When people ask where in Australia I’m from, ‘Adelaide’ tends to evoke either blank stares or apologetic explanations of how ‘unfortunately I didn’t have time to get there’. I get it. My hometown is small fry. I mean, there’s a reason I live in London, and it’s certainly not the weather.
But Adelaide is a lovely little city. It has spectacular beaches, food and wine – but most of the year there is little to recommend the detour to someone on the well-trodden Eastern seaboard tourist trail. Except in festival season.
Get your culture on
In ‘Mad March’ (which really starts mid-February), Adelaide is transformed when first the Adelaide Fringe and then the Adelaide Festival kick off. The outdoor tables of the countless cafes, restaurants and pubs fill up. Quirky open air bars pop up across the city’s squares and parks. Unlikely venues are suddenly jammed with non-stop comedy, theatre and cabaret shows (top tip: Holden Street Theatres, just outside the centre, always brings out some incredible acts).
As if that wasn’t enough to be getting on with, the Womad festival bring music from every corner of the earth to town for a long weekend that I can only describe as magical, and Adelaide writers’ week brings the local and international literati to town.
(Note: Avoid the weekend of the Clipsal 500 if you’re not into v8 supercars as the the city tends to get gridlocked and the roar of engines competes with the otherwise laidback, artsy vibe.)
So, you’re here. Lured by an international smorgasbord of cultural offerings. Well, lucky you – Adelaide may not have a harbour bridge or opera house, but it does do a handful of things really well and you won’t want to miss these while you’re in town.
Drink some wine
I may be biased, but I rate South Australian wine as some of the finest in the world. Wine tasting in the famed Barossa Valley, the Coonawarra or the Clare Valley is definitely worth dragging yourself away from the festival buzz for, and foodies will be spoilt for choice in each region too.
If you’re short on time, the McLaren Vale wine region is an easy 35km drive south of the city and features some outstanding cellar doors including the picturesque Coriole and offbeat Alpha Box & Dice (pictured).
Go to the beach
Flashy Glenelg, at the end of the tram line, is the easiest to access from the city but the stunning stretch of beaches from Port Noarlunga to Port Willunga is Adelaide’s finest. Wherever you go, don’t forget to slip [on a t-shirt], slop [on some sunscreen, slap [on a hat]!
There are also excellent Aussie dining options in the Willunga area at either the seafront Star of Greece, or Russell’s for exceptionally good pizzas served up in a tin shed.
Tuck in to some local grub
The Central Market is a great spot for browsing (and tasting!) gourmet Australian produce.
South Aussies are pretty unabashed foodies, with East and South East Asian offerings especially good and easily found along Gouger St, in Adelaide’s Chinatown. Ky Chow is a personal favourite – their salt and pepper squid, bayberry duck and shallots pancakes alone are worth the cost of my visits home.
Brunch is an Australian institution, and there are no shortage of spots to make the most important meal of the day count. I managed to fit in visits to Cafe Troppo in the city and Mother’s Milk and the Loose Caboose (both in city fringe suburbs) on my most recent visit and ate poached eggs with dukkah and herb salads, griddle cake topped with lemon curd and edible flowers, and smashed avocado and dukkah on sourdough. Beats porridge every time.
Have a drink
Thanks to some relatively recent changes to legislation, small bars are sprouting up throughout the city. During festival season though, you’d be hard pressed to beat the pop-up outdoor venues: the East End’s Garden of Unearthly Delights and neighbouring Gluttony, the Royal Croquet Club in Victoria Square, and whatever themed offering the Adelaide Festival brings to the banks of the Torrens river that year. Get there early on a Friday or Saturday night to avoid long queues.
For beer lovers, there is no shortage of pubs (the Austral on Rundle Street always a good choice) – but true afficionados will want to spend an afternoon working their way through eclectic inner suburban pub The Wheatsheaf’s list of craft beers.
And finally, Adelaide is a city of coffee snobs (Starbucks left town with its tail between its legs a few years back after a failed attempt at cracking the local market). Local chain Cibo has been joined by an evergrowing list of hip independents. So make sure to take some time out for a flat white while you’re in town – you’ll need it. Adelaide in festival season is a busy place!