Welcome to South Australia! Are you new here? Let me introduce this great state and show you my recommendations for what to do in South Australia on your first visit.
Feature image photo credit: Michael Waterhouse, Adelaide, Adelaide
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TL;DR? Here's the outline
Planning Your Trip to South Australia
I have chosen the below activities, attractions and experiences especially for first-time visitors to South Australia. They will give you a good taste of many different aspects of South Australia, but almost all of them will just be scratching the surface.
There won’t be any off-the-beaten-path ideas or anything that needs complicated travel details. Instead, these will give a balanced overview and leave you wanting to come back again for more.
Shop at Adelaide Central Market
To me, the Adelaide Central Market is a no-brainer and the first thing I suggest to any of my friends who are visiting South Australia for the first time.
The markets aren’t just a tourist attraction in Adelaide, the locals love it too. I travel in to the city centre regularly just to go to the market for breakfast or to pick up some fresh ingredients.
This is the perfect place to pick up some delicious gourmet treats for a quick lunch on the go or snacks during your trip.
If you want to immerse yourself more, book one of the Adelaide Central Market tours to delve deeper.
Do Some Wine Tasting
Adelaide is one of the Great Wine Capitals of the World, so it’s almost compulsory to do at least a little wine tasting while you are here.
The most popular way to do that is with a wine tour to one of the nearby wine regions. Either the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale are great options, or if you prefer to combine your wine-tasting day with some sightseeing, choose the Adelaide Hills.
If you don’t have time in your itinerary for a full wine tour, there are still some options to do some wine tasting in the city.
I recommend calling into the National Wine Centre where you can taste many varieties of wine, tour the small museum, and eat a delicious meal. They also run short tours if you are interested in learning more.
It’s not just in Adelaide you can go wine tasting though. SA has 18 wine regions, from the Flinders Ranges to Mount Gambier and Kangaroo Island.
There are even some wineries around that aren’t in a named wine region – around Pt Lincoln for example. Just pop in for a taste if you are driving past. Most don’t require a booking, and often the tasting is free (or will be taken off the purchase of a bottle).
Hahndorf is a picturesque little town in the Adelaide Hills. I’ve been there dozens of times, yet I still walk down the main street enjoying how cute it is.
It is special because it is here that the German history in South Australia has been preserved the best. Many of the shops and restaurants have a German twist to them, including some delicious German food.
A visit to Hahndorf can be combined with other things to do in the Adelaide Hills for a full-day trip. Or you can call in on the way to or from Monarto Safari Park. You can do some wine tasting while you are there too.
Go to Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island should be on every South Australian itinerary – and I’m not the only one who thinks so. KI is the only Australian listing in Lonely Planet’s 2024 “Best of…” lists, coming in as the #2 region to visit for the year.
Just two hours from Adelaide (including the ferry), Kangaroo Island is a haven for wildlife, especially koalas. Sadly the 2019/20 bushfires had a large impact on their numbers, but they are increasing again and there are still options to see them in the wild all over the island.
It’s not only koalas though, there are all sorts of animals to see here in the wild, from seals and sea lions, dolphins and penguins, kangaroos and wallabies, echidna and platypus. Not to mention the dozens of species of birds.
You can also enjoy dramatic natural landscapes, beautiful beaches, amazing food and wine and some fun adventure activities.
While I recommend spending at least three nights on KI – so two full days to explore – it is possible to visit with a (very long!) day tour to get a taste if that’s all the time you have.
Hit the Beach
South Australia is filled with pristine beaches, from Beachport in the south to Cactus Beach in the west. You need to include at least one of them when you visit.
There are so many fantastic beaches across the state that it is hard to say which are the best – instead I will recommend some of my favourites.
In Adelaide, I like to go to Semaphore beach. It’s close to my home, it’s not crowded, but it still sits at the end of a shopping strip so has plenty of food options nearby.
Glenelg is the most popular in Adelaide. It is easy to get to by tram and in summer is home to the Moseley Beach Club.
Regionally, gosh, they’re all amazing. Down south, Long Beach at Robe is great, my favourite on Eyre Peninsula is Smoky Bay (personal bias, that’s where I learned to swim), and on Yorke Peninsula I would choose one of the stunning beaches of the Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park.
The beaches are great for a quick dip in summer, but in winter they are also a place for taking a walk and exploring, so do not skip them if the weather is cooler.
Enjoy the Wildlife
One of the good things about South Australia not having as many cities as the other states is that there is more opportunity for wildlife, both in the wild and in wildlife parks.
From Adelaide, there are a range of wildlife parks to visit. For native animals, Cleland Wildlife Park is the most convenient. It’s one of the places you can cuddle a koala if that is on your bucket list.
In terms of zoos, there are two main locations to visit, both part of the same Adelaide Zoos organisation.
In the city centre is Adelaide Zoo. Here you will find a range of smaller animals in a lovely leafy setting on the banks of the River Torrens. Join in on an animal experience to
About 90 minutes outside of Adelaide is Monarto Safari Park, where you can see many bigger, endangered species living in large paddocks. Currently being extended, it will soon be the biggest safari park outside of Africa.
Here you will see giraffe, zebra, lions, cheetah, rhinos, buffalo and so many more animals both large and small. There are plans to have elephants back here again soon, the first in SA since the ’90s.
Explore the Suburbs
While the Adelaide City Centre is a great place to explore and home to many of the top attractions, it’s also great to head out into the suburbs to see a little more of Adelaide.
I recommend a day trip to either Glenelg or Port Adelaide. Both are easy to access with public transport.
Glenelg is great for the beach in summer and an all-round fun day out. There are things for the kids to do, shopping, plenty of food options, museums, a cinema, sports events and nightlife.
Port Adelaide is the historical maritime hub of South Australia. Head here for a dolphin & shipwrecks boat tour, the Maritime, Aviation and Railway museums, street art, architecture, pub culture (including the home of Pirate Life craft beer) and shopping.
Attend a Festival
South Australia is not called the festival state for nothing, there is always something going on, so while you are here, include a festival or event on your list of things to do.
There is a festival here to suit almost any taste. Of course, the big-name festival is the Adelaide Fringe Festival, held over four weeks from mid-February until mid-March each year.
This includes thousands of shows, performances and events all over the state, covering comedy, music, circus, dance and so much more.
Then there the many food and wine festivals, including Tasting Australia in early May each year.
And of course, there are the sporting events, such as the Tour Down Under and Adelaide International tennis in January, the AFL Gather Round in April, the Valo 500 car race in November and many more throughout the year.
Do an Indigenous Experience
While you are here in South Australia, make sure you include at least one indigenous experience on your itinerary.
It could be as simple as browsing through the Australian Aboriginal Cultures collection in the South Australian Museum (the largest collection in Australia) or you could book a tour right in the Adelaide city centre.
Alternatively, you could spend a day doing an Indigenous tour of the Fleurieu Peninsula, or if you are going to the Flinders Ranges, there are many options there too.
Experience the Flinders Ranges
I would love for everyone to include the Flinders Ranges in their first trip to SA, but I realise the five-hour drive to get there might make it a little too difficult for many itineraries.
Still, if you can get to the area around Wilpena Pound, then you absolutely should.
Here you will have the opportunity to experience the vastness of the Outback and some of the incredible scenery.
One of the best ways to understand the area is to take a scenic flight, either from Wilpena Pound Resort or Rawnsley Park Station.
There are indigenous experiences and businesses, hiking, amazing sunsets and sunrises and more stars in the night sky than you knew existed.
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