We're calling it – Darwin is one of Australia’s best kept secrets. A florid tropical paradise that sits in summer year-round, this city is full of mammoth frangipani trees, rainbow birds and zesty food. It's been shaped by the vibrant influence of the local Larrakia people, combined with a vivid mix of cultures from all over the world. If you’re looking at heading up the Top End way for a few days, but aren’t sure what the best things to do, eat and see in Darwin are – we have you covered. Whether you’re going for a 24-hour stopover or a week-long adventure, this guide is designed to help you get the most bang for buck.
So, get up, get to it and get north. Take it from us, you won’t regret it.
What’s the best time to go to Darwin?
The best (and busiest) time to go to Darwin is during the dry season, from May to October, because the southern summer months often mean a whole lot of tropical storms and humid heat for our northern compatriots. August is the glittering month in Darwin’s crown – it’s the time when you’ll experience the world-famous Darwin Festival; perfect summery weather; and easy access to river cruises, (croc-free) waterholes, and pristine gorges that disappear during the wet. That being said, the wet season (November to April) is full of its own sparkling drama, with wild rains and tropical storms making for thundering rivers, tumbling waterfalls and striking green landscapes. Also, travel and accommodation during the wet is a whole lot cheaper and less crowded – so really, it all depends what you’re into.
What are the best things to do in Darwin?
Darwin is full of mind-blowing experiences. If you’re short on time, you’re going to want to make sure you dip your toes into the very best ones on offer.
Where are the best places to see crocodiles in Darwin?
Ah, the crocs. Dangerous yet fascinating. Darwin has these creatures of the deep in spades, so there are ample opportunities to get up close with them. If you’re short on time but want to see some teeth, head to the Crocosaurus Cove in the CBD where you can take a selfie with a baby saltie – or, if you’re more into the big, bad and dangerous, you can hop into their ‘Cage of Death’ and get lowered into a tank with a gigantic saltwater crocodile. Adrenaline? Who is she?
If you have more time, and would rather see these hectic creatures in the wild, book in for the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise on the Adelaide River, where a professional crew ferry you out onto one of the NT’s most crocodile-infested rivers. Sit (far) back as a brave crew member chucks them chunks of meat, which makes these prehistoric predators ‘jump’ out of the water with full, reptilian force. There ain’t nothing like it, but just know you can’t do it during the wet season for the simple reason that there are too many crocs and too much water for a boat to safely go out. Yikes.
What are the best adventure experiences you can have in Darwin (even if you don't have much time)?
For another wild experience that you can’t get anywhere else, think seriously about doing a Helicopter Pub Crawl. This is just as insane as it sounds, and for those with cash to spare, we cannot recommend it enough. You and your mates can charter a private helicopter that takes you on a once-in-a-lifetime eagle-eye tour of the NT’s most remote pubs, where you can land and get acquainted with the wild publicans who own them. Down a schooner at the turquoise water paradise of Crab Claw Island, and then fly over to Goat Island, where you can drink a cold one with King Kai (who once hit his resident croc over the head with a frying pan). Chuck some wild brumbies, crocodiles and incredible views into the mix and you have yourself a winner.
If you’ve got a few days, consider doing a day trip to Litchfield National Park. Just 60 minutes from Darwin, you can drive or get a bus out there year-round from Darwin’s CBD. Entry to the park is free, and there are a bunch of campsites you can camp at. Note: camping is the only accommodation available in Litchfield, so make sure you bring gear. In the dry, you can swim in numerous pristine water holes that are completely croc-safe. In the wet, many of these waterholes and 4WD access roads are closed, but the waterfalls are thundering and there are less tourists buzzing around, which makes for an entirely different (yet equally spectacular) experience.
What are the best cultural experiences in Darwin?
Darwin and its surrounds are unlike anywhere else in Australia, and its diverse cultural offerings attest to this. It’s the traditional homeland of the Larrakia, or ‘Saltwater’ people, and the area has an immense cultural and historical significance for its First Nations owners. To really learn about the rich and varied stories of Darwin’s traditional custodians, consider doing a Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tour. Aboriginal-owned, this tour takes you to the Aboriginal-owned and managed wetlands of the Adelaide River, where you will experience didgeridoo and clap stick playing, spear making and throwing, basket and dilly bag weaving, and guided walking tours along a bush tucker and medicine track.
Darwin is also an important spot for Indigenous Australians from all throughout the Top End. The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair that pops up once a year in August is a notable must-see. If you are going up during the dry and you love art, do not miss this jaw-dropping showcase of First Nations art from all over the country in one, stunning place. You’ll want to buy everything.
When it comes to Darwin’s showiest and most epic cultural event of the year, the Darwin Festival probably takes the crown. The city comes alive for this from August 13 to August 27, with an incredible array of live music, dance and food events that need to be experienced to be believed.
Year-round, we recommend you check out the House of Darwin for one-of-a-kind funky threads that support remote Indigenous communities throughout the NT. While the National Gallery and Museum of the Northern Territory gives you insight into the hidden stories of Darwin and its surrounding regions – as well as a cheeky geeze at Sweetheart, the 5.1 metre long saltwater crocodile who was famously caught in 1979.
Where can you see the best sunsets in Darwin?
For a classic Darwin sunset (think technicolour oranges, pinks and yellows over a bright blue bay) there are a few ways you can do it right. For a low-key sunset sesh, you can wander along the gentle curves of the Darwin Waterfront, or, if it’s the dry season (from April to October), you can hit up the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets on a Thursday or Sunday night for an evening of zingy market food, fresh produce and excellent views. For the slightly more bougie among us, think about booking a Darwin Harbour Sunset Champagne Cruise. You take off on the sparkling expanse of Darwin Harbour in a stunning white catamaran for three hours, sipping on unlimited champagne and eating canapes. Magnifique.
Where are the best places to eat in Darwin?
Food, food, glorious food. Darwin knows how to do it. If you are after the best coffee and breakfasts in town, head to Sweetbrew and Laneway, or for a view while you sip your brew, beach-front cafe, De La Plage. Cool new cafes worth a visit for lunch include The 1995, Darwin and Blue Rabbit Cafe, which, respectively, offer live music shows and alfresco dining by the water for a jazzy midday meal.
Darwin is known as the laksa capital of the world, and for good reason. The Saturday morning Parap Markets dish out a particularly famous one (along with a whole lot of mindblowing fresh produce, market food and thirst-quenching drinks). But you can also get an excellent bowl from Chok’s Place, a tiny food-court joint that has been awarded the ‘Golden Laksa’ award two years running.
Wondering where the best places are for dinner in Darwin? You’re spoilt for choice. Created by a former Masterchef contestant, Ella by Minoli is a must-visit for wild Sri Lankan flavours, creamy curries and crisp rotis that are guaranteed to knock your socks off. For wholesome food peppered with refined Australian flavours, try Phat Mango. While for a less bougie (but equally delicious) option, snag yourself some market food and fragrant laksa from Mindil Beach Night Markets. (Note: Mindil Markets only operate during the dry season).
Where are the best bars and pubs in Darwin?
Finding a drink in Darwin ain’t hard, but if you’re like us, you’re going to want to make that drink really count. If you're staying in town, we suggest checking out Charlie’s of Darwin, a new gin distillery and breezy rooftop cocktail bar that’s located right in the heart of the city. Another great bar to hit up in Darwin is Hanky Panky, a 1920’s-inspired cocktail paradise that’s all about quality drinks and quality vibes.
We also recommend heading to the Willing Distillery, where you’ll find traditionally distilled gin, flavoured with native Australian ingredients, as well as a whole range of delicate and delicious cocktails. While for a more festive night out, think about heading to the circus-themed wonderland of Lola’s Pergola.
If you're after more a pub vibe, go to Crab Claw Island Resort for a drink with a difference (think tropical island, croc risk, entrance via helicopter) or think about throwing back a quality schooner and pub feed at the historically renowed Darwin Railway Club.
Where are the best places to stay in Darwin?
Depending on your budget, Darwin offers up a variety of accommodation options that are worth a hit.
The Hilton Darwin is (like Hiltons everywhere) a bougie white space full of luxe hotel finishes that will work for you if you like luxury living. If you're after something fancy, but less run-of-the-mill, we suggest you check out the Mindil Beach Casino Resort, a five-star spot on the water that comes with a turquoise infinity pool and its own private beach.
For a more budget-conscious time that still puts you in the centre of town, you can try the conveniently located (but slightly more basic) H on Smith, or check out what’s happening on Airbnb. There are some treasures out there.