Australia’s ‘City of Churches’ is a delightfully varied holiday destination. It is the launching pad for such world-class wine regions as the Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Clare Valley, and is home to some of the country’s best summer festivals, including the Adelaide Fringe and the Adelaide Festival. Even more enticing is the fact that a trip to the South Australian capital doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, as there are so many free things to do in Adelaide.
First things first though: before diving into our top picks, let’s first discuss transportation in Adelaide, as there a number of ways to tour the city for peanuts. For starters, Adelaide has two free city loop buses, which provide easy access to the city centre and the surrounding neighbourhoods for absolutely nothing. Alternatively, Bicycle SA also runs a free bike system in Adelaide, which enables you to grab a bike and cycle around the city at your leisure. Failing that, you can also join a free Adelaide walking tour to take in some of the best attractions on foot.
So with transportation now sorted, here are some of the best things to do in Adelaide for free (or almost free!).
Summit Mt Lofty
The city of Adelaide is hugged by the crescent-shaped Adelaide Hills. The highest point in these ranges is Mt Lofty, and while you can drive or catch the bus to the summit, those who have the time should consider lacing up their hiking boots and walking to the top. It’s not a long walk to the summit, but the views will seem that much more impressive if you get there by foot. From here, you can gaze out over Gulf St Vincent and Adelaide’s major landmarks, or tackle one of the other trails in the area that begins at the Mt Lofty Summit Visitor Information Centre. Some favourites include the Waterfall Gully Track, a steep 8km return trail that passes a number of waterfalls on its way to the spectacular First Falls, and the Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens Loop Trail. These gardens cover some 100 hectares of bushland, and feature plant species from South America, China, New Zealand, South East Asia, East Africa and North America, with the ATCO Heritage Rose Garden a particular must-see. The loop trail is 7km in length, but if you happen to be in the area on a Thursday morning, a free guided walk is held every week at 10.30am.
Explore the Flavours of Campbelltown Food Trail
If you’re a fan of tasty treats, then the award-winning Flavours of Campbelltown Food Trail is for you. Campbelltown is located at the foot of the Adelaide Hills, and thanks to post-war immigration from Italy and more recent arrivals from India, Vietnam and South America, has become a foodie hub. To celebrate the artisanal fare produced in this suburb, this self-drive tour was created to showcase some 25 food and wine businesses, with venues crafting and selling such items as almond bread, sausages, cheeses, cakes, pasta, chorizo and wood-fired pizzas. If you don’t have you own car, organised bus tours also visit a number of venues, but you will need to book in advance (tickets are about $65 per person).
Get Cultural at a Museum or Two
If you’re a fan of art, history and all things culturally fascinating, then be sure to visit one of the various free museums in Adelaide. The South Australian Museum is housed within an ornate French chateau-style building, and showcases a number of excellent collections. Some of the highlights include the Australian Aboriginal Cultures galleries, which has more than 3,000 items on display; the Pacific Cultures gallery, where you can view an array of masks, weapons and traditional costumes from tribal groups across the region; and the Mawson Collection, which celebrates the eponymous Antarctic explorer and geologist.
Right next door to the museum, you’ll find the recently rejuvenated Art Gallery of South Australia. The gallery features the works of such prominent artists as McCubbin, Nolan, Whiteley and Tucker within its collection of 38,000 works from across Australia, Europe, North America and Asia, and has hosted a number of innovative art installations. If you find yourself in town on a Tuesday, the gallery also offers free lunchtime talks presented by curators, artists and other art experts. While special and touring exhibitions at both centres come bearing admission fees, the permanent exhibits are free to all.
Jump Onto A Free Tour
While there is always merit in exploring a destination on your own terms, sometimes joining a tour offers a bounty of insights – and opportunity – that might otherwise go untapped. Got a taste for the sweet stuff? Haigh’s Chocolates Visitor Centre sits on the fringe of Adelaide’s parklands and runs free guided tours into the factory, where you’ll learn about the history and production of these chocolatey confections. Of course, there is a stop in the store at the end of the tour so you can stock up on truffles, fudges and some of the famous chocolate frogs. Bibliophiles can join a free tour of the State Library from Monday to Friday at 11am or 2pm, and green thumbs can be shown the flora inside the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. There are also an abundance of themed albeit paid walking tours happening throughout Adelaide too, including through Central Market, past certain heritage sites, and more.
Hang Out at ‘the Bay’
Cheap things to do in Adelaide don’t get much better than a trip to Glenelg. Climb aboard a tram to this seaside suburb and enjoy a day relaxing on its golden-sand beach known locally as ‘the Bay’. This stretch of coast captures the afternoon sun, so it’s the ideal place to spend a lazy evening. Wander along the lengthy pier to watch the sun set, and grab some fish and chips for a chilled dining experience on the sand. Before the sun sets though, check out the free displays at the Bay Discovery Centre. Situated in Glenelg’s 1887 Town Hall building, these displays showcase the history of Glenelg from colonisation to today, and present some incredible artefacts dredged up from below the original Glenelg Jetty.
Head to a World-Class Event
Each year, Adelaide plays host to two very important and highly acclaimed festivals: Adelaide Festival (next held from February 28 to March 15 in 2020) and Adelaide Fringe (happening February 14 to March 15 next year). While many of each festival’s events do require tickets, there are also a number of free shows, including next year’s 60th birthday party for the Adelaide Festival, which is presented by Tim Minchin. There are also a number of free events at the Adelaide Fringe, with this festival now the biggest open-access arts festival in Australia. So, pop both events in your calendar, and book your accommodation before the city books out.
Visit Port Adelaide
Home to South Australia’s other AFL team, Port Adelaide is a wonderful spot to spend a day. This suburb offers a number of exciting attractions, including markets, galleries, cafes and pubs, with dolphin-spotting river cruises, kayaking adventures and sailing and fishing trips all popular in the area. Free things to do in Port Adelaide include visiting the historic cobbled alleyways and old wharves, with the Sunday’s Fisherman’s Wharf Market well worth the trip. If you haven’t had enough of museums by this point, Port Adelaide is also home to the South Australian Maritime Museum and the National Railway Museum, which do require the purchase of tickets, but which also provide a unique insight into the history of this area. Be sure to grab a cold pint of Adelaide-brewed Coopers beer at a local pub before you leave.
Make your dollar go even further on your next getaway by booking cheap flights to Adelaide with Webjet. You can also search through Adelaide accommodation and hotels to find the perfect stay for your budget.