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Darwin is the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory and is well known for its incredible sunsets, hippy atmosphere, and close proximity to stunning national parks and nature spots.
It’s also one of the best places in Australia to visit if you want to appreciate Aboriginal culture.
But while most people use Darwin as a hub to get out and explore its nearby national parks, and you should 100% go and see them, there is also a plethora of fun things to do in Darwin in its own right.
Don’t just use it as a base, take some time to get to know this unique and vibrant city.
If you’re not sure what to do in Darwin, then take a look below at some of Darwin’s top attractions, as well as our insider tips on where to eat, sleep, drink, shop, and explore.
Is Darwin Worth Visiting?
As a vibrant, multicultural, and unique destination, Darwin offers a gateway to many of the top natural and cultural icons of the Top End, including the Tiwi Islands, Litchfield, and Kakadu National Parks, Adelaide River, Mary River, Arnhem Land, and the Katherine Region.
For nature lovers, it’s 100% worth visiting Darwin because of its convenient location near these natural gems.
As well as this, Darwin literally is a HOT destination. While Aussies in southern parts of Australia are all rugged up on the couch under a blanket in our winter woolies, those in Darwin are basking in the warmth of the sun all year round.
This makes it the perfect winter getaway in Australia.
Things to Do in Darwin
In Darwin, you can take things as fast or as slow as you like. From bushwalks and suburban markets to being submerged with saltwater crocodiles, it really is your choice in this modern, tropical city.
A quick and important note: The beaches in Darwin are spectacular, but not for swimming. This is saltwater croc territory, and yes, they have been known to enjoy Australia’s best beaches in the Top End. I wouldn’t risk it.
If you’re not sure what attractions in Darwin to add to your itinerary, read on to see our favourite things to do…
1. Catch a famous Darwin Sunset
A trip on the calm waters enjoying the tropical breeze is a must-do for any visit. Sit back and enjoy fiery-red sunsets while sailing the harbour on a classic pearl lugger, catamaran, or seacat, Champagne in hand.
Or stay on land and head to the Ski Club, Sailing Club, Trailer Boat Club, or Mindil Beach for a cold beer to witness one of those iconic sunsets.
2. Eyeball a Giant Saltwater Croc
Adelaide River, located a 70 km drive from the city centre, is a perfect habitat for Salties (saltwater crocodiles).
Seeing one of these 4.5m giants jumping from the water right next to your boat is something else. So is swimming in the ‘Cage of Death’ at Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin’s CBD.
A jumping crocodile cruise is one of the top things to do in Darwin and a great way to see these land reptiles in their natural habitat.
Or for the faint-hearted, meet Sweetheart, the 5 metres long and safely stuffed croc at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
3. Go Barra Fishing on the Mary River Wetlands or Corroboree Billabong
A metre-long slab of silver (Barramundi) haunts every fisherman’s dreams. And in Darwin, dreams come true – on tours, in your own chartered boat, and even off the shoreline or jetty.
Barra action is hot in the run-off, but it’s possible to fish all year round.
You can visit the Mary River Wetlands on this small-group tour (but does not include fishing)
4. Appreciate Indigenous Art at The Didgeridoo Hut
Sculpture, weaving, prints, paintings – all are on show or on sale.
Try the Didgeridoo Hut, showcasing and selling original, authentic Indigenous artwork; the galleries in Parap; the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT or walk the shoreline in the company of a Larrakia guide to see this country through indigenous eyes.
5. Learn About War History at the Darwin Military Museum
During the second world war, Darwin was one of the few places in Australia to be directly attacked by the Japanese. More than 300 bombs were dropped on the city in February 1942, leaving devastation and ruin across the city.
The Darwin Military Museum documents the catastrophic bombing of Darwin, as well as has informative exhibits about Australia’s military history.
History buffs may also enjoy the Defence of Darwin Experience/Royal Flying Doctor Service which is across the road from the Darwin Military Museum.
There are several other historically significant sites in the city, such as the WWII Oil Storage Tunnels on the waterfront and the Aviation Heritage Centre.
6. Spend a Day Swimming at Litchfield National Park
Litchfield National Park is only a 90-minute drive from the city and is the best place to go swimming without fear of salt water crocodiles.
Crystal-clear waterfalls, swimming holes, four-wheel driving tracks, magnetic termite mounds, picnic areas and easy-going bushwalks are just the start.
You can join a full day tour to Litchfield if you don’t have your own vehicle. A trip to Litchfield National Park is one of the best things to do in Darwin on a hot summer’s day.
7. Explore The Neighborhoods of Darwin
If you’re looking for free things to do in Darwin, you can’t go wrong with wandering around the city’s neighborhoods.
The Waterfront is one of our favourite neighborhoods and is located in the heart of the city.
The wave pool and swimming lagoon are surrounded by chilled-out cafés, bars, shops, and restaurants. For a stroll, a drink, and a choice of places to eat, the Waterfront makes a relaxed alternative to buzzing Mitchell Street.
Although, the pumping nocturnal scene around the clock at Mitchell Street’s pubs and bars makes Darwin a hot-ticket backpacker destination. If you’re looking for nightlife in Darwin, this is the area to go to.
We also stayed in Cullen Bay and enjoyed the serenity of this beach suburb.
8. Dine on Darwin’s Diverse Cuisines
With such close proximity to Indonesia and the rest of South-East Asia, it’s no surprise that Darwin’s cuisine has a heavy Asian influence.
You’ll find fantastic restaurants all over Darwin’s waterfront at Stokes Hill Wharf and Cullen Bay. Some of our favourite places to eat in Darwin are:
- The Fannie Bay Coolspot Café. With so many awesome activities to do during the day, it’s a good idea to grab a solid breakfast for the day ahead. The Coolspot Cafe is the local’s choice.
- Moorish. As its namesake suggests, Moorish Cafe offers delicious Moroccan, Spanish and Mediterranean-influenced tapas. Enjoy the sangria from a settee piled high with colourful cushions.
- Stokes Hill Wharf. Head along to Stokes Hill Wharf to enjoy seafood platters that will put most others to shame. This is the place to go to see one of Darwin’s iconic thunderstorms roll in on the horizon.
- Hanuman Restaurant. One of the locals’ favourites, Hanuman offers a mixture of Thai, Indian, and Nonya cuisine in a relaxed yet sophisticated environment. Grab a table on the deck and marvel at the craftsmanship of the wooden displays on show. The Trumpet Mushrooms can’t be missed.
- Yots Greek Taverna. Once a secret amongst the locals, Yots is the place to go for the freshest oysters in Darwin. Watch them being freshly shucked on the boardwalk while watching the yachts sail into dock; one of the prettiest locations in Darwin.
- Char Restaurant. Set in the historic Admiralty House, Char Restaurant is known for its steaks but excels in seafood too. Lounge outside under the trees, favoured by Darwin’s corporates on a Friday afternoon, or sit inside and watch the bartender mix up a tropical concoction.
- Sweet Tooth. Sweet Tooth is a family-owned and operated Greek patisserie in the suburb of Millner, the pastries baked on premises, like the shortbread and Baklava, are worth the visit, and give visitors a little taste of the large Greek community Darwin is home to.
9. Explore Darwin’s Unique Bar Scene
Darwin is a backpacker-friendly city and attracts many visitors who are after a vibrant nightlife scene. If you’re looking for places to drink a cocktail or two, or dance the night away, here are our favourite places:
- Darwin Railway Sports and Club, or ‘the Rails.’ After fire ravaged through this offbeat live music venue in 2009, the Railway re-opened its doors to become host to some of the best live gigs in Darwin. Originally opened as a club for railway workers, this iconic watering hole has a history as rich as the regulators who frequent its old wooden bar.
- The Tap on Mitchell. Serving up fishbowl cocktails to share with friends and a giant tree smack bang in the middle of the bar, The Tap is well-loved with the backpacker set which live along the Mitchell Street strip.
- Darwin Ski Club. A great example of the locals’ outdoorsy lifestyle, the Ski Club is a Members Club but also welcomes friends to its palm tree-fringed venue. As the sun sinks over the horizon, coloured fairy lights switch on and often a live acoustic guitar keeps the locals coming back every night of the week.
10. Check Out Darwin’s Beach Markets
Darwin is a vibrant mix of cultures, and every one of them has a stall at the open-air markets.
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, held Thursdays to Sundays from March to November, are the place to go for something tasty to eat, and stunning sunsets. See a vibrant mix of cultures and food from around the world at these open air sunset markets.
11. Enjoy One of Darwin’s Festivals & Events
Darwin is a vibrant city that loves to party and have a good time. So year-round, you’ll find there is usually something happening, from a live music festival to a cultural event.
The Darwin Festival is one of our favourite festivals in Darwin and takes place every August. It provides a feast of local, national, and international performances to excite, inspire and entertain, including everything from free outdoor events to theatre, dance, music cabaret, films, workshops, and comedy.
The Beer Can Regatta is another festival that’s worth checking out if you plan your visit for July. It’s a day of hilarity as spectators line the beach and watch these sometimes elaborate and often hopeless boats sink and fall apart in Darwin Harbour.
The main event is the Battle of Mindil draws the crowds, but the day is filled with amusing events like thong throwing and tug-of-war.
If you’re visiting Darwin in May, check out the Tiwi Islands Art Sale and Footy Grand Final. Football is more than a game on the Tiwi Islands. It is a passion some would say stronger than any religion, and the grand final of the local league held in March each year is no better place to witness this craze.
This is also the one day of the year that the art centres hold a sale of their works, and travel to the islands can be done without the usual permit restrictions.
12. Visit One of Darwin’s Clubs
Darwin is famous for its lush tropical climate and outdoor adventure activities, but if you’re keen to relax and take in the character of Darwin, go no further than these quirky clubs.
- The Darwin Rock Sitters Club. Established in 1974, every Saturday at East Point Reserve Darwin from 6pm (BYO) The Darwin Rock Sitters Club captures the city’s tradition of spinning a few yarns and having a few beers with ‘ya mates’.
- Dinah Beach Yacht Club and Viking Funeral. This steamy local haunt for bearded and crusty locals hosts the Viking Funeral every July as a tribute to fallen sailors. It coincides with the moon rising over Frances Bay and culminates in a Viking boat funeral pyre.
- Darwin’s Ice Hockey Club. Darwin’s Ice Hockey Club are the world ice hockey champions who defend their title from Darwin’s melted ice.
- The Darwin Ski Club is the home of the Northern Territory Water Ski Association and a hub for watersports. It’s an iconic venue for its picturesque views of Fannie Bay and stunning sunsets. They have a great food menu and live music.
13. Cool Down in the Wave Lagoon
Since you can’t swim in the ocean, the best way to experience it is at the wave lagoon, a man-made wave pool that is surrounded by sea wall, meaning it’s safe for swimming.
The wave lagoon is located on Darwin Waterfront and is a free recreation area and lagoon.
It’s one of the best places to visit for a swim in the city centre and provides the perfect place to cool off in.
If you’re travelling with young children, don’t worry as there are lifeguards patrolling at all times and the pool starts off shallow before getting gradually deeper.
Our girls loved swimming at the Wave Pool in Darwin.
14. Enjoy a Scenic Sunset Cruise
If you’re looking for relaxing things to do in Darwin, you can’t go wrong with a sunset cruise.
Sit back and relax as you watch the iconic Darwin sunset as you sail across the ocean.
You can sip champagne, nibble on a platter of snacks and listen to a commentary on the history and cultural significance of Darwin from the expert guides.
What better way to spend your evening?
15. Take a Day Trip to Katherine Gorge
Located in Katherine National Park, also known as Nitmiluk National Park, is the stunning Katherine Gorge.
Rent yourself a kayak and paddle up the river to see stunning waterfalls and millennia-old rock walls.
There are around 13 gorges along the Katherine River, many of which feature aboriginal rock art.
With a wild and rugged landscape with lush greenery and native plants and flora, the Katherine River is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
16. Relax at The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
A visit to the botanical gardens is one of the best relaxing things to do in Darwin. Learn about the native plants and fauna of Australia at this diverse landscape garden.
Located just 2km north of the city centre, the park offers a tranquil escape from the lively CBD.
The gardens have a rainforest with a waterfall, a butterfly and sensory garden, and the tallest fountain in Darwin.
17. Visit Berry Springs Nature Park
Berry Springs another beautiful park with picnic areas, bbq facilities, and crystal clear swimming pools to cool off in.
The park also has several species of birds that live amongst the trees of the monsoon forest and the woodlands walk.
The park also has a significant World War II history, as it was the area where more than 100,000 armed forces personnel were based.
18. See the Animals at Territory Wildlife Park
Nearby to the Berry Springs Nature Park is the Territory Wildlife Park, which is known for its diversity of native animals and plants from the Top End, who live in their natural habitat.
The park is spread out across a 4km circular loop road that has free shuttle trains, or walking paths.
Visitors can see a free-flight bird show every day with a range of trained birds, see wallabies along the Top End woodland walk and see turtles, fish, sawfish, and a 3.8m saltwater crocodile in its aquarium.
19. Take a Day Trip to Kakadu National Park
Personally, we don’t think a day trip to Kakadu National Park is long enough to see all the wonders of the park. But we do accept that we are not all blessed with time.
If you have a day to visit, be sure to check it out. Kakadu is famous for its aboriginal rock art and vast wetland landscape. It’s one of the best places to see saltwater crocs in their natural habitat.
Be sure to visit the Bowali Visitor Centre to learn about the park’s aboriginal history, and see some of the best preserved and ancient Ubirr rock art, which dates back more than 20,000 years.
20. Have A Picnic at Charles Darwin National Park
Charles Darwin National Park is somewhat of a hidden gem near Darwin. It has a significant aboriginal and WWII history and is also part of the protected Port Darwin wetland.
One of the best ways to experience the park is to ride around on a mountain bike, where you can ride through the many fire break paths in the bushland.
The park is wild and rugged, with many species of mangroves. It’s important to wear insect repellent when visiting.
Be sure to check out the lookout platform, where you can see panoramic views of Darwin’s skyline.
21. Join a Day Tour to Arnhem Land
Arnhem Land is a highly spiritual and sacred Aboriginal area just east of Kakadu. This huge wilderness area inhabited mostly by Yolngu Aboriginal people and is home to the most ancient rock art sites in the country, as well as rainforest, woodlands, gorges, wetlands, escarpments, beaches, and rivers.
To visit Arnhem Land you need a special permit and it is what would be considered one of the most off the beaten path experiences in Australia.
I was very fortunate to join a private tour where we arrived by small plane (over spectacular scenery of Kakadu and the Adelaide River. Our Indigenous guide, Gary showed us various places of spiritual significance including this sacred watering hole where he blessed each of us. (you can see more of my tour to Arnhem Land here)
While a long journey from Darwin for just a day, it’s such a unique and beautiful region. If you have the time I recommend you visit for longer than a day.
Travelers usually visit western parts of Arnhem Land on a guided tour from Darwin or the Kakadu National Park. Tours generally visit the Injalak Arts Center and ancient rock art galleries in the hills with a local Aboriginal guide.
Permits to enter Arnhem Land independently are free, but take around 10 days to acquire. If traveling on a tour, these are taken care of.
This private tour is the only day tour from Darwin with access to the Injalak Rock art site and is led by indigenous guides.
The Tiwi Islands is another popular destination from Darwin that offers rich Aboriginal culture and beautiful landscapes. Melville Island and Bathurst Island are the largest of the 11 islands and the ones that most travelers visit. Here is a day trip from Darwin to Bathurst Island
Where to Stay in Darwin
Darwin is a huge city and so you’ll find a plethora of places to stay. It can be overwhelming knowing where to stay, so here are some of our favourite places.
For a budget option, we recommend staying at the trusty Travelodge. Darwin’s hostels are notoriously low-quality, so unless you’re a budget backpacker, we recommend looking for a budget hotel for a decent night’s sleep.
For a decent mid-range option, check out Vibe Hotel. It’s located on the Darwin Waterfront precinct, on the fringe of Darwin CBD, and is perfectly positioned to explore Darwin’s newest restaurants, boutique shops, and seafront promenade.
For high end luxury, you won’t find much better than the Hilton Darwin. Boasting an excellent location just a few minutes’ walk from downtown in the vibrant Darwin Harbour area, and steps from fantastic shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Alternatively, you can find unique accommodations such as wilderness retreats. Ditch the traditional hotel experience and have an exclusive taste of bush luxury in your own safari suite, at either Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge or Bamurru Plains.
Getting Around Darwin
Darwin is quite a large city but it’s easy to get around. Public buses operate seven days a week, making it easy to get around Darwin on your own.
Coach services can take you between regional and urban centres, and there’s a range of guided coach and bus tours if you’re after someone to show you the sites.
A useful tool is the Darwin Public Transport Journey Planner, on the Transport NT website.
Or even better: traverse the Northern Territory on two wheels! The Northern Territory is great for cycling with plenty of cycle paths, and tracks, and trails in national parks and urban areas.
When to Visit Darwin
The peak visitor time to the Top End is during the dry season, from May to September, when a huge array of festivals and events are held due to the predictable 32-degree celsius climate.
October to April is considered the wet season, and the weather is usually hot with tropical storms.
Before You Go
So there you have it, those are the best things to do in Darwin, and as you can see, there are a lot of amazing attractions to add to your itinerary.
Whether you plan to stay to visit to see the nearby national parks or you’re looking for somewhere with a relaxed vibe to rest your traveller legs for a while, be sure to give Darwin a few days of your time.
Before you go, remember that Darwin is in Australia’s wildest region, and with that comes the creepy crawlies. Shake your shoes each morning to make sure no eight-legged creatures are sleeping in them.
Don’t go hiking or swimming off the beaten path and stay on the tourist path. This is for your safety, not to spoil your fun.
And above all, have the best time in Darwin!
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Can you share any tips on things to do in Darwin? Let us know in the comments!