The sprawling wilderness, stunning coastline, and stark desert beauty of South Australia have captured the imagination of artists and adventurers for centuries. The state capital, Adelaide, sits on the brink of all these natural wonders, boasting a lively agenda of festivals and things to do. But this sparsely populated state has a trove of other tourist attractions.
Quaint country villages steeped in European charm, emerald hills, and cobalt crater lakes are some of the top inland sites. Along the coast, you can bask on beautiful beaches; picnic in secluded coves; or commune with wildlife on Kangaroo Island, one of the country’s much-loved tourist gems.
South Australia is also a haven for foodies. The state’s wild seas and picturesque pastoral land, fed by the mighty Murray River, produce a bounty of fresh produce—from citrus fruits and hand-made cheeses to some of the country’s best seafood.
Further afield, in the west and northwest, the arid wilderness meets the pink-tinged peaks of the Flinders Ranges, the opal mines of Coober Pedy, vast deserts crossed by famous 4WD tracks, and the legendary Nullarbor Plain. Find the best places to visit in this diverse Aussie state with our list of the top attractions in South Australia.
Kangaroo Island off the Fleurieu Peninsula is the third largest island in Australia and one of the country’s top natural jewels. This beautiful island is a must-do on your South Australia itinerary.
Sparkling cerulean seas, pristine beaches, rugged coastal scenery, fascinating rock formations, caves, and close-up encounters with charismatic wildlife are the prime attractions. Besides its namesake marsupial, you can see koalas, seals, penguins, sea lions, and a diversity of birds in their natural habitat. Scuba divers frequently spot sea dragons in the crystal-clear temperate waters, and many wrecks lie sunken offshore.
In Flinders Chase National Park, the wind-sculpted boulders of the Remarkable Rocks and the eroded curve of Admiral’s Arch are striking geographical features. The island is also known for its bounty of fresh produce including fresh seafood, free-range eggs, and Ligurian honey. To get here, you can fly direct to the island from Adelaide, or hop aboard a ferry from Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, is Australia’s fifth-largest city and one of its most charming. Parks and gardens punctuate the city, and venerable 19th-century buildings stand proud amid the burgeoning high-rises in the city center.
Popular Adelaide attractions include the cultural precinct of North Terrace with its museums, galleries, and carefully preserved historic gems; the Adelaide Central Market, a shopping institution; and the impressive line-up of performances and events at the Adelaide Festival Centre.
If you have time during your visit, try to catch a cricket match or AFL game at Adelaide oval, which has played host to a wide range of Aussie sports since the late 1800s.
For a change of scenery, hop aboard the tram to Glenelg from Victoria Square to swim, sail, and soak up the seaside ambience, or venture into the beautiful bush-covered hills of the Mount Lofty Ranges (Adelaide Hills).
The Barossa Valley, about an hour drive from Adelaide, is a favorite day trip from the capital. Blessed with fertile soils, this verdant valley is one of Australia’s oldest grape-growing regions and a haven for foodies, who are lured by the high-quality fresh produce and artisan foods. German and English immigrants originally settled the valley, and their history and culture is still palpable today in the historic buildings, heritage trails, museums, and European-style cuisine.
In addition to all the historic attractions, the region offers plenty of other diversions. You can shop at the popular farmers markets, attend cookery schools, feast at the fabulous restaurants, relax at the day spas, and browse the many gift shops and art galleries.
Along with the Barossa Valley, the Clare Valley is another famous Australian grape-growing region, about 136 kilometers north of Adelaide. Picturesque pastoral landscapes provide a perfect setting for romantic weekend retreats, and the region is known for its flourishing gourmet food culture. Polish, English, and Irish immigrants originally settled the valley, and their culture and customs are still evident in the charming heritage towns and historic bluestone buildings.
In the main town of Clare, named after County Clare in Ireland, you can explore the region’s history in the town’s museum, housed in a mid-19th century courthouse, or visit nearby Sevenhill, named for its rolling countryside reminiscent of the hills around Rome. From here, you can take the scenic drive to Polish Hills River Valley, explore the region’s history in the Polish Church Museum, or bike the old railway route.
From 1845 to 1877 copper mining brought prosperity to the area around Burra, which has preserved its rich history in mine buildings, stone dwellings, and museums along Burra’s Heritage Passport Trail. The English-style heritage town of Mintaro is home to Martindale Hall, a Neoclassical mansion that is now a hotel.
Popular things to do in the Clare Valley include exploring the beautiful Skilly Hills; dining at the excellent cafés and restaurants; and browsing the local markets, gift shops, and art galleries. Each year in May, foodies flock here for the annual Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend, a celebration of the region’s abundant fresh produce.
Named for famous explorer Matthew Flinders, the Flinders Ranges are a delight for nature lovers, photographers, and artists. In the shifting light of day, the arid landscapes provide a striking play of colors—from pale pink and gold to burnt orange. Despite the dry conditions, the area is home to a surprising abundance of wildlife (emus, yellow-footed rock wallabies, and flocks of brilliantly colored parrots inhabit the region).
The mountains run from north to south through the eastern part of South Australia, stretching northward for 400 kilometers into the scorched Outback. In Flinders Ranges National Park, the most scenic area of the region, a rich growth of vegetation cloaks the sheltered valleys, and wild flowers carpet the parched earth in spring. Top attractions here include the natural amphitheater of Wilpena Pound with St. Mary’s Peak at its highest point, Aboriginal art at Arkaroo Rock, fossils, and part of the long-distance Heysen Trail named for the famous German-born Australian artist, Hans Heysen.
The picturesque Fleurieu Peninsula, a spur of land projecting southwest from the Mount Lofty Ranges, is a playground for many activities such as fishing, boating, bushwalking, whale watching, surfing, and swimming—just to name a few. Top tourist attractions include the beautiful scenery, wildlife reserves, and superb beaches like the sheltered sandy inlets in Gulf St. Vincent. Victor Harbor is one of the most popular beach resorts on the peninsula. Connected by a long causeway, Granite Island, protects it from the turbulent Southern Ocean and is a haven for kangaroos and penguins.
On the narrow channel at the outlet of Lake Alexandrina, into which the Murray River flows, the rapidly growing resort of Goolwa was known as the New Orleans of Australia in its heyday because of the numerous paddle steamers plying the river. Off Goolwa, Hindmarsh Island is a favorite haunt of birdwatchers.
Other popular stops on the peninsula include the surfing hotspot of Port Elliot and the vine-draped hills of McLaren Vale, a prime grape-growing region. From Cape Jervis, at the tip of the peninsula, tourists can hop aboard a ferry service to Kangaroo Island.
Rimmed by a rugged and ravishing coastline of cliffs and sheltered beaches, the triangular-shaped Eyre Peninsula is one of Australia’s least crowded coastal stretches, and one of its most beautiful. It is located east of the Great Australian Bight, and cage diving with great white sharks scores top billing on the list of tourist adventures. You can also snorkel with giant cuttlefish near Whyalla, or swim with balletic sea lions at Baird Bay. Whale watching is another popular activity during May through October, when southern right whales migrate along the Great Australian Bight Marine Park.
Coffin Bay is known for its superb seafood and stunning national park. Occupying the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula, Lincoln National Park offers spectacular scenery with rugged cliffs and abundant birds, while Port Lincoln is becoming an increasingly popular holiday resort. Its fishing fleet, the largest in Australia, produces some of the country’s best seafood.
Inland, you can explore the bushland and wildlife of the Gawler Ranges or venture into the outback across the legendary Nullarbor Plain for a serious 4WD adventure through the scorched desert.
Australia’s longest river, the mighty Murray flows from its source in the New South Wales Alps to the Southern Ocean in South Australia. Sandstone cliffs and tall eucalyptus trees fringe the river, and its wetlands are important habitats for many water birds. Once home to the Ngarrindjeri and Nganguraku people, today the river irrigates a vast citrus-growing industry and agricultural region and provides a wealth of water-based activities, from fishing, boating, water-skiing, and swimming to gliding along on a paddle steamer.
Peppered with colorful gardens and fragrant roses, the riverside town of Renmark lies at the point where the states of South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria meet and is home to huge plantations of citrus fruits. From here, you can tour the Olivewood Historic Homestead and Museum, organize a river cruise, or hire a houseboat.
Another popular place to visit is Loxton, the “garden city” of the Riverland region, with galleries and historical sites. Here, on the banks of the river, the Historical Village takes visitors back in time with its faithfully recreated late-19th century buildings and artifacts. Northwest of Loxton, the little town of Waikerie is a popular spot for gliding and offers a pretty cliff-top walk.
Along the Limestone Coast, Mount Gambier is an extinct volcano with four beautiful crater lakes, as well as sinkholes and gardens. A curious natural phenomenon occurs on the Blue Lake annually in November, when the color of the lake transforms from dull gray to a brilliant cobalt blue. A scenic drive with spectacular views runs round the crater.
While you’re in the area, stop by the Umpherston Sinkhole. Created when the roof of a cave collapsed, this popular tourist attraction was transformed into a beautiful “sunken garden” by James Umpherston in the 1880s. Ferns, hot pink hydrangeas, and calla lilies flourish in the gardens, and lush plants cascade over the lip of the sinkhole, imbuing the space with a magical feel. In the evenings, lights illuminate the gardens, and friendly possums congregate here looking for a meal.
South of Mount Gambier, you can explore South Australia’s only World Heritage Site, Naracoorte Caves, with fascinating fossils, colonies of bats, and haunting subterranean scenery. Other attractions on the Limestone Coast include the bird-rich lagoons and coastal dunes of the Coorong, a chain of lagoons and salt lakes between Lake Alexandrina and the sea; the grape-growing region of Coonawarra; pretty Beachport, a former whaling station; and the historic beach resort of Robe.
Innes National Park, Yorke Peninsula
Sitting at the tip of the spectacular Yorke Peninsula, about a three-hour drive from Adelaide, remote Innes National Park is an under-rated and refreshingly uncrowded raw slice of nature. If you look at a South Australia map, the Yorke Peninsula is the boot-shaped claw of land jutting out to the west of Adelaide, and it makes a wonderful weekend getaway from the capital.
Rugged seascapes, wildlife, and windswept white-sand beaches lapped by dazzling blue seas are the prime attractions. You can explore the park on hiking trails or by car, stopping at the empty beaches along the way. Popular things to do include surfing the remote breaks, camping, boating, fishing off the ravishing beaches, and scuba diving the many wrecks scattered along this tempestuous stretch of coast. To learn more about the region’s fascinating shipwreck history, visit the rusted hull of the Ethel, and follow the maritime interpretive trail along the coast.
Wildlife is abundant. Emus and kangaroos are among the most frequently spotted animals in the park, and you might also spot southern right whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions off the coast. The park is also home to more than 150 species of birds, including ospreys, malleefowl, and hooded plovers.
The opal-mining town of Coober Pedy lies in the heart of the South Australian outback. The name of the town comes from an Aboriginal phrase meaning “white fellows in a hole,” since most of the inhabitants live in underground dwellings (dugouts) to escape the fierce heat of summer and the extreme cold of winter.
In 1911, gold miners found valuable white opals here. Since then, opal mining has converted the desolate countryside round Coober Pedy into a lunar-like landscape. You can still try your luck looking for these pearlescent beauties after obtaining a prospecting permit from the Mines Department in Coober Pedy. The Old Timers Mine and Museum displays exhibits on the history of prospecting for precious stones. Sightseers can also tour underground homes and the subterranean Catacomb Church.