No longer in the shadow of Australia’s eastern capitals, the city teams an energetic food and wine scene with cool cultural offerings and an upbeat – dare we say edgy? – air.
South Australia’s capital has been flying under the radar. Sure, it has a world-class arts season when Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Fringe and WOMADelaide collide to create a carnival-like atmosphere city-wide in late summer and early autumn. But Mad March aside, Adelaide has more often been considered a stepping stone; a launching pad for visiting famous wine regions and remote areas such as the Flinders Ranges and Kangaroo Island. Its monikers, too, have been misleading – City of Churches made it seem overly austere, while Radelaide was rarely uttered without a wry smile.
But not any more. Today, Adelaide has a vibrant, cosmopolitan feel all year round, particularly in its revamped East and West ends. It has topnotch cultural and sports institutions and is blessed with surrounding natural beauty. Its status as a must-go for wine-lovers was confirmed in 2016 when it was named one of the Great Wine Capitals of the world. And it has a flourishing dining scene. In Caterwings’ 2017 worldwide survey of best food destinations, Adelaide was the second-ranking Australian city after Melbourne. Yes, it’s time to put it on your list.
Start the day with the heart-pumping Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty hike, a picturesque 3.9-kilometre return trail on the city’s south-eastern fringe. The starting point is the car park at the end of Waterfall Gully Road, about a 20-minute drive from town by taxi or hire car. At the summit of Mount Lofty, enjoy remarkable views of the city and sparkling St Vincent Gulf; on very clear days, you might even glimpse Kangaroo Island. The path is well maintained but the ascent is steep so this is one for fitness enthusiasts. If it seems a tad vigorous, a stroll through Adelaide Botanic Garden or along the River Torrens is a delightful (and flat) alternative.
Back in town, head straight for the Adelaide Central Market, which is one of the largest undercover markets in the Southern Hemisphere. At more than 70 stalls, you’ll find South Australia’s freshest produce, including a delicious array of fruit and vegetables, artisanal breads, cheeses, meat, local seafood, nuts, coffee and confectionery. If you haven’t already worked up an appetite, you soon will while browsing the aisles. Break the fast with an Italian-style colazione and strong coffee at Lucia’s Fine Foods – also a longstanding favourite for pizza and spaghetti.
Adelaide’s main cultural institutions sit shoulder to shoulder on North Terrace. It’s a 20-minute stroll from the market but a cab or Uber will get you there in five. Admire the works at the Art Gallery of South Australia – in particular, the Melrose Wing of European Art, which is strikingly curated according to theme rather than chronology. Next door, the South Australian Museum houses more than four million objects and specimens (look out for the impressive 11-metre-long model of a giant squid), while the illustrious Mortlock Wing at the State Library of South Australia (pictured top) has been rated among the 20 most beautiful libraries in the world. There’s also the excellent Migration Museum, on Kintore Avenue, behind the library.
With its regionally led menu, substantial wine list and chic, airy vibe, nearby 2KW is the perfect place for leisurely refuelling. Whatever you choose, the triple-cooked salt-and-vinegar potatoes are the compulsory side order. While you’re there, admire the views of Adelaide Oval, perhaps the most architecturally stunning sports venue in the country. Its multimillion-dollar revamp in 2014 reinvigorated the city.
It’s just a 10-minute walk to JamFactory, a cool art and craft gallery on Morphett Street that showcases local artisans. If you hit a post- lunch slump, get your caffeine fix (or something stronger) in the verdant urban garden at Peter Rabbit on Hindley Street. Head east along Hindley to Adelaide’s best bookshop, Imprints, a haven of dark timber and literary delights. Continue on to Rundle Mall, the city’s main shopping stretch, where you can sample sweet treats at Haigh’s Chocolates’ flagship store at Beehive Corner and admire Marguerite Derricourt’s A Day Out (four charming bronze pigs seemingly shuffling along the pedestrian strip), Bert Flugelman’s Spheres (colloquially known as the Mall’s Balls) and the Victorian architecture of Adelaide Arcade (pictured above). Exit the mall at Rundle Street, where you’ll find more boutiques and cafés, as well as two grungy but beloved pubs: The Exeter Hotel and The Austral. Having a pint at either will endear you to locals.
If there’s one thing South Australians excel at, it’s wine. A shrine to oenology, East End Cellars on Vardon Avenue is a clever combination of bottle shop and wine bar. Whether you’re in the mood for a famous Barossa shiraz or a boutique McLaren Vale fiano, the savvy staff can help. Fancy something other than vino? Next door, The William Bligh (33 Vardon Avenue; 08 7226 8927) is big on rum, while Nola (pictured above), just across the road, does a fine trade in craft beer and whiskey.
Less than 30 metres from East End Cellars is a stairway to gastronomic heaven. Orana (picture above), set one floor above the bustle of the East End, serves high-end fare with a focus on native ingredients. Not geared up for an 18- to 20-course dégustation? Head a block north to Africola, where the flavours are bold, the dishes are generous and the vibe is downright fun. Whichever you choose, you’ll need to book well in advance.
One of the city’s coolest precincts, the West End comes into its own when night falls. A cab can whisk you to its vibrant laneways twinkling with fairy lights in less than 10 minutes. Bar-hopping and hobnobbing between Leigh, Peel and Gresham streets and Gilbert Place is hands down the best way to while away the last hours of your day in Adelaide. ￼
This piece was originally published in May 2018 and has been updated.