Adelaide Hills, SA

Fun family activities in the Adelaide Hills SA

By Pip Strickland

September 11, 2020 | 5 minute read

Hahndorf Farm Barn
Hahndorf Farm Barn

Dotted with historic villages and cool-climate wineries, the Adelaide Hills is a rugged landscape that sprawls to the east of Adelaide. It centres around the bustling town of Mount Barker and encompasses plenty of family-friendly attractions that offer an insight into the settlers and events that have shaped the region. 

You can stroll through a former German settlement, get up close to vintage and antique vehicles or enjoy the rural views aboard a heritage railway. Planning your school holiday getaway in South Australia? Here are four attractions not to miss when exploring the Adelaide Hills.  

* At the time of writing, activities and places mentioned in this guide are at varying stages of recovery from COVID-19. Please check government and business websites for specific details on opening times and any restrictions before you travel.

German Migration Museum

Settled in the 19th century by Lutheran migrants, Handorf is a charming town in the Adelaide Hills with a uniquely German flavour. Aside from its European architecture and stately churches, it’s garnered a reputation in recent years for its artisanal food and boasts several traditional pubs serving German culinary delights. 

A good first port of call is the German Migration Museum where you can learn about the families who first settled here in search of religious freedom and a better life. There are period costumes and vintage agricultural tools on display, as well as household objects that illustrate what life would have been like on arrival in this new land.  

Afterward, pick up a map from the tourist information centre and enjoy an easy stroll through the town while learning about Hahndorf’s history and admiring its fachwerk architecture. Young kids might like to visit the Fairy Garden along the way, with this magical setting filled with oversized mushrooms, gnomes and fairy doors of all shapes and sizes.  

A short drive from the town centre is the Hahndorf Farm Barn where you can get hands-on with a variety of farm animals, including baby rabbits, camels and donkeys. If you’re visiting between November and April, don’t miss a visit to the Beerenberg Family Farm where you can pick your own strawberries - there’s nothing quite like the taste!

The Cedars
The Cedars

The Cedars

On the outskirts of Hahndorf is The Cedars, the former home and studio of one of Australia's most renowned landscape artists, Hans Heysen. The 60-hectare property features a stunning cottage garden where kids can run free, as well as a natural pond framed by huge gum trees. You can meander along the stone-built paths and admire the fragrant roses, together with magnificent Himalayan cedar trees, after which the property is named.  

Entering The Cedars’ house is like stepping back in time, with the 1870s residence decorated with original furniture, paintings and rugs from Heysen’s time. Guided tours include a visit to Hans Heysen’s purpose-built studio and the studio of his daughter, Nora Heysen, who was the first woman to win the prestigious Archibald Prize. In addition to being a stunning heritage property, The Cedars offers a fascinating insight into one of the country’s most celebrated artistic families. 

National Motor Museum

If you’ve got a car enthusiast in the family, don’t miss a visit to the National Motor Museum in Birdwood where you can delve into Australia’s automotive history. Established in 1964, it is the largest museum of its kind in the country and boasts around 400 vehicles in its collection.  

You can get up close to the Ohlmeyer “Jigger” Tourer, which was hand-built by Tanunda watchmaker Albert Ohlmeyer in 1904, and classic vehicles such as a 1959 Chrysler. There’s also a Zeta Runabout built by the South Australian white goods manufacturing company Lightburn & Co in 1963 and around 100 motorcycles from Australia and abroad.  

Kids will love the state-of-the-art virtual driving simulator and the collection of toy model cars, which include several early pedal cars complete with opening boots and leaf-spring suspension. True rev-heads should coincide their visit with the annual Bay to Birdwood, which takes place each September and sees a huge variety of veteran, vintage and classic motor vehicles driven through the Adelaide Hills.  

National Motor Museum
National Motor Museum

SteamRanger Heritage Railway

More of a historical experience than an attraction, the SteamRanger Heritage Railway offers fun-filled rides from the Adelaide Hills to Goolwa, Strathalbyn and the Bugle Ranges. Departing from the largest town in the Adelaide Hills, Mount Barker, jump aboard one of their heritage steam or diesel-hauled tourist trains, which are manned by volunteers from the Australian Railway Historical Society. 

The Southern Encounter railway travels from Mount Baker down the eastern escarpment of the Mount Lofty Ranges and through native bushland before arriving on the coast at Goolwa. There you can continue to the ever-popular holiday town of Victor Harbor to spot Little Penguins on Granite Island or play at the newly built GT Fisher Playground.  For more ideas on what to do in the Fleurieu click here and here.

Alternatively, jump aboard the “Redhen” for The Highlander service to Strathalbyn, a historic township that’s famed for its antique shops and cafes. After lunch, you can stretch your legs on the River Angas Walkway, a picturesque park that’s filled with seasonal blooms and ducks. 

If you’re short on time, The Bugle Ranger is a one-hour trip that includes a good dose of local history. It passes through the now-abandoned Philcox Hill station (where quarried rock was once loaded from a horse tramway) before continuing to the historic station at Bugle Ranges, which retains several of its vintage signals.  

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