The only tropical capital city in Australia, Darwin lies nestled away in the far north of the Northern Territory, looking out over the sparkling waters of the Timor Sea. Set in a scenic, yet secluded spot, it has a rich history with incredible nature and scenery.
Despite its relatively small size, Darwin is home to a multicultural population with both Aboriginal and Asian influences. This amazing cosmopolitan mix is evident in its excellent art galleries and museums, and its diverse restaurants and teeming night markets. While the city has a laid back small-town feel, there are certainly enough things to do in Darwin to keep you entertained and occupied for weeks on end.
With irresistible sun, sea and sand, countless crocodile-related activities, and the nearby Litchfield and Kakadu national parks to explore, Darwin makes for the perfect holiday destination.
In this post, we'll cover:
14. Crocodylus Park
Home to thousands of crocodiles both big and small, Crocodylus Park can be found on the outskirts of the city, fifteen minutes’ drive northeast of the center. A family-friendly place to visit, it also has a handful of other species for you to check out, and amazing animal encounters and live demonstrations on offer.
Founded in 1994 to educate people about crocodiles, and encourage conservation efforts to protect their natural habitats, the park has expanded considerably and now also contains a small zoo, too. You can see both freshwater and saltwater crocs with cute little babies to be spied alongside snapping great six meter-long males.
Besides learning everything there is to know about the remarkable reptiles, you can also see emus, anacondas and African lions, feed monkeys and marmosets, and play with dingoes on one of the park’s exciting animal encounters.
13. Darwin Botanical Gardens
A picturesque place to explore, the delightful Darwin Botanical Gardens are just a short five-minute drive northwest of the city. Sprawled across a huge area, its lush grounds contain a staggering array of plants, flowers, trees and shrubs from all around Australia and even further afield.
A firm favorite with locals and tourists alike, it was finally established in 1886 by European settlers at the third attempt, after earlier endeavors had failed. Noted for its collection of North Australian monsoon flora, the gardens also encompass steamy tropical sections and open woodland areas, and features exquisitely landscaped lawns and flowerbeds.
Aside from strolling past waterfalls and visiting its interesting interpretive center, you can also stop by its cozy cafe, which is housed in the former Wesleyan Methodist Church; the oldest building in town.
12. Parliament House
The most impressive building in Darwin, however, has to be the sparkling white Parliament House, which certainly stands out from the crowd. The seat of government for the Northern Territory, it lies along one side of State Square in the center of Darwin, surrounded by lush green grounds overlooking the ocean.
Featuring an innovative, attractive Post-modern design, it is Australia’s newest Parliament building, having only been erected in 1994. Considered to be an outstanding example of tropical architecture, the striking structure has an airy and open look and feel to it, with floral motifs and fountains decorating its exterior.
On tours around the building, you can see the grand chambers where the legislative assembly meet and take in all the fine art and informative plaques that line its elegant halls, offices and library.
11. Darwin Aviation Museum
Set next to the city’s international airport you can find the excellent Darwin Aviation Museum that displays all kinds of amazing old aircraft, engines and equipment. Besides its extensive collection of planes, it contains engaging exhibitions on the history and evolution of aviation.
Originally established to preserve artifacts and World War II aircraft salvaged from Cyclone Tracy, the museum was first opened to the public in 1990. In total, it now has twenty aircraft to peruse and countless more engines. Interesting exhibits look at Darwin’s rich aviation history and its wartime experience, which saw the city bombed more heavily than Pearl Harbour.
Its standout sight however is undoubtedly the ginormous Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber that occupies a huge hangar, and is permanently on loan at the museum from the United States Air Force.
10. Adelaide River Cruise
If you’re looking for an utterly unforgettable and exhilarating experience, then you definitely won’t want to miss going on an Adelaide River Cruise when in town. Aside from taking you past some spellbinding scenery and nature of the Northern Territory, the epic excursions bring you up close to snapping crocs that literally leap out of the water right next to you.
For more than thirty years, the small family-owned and operated business has been running exciting ‘Jumping Croc Cruises’ up and down the Adelaide River. As its murky waters are packed full of saltwater crocodiles, you are sure to see countless crocs of all ages and sizes with the hulking great Brutus and Dominator being the largest of the lot.
While puttering along the river, your knowledgeable guide will teach you all there is to know about the fierce reptiles. From time to time, they’ll hoist a chicken up in the air for crocodiles to leap and eat, right next to the boat. Although the pick-up point lies an hour’s drive east of Darwin, the cruise certainly won’t disappoint as it is almost impossible to get closer to crocodiles in the wild.
9. Defence of Darwin Experience
Offering up a fascinating look at an often overlooked part of Australia’s history is the immersive and interactive Defence of Darwin Experience. Located on the iconic East Point, some fifteen minutes’ drive north of the center, it tells the story of the Japanese air raids on the city during the Second World War.
Opened in 2012, its moving exhibits and multi-media installations mainly focus on the deadly bombing of Darwin on the 19th February 1942. Besides hearing first-hand accounts of the air raids, visitors can see photos and footage of the aftermath and also learn about Northern Australia’s contribution to the war effort.
As the attacks had such a profound impact on the city, it is well worth visiting the state-of-the-art center to gain a greater insight into its past. Military memorabilia, maps and models are all also on show next to its immersive exhibits.
8. Mindil Beach Sunset Market
When the sun starts to slowly set, there is no better place to head in town than the lively Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Incredibly popular with both locals and tourists alike, it has a plentiful array of food stalls to peruse with Aboriginal art, local handicrafts and sparkling jewellery for sale. While street performers and musicians perform along the promenade.
Held each Thursday and Sunday from April through to October, the fun and colorful market runs along the foreshore of the magnificent Mindil Beach, which lies just five minutes’ drive northwest of the center. Established in 1987, it has expanded considerably with there now over 130 arts and crafts stalls and more than sixty food stands that sell food from all around the world.
Take in the ambience and sample some of its sumptuous treats. The market is particularly famous for its vivid and unforgettable sunsets over the Timor Sea.
7. Litchfield National Park
Home to everything from lush rainforest and dramatic rock formations to shimmering rivers, pools and waterfalls, Litchfield National Park is one of the most rewarding places to explore in the state. An hour and a half’s drive south of the city, it has epic outdoor activities with wonderful wildlife viewing on offer.
Protected as a national park since 1986, it boasts an astonishing array of landscapes with stunning scenery and nature wherever you look. While its magnetic termite mounds and the striking ‘Lost City’ sandstone formation certainly look impressive, it is most known for its magical waterfalls and natural pools.
Of these, both Wangi and Florence Falls are undoubtedly the most popular as they also have scenic and secluded spots where you can swim amidst pristine nature. With fantastic hiking and 4WD driving, cozy campsites to stay at, and a variety of birds, reptiles and animals to spot among the overgrowth, Litchfield National Park is not to be missed when in town.
6. Wave Lagoon
If you’re looking for a place to swim that is much closer to town, look no further than the family-friendly Wave Lagoon. Part of the Darwin Waterfront Precinct, it is one of the city’s most popular attractions, thanks to its safe, shallow and saltwater crocodile-free waters.
Lined by palm trees with cafes, restaurants and shops on-site, the enormous outdoor swimming pool is the perfect place to cool off and escape Darwin’s scorching tropical climate. Every twenty minutes, ten different wave patterns roll through the lagoon with the largest reaching up to 1.2 meters in height.
Visitors can float on inflatable tubes or boogie-board above the waves. In addition, the Wave Lagoon also has playgrounds, fountains and wading pools for younger guests to enjoy.
5. Berry Springs Nature Park
Another picturesque spot to enjoy a refreshing swim or relaxing soak is at the wonderful waterholes of Berry Springs Nature Park. Set forty minutes’ drive south of the city, it is home to lush monsoon forest and verdant woodlands, with picnic areas and barbecue facilities.
Once a Rest and Recreation Camp for weary soldiers during WWII, the sprawling site now attracts both locals and tourists who want to immerse themselves in nature. Besides strolling about its tantalizing trails and lighting up a barbie, visitors can swim and snorkel in the park’s shady pools.
As their waters are crystal clear, you can spy all kinds of aquatic life flitting about below the surface. While avid bird watchers will want to bring their binoculars as flocks of beautiful birds inhabit the area’s undergrowth.
4. Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Located just to the north of Mindil Beach, along the shores of Fannie Bay, you can find the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. An interesting place to visit, its innumerable artifacts, artworks and exhibitions shine a light on the rich history, culture and nature of the state.
Founded in 1981, the museum has drawn great acclaim for its captivating collection of Aboriginal art and elaborate carvings from the Tiwi Islands. While countless other crafts, paintings and even canoes are displayed, its galleries also contain exhibits on subjects, such as Cyclone Tracy and ‘Sweetheart’. Now stuffed, the large saltwater croc used to terrorize and attack dinghies in the area before later ending up as a popular Top End personality.
The biggest and best museum in the Northern Territory, the massive MAGNT campus also includes a shop and cafe, as well as a discovery center for kids and a theater that puts on community and cultural events.
3. Crocosaurus Cove
If you want to see fearsome crocodiles up close and personal you don’t even have to leave the center of Darwin. At Crocosaurus Cove, you can explore the world’s largest display of Australian reptiles, watch exciting educational shows and hold, feed or swim with crocs in its chilling ‘Cage of Death’.
Now one of the city’s top tourist attractions, the amazing park and all its aquariums and exhibits was opened to the public in 2008, right in the heart of the city. Since then, visitors have flocked to see its snakes and lizards, stingrays and sea turtles with informative exhibits teaching about all the various Crocodilian species to be found around the world.
Its main draw, however, is that it is the only place in Australia that you can actually swim with the unique and enormous saltwater crocodile. If plunging into a pool full of crocs doesn’t appeal, then you can always hold a baby one, fish for juveniles or simply watch one of the park’s thrilling shows.
2. Darwin Waterfront Precinct
Packed with fun, family-friendly things to see and do, the Darwin Waterfront Precinct is one of the main places to relax and unwind in the city for both locals and tourists alike. Set just a short stroll from the center, it has everything from a beach and swimming pools to cafes, restaurants and harbor cruises to enjoy.
Built on reclaimed land from Kitchener Bay, the lively relaxation area lies in between the wharves of both Fort Hill and Stokes Hill. Aside from going for a dip in the wave or saltwater lagoon, you can amble about its pretty park, watch a film at its deckchair cinema or bask in divine views over the sea from atop of the Skyline Ferris Wheel.
In addition, there are countless cafes and restaurants, with fishing excursions, jet ski adventures and sightseeing cruises departing from its wharves. Concerts, cultural events and festivals are also held during the year.
1. Mindil Beach
Perhaps most known for its atmospheric evening markets and stunning sunsets, Mindil Beach is a treat to visit at any time of day. Located just five minutes’ drive northwest of the center, its gorgeous golden sands lie alongside the shimmering waters of Fannie Bay.
Undoubtedly Darwin’s most famous and popular beach, its sun-kissed sands stretch just over half a kilometer in length and are backed by a large park and reserve. Besides sunbathing and swimming, visitors can stroll peacefully along its scenic shores, stop off for a picnic or try out the casino, bars and restaurants that border the beach.
Aside from its fun and festive markets, Mindil Beach also hosts all kinds of community events, with the annual Darwin Beer Can Regatta being another of its top draws.
Best Time to Visit Darwin
With almost no rainfall and very low humidity, May to September is considered the best time to visit Darwin. While every day is sunny and hot, the evenings are cool and refreshing with temperatures averaging 31 to 33°C (88 to 91°F) year-round.
As the weather is perfect, July and August see people pour in from all over Australia and further afield, creating a very lively ambience. Besides checking out its beaches, waterfront and national parks, trawling about the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets is a must. Lots of great events are also held for the Darwin Festival and Fringe Festival.
If you want to avoid the worst of the crowds and high prices, May, June and September are arguably better times to visit. While conditions are dry, you can explore its CBD or Kakadu. Its International Film Festival and Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival also take place then.
Although some still visit from October through December, the ‘build up’ of heat and humidity can feel uncomfortable. The prices and crowds are lower though and its thunderous clouds and lightning create some amazing sunsets.
After this, torrential monsoon rains pour down until April. While very wet, everything is lush, green and its waterfalls look stunning. More wildlife is also spotted in between the deluges.