The Adelaide Hills are a great place to spend a weekend, with or without children. The sheer variety of places to visit and things to do means you are guaranteed to find something to interest your kids, no matter what their age. Naturally, your ideal itinerary will differ depending on the time of year and the weather, as well as your personal preferences. Here are our suggestions for 7 towns to visit and what to do in the Adelaide Hills with kids – all tried and tested by the locals.
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The Adelaide Hills are relatively close to Adelaide (approx. 20 minutes from the central business district) so that you can easily stay at one of the many hotels or hostels in the city centre and visit the Adelaide Hills. 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.
Alternatively, Hahndorf has the most variety of hotels. If you are looking to stay a little longer, try stayz.com.au for self-catered accommodation (and you will have multiple opportunities to buy artisan products for a great cheeseboard at your accommodation).
You can also use your accommodation in the Adelaide Hills as a base to see Adelaide, the beaches and even the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale wineries. My family has lived in the Adelaide Hills for many years and we still use Dad’s house as our base when we visit.
The easiest way to see the Adelaide Hills is by car. However, there are regular buses from the city to Mt Lofty and Cleland, to Stirling and to Hahndorf.
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.
What to do in the Adelaide Hills: Visit Mount Lofty
One of the best views of Adelaide is from Mt Lofty. You can stand on the summit of one of the highest mountains in the state (yes, it is just high enough to be called a mountain) and look over the city and to the sea. As Adelaide was planned and set out in a grid, it is a great way to get your bearings.
There is a café at the summit (well, in the parking lot just below the summit), in case you need a coffee or breakfast (they do really good Brekkie Brioche Rolls and the Brekkie Tower looks great too – think afternoon tea but with breakfast). Look out for (wild) koalas which are common in the area.
If you enjoy hiking, hike from the Summit down to Waterfall Gully and back. This is a lovely hike that your teenagers will love. If you are planning to do the hike in Summer, start early in the morning and take lots of water. Wear appropriate shoes and walk with ‘heavy footsteps’ so that snakes will move out of your path.
Tip: In Autumn (April-May), visit the Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens for beautiful Fall colours. In Spring (September-November) there’s lots of magnolia to see too.
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What to do in the Adelaide Hills: feed the animals at Cleland Wildlife Park
Located just below Mt Lofty Summit, Cleland Wildlife Park is definitely worth a visit if you are in the Adelaide Hills. It is one of our top zoos and wildlife parks to see, not just in the Adelaide Hills but in all of Adelaide.
- Hold and pat koalas
- Feed kangaroos, wallabies, emus, bettongs and potoroos
- Hold a fun reptile like the bearded dragon
- See some nocturnal native animals
- Book one of the special animal experiences, such as breakfast with the birds, a wombat experience or a night tour.
We have visited with adults, teenagers, toddlers and school children and it is always a hit. We’ve seen wild koalas waltz through the park, spotted all of the less-active animals walking around, and fed all the animals, including a wallaby that Miss M was allowed to pat while it was still in its mother’s pouch.
You can buy feed bags for $3 a bag and a little tends to go a long way. Koala holds, reptile holds and wombat experiences (with photos) cost extra but are well worth it. Check the program for keeper talks and feeding times.
Tip: Check the weather the night before. If it is forecast to be above 32°c at Mt Barker, the koala holds and pats will be closed, as will the wombat experience as it is too hot for the animals.
What to do in the Adelaide Hills: see a platypus at Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary
Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary is another Adelaide Hills institution and one of our favourite zoos and wildlife parks. It was founded in 1969 by Dr John Wamsley, who constructed fences to protect the native animals from feral cats and foxes and create a sanctuary for them. He became well known, especially for his feral cat hat.
Warrawong also had a wide variety of animals for you to see: hopping mice, potoroos, bandicoots, wallabies and kangaroos, and an abundance of birdlife. It also has a secret weapon: it is the only place in South Australia that you can see and learn about the unique platypus, thought to otherwise be extinct in
Many of the animals at the sanctuary are nocturnal. One of the best times to see them is sunset. While they are expensive, the tailored sunset tours are fantastic if you have a small group and one of the things we most remember about the park. We had friends visiting from the USA who were even lucky enough to see an elusive platypus.
What to do in the Adelaide Hills: Discover the State’s German heritage at Hahndorf
South Australia is unique (compared to the other Australian States) for two reasons:
- It was the only state settled by free settlers (and not convicts) and
- Many of those early settlers were Germans.
When the first settlers arrived and established the colony of South Australia, these German settlers established the first community at Hahndorf – named after the captain of the ship that brought them to South Australia.
The town thrives on its German heritage, with numerous timber-framed houses, German food offerings, streets named after German families and shops offering German goods such as cuckoo clocks, Christmas ornaments and knives. It is a great place for some shopping to find some typical and not-so-typical souvenirs and gifts.
Hahndorf is also a great place for food, particularly German-style food. Our current favourites are Café Assiette for great coffee and easy sandwiches/paninis (family-friendly) and The Haus for more substantial German meals like pork hocks and German-style sausages.
Other places foodies will love include:
- Udder Delights Cheeses – look for the yellow cow
- Harris Smokehouse for smoked fish and seafood
- Ambleside Distilleries for great gin
- Beerenberg Strawberry Farm for jams, chutneys and sauces which are a welcome addition to any cheese board or sandwich.
Tip: In Summer (November to April), go strawberry picking at Beerenberg. Their homemade strawberry ice cream is delicious though relatively expensive.
What to do in the Adelaide Hills: Catch a train at Mount Barker
There is not that much to do in the town of Mt Barker from a tourist perspective. However, it is a regional centre in the Adelaide Hills and has some easy to reach supermarkets for all your food, baby or clothing needs.
There are three things in Mount Barker that may interest tourists:
- The cinema: Mt Barker is home to one of the biggest cinemas in the state. In Summer, there is also an outdoor cinema on the weekend. See the website for the program.
- The Laratinga Wetlands – especially good for bird lovers/duck feeders.
- The Steam Ranger historic train runs from Mt Barker to Goolwa.
Tip: Due to fire danger and weather restrictions, the Steam Ranger steam train only runs on selected weekends. Other classic trains run on other weekends. See the Steam Ranger website for more details.
With the exception of Hans Heysen (after whom a major walking track is named) the Adelaide Hills is not known for its art. If you are in Mt Barker, stop off at Littlehampton to see the 75-metre under-freeway tunnel that has just been painted by artist Wendy Dixon-Whiley. It’s got all kinds of crazy critters and monsters – and is currently one of the most instagrammable sites in the Adelaide Hills.
What to do in the Adelaide Hills: Try the food and wine at Woodside
Note: Woodside was severely burnt by recent fires. Some of these suggestions may still be affected.
Woodside was a rather sleepy little town which has recently developed into an interesting haven for foodies.
There are some interesting gift shops on the main street (Onkaparinga Valley Road). I found a number of sweet Christmas gifts at Hello Little Walnut. If you have little ones in tow, there is a playground across the road from the supermarket. If you are feeling peckish, we recommend Woodside Providore.
Alternatively, head to Lot 100 or Bird in Hand Wineries (the one we had for our wedding). Yes, you can even go them when visiting the Adelaide Hills with kids. The local goods and delicious platters with locally produced food pair perfectly with the wine and gin.
Head towards Lobethal to the Woodside industrial estate, home of Melba’s Chocolate Factory and the Woodside Cheese Wrights. Taste some of the local cheeses and buy your favourites to go with your Beerenberg sauces and chutneys.
Tip: In Australia, it is the Easter Bilby, not the Easter Bunny who brings the Easter eggs. Get your Easter Bilbies at Melba’s.
If you are into fresh fruit and are in the area in early May, head to Harrisville Orchards in Lenswood for their Pick a Pink Lady event. If you are there in December and early January, visit the orchard to pick your own cherries. Check the website for details.
In December, Lobethal plays host to the Lobethal Lights, when nearly every house in the town is lit up with Christmas lights. Be prepared to crawl up and down the valley. We’ve found that they can have a very soporific effect. This year, the lights were cancelled before Christmas due to the fire damage that the town suffered.
What to do in the Adelaide Hills: Stirling
Our final recommendations for what to do in the Adelaide Hills
Stop in at Matilda’s bookshop for a great selection of books (We love this shop!).
Are you trying to work out what to do in the Adelaide Hills with kids who are quite young? Try Patch Kitchen & Garden. It has a great all-day breakfast menu and an extensive kids menu. It also has various play areas for kids, both inside and out. If your young children are not exhausted after playing at Patch, try Steamroller Park playground.
Finally, if you have older kids looking to burn some energy, take them to Woodhouse Activity Centre, just down the road in Piccadilly. My Dad just took the older cousins (Ages 7-12) to the Centre for a day. This place has definitely improved since I was in school! Kids will love the labyrinth, the tube slides, bouldering (rock climbing) and the challenge hill obstacle course. Check the website for possible closures (extreme weather).
Tip: if you are a scout, bring your member card for 20% discount.
Enjoy your time in the Adelaide Hills with kids!
With so many varied things to do, you can easily spend a weekend or even longer in the Adelaide Hills. There are bountiful activities that children will enjoy and it has become a mecca for foodies. Moreover, you can visit more than once and have a different itinerary each time as some activities change with the season.
When are you going to be visiting the Adelaide Hills with your kids?