Rundle Street, from which the mall takes its name, is named after John Rundle, a member of the British House of Commons and original director of the South Australia Company. The street was named on 23 May 1837 by the Street Naming Committee. In 1895, the first electric street lighting was installed at the intersection of Rundle Street (as it was then), King William Street and Hindley Street. It also had a tramline run through it when it was still part of Rundle Street. In November 1972, the then South Australian Premier, Don Dunstan, issued the closure of the western part of Rundle Street to create Rundle Mall due to extreme congestion caused by traffic and increasing number of pedestrians.
There are several items of modern sculpture in the mall. The best-known is the 4m tall Spheres by Bert Flugelman, two large stainless steel spheres balanced one on top of the other. They are most commonly referred to as the Mall's Balls or Rundle Mall balls. Installed in 1977 they were commissioned by the Hindmarsh Building Society and donated to the City of Adelaide to mark its 1977 centenary.
Other sculpture includes a group of life-size bronze pigs - Horatio, Truffles, Augusta and Oliver - rooting around a rubbish bin. Of note is the historic Beehive Corner, built in 1895. It lies on the western end on the corner of Rundle Mall and King William Street and was originally owned by John Rundle. Beehive Corner is built in the Neo-gothic style, which is generally reserved for churches. The Mall also contains a fountain (The Fountain) that is painted in Victorian colours and was cast in the late 1800s.
The area is one of the most expensive land areas in Adelaide and is considered one of the most important retail centres in the city, competing with the large shopping complexes in the suburbs such as Westfield Marion. The mall showcases many large Australian retailers including David Jones, the Myer Centre and Woolworths. Retailers sell both fresh and prepared food, comparison goods and clothes. The mall also features a number of arcades and plazas containing smaller boutiques and eateries. These include the Italianate styled Regent Arcade (also being the first retail establishment in Australia with electrical lighting and allegedly home to six ghosts), Gays Arcade, City Cross, Southern Cross, Adelaide Central Plaza, Myer Centre and Renaissance Arcade. There are usually several buskers performing in the mall, licensed by the Adelaide City Council. The mall is open seven days a week, and late night trading is on Friday evenings until 9 pm.