Only a 20-minute drive from Adelaide CBD via Port Road, you will arrive at the historic district of Port Adelaide.
Once a buzzing river port, Port Adelaide presents a small regional town feel nowadays. This is something that I did not expect from somewhere this close to a capital city.
There are many places to visit around Port Adelaide, and you can generally cover the main Port Adelaide attractions with a day trip from Adelaide.
In addition, I do find Sundays being the best time to visit Port Adelaide, as a few markets around here are only open on Sundays. However, Port Adelaide is still a great place to visit during the rest of the week.
Apart from the museums, many attractions in Port Adelaide are free to visit. With a range of outdoor activities around, it is also a great place for a family day out.
In this article, I have put together a family-friendly day trip itinerary to visit Port Adelaide & most of these attractions are also free or require only a small fee to enter. Hope you can find it useful.
History of Port Adelaide
Traditionally a working-class suburb and a buzzing river port, Port Adelaide has been gradually left behind since the 1960s. With its heydays gone, many historic buildings within Port Adelaide have been abandoned and even vandalised.
This decline lasted until the recent decade, when the government was committed to revamping Port Adelaide back to its former glory. With large government grants and new infrastructures, Port Adelaide has gradually become more vibrant and alive in recent years.
When taking a stroll around Port Adelaide’s historic centre, you can find a range of restored and repurposed colonial buildings, busy restaurants and cafes, and also modern establishments.
However, if you do explore outside of the buzzing Commercial Road, you can still find a few abandoned historic buildings and warehouses waiting for some human love.
I do find this aspect of Port Adelaide sad but unique in the meantime.
End of the day, it is not usual to find this kind of abandoned historic building within a 20-minute radius of an Australian capital city. Many of these buildings are also covered in colourful mural arts, which brings a different vibe to this area.
Breakfast near the Wharf
Start the day with a delicious breakfast with a view of the peaceful Port River (aka Port Adelaide River).
There are many cafes around Port Adelaide. The best place I have found for a breakfast with a fantastic river view in Port Adelaide is the Folklore Cafe, which is right on top of the Port River. They do get quite busy on the weekends, but their menu is decent & the view is terrific.
Alternatively, on Sundays when the Fishermen’s Wharf Market is open, you can also find a few food vans near the Port Adelaide Lighthouse. You may wish to grab a bite here and enjoy a picnic on the river bank instead.
Stroll Along the Port River
Nowadays, Port River is no longer serving as a busy transportation hub. It is now mainly used for recreational purposes and a leisure stroll along the river.
To make your walk more rewarding, you may also wish to keep an eye out for the dolphins.
Port River forms part of Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary, which extends from Port Adelaide to Port Gawler. Currently, the Port River houses around 30 resident bottlenose dolphins and a large number of visiting dolphins on any given day. This makes Port River one of the prime locations for spotting dolphins near Adelaide.
Many people join the Port River Dolphin Cruise or a kayaking tour to spot dolphins. However, you don’t have to. If you are lucky enough, you may simply spot the dolphins jumping in and out of Port River on a walk along the river banks.
In addition to sighting dolphins, you may also want to look out for the iconic Port Adelaide Lighthouse and Hart’s Mill.
Port Adelaide Lighthouse
Sitting on the southern bank of Port River and at the end of Commercial Road, Port Adelaide Lighthouse marks where Adelaide meets the river.
Because of its prime location and distinctively red colour, Port Adelaide Lighthouse is usually the first thing people notice when driving into Port Adelaide. Hence, it has been viewed as a Port Adelaide landmark.
With that being said, Port Adelaide Lighthouse was only re-sited to its current location in 1986. Before this, it was serving its original purpose as a lighthouse near Outer Harbor and subsequently in the Neptune Islands.
Nowadays, the Port Adelaide Lighthouse is no longer serving its original purpose. It now forms part of the South Australian Maritime Museum to provide educational values to the general public.
Similar to many lighthouses, there is also a spiral staircase leading to a viewing platform in Port Adelaide Lighthouse. From this platform, you can obtain a stunning bird’s eye view of the tranquil Port River and the beautiful Port Adelaide.
Access to the inside of Port Adelaide Lighthouse requires a small fee (AUD 1 for Adults & 50 cents for Children). This access fee is waived if you have purchased a ticket for the South Australian Maritime Museum.
However, due to the recent pandemic, access to the lighthouse is currently paused (at the time of writing in June 2022). Nonetheless, you can still adore this lighthouse from the outside.
Hart’s Mill is another iconic building in Port Adelaide. This building complex once housed South Australia’s largest flour mill from 1855 to 1980. It was then abandoned & now partially restored.
There are still ongoing restorations to this heritage-listed building complex. Part of the buildings have already opened to the public, but access to its most eye-catching building, the Adelaide Milling Company Mill building, is still restricted.
Built in 1894, the Adelaide Milling Company Mill building still looks sturdy and beautiful. However, if you pay closer attention, you can still spot many broken windows and signs of neglect in this once glorious flour mill. (I visited this site in May 2022 & the building was still under restoration at the time. I hope it will be back to its former glory by the time you are visiting.)
As sad as this sight was, it did help me reimagine its heydays and what Port Adelaide was like over a decade ago.
Fishermen’s Wharf Market
Fishermen’s Wharf Market is a flea market in a large former cargo shed near the Port Adelaide Lighthouse. It is a Sunday Market that trades only on Sundays and Monday Public Holidays.
Fishermen’s Wharf Market is an old fashioned flea market that has been around for decades. Within this market, you can find a range of antiques and collectables. There are also stalls selling household goods and clothing items.
If you are interested in flea markets, be sure to check out the Fishermen’s Wharf Market as soon as you practically can. With the revamping of Port Adelaide, the shed housing Fishermen’s Wharf Market has already been approved for demolition. It is currently running on borrowed time & could be gone at any time.
I do understand the need to revamp Port Adelaide, but seeing an old landmark being demolished is not something I would have visioned for the Port Adelaide redevelopment.
Anyway, with my opinions aside, Fishermen’s Wharf Market should definitely be on your checklist when visiting Port Adelaide (providing it is still there when you visit).
In addition, make sure you also check out Danny’s Donuts (food van near the lighthouse) when visiting Fishermen’s Wharf Market. Their fresh donuts are one of the best around Adelaide & only available on market days.
Streets of Port Adelaide
The streets in Port Adelaide’s historic centre are filled with grand colonial buildings from the early 1800s. Many of these buildings have been restored and transformed into museums, shops, restaurants, and cafes, so you can also visit the inside of some of these historic buildings.
Many pubs from the colonial era have also remained their original purpose & still serve as local pubs today. Good examples of these pubs are the British Hotel, Port Admiral Hotel, and Commercial Hotel.
The South Australian Maritime Museum is positioned in the heart of Port Adelaide and within one of the beautiful colonial buildings. It provides an in-depth understanding of the history of Port Adelaide and South Australia. The ticket is currently (June 2022) priced at AUD 15 for an adult & AUD 6 for a child. This ticket also provides you access to the Port Adelaide Lighthouse (providing it is reopened to the public).
A visit to the National Railway Museum is a great experience for those that love trains and railway histories. Being the largest railway museum in Australia, a visit to the National Railway Museum will impress you with an extensive display of locomotives. Entry ticket for National Railway Museum is currently (June 2022) AUD 17 for an adult & AUD 7 for a child.
In addition to these buildings and museums, you may also wish to look out for the colourful mural arts around Port Adelaide. The sheer sizes of many of these murals are simply impressive & make sure you check them out when visiting. A map of the locations of these mural arts can be found at the Port Adelaide Visitor Information Centre.
Torrens Island Market
Torrens Island Market is another Sunday market that has been around for ages.
Different to the Fishermen’s Wharf Market, Torrens Island Market is an outdoor, fresh produce market. In Torrens Island Market, you can find a range of fresh fruits and vegetables, freshly caught seafood, delicious baked goods, and the crowd-favourite sausage & sizzles.
Like all fresh produce markets usually are, Torrens Island Market also opens early in the morning. It normally trades from 6 am to 1 pm on Sundays. So make sure you are up early if intending to score the freshest produce of the day. On the other hand, if you are visiting only a couple of hours before the closing time, you can generally find some really good bargains here.
Note: many stalls are still cash-only & be sure to bring some cash with you when visiting.
Garden Island is like a piece of urban paradise. With only a 25-minute drive from Adelaide CBD, you will be on this little island that no one is residing on & only connected to the mainland by a long bridge.
Make sure you take a walk along its picturesque jetty to admire the beautiful mangrove forest on your right & look out for bottlenose dolphins from the river on your left.
Kayaking around Garden Island
You can certainly spot dolphins on your walk along Garden Island Jetty and the Port River. However, the best way to spot and have close encounters with these friendly dolphins near Port Adelaide is by kayaking or canoeing around the Garden Island.
Dedicated kayaking tours are also available to guide you through this dolphin sanctuary and explore the well-hidden Garden Island Ships’ Graveyard. There are multiple guided kayaking tours available on Viator. They do vary slightly in their pricing, operating times, and inclusions.
I have listed the most popular Garden Island kayaking tours here & you may wish to look into them individually before locking into a specific one:
- Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary & Ships Graveyard Tour: from AUD 75 & currently only operates on the weekends (June 2022).
- Small-Group Kayaking Tour in Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary: from AUD 72 & operates on most days.
- Dolphin Sanctuary Kayaking: from AUD 69 & currently only operates on the weekends (June 2022).
Garden Island Ships’ Graveyard
Along the southern edge of Garden Island, from the bridge to the Eastern Passage, lies the remains of 25 abandoned ships. These vessels were purposefully abandoned here between 1909 and 1945, after they have outlived their purpose.
Nowadays, these shipwrecks form part of South Australia’s Maritime Heritage Trail & provide valuable insights into Port Adelaide’s maritime history.
You can peek through a couple of these shipwrecks from on top of the Garden Island bridge. However, for a clearer look and to discover all of the shipwrecks here, you do need a kayak or canoe to navigate through the channels and mangrove forests.
Dinner at one of Port Adelaide’s Historic Pubs
After spending the whole afternoon kayaking around the dolphin sanctuary near Garden Island, you may wish to reward yourself with a hearty pub meal from one of Port Adelaide’s historic pubs.
In addition to the historic pub mentioned previously, you may also wish to check out the Birkenhead Tavern & Largs Pier Hotel. They not only have maintained their original glory from the 1800s but also serve some amazing meals.
Check out this Port Adelaide Day Trip on YouTube: