The city of Adelaide sits on an open plain, wedged between the sea and a range of hills that neatly circles it. Here are all the things to do the the Adelaide Hills South Australia to help you plan your perfect day.
Officially part of the Mount Lofty Ranges, the section of the range right near the suburban area is more commonly just called the Adelaide Hills. It can be reached easily from the city centre and is a great area to spend a day.
Photo credit for feature image: South Australian Tourism Commission/Andy Rasheed, Classic Country Drive, Adelaide Hills
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TL;DR? Here's the outline
- About the Adelaide Hills
- Getting to the Adelaide Hills
- Things to do in the Adelaide Hills
- Visit Hahndorf
- Admire the Views from Mount Lofty Summit
- Go Wine Tasting
- National Motor Museum
- Stock up at Melba’s Chocolates
- Walk the Trails
- See the Animals at Cleland Wildlife Park
- Pick your own Fruit
- Celebrate Christmas with the Lobethal Lights
- Watch the Seasons Change at Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens
- Channel Spiderman with some Rock Climbing
- Or Hit the Mount Lofty Adventure Hub
- Step Back in Time on the Steamranger
- Do a Jurlique Farm Tour
- Grab a Bargain at the Markets
- Try the Local Craft Beers
- Follow the Hills Sculpture Trail
- Go Tasting at the Distilleries
- Hone your Skills at the Sticky Rice Cooking School
- Marvel at The Big Rocking Horse
- Relax at the Laratinga Wetlands
- Cycle the Amy Gillett Bikeway
- Stay in a Castle
- Go Koala Spotting at Belair National Park
- Find the old Rail Tunnel
- Do go Chasing Waterfalls
- Browse the Art Galleries & Museums
- Gather a Mystery Picnic of Local Ingredients
- Make it a Festival!
- Paint & Sip and Create a Masterpiece
- Back a Winner at the Oakbank Races
- Enjoy the Views with a Scenic Lookout
- Pamper Yourself with a Spa Day
About the Adelaide Hills
The Mount Lofty Ranges run from Cape Jervis at the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula almost all the way up to Peterborough in the mid-north of South Australia, covering a total distance of around 300km.
They encompass the areas where the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley wine regions are found.
While Mount Lofty is often thought the be the tallest peak in the range at 727m, it is actually Mount Bryan, located just north of Burra, at 936m.
The section of the range commonly called the Adelaide Hills is just the part that encircles the city. Here, Mount Lofty is the tallest peak, popular with walkers and those wanting a meal with a view over the city.
The Adelaide Hills are dotted with picturesque little towns, with Mount Barker being the main commercial hub. Towns like Hahndorf and Lobethal are popular with visitors to the area.
The Adelaide Hills are the traditional lands of the Peramangk people.
Getting to the Adelaide Hills
To visit the Adelaide Hills I really recommend having your own car for the best experience. It will allow you to easily get around and go to the places that interest you the most.
The only exception to this is if you are wine tasting – you should consider a different form of transport in that case.
If you do not have access to a car there are still some options.
There are public buses to some of the more popular places, such as Hahndorf or Cleland Wildlife Park but they would only be an option if you were only going to that one location rather than exploring more of the Adelaide Hills.
One alternative is the Adelaide Hills hop-on hop-off bus. This is the best option if you would like a flexible wine-tasting experience, with a little time in Hahndorf included too.
The bus can transport you from Adelaide, or you can meet it in the Hills area if you are staying up there already.
Another way to visit is to do a tour. There is a range of Adelaide Hills tours available and you can choose one that suits your interests. Here are a few to get you started
- Adelaide Hills and Hahndorf Half-Day Tour from Adelaide
- Adelaide Hills Food, Wine, Cheese, & Chocolate – Private Day Tour
- Adelaide Hills Full Day Winery Tour with Tastings
- Full-Day Beers and Bites Tour in Adelaide Hills
- Cleland Wildlife Park Experience with Mount Lofty Summit
Things to do in the Adelaide Hills
While tours will give you a great day out and a taste of what the area is all about, there are so many things to do in the Adelaide Hills that you really will want to come back with your own car to explore further afield. Take a look at this list.
Hahndorf is a picturesque town heavily influenced by its German heritage. It’s a real foodie destination, with not only great places to eat but also plenty of shops to take home some of the amazing local produce.
Some of the things you will find are cheese, German desserts, cakes and cookies, fudge, ice cream, fruit, old style sweets just to name a few.
A must is a stop at Beerenberg, well, known for their jams, sauces and strawberry picking in summer. They now also have a great cafe for meals and coffee.
There are places for wine tasting, a craft brewery and a distillery. Visit “The Cedars”, the home of renowned artist Sir Hans Heysen. Browse museums, antique stores and boutiques – you are sure to leave town with at least one souvenir.
Hahndorf can alone be its own day trip as there is plenty to do right here is town to keep you busy. To find out more about Hahndorf, take a look at this post.
Admire the Views from Mount Lofty Summit
Mount Lofty Summit is the place to go to get panoramic views over the Adelaide City centre all the way out to sea. It takes less than thirty minutes to drive to the summit from the city centre.
At the Mount Lofty summit, you will find a visitor centre, gift shop and cafe. I like to stop here for breakfast before travelling further into the hills.
There is another way to get to Mount Lofty Summit if you are feeling particularly energetic. One of the most popular hikes in Adelaide is from Waterfall Gully up to Mount Lofty.
It’s a challenging walk, uphill all the way, and will take around an hour, but it’s a good way to see some of the bushland and work on your fitness.
Go Wine Tasting
The Adelaide Hills is one of the closest wine regions to the city centre. It is best known for its cool climate wines, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc wines.
As you are driving around the area you are sure to stumble over a cellar door or two which you can pop into for a tasting. With over fifty Adelaide Hills wineries around, there is plenty of choice.
Some of the most popular are Shaw + Smith, The Lane, and Bird in Hand, just to name a few.
If you would like to plan a day around wine tasting, I recommend looking into one of the many tours that showcase the area since you do not want to be drinking and driving. Take a look at this blog post for more details.
National Motor Museum
The National Motor Museum is located in Birdwood and it showcases all things vehicular. Both the motor enthusiast and their less enthusiastic partner will find something of interest here.
From learning how car-making shaped so much of Adelaide to seeing dozens (hundreds?) of cars and motorbikes of all shapes and sizes, there is plenty to explore.
Stock up at Melba’s Chocolates
Located in Woodside, this chocolate factory has been around for over forty years, making chocolate and other confectionary particularly some old-style Australian treats.
Melba’s is well known for its Stop Light sweets and Inch Liquorice as well as dozens of different shapes, sizes and flavours of chocolate.
You can visit to browse through their huge range, and spend some time peering through the glass to watch the production in action.
Walk the Trails
There are walking trails all through the Adelaide Hills. If you are really keen, you can walk a handful of the Heysen Trail segments while in the Adelaide Hills.
I’ve already mentioned the challenging Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty walk, and you can find similar walks in the Morialta Falls area.
If you prefer a more gentle hike, there is the Steub Trail in the Cleland Conservation Park, which while still gently going uphill the whole way, is on a path that is more accessible for strollers and wheelchairs too.
Other places to find walking trails include Belair National Park, Lobethal Bushland Park, and many other small parks and reserves in the area.
Some towns, such as Stirling and Hahndorf, offer historical trails through the towns. I recommend picking up a map at the visitor information centres to learn about what you are seeing.
If you prefer a guided walking tour, take a look at Hahndorf Walking Tours and all the different options they have available.
See the Animals at Cleland Wildlife Park
Cleland Wildlife Park is located near the Mount Lofty summit and is a great opportunity to see some of Australia’s native animals in a bushland setting.
You can get quite close to many of the animals, even feeding some of them, or you can book in to do one of the special animal experiences with your favourite furry (or not-so-furry) critter.
After Cleland, there are two other wildlife parks in the Adelaide Hills that you may also like to visit – Gorge Wildlife Park and Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary.
Pick your own Fruit
During the summer and autumn months, there are a range of options to pick your own fruit throughout the Adelaide Hills.
The best-known option is to go Strawberry picking at Beerenberg, where for a few dollars you can take home a haul of strawberries, picked while helping yourself to them straight from the bush too. The strawberries are generally ripe from November to April.
Another option is apple picking at Lenswood. There are a whole range of different apples that are ready for picking between February and April.
Cherries are usually available in December and January, and there are a few different places that offer them. Cherries at Verdun is a good starting point.
Glen Ewin Estate is a popular winery, but they also grow figs and open up from February to April for visitors to come and pick their own. Blueberries can be found around December and January at The Blueberry Patch.
Unsurprisingly, fruit picking does not run to a schedule, and weather conditions can affect opening times. Please ensure you confirm that the place you want to go is actually open by checking their social media.
Celebrate Christmas with the Lobethal Lights
If you happen to be in South Australia in the two weeks before Christmas, then a visit to the Lights of Lobethal Festival is a must.
Almost the whole town decorates their houses with Christmas lights, each house bigger and better than the one before.
It has become such an event that you will now often find live entertainment, food vans, markets and other events happening in the town too. This year the festival is set to run from December 12th-23rd.
Watch the Seasons Change at Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens
There aren’t too many places in South Australia where the change of season is so obvious as the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens. Well known for their kaleidoscope of autumn colours, the gardens are actually a delight all year round.
Enjoy the trails, pack a picnic, do some birdwatching, and enjoy spending time outside in some beautiful gardens.
Channel Spiderman with some Rock Climbing
Spend half a day rock climbing at Morialta National Park. This can be the first time you have tried it, or you can be brushing up past skills, but you can be assured you will be well qualified instructors to ensure your safety.
All equipment is supplied, and as a bonus, you get to enjoy the beautiful natural scenery here, not too far from the Adelaide City Centre
Or Hit the Mount Lofty Adventure Hub
If you like rock climbing but four hours is too much, you could instead visit the Mount Lofty Adventure Hub for a ninety-minute session that includes rock climbing, ziplining and the Mega Swing!
The zipline here is the longest and fastest in South Australia and is sure to get your heart racing as you fly through the scrub.
Step Back in Time on the Steamranger
The Steamranger Heritage Railway runs a variety of steam train rides around the Adelaide Hills and the Fleurieu Peninsula.
You can take a day trip from Mount Barker on the Southern Encounter trip and enjoy views through the southern part of the Adelaide Hills on the way down to Victor Harbor and then back again.
Usually, the train is pulled by a steam engine, but occasionally it will be swapped for diesel, especially in the warmer months due to fire danger.
There are some shorter trips that leave from Mount Barker or various days too, such as the Bugle Ranger which is on one of South Australia’s heritage “red hen” trains that used to be standard on the city train lines about thirty years ago.
I remember rattling along with the doors open to try to get a little breeze in the middle of summer.
Look out too for special events, such as a ghost train at Halloween or the Christmas Illumination train.
Do a Jurlique Farm Tour
Jurlique is a well-known skincare brand that has been operating from the Adelaide Hills for over 35 years. They run a biodynamic farm using a range of methods and principles that are sustainable and eco-friendly.
Not only can you stop into their farm shop and stock up on some amazing products, but you can also book one of their spa treatments or do a farm tour to learn all the details of the natural plants and processes that go into them.
Tours run for 90 minutes and can be done Monday-Friday.
Grab a Bargain at the Markets
When in a rural area, you can be sure that there will be some great local produce at the markets that happen throughout the Adelaide Hills.
Perhaps the best known is the Adelaide Hills Farmers Markets that are on each Saturday morning in Mount Barker. Another weekly market is the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, also running on Saturday mornings.
Look out though for the wide variety of monthly markets or one-off events (such as Christmas markets) that seem to happen in all the little towns throughout the Adelaide Hills.
You will mostly find them on the weekends, and in the warmer months, they could be happening in the evenings. You can see many of the markets listed on this page.
Try the Local Craft Beers
It seems to be a sign of the times that recently craft breweries are popping up in all sorts of nooks and crannies, and the Adelaide Hills are no exception.
There tends to be a German slant in many of the beers here due to the heritage of the region, but there are plenty of innovative options outside that too. If you don’t mind a beer or two, here are some of the places you might like to visit to try their creations.
- Prancing Pony Brewery, Totness
- Gulf Brewery, Hahndorf
- Mismatch Brewing, Hay Valley
- Uraidla Brewery (at the Uraidla Hotel)
- Lobethal Bierhaus, Lobethal
- Grünthal Brew, Verdun
- Moonburn Brewing. Lobethal
- Silverbark Brewery, Mount Barker
Follow the Hills Sculpture Trail
As you travel around the Adelaide Hills region, keep your eyes open for the 26 sculptures that make up the Hills Sculpture Trail.
The sculptures have been created by artists from all over the world from 2012-16 and placed at locations spread from Mount Torrens in the north to Milang in the South.
You can take a look at the sculptures and see a map of their locations of on the website.
Go Tasting at the Distilleries
If beer and wine are not your thing, don’t worry, there are distilleries here in the Adelaide Hills too!
With gin becoming more popular, it’s no surprise to find some great places popping up that create delicious and interesting gins and other spirits.
Many of the distilleries hold tasting events or masterclasses to teach you more about the products that you are trying. Here are some of the places to look out for
- Ambleside Distillers, Hahndorf
- Applewood Distillery, Gumeracha
- 78 Degrees Distillery, Hay Valley
- Route 9 Distillery, Balhannah
- Robber’s Dog Distillery, Mount Pleasant
Hone your Skills at the Sticky Rice Cooking School
Located in Hahndorf, the Sticky Rice Cooking School has a range of classes that will help you up your cooking game.
While mostly the classes are based on a range of Asian cuisines, there are occasionally others available – I can see Mediterranean and Moroccan offered at the time of writing.
There are guest chefs who come in the share their expertise, and private classes are available too.
If you are doing a class, you may want to stay in the beautiful villas on site. They look like they could be in Asia themselves, perfect for that zen stay.
Marvel at The Big Rocking Horse
Located in Gumeracha, this is just one of South Australia’s Big Things. You won’t be able to help stopping for the photo opportunity, but while here, head into the toy factory for a look around – you might just find that perfect gift!
There is also a cafe and a wildlife park, making it a great place to visit in the Adelaide Hills with kids.
After being closed for a few years, visitors can once again climb up to the Big Rocking Horse’s viewing platforms to admire the views over the surrounding countryside.
Relax at the Laratinga Wetlands
Even if you choose to spend your time at the Laratinga Wetlands walking one of the many trails, you will find the peaceful area relaxing.
Located not too far from the centre of Mount Barker it is surprisingly an artificial floodplain to help with water treatment in the local area.
Such a great job has been done here that you would be forgiven for thinking this area has been like this for hundreds of years.
Not only is it a pleasant area to be in, but it is also home to important flora and fauna. Keep an eye (and ear) out for the Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo that can be spotted nesting in hollowed-out trees in the area.
Cycle the Amy Gillett Bikeway
Amy Gillett was an Adelaide girl who was part of the Australian Cycling team when she was tragically killed in a cycling accident in Germany. Now she has this new bikeway in the Adelaide Hills named in her honour.
The trail meanders 17km from Mount Torrens to Oakbank, and is mostly flat, making it a great family activity in the Adelaide Hills.
Cycle just a small part of the trail or the whole thing, but make sure you stop off and some of the wineries and shops – including Melba’s Chocolate Factory.
You can bring your own bike, or you can hire one from Bike About in Woodside. They have regular bikes, kids bikes and trailers, and, my favourite, e-bikes too!
Prefer a guided bike tour? How about a Taste of Hahndorf Gourmet e-bike guided tour while you are in the Adelaide Hills?
Stay in a Castle
Doesn’t everyone want to sleep in a castle at some time in their life?
You could travel all the way to Europe to do it, or you could instead splash out and do it right here. Thorngrove Manor is one of the most luxurious of the Adelaide Hills accommodation options and a night or two here will really have you feeling like the prince or princess you are!
Go Koala Spotting at Belair National Park
Koalas live all over the Adelaide Hills region, but it can be a little tricky to spot them. One of the best places to try to catch a glimpse of them in the wild is at Belair National Park.
You will probably also spot kangaroos and perhaps emus, and if you are very lucky, a shy bandicoot might cross your path too.
Or you could just spend your time walking the trails, eating a picnic, taking your kids to the fantastic playgrounds or perhaps even camping at the Belair National Park Holiday Park.
Belair National Park sits right in the foothills and can be accessed by train from the city centre. If you drive into Belair National Park you will need to pay a vehicle entry fee. More details can be found here.
Find the old Rail Tunnel
Near Mount Barker there is an old abandoned railway tunnel that has become a bit of an Instagram star over the last few years.
The tunnels were built when the freeway above it was constructed in the 1990s, but they are no longer in use.
Located between Mount Barker and Littlehampton, look for where the railway line passes under the freeway, then go out and find the tunnel. Half the fun is in the finding, so I am not going to give any more away.
Do go Chasing Waterfalls
There are a few waterfalls that you should discover as you are travelling through the Adelaide Hills. Don’t expect these to compare to those giant streams of water you see elsewhere, our waterfalls here in SA and more refined and gentle.
They can be a little more energetic after rain, but since we don’t get a huge amount of that, it isn’t often.
Chase down some of these waterfalls
- Morialta Falls – there are three waterfalls here to find
- Waterfall Gully – the first waterfall is easy to see, but the next one takes a little more effort
- Belair National Park – take a walk through Echo Tunnel to see the two waterfalls here
Browse the Art Galleries & Museums
Every town in the Adelaide Hills seems to have at least one small art studio, run by a local artist or showcasing the craftsmanship of the locals. One of the bigger galleries is the Hahndorf Academy in Hahndorf.
While in Hahndorf, also look out for The Aboriginal Art House. Fabrik in Lobethal focuses on textile arts and Aptos Cruz in Stirling features all sorts of Australian artists as well as furniture and homewares from all over the world.
You can also find small museums around the place too. Check out the Wolf Blass Gallery & Museum in Hahndorf to learn about the life of this pioneering winemaker.
Prospect Hill Historical Museum will show the history of their local area, particularly the dairy industry, and in Lobethal you can find their history at the Lobethal Archives & Historical Museum.
Gather a Mystery Picnic of Local Ingredients
Have you been on a mystery picnic yet? This great day out has brought together a treasure hunt, a food tour and a picnic. You sign up in advance and the day before you will receive clues to get you started.
After picking up your first ingredient for your picnic, you will get another clue.
You will eventually collect a number of ingredients, see a lot of the local area and get to try some of the great local foods before sitting down and enjoying a picnic with your loved ones.
Make it a Festival!
It’s not for nothing that South Australia is called the Festival State. There is always a festival going on somewhere, most often more than one. South Australians can turn anything into a festival!
Some festivals, like the Adelaide Fringe Festival, SALA and the Nature Festival, have venues all over the state including in the Adelaide Hills while they are on.
There are also dedicated festivals just for the Adelaide Hills. There’s a wine festival for every season – look out for Chardonnay May, Winter Reds, Sparkling Spring and the Adelaide Hills Wine Show.
Look out for the “Hahndorf. Handmade. Handcrafted. Handpicked” festival each September and of course the Lights of Lobethal Festival in December.
Paint & Sip and Create a Masterpiece
An activity that has become very popular recently are paint and sip classes, and you can do one at The Paintbox.
Found on the main street of Hahndorf, this is an art supplies shop and studio that runs a variety of art classes, including those fun ones involving alcohol. You can find all the classes on their website here.
Back a Winner at the Oakbank Races
Every year over the Easter Long Weekend the Oakbank Races are held.
These horse races have become a family tradition for many people, who flock here to spend the Easter weekend at Oakbank to see the races and to enjoy all the events that happen surrounding it.
Race meetings are held one or two other times throughout the year, but the Easter races are the biggest event on the calendar.
Enjoy the Views with a Scenic Lookout
What is the point of coming into the hills if you can’t take advantage of that height and enjoy the views! There are a few great locations to get views from the hills back over the city.
I’ve already mentioned Mt Lofty summit above, but you can also visit Skye Lookout further to the north and Windy Point to the south.
Near Sunset is always a great time to visit lookouts in the Adelaide Hills as you will be able to watch the sun sink in to the ocean beyond the city and enjoy all the colours of the sky afterwards.
Watch the lights of the city come on and twinkle below you.
Pamper Yourself with a Spa Day
If just reading this list of all the things to do in the Adelaide Hills has you exhausted, then you might like to include a spa day in your visit.
There are many day spas throughout the hills, which tends to be THE place to go for the best spa experiences in South Australia. While there are many options, some of the best known (and most luxurious) day spas are:
- Gatekeeper’s Day Spa, Mount Lofty House
- Longview Day Spa, Macclesfield
- Cocos Day Spa, Stirling
- Hahndorf Creek Wellness Spa
Need help planning your Adelaide Hills itinerary? Take a look at these suggestions.
Continue planning your South Australia trip with these travel guides
The Ultimate South Australia Itinerary
Eyre Peninsula Road Trip Itinerary
The Ultimate List of What to do on Kangaroo Island
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