Things to do
Explore the cultural heritage
For over 40,000 years the Top End has been home to the Aboriginal people of Northern Australia. Stories of this past can be found in the art, songs and language of the many communities scattered around the Territory today.
If time allows, you can visit galleries in Mangrida, the Tiwi Islands, Katherine and Oenpelli. However there are a number of excellent galleries in Darwin showcasing both contemporary and indigenous art with flair and respect for the artists.
In the late 19th Century pioneers from Europe and South East Asia began to settle in the region. Then, when gold was discovered by parties working on the Overland Telegraph, people from all around the world came to seek their fortunes.
The Chinese were at the forefront of this venture to a new world. Many thousands came with their families and quickly established their own communities mainly focused around mining and trading. Modern Chinese in Darwin are very proud of their heritage and involvement in the birth and growth of such a magnificent multicultural city.
For more information on Darwin’s numerous museums and galleries go to the Arts, Crafts and Culture page.
Explore the city
Although Darwin is over 100 years old, the majority of its buildings stem from the 1970’s. The city has been almost destroyed not once but twice. First by the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese in World War 2 and only a few decades later by Cyclone Tracey in 1974. This ferocious cyclone destroyed more than 70% of the city’s buildings. Only some of the original stone buildings remain. Many of the new buildings constructed as part of the redevelopment project have a distinctive modern style (known as ‘Troppo’) and there is also a strong Asian influence.
Historical buildings and sites
You can take a 5 minute stroll from the Darwin CBD to see Lyons Cottage on the corner of Knuckey St and the Esplanade. This colonial stone building now houses a fascinating collection of photographs of early Darwin. The Browns Mart building in Smith St was an early emporium. It has seen a variety of occupants and is now the home of the Browns Mart Theatre. The old Police Station and Court House have also been painstakingly restored.
Burnett House is a fine example of early tropical architecture and is now protected by the National Trust. Come and enjoy tea, coffee, cakes and scones on a Sunday afternoon in the drawing room or on the veranda where you can enjoy a view of the beautiful gardens and harbour.
George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
These stunning gardens can be found on Geranium Street, just north of the city centre. The 42 hectare grounds include a vast array of naturally occurring estuarine and marine plants. As you wander along the paths you will encounter floral displays, a water fountain, palm trees, boab trees, cycads, a rainforest walk plus a plant display house containing orchids, bromeliads and a variety of other tropical and exotic plants. You can even follow the boardwalk through the mangroves to the Museum.
Visitors are well catered for with barbeque facilities and amenities. The former Wesleyan Methodist Church is a prefabricated church that was designed and built on Knuckey Street in 1897 making it the oldest church building in the territory. It was moved to its new home at the Garden Road park entrance in 2000.
Eat, drink and be merry
With people from over 70 different ethnic backgrounds calling Darwin home it is no wonder that there is a mind-boggling selection of delicious food readily available. You’ll find numerous restaurants, cafes and take-away stands throughout the city. Thanks to Darwin’s location and tropical climate many venues offer outdoor dining with stunning scenery where you can enjoy freshly caught seafood, indigenous and modern Australian food including meats such as kangaroo and crocodile as well as your pick of international cuisines.
The Mindi Beach sunset markets are famous for their fine selection of Chinese and Thai dishes and the Waterfront Precinct is also a mecca for food lovers. Head down to Nightcliff jetty on a Saturday night and grab dinner from one of the take-away food stalls. Here you can relax in the cool breeze after a busy day and soak in the colours of the sunset on the sandstone cliffs.
You’ll find plenty of other markets to explore at Berry Springs, Parap, Rapid Creeks and Palmerston. Going further afield almost every town has its own market featuring local artisans and produce.
It seems as though there is a festival on somewhere in or around Darwin almost every week, especially during the dry season. This is hardly surprising as there is so much to celebrate in such a diverse city. The various cultural communities love to showcase their music, art, food and heritage by staging popular events such as the Greek Glendi Festival, the Persona Indonesia Festival and the various indigenous fairs and festivals. The Darwin Festival and the Darwin Waterfront Soiree bring together the best of all the local communities for many fun-filled days of entertainment.
Alongside these multicultural events are art and craft, music, film and even fishing festivals. All of these simply prove that the locals love to party and you are all invited.
Water, water everywhere
Darwin Wharf Precinct
The waterfront and wharf precinct is full of things for everyone to enjoy The Stokes Hill Wharf and Cruise Ship Terminal enclose a large man-made lagoon which in turn surrounds a beautiful area of green lawns, palm trees and a very popular artificial wave pool. With its fabulous eateries, public spaces and magnificent harbour views, the waterfront is truly the heart of the city.
It is the venue for many of Darwin’s festivals and events but even during ‘quiet’ times there is always lots of music and entertainment for young and old. You can even cast a line from the jetty while taking in a glorious sunset over the water.
Just a few steps away from the main waterfront area is the Indo Pacific Marine. Here you will find amazing natural marine displays that give an up-close look at the ecosystems that exists in the coral reefs in Darwin Harbour. Each marine display is a self-contained eco-system requiring no filtration or feeding.
You will be able to observe a number of rare and unusual species in their typical environment without needing to don any diving gear. Day tours are run by experienced guides and the night tours include a delicious seafood meal served indoors with a view of the harbour or out on the balcony.
The waters around Darwin Harbour and the surrounding coast and waterways are famous for providing excellent fishing opportunities, especially for Barramundi, Saratoga, Jewfish, Golden Snapper and Coral Trout. The abundance of fishing clubs and competitions show the popularity of the sport in the region.
You can cast a line from many of the beaches and headwaters but be sure to check the local tides, weather conditions and regulations first. The big Darwin tides can be up to 8 metres so they have a huge effect on the fishing (not to mention your safety).
Often the most productive fishing is done from a boat. You can hire one yourself or take one of the many fishing cruises available. Some tours go for several days, taking in the nearby islands and even offering accommodation packages.
Out in the harbour you’ll find wonderful fishing reefs. Some of these were formed from old ships deliberately sunk and positions to create prolific fish habitats.
Head down under
Beneath the surface of the Darwin waters are some unique historical shipwrecks. During both the bombing of Darwin in 1942 and Cyclone Tracey in 1975 a number of boats were sunk in and around the harbour and lives were lost. Over the years, the ships have been located and many are now under marine protection. There is even an intact World War 2 Japanese submarine signifying just how close the invading force came to capturing the coastline. Some of the wrecks can be explored by scuba divers with restricted permits, and most harbour tour guides will be able to recount the stories of these tragic events.
Aviation and Military history
Much of Australia’s aviation heritage evolved from Darwin and other areas of the top end. As early as 1919 Ross and Keith Smith made their epic flight from England in under 30 days to receive the £10,000 prize money from the British government. Over the next few decades, Darwin became a base for many long distance aviation pioneers including Charles Kingsford Smith, Amelia Erhardt, Amy Johnson and Bert Hinkler.
During World War 2 the military staged a major defence against the advancing Japanese army. Troops from Australia, the USA and other allied countries were stationed in Darwin and many battles were staged in the air and out at sea. In fact Darwin was subject to over 60 Japanese air raids during that time.
After the war, Darwin was for many years an essential stop-over for QANTAS international flights so it developed the infrastructure and industry to support it. These days many essential aviation services have evolved to support people across the top end and neighbouring countries including the Flying Doctor and border protection services. The whole family will be spellbound by the spectacular displays (including a B52 bomber) and more at the wonderful Darwin Aviation Museum.
Qantas Empire hangar and Motor Vehicle Enthusiasts Club
Venture out to Darwin’s original Ross Smith Airport at Parap for a double dose of local history. The original Qantas hangar has survived the bombing of Darwin and Cyclone Tracey and it is now is the much loved home of the Motor Vehicle Enthusiasts Club. These is a fascinating display of vehicles and engines plus a detailed history of the hangar. Visitors are welcome to visit and wander around when club members are present.
Darwin Military Museum and the Defence of Darwin Experience
This extensive museum is located within East Point Reserve. It includes several buildings housing displays of World War 2 and Vietnam War memorabilia, restored weapons and an original powder generating room.
The museum’s most popular attraction is the ‘Defence of Darwin’ experience; an interactive, multi-media audio-visual display. Visitors will feel as though they have gone back in time, immersed in the terror and drama of a simulated air raid.
Oil storage tunnels
For an unusual insight into Darwin’s past, head down near the Wharf Precinct and take a tour of the World War 2 oil storage tunnels. 5 tunnels were actually built and 2 are open for viewing. They now feature a display of photographs of wartime Darwin. Your tour guide will share many intriguing stories and facts from this era.
Crocodylus Park is home to a truly unique wildlife experience. Here you can get up close and personal with crocodiles of all shapes and sizes to learn about their habits and interactions with their environment. The owners and staff have combined over three decades of research to help preserve the various species and to educate visitors about these magnificent creatures.
The park also features a diverse collection of other animals such as monkeys, big cats and snakes in suitable enclosures. You can join a day tour to see the crocodiles being fed and to learn about the extensive conservation efforts and projects. Crocodylus Park is also frequently used for functions and other events throughout the year.