What’s happened to our most boring city-

That ‘City of Churches’ moniker has probably done the South Australian capital a great disservice over the years, fostering visions of fusty old cathedrals, ageing congregations dressed in their Sunday best, and a pervading sense of boredom.

If that kind of thing has put you off planning a trip, or if it has been a while since you last visited, prep what you know about Adelaide for a systems upgrade.

The city feels modern and buzzy. New developments have gone up. Old laneways are breathing new life into the city grid. The tram network is once again spreading. And if the ubiquity of gyms and fit-looking waitstaff are any indication, muscle culture has caught on, big-time, among the city’s 1.7 million residents.




What’s happened to our most boring city-

The city’s big cultural and tourist drawcards, the Festival and Fringe, have also taken big leaps forward. Spurred on by the competition from the Johnny-cum-lately arts festivals in the other capitals, the Fringe went annual in 2007 and the Festival followed suit in 2013. They’ve never looked back.

While Australia’s other festivals may boast fabulous and exciting line-ups, it can be said of all of them that you can be in their host cities at festival-time and not even know they are on.

Not so with Adelaide. There is something about the size of the city — not crazy big and not country-town- small either — that makes festival time unmissable, and the injection of creative energy that comes with it is palpable. Venues pop up all over town, from parks to shopping malls. Tourists and creative types with interesting hair suddenly swamp the streets.

Graft Womadelaide onto all of this activity towards the end of Festival time and the result is an almighty mashup of entertainment and culture.

Now well into its third decade — it turns a quarter of a century old in 2017 — Womadelaide continues to evolve as an event. The inclusion of contemporary dance performances, as well as a smattering of more mainstream acts (The Violent Femmes last year; The Specials in 2017) probably stretch the traditional definition of a world music festival, but nobody seems to mind. With its laid-back, chatty vibe, kid-friendly diversions and extensive food and drink offerings, Womadelaide manages to be a bit hippy, a bit multicultural and a bit family-friendly, all at once. “A Big Day Out with cheese platters” is how one friend described it.

The Fringe Festival has also boomed. Large tracts of the city’s famed parklands are fenced off to create arty precincts, full of performance spaces, bars and eateries. It is possible to go from funny feminist cabaret and twisted takes on old classics to off-the-wall acrobatics in a single night of venue-hopping. Or take a perch at the bar and watch the crowds come and go, which makes for a kind of theatre in itself.

If the emphasis of the Fringe is on fun, the Festival proper is where Adelaide indulges its serious artistic side. The Festival program for 2017 boasts a number of heavyweight exclusives: Barrie Kosky’s production of the opera Saul (alas, already sold out); a blistering new take on Richard III from Germany; two new dances from Israeli company L-E-V; and (on a lighter note) Miriam Margolyes narrating the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s production of Peter and the Wolf. The acclaimed Sydney Theatre Company production of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River — justly raved about whenever it is reviewed — will be staged for the first time under the stars in a quarry.

Of course, nights spent marinating in the arts deserve equally fine dining and wining, both as prelude and postscript. Foodie culture and the love of the good life are firmly rooted in South Australia’s DNA, but the scene is clearly in a state of rude good health right now. The city’s longstanding eat streets, Rundle and Gouger, now compete with the panoply of small bars and eateries that have flourished in Leigh and Peel streets, which give Melbourne’s laneways a run for their money in the cool cred stakes.

Experiencing Adelaide at Festival time is to see the city operating at its most lively and colourful. With so much to see and do, you too will likely be looking for a new descriptor for the South Australian capital. ‘City of Churches’ just doesn’t do it justice anymore.


• Stay close to the action, ie, the city. Adelaide’s easy grid layout and spread of attractions means walking from place to place is an easy, cheap and appealing option. The recently-opened Ibis Hotel at 122 Grenfell Street is affordable and close to many Festival attractions.

• Another good reason to stay in the city: if you’re reasonably spry, you can walk back to your hotel at the end of the night. Womadelaide attendees reported ninety-minute waits for taxis at the conclusion of the 2016 event.

• If you’re staying in the city, remember that the little cafe you so enjoyed breakfast at during the week may not be open on the weekends. Beeline for the east end for a good morning feed.

• Fancy a taste of the Barossa but stretched for time? Penfold’s Magill Estate is a 20 — minute drive from the CBD. On offer: a superlative fine-dining restaurant, a more relaxed bistro, cellar tours and tastings of Australia’s most legendary wine, Grange.

• Plan your itinerary using www.womadelaide.com.au, www.adelaidefestival.com.au and www.adelaidefringe.com.au.

• Key dates for 2017: Fringe runs from February 17 to March 19; Festival runs from March 3 to March 19; Womadelaide takes place over March 10 to 13.

The writer flew to Adelaide and stayed at the Ibis Hotel as a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission.

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