.
Where to stay in Alice Springs
Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters
Located adjacent to the Alice Springs Convention Centre, the upscale Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters offers comfortable accommodation and amenities right at the foot of the majestic MacDonnell Ranges. There are four restaurants, several bars, a heated outdoor pool and pool-side cafe, nightclub and casino. The newly refurbished split level premium suites offer two bedrooms and plenty of extra space for families. Enjoy the Lasseters Collection — more than 80 pieces of original Indigenous artwork hung around the hotel.
Doubletree by Hilton
Located within walking distance of the centre of town, Doubletree by Hilton in Alice Springs offers a great range of accommodation options. The King Junior Suites offer 60sqm of space, with panoramic views of the MacDonnell Ranges and a separate living room and king bedroom. The hotel has a great central swimming pool and plenty of onsite dining facilities.
Adam travelled as a guest of Northern Territory Convention Bureau.
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Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.