Beautiful Adelaide is the capital of South Australia, and somewhere that’s not necessarily top of everyone’s Australia itinerary.
Many people favour the cities of Melbourne and Sydney, or the hotspots of the East Coast; and while these places are great, there are plenty of other spots in Australia that are well worth visiting – Adelaide being one of them.
Adelaide has lots of history, a stunning town centre, wine regions, beaches, and plenty of nightlife. I’ve visited Adelaide twice, once on my Melbourne to Perth road trip across the Nullarbor, and secondly on my Darwin to Adelaide road trip (after which I drove to Cairns through the outback).
However, I wouldn’t call myself an Adelaide expert by far; so I asked Adelaide local, Sam from Carry on or Bust, to write this 3 days in Adelaide itinerary. In it you’ll find the best things to do in Adelaide in three days, including museums to visit, beaches to lie on, day trips to take, and places to eat.
Here’s the best three days in Adelaide itinerary for first-time visitors to the city!
3 days in Adelaide
Adelaide might be a smaller place (although one of the most interesting facts about South Australia is that 75% of the state’s population live in its city!), but it isn’t missing anything important.
You can get around easily on foot or grab one of the many buses or trams– you can get a set day pass on a plastic card or buy a paper ticket from the driver but the latter is more expensive!
Adelaide city centre is set out fabulously simply.
Most of what you will want to see is within somewhat of a square, each side of the square is named for its compass designation – North, east, west, and south terrace. You’ll only really be coming into contact with North and East Terrace as that is where the main things to do, see, and eat are!
Adelaide Itinerary Day 1: City Adventure Day
Your first day in Adelaide is a fantastic opportunity to check out the city centre and all its surrounds have to offer.
If you are looking for breakfast, there are two gorgeously picturesque streets that offer a wide variety of food –Melbourne Street, and Rundle Street.
Melbourne Street is about a 25-minute walk, or 10 minutes by bus, to the city centre so make sure youallow for that time if you decide to breakfast there. Rundle Street is one of my favourites, with plenty of side streets filled with cool shops and cafes.
To walk off that breakfast you can head through Rundle Mall, making sure to pass the iconic gleaming silver spheres atop one another in the centre – affectionately known as the “Malls Balls”.
Cutting through a side street or department store, you will find yourself on North Terrace.
Museums and Galleries
45 minutes – 2 hours each, depending on your schedule and interest level!
North Terrace houses a number of the cultural buildings in Adelaide. Strolling east will take you past the Art Gallery of South Australia, the South Australian Museum, the Mortlock Wing (which is a beautiful building inside, perfect for a photo or two, but remember people often study there as it’s part of the library!), as well as the Museum of Classical Archaeology which is in the University of Adelaide grounds.
There are the pretty standard food courts underneath the department stores if you want something easy, but there are SO many amazing restaurants you should definitely be able to find something you like! For a nice reprieve from the crowds there is a fantastically cosy and quiet café upstairs in Adelaide Arcade called Two-Bit Villains for vegan fare or for something down the East End there is Thea Tea Shop which offers a vegetarian and vegan pan-Asian selection with a number of gluten-free dishes as well.
Botanical Gardens: 1 hour to all afternoon if you like!
Another great option is the botanical gardens. Opened to the public in 1857, there is a real sense of stepping back in time. You can take a free guided tour of the gardens to get an in-depth history and be shown around by some of the most dedicated volunteers you’ll ever meet, or explore on your own!
Tandanya: 45 – 60 minutes
If you are in the mood for more art after lunch ,you can head over to Grenfell Street to visit the Tandanya Gallery which is The National Aboriginal Cultural Institute and is the oldest aboriginal owned and run multi-arts centre.
Tandanya runs several exhibitions a year as well as having a standing collection. They also feature a shop where you can buy art pieces and souvenir-style pieces of aboriginal art. Many of the cheap souvenirs you will see featuring aboriginal art are culturally wrong and mass-produced overseas. Purchasing through a gallery like Tandanya makes sure that the artists are compensated correctly for all their hard work.
Popeye: 45 – 90 minutes
If all you want to do in the afternoon is sight see and chill out, maybe a river cruise along the River Torrens is what you need!
The Popeye is absolutely iconic in Adelaide, the cruise itself is only 45 minutes long but can be combined with an event or a gin masterclass!.
Once you’re done on the boat itself, you can hang out on the grassy river banks and people watch – just watch out for the swans!
Chinatown Adelaide is one of the best in the world. It is expansive and you can find almost anything there from high-end chain restaurants to family-run style eateries. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
Adelaide Itinerary Day 2: Get slightly out of Adelaide
Wine tour option
If wine is your thing then there are dozens of opportunities for you to indulge in Adelaide. While the Barossa and Clare Valley are better known, they a little bit out of the way. There are so many incredible Adelaide Hills wineries that staying a bit closer to town is by no means a sacrifice! The wines from this region are absolutely world-class, and the gorgeous setting of the Adelaide Hills just enhances the experience so much. With quiet roads and rolling hills, the wineries are idyllic.
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You can hire a car and drive yourselves – responsibly of course, hire a driver and van for the day, or organise yourself on to a tour. Tours are probably the best way to see Adelaide’s wineries, as it means you can drink as much as you want and it doesn’t break the bank! Click here for a list of Adelaide’s best wine tours.
If you do go for the self-drive or driver hire option, you’ll have the flexibility to organise your own day. Three of my favourites are Nepenthe, O’Leary Walker, and Bird in Hand wineries. Almost all wineries will offer a nibbles plate at a minimum to go along with your tasting, and some have full-service restaurants.
Remember to hydrate! In Australia, anywhere with a liquor license is required to provide free drinking water to patrons.
Adorable German Town Option
Hahndorf is the little German town every Adelaidean has either been to, or feels weirdly guilty that they’ve never been to. There is a pretty regular bus service from the city up to Hahndorf, so this is a really good way to experience the Adelaide hills if you don’t want to hire a car. The atmosphere in Hahndorf is what makes it so special, it’s bustling and busy but also quaint and delightful.
If a day of luxury is what you’re looking for then you can do that in Hahndorf too! The Hahndorf Creek Wellness Spa has a full rage of treatments including massage, skin care, naturopathy, as well as sauna and spa bath.
Beerenburg Family Farm has been producing amazing produce since 1839, and focussing on strawberries since 1970. They cater to all types of dietary needs – whether it’s gluten, nut, or dairy-free, or if you’re vegan – they have a product you can safely enjoy! The really special thing about
Beerenburg Family Farm is that at the right time of year, you can go strawberry picking! Check to make sure they’re open first because the season moves, but generally you can visit from November to April every year -they haven’t missed a season since 1975!
Side note: If you didn’t get to check out Tandanya and still want to see or ethically buy some gorgeous aboriginal art then you can check out The Aboriginal Art House.
If you don’t want to head to Hahndorf yourself, here’s a day tour that includes a visit to the town as well as a river cruise and dinner. Click here for more information.
Adelaide Itinerary Day 3: Beach day
Pure Beach Option
Adelaide has a huge range of beaches to choose from, 15 in total with six within a 45-minute public transport ride of the city. Check out the Beach Safe Website to see which beaches are patrolled by lifeguards, Every beach will claim amazing sunsets and none of them are lying, they’re gorgeous from any of Adelaide’s main beaches.
The most popular beach, and one of the easiest to access, is Glenelg.
Just jump on the tram and enjoy the ride down to the coast.
There is plenty of shopping to be done as well and great restaurants to try, but make sure you take a wander down the jetty because it is iconic for a reason! You can find volleyball nets, buskers, and fun activities like paddle boarding or just chill out on the sand!
There are no sunbeds here so it is first come first served for towel space.
Henley Beach is another very accessible option, however the strip of sand here is a lot narrower than at Glenelg. Despite being narrower there is still plenty to do, including kite surfing if you’re there at the right time of year!
If you’re a runner or a cyclist, you can take a jaunt along the shore and you won’t be alone! The beaches are close enough together to rent a bicycle and visit them both.! The path is 8.2km and runs almost entirely on the beach, it can be cycled in about 30 minutes.
Port Adelaide + Beach Option
If you don’t want to spend the whole day on the beach, there is a great day trip out to Port Adelaide. Getting to the port will take about an hour on public transport. Port Adelaide is a historical wonder, as it was the central intake port of Adelaide for a hundred years!
There are fantastic examples of colonial architecture and the requisite ghost stories that go along with older buildings. If you want to get your spooky on there are plenty of ghost walks – and most go during the day so as not to be too creepy!
You can visit the One and All which is a training ship where you can try sailing on day tours, or maybe a multiday voyage is what you’re looking for!?
The Maritime Museum is a staple for Port Adelaide, because … well… PORT Adelaide . The history in this section of town is understandably nautical, but the level of research and quality of exhibitions is phenomenal. It isn’t free to get into the Maritime Museum in Port Adelaide but they do offer concession and a family option.
There are many self-guided walks available for free, including heritage-themed walks and dolphin spotting!
Dolphin Spotting Note: The dolphins have always lived in the port river, and are wild. While your chances to see them are better if you take a boat cruise you absolutely don’t have to pay anyone for a good chance at seeing them leap about!
After lunch you can jump back on the train for 20 minutes and head to Semaphore beach. This is one of the quieter beaches in Adelaide, partly due to the fact that it’s further out from the city centre than the more popular ones. There are tonnes of things to do at Semaphore beach and the main are regularly hosts festivals and fairs.
General travel tips for Adelaide
- Check out the transport website to determine which card is best for you, as the paper-on-board
tickets are more expensive. The website is called Adelaide Metro, despite Adelaide not actually having a metro – just buses and trams. The main trains run north of Adelaide and are often not covered by the cards.
Side note: DON’T be tempted to use a friend’s concession card that isn’t yours, or to sneak by the ticket machine because the fines are hefty – between $220 and $1,250. So… not worth it.
- The centre of Rundle Mall (“The Mall”) is called “The Malls Balls”. This won’t be on any signs, but if you ask someone – they’ll know which direction to point you in.
- There are at least three food courts around The Mall, with a multitude of reasonably priced chain restaurants, so if you can’t find an appropriate restaurant, there is definitely stuff to eat, it just might be down some escalators!
- If you want to head out of Adelaide properly you can take a day to go to Victor Harbour, and while there ARE Kangaroo Island one-day tours, they can be pretty expensive and a very rushed day. Also, there are not as many kangaroos there as the name would have you believe, but it is beautiful.
- Adelaide coffee is the best coffee. Have a coffee. Despite what other states may say, Adelaide has the best coffee.