14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Darwin
Bathed in sultry tropical heat, laid-back Darwin is the youngest of the Aussie state capitals and one of its most multicultural. Rich in aboriginal heritage, the city lies on the doorstep of Asia, and its melting pot of cultures infuses the city with a cosmopolitan feel, despite its remote location on the brink of the Aussie Outback.
Szechuan sizzles in the famous Mindil Street Sunset Markets; ethnic restaurants jostle with aboriginal art galleries downtown; and Darwin's excellent museums share the city's fascinating history, from Word War II air raids to the devastation of Cyclone Tracy in 1974.
Life is mostly lived outside in this sunny city. You can dine alfresco on fresh-caught seafood, stroll through lush botanic gardens, and browse the shops of the vibrant waterfront precinct. Darwin is also the only seaport in the Northern Territory, and sunset cruises are a popular way to soak up its salt-tinged seafront setting.
Exhilarating wildlife adventures are another top attraction. You can watch massive saltwater crocodiles leaping from the water, and view wetlands and abundant wildlife all within a short drive of the city. Darwin is also a convenient base for safaris to Litchfield and Nitmiluk National Park, as well as the spectacular World Heritage-listed wilderness of Kakadu National Park.
Discover the best places to visit in this diverse Top End city with our list of the top attractions in and around Darwin, Australia.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Darwin
1. Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Tucked in a tropical garden on Darwin Harbour, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is one of seven related museums in the Northern Territory and provides an excellent one-stop dose of history and culture. If you only have one day in Darwin, this museum is a must-see. 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, including mangroves, wetlands, and the marine environment.
The Maritime History Gallery features handcrafted canoes and boats, and other highlights are the photographs of Darwin before and after Cyclone Tracy in 1974 and a chilling audio recording of the devastating cyclone.
Visiting this excellent museum and gallery is one of the best free things to do in Darwin, and after touring the complex, you can relax on the long verandah overlooking the water with a coffee and snack at the on-site café.
Address: Conacher Street, Bullocky Point, Darwin, Northern Territory
Official site: https://www.magnt.net.au/
2. Mindil Beach Sunset Market
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. Locals and tourists alike come here to buy unique gifts, watch the entertainment, and soak up the colorful scene.
Food is a highlight: Thai, Sri Lankan, Portuguese, Indian, Greek, Chinese, Brazilian, and Malaysian are just some of the cuisines on offer, and many visitors buy dinner here to eat on Mindil Beach as the sun sinks in a blaze of tropical color over the placid Timor Sea.
Location: Mindil Beach, Darwin, Northern Territory
Official site: http://www.mindil.com.au/
3. Stokes Hill Wharf (Darwin Wharf Precinct)
A tourist hot spot minutes from downtown, the Darwin Wharf Precinct is a working wharf packed with restaurants, shops, entertainment venues, and attractions. You can dine alfresco on fresh seafood, cast a line from the free fishing platforms, embark on a harbor cruise, or browse the shops.
One of the top attractions here is the RFDS Darwin Tourist Facility. This popular museum pays tribute to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), a lifeline to the country's remote communities, and also features a virtual reality experience of the bombing of Darwin Harbour in 1942. And if you're curious about what's under all the surrounding water, head to Indo Pacific Marine, which features a large aquarium with living coral and other tropical marine critters.
One of the most popular things to do at night is to catch a film at the Deckchair Cinema. Operated by the Darwin Film Society, this 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 Big Buoy Water Park or the Wave Lagoon.
A promenade links the precinct to the Darwin CBD, and you can stroll along a waterfront path to all the attractions.
4. Sunset Dinner Cruise
A great way to enjoy the city's warm tropical evenings and sample some of the city's famous seafood at the same time is on a sunset dinner cruise. Hop aboard a traditional fishing ketch and enjoy a 2.5-hour cruise along the coast as the lights of the city twinkle at dusk. This is a great way to capture photographs of the city and the fiery colors of the sunset.
Make sure you bring a healthy appetite. Darwin is famous for its fresh-caught seafood, and you'll have a chance to sample several local specialties during a delicious four-course dinner prepared by the onboard chef. The cruise departs from Stokes Hill Wharf.
5. Jumping Crocodile Cruise on the Adelaide River
Watching a six-meter-long saltwater crocodile leaping out of a murky river meters from where you sit is sure to get your adrenaline pumping. You can see all this and more on a jumping crocodile cruise on the Adelaide River. Motor along the wildlife-rich waters, accompanied by fascinating commentary about crocodiles and other wildlife from an expert guide.
Along the way, crocs leap out of the water to feast on meat dangled from the boat, allowing an up-close look at these prehistoric beasts, as well as superb photo opportunities. You'll also have a chance to see other wildlife, such as white-bellied sea eagles and whistling kites.
A convenient way to experience this cruise and visit the surrounding wetlands is on the Jumping Crocodile Cruise on the Adelaide River tour from Darwin. This five-hour tour includes pickup and drop-off from your central Darwin hotel and a visit to the Window on the Wetlands Visitor Centre, where you can learn more about the surrounding ecosystems through interactive displays, followed by a visit to the Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve. This wetlands and wildlife sanctuary shelters important bird and reptile species, as well as animals such as water buffalo and wallabies. This is one of the most unique experiences near Darwin.
6. Defence of Darwin Experience
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.
You 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.
Address: 5434 Alec Fong Lim Drive East Point, Darwin, Northern Territory
Official site: http://www.defenceofdarwin.nt.gov.au/
7. Mary River Wetlands Cruise
Beautiful scenery, saltwater crocodiles, birds, and other wildlife are the highlights of the Mary River Wetlands, and you'll have a front row seat on a cruise along these glistening, lotus-topped waters. The wetlands lie about a 90-minute drive from Darwin and are home to one of the country's highest concentration of saltwater crocodiles. Birders will also have plenty to see here-ibis, jabiru, jacana, brolga, whistling ducks, and sea eagles are just some of the species you might spot, and your expert guide will share fascinating facts about the wetlands ecosystem.
An easy way to experience this natural attraction is on the Corroboree Billabong Wetland Experience from Darwin. This full-day tour includes a stop at the Windows on the Wetlands Visitor Centre, a 2.5-hour cruise on an open-sided boat, a delicious lunch, as well as hotel pickup and drop-off.
8. Crocosaurus Cove
Crocosaurus Cove, in the heart of the Darwin city center 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, you can always feed the crocs, hold a squeaking baby croc, hang out with the barramundi and sawfish in the aquarium, or linger at the Top End Turtle Billabong. This urban wildlife adventure is a top spot for those who can't make it out into the real wilderness.
Address: 58 Mitchell Street, Darwin, Northern Territory
Official site: http://www.crocosauruscove.com/
9. Day Trip to the Tiwi Islands
Friendly hospitality, fantastic fishing, vibrant art, lush rain forests, and tropical beaches are some of the highlights of the Tiwi Islands, just north of Darwin. This is a wonderful way to soak up a dose of unique indigenous culture and enjoy some beautiful island scenery and sightseeing at the same time.
Also known as the "Islands of Smiles," the Tiwi Islands are only a 2.5-hour ferry ride away from the capital. You can also fly to the islands in about 25 minutes, but you need to organize a permit in advance. Bathurst and Melville Islands are the only inhabited islands in the group and are the most popular day trip destinations.
The best way to visit the islands, which are a designated Aboriginal Reserve, is on a Tiwi Island Day Tour from Darwin. Under the care of an indigenous guide, this full-day tour includes round-trip ferry from Darwin; traditional song and dance performances; art workshops such as screen-printing, painting, and carving; a museum visit; and lunch.
Fishing is another popular thing to do on the islands, and if this is your main focus, you can base yourself out of one of the island lodges such as Clearwater Island Lodge, Melville Island Lodge, or Johnson River Camp. Barramundi, jewfish, giant trevally, and golden snapper are among the prized species to catch.
If you're an Aussie Rules footie fan, a great time to visit is during grand final season in March, when footie fever takes over, and the entire community celebrates the sport.
10. George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
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.
Address: Gardens Road, Darwin, Northern Territory
Official site: http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/botanic
11. Darwin Aviation Museum
Aviation aficionados will have a field day at the Darwin Aviation Museum. 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 Darwin after Cyclone Tracy. Videos on aviation and the bombing of Darwin provide a fascinating historical background.
Address: 557 Stuart Hwy, Darwin, Northern Territory
Official site: https://www.darwinaviationmuseum.com.au/
12. Chinese Temple & Museum Chung Wah
Originally built in 1887 for Darwin's sizable Chinese community, the Chinese Temple offers a colorful jolt of Chinese culture on a hot Darwin day. The present building dates from 1977 after Cyclone Tracy destroyed the previous structure, and worshipers visit here every day to practice a blend of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.
The much-loved Museum Chung Wah here illuminates more than a century of history of Chinese immigrants in the Northern Territory. Chinese immigrants came to Australia during the Gold Rush, and the museum's exhibits, including photographs, personal stories, and artifacts tell the story of their important contribution to the community. The bodhi tree on the grounds is thought to be a descendent of the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment.
A great time to visit is during one of the Chinese Festivals or events, especially during Chinese New Year.
Address: 25 Woods Street, Darwin City, Northern Territory
Official site: https://www.chungwahnt.asn.au/
13. Territory Wildlife Park
About 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 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.
After viewing all the wildlife, stop by nearby Berry Springs Nature Park for a refreshing dip in the natural springs.
Address: Cox Peninsula Road, Berry Springs, Northern Territory
Official site: http://www.territorywildlifepark.com.au/
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.
Address: 28 Doctors Gully Road, Darwin, Northern Territory
Official site: http://aquascene.com.au/
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Top End Nature: Darwin makes a great base for exploring some of Australia's top wilderness areas. See our article on Visiting Kakadu National Park from Darwin for ideas on things to see and do in this spectacular region of wetlands, waterfalls, woodlands, and rivers. South of here, you can explore Nitmiluk National Park, a rugged region of plunging gorges carved by the mighty Katherine River. Kayaking, hiking, and wildlife-viewing are some of the top activities here.
Other Outback Adventures: To see more Northern Territory attractions, venture farther south into the Red Centre, where Uluru rises from the red-earthed desert near Alice Springs. About 330 kilometers from "the Alice," you can explore Watarrka National Park. Home to Kings Canyon, the Red Centre's deepest gorge, this diverse national park offers fantastic hikes, abundant wildlife, and fascinating aboriginal heritage.