Alice Springs (known as Mparntwe in Arrente) is the largest town in Central Australia, with a population of around 25,000 people. In the Arrernte people’s Dreamtime story, the mountain ranges surrounding Alice were created by huge caterpillars. Today, it is an essential hub for both tourists and locals, with hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, tour providers, and medical and mechanical services.
Halfway between Adelaide and Darwin, Alice Springs is an essential stopover on any Outback itinerary, whether you're flying from the East Coast, driving through the Red Centre, or taking the Ghan luxury train. Read on for the top things to do in the heart of Australia.
This 140-mile hike winds its way through the West MacDonnell Ranges, around an hour's drive outside Alice Springs, with shelters and camping areas along the way. The Larapinta Trail is divided into 12 different sections covering ridges, waterholes, rivers, and gorges, so you can easily tackle a smaller distance in a day or two.
The trail is most hospitable between the cooler months of April and September, when the wildflowers are in bloom. The trail is remote with limited cell service, so inexperienced trekkers will benefit from a tour guide.
Made up of four galleries and a 500-seat theater, Araluen is the heart of the creative arts scene in Alice. Marvel at one of the most significant collections of Aboriginal art in the world—featuring work from the beginning of the Western Desert art movement in the 1970s— or catch a comedy show, concert, or dance performance.
In September and October, the renowned Desert Mob exhibition brings together artists from remote communities. A popular marketplace runs alongside the exhibition, offering the chance to buy great value artworks directly from the source.
The nearby Museum of Central Australia provides a helpful overview of the flora and fauna you will encounter during your travels, as well as megafauna fossils that will be a hit with the kids.
Shop at Todd Mall Markets
A pedestrian street in the heart of Alice Springs, Todd Mall is home to many of the town's souvenir stores, cafés, restaurants, and the Tourist Information Centre.
On Sunday mornings between mid-March and early December, the Todd Mall Markets bring together local artists and producers, hosting stalls selling crafts, jewelry, homewares, clothing, and food. Head to Pinoy Korner for bubble tea and pansit (Filipino fried noodles). Night Markets are also held on Thursday evenings once a month.
Around a 2-hour drive west of Alice, Finke Gorge National Park covers a desert oasis known as Palm Valley. This park's vistas appear in the works of renowned painter Albert Namatjira, who grew up in nearby Hermannsburg.
According to geological evidence, the Finke River is the oldest in the world, dating back more than 300 million years. Here, you'll find ancient endemic plants, including the red cabbage palm and the West MacDonnell cycad. There is a campground in the park, as well as trails for hiking and four-wheel drives.
The first hospital in Alice Springs, this 94-year-old institution has been converted into a museum housing memorabilia related to the man who designed it: Rev John Flynn. Flynn founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the world's first air ambulance, an essential part of rural life in Australia.
In addition to interesting historical artifacts, Adelaide House features the original evaporative cooling system, which was very advanced for its time. The museum is open Monday to Saturday from April to November; entry is AU$5, and comes with a guide and a free cup of tea or coffee.
Nestled in the foothills of the West MacDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs Desert Park is a great way to get a taste of the Outback without having to venture far from town. The park has a strong focus on the Arrente Aboriginal culture of Central Australia, in addition to the unique geological history of this otherworldly landscape.
Kids can get up close and personal with birds, marsupials, and reptiles, as well as enjoy a daily program of presentations by the park's guides and zookeepers.
For a panoramic view of Alice Springs and the surrounding mountain ranges, head to ANZAC Hill, which stands at almost 2,000 feet above sea level. If it's not too hot, you can hike up the hill from Wills Terrace on the Lions Walk, but you can also reach it by car.
At the summit, you'll find a memorial to the members of Australia's armed forces who were known as ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) during World War I. There are also interpretative signs about the Aboriginal and European history of the area.
Home to more than 100 reptiles, including goannas, king brown snakes, death adders, and Terry the saltwater crocodile, the Alice Springs Reptile Centre is an ideal environment to learn about some of the Territory's more dangerous residents before heading into the bush.
During the daily reptile shows at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., visitors also have the chance to meet the friendlier residents, like lizards and pythons. Entry costs AU$18 for adults and $10 for kids.
Marvel at Uluru
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, five hours southwest of Alice on the traditional lands of the Anangu people, is one of Australia's most iconic landmarks. The world's largest monolith has been closed to climbers since 2019, after decades of campaigning by the traditional owners. However, there are still plenty of ways to explore on foot.
If independent hiking isn't your style, you can take a ranger-guided walk and learn about the rock art or native animals in the area, or hire a bike and ride around the base of Uluru. The rock is at its most dynamic at sunrise and sunset, so pack a picnic and settle in for the light show.
This dramatic red rock formation in Watarrka National Park is around a 3.5-hour drive from Alice Springs, and is second only to Uluru when it comes to Central Australia's natural attractions. The popular 3.7-mile Kings Canyon Rim Walk offers unparalleled views of the surrounding landscape, while the Kings Creek walk is a less strenuous option.
For a more challenging hike, the Giles Track is an overnight walk through the park. No matter the distance you cover, you're likely to encounter a huge variety of native plants and animals, so make sure to keep an eye out for the elusive dingoes that are known to inhabit the area.
Try Bush Foods
From before colonization up until the present day, Australia's Indigenous peoples have eaten a broad diet of native fruits, vegetables, and proteins. Mud crabs, kangaroo, and barramundi have made their way onto restaurant menus alongside flavors like lemon myrtle, wattle seeds, quandongs, Kakadu plums, and finger limes.
Also called bush tucker, the availability of these foods varies across the Northern Territory. Aboriginal people hold essential knowledge and skills about where to find bush foods as well as their many uses, so we recommend booking a guided tour to learn more.
The town's only brewery is the perfect place to relax on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday evening. It's known for its Extra Pale Ale and Centralian Ale—both light and refreshing for the arid climate—but they also have burgers, wings, and a wide range of craft spirits.