10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Darwin

Bathed in a permanent tropical stupor, Darwin is the youngest of the Australian capitals and the only seaport in the Northern Territory. The city lies on the doorstep of Asia and its rich multiculturalism is one of its most endearing features - infusing the food and culture with a global spice. Szechuan sizzles in the famous Mindil Street Sunset Markets, and ethnic restaurants jostle with aboriginal art galleries downtown. Excellent museums, botanic gardens, wildlife encounters, and a vibrant waterfront precinct of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues round out the top attractions.

Darwin is also a convenient base for safaris to Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park as well as Katherine Gorge. The main tourist season is during the warm, dry winter months, but the sultry wet season has its own allure. Spectacular waterfalls in the surrounding wilderness flow abundantly after violent storms.

1 Mindil Beach Sunset Market

Colorful art at Mindil Beach Sunset Market
Colorful art at Mindil Beach Sunset Market Stephen Michael Barnett / photo modified

Slurp spicy noodles, inhale the aroma of sizzling satay, and see local performers at Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Held every Thursday and Sunday evening from April 25 through October, this Darwin institution is a great way to experience the city's multiculturalism. Food is a highlight: Thai, Sri Lankan, Portuguese, Indian, Greek, Chinese, Brazilian, and Malaysian are just some of the cuisines on offer. Besides gorging on the culinary delights, locals and tourists alike come here to buy unique gifts, watch the entertainment, and soak up the scene while the sun sinks slowly in a blaze of tropical color.

Hours: Thurs 5-10pm, Sun 4-9pm

Address: Mindil Beach, Darwin

Official site: http://www.mindil.com.au/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Darwin

2 Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory Duane_Brown / photo modified

Tucked in a tropical garden on Darwin Harbour, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is an excellent one-stop dose of history and culture. The gallery hosts an impressive collection of Aboriginal, Southeast Asian, and Oceanic art as well as works by Australian painters, while the museum provides an overview of the region's history. Don't miss "Sweetheart" the stuffed crocodile, one of the largest captured in northern Australia. The Natural History Room provides insight into the region's ecology. Other highlights are the exhibits on local history, including photographs of Darwin before and after Cyclone Tracy in 1974 and a chilling audio recording of the devastating cyclone. After touring the complex, visitors can relax with a coffee and snack at the on site café.

Hours: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, weekends and public holidays 10am-5pm, closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Day, and Good Friday

Admission: Free

Address: Conacher St, Bullocky Point, Darwin

3 Stokes Hill Wharf (Darwin Wharf Precinct)

Wave and Recreation Lagoon
Wave and Recreation Lagoon Ken Hodge / photo modified

A tourist hotspot minutes from downtown, the Darwin Wharf Precinct is a working wharf packed with restaurants, shops, entertainment venues, and attractions. Visitors can dine alfresco on fresh seafood, cast a line from the free fishing platforms, embark upon a harbor cruise, or browse the shops. The Australian Pearling Exhibition traces the history of pearl fishing in Australia from the hard-hat days to modern-day pearl farming, while Indo Pacific Marine features a large aquarium with living coral and other tropical marine critters.

One of the most popular attractions is the Deckchair Cinema. Operated by the Darwin Film Society, the open-air cinema screens a discerning selection of films seven days a week during the dry season. On hot days, families can cool off at the Wave and Recreation Lagoon. A promenade links the precinct to the Darwin CBD, and visitors can stroll along a waterfront path.

4 Defence of Darwin Experience

Defence of Darwin Experience
Defence of Darwin Experience daniel2177 / photo modified

Part of the Darwin Military Museum, this poignant attraction commemorates the bombing of Darwin in 1942. Multimedia presentations and firsthand accounts retrace the story of Darwin's role in WWII and explore the impact of the war on the residents of Darwin. Visitors can also explore the exhibits in the adjacent Darwin Military Museum, which is set in beautiful tropical gardens surrounded by the sea in the East Point Nature Reserve. The museum documents Darwin's role during WWII as an important naval base frequently attacked by Japanese bombers from February 1942 onwards. Within the grounds are a coastal battery, observation towers, bunkers, and gun positions dating from that period.

Hours: Open daily 9:30am-5pm, closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Day, Good Friday

Admission: Adults $14, Children $5.50, Families (2 adults, 2 children) $35, Seniors/Pensioners (Non-Territorian) $11

Address: 5434 Alec Fong Lim Drive East Point, Darwin

5 Australian Aviation Heritage Centre

Australian Aviation Heritage Centre
Australian Aviation Heritage Centre Ken Hodge / photo modified

Aviation aficionados will have a field day at the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre. Stealing the show is a huge B52 Bomber on loan from the US Air Force, one of only two in the world on public display outside the States. Among the 19 aircraft exhibited are Sabre jets, a Spitfire replica, and helicopters, including a Royal Australian Navy Wessex helicopter that helped clean up of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy. Videos on aviation and the bombing of Darwin provide a fascinating historical background.

Hours: Open daily 9am-5pm, closed Good Friday, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day

Admission: Adults $14, Seniors/Pensioners $10, Students $7.50, Children (under 12) $7, Families $30

Address: 557 Stuart Hwy, Darwin

6 The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens

The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens Duane_Brown / photo modified

Spanning 42 hectares, the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens are among a few in the world where both estuary and marine plants grow naturally. Maurice Holtze, a Russian immigrant, laid out the gardens in 1891 to contain a great variety of tropical plants, both native and exotic species. Highlights are the palms, a miniature rain forest with a waterfall and pond, the orchid garden, and the collection of baobabs in the woodland section. A network of paths connects the main gardens, and an amphitheater hosts live performances.

Hours: Open daily 7am-7pm

Admission: Free

Address: Gardens Rd, Darwin

7 Crocosaurus Cove

Crocosaurus Cove
Crocosaurus Cove Marek / photo modified

Crocosaurus Cove, in the heart of Darwin's central business district, claims to have the largest display of Australian reptiles in the world. Wildlife lovers can come face to face with the formidable saltwater crocodile in the "Cage of Death." If that's a little too scary, visitors can always feed the crocs, hold a squeaking baby, hang out with the barramundi and sawfish in the aquarium, or linger at the Top End Turtle enclosure. This urban wildlife adventure is a top spot for those who can't make it out into the real wilderness.

Hours: Open daily 9am-6pm, closed Christmas Day

Admission: Adults $32, Seniors $36, Children (4-15 yrs) $20, additional fees for crocodile experiences

Address: 58 Mitchell St, Darwin

8 City Center

City Center
City Center

Darwin's city center buzzes with a tropical tourist vibe. The wide streets are home to many shops and galleries selling everything from didgeridoos to leather goods and Aboriginal bark paintings. Modern buildings are sprouting up, but a few distinctive landmarks remain. Among them is the Christchurch Cathedral, which was damaged by Japanese bombing during WWII and destroyed by Cyclone Tracy. The new octagonal building incorporates the narrow porch and adjoining wall, which survived the cyclone. Government House, built between 1870 and 1878, is an imposing white building in colonial style, which stands 70 m above the sea with a fine view of the harbor. Government House is so solidly built that even Cyclone Tracy did little damage to the structure.

The Esplanade along beautiful Bicentennial Park runs north from Government House to Old Admiralty House, one of the few surviving buildings dating from around 1920. Originally built in 1887 for Darwin's sizeable Chinese community, the Chinese Temple preserves many interior furnishings from its predecessor. Finally, in the courtyard of the Civic Centre is the Tree of Knowledge, a sprawling banyan tree that casts welcome shade for weary tourists on hot days.

9 Aquascene

Aquascene eGuide Travel / photo modified

During high tide, at the north end of the Esplanade in an area called Doctors Gully, a curious thing happens. Hundreds of friendly mullet, milkfish, batfish, barramundi, and bream gather to be hand fed by squealing tourists. This phenomenon has occurred faithfully since the 1950s and is now a favorite tourist attraction called Aquascene. Children in particular love feeding these slimy critters.

Hours: Check the website for tide times and availability

Admission: Adults $15, Seniors $10, Children (3-15 years) $10

Address: 28 Doctors Gully Rd, Darwin

Official site: http://aquascene.com.au/

10 Territory Wildlife Park

Territory Wildlife Park
Territory Wildlife Park Andy Tyler / photo modified

Near Berry Springs Nature Park, a 45-minute drive south of Darwin, the Territory Wildlife Park is a great option for those who can't make it to the National Parks in the Top End. This popular wildlife park is home to a vast array of animals from the region living in wetland, woodland, and monsoon vine forest habitats. Walking trails and free shuttles link the attractions, which include an aquarium, aviary, and nocturnal house. Highlights include the excellent raptor show, the spitting archerfish, freshwater whipray encounters, and the informative presentations by naturalists. Take plenty of water and wear good walking shoes.

Hours: Open daily 8:30am-6pm, closed Christmas Day

Admission: Adults $26, Seniors $20.80, Students/concession $18.20, Children (5-16 years) $13

Address: Cox Peninsula Rd, Berry Springs

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