The town in the middle of Australia. Alice Springs is the main hub of Central Australia and the gateway to the Red Centre in the Northern Territory. As one of the largest towns in the state, it’s the perfect place to base yourself for various adventures across the outback.
While it’s a long drive from virtually anywhere else in Australia, it’s a major stop on the Stuart Highway, which connects Adelaide and Darwin. From Alice Springs, you can journey out to some of the best places in Central Australia, including Uluru, Kings Canyon and the West MacDonnell Ranges. However, if you find yourself in Alice Springs for a couple of days, there’s plenty of things to do in town to keep you busy.
While it’s not always ranked as people’s favourite destination in the Northern Territory, the town certainly has a laidback vibe and is an easy place to stop and unwind after days of driving. Here’s my guide to the best things to do in Alice Springs, so you can plan your trip to the heart of Australia.
How to get to Alice Springs
Alice Springs is a bloody long way from anywhere. The desert town is basically right in the centre of Australia, and is a long drive from all major cities. You can reach Alice Springs by road on the Stuart Highway, the long road that connects Adelaide with Darwin through the middle of the country.
If you’re travelling to Alice Springs by road on the Stuart Highway, here are the driving distances between major towns:
- Coober Pedy to Alice Springs: 688km or a 7-hour drive
- Darwin to Alice Springs: 1497km or a 16-hour drive
- Uluru to Alice Springs: 446km or a 5-hour drive
You can also fly to Alice Springs. The Alice Springs Airport has direct connections to most other cities in Australia, including Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Darwin and Brisbane. The airport is a 15-minute drive outside of town. You can find the Alice Springs Airport Shuttle Service there, which takes passengers from the airport to most accommodation for a fee.
Best things to do in Alice Springs
If you find yourself with a few days in Alice Springs, there are plenty of things to do to keep you busy. Here are my favourite things to do in Alice Springs.
1. Todd Mall Market
Todd Mall is the pedestrian only shopping street in the middle of Alice Springs. While it’s a fun spot to explore at any time, it comes alive when the bi-weekly markets are on. The Todd Mall Markets run from March until December every year and usually take place every second Sunday from 9am until 1pm. Check the dates on their website here.
It’s a combination of arts and crafts, including Indigenous art, live music, homewares, jewellery and some delicious food with a variety of cuisines. It’s a great weekend event and draws plenty of people in high season, while it’s much quieter outside of winter.
2. Alice Springs Desert Park
On Larapinta Drive on the way to the West MacDonnell Ranges, the Desert Park is widely considered to be one of the best things to do in Alice Springs. The 1300 hectare park is basically a desert zoo, where you can learn more about the incredible flora and fauna found in this semi-arid landscape.
Through three habitat areas, Desert Rivers, Sand Country and Woodland, you can meet wedge-tailed eagles, dingoes, bilbies, thorny devils, plus more. It’s open every day of the year from morning until late with a daily schedule of programs and special exhibitions and activities throughout the year. Tickets aren’t overly cheap at $37 per adult, but you can easily spend a whole afternoon there.
The park is a remarkable place that also plays an important role in ongoing research into conservation and strengthening human connection to the land. It’s also by far the best thing to do in Alice Springs with kids, if you’re travelling with the fam.
3. Old Telegraph Station
Just north of Alice Springs, you’ll find the Old Telegraph Station Historical Reserve. Considered the birthplace of the township, the ruins here date back to the 19th century. You can wander the reserve on your own or opt to take one of the daily guided tours. The museum has both indoor and outdoor displays so you can learn more about the European history of the area.
There’s also a cafe and picnic area out there, so you can easily stay for afternoon tea. There are plenty of walking and cycling tracks that begin and end at the Telegraph Station too, so it’s a local favourite when it comes to weekend exercise. It’s the main hub of the Alice Springs Mountain Bike Trail Network, with plenty of sections for beginners. There’s also a walking track that links the station with Alice Springs town, if you’re up for a lengthy wander.
The Telegraph Station also marks the beginning or end of the Larapinta Trail. This 223km long trail traverses across the West MacDonnell Ranges to Mt Sonder and is considered one of the best long distance walks in the country. You can read about my experience hiking the trail here.
4. ANZAC Hill / Untyeyetwelye
Standing at just over 600m tall, this hill is the perfect spot to get panoramic views of the town and surrounding ranges. It’s a tribute to the soldiers who have fought for the country, but has since turned into one of Alice Springs’ iconic landmarks.
You can either take the steep drive up to the lookout or walk up there from the northern end of town from near the oval. It’s best at sunset time when the golden glow of the sun shines across the town and surrounding MacDonnell Ranges.
5. Royal Flying Doctor Service Visitor Centre
To learn more about this incredible outback service, the Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility in Alice Springs is a very insightful museum. You can learn about the history and services provided by the flying doctors, including how it all began in the 1920s.
It also has a large display dedicated to John Flynn, who’s vision and dedication made the RFDS what it is today. This operation base in Alice Springs was originally set up in 1939 and was turned into a tourist facility in the 1970s to raise awareness to visitors about the incredible work of the RFDS and to promote fundraising which the service relies so heavily upon.
It’s open from Monday to Saturday, with tours offered every half an hour. Tickets are $19 per adult, $12 per child or $56 per family. It’s a not-for-profit organisation so you can be assured that the money goes back into helping this vital service be continued for the outback communities.
6. The School of the Air
Another way to explore the lives of outback communities, is by visiting the School of the Air Experience or otherwise known as the world’s largest classroom. What started as an idea to increase education in remote communities by airing three classes a week over the radio, now services kids spread over 1.3 million square kilometres.
The Visitor Centre lets you learn about how the school started and how it’s continued today, mostly online. You can learn more about the families living in remote communities and how they continue to strive for access to education despite being many hours away from a physical school.
Tickts are $12 per adult, $9 per child and $35 per family. It’s open Monday to Friday and on Sundays. Try to time your visit with a live lesson, so you can get the full experience of witnessing how it all takes place.
7. Ilparpa Clay Pans
This is a bit of a local secret that a friend told me about. Accessed off Ilparpa Road southwest of town, these interconnected claypans are home to a fragile ecosystem and plenty of wildlife. Depending on when you visit, it will either be dry and dusty or full of water, but it’s a popular spot for a picnic and to enjoy the scenery.
It’s a significant spot for the Traditional Owners and is part of the Ilparpa Swamp Wildlife Protected Area. Please respect the environment while you visit and leave no trace as there are no bins or facilities provided. You can find it down a dirt road that is not signposted but is on your right after the sign and road for the archery, if you’re coming from the Stuart Highway. You can find it by typing “clay pans” into Google Maps.
8. The Rediscovery Centre
Another not-so popular spot amongst tourists, the Rediscovery Centre is basically a recycling centre, tip, dump station and op shop all rolled into one. While you’ll find locals dropping off their hard rubbish there, the real highlight for visitors is the shop that has been set up like a large secondhand warehouse.
You can find all sorts of weird, wacky, useful and interesting things for sale, all second hand and usually in good working order. From an entire section of books and DVDs to hardware and building materials and appliances, you’ll find something useful. Prices are marked or otherwise negotiated with staff. Its a fun place to explore for a while.
You can find it on Commanage Road, which is just off the Stuart Highway before Heavitree Gap when coming from the south. There is some parking available onsite.
9. West MacDonnell Ranges
The West Macs are one of the most incredible national parks in the Northern Territory. This spectacular and rugged range stretches west of town and includes many of the state’s highest mountains. The ranges are also home to swimming holes, stunning gorges and gaps, most of which are culturally significant sites for the Arrernte people.
You can explore some of the popular attractions in the West MacDonnell Ranges on a day trip from Alice Springs. However, it’s best to extend your stay and explore the national park over at least two or more days. There are a few campgrounds at some of the main attractions including Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole and Ormiston Gorge.
Of course, you can’t mention the West Macs without talking about the Larapinta Trail. This 223km long trail stretches from the Old Telegraph Station in Alice Springs across the ranges to Mt Sonder. You can either head off for the complete end-to-end adventure or choose to explore on day walks and shorter overnight hikes.
10. East MacDonnell Ranges
Few visitors realise but the MacDonnell Ranges actually stretch east from Alice Springs too and exploring this remote and rugged section of the mountains can be even more rewarding. The East MacDonnell Ranges are far less visited but include some beautiful day hikes, water holes and fascinating Aboriginal rock art.
While it’s not part of a national park like the West Macs, you’ll find various smaller nature parks and reserves out in the East MacDonnell Ranges. There are a couple of great campgrounds in the Trephina Gorge Nature Park, from where you can enjoy this ancient landscape in peace. It’s located just 77km east of Alice Springs but feels a world away and is certainly a highlight of the area.
You can see many of the sights of the East Macs on a day trip from Alice Springs, including Emily Gap, Jessie Gap, Corroboree Rock and Trephina Gorge. However, I would recommend at least spending a night out there to really appreciate the landscape and complete some of the walks.
Where to stay in Alice Springs
Alice Springs has a range of accommodation options, including caravan parks for those travelling by road and nicer resorts for those looking for a relaxing break. If you’re travelling with a van like me then you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to caravan parks. There are plenty to choose from, including a couple of budget options. Here are my top choices.
Heritage Caravan Park || A friendly and rustic caravan park, I stayed here for a week during my time in Alice Springs. They have spacious powered sites around the outdoor pool or you can opt for the “bush camping” area which I thought was great for $30 per night. It’s right next to the more upmarket caravan parks, like the Big4 but I thought it was good value in comparison and it’s dog friendly too. Check availability here.
Alice Lodge Backpackers || If you’re looking for more budget accommodation, I stayed at the Alice Lodge Backpackers before and after I did the Larapinta Trail. It’s a really friendly place to meet other travellers and it’s walking distance from town. Check prices here.
Desert Palms Alice Springs || For a bit more luxury, Desert Palms is one of the nicest places to stay in Alice Springs. They offer individual studio villas from doubles up to family options on a beautiful property with a large outdoor pool. Prices start from around $150 per night. Check availability here.
On a tight #vanlife budget? The Gap View Hotel offers powered and unpowered camping in a dusty parking area at the back of the pub. They’ve recently had a new amenities building constructed which is really nice and it’s the best place to meet other #vanlifers. It’s $20 per unpowered site and $30 per powered and I can highly recommend it if you’re looking for a cheap, short stay.
Where to eat in Alice Springs
Here are a couple of my favourite places to eat in Alice Springs, if you’re looking for a good feed.
The Goods Coffee Shop || At the northern end of Todd Street, The Goods is where you’ll find the local crowd heading for their early morning coffee. The small cafe has a limited menu but the brunch options are delicious and they arguably have the best coffee in town, with a wide range of non-dairy milks to choose from as well.
Epilogue Lounge and Rooftop Bar || A trendy restaurant and bar on Todd Mall, this place is always busy and for good reason. The tables spill out onto the street and the food is incredible. Their lunch menu has some great choices, I can definitely recommend the burgers. Otherwise, they also have an extensive tapas menu and wood fired pizza in the evening. They’re open from early morning until late, with live music on weekends.
Where to shop in Alice Springs
If you’re looking for some retail therapy then I actually discovered that there’s some great art galleries and souvenir shops in Alice Springs. Here are my top choices:
Aboriginal Fabric Gallery || This shop on the corner of Todd Mall is a beautiful place to pick up some unique souvenirs. While they’re known for incredible fabrics in Aboriginal prints, they also sell a range of other items like bags, purses, coffee cups and mugs, most of which are certified fair trade.
This is Aboriginal Art || Located on Todd Mall, this art gallery has a range of high quality art work on display from Aboriginal artists around the country. The staff are very passionate and knowledgable and can help you select the finest piece for your home.
Lone Dingo || Just the next shop up, this outdoor camping store is your go-to if you’re about to do the Larapinta. Most hikers find themselves wandering in to buy gas canisters, dehydrated meals or anything else you might have left behind at home. They’ve got a great range with knowledgable staff who can help you find what you need.
Red Kangaroo Books || A great local book shop, they sell a unique range of local and national writers, including many books on Australian and Aboriginal history. Plus, you’ll find all the latest best sellers and a range fo souvenirs and toys too. Located on Todd Mall, of course.
Go Vita Alice Springs || If you’ve been travelling a while and looking for some healthy food or supplements, this health food shop in Alice Plaza Market on Todd Mall is a fantastic place. They have a range of organic and healthy products from gluten free and vegan food, healthy snacks, vitamins and supplements, organic and chemical free cleaning and beauty products and eco-friendly lifestyle products.
Where to next?
From Alice Springs, most people head north towards Darwin or south towards Adelaide (there aren’t really many other options!). Of course, most people sneak in a long detour to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon on the Red Centre Way as well. For all of these options, I’ve got you covered! Check out some of my helpful posts here:
- The Ultimate Red Centre Way Road Trip Itinerary
- The Ultimate Guide to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
- How to Visit Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park