Port Adelaide is a unique mix of history, art and culture, from its historic lighthouse and markets to new boutiques, restaurants and street art.
BY SAM SMITH
There’s always been something about Port Adelaide that’s captivated me. Hundred-year-old buildings and museums give way to hip townhouses, multi-storey street art murals and awesome cafés. It’s a place where old and new overlap, with a tranquillity that’s hard to describe.
On weekends, sprawling markets open their doors to the public. You can spend all day lost in a labyrinth of antiques, books, clothing, food and art. On the docks of the nearby Port River, cruise boats offer dolphin viewing tours. Glide past ancient shipwrecks, mangroves and historic wharves. Spot dolphins from the open deck, while enjoying a light lunch or quick snack.
Back on land, start exploring. Walk down literally any street and you’ll discover something new. Museums, galleries, op shops, street art and historic buildings are littered everywhere around town. Stumble upon one of the Port’s many heritage-listed pubs and reward your curiosity with a cool beer. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the lighthouse.
Port Adelaide is one of South Australia’s hidden gems. Here are my tips on how to make the most of it.
Fisherman’s Wharf Market
My favourite time to visit is on Sunday at 9am when Port Adelaide’s Fisherman’s Wharf Market opens its doors to eager fossickers and bargain hunters. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted with more than 100 stalls spread over two floors selling clocks, vases, artwork, homewares and, well, pretty much everything. You can be sure that your inner treasure hunter will be satisfied. The market is also home to a variety of vintage clothing stalls, specialty jewellery stalls, books, record and CD stalls.
The Fisherman’s Wharf Market is located off Black Diamond Square, next to the lighthouse at the end of Commercial Road. It’s also open on public holidays.
Bright red and impossible to miss, The Port’s iconic lighthouse stands proud at the end Commercial Road. First lit in 1869, it marked the entrance to the Port River. Since then, the lighthouse has enjoyed a particularly active life, being dismantled and relocated in 1901, then re-erected on South Neptune Island, off the coast of Eyre Peninsula, where it stayed until 1985.
Finally, it was restored and reassembled at its current site in 1986. From 10am-2pm on weekdays and 10am-4pm on Sunday (it's not open on Saturday), you can climb the lighthouse’s 74 steps. All it will cost you - along with a bit of breathlessness - is 50 cents for a child and a $1 for an adult. At the top, you'll be rewarded with unrivalled views from Adelaide’s coast to the Mount Lofty Ranges. Entry to the lighthouse is free with a general admission ticket to the South Australian Maritime Museum.
Perched on the Port River, Hart's Collective is a great place for a coffee or quick lunch.
Cool cafés and historic pubs
Port Adelaide’s recent influx of cool cafés and restaurants is impossible to ignore. Drawing a young clued-in crowd, the Port is rapidly transforming. My favourite place for a coffee is Hart’s Collective – a beautiful waterfront café/gallery offering panoramic floor-to-ceiling views of the Port River. Their haloumi burger is one of the best I’ve tasted, and there’s plenty to peruse with local artwork, homewares, jewellery and beauty products for sale.
For dinner, you can’t go past Portobello Food Kitchen Bar. Set in swanky New Port, it’s great for anything and everything Mediterranean. Pizza and pasta are always winners, or for something a bit upmarket, enjoy a tapas plate and glass of local wine.
Port Adelaide’s famous Italian eatery – Carmine & co – has had an extensive (and I mean extensive) makeover. The 45-year-old family-owned business recently packed up their old premises and moved into an abandoned bank. The result is rustic mix of old and new with a seriously cool modern, industrial vibe. The open, multi-storey dining area is a classy mix of red brick, concrete and marble with a massive, luxe bar. The food, I’m pleased to say, does not disappoint. Carmine’s Quattro Formaggi pizza is so good it should be illegal, and its pasta dishes are nothing short of delicious.
Street art and galleries
A big drawcard for me is Port Adelaide’s street art. Massive portraits splashed with neon transform abandoned warehouses and dilapidated buildings into living stories. On Port Adelaide’s Vincent Street, two ten-floor-high murals dress the walls of a long-abandoned office building. Overlooking the skeletal City of Adelaide shipwreck, it’s a totally unique mix of contemporary art and history.
Port Adelaide is a hive of start-up businesses and small galleries. There’s an unmistakably cool crowd being drawn to the area, with hip apartments, op shops, small galleries, boutiques and cafés popping up all around town. The new Hart's Mill playground is an artwork in itself. Geometric shapes and bursts of fluorescent yellow clash wonderfully with the old red brick mill in a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in Brooklyn, New York.
The Port has always been home to quality art galleries. Standouts include Jackalope studio gallery, featuring original works from local, interstate and overseas artists. Here you’ll find oils, acrylics, mixed media, watercolour and limited edition prints. For one of our state’s best Indigenous art experiences, head to Better World Arts. One of two stores/galleries in South Australia, Better World Port Adelaide is packed with Aboriginal art including paintings, clothing, scarves and accessories, stationary and rugs. Before you call it a day, drop in to Mark Lobert’s studio. It’s classy and sophisticated with crisp, colourful décor and exceptional prints for sale.
Heritage, history and museums
Port Adelaide was once Adelaide’s main supply link to the rest of the world. Today it is home to the state’s largest collection of colonial buildings, many of which have been beautifully preserved and restored. Lose yourself in history at one of many museums in the area. See beautifully preserved planes, trains and ships chronicling Port Adelaide’s story.
If you only have time to make one stop, drop into the South Australian Maritime Museum. The South Australian Maritime Museum (which includes the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum) can be found on Lipson Street. Hard to miss, it’s set in a huge historic warehouse and contains 25 vessels, ship figureheads, nautical instruments, portraits and models. The Maritime Museum has recently developed an app called Living in Port that takes users on an interactive tour of Port Adelaide’s historic precincts. Use a slider to merge historic images with the present day Port. Learn more about major landmarks, events and characters in Port Adelaide’s history.
If planes are more your thing, you won’t want to miss the South Australian Aviation Museum. Here you’ll find a huge range of historic, beautifully-preserved aircraft and aircraft engines. Train buffs will be in heaven at the National Railway Museum. It’s the country’s largest, with more than 100 exhibits from both Commonwealth and South Australian Railways.
If you’re looking for a trip that’s a little left of centre, you really can’t go past Port Adelaide. There’s a fascinating mix of history, art and culture – from its historic lighthouse and Fisherman’s Wharf Market to new boutiques, restaurants and street art splashed on hundred year-old walls. The Port is full of stories; it’s up to you to discover them.