There’s no destination quite like Darwin. Filled with attractions and things to do, and infused with an endearingly rough and ready charm, the NT capital never ceases to surprise visitors. From giant crocs in the CBD, to exotic markets and fire breathing sunsets, be prepared to be wowed as you explore the gateway to the Top End.
Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Darwin. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.
8.30am: Head out on a guided heritage walking tour
For much of the year in Darwin it’s all about getting out early and beating the heat, and Walk Darwin’s heritage walking tour is a first-thing-in-the-morning well spent. This city has one of the most tumultuous histories of any in Australia, and much of it is on display in and around the CBD. See references to the deadly bombing of Darwin by Japanese forces on February 19, 1942 and subsequent attacks, and the scars left by Cyclone Tracy in 1974 – including the remains of the century old Palmerston Town Hall and surviving stone portico of the Christ Church Cathedral. You’ll also see Government House (built in 1870), alongside more modern structures like Parliament House and the Northern Territory Supreme Court.
10.30am: Immerse yourself in local history and culture
To delve deeper into some of the stories told on your tour, you have a selection of delightfully air-conditioned options to choose from. Most of them require a short Uber ride. Those interested in learning more about the night Tracy struck should head out to the excellent Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT). It’s about 10 minutes’ drive from the CBD and has a superb presentation on the devastating cyclone and its aftermath. While you’re there, say g’day to famous Sweetheart – the 5.1-metre stuffed saltwater crocodile that once had a penchant for outboard motors.
Not far from there, Darwin Military Museum at East Point covers the bombing of Darwin in detail with artefacts, photographs and film. Closer to town, the Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility on Stokes Hill Wharf (behind the Waterfront precinct) offers a virtual reality presentation on the Japanese attack, which is absolutely gripping. This is a must-do. You’ll also learn about the work of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in the Territory. Back in town, free guided tours of Parliament House depart on Wednesday mornings (excluding December and January).
1pm: Connect with Indigenous culture
There’s no shortage of private galleries and stores around Darwin displaying and selling Aboriginal art, but it’s worth sussing out those that wholly support the Indigenous community. Housed in historic Lyons Cottage, the not-for-profit Aboriginal Bush Traders is one such venture. Run by the Ironbark Aboriginal Corporation, the shop sells a fabulous array of arts and crafts and quite often there are artists onsite. A fair price is paid for the work and surplus funds are invested back into a range of social programs. The café serves a menu of bushfood-inspired snacks, so grab a bite to eat.
3pm: Meet the crocs at the Cove
Despite his impressive dimensions, saltwater crocodiles can actually get even bigger than Sweetheart, and have remained largely unchanged for millions of years. Learn more about this apex predator at Crocosaurus Cove, which is located smack bang in the heart of the town. Meet Wendell and Chopper (the second and third largest crocs in captivity in the country), along with plenty of slightly less formidable specimens. Peak experiences at the Cove include the Big Croc Feed VIP behind the scenes tour, and the chance to be lowered into a crocodile pool at feeding time in the Perspex confines of the Cage of Death.
5pm: Do a sunset dinner cruise
The sunsets in Darwin are legendary, especially during the dry season when dust from southerly winds and the smoke from burn-offs create a hazy palette of rich reds, oranges and yellows on the horizon. There are lots of great spots around the city to watch the show, but one of the best is from the water. Sail Darwin operates a three-hour sunset champagne cruise on Darwin Harbour on board a luxury 50-foot catamaran. Enjoy bubbles and a BBQ dinner on deck, or retreat to the cool sanctuary of the saloon.
9pm: Take delivery of a nightcap
Little Miss Korea on graffiti emblazoned Austin Lane is one of Darwin’s hottest eateries, and even if you’re not up for the full dining monty, you can get a taste of the action and a killer nightcap at The Loading Bay – the restaurant’s gin and cocktail bar. It’s a nod to the fact that this was all once the backend of a supermarket.
9am: Burrow in for breakfast
Good cafes come and go in Darwin and sadly a few beauts have dropped off the perch in recent times. That said, you can’t go wrong at The Rabbithole, located roughly half way down The Mall. Pull up a pew in this shadowy burrow and enjoy a great brekky, accompanied by bean juice from Melbourne roaster St Ali.
11am: Ride an airboat
There are endless adventures to be had beyond the city limits, and those with more time on their hands can sign up for full day tours to Berry Springs Nature Park, Corroboree Billabong, sublime Litchfield National Park, and even Kakadu National Park and West Arnhem Land (where tour operators arrange your permits and transport). But for just a taste of the wild blue yonder, climb on board with Darwin Airboat Tours for a one-hour spin around the harbour and its mangrove forests. Spot crocs, sharks and more, and prepare to get down and dirty.
1pm: Chill out at the Waterfront
Having put yourself back together and donned a fresh t-shirt and shorts, you’ve earned some ‘me-time’ in and around the superb Darwin Waterfront Precinct. Providing year- round safe swimming, visitors can splash down in the wave pool, relax by the sand fringed lagoon, chill out beneath swaying palms with a good book, or feast on super-fresh seafood at the Oyster Bar or super-slick Wharf One Food and Wine. This is what a holiday in the tropics is all about!
4pm: Make for the markets
Well rested and sun kissed, don something flowy and make your way over to Mindil Beach for the uber popular Sunset Markets. The markets take place from late afternoon on Thursdays and Sundays during the dry season, and encompass some 300 stalls offering artisanal products and a world of cuisines. As sunset approaches, obtain a tub of tucker and head down to the beach to watch the distant glowing orb slip slowly into the tranquil Timor Sea.
Need a place to stay? Quality Hotel Darwin Airport has a resort feel and offers contemporary air-conditioned accommodation, a tropical-style pool and poolside bar, and complimentary Wi-Fi. The hotel enjoys close proximity to Mindil Beach and is just a 12-minute drive from the CBD.
Cover image – Tourism Australia/Nicholas Kavo
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.