Adelaide is my home town. While I haven’t lived in South Australia for nearly 20 years, we still visit regularly and have family there. Each visit, there are a number of things that we try and take Miss M to see and do. So we thought we’d share our top 10 things to see and do in Adelaide with kids.
More than 70% of South Australians live in Adelaide and its surrounding suburbs. And it’s easy to see why. The central business district (CBD) is completely circled by parklands. It is home to major, internationally renowned festivals. You can swim with dolphins, stroll along white sandy beaches or hold a koala just 20 minutes from the city centre. And don’t forget the many wineries at your doorstep. But what is there to do in the CBD? And what is there to do and see in Adelaide WITH KIDS?
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While I was researching this post (well, the little research I did do as a local), I realised just how many posts claim to be about what to see and do in Adelaide with kids and without, and then suggest things that are not even in the city. Common suggestions are the Barossa Valley or Kangaroo Island, which is a 2-hour drive and 45-minute ferry away from the city centre!
When we say “Things to see and do in Adelaide with kids” we mean “Things to do and see in the CBD and the Adelaide Parklands with kids”. I will explain what the Parklands are in a moment.
We will get to the other things too. We’ll be sharing a number of posts in the next few weeks on things to see and do around Adelaide with kids. There is so much to see and do – wildlife parks and zoos, winery tours, beautiful natural landscapes, wonderful beaches and Kangaroo Island. You can even visit wineries with kids!
Adelaide itself is great to use as a base for your travels, but there are kid-friendly things to see and do in the city, too, and most of them are free!
Where to stay
When we visit Adelaide, we stay with family, so we really do not have any hotels or other accommodation to recommend.
If you are planning a visit to Adelaide with kids, you can stay within the Parklands or in one of the suburbs just outside the Parklands. Unless you will have access to a car, make sure your accommodation is near public transport (while improvements have been made, Adelaide is still not known for its extensive and efficient public transport network).
If you are visiting Adelaide with kids or even travelling solo, I would avoid accommodation on Hindley Street (it is known for being loud and not all that safe at night) and around Whitmore Square (known for its homeless shelters, though the Adelaide Central Mosque is also close by).
We recommend booking.com.
Note: In light of COVID-19, booking.com has added additional features on their property pages, including food safety, social distancing, safety features and cleaning.
While we’re looking at bookings, and with travelling as it is at the moment, you might want to consider travel insurance. Try AXA Travel Insurance for a quote.
A brief history of Adelaide
Adelaide is the capital city of the state of South Australia. It was named in honour of Queen Adelaide (consort to King William IV), who was otherwise known as Adelheid of Saxe-Meiningen. When Miss M was born, we actually considered using Adelaide as her middle name because of the Australian and German connections.
In contrast to all other Australian states, South Australia was a free-settled British colony. No convicts! This helped the state thrive. Until the post-war era, Adelaide was Australia’s third-largest city. It is now fifth.
South Australia was the first state in Australia to grant voting rights to Aborigines (in 1895, later revoked) and was one of the first places in the world to give women the right to vote (in 1894, second to New Zealand). It was also the very first place in the world to allow women to run for parliament.
Due to its diversity of faiths, Adelaide has also become known as the “City of Churches”. This came in handy when playing the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. Until recently, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra played a free concert in Elder Park, overlooking the River Torrens, at the end of each Summer. The finale was always the 1812 Overture, complete with cannons (fireworks over the river) and church bells ringing out from the nearby churches.
When to visit
South Australia is known as the Festival State because of its many festivals. It is even on the State’s number plates.
March Madness is about to start. In Adelaide, that means the Adelaide Fringe and the Adelaide Festival are both running until mid-March, with art installations, comedy programs, acrobatics, dance, the Writers Festival all over the city. Much of it is free and very fun! WOMADeldaide, the world music festival, is on in March, too.
In January, the Tour Down Under, Australia’s version of the Tour de France, uses Adelaide as a base. There’s a film festival, a history festival, a cabaret festival and various food and wine festivals, too. Make sure you find out what is going to be one when you’re in town!
Adelaide lies on the Adelaide plains between the Gulf of St Vincent in the west and the Mount Lofty Ranges in the east. This means there are lovely views over the city and to the gulf waters beyond from the top of Mount Lofty, and you always get beautiful sunsets over the water.
The capital is located on the banks of the River Torrens, in an area originally inhabited by the Kaurna people. In the Kaurna language (pronounce Garna), the area is knowns as Tarndanyangga, or place of the red kangaroo.
Adelaide is a planned capital, much like Philadelphia. Colonel William Light, the Surveyor-General of the new Province of South Australia, set out the city in a grid layout. The is North Terrace to the north, South Terrace to the south, West Terrace on the west and, yes, East Terrace to the east, though it is the only one that is not a single straight street.
There is a statue of Colonel Light on Montefiori Hill in North Adelaide overlooking the city that he planned. While it might be nice to see “Light’s Vision”, it is not that exciting. We don’t recommend going to see it when you visit Adelaide with kids unless it really interests you.
Adelaide’s layout makes it very easy to find your way. In the centre of the city is Victoria Square. Running north to south (around/ through Victoria Square) is King William Street. There are four other squares within the grid (none of which really warrant a visit).
Streets in the city run from east to west and are named after prominent pioneers or those who made a significant contribution to the state. When the streets hit King William Street, the names change – King William would not allow a street bearing the name of a commoner to cross any street named after him.
Most of the prominent buildings are situated on North Terrace, though this is not where our suggested tour will start.
Adelaide is also surrounded by a ring of parks, known as the Parklands. Imagine New York’s Central Park spread around the city From Victoria Square to the outer edge of the parklands is one mile – at least to the west. Many major sporting grounds and facilities are located in the Parklands.
Where to eat
Some of these areas are mentioned in more detail below, but the best places to find food in Adelaide with kids (and for kids) are:
- The Adelaide market, for fresh produce, cheese, breakfast and light lunches
- Chinatown for a range of Asian and Australian dishes for lunch or dinner
- Rundle Mall, during shopping hours, for food courts with ty
- Rundle Street, at all hours, for a wide variety of cuisines (including ice cream).
What to see and do in Adelaide with kids
I’ve tried to put our “What to see and do in Adelaide with kid”-tour in a logical order. Whether that order works for you will depend on where you are starting and finishing your day in Adelaide.
Not all things will be fun for kids of all ages. Where possible, I have added alternatives or made suggestions as to age appropriateness.
1. Stroll in the Himeji Garden
Himeji in Japan is a sister city of the City of Adelaide. The Himeji Garden is a traditional Japanese garden that combines two classic styles, the senzui (lake and mountain garden), and the kare senzui (dry garden, with rocks and stones). It contains all traditional elements of a Japanese garden, such as a gatehouse, lanterns, lake, deer scarer and teahouse. Start your tour of Adelaide with kids with a peaceful stroll around the garden.
You can find the Himeji Garden at the corner of South Terrace and Glen Osmond Road. Entry is free. The gate opens at 8 a.m. each day.
Alternatively, if you decide to go to the Marshmallow playground or the Adelaide Tree Climb (see below), the Himeji Garden is just around the corner.
2. Savour the Adelaide Central Market
On market days (Tuesday-Sunday), go to the Adelaide Central Market, which is popular with both locals and tourists alike.
To get there, walk to Halifax Street to take the free bus or walk to King William Road and take the free tram.
Stroll through the market and take in the atmosphere. Buy some supplies for your picnic in the Botanic Gardens or the Zoo later.
If you are looking to support businesses affected by recent bushfires, try the Kangaroo Island stall. It sells around 450 products from 50 producers based on the Island. Around half of the Island burnt in December 2019 and January 2020.
If you are there on Tuesdays at midday with a little one (aged 2 to 5), try the free Market Minis program, which helps kids understand more about the food they eat. Sessions take approximately 20 minutes and use seasonal fruit and vegetables. Grab a coffee and hang around and watch.
For coffee, we recommend Cafe Zuma on Gouger Street. They also do fantastic eggs florentine.
3. Feast in Chinatown
Stroll through the market and over to Chinatown.
Adelaide’s Chinatown is not as big or impressive as Chinatown in Melbourne. However, it is not short on diverse and delicious cuisine – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Indian…
Check out the gates a the entrance on Gouger and Grote Street and marvel at the lanterns and maze of shops and restaurants.
If you are looking to get some food, try BBQ City, our family’s current favourite. It is light on decorations (has almost none), is fast (rushed), staff aren’t chatty (they are borderline rude) and it is quite simple, but the food is delicious.
4. Admire Victoria Square
Walk (back) to Victoria Square in the centre of the city. In the local Kaurna language, it is called Tarntanyangga.
There are a number of buildings of interest that overlook the square- though most you won’t want (or be allowed) to go into: the Supreme Court, the Post Office, the old Town Hall and St Francis Xavier Cathedral. Check out the statue of Queen Victoria and the Three Rivers Fountain in the square.
Depending on when you are visiting Adelaide with kids, there might even be something happening in the square. It is where Adelaide’s Christmas tree stands and the Tour Village for the Tour Down Under is located.
5. See the Malls Balls: Rundle Mall
Adelaide’s got balls. Literally. Go see them next.
Walk or catch the free tram down King William Road and get off at Rundle Mall.
Rundle Mall is a pedestrian street mall that was opened in 1976 and is closed to traffic. The mall is home to the local flagship staws of many large Australian and international retailers, as well as a number of arcades (with food courts, if you are looking for easy lunch for picky eaters).
Rundle Mall is also home to the pigs.
As you walk from King William Street, one of the first things you will see is Oliver, Augusta, Horatio and Truffles, four large bronze pigs. Their names are often used as questions at quiz nights. Little kids will love them: take photos of your kids on and next to the pigs, then continue down the Mall.
Rundle Mall has just gotten a brand new sculpture – The Pigeon by Paul Sloan. I haven’t seen it yet, but it looks fun.
The Mall Balls
The Mall’s Balls, officially known as The Spheres, is a four-metre tall sculpture of two large stainless steel sphere balanced on top of one another by artist Bert Flugelman. If an Adelaidean says they will “meet you at the balls”, this is where they mean.
From the Balls it is just a hop, skip and a jump to the Fountain (from the 1800s) and the Adelaide Arcade.
This gorgeous and iconic arcade was first opened in 1885, was the largest in the southern hemisphere and really evidences the grandeur and elegance of a bygone era. It is built in the Italian style of architecture with two domes, one at each end and is the only building in Adelaide still to have them.
The double story arcade has 100 shops, most of which provide health and beauty services, sell accessories (hats!) or jewellery, or sell speciality products such as buttons, coins or books. It is also a great place to go shopping for some original souvenirs and stop for a coffee.
About halfway down the Arcade is the entrance to Gays Arcade. This has nothing to do with sexual identification but is named after Mr Patrick Gay, a cabinet maker and upholsterer, who had the arcade built to house his new furniture emporium. His original premises stood where the Adelaide Arcade now stands.
The Adelaide Arcade and Gays Arcade are allegedly home to six ghosts, including that of Mr Francis Cluney, a former caretaker of the Arcade. He met a rather tragic and gruesome end in 1887 when he became entangled in the engine used to power the lighting. He now haunts the arcade, moving things around. Sometimes you can hear his footsteps…
There is a free Museum of things associated with and found in the arcade, and a free walking tour which highlights some of the original aspects of the building. You might even see evidence of the ghosts.
6. Get cultural on North Terrace
Once you’ve seen enough of Rundle Mall, duck down Gawler Place and through to North Terrace. The large department stores (Myer and David Jones) also open onto North Terrace.
We have a number of free North Terrace suggestions for your tour of Adelaide with kids:
The War Memorial
The War Memorial is worth a quick look to see how Adelaide’s compares to some others you might have seen. Interestingly, South Australia was the first state to decide to erect a memorial to WWI. However, a fire caused all the designs submitted for the design competition to be lost before the competition could be judged. The need for a second design competition delayed plans somewhat.
I love old libraries. It may have been a while since I have been in, but the State Library is still one of my favourites. Check out the Mortlock wing. It is just gorgeous!
I will always think of whales when I visit this museum as various whale skeletons were always the first thing you saw when you entered.
The Museum underwent a huge renovation in the late 1990s and now has some prominent permanent and temporary exhibits. The Australian Aboriginal Cultures Collection with around 30,000 objects is a must for anyone who wants to learn about these local cultures.
I also really lie the Antarctica exhibition, with a focus on the expeditions of South Australian Sir Douglas Mawson, who used to be on the Australian $100 note.
Of course, our little dinosaur aficionado likes the fossils and the megafauna.
Like the London Natural History Museum, entry to the museum is free and they even provide free tours daily at 11 a.m. daily, as well as at 1.30 p.m. on weekends. There is no need to book, just meet the guide in the foyer for your free one hour tour. The museum shop has a great range of gifts and souvenirs.
The Museum will soon be split, creating a new gallery for Aboriginal art and culture that will be housed at the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site (further down North Terrace). The Museum’s collection will be joined by works currently held by the Library, the Art Gallery and Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute. It is scheduled to open in 2023.
The Art Gallery of South Australia
Although younger children are unlikely to appreciate going to an art gallery, I would be remiss if I did not include the Art Gallery of South Australia in this list of things to do in Adelaide with kids.
Entry to the Gallery is free, although a fee may apply to some temporary exhibits. The building is a lovely combination of old and new and the fish gates by Catherine Truman are worth a look.
For an unusual souvenir of your visit to Adelaide with kids, find the art vending machine in the sculpture courtyard and get your own Crochet your character kit.
7. Stroll in Elder Park
Stroll back along North Terrace to the other side of King William Street and Elder Park.
Take a walk through Festival Plaza, admire the work done on the revamp and let your kids climb on some of the ‘shapes’. The State Government has spent millions on it!
Festival Plaza borders Elder Park, named after the Elder family, who in 1882 generously donated the funds to have the rotunda built. Elder Park is still the sight of many community events, such as Carols by Candlelight or the Oz Asia Moon Lantern Festival.
If you are or your child is a fan of cricket, football or tennis, take the new Riverbank Footbridge over the River Torrens to Adelaide Oval. Tours run daily (except match days) and include the heritage-listed scoreboard.
For an additional fee, you can take the Cricket tour, which includes a curated tour of the Bradman Collection, a souvenir lanyard and a souvenir cricket ball. The Bradman Collection brings together the personal collection of cricket memorabilia of Sir Donald Bradman, which is now housed at the oval.
If your kids are older and are looking for an adrenalin rush, try the Adelaide Oval Roof Climb. Peter and my brothers highly recommend it! Climbers must be at least eight years old. Climbs cost from $75 (child climb day) to $124 (adult climb night), including safety equipment. You must wear closed, rubber-soled shoes, such as sneakers for the climb.
For a more relaxing afternoon in Adelaide with kids, walk back over the Riverbank Footbridge and take the Popeye to the Zoo. Popeye is the name of the blue and white boat that launches from near Elder Park.
A day at the Zoo starting with a trip on the Popeye is a quintessential part of any Adelaide childhood. Buy your tickets online or at the landing – you can buy your Zoo entry ticket at the same time.
Now they even offer afternoon tea tours or gin tours on the Popeye. This is definitely something I want to try. Unfortunately, minimum numbers apply (10 for the afternoon tea).
Alternatively (or additionally), hire a paddleboat and take it for a ride on the river. A 30-minute tour costs $20; the price includes life jackets for children.
8. Visit the animals at Adelaide Zoo
We like a good zoo (such as Burgers Zoo or Hellabrunn) so it should come as no surprise that the Adelaide Zoo is on our list of suggestions for things to do and see in Adelaide with kids. It is one of Adelaide’s most iconic attractions.
This was boosted by two pandas, Wang Wang and Fu Ni, on loan from China. Since they have lived at the Zoo, busloads of tourists have made their way to the Zoo from their cruise ships just to see the pandas.
The Zoo is the second oldest zoo in Australia and is home to more than 250 species of animals (a little less than the Berlin Zoo). Our favourite animals are the primates and hippos, and the quokkas in the petting zoo that may even get close enough to pat.
Miss M’s other favourites are the dinosaurs: for the second time (that I know of), lifesized dinosaurs were ‘hidden’ around the zoo during school holidays. Our little dinosaur aficionado loved it.
The Zoo also has a great playground, which makes it an ideal place to spend an afternoon in Adelaide with kids (pre-teens). It includes climbing structures, water play features, a creek and aerial walkways. Miss M wanted to spend hours here, even when she was sick with the flu.
Watch out for the flying foxes! A colony of grey-headed flying foxes nestles in the pine trees near the zoo entrance. At sunset, when they leave to go hunting for food, you might mistake them for a flock of loud, rowdy birds.
9. Relax in the Botanic Gardens
The Adelaide Botanic Gardens and Botanic Park stretch from the zoo to North Terrace and all the way to the outer rim of the Parklands.
First opened in 1857, the 124-acre Botanic Gardens offer eight gardens (Garden of Health, Little Sprouts Kitchen Garden, the International Rose Garden, the Economic Garden, the Mediterranean Garden, the Australian Native Garden, the Cactus and Succulent Garden and the Dahlia Garden), the First Creek Wetland and the Australian forest. You do not need to see it all! Architecturally, the Bicentennial Conservatory and the newly re-opened Palm House are both very interesting and very different.
Our favourites are the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion and the Museum of Economic Botany, which opened in 1881. The latter is the last of its kind in the world has a fascinating and looks at the various plants, their uses and their importance in our lives. Entry is free and the building is gorgeous, too.
We love the fact that the Botanic Gardens are so peaceful although you are in the middle of the city. If you grabbed some snacks at the market, why not find a favourite place and have a picnic lunch or dinner? Bring a blanket if you can.
In Summer, moonlight cinemas are held in the gardens in the evening. Check the website for details.
If you are looking for things to see and do without kids, or with older kids, you might also want to do some wine tasting at the National Wine Centre, on the edge of the Botanic Gardens (North Terrace side). Check the website for their program.
10. Hit a playground
Have your kids not had enough of the playground at the zoo? Are ‘playgrounds’ less interesting now that they are older?
The Adelaide Parklands are home to numerous unique play spaces. Take your pick!
- Bonython playspace, near the Adelaide Gaol. It includes water play and a nearby road safety centre.
- Glover playspace in King Rodney Park (East Terrace): the angles on the houses make it feel like you are in a Sr Seuss book. Also has in-ground trampolines.
- Princess Elizabeth playspace (South Terrace near West Terrace): perfect for princesses and knights, this one has a castle, loop slides and inground trampolines.
- Rymill Park: great for cheeky monkeys who like to climb.
- Glover playspace (South Terrace near Pultney Street): known for the caterpillar tunnels an, spinning swings and flying foxes.
- Marshmallow playspace, Pityarilla (Glen Osmond Road near South Terrace): has a water play area, a large climbing area, swings and a bag slide.
The Marshmallow playspace is also very close to the Himeji Gardens and Adelaide Tree Climb, which is perfect for more adventurous kids.
Adelaide Tree Climb describes itself as an aerial adventure park. It has seven elevated treetop courses with zip lines and 70 obstacles. It reminded me of the zipline tours in the Otways.
There is even a course with three difficulty levels for smaller kids: minimum height is 100 cm. Tickets cost $29 for the Children’s Course and $39 ($35 concession) for the longer and more challenging Grand Course.
Lots of things to see and do on your visit to Adelaide with kids
There are so many things to see and do in Adelaide with kids that you can easily spend a day seeing the city itself! Take these 10 tips from a local – moi – and see the things that suit your kids (and you) the best and enjoy! And we haven’t even gotten to the myriad of activities outside of the city centre yet!