The best things to do in South Australia
Use this table of contents to jump down, or keep reading to see my suggestions for the best places to visit in South Australia.
For such a large state, so much of the tourism is concentrated in a small area around the capital Adelaide. It’s understandable – there’s lots to see in that region – but there are so many other wonderful places to visit in South Australia if you look further afield.
The southeast of the state, along the coast, is relatively green, which is why you’ll find world-class wineries like the Barossa Valley here – one of the biggest attractions in South Australia.
But the mainland coastline itself – all 3800 kilometres of it – has so much else to offer. There are stunning cliffs, epic beaches, charming towns, and so many opportunities to get out on the water.
Heading inland, the South Australian Outback is as remote as it comes, and there aren’t many settlements out here. But there are incredible natural landscapes that are worth the drive, and quirky communities along the way – particularly the underground town of Coober Pedy.
While you can base yourself in Adelaide and do short trips to some of the best places in South Australia, like Kangaroo Island and the McLaren Vale, this is a state where you’ll benefit from having a car.
South Australia is built for road trips, whether its down one of the peninsulas, into the desert, or up into the bush along the mighty Murray River.
Don’t let anyone tell you that South Australia is boring. When you know what to do in South Australia, you’ll realise it’s full of adventure and you can have some remarkable experiences away from the tourist hordes you find in some other states.
The South Australian capital is a natural place to start a trip to the state, and luckily there are lots of things to do in Adelaide.
People often joke that it’s a boring city, but they’re just deceived by the relaxed atmosphere you’ll find here. Adelaide is full of innovative new restaurants and wine bars in the city centre, fascinating cultural institutions (the Art Gallery of SA is one of the country’s best), and even some nice beaches.
During festival period, Adelaide is particularly lively and there are lots to choose from, including the Adelaide Festival, Fringe Festival, and WOMAD. You’ll find the city’s streets filled with outdoor dining and events.
Even in the quieter months, you can explore the city’s parklands, learn about its unique history as the only state capital not to be a penal colony, and relax into the pleasant rhythm of life in the local neighbourhoods.
Just on the edge of the city, the Adelaide Hills present lots more opportunities for eating and drinking, with wineries and top restaurants just 30 minutes’ drive away. And whether it’s a day trip or an overnight stay, there are plenty of other things to do in the Adelaide Hills, with historic towns, natural reserves, and local producers.
There’s no doubt the Barossa Valley is one of the most popular places to visit in South Australia, with its wine region known around the world. It’s also one of the easiest wine regions to reach from a capital city, just 50 minutes’ drive from Adelaide.
There are more than 170 wineries and 80 cellar doors in the Barossa, with some of the winemakers the seventh generation of their family to be running the business. Shiraz is the red king of the Barossa, and it’s the variety that many people come to try – in terms of whites, Riesling is probably the best regarded. There are over 40 grape varieties grown here, though.
Beyond the wine, there’s the food, of course. Some of South Australia’s best restaurants are in the Barossa and it’s easy to spend a day or two moving between them. You can also visit local producers and pop into the acclaimed farmers market.
And, although the wine tends to overshadow anything else in the Barossa, there’s also heritage, art galleries, and even some national parks.
South of Adelaide is another of the state’s best wine regions – McLaren Vale. It’s also known for its rich Shiraz, but many people like it especially for its Cabernet and Grenache.
McLaren Vale is just 45 minutes’ drive from Adelaide and can feel more relaxed than the Barossa. Although there’s a lot of history in in the vineyards here, it’s also known for some experimental and modern touches – a good example is the d’Arenberg Cube, an avant-garde structure amongst the vines that’s home to a restaurant and art gallery.
The McLaren Vale wine region is just one of the attractions of the Fleurieu Peninsula, the stretch of land that goes south from Adelaide and turns to point at Kangaroo Island.
Along the west coast of the peninsula are long white beaches interrupted by eroded sandy cliffs. (You can even drive along some of the beaches). While on the southern coast as the holiday towns like Goolwa and Victor Harbor, which are lovely places to hang out for a few days.
At the very end of the Fleurieu Peninsula, you’ll reach Cape Jervis, from where you can get the ferry over to Kangaroo Island. Exploring the island and everything it offers is definitely one of the best things to do in South Australia.
About 150 kilometres long, Kangaroo Island is a natural wonderland and much of it is protected by national park. As well as wildlife like seals, penguins, koalas, and (of course) kangaroos, there are some stunning landscapes.
From the gravity-defying boulders of Remarkable Rocks, to the sand dunes of Little Sahara, there’s the dramatic coastline and plenty of bushland. Visitors definitely need a few days to see it all.
In recent years, Kangaroo Island has also blossomed as a foodie destination, with historic farms and young producers creating interesting experiences. There’s a distillery, wineries, a honey farm, and much more.
A trip to Kangaroo Island can be as rustic or as luxurious as you want. There are resort options where you’ll be pampered, or you can opt for more adventurous activities like camping or even hiking across the whole island.
Across the water from Adelaide, on the other side of the St Vincent Gulf, the Yorke Peninsula offers a relaxed and pristine seaside escape that feels remote but is just over an hour’s drive from the city.
The 700 kilometres of coastline on the Yorke Peninsula have sandy white beaches that meet turquoise water. Surfers will love the waves, divers will delight at the shipwrecks, and anyone will have luck with a fishing line.
The friendly villages along the coast can be a good base for a visit to the peninsula, but there are also experiences to be found inland. There are abandoned mining towns, farming heritage, and plenty of local artisans and food producers.
And while the whole Yorke Peninsula feels like a natural escape, the Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park in particular is a haven for wildlife, including emus, kangaroos, wallabies, and more than 120 species of birds.
The Yorke Peninsula may not have lots of famous sites, but there’s a huge variety of things to see and do, with a relaxed holiday atmosphere and easy access to the water, the land, and plenty of great food and drink.
For more of an adventure, head further west to the Eyre Peninsula, one of the most dramatic places to visit in South Australia. With pink lakes, bright blue water, and red desert dirt, it doesn’t get more vibrant than this.
The whole Eyre Peninsula is a huge swathe of land, but the main town where people base themselves is Port Lincoln. From here, you can take tours to cage dive with sharks, swim with sea lions, and watch whales frolic.
The sea is one of the main focuses of the region and more than two thirds of Australia’s seafood comes from these waters. Being able to eat it fresh is a highlight. But even without going onto the water, there are the vast beaches, and the caverns and tunnels within the rocky cliffs.
Inland, the Eyre Peninsula offers a taste of the Outback, with striking red rock formations, a white salt lake, and plenty of wildlife. The northern end of the region also takes you across some of the Nullarbor for some epic landscapes and remote Aussie experiences.
To the east of Adelaide is one of the other beautiful stretches of South Australian coastline – the Limestone Coast, where the waters are just as clear but the landscapes are decorated by bush, rather than desert.
Along the Limestone Coast, there are more than 40 cellar doors offering wine tastings that are more relaxed and intimate than the Barossa. It’s easy to find a drop that will go well with the fresh seafood pulled straight from the water.
Natural wonders abound, from the Blue Lake to the extraordinary Umpherston Sinkhole. Along the coast or further inland, the caves, dormant volcanoes, and wild beaches are all here to explore.
The jewel of the Limestone Coast is Mount Gambier, a lovely town with heritage buildings and plenty of nice cafes and restaurants. It’s also an easy base to explore the sights in the region or for day trips to places like Robe.
The Limestone Coast is a natural extension to a drive along the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne, with a much more scenic route than cutting inland towards Adelaide. It may not feel as remote as some of the other coastlines, but that means there are a lot more facilities along the way.
South Australia is home to the mouth of the mighty Murray River, which enters the sea after passing through the Coorong, the spectacular wetlands area full of wildlife and significant Indigenous sites. Easily accessible from Adelaide, there’s lots to do including boating, hiking, and four-wheel driving.
But the Murray gives more to the state than just the Coorong, and experiencing the waterway should be near the top of any list of what to do in South Australia.
A good place to start is Renmark, a town on the river near the Victorian border that has protected its cultural heritage and revitalised much of it into modern businesses and accommodation. It’s from here that you can hire a houseboat or a canoe and cruise along the Murray.
Stop along the way at the small towns like Loxton, or pull into a riverland winery. There are farms that offer tastings, walking trails along the banks, and swimming spots where you can swing on a rope into the water.
The Murray doesn’t just give life to southeast South Australia, it presents endless opportunities for visitors to enjoy its bounties.
There’s a push at the moment to list some of the Flinders Ranges as a World Heritage Site, such is its importance in the natural and cultural history of Australia. The rugged and rocky mountains, with their weathered gorges, are about 600 million years old and have been home to Indigenous people for tens of thousands of years.
About five hours drive north of Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges dazzle with their dramatic landscapes of red rock. One of the most famous sites, Wilpena Pound, is a huge crater-like amphitheatre about 100 kilometres wide that rises up from the plains.
But it’s not just about the scenery. 4WD tours will take you out looking for wildlife, there are walks exploring the Aboriginal cultural sites, and don’t forget this is the Outback, so there’s even a pub serving feral camel.
The Flinders Ranges really are one of the most spectacular attractions in South Australia, where it’s best to stay for a few days to see all its dimensions and soak up the energy of this ancient land.
And finally, I can’t forget Coober Pedy, a remote town that is one of the strangest places you can visit in South Australia. The temperature here often reaches more than 40 degrees in summer so, to protect themselves from the heat, many residents live ‘underground’ in houses that are dug into hills or covered in dirt.
Coober Pedy exists because it is an opal mining town, and many people have come here over the years to try to make it rich (as well as possibly disappear). Most of the world’s opals come from here and you can tour some of the shafts, meet some miners, and do a bit of shopping of course.
Around town, there are quite a few things to see – mostly relating to the opal industry or the unusual construction techniques. The underground Serbian Orthodox Church is a highlight.
And not far from Cooper Pedy is the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park, a protected area with low hills eroded into strange shapes and decorated by different coloured sand. In a part of the country that is otherwise quite flat and stark, it’s a remarkable natural attraction.