Last updated on November 13th, 2023 at 06:01 pm
One of the most fun things to see and do in Darwin is experience a glorious sunset
Darwin, yes it was named after Charles Darwin, even though he never stepped in the city, is a city rich with cultural heritage, natural wonders and has a laid-back tropical vibe. The capital of Australia’s Northern Territory is known for its balmy nights, fabulous sunsets, colourful markets and diverse Aboriginal art. In this article, I share some of my favourite fun things to see and do in Darwin and why you should make them a part of your Darwin itinerary on your first visit to Darwin.
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Is Darwin Worth Visiting?
Darwin is definitely worth visiting for a few days on any trip around Australia or while exploring Central Australia. It has a number of interesting and fun things to see and do plus, is the gateway to many of the top natural and cultural icons of the Top End, including Litchfield National Park, the Tiwi Islands and of course, Kakadu National Park. So here is why Darwin is worth visiting particularly if it is your first visit to Australia. These are some of the best attractions in Darwin to add to your Darwin itinerary.
A quick and important note: Darwin beaches are spectacular, but not for swimming. Always remember you are in saltwater croc territory. Many a ‘saltie’ have been known to enjoy Darwin’s best beaches in the Top End also. So don’t risk swimming at the beach, there are other water places you can cool off. Such as at your hotel’s pool (if it has one) or at the water pools at Darwin’s Waterfront.
Is Darwin Worth visiting with Kids? Of course it is. There is plenty for kids to see and do in Darwin. Most kids I know love seeing the crocodiles, apart from a few really young ones who found them a bit scary! They will love splashing around in the Wave Pool at Darwin’s Waterfront Precinct, and you could enjoy a cold drink while they do. So yes, Darwin is a great place for kids.
Things to See and Do in Darwin
Are you ready to dive in? These are the best things to see and do when you’re in Darwin. Let’s begin.
1. Ride the Hop On Hop Off Bus
I always like to take the Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus when I visit a city for the very first time. And Darwin is no different. I know they are touristy. But hey, that’s what we are sometimes when discovering a new place. And this HOHO takes you to all the best places to see in Darwin. Including the Botanic Gardens, Mindil Beach Markets, Crocosaurus Cove, the Military Museum at East Point and the Waterfront Precinct to name a few. After you have visited all the hot spots of Darwin, you can then decide which ones you want to explore more.
2. Appreciate Exhibits at Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT)
Second on my list of fun things to see and do in Darwin is to visit the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory (MAGNT). Here, you’ll dive into a world where every exhibit tells a story. There is plenty of Indigenous art to discover as well as the Cyclone Tracy exhibit.
Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin Christmas Eve in 1974 with 80% of the city being flattened with 71 people killed. Hard to imagine now, but from that tragedy Darwin has been rebuilt to what you see today. At the exhibit hear the devastating roar of the Category 4 Cyclone as it hits the town. I’ve never heard anything quite like it. And I remember when Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin. I was only young, but my family donated blankets to the families who lost everything.
3. Darwin Waterfront Precinct
Next on my list of fun things to see and do in Darwin is a visit to the Darwin Waterfront Precinct. This area welcomes visitors with open arms, offering many activities for relaxation with excitement (whichever suits your fancy for the day). Here, you can dip your toes in the wave pool and swimming lagoon, laughing as children build sandcastles nearby so if you are holiday with kids in Darwin, this will be a fun place to visit in Darwin for kids.
As evening approaches, you might find yourself in a chic eatery or by a chilled-out cafe. There are some 20 or so places to eat and drink here. You could savor local barramundi as you plan your next adventure. Day or night, the Darwin Waterfront Precinct has many things to see and do while visiting Darwin.
4. Eyeball a Giant Saltwater Croc at Crocosaurus Cove
Crocosaurus Cove is where you can get up close and personal with some of Australia’s iconic Saltwater Crocodiles. See the crocodiles be fed and spend time with other reptiles. And if you ever wanted to come face-to-face with the awe-inspiring power of nature that is a crocodile – then you will want to experience the ‘Cage of Death’. This is where you will be lowered in to the water in an acrylic enclosure with a large saltwater crocodile for 15 minutes. Do you dare!
5. Catch a famous Darwin Sunset from Land or Sea
Darwin is known for its fiery-red sunsets so definitely grab a spot on the foreshore, on an evening cruise, at your accommodation or Mindil Beach to witness an iconic sunset. Many organise a picnic with a cold beverage to watch the sunset with. Or perhaps go on a scenic sunset cruise where you can sit back, relax with champagne and nibbles and watch the iconic Darwin sunset.
6. Mindil Beach Sunset Market
Mindil Beach is a great place to watch a Darwin sunset from, but they can be even better when the Mindil Beach markets are on. Be enveloped by the scents of international cuisine and the sounds of didgeridoos and guitar strings harmonising in the background at Mindil Beach Sunset Market. That’s pretty much the experience when you’re visit. Visiting Mindil Beach is a must-do thing when visiting Darwin. Get your self a bargain, some good food and as the sun dips below the horizon join the crowds on the beach and bask in the glow of the fiery sky! Mindil Beach Sunset Market operates Thursdays and Sundays from April to October – so you will need to plan your visit around this time if this is something you want to experience.
7. Relax at The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens is a beautiful place to take a leisurely stroll during your day in Darwin. Most people in the area come here to find solace under the shade of the trees and gaze at the vivid orchids or learn about the Australian native plants and fauna. The gardens provide visitors with a living encyclopedia of the region’s plant life. And for those who just want an easy afternoon, you can just take time to enjoy the sweet nothingness with a beautiful landscape surrounding you.
8. Learn About War History at the Darwin Military Museum, East Point
During the Second World War, Darwin was one of a few places in Australia that was directly attacked by the Japanese. In February 1942 some 300 bombs were dropped on Darwin leaving ruin and devastation. Delve deeper into this catastrophic bombing of Darwin event. Also discover the Defence of Darwin Experience. This fabulous exhibit was opened as part of the 70th commemoration of the bombing of Darwin. And you don’t have to be a history buff to discover the contribution made in the Northern Territory to the WWII war effort here at the Darwin Military Museum.
9. Visit Fannie Bay Gaol
Fannie Bay Gaol was a gaol operated as Her Majesty’s Gaol and Labour Prison, for almost 100 years. It was Darwin’s main prison from 1883 until 1979 when prisoners were relocated to the correctional facility located in Berrimah. Fannie Bay Gaol is an important historic site in Darwin. It houses both male and female prisoners in separate buildings. It contained gallows used up until the last executions held in the NT in 1952.
10. Dine at Darwin’s Finest Restaurants
Darwin’s dining scene is a reflection of its multicultural population. From the freshest seafood to authentic Asian and native Australian dishes, the city’s top restaurants promise a culinary journey that’s as diverse as the landscape itself. Check out this list of the best Darwin restaurants to fill your gastronomic adventure with the best that Darwin has to offer.
11. Go Bar Hopping Around Darwin
If looking for some of Darwin’s buzzing nightlife, heat to Mitchell Street’s pubs and bars. The city’s nightlife is alive and vibrant, with a selection of bars to suit any mood and is a big backpacker destination. Whether you’re after a rooftop cocktail or a craft beer in a quirky pub, bar hopping in Darwin is the perfect way to cap off an exciting day exploring the city. Wondering where you should end up in the lively hours of the night? Check out this list of the best bars in Darwin. If you ever wanted to live and work in Darwin on your Australia working holiday visa, getting a job here would be the go!
Easy Day Trips from Darwin
Darwin is a gateway to outback Northern Territory and other Top End adventures. Only an hours drive or so away are some of the best attractions you will find in the Northern Territory – Litchfield National Park, the Tiwi Islands and the jewel in the crown – Kakadu National Park. You can use Darwin as your base to visit these fabulous and unique spots in the Top End of the Northern Territory.
12. Explore Litchfield National Park
Take the 90-minute drive from Darwin to the extraordinary Litchfield National Park. Marvel at the magnetic termite mounds on the way before enjoying crystal-clear waterfalls, swimming holes and picnic areas. This place is perfect for adventurers who want to discover the untamed beauty of the Australian Outback. At Litchfield, you’ll surely create memories that will linger long after you’ve left. You can join a full day tour to Litchfield if you don’t have your own vehicle.
13. Learn About Aboriginal Culture at the Tiwi Islands
The Tiwi Islands beckon visitors to discover a living cultural tapestry that is the aboriginal culture. Participate in art workshops, watch traditional dances and hear the storytelling to gain a deeper appreciation of Aboriginal people and their connection to the land. You can visit the Tiwi Islands independently however, you will need to apply for a permit. This is why going on a tour, which includes your permit, is an ideal way to visit the Tiwi Islands.
14. Go Barra Fishing
Fisherman from around the world head to the Top End to go Barramundi (Barra) fishing. There are plenty of spots to catch this tasty fish. Unless you are a seasoned pro, best to go on a specialise fishing tour. They will take you to the best spots!
15. Discover Kakadu National Park
If you are time poor, you can visit Kakadu National Park in a day, however, personally, I don’t think a day trip to Kakadu National Park is long enough to truly see all its wonders. But if you only have a day be sure to visit the Bowali Visitor Centre to learn about the park’s Aboriginal history. Then visit some of the best preserved and ancient rock art at Ubirr, dating back some 20,000 years before enjoying a fabulous sunset over the Kakadu wetlands. If time on your one day in Kakadu, see the jumping saltwater crocodiles jump for food on a cruise on the Alligator River. I do think Kakadu National Park is worth spending a few days in.
Plan Your Darwin Holiday
Where to Stay in Darwin
Now you know what fun things to see and do in Darwin, it is time to organise where you will stay. Darwin is quite 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 suggestions.
On my first trip to Darwin I was a backpacker and stayed in a hostel on Mitchell Street across the road from the bus terminal. After a long 18 hour bus ride from Alice Springs, when I looked across the road and saw the hostel, I walked over and got myself a bed! This is the MOM Darwin YHA.
Towing a Van: If towing a caravan and want to set up at a caravan park, check out Big4 Howard Springs Holiday Park.
Hostel: On Mitchell Street, near the Transport Centre and in the hub of bars and nightlife of Darwin is Darwin Hostel. It has air conditioning and a pool – two musts when visiting Darwin. Check pricing and availability for Darwin Hostel here.
Budget Hotel: For a budget hotel check out the Travelodge Darwin Resort. Get pricing and availability here.
Mid-range Hotel: Located in Darwin’s Waterfront precinct is Vibe Hotel Darwin Waterfront. Get pricing and availability for the Vibe Hotel here.
Splurge Hotel: If you ever wanted to splurge while travelling Australia, a splurge on a Darwin hotel with ocean views to enjoy the Darwin sunsets could be on the cards. Check out pricing and availability for the Hilton Darwin here.
Need more inspiration on places to stay? Check out properties in Darwin on Booking.com.
Getting Around Darwin
Darwin is an easy city to get around with public buses operating seven days a week. A useful tool is the Darwin Public Transport Journey Planner, on the Transport NT website.
When to Visit Darwin
The peak visitor time and best time to visit Darwin and the Top End is during the dry season. This is from May to September when it is winter time in Australia. Although it may be cold in the southern states, not in the Northern Territory. Days can be hot and nights can be cool, particularly in the desert areas. And there is less rain during this time making it easy to get to many of the iconic sites. This is the time most Australians visit the Top End.
October to April is considered the wet season in the Northern Territory. Thanks to Darwin being close to the Tropic of Capricorn the weather is usually hot, humid with tropical storms and maybe a cyclone or two. With all the rain, it can be difficult to get to some places.
Are You Ready to Visit Darwin?
So there you have it, these are the best things to do in Darwin, and as you can see, there are a lot of amazing attractions to add to your Darwin itinerary. Whether delving into the heart of its cultural heritage or basking in the natural wonders just beyond the cityscape, Darwin offers a truly Australian adventure. Have you been to Darwin? Or planning a visit – I’d love to hear in the comments.