Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout

Trail curated by: Adelaide City Explorer Team

Adelaide is the best planned nineteenth century city in the world. It was the first city in Australia to be planned before settlement began. The City Layout and surrounding belt of Park Lands devised by Colonel William Light in 1837 anticipates a new approach to urban design emphasising public open space which later provided inspiration to the Garden City movement.

Together, the City and Park Lands cover an area of 13 square kilometres (5 square miles). More than half of this is open green space. Adelaide’s Park Lands are larger than Central Park in New York and Hyde Park in London combined. More than 170 years after Light set out his plan they were recognised on the National Heritage List in 2008 as “an enduring treasure for the people of South Australia and the nation as a whole”.

The grid pattern of the city spread over one square mile (1.6 kilometres) has been used since ancient times. Light’s use of the grid with five city squares echoes that of William Penn’s Philadelphia in the United States. However it is the sweeping figure of eight ring of open space centred on the river and encompassing the formal grid layouts North and South that distinguishes Light’s design for Adelaide.

The legacy of Light’s vision for a city wrapped in a park remains largely intact, despite numerous encroachments and periods of destruction and neglect. Today, our unique Park Lands are both more valued and more vulnerable than ever before. Once again we need to remember the value of this gift and fight to preserve this land as public space open to all.

This trail enables you to explore and enjoy one of the world’s most visionary designs for an urban environment. Because of the magnificent scale of Light’s plan, you could easily spend more than a day discovering the 28 designated parks that make up the Adelaide Park Lands and several more making your way through the city grid nestled within.

Make a start on the walk from wherever you choose, there are points north, south, east and west where you can pick up the trail.

This trail was produced with support from the Commonwealth Government's Department of the Environment through the Community Heritage and Icons program.

Locations for Trail

Colonel William Light (1786-1839) was appointed as Surveyer-General by the Board of Colonisation Commissioners in 1836.  Light’s military service had given him experience in surveying; he was widely travelled and also a skilled artist.  He had…

Light commenced his survey for Adelaide on 11 January 1837 at the North West corner of his central grid, now the intersection of North and West Terrace.  Of the 1042 town acres that he surveyed 700 make up the central city grid (originally called…

What is now the Torrens River separating North and South Adelaide in Light’s Plan was, at the time Europeans arrived, an abundant source of food for the Indigenous Kaurna people who occupied the area known as Karra Wirra Parri.  The river was most…

Piltawodli, located to the northern bank of the Torrens River, opposite the Adelaide Gaol on the current site of the North Adelaide Golf Links is an important site in the history of relations between Kaurna people and European colonists.  The site,…

Montefiore Hill was named after Jacob Montefiore, one of the Colonel Commissioners for South Australia. It provided an anchor point for Light’s plan and offered a commanding view over the scope of his survey.  It has been suggested that he stood…

Light’s original plan imagined a cathedral in the centre of his main grid, in what became Victoria Square, named for the young British queen who came to the throne in June 1837, just three months after Light completed his survey. Augustus Short…

Elder Park is one of the city’s favourite public recreation spaces, but had less appealing beginnings.  What is now the tranquil Torrens River Lake was once a highly variable waterway prone to flash flooding. Until the establishment of proper…

Victoria Square was the largest of the six squares and the centerpiece of Light’s plan, originally named ‘the Great Square’ by him.  Covering eight acres, Light imagined that it would become the commercial hub for the settlement.  In the…

Whitmore Square is the only one of the five city squares in Colonel Light’s original plan to retain its original configuration and use.  The others have been bisected by roads or tramways and reshaped to accommodate modern traffic.  Whitmore…

In 1927, the Duke (later King George VI) and Duchess of York visited Adelaide on a royal trip across Australia, which included the official opening of the Parliament House in Canberra. Funds were leftover from events held during the royal visit, and…

Veale Gardens, in the South Park Lands, is a fine example of mid-twentieth century thinking about gardens and public space.  In 1957 Bill Veale (1895-1971), the Town Clerk (chief administrator) of the City of Adelaide returned from a study tour…

The elm carriageway in the South Park Lands is something of a lost treasure, but one well worth discovering, particularly in autumn.  It reflects the work of John Ednie Brown (1848-99) a passionate advocate of tree planting in the mid-nineteenth…

From this point looking across the Parklands to the east approximately 600 metres you can see the old Victoria Park racecourse grandstand. Although horse racing was conducted in the eastern parklands from the 1840s, this structure was built in the…

Rymill Park in the eastern Park Lands is an example of a well-used recreation space.   In the post war period, beautification works created an ornamental lake and rose gardens, as well as playgrounds and picnic facilities.  The park is named after…

Colonel Light imagined the city would have a botanical garden, but after a number of unsuccessful attempts, it was finally established in its current location in 1854 on the northern side of the city grid.  The gardens followed European models such…

The story of the Park Lands and Light’s plan for the City of Adelaide is a changing one.  Some marvel that a town plan made 180 years ago can still be relevant today and question slavish adherence to it.  And yet, Adelaide is recognised as one of…
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