The Complete Darwin City Travel Guide (updated for 2024)

This is the Complete Darwin City Travel Guide. If you’re planning a trip to the Northern Territory, whether you’re flying to Darwin, or doing a Road Trip to Darwin, in this post you’ll find all the essential information.  Where to stay in Darwin, Where to Eat, and the best things to do in Darwin.

We have visited Darwin three times in the last three years, we’ve stayed in a variety of accommodation from caravan parks to a luxury resort, we’ve eaten out and visited some of the best quirky bars.

Read on to find out why Darwin is our favourite city in Australia!

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complete darwin city travel guide

About Darwin

Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory but its unlike any of the other state capitals.  Firstly, it’s a lot smaller, with a population of only 122,000. Darwin is also very remote from the other state capitals.

There is a certain VIBE in Darwin.  It almost feels like a wild frontier, where anything goes.  

The culture in Darwin is a mix of outback Australia and traditional indigenous culture.  It’s also strongly flavoured by Asian culture, due both to it’s proximity to Asia and the number of Asian migrants who call the city home.

Best time to visit Darwin

Darwin is located in the tropical north of the Northern Territory, otherwise called the Top End.  There are two distinct seasons here, the “dry” winter season from May to October, and the tropical summer “wet” season from November to April.  Temperatures in mid-winter (July) average highs of 31 C (88F) to lows of 19C (66F) with zero rainy days.  

In the height of the tropical summer (January) those average temperatures are highs of 32C (90F) and lows of 25C (77F).  While that’s not a huge difference in temperature, January sees an average of 17 rainy days, with corresponding high humidity.  

Winter is definitely the more popular time to visit Darwin, not only because the weather is more pleasant, but also because this is when the many festivals are on, and when more attractions are open.

The most popular and largest festival is the annual Darwin Festival.  The Darwin Festival began in 1977 to celebrate the resilience of those who stayed to rebuild the city after Cyclone Tracy.  The festival features light shows, concerts, art installations, cultural performances and more.  The dates for the next Darwin festival are 8-25 August, 2024.

Getting to Darwin

Darwin has an international airport with flights arriving from all the major Australian cities as well as several overseas destinations.

If you’re driving to Darwin, you’ll arrive from the south on the Stuart Highway, passing through Palmerston and the suburbs before arriving in the city centre.

Darwin Travel Guide – Getting around

There is a great public bus system which operates 7 days a week (except Christmas Day and Good Friday). Taxis and Uber are plentiful in Darwin.  Our favourite way of getting around the city is by e-scooter and e-bike – you’ll find Neuron scooters and bikes conveniently located throughout the city, and a 3 day pass costs $25.

We have always found parking easy in Darwin, even in our 7.3m campervan.  We usually park right on the esplanade, which is a short walk into the CBD. You can even pay with the PayStay app which will remind you when you’re time is running out.

If you’d rather not drive around, there are plenty of options for a Darwin City Tour, from Half Day Darwin Tours, to full day Darwin Tours.

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Complete Darwin City Guide – Where to stay in Darwin

If you’re looking for the best accommodation in Darwin, you’ll be spoilt for choice.  There are many hotels and resorts in the centre of the city, caravan parks and campsites located further out in the suburbs.

Here’s a few of our favourites:

Mindil Beach Casino Resort

Arguably the best accommodation in town, the Mindil Beach Resort is just a short 5 minute drive from the CBD at Mindil Beach – home of the famous Mindil Beach Sunset Market.

With everything you’d expect from a 5 star resort, the Superior Lagoon Rooms, with decks right on the lagoon style swimming pool are the ultimate in tropical luxury.  

We loved being able to swim from our room across to the lagoon swim-up bar for cocktails, before enjoying a delicious meal in Il Piatto, the onsite Italian restaurant.  Oh, and the sunset from our table by the window was incredible.

swim up bar, darwin resort

Vibe Hotel, Darwin Waterfront

We stayed at the Vibe Hotel for a couple of nights at the end of our most recent trip to Darwin.  Our room was an apartment style, with a separate living area and bedroom.  We even had a washing machine and dryer in the bathroom.

This hotel is in the waterfront precinct, which has many restaurants, cafes and bars right downstairs.

Mantra on the Esplanade

The Mantra on the Esplanade apartment hotel looks out over the park along the esplanade, and backs onto busy Mitchell Street, where the backpacker party crowd goes.  The location can’t be beat, but you’ll need to close your balcony sliding door at night to keep the party noise out.

This hotel only has limited parking available for guests, so might not be the best choice if you have a vehicle.

Darwin City Caravan Parks

To be honest, we’re not big fans of caravan parks, we don’t like feeling cramped.  We much prefer to free camp, or at least to spread out.

In Darwin you’ll find all the main chain caravan parks; Discovery, Big 4, with the usual facilities like pools and laundries.  We have stayed at the Boomerang Motel and Caravan Park, which was reasonable.  

We also stayed at a private campsite called Andy’s Paradise (find it on the WikiCamps app) which was quite reasonably priced, and a lot more spread out than a caravan park.  Andy is working on expanding the camping area, so this is one to keep an eye on.

Where to EAT (and drink) in Darwin

The selection of restaurants in Darwin is endless, with so many different styles of cuisine.  In this list we’ve only included places that we have actually visited ourselves.

Moorish 

This tapas bar/restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Thursday and all day Friday and Saturday.  Moorish has won the Darwin Golden Plate Award 19 times, and features cuisine inspired by the Territory’s local ingredients.

Sue particularly enjoyed their vegetarian tapas tasting plate (so much I’ve had it twice), and the Sangria is amazing!

Babylon Bar

This is our favourite bar in Darwin.  It’s in Austin Lane (aka Graffiti Lane) and has a relaxed vibe with very cool retro décor.  They have a rotating menu of craft beers on tap.  It’s a great place to begin a night out in Darwin.

Stonehouse

This is a very cool wine bar which serves amazing wines by the glass.  The vibe here is rustic, and the décor simple.  We had a grazing platter with dips, olives and all sorts of yummy things.

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Little Miss Korea

We went bar-hopping one night and stopped in here and had the Lotus Chips, which we’d never eaten before. They were absolutely delicious!

Charlie’s of Darwin

Across the lane from Babylon (and right next to Little Miss Korea), you’ll find the entrance to Charlie’s in what looks like a loading zone.  But once you go upstairs you’ll find one of the coolest rooftop bars anywhere. There is a big focus on Gin here at Charlie’s although we enjoyed a beer overlooking the street below.

Johnn Johnn’s ice cream

THE most amazing ice-cream – you have to try the (dairy-free) Black Magic.  Thank me later.

Johnn Johnn's ice cream, where to eat in darwin,

Ray’s Patisserie and Café

Our favourite choice for breakfast or brunch.  The pea fritters are particularly good, as is the avo on toast.  They also serve great coffee, both hot and ice coffee.

Il Piatto

If you’re looking for somewhere fancy, the in-house Italian restaurant at the Mindil Beach Casino Resort serves up some of the best Italian food we’ve eaten outside of Italy. And the sunsets from here are just amazing too.

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Mary’s Laksa

An institution with Darwin locals and visitors alike.  Mary has been serving up Laksa (spicy Malaysian noodle soup) from her stall at the Parap Markets every Saturday for over 20 years.  It’s hugely popular and deservedly so.  Be warned… the lines are long!  But it’s so worth it.

Complete Darwin City Travel Guide – things to do

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT)

Darwin has a very interesting history, both its traditional indigenous history which goes back some 60,000 years, and also more recent history.  In WW2 Darwin was bombed by the Japanese, and the city was flattened by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day 1974.  

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) is a great starting point to learn about all this history.  Our favourite exhibit is the room where you can stand and hear the audio recording of Cyclone Tracy.  I was almost 10yo at the time and really remember this on the news.

You will also find a great collection of indigenous art here in the museum, and there is a strong focus on art from local artists.

The MAGNT is open from 10am-4pm daily and entry is free.

Darwin Street Art Festival

One of our favourite things about Darwin is all the street art. Throughout the city and into the suburbs, walls of buildings are covered with beautiful murals.  The actual “festival” is held each year in August/September when more art is added.  

You can pick up a map at the Visitor Centre and walk around to check it all out.  Or, do like we did and take an e-scooter.  You’ll find QR codes on each painting telling you about the piece and the artist who created it.  Start in Shadforth Lane, the “locals only” lane where all art was created by local NT artists.

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Darwin Military Museum

In February 1942 Darwin was attacked by 188 Japanese fighter planes.  The bombing continued throughout 1942 and into 1943.  The Defence of Darwin Experience is an interactive audio-visual tour where you see actual footage from the times and hear accounts from people who lived to tell the tale.

You’ll also find many military artefacts including military vehicles and large artillery.  There is an original gun emplacement with further exhibits in the tunnels below.

The Darwin Military Museum is located at the East Point Reserve, which is a short drive from the city (we rode e-bikes out there).  On the way you get some great views of the city back across the harbour.

The museum is open 9.30-4pm Monday to Saturday and 10-3 Sunday.  Entry is $20 for adults with concession and family passes available.

Darwin Oil Tunnels

After much of the above-ground oil and fuel stores were destroyed by Japanese bombs, the decision was made to build an underground storage facility.  By the time the facility was completed the Japanese attacks had ended.  

Two of the Darwin Oil Tunnels are now open to visitors, one of which is over 100m long.  The tunnels are open daily from 9am-1pm (October to May) and 9am – 4pm (June to September).  Entry is $9.50 for adults with concession and family passes available.

Mindil Beach Sunset Markets

Darwin has some great markets, and undoubtedly the most popular with visitors is the Mindl Beach Sunset Markets.  This market is held from 4pm till 9pm on Thursday and Sunday evenings from late April till the end of September.

The market features the usual craft stalls, but most people come for the food. It’s a great place to come for dinner, simply grab your favourite dish from one of the many international food trucks and wander down to the beach to watch the sun set.

mindil beach market, darwin,

Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility

The Royal Flying Doctor Service is an Australian Icon which began its life in the Northern Territory in 1939.  Reverend John Flynn founded the air medical service which still operates today.

The RFDS Tourist Facility has interactive displays detailing the history of the RFDS and multimedia exhibits including showing what it’s like for an actual patient on an RFDS flight.  Much of the display is narrated by a life-size hologram of John Flynn.

Open daily from 9am-5pm (closing at 4pm during the summer).  Entry fee is $30

Darwin Waterfront and Wave Pool

Although Darwin has some nice beaches, swimming is not recommended here due to the presence of estuarine (saltwater) crocodiles year round, and stingers in summer.  Locals and visitors alike head to the Waterfront precinct to cool off in the large pools.  

The wave pool operates with different wave patterns alternating with 20 minutes of calm water, so there’s something for everyone.  You can bring your boogie board (or hire one), but no surfboards.

The waterfront lagoon is open from 10am to 6pm daily.  Entry fee is $8 for over 15 yo, $6 for under 15s.  After your swim, head to one of the many cafes along the waterfront for a bite to eat, or the tap house for a craft beer.

things to do in darwin

Darwin Harbour Sunset Cruise

While you can’t swim in Darwin Harbour, it’s a great place for a sunset cruise.  We enjoyed a 3 hour sunset cruise with unlimited sparkling wine and a 7 course tapas dinner.

The cruise departs from the first jetty on Stokes Wharf, and returns to the same place at the end of the cruise.  You’ll see beautiful views of the city and Fannie Bay, and the lights of the city as you return to the dock.  We loved this experience!

The cruise operates daily daily from 5pm and costs $159.  

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Darwin Deckchair Cinema

If you’ve never been to an open-air cinema, this is an amazing place to do so.  No need to worry about getting cold here!  The Darwin Deckchair Cinema operates nightly from mid-April to mid-November.  

You can bring a picnic along but no BYO alcohol.  There is a licensed kiosk if you wish to purchase drinks here.  You’ll see the latest blockbusters, but also old favourites and art house movies.  Check the website for what’s showing and tickets.

Fishing in Darwin Harbour

The Northern Territory is one of Australia’s top fishing destinations, especially for the famous barramundi.  There are a number of boat ramps around Darwin where you can launch your own boat, or, you can join a half-day or full-day fishing tour.

From October to March the “Million Dollar Fish” competition is held.  10 barramundi are tagged with a $1 million dollar prize (and 100 fish with a $10k prize).  This incentive started in 2015 to attract more visitors to the NT.

More things to do in (and around) Darwin

What to pack for a visit to Darwin

The weather in Darwin is warm, and the vibe is very relaxed.  You won’t need to pack anything too fancy.  Keep your clothes cool and casual.  We prefer loose fitting clothes that allow some airflow.  

It’s likely to be very sunny, so don’t forget a hat and some sunscreen.  The only time you’re likely to need a jacket is on the plane flying up here.

You may encounter sand-flies, bugs or mosquitoes so it’s a good idea to pack some mosquito repellent.

Watch our Complete Darwin City Travel Guide video

FAQs

How many days in Darwin is enough?

We would recommend spending three full days in Darwin city, before heading out to the National Parks like Kakadu or Litchfield.  This is a good amount of time to visit the museums and soak up the atmosphere of the city.

Is it safe to walk around Darwin?

We have visited Darwin three times in the last three years and have never felt unsafe walking around the city.  Just use common sense like you would in any other large city.  In some areas outside the city centre you might see more itinerants, but we’ve found mostly they will just wave and say hello.

What’s the best way to get around Darwin?

There’s an excellent public bus service to take you around town and the suburbs.  We really like riding the e-scooters and bikes.  You can get a 3 days pass with Neuron for $25.

Are there crocodiles in Darwin?

Swimming is not recommended in the waters surrounding Darwin due to the presence of estuarine (saltwater) crocodiles.  While we don’t support animals in captivity, many visitors like to see caged crocodiles in Darwin.

Where to next?

After spending a few days in Darwin, why not visit the dual heritage listed Kakadu National Park and marvel at its natural and cultural wonders?  Or, take a trip to Litchfield National Park to relax under a waterfall.

Heading west? Check out our Darwin to Broome Road Trip Itinerary.

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