The city of Darwin, also known as the Top End of Australia, is the capital of the Northern Territory. I’ve never lived in such a controversial place. The more you live here the more you fall in love with its vibe. Isolated, outcast, tropical, and surrounded by deserts. Yet, it leaves a unique imprint among the lucky souls who come visit. It gazes out confidently across the Timor Sea, but you won’t be able to swim here unless you are looking for a closer encounter with deadly jellyfish and salties, as the Aussies call the salt water crocodiles.
Nature is truly part of Darwin’s charm. The national parks of Kakadu and Litchfield are only a few hours’ drive from the city and the Tiwi Islands – home to the Tiwi Aboriginal people reachable only by daily organised tours – are just a boat-ride away.
Time in Darwin is slow. Locals spend their weekends fishing for barra (barramundi) or bathing in swimming pools with an esky (cool box) full of beer. We arrived here during our budget 4wd road trip around Australia and we ended up staying for a few months. If you are you looking for tips on things to do in Darwin Australia, here’s our insider tips on (almost) free things to do in the city.
Things to do in Darwin, Australia
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
The Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are probably the thing that we missed the most after leaving Darwin. Hippy vibes, rhythmic live music, performers, acrobats, and food… here you will find almost everything you can desire − Thai, Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese, Malaysian to Brazilian, Greek, Portuguese, Italian and more ($6 to $12 a serve – try as much food as you can!). But also arts and crafts stands with handmade jewellery, fabulous rainbow tie-dyed clothes, hula hoops, Aboriginal artifacts, and products from Asia and Indonesia. As the sun heads towards the horizon, the locals head to the beach with tables, chairs, rugs and a bottle of good Aussie wine to admire the colourful display of the tropical sunset. Mindil Beach is just a 2 km pleasant walk from Darwin’s city centre, but you can also hop on buses 4 or 6. Free entrance.
Located just five minutes’ walk from the city centre, the Darwin Waterfront offers a large area where to relax and swim in a croc-free protected lagoon. Cafè, restaurants and bars are open to enjoy a coffee, a long breakfast, a dinner or an evening drink. Many events are planned during the year. My favourite is the free Deckchair Cinema where, during the dry season, you can enjoy a film under the stars. Local eateries also operate pop-up food stalls and fresh beers!
Admire the beginning of wet season
If you ask the locals what’s the best time to visit Darwin they will certainly answer ‘wet season’ (October to March) when the landscape is tropical and lush, there is an abundance of fish and the prices are low. Of course they forget about the extremely high humidity level and the cyclones. If you ask us, we’d say get there between the dry season (April – September) and the beginning of the wet season (October – March). Planning your visit in October you’ll be able to catch the last glimpse of the Mindil Sunset Market and beach parties vibe and, at the same time, admire the spectacular lightning storms that light up Darwin’s skies at the beginning of the wet season.
Swim in the tropical oasis of Berry Springs Nature Park
This wonderful waterhole is the closest to Darwin city and it’s extremely popular, so we highly recommend an early mid-week visit to fully appreciate the beautiful series of spring-fed swimming holes shaded by pandanus palms. Relax in its calm turquoise water listening to the sounds of nature and of the abundant native birds, you can thank us later! And don’t forget your goggles. You’ll be surprised by the range of marine life that call these pools home. Swimming, during the wet season, may be prohibited (croc matters). Facilities include a kiosk, a picnic area with BBQs, toilets and showers. Free entrance.
Discover Litchfield National Park
Litchfield is Darwin’s perfect getaway as it’s only a 90 minute drive from the city. Tropical waterfalls, amazing rainforests and safe swimming holes (or at least, salt-water crocodile free!). Here’s where you head for a relaxing camping weekend. Our favourite spot was a hidden gem near the Wangi Falls. How to reach it? Swim across the lake – and be quick… it might be salties-free, but small freshwater crocs can still be around during the wet season – and climb the rocky wall beside the smaller waterfall. You will discover a hidden pool carved in the rock. Chill in there for a while and emerse yourself in the surrounding nature, your soul will seriously benefit from it. On the right side of the Wangi Falls a beautiful walking track (1.6km return) takes you through lush monsoonal rainforest to the top of the fall, for a perfect postcard picture. If you are looking for the thrill head to the Florence Falls, a double-plunge waterfall where people are practising incredible dives into the crystal clear swimming hole. Here starts a gentle walk that leads you to the Buley Rockholes, a series of rock pools that has water cascading through them, the perfect place for a picnic. To see Litchfield at its best avoid the weekends, when all the locals head there and the park gets pretty crowdy. You can camp at Wangi Falls, Florence Falls and at the Buley Rockholes. Caravans are only allowed at Wangi Falls, but there are no powered sites. If you have a 4WD there’s also Sandy Creek (Tjanyera) Falls, Surprise Creek Falls and – our favourite – 4WD camping area downstream from Florence Falls. Campsites usually charge a small fee, while the entry into Litchfield National Park is free.
Take part to the Darwin’s nightlife and beach parties
Darwin is one of the best places to party in Australia. Here the party never stops. From Tuesday nights at the Nirvana listening to acoustic live jam sessions to crazy Friday nights and $5 drinks at Throb. Thursdays are Ladies Night! The Wisdoms has great live music on every day, the Chilli’s Backpackers serves cheap drink to travellers from all over the world and the Shenannigans Irish pub offers the best Sunday Sesh. Then there is the rave scene. But to find out where the wild secret parties are you need to know the right people! Venues alternate between Mindil Beach, the quarries and the esplanade. Great DJs, massive sound systems, BYO and a lot of youths raving under the stars, from sunset to sunrise!