Once overshadowed by Australia’s flashier eastern metropolises, like Sydney and Melbourne, Adelaide is ready for its close-up. The laid-back capital city of South Australia enchants with its vibrant culinary scene, world-class arts festivals, ample parkland, buzzing nightlife, perfectly gridded and pedestrian friendly downtown, and accessible escapes to some of the country’s most celebrated wine valleys. It is, in short, an opportune place to spend a relaxing but event-filled long weekend.
Day 1: Adelaide
Spend the morning learning about the rich history of South Australia at the complex of museums along the northern edge of Adelaide's city center. The South Australian Museum holds an impressive collection of artifacts from Australia's Aboriginal people, including boomerangs, paintings, and bark canoes. The nearby Migration Museum, which tells the knotty history of immigration to Australia, is a good complement to these galleries. Afterward, marvel at paintings and sculptures from some of the country's most renowned artists at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
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A few hours of museum-going can build up an appetite, so the next stop should be Adelaide's famed Central Market (closed Sunday and Monday; hours vary on other days). Established in 1870, this landmark site is one of the largest food markets in the southern hemisphere. Wander through stalls teeming with regional fruits and vegetables, freshly caught seafood, kangaroo meat, local cheeses, and gooey pastries. For lunch, you can either nosh on grub from the vendors here, or cross the street to Paul's Seafood on Gouger. This Adelaide institution has been serving scrumptious King George whiting—a flavorful white fish that is popular in South Australia—for more than six decades.
Set aside a few hours in the afternoon for shopping excursions through Adelaide's trendy boutiques. Not to be missed is Rundle Mall, a pedestrian-only shopping street lined with major international brands and local designers. If you need a sugar-fix, make a beeline for Haigh's Chocolates at the intersection of Rundle Mall and King William Street. This century-old, family-owned confectionary shop whips up tasty chocolates with unique flavors like wattleseed crunch and lemon myrtle cream.
As one of Australia's emerging culinary hotspots, Adelaide has seemingly endless outstanding options for dinner. A solid choice is Street ADL. This casual eatery has an energetic vibe, an extensive wine and cocktail list, and a menu that might include such creative dishes as salt-and-pepper kangaroo tail and crocodile hot dogs.
Day 2: The Adelaide Hills
Mere miles outside the city center are the Adelaide Hills, a pastoral region of rolling green countryside, idyllic towns, and scenic vineyards. Here, you can take bushwalks through lush forests, browse through quaint country stores, and, if you're lucky, spot a koala in the wild. Note that since the sights in this area are spread out, it's best either to rent a car or hire a tour guide from Adelaide.
Start the day at Cleland Wildlife Park, roughly fifteen miles southeast of Adelaide. Here, kangaroos and emus roam free in certain areas, while spacious enclosures house iconic native species like wombats, echidnas, Tasmanian devils, bandicoots, and dingoes. But the true highlight of any trip to Cleland is the opportunity to hold a koala—one of the few places in Australia that affords this experience.
After you've had your animal fix, drive to the nearby Waterfall Gully parking lot, where you can embark on a moderately challenging 2.3-mile hike up to Mt. Lofty. The trail winds past gushing waterfalls and striking gorges on its way to the summit of the most prominent peak in the Adelaide Hills. At roughly 2,300 feet above sea level, the summit offers stunning views of Adelaide and the Southern Ocean.
Be aware that the trails to the summit are steep. If you'd prefer to skip them, it's an easy drive from Cleland to the top of Mt. Lofty. Keep your eyes peeled along the way for wild koalas in the high branches of the eucalyptus trees. At the top, you can grab coffee and lunch at The Summit, a café with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the valley.
Dedicate the afternoon to exploring the charming town of Hahndorf, roughly fifteen miles east of Mt. Lofty. The oldest surviving German settlement in Australia, Hahndorf still retains much of its Teutonic heritage, both in its architecture and its food. Along the town's Main Street, you can sample regional cheeses and beer, taste local vintages at winery cellar doors, and shop for such gifts as cuckoo clocks and wool sweaters.
Day 3: The Barossa Valley
Roughly an hour northeast of Adelaide, the Barossa Valley has some of the oldest and most esteemed vineyards in Australia. It is renowned for its full-bodied red varietals like Shiraz, and dry, acidic whites like Riesling. It is also perhaps the country's most picturesque wine region, with its babbling creeks, colorful orchards, and rows of grape vines that snake up yellow and green hills dotted with grazing sheep.
The best way to explore the Barossa is through a guided tour so that you can sample wine throughout the day. An excellent option is A Taste of South Australia, which is run by Mary Anne Kennedy, an energetic, experienced, and knowledgeable guide. Her full-day tours provide a comprehensive overview of the Barossa Valley and stop at several of its best vineyards.
Among the numerous vineyards in the Barossa, the most unique is Seppeltsfield Winery, roughly two miles outside the town of Marananga. Founded in the mid-nineteenth century, Seppeltsfield has set aside a few barrels of Tawny Port every year since 1878. Specialized tours of the grounds allow visitors to sample port from their birth year (A$60) or taste a 100-year-old Tawny (A$100). The complex flavors of this century-old drink, which resembles motor oil in the glass, are not easily forgotten.
Near Seppeltsfield are two other iconic wineries in the valley—Jacob’s Creek and Penfolds—both of which offer tastings. But if you’re interested in visiting an emerging vineyard, stop by Hentley Farm Wines, a boutique, single estate vineyard that has snagged numerous awards since its first wine was released in 2002. The tasting room is in a rustic farmhouse from the 1840s, while the adjacent restaurant serves a rotating menu of dishes sourced from local ingredients.
If you prefer to stay the night in the wine region, opt for the Novotel Barossa Valley Resort. The rooms at this sprawling resort all come with private balconies and stellar views across the valley, and there are hiking trails and an 18-hole golf course nearby. From the resort, it's a short drive to the town of Tanunda, where you can dine on flavorful Vietnamese cuisine at fermentAsian. It’s a memorable way to end your long weekend in South Australia.