20 Best Sights in Adelaide, South Australia

Adelaide Botanic Garden

City Center Fodor's choice

These magnificent formal gardens include an international rose garden, giant water lilies, an avenue of Moreton Bay fig trees, acres of green lawns, and duck ponds. The Bicentennial Conservatory—the largest single-span glass house in the southern hemisphere—provides an environment for lowland rain-forest species such as the cassowary palm and torch ginger. The Santos Museum of Economic Botany contains fascinating exhibits on the commercial use of some species, and on-site Restaurant Botanic utilizes many plants grown on-site in exquisite degustations. In summer the Moonlight Cinema series (www.moonlight.com.au) screens new, classic, and cult films in Botanic Park, adjacent the garden at sunset; if you forget a picnic blanket you can hire one as well as buy drinks and snacks. Tickets sell fast, so plan ahead. Check the website for workshops, events, and concerts in the park.

Coopers Brewery

Fodor's choice

Founded by Thomas Cooper in 1862, this is Australia's only large-scale, independent, family-owned brewery. The Coopers beer story began when Thomas tried to create a tonic for his ailing wife, Ann, but instead created his first batch of beer. Customers grew in numbers as Thomas hand-delivered his all-natural ales and stout by horse and cart; the tradition lives on with guest appearances at special events by Clydesdayles drawing the very same cart that Thomas once used. Visitors can take accessible guided tours (A$33) of the brewhouse and enjoy tastings of the award-winning signature Coopers ales, including Coopers Pale Ale, Coopers Sparkling Ale, and Coopers Stout, in the museum post-tour. Proceeds from the brewery tour ticket price go to the Coopers Brewery Foundation, which then distributes funds to various charities. The museum features a display of the historic horse and cart, vintage Coopers delivery truck, and pictorials showcasing the history of the brewery.

Glenelg Beach

Glenelg Fodor's choice

Located just 11 km (7 miles) from the Adelaide city center, palindromic Glenelg is a busy seaside suburb known for its sandy beach, historic jetty, serene marinas, bustling shops, hotels, restaurants, bars, and The Beachouse entertainment complex. Trams lead the way to the beach, carrying passengers from the city along Jetty Road while pedestrians weave in and out of the various retail outlets that line the strip. A day trip to Glenelg is a must, but the easygoing beach vibe encourages everyone from backpackers to more discerning travelers to make it their Adelaide base. The beach is large and sandy with a very gentle slope, and the waters are calm. Expect to see large crowds on hotter days and, depending on the season, seaweed can be a problem. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: sunrise; sunset; swimming; walking; windsurfing.

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Penfolds Magill Estate

Fodor's choice

Founded in 1844 by immigrant English doctor Christopher Rawson Penfold, this is the birthplace of Australia's most famous wine, Penfolds Grange, and one of Australia's only city wineries. Introduced in 1951, Grange is the flagship of a huge stable of wines priced from everyday to special-occasion (collectors pay tens of thousands of dollars for complete sets of Grange). Book ahead for the Magill Estate Heritage Tour (A$25, 10 am and 1 pm daily) to hear some of the stories behind the site; if you're a serious wine lover take the Ultimate Penfolds Tour (A$150) and visit the original Penfold family cottage then head into the winery to enjoy some premium wine tastings, or go for the Iconic Penfolds Experience (A$295), which includes a three-course lunch and wine pairings in addition to the tour.

Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute

City Center Fodor's choice

A must-see, Tandanya is the first major Aboriginal cultural facility of its kind in Australia. You'll find worthwhile changing exhibitions of works by contemporary, notable Aboriginal artists, and a theater where you can watch cultural performances and shows by visiting artists from around the country and the Pacific Islands. There's a great gift shop, too, where you can buy Aboriginal-designed household goods, apparel, and artwork.

Adelaide Town Hall

City Center

An imposing building constructed in 1863 in Renaissance style, the Town Hall was modeled after buildings in Genoa and Florence. Tours visit the Colonel Light Room, where objects used to map and plan Adelaide are exhibited, and there are frequently traveling art exhibitions. The balcony of the Town Hall is famous for the appearance of the Beatles in 1964, which attracted the venue's largest crowd to date: approximately 300,000 screaming fans.

Adelaide Zoo

City Center

Australia's second-oldest zoo still retains much of its original architecture. Enter through the 1883 cast-iron gates to see such animals as the giant pandas, Sumatran tigers, Australian rain-forest birds, and chimpanzees housed in modern, natural settings. The zoo is world renowned for its captive breeding and release programs, and rare species including the red panda and South Australia's own yellow-footed rock wallaby are among its successes. In 2008, the Australian government and Adelaide Zoo signed a cooperative agreement to help secure the long-term survival of the giant panda, and in 2009 Wang Wang and Fu Ni arrived on loan from China to become the only giant pandas in the southern hemisphere, and the first to live permanently in Australia. Special VIP panda tours are also available, as are Keeper For A Day tours that let you go behind the scenes and interact with a range of animals. Ask at the ticket office about feeding times, and consult the website for opening times for specific areas of the zoo.

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Art Gallery of South Australia

City Center

Many famous Australian painters, including Charles Conder, Margaret Preston, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Russell Drysdale, and Sidney Nolan, are represented in here. Extensive Renaissance and British artworks are on display, and the atrium houses Aboriginal pieces. There is usually a visiting exhibition, too. A café and bookshop are also on-site.

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Ayers House

City Center

Between 1855 and 1897 this sprawling colonial structure was the home of Sir Henry Ayers, South Australia's premier and the man for whom Uluru was originally named Ayers Rock. Most rooms—including the unusual Summer Sitting Room, in the cool of the basement—have been restored with period furnishings and the state's best examples of 19th-century costumes and lifestyle. Entrance is free on weekends and volunteers lead guided tours when they're available.

Henley Beach

The beach in this quiet coastal suburb offers white sand, gently lapping waves, summer entertainment, and a square known for popular dining spots. You'll find families spread out along the sand, and there's plenty of space on the wide lawns to enjoy a picnic or fish-and-chips. The jetty is perfect for walking or fishing—drop a line in the water and try your luck. During summer, Henley Beach Square comes alive with live music and festivals while eateries along Henley Beach Road bring the world to your plate—Asian, African, Mediterranean, and Indian mix with local cuisine and incredible gelato. Amenities: food and drink; parking; toilets. Best for: swimming; sunrise; sunset; walking; windsurfing.

Migration Museum

City Center

Chronicled in this converted 19th-century Destitute Asylum, which later in the 19th century served as a school where Aboriginal children were forced to train as servants to the British, are the origins, hopes, and fates of some of the millions of immigrants who settled in Australia during the past two centuries. The museum is starkly realistic, and the bleak welcome that awaited many migrants is graphically illustrated, while temporary exhibitions point to a more hopeful future.

National Railway Museum

Steam-train buffs will love this collection of locomotives and rolling stock in the former Port Adelaide railway yard. The largest of its kind in Australia, the collection includes enormous "mountain"-class engines and the "Tea and Sugar" train, once the lifeline for camps scattered across the deserts of South and Western Australia. For an additional cost take a ride on the historic Semaphore to Fort Glanville Tourist Railway; it runs every Sunday and public holiday from October to end of April and more frequently during school holidays. There are covered outdoor eating areas with tables and chairs at the museum, where visitors may bring their own food and drink.

National Wine Centre of Australia

City Center

Timber, steel, and glass evoke the ribs of a huge wine barrel, and a soaring, open-plan concourse make this a spectacular showcase for Australian wines set on the edge of the Botanic Gardens. The A$15 Wine Discovery Journey, offered daily at 11 am, takes you from Neolithic pottery jars to a stainless-steel tank; you can even make your own virtual wine on a touch-screen computer. The center's guided tastings start at A$25 per person. In the Wined Bar, 120 wines drawn from all over Australia can be tasted in flights from state-of-the-art enomatic servers with iconic drops including Penfold's Grange and Henschke's Hill of Grace making regular appearances. The Wined Bar has a good all-day menu, including a great selection of local cheeses and smoked meats.

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Parliament House

City Center

Ten Corinthian columns are the most striking features of this classical parliament building. It was completed in two stages 50 years apart: the west wing in 1889 and the east wing in 1939. Alongside is Old Parliament House, which dates from 1843. There's a free guided tour of both houses weekdays at 10 and 2 during nonsitting days. The viewing gallery is open to the public when parliament is sitting.

SKYCITY Adelaide Casino

City Center

Housed in one half of Adelaide's grand neoclassical railway station, SkyCity is the place to go for every type of gaming, from chiming poker machines to high-stakes Texas hold 'em. The complex is also home to four bars, including the elegant Chandelier Bar, and seven restaurants, and is one of the few places in Adelaide that keeps pumping until dawn.

South Australian Maritime Museum

Inside a restored stone warehouse, this museum in Port Adelaide, a 20-minute drive from central Adelaide, brings maritime history vividly to life with ships' figureheads, shipwreck relics, and intricate scale models including a ketch you can walk through. In the basement you can see a bunk bed aboard an 1840s immigrant ship and hear passengers telling of life and death on their journeys to South Australia. In addition to the warehouse displays, the museum includes a lighthouse (worth climbing the 75 steps up to see the view), and tours of the historic quarantine are sometimes available (if that's not too real). The surrounding suburb of Port Adelaide has plenty of antiques shops to visit, and nearby Semaphore has a street lined with cafés leading to a lovely beach.

South Australian Museum

City Center

This museum's Aboriginal Cultures Gallery houses the largest collection of Indigenous Australian cultural material in the world. Old black-and-white films show traditional dancing, and touch screens convey desert life. Also in the museum are an exhibit commemorating renowned Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, after whom Australia's main Antarctic research station is named; an Opal-Fossils Gallery housing the world's most expensive opals and the fantastic opalized partial skeleton of a 19-foot-long plesiosaur; and a biodiversity gallery. There's also a café overlooking a grassy lawn. If you are traveling during local school holidays, there are fantastic interactive craft and education activities for children for a small fee.

St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral

City Center

This church faced a bitter battle over construction after the 1848 decision to build a Catholic cathedral. It's now a prominent, decorative church with a soaring nave, stone arches through to side aisles with dark-wood ceilings, and beautiful stained-glass windows. For a self-guided tour, a useful free booklet called “19 minute Cathedral Tour” is available by the entrance.

St. Peter's Cathedral

North Adelaide

The spires and towers of this cathedral dramatically contrast with the nearby city skyline. St. Peter's is the epitome of Anglican architecture in Australia, and an important example of grand Gothic Revival. Free 45-minute guided tours are available Wednesday at 11 and Sunday at 12:30.

Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga

City Center

Known as the "place of the red kangaroo dreaming" to Kaurna traditional owners and designated by William Light as the geographical center of Adelaide, this public space is the city's focal point and a popular meeting spot. The fountain in the square, which is floodlighted at night, celebrates the three rivers that supply Adelaide's water: the Torrens, Onkaparinga, and Murray; each is represented by a stylized man or woman paired with an Australian native bird. The park hosts many events and attracts lunching office workers while shoppers and tourists come and go from the Glenelg-City Tram, which stops here on its way through the city.