Most articles about Darwin or fun things you can do in the city move straight on to the beautiful national parks, Kakadu and Litchfield national park, located a few hours out of the city. Even though those parks are absolute must-visits when you’re at the top end of Australia, the city itself has a few cool activities to offer as well.
A bonified tropical city known for its party life, its resident crocodiles and for being a city so so far away from everything, it’s quite a unique place to be all on its own.
Wait crocodiles? The difference with Darwin and the rest of the cities in Australia? Crocodiles are not in a zoo but all around the waterways in and around the city. You can even go cage diving with a 5m saltie (Australian for a saltwater crocodile) in the Cage of Death at the Crocosaurus Cove right in the middle of the city.
Did you know crocodiles aren’t the only animals that can kill you up in the Northern Territory? Read all about those scary animals in the wild here.
What are the must do’s in Darwin?
1. Chill by the water
Adjusting to the heat is often a part of arriving in Darwin and that is best done by the water. While swimming in the ocean is definitely not recommended (read why here), Darwin created a little bay in which you can swim in a wave pool. I loved coming here and relaxing or just watching the little kids play in the water.
The Darwin waterfront is not only great for a quick dip or to have a lazy sunset evening, it is also lined with Darwin’s nicest restaurant. You can choose between cuisines from all over the world while enjoying a good view. Remember that you are paying for the view as well and that restaurants here will be a little more on the pricey kind.
2. Watch the Sunset at Mindil beach
With the sky often turning all shades of pink and orange, Darwin is known for its breathtaking sunsets. While all beaches will be excellent for watching the sunset, there is one that is particularly famous.
The sunset at Mindil Beach is a must when visiting Darwin. If you’re visiting Darwin on either a Thursday or a Sunday, you’re in luck and right on time to experience the legendary Mindil night market. Go early and watch people ride their horses on the beach, grab a bite to eat and watch the sunset with the rest of the crowd.
If you’re looking for a more quiet beach to catch the sunset on, I’ve read good things on East Point Reserve.
3. Learn about indigenous culture and meet “Sweetheart” at the Museum And Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Why am I telling you to meet Sweetheart? Because he is 5m Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile that was caught in 1979 that lives in the museum. Not only is he very impressive to stand next to (you really don’t want to see one close to you in the water), he is accompanied by many other toxic and gorgeous sea creatures in the museum. You’ll learn why Box Jellyfish can kill you, which sharks are swimming in the coastal waters and more.
The MAGNT is also an incredible source to learn about local indigenous culture. You will find the most beautiful indigenous art and learn more about their culture than anywhere else in the city.
Besides the local attractions such as the wildlife and the local art, MAGNT displays temporary art exhibits such as the moving paintings of Ben Guilty After Afghanistan, the awesome copycat features of under water creatures or the current exhibit of Tjungunutja, never before shown photos and art of the 1971 Government settlement of Papunya.
Oh and did I mention the museum is completely free?
4. Catch a movie at the Darwin open air Cinema
Deckchair Cinema in Darwin is exactly what it says, an open air cinema in which you watch movies in old fashioned deck chairs. Even though this activity might not be the cheapest option for a night out in town (at 16 dollars a pop), the experience is so so worth it!
When I was in town, I watched the Edward Snowden documentary and had a cute little possum wandering around for any leftovers. For those traveling from Europe, Darwin does not cool down that much at night so a little sweater is all you’ll need to keep you warm.
5. Nightlife in Darwin, or even better Karaoke night at Shenannigans
Far and wide, Darwin is known for its nightlife. Which I guess is not that hard when you’re surrounded by a whole bunch of nothing (not that I would call the gorgeous national parks nothing but you get the gist). Let’s just say Darwin has the coolest bars and clubs in a 1500km or more radius.
The main drag in Darwin can be found on Mitchell Street. With the party hostel Melaleuca on Mitchell and clubs Monsoon and Wisdom, you’re guaranteed an interesting night.
By far the best experience I had in the Darwin nightlife was Karaoke night at Irish pub Shenannigans on Mondays. With a potential prize of a 200 dollar bar tab, locals and tourists try their best. While it only gets better later in the evening, this is the perfect moment to get to know all the Aussie favorites and to dive straight into the typical Darwin culture.
6. Go to a Market
When you ask the locals what the best thing about Darwin is, they’ll tell you about all the local food markets. As Darwin is a cultural melting pot, the markets have a wide variety of goods on offer.
One you should put on your list, apart from the Mindil beach night market, is the market in Nightcliff. Every Sunday you can find great bargains, food and some luxury stalls that offer massages.
If you’re still looking for more market’s to visit, Parap Market on Saturdays is going to be your go-to market. From art to food and fashion, this might be the best market to go to if you want to experience a true local market and one that has been around forever.
7. Have lunch in the Marina
The biggest downside of Darwin is that you have to have a car to visit everything. I didn’t even know about the cute little marina Darwin has for the longest time. Cullen Bay Marina is a lovely change to the backpacker center that Darwin can sometimes be and is lined with gorgeous waterside mansions and sailing boats.
Only two kilometers from the center, it’s a good spot for some breakfast and boat watching. Boatshed Coffee House offers a good coffee with the marina view.
8. Go for a dip at Berry Springs
With most of these activities close the center of the city, I did want to include one mini road trip. Berry Springs is local hot springs located less than 50km from the city. They have been recommended to me by many locals and even though I never actually made it there myself, I would like to pass the recommendation on.
There is a variety of hostel available in Darwin from party hostels to the quiet hideaways. You’ll notice most of the hotels and hostels will have pools. That’s because it’s an absolute necessity, surviving Darwin without a dip can be very hard.
If you’re looking at staying in a hostel, I would have recommended the YHA Darwin but that no longer exists. During my last visit to Darwin, I did meet amazing people that stayed at Dingo Moon Lodge and wished I stayed here. It’s run by backpackers working for accommodation so don’t expect any too fancy but expect a lot of atmosphere and late night dips in the pool!
If you’re looking to upgrade to a nicer hotel, I can definitely recommend Mantra Pandanas with an amazing rooftop pool.
When traveling in a group, City Gardens Apartments offers great value for money with an apartment that sleeps four for less than 200 dollars per night.
While staying in Darwin I developed a small Tom Kha addiction in a little Thai place called Amazing Thailand on Mitchel street. Other than that, I was on a budget so didn’t get a chance to go out to dinner much. I mean, even the supermarkets in Darwin are a little more expensive!
However, I did want to give you guys a list of cool little places to visit. So I did what I always, consult my favorite local travel blogger.
Lis from Darwin Style seems to be the local authority on all places hot and happening. I discovered her on Instagram and she definitely shows the best of Darwin and surroundings. I found quite a bit of cool spots through her account, so definitely not taking credit for them but happily sharing them!
Kopi Darwin: coffee place that offers these cute little koala faces in your morning coffee
Lucky Bat Café: Shakshuka? Yes, please!
The Trader Bar, Espresso & Drinks
That’s it for me, I hope you find this helpful, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments! I absolutely love reading your messages.
If you want to learn more about Darwin and its surrounding, the tourism page of the Top End is always a good start.
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Most of these photos are from my visits to Darwin a year ago and almost two years ago. Unfortunately, the photos in this post are not of the highest quality. Most were taken with iPhone, learned my lesson there! If only I knew back then what I now know about sunset shooting 😉
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