Darwin has Australia’s northernmost port and is the largest city and capital of the Northern Territory. The dry season’s tropical heat is interspersed with heavy rain during the rainy season. The humidity is just like the temperature, high. Despite its beautiful surroundings, the history of the young city is lined with disasters ranging from cyclones to repeated bombing during World War II. After being ruined, the town has been rebuilt repeatedly. Its inhabitants have gone through these hard trials with bravura, and today Darwin is a prosperous city with an optimistic view of the future.
The city is often in business and industrial contexts called Australia’s gateway to Southeast Asia. This is because Darwin geographically is closer to Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, than Canberra, and has about the same flight distance to Singapore and Manila as to Sydney and Melbourne. The city also houses people of different descent. Immigration has shaped Darwin into an exciting melting pot of cultures. There are more than 60 nationalities and 70 different ethnic groups represented here. Its proximity to Asia and its cultural diversity is evident in the city’s atmosphere and is above all reflected in the great mix of restaurants. In Darwin, you can sample dishes from all corners of the world, making it a culinary destination.
In Darwin, the average temperature is often higher than 30 degrees Celsius. Sometimes well over 40. This makes the city an excellent destination for those who like tropical heat or for those who enjoy spending time in a relaxed environment. Since the city is young, the average age is generally low. There are many fun things to discover in and around the city and you get the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. A crocodile cruise in the morning and Aboriginal art in the afternoon can be followed by exciting dishes at a beach market while the sun sets over the sea. Darwin with its beautiful nature is a place to visit for those who want to experience new adventures in a different and multicultural city with a dramatic history. It is also a good starting point if you want to see more of what the Northern Territory has to offer. Nearby are the scenic national Parks of Kakadu and Litchfield. In addition, there is Aboriginal Arnhem Land to visit.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
If you are in Darwin and want to experience something very different, a tip is to visit the interesting natural phenomenon called Aquascene. When there is high tide, shoals of fish enter the shoreline to get food, and they are so bold that it is possible to hand-feed them (wotif.com/discover/australia/northern-territory/darwin/warf-precinct/darwin-city-centre/aquascene.d6216438). However, it is only at high tide that fish can get to that close to the beach, so find out which times apply. When you have hand-fed the fish, a walk in the incredibly beautiful parks nearby with its orchids and rainforest is to recommend.
About 130 km southwest of Darwin lies the stunningly beautiful Litchfield National Park with approximately 1,500 square kilometres of tropical Savannah (wotif.com/discover/australia/northern-territory/batchelor/litchfield-park/litchfield-national-park.d6086841). Explore the wonderful nature with waterfalls, waterholes and monsoon forest. Those longing for a hike can pick one of several excellent hiking trails, a walk that might include a dip in a waterhole. Alongside the hiking trails you will see some fascinating termite mounds, protruding from the soil as mighty pillars. Sometimes they are taller than a person. The national park can be visited all year round, but during the rainy season some roads may be closed, and it can be dangerous to swim in some places. It is therefore important to read the rules and safety instructions that apply before the trip (parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/parks/find/litchfield#recreational).
Another national park worth visiting is the Kakadu National Park (environment.gov.au/topics/national-parks/kakadu-national-park) about 240 km east of Darwin. The park, which covers nearly 20,000 square kilometres and is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, has a variety of mysterious Aboriginal rock paintings to admire. Some of the rock paintings are up to 20,000 years old, and the traditional owners of the park have lived in the area for more than 50,000 years. For those who cannot get enough of admiring the cool termite mounds, these are also found in Kakadu National Park.
Those who dare to can visit the Crocodylus Park (crocodyluspark.com.au) and peek at the over a thousand crocodiles living there. Via guided tours, you can get close to these fascinating and frightening animals, which may be 4.8 meters long and weigh more than half a tonne. The park also has several other animals, such as lions, monkeys and kangaroos. For the animal interested or the thrill seeker, a visit to the park, which is only fifteen minutes by car from Darwin’s city centre, is a hot tip.
Art and culture
Those interested in art and history are recommended to visit the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (magnt.net.au). In the museum, which is free, you can enjoy everything from Aboriginal art to information about the region’s history. One can also marvel at the remains from the huge saltwater crocodile Sweetheart, weighing 780 kg. There are often various exhibitions in the museum, and a major event is the annual exhibition the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award that attracts a variety of indigenous artists. If you get hungry during your visit, you can stop at the Cornucopia Museum Cafe to get something.
During the Second World War Darwin was bombed by the Japanese, and those who want to learn more about this terrible time can visit the Defence of Darwin Experience (defenceofdarwin.nt.gov.au). In this facility, you can interactively gain an expanded knowledge of what happened during the bombing. You can among other things see exhibitions, listen to personal experiences or watch movies. Next to the building is the Darwin Military Museum, which offers further information about the war. There are also many other military places to visit, such as airfields and watchtowers. The Defence of Darwin Experience is an interesting and very emotional experience, and it is hard to leave the place not feeling affected.
For those interested in politics, a visit to the Parliament House (arliament.nt.gov.au/about/tours-of-parliament-house) is a must. The building is a typical example of grandiose architecture, and you can for free join in on a guided tour and from the inside learn more about the rules of democracy. The building also features the Northern Territory Library (artsandmuseums.nt.gov.au/northern-territory-library) which, in addition to lending out books and offering free Wi-Fi, organizes various exhibitions and tours.
History and parks
There are several parks around Darwin where you can enjoy various exotic plants, such as George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens (nt.gov.au/leisure/parks-reserves/george-brown-darwin-botanic-gardens), spanning over 42 hectares. These botanic gardens were founded over 130 years ago and have survived several cyclones as well as the Second World War. You can enjoy amazing plants like orchids and palm trees there, but there are also small waterfalls and ponds. If you are lucky you can spot a range of bird species. There is also a rainforest that you can walk through. And the oldest church building in the Northern Territory, Darwin Wesleyan Church lies here. Wandering around the park and enjoying the fabulous environment is a cosy experience that works great to combine with a cup of coffee at Eva’s Cafe.
Sports, entertainment and events
If you are in Darwin during the dry season, a visit to the outdoor Deckchair Cinema (deckchaircinema.com) is a must. Here you can eat and drink well while watching a movie under the stars together with friends and new acquaintances. This outdoor cinema is a unique experience organized by the Darwin Film Society, seven days a week from April to November.
On Thursday evenings and Sunday evenings, the locals head down to the Mindil Beach Sunset Market (mindil.com.au). Try exciting and different dishes from one of the many food stalls at the same time as the sun descends towards the horizon. Make real bargains among the shopping stalls while listening to music and various entertainment. Those who wish can participate in activities or relax with a massage.
Next to the market is Darwin’s Casino, Skycity Darwin (skycitydarwin.com.au), which may be worth a visit. Besides the casino, there are restaurants, bars, hotels and spas. However, before visiting Skycity Darwin, be aware that they have a dress code that must be followed. You can find more information on their website.
For those who wishes to visit a second market, there is another one organized in one of Darwin’s trendiest suburbs, the Parap Village (parapvillagemarkets.com.au). If you cannot get enough of markets or just want to make a trip to the suburb, the market is something that should be included in your itinerary.
For those interested in exercising, there are several possibilities in Darwin to train outdoors, for example on an outdoor gym, but you can also play tennis or do cycling (darwin.nt.gov.au/play). You can also sign up for a walking group (darwin.nt.gov.au/community/programs/healthy-darwin/overview). The walking groups are an excellent opportunity to meet new people of all ages.
There are several shopping malls in Darwin, such as the Casuarina Square (casuarinasquare.com.au). The Michell Centre (mitchellcentre.com.au) is another shopping centre in the heart of Darwin with a variety of shops and dining options. The pedestrian street Smith Street Mall is a street lined with shops, cafés and restaurants. The shopping opportunities in Darwin are many and there is something for everyone.
There are many restaurants in Darwin with food from around the globe. In Cullen Bay Marina (cullenbaymarina.com.au/5.html) lies several restaurants and bars overlooking the beautiful harbour. For example, you can find Indian, Thai, Italian and many other restaurants with varying prices. Also, in the centre of Darwin are numerous restaurants, for example around Smith Street Mall.
For those who want to dance, Darwin has a lot to offer when it comes to nightclubs. One of the big nightclubs is the Discovery (discoverydarwin.com.au/venue) with three different floors that among other play techno, hip hop and RnB. Another example is the nightclub the Throb (facebook.com/THROBNIGHTCLUB), which is the only LGBT club in Darwin, but where everyone regardless of gender and sexual orientation is welcome. For more information about what clubs Darwin has to offer, visit their website (clubbingscene.com.au/clubs/darwin).
Studies and work
For those who want to study in Darwin there are several possibilities at different levels (studynt.nt.gov.au). For example, Charles Darwin University (cdu.edu.au) has a variety of courses and programs in different subjects.
If you want to work in the city it is possible to do this, for example, in one of all the shops, restaurants, bars and the like. For those who want to work to be able to apply for their second year of Working Holiday visa, there are many farms near Darwin where you can try your luck.
Good to know
Tourism Top End (tourismtopend.com.au/about-the-top-end) is a tourist information website for the Northern Territory. There is a Visitor Information Centre in Darwin that you can visit to get personalized help. The centre is open every day except Good Friday and Christmas Day. It is also possible to call and email the centre. There you can find information about everything from accommodation, maps, guided tours and tips and advice about travelling in the area. You can also find popular attractions, and arranged tours in and around Darwin on wotif’s website (wotif.com/discover/australia/northern-territory/darwin.d6131317).
Warnings and preparations
The weather in Darwin is tropical. The driest period is between May and October and the rainy season falls between November and April. The hottest months are January and February. It can get very hot in the area and the humidity is high, and it is extremely important you make sure to drink enough water. All the time. Most attractions are open throughout the year, but during the rainy season, road access can be limited. At extreme rainfalls, some attractions can be closed. To avoid disappointment, check in advance if it is open or not.
Crocodiles are commonly found in the area. If a watercourse is not signposted as a bathing area there is a risk of crocodiles in the water. You should avoid bathing in such places. It is much better to swim in the signposted places than to be crocodile food.
Just like in many other places in Australia, there is a risk of forest fires, which could be both planned and not planned. Always stay up to date on what is happening in the area you are planning to visit.
On the tourist information website (tourismtopend.com.au/about-the-top-end/seasons-a-useful-tips) you will find important information to consider when travelling in the area. The website SecureNT (securent.nt.gov.au) constantly update its information regarding forest fires to cyclones and closed roads in the area. Those travelling in the area should continuously check this information to avoid exposing themselves to unnecessary risks.
There are several ways to get to Darwin. You can drive (wotif.com/Car-Hire), fly, take the train, bus or a boat. There are good connections to Asia by plane if you want to travel around outside Australia from Darwin (wotif.com/Flights). Trains are run by the Great Southern Rail (greatsouthernrail.com.au) and depart from Adelaide to Darwin with stops in Alice Springs and Katherine. For those who want to see this part of Australia, this is a great way of travelling. The bus company available is Greyhound Australia (greyhound.com.au), which operates most of Australia. Tickets can be booked online or purchased at the original station if it has a point of sale. You can also buy tickets with Hop-on, Hop-off opportunities (wotif.com/things-to-do/darwin-hop-on-hop-off-bus-tour.a470652.activity-details). Depending on your location, it may be possible to get to Darwin by boat. You can easily get to your accommodation from Darwin Airport with a Shuttle Bus (tourismtopend.com.au/things-to-do/attractions-a-tours/darwin-region/darwin-airport-shuttle-bus) which departure all hours of the day.
You can get around by car or use the public transport in Darwin. There are several car rentals companies and it is also possible to rent a boat. More information can be found on the tourist information website (tourismtopend.com.au/travel-a-maps/getting-around).
There are a variety of accommodation options in Darwin depending on budget and what you are after. From five star luxury resorts (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Hilton_Darwin.htm), apartments (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Adina_Apartment_Hotel_Darwin_Waterfront.htm) to significantly cheaper hostels (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Chillis_Backpackers.htm). There are also small cabins, campsites and caravan parks (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Discovery_Parks_Darwin.htm) and houseboats to rent. Staying at a farm is also a possibility (hotelscombined.com/Place/Darwin.htm). The greatest demand on accommodation in Darwin is during the dry season, i.e. May to October, so make sure to book a great time in advance to get what you want. There are also accommodation options in direct connection to the national parks.
A Saturday in Darwin
08:00 – Morning start at a café
You need to charge the body with energy and decides to start the day with a visit to Alley Cats Patisserie at 69 Mitchell Street or Laneway Speciality Coffee at 1 Vickers Street. Both serve invigorating coffees, refreshing drinks and tasty dishes.
09:00 – Fearsome encounter
Let no time go to waste. After a filling breakfast, it’s time to visit the Crocodylus Park to accompany a guided tour and greet the big and fearsome crocodiles. There are also several other interesting animals to see. In addition to watching the living animals, a visit to the crocodile museum in the park is a possible stop.
13:00 – Asian influences
After Crocodylus Park, it is time to have lunch, which is done at a restaurant inside Darwin’s city centre. Choose between two nice budget options. Either noodles at the small restaurant Roast and Noodle, located inside the Galleria Shopping Centre, or Thai food at Amazing Thailand at 48 Mitchell Street.
14:30 – Historic afternoon
The next stop is at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Here you can, in addition to look at the 780 kg and over five feet long crocodile Sweetheart, enjoy fantastic exhibitions in various subjects. Take the opportunity to improve your knowledge of the area’s history and Darwin itself.
19:00 – Evening meal with view
When your stomach starts complaining, it’s time for dinner. You head to Cullen Bay Marina. The choice among restaurants is great and there is something for everyone. Choose a restaurant of your taste or what your budget allows. The food is enjoyed with a fantastic view of the harbour.
21:30 – Movie under the skies
After a satisfying dinner, it is time for a relaxed finish of the day. A movie screening under the stars awaits. Deckchair Cinema is located on Jervois Rd in Darwin (deckchaircinema.com). With the port on one side and swaying palm trees on the other, you get a unique experience. Since it’s Saturday night, you can pick the later screening. Enjoy snacks and a drink from the bar while relaxing in the deck chair under the skies.