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Port Adelaide

With its museums and heritage buildings, dolphin watching and ghost tours, Port Adelaide should be your first port of call in South Australia.

By Marc Llewellyn

Port Adelaide, a working seaport 14 kilometres (9 miles) north-west of Adelaide's city centre, was the main gateway into South Australia for goods and immigrants for many decades following European settlement. The scores of historic colonial buildings that line the streets illuminate the area's prosperous past, and the museums reflect its transport history.

Don't miss

  • Explore Port Adelaide’s three major museums
  • Spot dolphins on Port River
  • See dozens of historic buildings in the State Heritage Area

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Top things to do in Port Adelaide

Moor yourself at the South Australian Maritime Museum 

Since 1837 Port Adelaide has played an important role in connecting South Australia to the rest of the world, so it's fitting that the South Australian Maritime Museum is located here. It holds an important collection of model ships, nautical instruments, ship fittings, and figureheads from 19th century vessels – some of them salvaged from the more than 850 vessels that have sunk in South Australian waters since European settlement. There are plenty of water craft to explore, including sailing vessels from different eras, and a diesel powered schooner built in 1883. You can also climb 74 steps to the top of a lighthouse built in 1869. 

Steam into the past at the National Railway Museum 

The National Railway Museum is one of Australia’s largest railway museums and has more than 100 exhibits that once rolled across Australia. Once inside the museum, which is within the former Port Dock Railway Station, you can wander through passenger carriages and clamber into the cabs of steam and diesel locomotives. Some of these come from one of Australia's most iconic rail journeys, the Intercontinental Express (now known as The Overland), which has connected Adelaide and Melbourne for more than 100 years. Enjoy the large model railway too. Adelaide's Haunted Horizons offers spooky ghost tours of the museum most Friday evenings (AUD$80). 

Pay a flying visit to the South Australian Aviation Museum 

You don’t have to be a kid or an aviation enthusiast to enjoy the impressive South Australian Aviation Museum – just bring a sense of curiosity and you'll soon be inside a range of aircraft. The museum's pride and joy is the giant F-111 multi-crew strike bomber. Other planes include a spitfire that helped protect Australian bombers in the Pacific in World War II, and a Gloster Meteor fighter plane that destroyed a MiG-15 in combat during the Korean War. Also see engines, Cold War rockets that were tested at Woomera in South Australia's far northern Outback, and historical memorabilia relating to South Australian flying. Tip: if you visit the Aviation Museum, Railway Museum or Maritime Museum, the Museums in the Port deal gives you 25% off the entry price on the other two museums.  

Go dolphin spotting in and around Port River 

The Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary, which includes the green waters and mangrove swamps around Port Adelaide, is home to about 30 bottlenose dolphins. Another 300 dolphins also visit the area regularly. Spot dolphins, including mothers with calves in summer (December to February), on a walk along the river edge. Or take to the water with Dolphin Explorer Cruises. You can kayak or paddleboard in the sanctuary with Adventure Kayaking SA, based on nearby Garden Island. Look out for shipwrecks as you paddle. A self-drive brochure from the Port Adelaide Visitor Information Centre shows you the area’s six dolphin watching hotspots.

Explore Port Adelaide's State Heritage Area

Thanks to Port Adelaide's historical importance when it came to trade, banking and government, there are more colonial buildings from the 19th century here than anywhere else in South Australia – about 400 in all. See many of them on a self-guided walking tour of Lipson Street, Divett Street and parts of Commercial Road. Notable buildings include Customs House (1879), the Telegraph Office (1868) and the former Town Hall (1866). Join the locals at one of the three heritage pubs in the area: the Railway Hotel Port Adelaide (1856), the Dockside Tavern (circa 1890s), or the Port Dock Brewery Hotel (1882). Another pub and eatery worth its salt is The Lighthouse Wharf Hotel, which has views of the lighthouse and Port River. It serves up seafood platters (AUD$45 for two people), its signature BBQ American pork ribs (AUD$26.90), and plenty of other meals, such as burgers and risotto. It also stocks a range of local microbrewery beers and South Australian wines. Feel a chill running down your spine? Ghost Crime Tours runs a weekly Port Adelaide Ghost Crime Tour (AUD$25), on which you can hear lots of grisly tales as you explore Port Adelaide. It was once known as "Port Misery" because of all the deaths and accidents that took place here. 

How to get there

A taxi from Adelaide city centre to Port Adelaide takes about 30 minutes. Or you can take the Adelaide Metro (Outer Harbor Line) from Adelaide Railway Station on North Terrace (20 minutes).

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