Darwin is probably Australia’s most underrated capital city. Despite being the capital of the Northern Territory, this small city often gets missed by travelers.
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There are lots of fun things to do in Darwin for those that choose to spend a few days exploring. Activities in Darwin range from unique cultural experiences to food & wine tours and opportunities to enjoy nearby natural wonders.
Whether it’s jumping off waterfalls on the weekends or listening to the aboriginal songs in the city park in the evenings, there is a simple charm about Darwin that captures visitors’ hearts.
Check out our Vlog from our time in Darwin and the rest of the Top End below:
Best Time to Visit Darwin
Believe it or not, Darwin is the only city in Australia with a tropical climate. Because Darwin is located at the very top of Australia in the Northern Territory, the climate mimics that of Southern Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
There is a wet and a dry season in Darwin. There is no such thing as autumn, spring or winter in this part of the world. It rains every day or it is dry every day. But one thing that is constant is the heat!
The wet season in Darwin is from November to April. This is the worst time to visit Darwin as it truly does rain every day. While it doesn’t rain all day long typically, there are tropical storms and risks of cyclones. Streets flood and the torrential downpours can make driving impossible. During the rainy months, many of the Darwin attractions close due to a lack of visitors or limited road access/flooding.
The best time to visit Darwin is from May to October. While the rest of Australia is experiencing the dreary winter months, Darwin gets pumping! The sun shines every day with a low risk of rain, making it perfect for all of Darwin’s attractions, from camping to hiking, and exploring the great outdoors!
Top Things to Do in Darwin, Northern Territory
Darwin is the perfect holiday destination for those who love outdoor adventures, cultural encounters and wildlife experiences. Many of the things to do in Darwin are out in nature and have a low impact on their surroundings. Check out these awesome Darwin attractions in the city and on nearby day trips.
Walk the Darwin Waterfront
Darwin has a bustling waterfront with plenty to do for locals and visitors alike. This is the heart of the city, so it makes sense for this to be your first stop on a visit to Darwin.
The waterfront is home to the Darwin Beach Club, the Aqua Park, Darwin Convention Centre, a playground, grassy parklands and a plethora of shops and restaurants. There is also a wave pool and Darwin’s only man-made beach lagoon that gets particularly busy with locals on the weekends.
Splash in the Waterfront Pool
Despite being surrounded by the ocean, Darwin doesn’t have a lot of croc-safe swimming spots. So when it comes to cooling off in the city, Darwin’s Waterfront is the place to be! The Recreation Lagoon is a great place to splash around when temps climb in this tropical paradise.
The lagoon is connected to Darwin Harbour but gets continuously filled with fresh, filtered seawater. The lagoon is open every day from 9 AM – 6 PM and entrance is free!
Visit the Wave Lagoon
If you’re itching for more action than the Recreation Lagoon, one of Darwin’s top attractions is its wave pool. The Wave Lagoon is located right next to the Rec Lagoon and is a 4,000 square metres pool that pumps out waves up to 1.2 metres high! The Entrance to the wave pool is $8 per adult and free for children under 3.
Enjoy Waterfront Dining
After you’ve boogie boarded through the waves, grab a seat at one of the great restaurants on Darwin’s Waterfront. There are tons of restaurants to choose from with cuisine options ranging from classical Australian pub grub to exotic Asian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern flavours. There are also a lot of great seafood options. You can’t beat the views from Wharf One and Oyster Bar is a fabulous spot for oysters and Australian wines.
Explore East Point
Located on the northern end of Fannie Bay, East Point feels far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The peninsula is known for the East Point Reserve and adjacent Darwin Military Museum.
The nature reserve is a great place for wildlife viewing, seaside walks, and waterfront picnics. It even has two exercise stations if you want to squeeze in a workout with a view. Be sure to stop by Dudley Point Lookout for a stunning panorama and get some authentic local cuisine at Pee Wee’s.
Go on a Sunset Cruise in Darwin Harbour
Catching sunset on a cruise in the Darwin Harbour is another must-do activity in the city. There are a number of tour operators offering Darwin harbour sunset cruises, including Darwin Harbour Cruises, Cape Adieu, Spirit of Darwin, and a few others. Most tours follow the same itinerary, sailing from Stokes Hill Wharf in Darwin’s Waterfront Precinct. Some tours include snacks and drinks in the price of the ticket, others offer food for purchase.
After looking through all the options, we opted to go on a sunset tour with Cape Adieu, a family-operated business that’s been running sunset tours in Darwin since 2003. The Cape Adieu vessel is ecotourism certified and is run by fishermen with a passion for only the freshest wild-caught Territory seafood.
Cape Adieu offers a daily 2.5 hour Darwin Harbour Sunset Cruise with 3 different ticket options: Sunset Dinner Cruise ($119/ pp), Sunset Prawn Platter ($75), and Sunset Cruise without food ($57/pp). We highly recommend splurging on the Sunset Dinner Cruise option that includes a four-course dinner banquet. The food on our Cape Adieu cruise was exceptional – fresh, flavourful and plentiful, served with fairly priced wines available for purchase onboard. They also offer a BYO option, if you want to bring your own drinks. We did the cruise on Max’s birthday, so we were happy to be able to bring one of our really great bottles to enjoy on the cruise.
Watch Sunset at the Mindil Markets
During the dry season (May to October) every Sunday and Thursday night, Mindil Beach is the place to be! Tourists and locals alike all gather here to watch the best show ever – the famous Darwin sunset, which never disappoints.
Mindil Beach is about a 30-40 minute walk from the city center or a short 5-minute car ride. On Sundays and Thursdays, Mindil Beach hosts weekly markets set up with live music, shopping, and more food than you could imagine! It’s a great place to support local artists, try some yummy treats, and stock up on some souvenirs.
Tip: Bring a bottle of wine and an appetite. Get yourself a few different things to eat from the food stalls and then hit the beach with that bottle of wine for sunset (drinking at Mindil Beach during market nights is allowed!). It’s one of the best things to do in Darwin with a group of friends or with that special someone.
Make sure you bring cash with you as the ATM’s always have a long line and many stalls only take cash!
Experience A “Sunday Sesh” on Mitchell Street
Forget nightlife, if you are after a party in Darwin on a Sunday afternoon, you need to hit Mitchell Street. The main street in Darwin city is full of locals enjoying beer and live music.
In Australia, a “Sunday Sesh” is a cultural norm and Mitchell Street in Darwin is the place to go out drinking on a Sunday afternoon and enjoy the sunshine. In Darwin, Sunday afternoons are some of the busiest drinking days so grab a beer and “get amongst it” with the locals. It’s arguably one of the most fun things to do in Darwin!
Eat Your Way Around Mindil Beach Sunset Market
Aside from watching the sunset, Mindil Beach night markets offer an incredible spread of multicultural dishes. From Asian food markets to local delicacies like barramundi, kangaroo, and crocodile, this is the spot to get a true culinary experience in Darwin
The market has something for everyone when it comes to food. And when you’re stuffed, be sure to mosey around the stalls to see the art gallery of local creators and crafters. Browse beautiful Aboriginal art, handmade clothing, and even one-of-a-kind painted didgeridoos.
Day Trips from Darwin
While there are a number of things to do in Darwin city, some of the top attractions in the region are located a short drive away from Darwin. So plan a few additional days to check out these fun day trips from Darwin.
Top End Safari Camp
Run by the National Geographic Outback Wrangler, Matt Wright, the Top End Safari Camp is a unique destination to get away from the city and get up close and personal with wildlife. The camp is located just an hour outside of Darwin and makes for a perfect day trip from Darwin.
Their day tour is an all-inclusive package that includes a helicopter, airboat and cruise boat ride, followed by a gourmet BBQ. Its a outting that offers one of the best ways to experience the spectacular wildlife and landscapes of the Litchfield region. You’ll get a chance to spot wild crocodiles in their natural habitat, go bird watching and maybe even see some buffalo or wild pigs, plus enjoy an exciting feeding and encounter with some monster rescue crocodiles, caught by Matt Wright himself.
If you have more time, we highly recommend doing the Overnight Tour option, which we went on during our time in the region. The Overnight Tour includes all the same activities as the day tour, but gives you more time on site, to enjoy the pool, the campfire and to spend the night in their beautiful on site Bell Tents in the heart of the outback.
Top End Safari Camp fro above
Litchfield National Park
Without a doubt, the best thing to do in Darwin is a day trip to Litchfield National Park. This national park boasts several incredible waterfalls and natural swimming pools for visitors to enjoy!
Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole, Wangi Falls, and Tjaynera (Sandy Creek ) Falls are the most popular spots in the park. Many enjoy a stop at the termite mounds as well.
Litchfield National Park is located only 45 minutes from the center of Darwin, making it possible to visit for a day trip! You can easily rent a car and visit the park on your own or join a tour group, like this Litchfield National Park Full-Day Tour.
If you are a nature lover then you should explore on your own and bring a tent to spend at least one night in one of the campgrounds inside the park. The campgrounds are well equipped with fire pits with a hot plate for cooking, flush toilets and showers.
Charles Darwin National Park
Being in such a beautiful and wild part of Northern Australia, Darwin is surrounded by great national parks. In fact, you can visit Charles Darwin National Park within a 10-minute drive of Darwin city center. The park is home to some of Australia’s most important wetlands, along with an interesting Aboriginal and World War II history to uncover.
Kakadu National Park
The beautiful Kakadu National Park is a destination of its own with a plethora of activities and sights for every type of traveler. Most visitors spend 3-5 nights in the park, and some stay as long as 1-2 weeks.
But if you are short on time and are looking to venture out to Kakadu National Park (3-hour drive) for the day, it is possible to see Australian biodiversity at its finest on a short day trip from Darwin. You can even join a Kakadu Wilderness Day Tour to see the highlights.
READ NEXT: Guide To Visiting Kakadu National Park
Discover Aboriginal Culture on the Tiwi Islands
The Northern Territory has many diverse Indigenous communities with unique stories and rich heritage. Getting to spend time with the Tiwi people and learn more about their traditions is a really special experience.
You can join a day tour from Cullen Bay over to the Tiwi Islands and discover the thriving community. The Tiwi Islands are 80 km north of Darwin and the ferry ride over takes about 2.5 hours. Spend the day as locals weave, paint, dance, and share their stories.
Visit the Mary River Wetlands
Nature lovers will love the airboat tours through the Mary River Wetlands where abundant wildlife flourishes. With a huge array of Australian reptiles, tropical plants, and local wildlife, the area is oozing in natural beauty.
The wetlands are incredibly important to the area’s rich ecosystem and are home to heaps of exotic birds and fish. Hop on a Wildlife Cruise to learn all about the flora and fauna from expert local guides.
Where to Stay in Darwin, Northern Territory
The great thing about the city of Darwin is that it is really quite small so most places are within walking distance! The best areas for Darwin accommodation are the Waterfront, City Centre, or Cullen Bay.
Darwin accommodation isn’t cheap. You are looking at upwards of $250 AUD a night and to be honest, many of the hostels leave much to be desired. Finding a middle ground can be a little challenging, especially in terms of eco-friendly places within the city.
Here are a few suggestions of descent hotels you can find in the city:
Darwin Central Hotel
The Darwin Central Hotel is the most budget-friendly for a low-impact choice. The location is about as good as it gets, right on Mitchell Street and only a five-minute walk to the waterfront.
The Darwin Central Hotel was built using “eco-engineering,” meaning it is more energy-efficient and costs about $189 AUD per night.
Another option is the Doubletree by Hilton on the Darwin Esplanade. This is a more luxurious option but you will be rewarded with ocean views!
Hilton has been implementing many international policies allowing them to improve the way they operate in terms of protecting the environment and being socially responsible.
Globally, they are committed to reducing their carbon footprint and donating to various social programs. The price per night starts at $250 AUD.
If you have a car and are looking for a more relaxing place to stay outside the city centre, then the Leprechaun Resort is a perfect choice.
While it is about a 10-minute drive from the city, the Leprechaun Resort is closer to many of the things to do in Darwin in nature like Litchfield National Park and the Jumping Crocodile Cruise. The Leprechaun Resort is locally owned and operated and has been around since 1969.
They are committed to helping the aboriginal people of Groote Eylandt (an island in the Northern Territory) have better futures. The Leprechaun Resort is very affordable at about $120 AUD per night.
Located on the coastal floodplains of the Mary River, Bamurru Plains is a safari lodge offering wild bush luxury. The Aussie outback and luxury don’t typically go hand in hand, but the grounds at Bamurru beg to differ. The property spans over 300 square kilometres and only welcomes 20 visitors at a time.
It’s surrounded by pure, untamed wilderness and sensitive habitats that the lodge aims to preserve. All of their structures were constructed on stilts with minimal impact and run on solar power with eco-conscious products. Further, Bamurru Plains’ key motivation is to educate people on the environment and conservation.
The lodge offers 10 safari bungalows with an infinity pool and chef-crafted meals showcasing the best in Top End cuisine. It’s a few hours outside of Darwin and a splurge but is surely an experience worth travelling for.
Where to Eat and Drink in Darwin
From Casuarina Beach to the Waterfront Precinct, Darwin makes great restaurants seem easy. Dine on fresh, local cuisine or discover your new favourite food at an international restaurant from a far-off place. Here are a few of our favourite Darwin restaurants.
Alley Cat Patisserie
There are quite a few great breakfast places in Darwin and Alley Cat Patisserie on Mitchell Street is no exception. The Alley Cat Patisserie is very popular for coffee or gourmet fruit and sweet items, but seating can be a problem as it is always very busy!
Another option if Alley Cat is too busy is the Rabbithole. The Rabbithole does amazing green juices as well as incredibly creative vegan and gluten-free options.
Another favourite is called Moorish. They specialize in using fresh local food and make Mediterranean and Spanish-influenced dishes. The tapas here are amazing and there are so many choices – even for vegetarians!
For lunch on a Saturday, catch the bus or take a taxi a couple of minutes out of the city to the suburb of Parap. Every Saturday morning from 8am-2pm the Parap Markets offer lots of affordable and amazing food and drink options! Get a smoothie, vegan cake, Chinese food, or crepes.
Near the Parap Markets is a local gem called Laneway Cafe, it offers brilliant breakfast and lunch choices. They have vegan and gluten-free choices, green smoothies, and excellent coffee.
Exotic North Indian Cuisine
For dinner, Exotic North Indian Cuisine is a favourite in Darwin to check out! The Indian food is literally amazing—you have to try the Butter Chicken!
They also offer a range of vegetarian choices. The dishes are all really affordable at about $15 for a curry with rice, and the portions are huge. You can dine in at the restaurant right next to the water in Cullen Bay or takeaway. Making reservations is recommended!
How Much Time Do You Need in Darwin
This really depends on you! However, in order to see and do most things it is suggested to spend 2-4 days in Darwin, especially if you want to explore the nearby national parks or take some Darwin tours.
What Tips Would You Give On Things To Do In Darwin? Let Us Know In The Comment Section Below!
Big thanks to Bailey and Daniel from Destinationless Travel, for their contributions to this piece.