Alice Springs is the unofficial capital of Central Australia. Located in the south of the Northern Territory, it is almost in the dead centre of Australia. The Todd River runs through the centre of Alice Springs, although this river is almost always dry. The most distinctive feature in the area is the MacDonnell Ranges.
While many people visiting the Red Centre arrive in “the Alice” and head straight out, there are actually some great things to do in Alice Springs.
If you’re looking for the best things to see in Alice Springs, you’ve come to the right place! We have spent several weeks in Alice Springs over the last two years and we’ve come to love this large outback town. We visited Alice in June/July 2022 in our campervan and again in 2023 on more of a luxury trip – so we can give you first hand recommendations on both travel styles.
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How to get to Alice Springs
Flying to Alice Springs
You can fly to Alice Springs from most of the major airports in Australia. Alice Springs Airport is about 12km or 15 minutes away from the town centre. You can get to town on the shuttle bus service or you will find rental car booths at the airport if you need to pick up a vehicle.
Driving to Alice Springs
From either the north or the south, you will arrive at Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway. This is the main north-south highway through the centre of Australia from Adelaide to Darwin. It is a LONG drive to get to Alice Springs; its 1500km from Adelaide and about the same to Darwin.
Things to do in Alice Springs
If you’re looking for a list of the best things to do in Alice Springs, you will probably find most lists include sights and activities AROUND Alice, like the West MacDonnell Ranges, East MacDonnell Ranges, and even Kings Canyon. In this post we will focus on sights and activities within the town, or just a short distance away.
Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Flight
Outback Ballooning offers pick-ups from your accommodation and refreshments after your flight. We did a balloon flight on our most recent trip to Central Australia (March 2023) and loved it.
Soaring over the desert, looking out for kangaroos and other wildlife, and enjoying the peace of early morning.
The Old Telegraph Station
In 1871, the Overland Telegraph Line was established to allow messages to be transmitted between Alice Springs and Darwin. This is where the settlement of Alice Springs was established. The historic buildings have been maintained and now function as a museum.
The parkland at the Telegraph Station is free and open to the public, and a popular place for picnics. There is a nice lawn area under some trees, with barbeques and a toilet block.
You can get to the Overland Telegraph Station by heading north from Alice and turning right into the park, or you can walk or cycle the 4km from town on a purpose built path.
Olive Pink Botanic Gardens
The Olive Pink Botanic Gardens are quite centrally located in Alice Springs. You’ll find the Bean Tree café here which is a great place to stop for your morning coffee. If you’re lucky you may spot Euros (like rock wallabies) amongst the cliffs in the park.
The Kangaroo Sanctuary
Visiting Chris (Brolga) Barns’ Kangaroo Sanctuary is a beautiful experience. Over the years, Chris has rescued and fostered hundreds of joeys (baby kangaroos) and re-released them into the wild. He takes in joeys whose mothers were killed after being hit by a car.
Some of the kangaroos (and wallabies, and euros) that Chris has rescued have been too injured to be re-released, so he has built this sanctuary. High fences keep the kangaroos safe from dingos.
Guided tours of the Kangaroo Sanctuary are held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings. The tour includes transfers from your accommodation in Alice Springs, as there is no parking or access for private vehicles at the sanctuary.
The tours begin in the late afternoon, just as the kangaroos are waking up and starting to feed. We got to cuddle the joeys which was just lovely. We also learnt about how we should stop when we find a kangaroo on the roadside and check her pouch for a joey. Often the joey will survive its mother being hit by a car.
We have stopped for kangaroos on the side of the road three times since our visit to the Kangaroo Sanctuary. Every one of those kangaroos was a male. I still dream of rescuing a joey though!
Royal Flying Doctors Tourist Facility
The Royal Flying Doctors was established in 1928 and has become synonymous with the Australian outback. With huge distances meaning sometimes medical assistance is days away, the RFDS provides an essential service to residents and travellers in need.
Founded by Presbyterian Missionary John Flynn, the RFDS is funded almost solely by donations and grants.
At the tourist facility you can learn about the history of the service through holographic technology as John Flynn comes to life to explain his vision. You can also see some of the early planes that were used to transport patients.
School of the Air
Children living in remote communities or on cattle stations in the outback have received their education through the School of the Air since the 1950s. Using the radio technology and connections established with the RFDS, the School of the Air was launched in Alice Springs in 1950. Although lessons are conducted online nowadays, the remote classroom is still very much a thing in the outback.
Alice Springs War Memorial is located atop Anzac Hill, which is the best lookout over the city. On the drive up to the carpark, you’ll see signs commemorating all the battles Australian soldiers have fought in. At the top are a series of flags and monuments, and one of the best sunset views in town.
Alice Springs Desert Park
The Alice Springs Desert Park is one of the most popular things to do in Alice Springs. Learn about the natural habitats of the desert, the plant and animal life and how the indigenous people have lived here for tens of thousands of years. The park spans 1300 hectares and the exhibits are divided into three areas: Desert Rivers, Woodland and Sand Country.
You can attend different tours and events within the park. Check the schedule for more details.
Alice Springs Mountain Bike Trails
If you’re a mountain biker or off-road cyclist you will love the trails around Alice Springs. We spent several days riding in the area, and there are plenty of trails for all abilities. In general the tracks are rocky, and can be challenging in places but nothing is too steep or long. If you’re looking for a less rocky, more family friendly ride, check out the bike path from Alice Springs to Simpsons Gap.
Most of the trails leave from the Overland Telegraph Station Reserve. There are toilets, water taps and a café here, as well as ample parking for vehicles of all sizes.
If you’re looking for the best place to check out Aboriginal Art in Alice Springs, you will be spoilt for choice. In the Todd Street Mall, in the centre of town, there are many small galleries.
The indigenous art of Central Australia is typified by the dot painting style. Aboriginal artists use symbol and colour to tell stories in a language that has no written form. As such, there is meaning behind each piece of art that you will see.
Araluen Arts Centre
This larger gallery on the road out to the West MacDonnell ranges houses works from many Central Australian artists and also features travelling exhibitions and events.
You will find works by Albert Namatjira here, probably the best known Aboriginal artist, who painted in watercolours. Namatjira is known for painting in a more western “realist” style, and his landscape paintings of the Central Australian Desert are famous around the world.
Events in Alice Springs
Alice Springs Beanie Festival
Each year in June, the quirky Beanie Festival is held in the Araluen Arts Centre. You will find hundreds of colourful beanies which have been created by local artisans and beanie makers from around the world.
You’ll find over 6000 beanies on display and you can purchase your favourites. Just perfect for those chilly desert evenings. The festival also features indigenous workshops and food trucks. It’s a great day out!
The FabALICE festival is held in March each year, and celebrates all things Drag, Cabaret and comedy. With a range of events there is something for everyone here. You can live out your Priscilla Queen of the Desert dreams!
Henley on Todd Regatta
The Henley on Todd Regatta is the only dry river regatta in the world. The “boats” are made from cardboard boxes and other lightweight materials, and powered by running. Think: The Flintstones! This is an iconic fixture on the Alice Springs calendar and definitely up there as one of the quirkiest events around.
Where to stay in Alice Springs
Alice Springs is a thriving tourist hub and has a good variety of accommodation to suit all budgets. From caravan parks and unpowered campsites to luxury resorts, and everything in between. Here’s a couple of our favourites:
Heritage Caravan Park
Just outside of Alice Springs is an area with several caravan parks all close together. A couple are big chain parks, but our pick of the bunch is the Heritage Caravan Park. You’ll find a range of accommodation options here from family cabins to drive-through powered sites.
This park is popular with families as there is a HUGE pool, and also those travelling with pets – there is a large off-lead dog park here too.
We particularly liked the “bush camping” area, where there are no specific sites, you can just camp where you like in amongst the trees. We also liked that this park is walking distance to the Alice Springs Brewing Company.
National Road Transport Museum Campground
The campsite at the National Road Transport Museum is situated on the road to the south of Alice, and has unpowered sites, toilets and showers. The facilities are basic, and the park is dusty, but the price is good. We spent a couple of nights here in 2022.
You’ll see a great many old vehicles parked around this site, that haven’t quite made it into the museum. Definitely an interesting place. This campsite is also dog friendly.
The booking procedure for this campsite is a little different. You need to book online before arriving, and then check in at the museum. If you arrive after hours, call the mobile number and someone will meet you at the back gate to show you to where you can park.
The closest official free camp is at the Tropic of Capricorn, 30 km north of Alice Springs. There is a toilet here but nothing else. This campsite is right on the side of the Stuart Highway, so there is a lot of road noise – not great if you’re a light sleeper. You may only camp here for 24 hours.
Crowne Plaza Lasseters Resort
If you’re looking for luxury, don’t miss the Crowne Plaza. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza on our recent visit to Alice Springs. Our room had an amazing view of the MacDonnell Ranges. The hotel is situated right next to the casino and convention centre. There are several restaurants and bars here meaning you don’t need to leave the resort.
What we really loved in this hotel was the original aboriginal art on the walls of each room. There is a directory in the room telling the story of the artwork and the artist.
Desert Palms Villas
Where to eat in Alice Springs
There are so many options in Alice Springs, these are three of our favourites:
Tinh and Lan Vietnamese Restaurant
This is one of those hidden gems that you’d be lucky to learn about from a local or another intrepid traveller. I can’t remember where we first heard about this restaurant and it took us a couple of visits to get there. The food and service was homely and we felt like we were eating in the family dining room (albeit a large dining room!).
Tinh and Lan is located about 15km from the centre of Alice, out towards the airport. From the car-park you walk through the gardens to get into the restaurant, and you realise how fresh all the food is.
NOTE: This restaurant only accepted cash when we visited in March 2023
Alice Springs Brewing Company
Come for the beers, stay for the pizzas…. Or is it the other way around? Either way, both the beers and the pizzas at the Alice Springs Brewing Company are great. Conveniently situated walking distance from the main caravan parks in town, the ASBC is popular with tourists and locals alike. They have live music and the atmosphere here is great.
Tali Restaurant, Crown Plaza Lasseters Resort
If you’re looking for a fine dining experience, the menu at Tali won’t disappoint. A unique mix of Australian and French cuisine, with an outback twist. They also have an extensive wine list to pair with your food choices.
Is it safe in Alice Springs?
Sadly Alice Springs has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently. Of course, in writing this blog post we want to encourage you to visit the area, but we also feel it’s our responsibility to address any safety concerns you may have.
The general advice is to avoid the CBD area at night. Even when we were chatting to a local indigenous lady in the bar at the casino who also told us the same thing. We have spent plenty of time in the centre of Alice in the daytime and have not felt unsafe. We parked our campervan in the parking area between the river and the library and had no issues there.
Buying Alcohol in Alice Springs
With a lot of the recent troubles being attributed to alcohol, Alice Springs has restrictions on the purchase of takeaway alcohol. Bottle shops are only open from 3pm – 7pm Wednesday to Friday and 11am – 7pm Saturday. We arrived at one bottle shop at 6:55pm and they were rolling down the shutters, so do get there in plenty of time!
You cannot buy takeaway alcohol from a bottle shop on Sunday to Tuesday. You will need to provide identification with your home address. Also, you will probably be asked where you are staying in Alice Springs.
Food and Water
Alice Springs is the only large town for hundreds of kilometres in any direction. As such, it’s a major shopping hub, and you will find almost anything you need here. It’s a great place to stock up on groceries if you are heading north or out to the MacDonnell Ranges, Kings Canyon or Uluru.
If you are travelling to South Australia be aware that there are restrictions on bringing some fresh fruit and vegetables over the border.
Most of the shops (including the two large supermarkets) close each day at 7pm.
If you need to fill up your campervan or caravan water tanks, and are not staying in a caravan park, we found the best place was the self-serve Ampol on Smith Street.
How far is Uluru from Alice Springs?
While both Uluru and Alice Springs are located in Central Australia, don’t think you can easily visit Uluru on a day trip! The drive from Alice Springs to Uluru will take around 5.5 hours.
What is the best time to visit Alice Springs?
The best months to visit Alice Springs is in the autumn from March to May. During the winter it can be quite cold, with nights below zero, and the summers are very hot and dusty.
What should I pack for Alice Springs?
Outback Australia is very casual, so you won’t need anything fancy here. Depending on the time of year you are visiting, you’ll either need to dress for dry heat or desert cool. Even in early March we needed warm jumpers for our Hot Air Ballooning flight.