Darwin is the understated capital and largest city of the Northern Territory, the remote and isolated Australian state that few travelers actually make it to. While tourists flock to the southern cities of Melbourne or Sydney, this far north destination rarely gets a look in, and that’s a shame because actually, there are a lot of things to do in Darwin.
This is the Top End, a place of extremes that comes with its own challenges when visiting, where cyclones ravage the coast and crocodiles stalk the rivers. Those challenges though make this an exciting place to visit.
The very tropical nature of the region adds its own unique dimension to the city and to the surrounding region.
From stunning national parks and ancient Aboriginal artwork to incredible islands and a vibrant city center there are a lot of great things to do in Darwin and here are the best of them.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Central Australia-Adelaide to Darwin (Travel Guide)
11 Best Things to Do in Darwin, Australia
1. See Darwin Harbour
Darwin Harbour is one of the city’s major centerpieces and it’s a great place to spend some time when you first arrive in the capital of the Northern Territory. This is the main port of the city, but as well as being a bustling and busy harbor it’s also a scenically beautiful place.
Enjoy the marina that’s home to yachts and vessels of all sizes and take in the epic vistas that stretch out across the huge expanse of water that’s enclosed by rugged coastline and green mangroves.
One of the best things to do in Darwin is to take a cruise out onto the harbor itself. Many companies run tours along the coastline and if you can, try to arrange the trip so that you can enjoy one of Darwin’s mesmerizing tropical sunsets.
Our top recommended tours of Darwin Harbour:
- 1-Hour Darwin Harbour Adventure Cruise
- Darwin Sunset Cruise with Optional Buffet Dinner
- Darwin City & Harbour Scenic Flight
2. The Wave Pool
Major cities in tropical northern Australia are likely to have their own public lagoons and Darwin is no exception. The Wave Pool is found overlooking Darwin Harbour, in the heart of the city, and it offers a beautiful respite from the hot weather.
Much of the coastline of the Northern Territory, although spectacular to look at, is hazardous for swimming. There are crocodiles, jellyfish and all kinds of dangerous creatures lurking out there.
The Wave Pool is a safe and enclosed swimming area, has become a popular place to relax in the water without fear of being whisked away into the ocean. There are sunshades, beds and cold, cold water to dive into.
3. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is the state’s premier museum and art space. This is a wonderful place to get acquainted with the region and it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Darwin.
Here you can find exhibitions that showcase not only the recent European colonization of Darwin but that also focus on the much longer but often untold Aboriginal history of the Northern Territory.
You can see ancient artifacts alongside more recent exhibits from World War II in a museum that takes in a huge portion of the development of Australia.
It’s easy to spend a few hours here at the best of times, but be sure to check the events schedule too to find out if there are any great temporary exhibitions or shows being held on the premises as well.
Our top recommended tours of The Museum & Art Gallery:
- Explore Darwin City Sights
- Darwin City Sightseeing Tour with Optional Sunset Cruise
- Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour of Darwin
4. Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
The Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are one of the best things to do in Darwin during the peak tourist season. Darwin almost closes down during the extreme tropical summers, when cyclones hit and rain swamps the city, so the markets are only open from April through to October each year.
This is the only real-time a tourist will be visiting anyway, and if you are here when they are open, make the most of this great local market. Found along a charming stretch of beach, you can enjoy discovering local produce, buy unusual souvenirs and eat some great food while the sunsets.
Our top recommended tour of Mindil Beach Sunset Markets: Darwin Afternoon Sightseeing Tour
5. Visit Crocosaurus Cove
The Northern Territory is synonymous with crocodiles, and it’s not unheard of for these fearsome creatures to be seen swimming casually through Darwin Harbour. They are not an animal that you would want to get to close to unless of course, you visit the Crocosaurus Cove.
This wildlife center is home to some of the country’s biggest saltwater crocodiles, many of which would otherwise have been killed by rangers for the threat they posed in the wild to locals.
Here you can learn more about these often misunderstood and generally feared animals in a safe environment, as the Crocosaurus Cove pits on feeding displays and educational talks.
This is also the only place in Australia where you can actually dive with crocodiles. The Cage of Death – similar to a Shark Diving Cage – allows fearless tourists the opportunity to get underwater and up close with the crocs in a glass viewing container.
6. Explore the WWII Oil Tunnels
Explore a part of history not many travelers know about, hidden below the city of Darwin are large WWII oil tunnels. These tunnels were the result of plans to conceal the oil supplies from future attacks on the city during WWII.
Unfortunately, like most government projects they never finished the oil tunnels before the war ended and the millions of dollars that were spent on the project became a complete waste. But the good news of that is Darwin was never attacked again and because the tunnels were unused.
If you are someone who loves history this is a must-visit in Darwin.
7. Relax on the Tiwi Islands
The Tiwi Islands are found in the Timor Sea just off the coast of Darwin. These two islands have long been home to the local Tiwi people, who have lived here for thousands of years.
Recently, the islands have started to become much more popular with tourists seeking an off the beaten track part of Australia to explore. Here you can explore some of the most authentic Aboriginal art and culture in the Northern Territory, and there are several galleries where you can see local work firsthand.
The islands themselves are spectacular, with beautiful tropical scenery waiting to be found. The islanders want to preserve their homeland, so to limit tourism here, the only real option for visitors is a day trip, but it’s still one of the best things to do in Darwin.
Book your Tiwi Island Day Tour from Darwin today!
8. Berry Springs Nature Park
Just a short drive down the road from Darwin city center is the Berry Springs Nature Park. This beautiful area of preserved land is the site of an epic set of swimming holes and hot springs, and don’t worry, there are no crocodiles here.
This is a lovely recreation area, and you can enjoy walking along some great nature trails that take you through the forest, before cooling off in the swimming areas. Some of the swimming areas are even fed by natural hot springs, although in the humid, sweltering tropical heat, you may not find these that appropriate.
G Adventures offers 5 multi-day trips through Darwin, Australia. Simply use this link to book today!
9. Adelaide River Cruises
The Adelaide River can be found just outside of Darwin and a cruise along its murky waters is a great way to spend the day. As well as being a naturally beautiful part of the Northern Territory, the Adelaide River has become somewhat notorious for the Jumping Crocodiles that inhabit its waters.
From the safety of a boat, of course, you can see some of the largest wild crocodiles in Australia, and these crocodiles are known to jump several feet into the air when being fed by the locals. It’s a fearsome sight, and an incredibly popular experience when visiting Darwin.
The Adelaide River Cruises only run during the dry season, as during the intense tropical summers, the river becomes a raging, dangerous torrent of water.
10. Litchfield National Park
If you are visiting Darwin, then Litchfield National Park is an unmissable destination. Here you can find the wilderness of the Northern Territory in all its beautiful yet humid glory.
The park itself is just over an hour away from the city, so it makes for the perfect day trip, but if you would like to stay longer to explore then there are several camping grounds here too.
You can find some incredible freshwater swimming holes, and some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the Northern Territory are located here. Take on some of the many, extensive hiking trails or if you have a four by four, tackle some of the off-road routes too.
There’s plenty of wildlife to be found here, so only stick to the designated swimming areas within the park to be safe.
Our top recommended tours of Litchfield National Park:
- Litchfield and Jumping Crocodiles Full Day Trip from Darwin
- Litchfield National Park Day Tour from Darwin With Waterfalls And Buley Rockhole
- Litchfield National Park Day Tour from Darwin
- Small-Group Litchfield National Park Day Trip from Darwin
A few hours to the south of Darwin is the remote town of Katherine. This is where you can explore the Nitmiluk National Park, one of the most scenic areas in the Northern Territory. This can be a long day trip or you can stay over in the campgrounds.
The highlight of the park is the expansive Katherine Gorge, a mighty canyon formed over time by the torrents of the Katherine River. There are actually 13 individual gorges, which in the wet season become interlinked when the water levels rise but which during the dry season become isolated from one another.
There are some great hiking opportunities here in the dry season and you will be able to easily spot Freshwater Crocodiles (the less dangerous species of crocodile) in the waters.
You can even take to the rivers in canoes or kayaks, although this is very much a terrible idea in the wet season – when the river floods and the dangerous Saltwater Crocodiles can make their way into the gorge.
If you don’t fancy either walking or paddling, then a popular way to experience Katherine Gorge is by joining a scenic helicopter flight. It might not be a budget experience, but it is guaranteed to spectacular.
Our top recommended tours of Katherine:
- Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge 3.5-Hour Sunset Dinner Boat Tour
- Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge Cruise
- Katherine Day Tour from Darwin including Katherine Gorge Cruise
- Darwin to Katherine Day Tripper
Recommended Multi-Day Tour
- G Adventures Australia South to North (Melbourne to Darwin)– On the water and on the road? Is there a better way to explore somewhere new than from a few different vantage points? We didn’t think so either. This 19-day tour allows you to experience Australia from land, water and even underground. (Seriously! Just wait until you get to Coober Pedy.) From Melbourne to Darwin, your itinerary will include amazing stuff like rainforest walks in Great Otway National Park, awe-inspiring sunsets at Uluru, and even a wetland nature cruise in croc country.
- G Adventures Outback to the Top End (Adelaide to Darwin)– You can’t get Down Under through a bus window. If you’re going to get off the tourist track, you’ll have to shake things up a bit — that’s why we’ve turned to private vehicles and boats for this itinerary. Starting in charming Adelaide, cut through the Outback and explore the mysteries of Uluru. Follow your curiosity down the deserted tracks that make Australia so remote and spend 15 days discovering the natural beauty of one of the world’s most awe-inspiring destinations.
- G Adventures Australia North to South (Darwin to Melbourne)– You’ve got just over two weeks in Australia, so what are you going to see? Everything! Traveling south from Darwin, tour Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks — the old stomping grounds of Crocodile Dundee — and check out some of the most diverse wildlife around. From there head to Katherine Gorge and decide if all the pictures you’ve seen have done it any justice (they haven’t!). Make your way towards the Red Centre and the magic of Uluru, followed by a stop in Coober Pedy, the neat underground town. Round it all off by taking in the scenery on your way to Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road.
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- 5 Awesome Things to Do in Perth, Western Australia
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