Australia’s northern capital is often seen as just a staging point for bigger adventures around the territory – but you don’t need to look too hard to find lots of things to do in Darwin itself.
Across the city, Darwin’s attractions offer an insight into the heritage of the Top End and a taste of the natural beauty of the region. You can visit a military museum in the morning and be swimming underneath a waterfall by the afternoon, for example.
Darwin is small, with a population of only about 150,000 people – and I think it actually feels even smaller than that because of the way that it’s spread out. Most visitors will spend the majority of their time in the city centre, which is less than two kilometres long.
There’s a laidback atmosphere, which is one of the reasons locals love living here. I’ve had quite a few friends who have moved to Darwin for short term work opportunities and have then stayed for years.
As a visitor, you’ll get more out of your time here if you relax into the slow pace and enjoy a small selection of activities, rather than rush to fill your time with lots of attractions. There may be plenty of things to do in Darwin, but that doesn’t mean you need to see them all!
The weather is also a factor. Whether you visit Darwin in the dry season or the wet season, it will be quite hot and humid, so it’s nice to regularly sit and have a break. Thankfully there are some cool new bars, cafes, and restaurants in Darwin to take a breather.
The best things to do in Darwin
To help you plan a trip to Darwin, I’ve put together this list of the best things to do in Darwin. As you’ll see, there’s quite a variety – and plenty of fun things that are quintessential Top End!!
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
It might make sense to begin your trip at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) to get a good overview of the city and some of the history (plus it has great air conditioning to help you acclimatise).
There are a few permanent exhibitions that give you a nice introduction to Darwin, including the natural history section, where you can see the evolution of some of the local flora and fauna.
There’s also an excellent section about Cyclone Tracy in 1974, that really changed the shape of the city. And, of course, there’s Sweetheart, the famous 5.1-metre crocodile that terrorised boats in the 1970s but is now stuffed and on display.
The Botanic Gardens (officially called George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens) is close to the museum and art gallery and it might make sense to combine the two.
You wouldn’t realise from driving past, but there are quite a few features and different environments within the gardens. One of the highlights is the rainforest, which has a waterfall inside it.
There are some lovely leisurely walks through the botanic gardens and a cafe to get some food and drink. You don’t need to spend too long here, but it’s a nice bit of nature within the city.
You can’t come to the Top End without having some kind of crocodile encounter – hopefully on your own terms! If you want to get up close to these magnificent creatures, then you can do that right in the centre of the city at Crocosaurus Cove.
You can see some adult crocodiles being fed, you can feed some juvenile ones yourself, and you can even hold some baby crocodiles. For the most adventurous, you can ‘swim’ with the crocodiles, with just glass separating you from these ancient killers.
Obviously everything is carefully managed and you certainly feel like you’re at a tourist attraction – but it’s a fun and easy way to get a quick croc fix.
Crocodylus Park and Zoo
Another option to see crocodiles is Crocodylus Park and Zoo, about 15 minutes out of town. There are about a thousand crocodiles here, from hatchlings to adults, and you can see shows or even feed them yourself.
There are other animals here – some which are endemic to the region and some from around the world (leopards and tigers, for example). This is because the park also operates as a wildlife research centre.
Territory Wildlife Park
And, while we’re on the topic, there’s also Territory Wildlife Park, which is about 45 minutes out of the city centre (near Berry Springs and Barramundi Adventures, which I’ll mention soon).
It’s quite a large park that is divided into different habitats, like a billabong, rocky ridge, or monsoon forest. You can walk around it, or there is a shuttle bus that drives around the loop.
The focus is on animals from the Top End, so it’s a great way to learn more about the region. You’ll see echidnas, wallaroos, quolls, emus… And, of course, crocodiles!
Back in the city centre, one of the best free things to do in Darwin these days is explore the street art. The Darwin Street Art Festival began in 2017 and runs annually, meaning there are now more than 50 large murals on walls in the CBD.
There’s a map on the website, but you’ll find most of them if you explore the alleys around the wall. Some of them are enormous and are so beautiful in their detailed depictions of local characters and heritage.
I always think you can tell a lot about the soul of the city from its street art, and these murals show that Darwin has a lot of interesting stories to share.