From watercolour-worthy sunsets to exciting Asian dining, an open-air cinema and of course, the famous reptile residents, Darwin in Australia’s Top End is anything but boring.
Balmy tropical weather, great cuisine, outdoor adventures and strong links to Indigenous culture; Darwin has an impressive resume that attracts everyone. From backpackers enjoying the selection of pubs and restaurants along Mitchell Street and nature-lovers exploring the impressive Kakadu National Park, to foodies indulging in the exciting fusion of Australian and Asian cuisine, and the fearless who want to get up close(ish) to some of the most famous residents of Darwin, saltwater crocs, the capital of NT has it all.
Darwin Airport lies just 15 minutes from the city centre, and as well as connecting the Top End to the rest of the country, it is also a gateway to Asia. Once you get off the plane, grab your airport transfer and check into your hotel, then it’s time to explore what Darwin has to offer. Here’s the best of the best in just 24 hours.
Balmy tropical weather, great cuisine, outdoor adventures and strong links to Indigenous culture; Darwin has an impressive resume that attracts everyone
8am Breakfast on the waterfront
A military frontier during the Second World War, Darwin’s waterfront is now home to plenty of great breakfast spots with wonderful ocean views to boot. Enjoy the sea breeze over coffee as you indulge in one of the many cafés. Here is where you’ll also find a unique Darwin tourist attraction – a series of oil storage tunnels built to protect fuel supplies after Darwin was bombed during the war.
9am Wander the Esplanade
Known officially as Bicentennial Park, the Esplanade runs the length of Darwin’s waterfront and offers gorgeous ocean views, shaded by tropical trees. There’s a cycling path for an easy, pretty ride, and signs dotted throughout the path offer insight into Darwin’s wartime history.
9:30am Fish feeding frenzy
This one’s dependant on tide times, but at high tide, relish in a Darwinian tradition – hand-feeding hundreds of fish at the fish-feeding sanctuary, Aquascene. Bream, milkfish, barramundi, mullet and catfish swarm the waters to devour the purchased bread, creating quite a spectacle in the water. Tide times can be found on Aquascene’s website, so you can plan when to get down there.
If timing is not your friend, wander back to the waterfront (with your bathers packed!) for a quick swim in the man-made lagoons. Safe from jellyfish and other sea creatures that often linger in Darwin’s waters, you can enjoy paddling around in the Recreation or Wave pools. There is a section of beach here that is netted too, making it safe to swim.
No trip to Darwin is complete without seeing a crocodile!
11am Learn about Cyclone Tracy at MAGNT
On Christmas Day in 1984, 80 percent of Darwin’s houses were destroyed by Cyclone Tracy. See just how destructive and devastating this storm was in this powerful exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory (MAGNT), with interactive screens, before and after photographs, and relics (musical instruments were blown from the army barracks and found right across town in the Botanic Gardens). Here you’ll also learn about ‘Sweetheart’, the infamous 5-metre, 780-kilogram saltwater crocodile known for attacking dinghies in a popular Darwin fishing spot. Unfortunately, attempts to relocate him to a nearby crocodile farm resulted in his death, so Sweetheart was taxidermied and is now part of a permanent exhibition here. You’ll also find a number of other interesting exhibitions, from Indigenous art to maritime history and evolution timelines.
1pm Eat on the main drag
Mitchell Street in the CBD is where you’ll find all the main pubs, bars and restaurants in Darwin. Whether you’re in the mood for a crocodile schnitzel (yep, no jokes), fresh Thai food, Turkish kebabs, pub-grub or local craft beer, you’ll find it on bustling Mitchell Street.
Our top pick: Check out Six Tanks Brewery, home to craft beer and delicious wood-fired pizzas. Their ethos is all about sharing platters and enjoying food (and beer) with friends.
2:30pm Crocosauraus Cove
Right in the middle of town may be an unlikely place to find the world’s largest display of Australian reptiles, but that’s exactly what you get at Crocosaurus Cove on Mitchell Street. Get up close and personal with saltwater crocodiles – daredevils can even swim with the giant crocs in the ‘Cage of Death’ for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Make sure to pack your bathers and your GoPro for this one. You can also hold a baby crocodile, feed the crocs, wander through the reptile house, watch the reptile feeding shows, check out some of the amazing fish in the aquarium (including the impressive sawfish), and check out the turtles who call the sanctuary home. Darwin is synonymous with crocodiles, so a trip to Crocosaurus Cove is unmissable.
4:30pm Time to relax
You’re on holiday, so it’s time to treat yourself (and retreat from the heat). Darwin has plenty of day spas for you to indulge in some tropical luxury, so pamper yourself and unwind, whether you want a massage at Lagoon Day Spa or a spa treatment at Elements.
Enjoy street-style food trucks at the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
6:30pm Enjoy a market meal
For a quintessential Darwin experience, head to the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. On Thursday and Sunday evenings, Mindil Beach plays host to craft stalls, street performers, musicians and a huge number of tasty street-style food trucks serving all kinds of international foods. This is where you can truly immerse yourself in Darwin’s Asian influence – try a hot laksa, mango lassies, crepes, butter chicken, Vietnamese rice paper rolls or sushi, just to name a few. Once you’ve decided on what cuisine to indulge in, enjoy the setting sun over the beach – Darwin is famous for putting on a great sunset.
8:30pm The Ski Club
A Ski Club? In Darwin? No, not that kind of skiing. We’re talking about the Darwin water-skiing club, which offers the perfect spot for a few after-dinner bevvies. Right on the beach in Fannie Bay, the Ski Club is a welcome oasis of fairy lights and palm trees. Tourists are more than welcome for a drink or meal, but you do need to sign in.
For a longer stay…
- Go on a sunrise or sunset Yellow Water Cruise along the nearby Adelaide River to find wild saltwater crocodiles lazing in the warm waters, and spot an abundance of birdlife, from white-bellied sea eagles to Australia’s only stork, the jabiru.
- Explore Australia’s largest land-based national park, Kakadu. Here you’ll find authentic Aboriginal rock art, Australian wildlife, waterfalls and swimming holes. Nearby Litchfield National Park also boasts a number of gorgeous swimming spots to cool down in, and it’s free to access (Kakadu requires a national park pass to gain entry). Note: Some roads are closed during the wet season (Nov-Apr) and some swimming spots are closed to the public due to crocodiles in the area after heavy rains. Take note of signs and local guides and use common sense when travelling through national parks. Read more about Australia’s best national parks on our blog.
- During the dry season, catch a flick at Darwin’s outdoor Deckchair Cinema and enjoy a movie under the stars.
- Go snorkelling in the clear blue waterholes of Berry Springs National Park. The park is equipped for BBQs, or visit the nearby Crazy Acres mango farm for some homemade mango ice-cream.
Handy hint: Darwin has two distinct seasons, wet and dry, and some activities are closed during the wet season. It is also pretty hot all year round, so adequate sun protection is required when travelling up to the Top End. Be sure to pack sunscreen, a sunhat and loose-fitting, breathable clothing. The wet season brings high humidity, and insect repellent is a must-have. It’s also important to stay hydrated with plenty of water whatever time of the year you travel. For more essential tips for travelling to Australia, read our guide here.