Visiting 11 Best Attractions in Darwin
Arriving at Darwin
Our journey continued to Darwin, which was a mere 115 km away from Litchfield National Park. Although the drive was short, it took us some time to select the right caravan park. We were eager to extend our stay, as the weather was finally warm, and there were many attractions to explore in Darwin.
Eventually, we found a fantastic caravan park with three pools and an inflatable jumping pillow that Nell really enjoyed. After setting up camp, we headed to the town for dinner.
It was a surreal experience to be back in civilisation after spending time in the wilderness. The taste of urban life was strong and more appreciated, having been away from it for a while.
Darwin – first impressions
My initial impression of Darwin was very positive. As a capital city, it’s smaller than others I’ve visited, but it has a unique and relaxed charm that’s typical of the tropics. Many of the old buildings have been well-preserved, and I’m certain they have countless stories to tell.
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There were so many things to see and do in Darwin that it was challenging to decide where to begin. We had promised Nell a swim, so our first stop was Wave Lagoon, located in the modern Darwin Waterfront precinct.
They had an abundance of blow-up pool floats and boogie boards, and my daughter enjoyed herself so much that she refused to take a break for a meal. We spent the entire day there, immersing ourselves in the atmosphere and enjoying the water.
#1 Mindil Market
During our conversations with the locals, we discovered that one of the top attractions in Darwin was the Mindil Market. It’s renowned for its delicious food, live music, and breathtaking sunset views, making it an experience not to be missed.
The market is held twice a week, on Thursday and Sunday evenings. And we were lucky enough to arrive on a Sunday!
The market is set up in a stunning fig park, adjacent to a picturesque sandy beach. Despite the abundance of birds perched in the trees, their chirping was drowned out by the captivating sounds of Aboriginal music, laughter, and even a whip cracking.
I’d never seen anything quite like this market before, and I was thoroughly impressed.
Let’s add to the picture stalls with delicious smelling food and beautiful handcrafted items for sale, and my picture will be complete.
But that’s not the whole truth about Darwin’s Mindil Market. There are many more attractions to enjoy, such as Aboriginal art, shows featuring numerous performers, and the biggest show of all—the sunset.
Mindil Market beautiful sunset
After sitting on the beach for a while, watching the sunset, we wandered among the stalls. Aboriginal people played on clap sticks while the air was filled with the aroma of spices and the promise of amazing taste.
The red and orange hues of the setting sun bathed everything in a warm glow. I already know where we’ll be next Thursday evening – Mindil Market is truly one of the best attractions in Darwin.
#2 Crocodylus Park
When I think of Darwin, I immediately think of saltwater crocodiles, often called ‘salties.’ These infamous creatures always intrigued me, and I finally got a chance to see them up close at one of the best attractions in Darwin – Crocodylus Park.
They were massive, and just looking at them sent shivers down my spine. However, my daughter Nell was delighted and not afraid at all. As for me, I didn’t feel too comfortable being separated from a 4.5 m crocodile by piece of glass fence.
But Crocodylus Park isn’t just a crocodile attraction. They also have a zoo, and after seeing the crocodiles, we went for a walk to see other animals such as cassowaries, emus, ostriches, peacocks, snakes, dingoes, kangaroos, wallabies, monkeys, and many more. If you have a small kid than it’s a fantastic place to spend the whole day.
Salties infamous stories and statistics
Some of the enclosed crocodiles at Crocodylus Park have a rich history behind them. For example, there’s ‘Harry,’ who used to raid fishermen’s boats and damage their engines, mistaking the heat he felt for a wild pig or some other buffalo.
In addition to the crocodiles, there were plenty of other animals in the zoo, and Nell was delighted as she ran from one to the next. The Crocodylus Park museum was also interesting, with numerous stories and photos on display.
According to statistics, there have been 68 fatalities due to crocodile attacks in the past 40 years. Of these, all 25 attacks that occurred while swimming were fatal, leaving no chance of survival. Four attacks on boats were fatal, and only one happened in a kayak. By the way, who would even want to kayak in crocodile-infested waters? Just asking…
It was shocking to learn that one of the crocodiles had killed eight people before being caught and eliminated. Some of the photos in the Crocodylus Park museum were equally disturbing, such as a watch that had been retrieved from the guts of a captured reptile. Additionally, we discovered that every year, around 200 crocodiles are removed from the vicinity of Darwin and relocated to more remote areas, as these animals are under strict protection.
It’s not hard to understand why there are so few people by the shore, and why the beaches around Darwin are often deserted, given these facts.
You can learn more about salties from our article: Infamous Australian Saltwater Crocodile.
#3 Crocosaurus Cove
The next day, we started off by swimming in the lagoon, and then Nell had a blast jumping around in the bouncy castle (just to be clear, it was for her, not us). She kept going back for more until she finally got tired (hard to believe, right?).
After that, we all enjoyed a refreshing lunch before heading to Crocosaurus Cove, located in the center of Darwin.
At the beginning of our visit, we had the opportunity to take pictures with a young crocodile. I have to admit, I felt a bit uneasy when I touched its cold body, although its surprisingly soft skin (especially on the stomach).
For the first time w2e had the opportunity to see crocodiles swimming underwater, in large tanks. And crocks were huge – 5 meters long one made a particularly strong impression on us.
Nell, as usual, was fearless and enjoyed the experience, but I felt uneasy in the company of these powerful creatures. After observing the crocodiles underwater, it was time for feeding. It was quite a spectacle to see these beasts emerge from the water to snatch a piece of meat.
We learned that due to the climate, there are many crocodile-related attractions in Darwin and the surrounding areas. This is an excellent opportunity for visitors to learn about these impressive but intimidating creatures before venturing out into the wilder parts of the Northern Territory, such as Kakadu National Park.
One of the crocodiles, called Burt (5.1m), who once appeared in the movie “Crocodile Dundee”, decided that the piece of meat he was offered was not enough and followed a woman so persistently that she had to hide behind a security wall. Apparently, he has a reputation for being aggressive towards women.
Next, we witnessed the feeding of a sawfish and it was quite a spectacle. It simply sliced its prey in half and used its nose, which acts as a sharp saw, to cut the fish into pieces.
Amazing Archer Fish
Later on, we watched an archerfish show. We had already seen these clever fish in the Roper River in Mataranka. They patiently wait for an opportunity, and when a bug flies over, the archer releases a high stream of water (up to 2 meters high) to knock off the bug with a spit.
During the show, the fish keeper held a bug with tweezers a meter above the water, and the fish sprayed it with water with ease. It was quite a sight!
Crocodile attack – our neighbour’s story
After returning to our campsite, we chatted with our neighbors who had just come back from fishing. They proudly showed us their catch, including my favorite fish – the Barramundi. During our conversation, they shared a frightening story of their friend who was almost attacked by a crocodile a few days ago.
Apparently, the saltie had jumped out of the water and tried to grab the man’s arm while he was in the boat. Luckily, he managed to escape without any harm. Such terrifying crocodile stories are common among locals in Darwin.
I couldn’t help but rethink my plan of catching a Barramundi after hearing this story.
#4 Pioneer’s Cemetery
There are so many attractions in Darwin that sometimes we did not know what to choose but this time we went on a city sightseeing trip and first we visited a cemetery from the late 1800s.
What surprised us was the graves of people from many different cultural backgrounds, indicating the diversity of the city’s early history. The cemetery is situated in a beautiful tropical park.
The plaques on the tombstones indicated that a lot of young men drowned there and were buried in the cemetery. This really surprised me. Knowing that swimming is not safe here, why were there so many drowning incidents?
I’ve done some research and learned that at the time, Broome and Darwin were the world’s most significant pearling ports. Now the picture was clear – young men were divers retrieving pearls!
#5 Botanical Gardens
Later, we went to the nearby botanical gardens. The gardens were full of lush vegetation. We were especially impressed with the stunning, huge trees. One of the visiting women even lay down on the bench to embrace it in full. We were hoping to meet the python again, but unfortunately, we didn’t encounter any animals.
The park is big and beautiful, full of tropical, colorful plants like heliconias, frangipani, bananas, and many more. It was great to stroll peacefully around.
Next, we went to see Darwin’s skyline from the eastern side of the city. It was a lovely view – with azure water, empty beaches, and green palms.
The warm sand and water were so inviting, but unfortunately, swimming was prohibited (for obvious reasons).
#6 Darwin Harbour sunset cruise
One day we were planning to go on a Darwin Harbour cruise. We decided the best time would be to go on a sunset cruise which we assumed should be spectacular. I don’t know what causes such beautiful sunset colours in Darwin. Possibly the angle of the sun, as we are already very close to the equator. I can add that it was a wonderful warm evening, with no wind and we also enjoyed a free glass of champagne. This was a simple recipe for great memories.
Returning to the port, we saw the city skyline at night, which also made a great impression on us…
I think it was the best day so far in our trip and Darwin Harbour Sunset Cruise will be our favourite among the best attractions in Darwin (not counting Mindil Market)
After this day, I’m ready to move to Darwin.
Darwin enchanting charm
It is already the 7th day in Darwin, and we are starting to feel a bit lazy with the tropical weather and laid-back lifestyle. Although we should start preparing to hit the road again, Darwin is so captivating that we have decided to stay a little longer.
Despite what some people say about Darwin being boring with nothing to do, we are proving them wrong. We have already listed our top 11 attractions in Darwin, but there is still more to see and do.
Mindil Market – my awesome new canvas hat
Today, we visited the parks surrounding the outskirts of the city. In the evening, we returned to the Mindil Market, where I made a promise to myself to purchase a handcrafted hat made from the used canvas of the massive road trains.
I had a lot of fun choosing a hat because each one was unique and different. Two older gentlemen helped me select the perfect one by commenting on all the hats I tried on. In the end, we all agreed on the one that suited me best, since the mirror wasn’t very big. Later on, the sunset was stunning as always, and we enjoyed the beach at low tide, glistening with wet sand in the red setting sun.
#7 Territory Wildlife Park
As we hadn’t visited a zoo or seen any animals in the last two days, we decided to check out the Territory Wildlife Park. We were expecting typical zoo enclosures, but were pleasantly surprised.
The park is located about 50 km outside of Darwin and covers a massive area of 400 hectares. We walked a total of 4.5 km to see a variety of animals, including kangaroos, wallabies, birds, parrots, snakes, echidnas, emus, bats, and crocodiles.
One highlight of the park was a wild billabong surrounded by bush and thousands of white and maroon water lilies.
We saw many birds of various colours and sizes around the billabong and even spotted a freshwater crocodile basking at the water’s edge. The Territory Wildlife Park was a great addition to our list of attractions in Darwin.
We also had the opportunity to experience what the wet season looks like in a staged storm. Nell was terribly afraid of thunder and flashes, but she liked the rain. We saw many interesting birds that, to our surprise, were just as interested in us as we were in them.
Territory Wildlife Park is definitely a must for everybody visiting Darwin with kids.
#8 Darwin Museum
Next day we made an ambitious decision to visit the Darwin museum. Nell was immediately drawn to the different bugs displayed under the microscope. It looked really funny as she had to stand on a chair to reach the microscope and adjust one binocular as the other was too wide apart for her eyes.
We were impressed by the vast collection of mosquitoes, grasshoppers, butterflies, and other insects. It’s a great way to get kids interested in science!
In the meantime, we put together a beautiful puzzle of a woman from the 17th century and painted a snake based on an engraving from a book. These activities were really exciting, but they could be tiring for a 3-year-old child.
For lunch, we had delicious fish and chips. The barramundi had a delicate and crunchy coating, and was served with a fluffy sauce, thinly sliced fries, and lettuce with dried tomatoes covered in balsamic vinaigrette. We enjoyed our meal on the outdoor patio, surrounded by magnificent views of the bay where sailboats glided gracefully. Life seemed almost surreal in moments like this.
Darwin is so “cold” today
The only drawback is the weather. It is “only” 26 degrees! Locals say it’s unusual and hope the temperatures will return to 30 degrees soon. Darwinians…
Sweetheart – infamous saltie
Darwin Museum is also home to a famous crocodile named Sweetheart. Don’t be deceived by the name – Sweetheart was a notorious creature responsible for a series of attacks on boats in the 1970s.
Sweetheart was finally caught alive but drowned when it became tangled with a log and ropes. The crocodile’s stuffed body is now on permanent display in the Darwin Museum. It measures over 5 meters long and looks really impressive.
Now, Sweetheart is one of the main attractions in Darwin when you visit the Darwin Museum.
Lets talk now about the famous cyclone Tracy, I highly recommend visiting the Cyclone Tracy exhibition at the Darwin Museum.
On Christmas Eve 1974, Cyclone Tracy hit the city of Darwin and left only a few buildings standing, destroying over 80% of people’s homes. The damage was so great that the entire population had to be evacuated. 71 people lost their lives, while more than 20,000 were evacuated by military and passenger planes, and the rest received gas vouchers and had to be evacuated by road.
Afterwards, all roads to the city were closed and the big clean-up began. There is a small, dark room with pre-recorded cyclone sounds where visitors can experience what it might have been like to be trapped in the basement, surrounded by a deadly cyclone.
After visiting the exhibition, I left with a strong realisation that I would not want to live in a danger zone.
Saying that, since 1974, houses have been rebuilt using different technologies and are now designed to resist Category 4 cyclones with expected wind speeds of 250 km/h.
Despite this, the memory of Cyclone Tracy’s destruction still lingers, and I can understand why some people might be hesitant to live in Darwin.
#9 Fannie Bay Gaol
The next day, we visited Fannie Bay Gaol, an old prison located on the picturesque bay shore. The surroundings were breathtaking, and it’s no wonder that the location was highly sought after.
However, the prison’s history was sobering. It operated from the end of the 19th century until 1979, and out of 11 death penalty cases, eight were executed. The last execution was in 1952 of two men who were hanged for killing a taxi driver and stealing his car.
While the execution trapdoor still exists, the gallows themselves are no longer present, likely due to the destruction caused by Cyclone Tracy, which blew the roof off the building where the executions were carried out.
Darwin dress code
Let’s change the topic. In almost every entrance to the store is a sign: “no shirt, no shoes – no service”. In our restaurant we have a similar sign: “after 7 pm we require covered shoes”. It seems that because it is so hot in Darwin, people would enter the shops or restaurants naked if there was no sign at the door…
Sightseeing the old town in Darwin
We were “very” slowly preparing to go to the wildest places in Australia. After we leave Darwin the next bigger city will be Perth 4500 km away.
We scheduled car service for the morning and went to see the old town – a few a few historic buildings or rather what still stands after cyclone Tracy made major changes to Darwin CBD.
Town Hall was destroyed and only the entrance was preserved. Fortunately, the admiralty building has survived which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful buildings. It was intact despite the fact that it is located only a few hundred meters from the cathedral which was also seriously damaged.
It is a white, beautiful building situated on the edge of a cliff, and the azure sea. The house is beautifully integrated with the lush tropical garden, and surrounded by a white picket fence. I was charmed.
Darwin – a place to taste the best Asian influenced food
Australia has opened up my taste buds to cuisines from all over the world! Thai cuisine has become my favorite with its perfect balance of sweet and sour flavors topped with lots of coriander.
In Darwin, aside from the delicious kangaroo steaks that we’ve grown accustomed to, they also serve crocodile sausages and camel pie (although we haven’t mustered up the courage to try it yet).
We discovered an excellent chef at the restaurant in our caravan park and have become regulars there. Recently, we had a feast during Sri Lanka night. It was a buffet-style dinner that allowed us to try a variety of dishes.
My favorite was the “devil’s octopus”, which was spicy but had an excellent taste thanks to the exotic spices used (I couldn’t even identify them). Nell was quite upset that even her favorite curry was too spicy for her, only the rice was not too hot.
Darwin controlled burning to avoid big fires
One morning, a bushfire broke out in the area surrounding our caravan park, and we ended up inhaling the smoke that carried a strong smell of eucalyptus. Ashes were also falling around us, and we were worried about how to clean our trailer from the soot later. Even at night, the moon had a red hue due to the dense smoke in the air.
We learned that controlled bush burnings are done regularly in the area towards the end of the dry season, when the vegetation is extremely dry, to prevent large-scale wildfires. Hopefully, this would keep the fires from raging too intensely.
#10 Indo Pacific Marine reef exhibition
The next day, we went to one of the closest city attractions in Darwin – the Indo Pacific Marine reef exhibition. In a small pool, 40 years ago, an enthusiast set up a reef that, according to the information provided, does not need any human intervention except for adding rainwater for evaporated one.
In the middle of the pool, there was a place where large fish swam and were cleaned by smaller fish. Such a car wash in the fish world. We also saw an unusual fish (angler fish) that looks like a fossil, but it was just an appearance.
The angler fish sits crouching somewhere at the bottom, but when it smells the food, it bounces with its “paws” and quickly grabs the prey in its mouth.
We were also told where to buy fresh fish straight from the fishermen. And the best part was hearing that the sunsets in the dry season are not as popular with the locals.
Apparently, the best sunsets are in the wet season when you can see lightning bolts striking the mountains made of iron. This is something that would definitely make a wet season sunset worth watching.
During the tour, we were offered a taste of an exotic fruit called jackfruit. We later learned that it is the largest fruit that grows on trees. When served, it looked like small orange bulbs and had a flavor resembling a combination of mango and carrot.
Then, our guide gave us a few different leaves to try. One of them was natural sandpaper, which he warned us not to confuse with toilet paper.
The leaf was so rough and stiff that we decided to do a test on a roadside wooden post and confirmed that it actually works. Apparently, Aborigines still use it to this day.
#11 Darwin Oil Storage Tunnels
Another highlight on our list was the tunnels where oil was stored during World War II. The Oil Storage Tunnels are located beneath the cliffs of Darwin, just a short walk from the city centre and the Esplanade.
During World War II, Darwin was bombed by Japanese air raids in 1942 and 243 people lost their lives. In response, Australia made the decision to build bomb-proof underground tunnels beneath Darwin city for storage of oil and other critical supplies. The tunnels were built by hand and took three years to complete.
Today, visitors can explore the tunnels and learn about their fascinating history.
The tunnels are worth seeing because they are huge and can hold hectolitres of oil. There are 5 of them but supposed to be 8. Before they finished building them the war was over!
Currently, we could see only two oil tunnels, although only one can be entered and the other one is flooded. Apparently, back in the 1960s, Qantas (the local airline) wanted to lease it for oil storage but had only enough reserves to fill it knees high and abandoned the project. They did not need that much oil, and they did not think how much it would cost in several decades. I think visiting Oil Storage Tunnels is definitely among the most interesting attractions in Darwin.
And of course, we had to end the day on the beach… Nell didn’t want to eat anything, only swim, and then… swim, and later on for difference – swim.
Visiting 11 best attractions in Darwin – summary
Darwin is indeed one of the best places in Australia to visit if you love the tropics and wilderness. If someone tells you that Darwin is boring, that is simply not true. It is an amazing place to stay for a longer time and explore its hidden gems.
This article only covered part one of our Darwin sightseeing adventure. We shared the 11 best attractions in Darwin, but there is so much more to see and do.
In our next article, we will take you on a journey around Darwin to places like Crab Claw Island, Berry Springs, and Mandorah. We will also share our experience on a wild crocodile cruise. Stay tuned for more!
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is the best time to visit Darwin?
The best time to visit Darwin is in the dry season between May and August. The temperatures are still around 30 to 35 degrees but there is not much humidity. Moreover, there is not a single drop of rain at that time so it is the perfect time for the holiday.
What are the best attractions in Darwin?
For us travelling with a small 3 years old child, it was Mindil Market, Darwin Harbour Sunset Cruise and Crocodylus Park. However all attractions in Darwin we listed here are worth visiting.
Is there any place in Darwin for safe swimming?
Wave Lagoon is one of the best swimming attractions in Darwin. This natural sea swimming pool is enclosed with metal barriers so no saltwater crocodiles can come inside. The area is monitored 24/7 and safeguards are present.
The Wave Lagoon has different wave patterns and there are a 20 minute break between each cycle. The water is shallow on the edges with the deepest point up to 2 meters.
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GPS Navigator or compass
Maxtrax – if you get bogged, you can use it for additional traction
Tire Deflator – deflate tires quickly when going on dirt or 4WD
Air Compressor – inflate tires quickly after going back on bitumen (we use MM)
Tire Repair Kit – to fix the tire by yourself when you don’t have access to the tire shop (we use Oztrail)
UHF Radio – for communication with your mates and in emergency
Full Recovery Kit (with Dampener Blanket) – must-have if you are going on real off-road
High Lift Jack – useful if you do serious 4WD tracks
Shovel – useful if you get bogged, also good for campfire cooking
Fuel funnel with water filter – additional protection when fueling up in dodgy places
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