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Darwin: Essential Info

Updated: December 2021

OVERVIEW

Darwin is an interesting and relaxing place to visit. It's a tourist orientated city, so everything is set up to help you enjoy the trip, and it's small enough that you can get around with ease.

The weather is usually very hot (30° and above) but it's almost always sunny, just take note of when the wet season is if you want to avoid the storms or if you want to visit so you can see the natural world really come to life. Safety is something to be aware of, and not just because of the heat, but because of the crocodiles that may be lurking in the water.

Take a look through our list below of all the essential information you will likely need before visiting Darwin and you will be ready for an incredible holiday.

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Darwin Essential Info

 

Getting Around Darwin

Walking

Darwin is a small city and it's city centre area can be walked from one end to the other in 15min, so it's an easy place to get around by walking to all the attractions in this area - heritage buildings, the Waterfront precinct, Crocosaurus cove - and Aquascene is another 5min walk beyond.

The heat and sun is something that must always been contended with in the Northern Territory however, so you will want to limit the distances you cover, especially during the mid to late afternoon.

If you can avoid or tolerate the heat, there are a few other attractions you could walk to from the CBD. Mindil beach, the botanic gardens, Cullen bay, and MAGNT, are all under 3km from the city centre.

Bus

Buses are the only public transport option in Darwin and you may want to use it to get to a few of the attractions that are outside of the city centre. It's a short journey to Mindil beach or MAGNT, a bit further to reach East Point Reserve, and a little beyond that to get to the airport and Nightcliff. Note that the bus can take a little while to get to the airport (there is no direct service) and Nightcliff / Casuarina though.

Ticketing: -

You can use the bus service by buying a single paper ticket on the bus which gives you 3hr of travel for $3. A $7 paper ticket will give you all day travel, or you could buy a Tap and Ride card that gives you either 10 individual 3hr trips or 7 days unlimited travel, for $20.

More information can be found by clicking this link: -

nt.gov.au/driving/public-transport-cycling

Hop On Hop Off Bus

Big Bus have a hop on hop off tourist bus that does a loop around the city centre and up to MAGNT. Tickets are from $38, so it's can be expensive just as a transportation option, but if you want to go to lots of the destinations on the route in one or two days, it can be good value, especially if you appreciate the on board commentary and the view from the top deck.

Darwin cycling.jpg

Cycling in Darwin © Tourism NT

Cycle and Scooter

Cycling in Darwin is hampered by the hot weather (it's usually over 30°), but it is a relatively convenient way to get around. There is an extensive cycle path network made up of shared footpaths and the most common use for you as a cyclist would be to ride to those attractions just outside the city centre like Mindil beach, MAGNT and East Point Reserve.

You can also take up the option of cycling as a transportation device to make the most of the fantastic geography of the city and good weather by cycling along the coast line, visiting the bays and checking out the many beaches. Just perhaps aim to do most of your cycling in the morning or evening.

More information about cycling in Darwin can be found if you click this link: -

nt.gov.au/driving/public-transport-cycling/cycling-and-walking/cycling-and-walking

Bikes can be hired from up to 8 different Spinway locations in the city centre. More information is available at their website - spinwaynt.com.au

Scooters can be hired as a pretty convenient way to get around to the same 'harder to reach' attractions mentioned above. They also have mountains bikes for hire. More info at this link: - thescootershop.com.au

E-scooters can be hired through Neuron using an app and collecting them at several "virtual parking" locations across the city. More information at this link:-

darwin.nt.gov.au/getting-around/e-scooters-trial-e-bikes

Taxi / Uber

Uber and Taxis both operate in Darwin and offer a comfortable air-conditioned way of getting around with the distances to many of the attractions being relatively short.

Taxis can be hailed on the street or from a taxi rank - there is one at the Knuckey Street end of Smith Street, and on Mitchell Street at night on weekends.

Driving

Having your own car is not necessary if you only plan to visit attractions in or around the city centre and / or take tours to the places further afield. However, if you want to self drive to places like Kakadu, Litchfield, or one of the hot springs, having your won vehicle will give you the greatest flexibility to go where you want, when you want. Just note that there are certain areas of the national parks that are only accessible to 4x4 vehicles, including the most impressive waterfalls in Kakadu.

Car Rental/Share car

Darwin has all the major international car hire companies with outlets at the airport and on the edge of the city centre. You can also find Australia / NZ operators like Ace and Redspot, plus local operator JJ's.

There are no car share companies operating in Darwin, but you can hire peoples personal cars through car sharing apps.

If you're planning on going off-road, check that the rental agreement allows this.

Orientation

 

This link has a useful tourist map of Darwin and others for the NT: -

northernterritory.com/plan/maps

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Restaurant in Darwin © Tourism NT

 

Food In Darwin

Darwin has an array of quality food to try and plenty of outdoor locations to tuck into your food whilst you take in an ocean view.

 

Due to it's waterside location, the seafood is something to look out for. You can also find a range of Aussie foods like Crocodile, Kangaroo, Camel and Buffalo.

Aboriginal bush foods can be found at Aboriginal Bush Traders on Smith Street, including at their cafe once the renovations at Lyons Cottage are complete.

Mindil Beach Sunset Market has a bunch of street food vendors for you to pick from before taking your food down to beach to enjoy the sunset. Stokes Hill Wharf, part of the Waterfront Precinct, is another street food location to check out for eating by the ocean.

If you want to cook your won seafood, you can pick up something fresh at Darwin Fish Market.

Darwin Gourmet Tours offer 3hr walking / grazing food tours.

For more info on food in Darwin, try this link: -

australia.com/darwin-and-surrounds/best-places-to-eat-and-drink

This link will show you some fine dining options - 

northernterritory.com/darwins-signature-dishes - whilst this link will show you some cheap eats - australia.com/darwin-and-surrounds/best-cheap-eats

Darwin Shopping.jpg

Shopping in Mindil Market, Darwin © Tourism NT

 

Shopping In Darwin

The Darwin CBD and the markets are the best places for shopping in Darwin. You can find Aboriginal art and souvenirs, Pearls, luxury Crocodile skin products and lots of locally made arts and crafts at one of the markets such as the Mindil Beach Sunset Market.

Click this link for some more information about shopping in Darwin: -northernterritory.com/darwin/shopping

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Events in Darwin © Tourism NT

 

Events In Darwin

The following are the major events that take place in Darwin: -

  • Darwin Festival takes place over 18 days in August and comprises of live concerts, theatre, dance, workshops, comedy, cabaret, film and more.

  • Darwin Fringe is a community driven arts festival held in July over 10 days and is the biggest platform for local Top End acts.

  • Noonamah Tavern Rodeo is a classic outback rodeo held at a tavern about half an hour south of Darwin. Expect bull riding, horse riding, motocross bikes, live bands and more during a single night of entertainment. The last time this was held it took place in September, but click the link to find out next years date.

  • Tiwi Islands Footy Grand Final and Art Sale takes place at the end of March and showcases the Tiwi islanders love of AFL, and their artistic talent. You can get to the islands on the SeaLink ferry.

  • Darwin Pride Festival is the Northern Territories LGBTQ+ annual event that takes place over several days in September. Expect music, dancing, burlesque, art, and all sorts of fun activities, including family events.

  • Territory Day on July the 1st is to celebrate the day that the NT got it's independence from the commonwealth. They celebrate with fireworks, concerts and community events.

  • Darwin Beer Can Regatta is a fun annual event that comprises of teams who have built themed boats out of beer cans and race them along the water at Mindil beach. There are a bunch of other competitions like sandcastle building, tug of war, and throwing contests, all taking place across a few morning hours.

  • The Wet Season is a natural event that brings monsoon rains to Darwin from November to April. This brings with it an abundance of beauty and life in Kakadu National Park and other natural areas that makes January and February a particularly notable time to visit the area, even if it may rain a lot whilst you are there.

There are plenty more events to explore. Check out this link and see what events are on during your visit - northernterritory.com/darwin-and-surrounds/events

Darwin Nightlife.jpg

Nightlife in Darwin © Tourism NT

 

Nightlife in Darwin

The hot weather makes a beer taste even better in the NT and Darwin has a decent nightlife because of it. The action is centred around Mitchell Street in the city centre where a host of bars and clubs can be found. Other notable places for a drink include the Waterfront precinct and Mindil Beach Casino and Resort. Check out this for a list of different bars and clubs in Darwin.

 

Weather

The weather in Darwin is hot - very hot. It's almost always over 30°C and without much cloud cover to save you from the searing heat of the sun. There are two seasons - the wet season and the dry season.

 

The wet is from November to April and has high humidity and tropical rain storms. January and February are the wettest months and are a good time to visit if you want to see nature flourish and the waterfalls running at full strength. Spectacular lightning storms can be seen from October to December.

The dry season, from May to October, has lower humidity and dry sunny days.

Click here for more info on Darwin's weather.

 

Best Time To Visit Darwin

The dry season during Australian winter time is the most comfortable and predictable from a weather point of view, and it's also when most of the major events are held, so May to October would considered the best time to visit Darwin.

If you want something a bit more adventurous though and are interested in seeing Kakadu or other wild areas flourishing with life, you should consider a visit during the wet season, particularly in January or February.

Darwin safety.jpg

Safety in Darwin © Tourism NT

 

Safety

Darwin has a few safety concerns that are different to most other inhabited areas of Australia. They are as follows.

The Sun is always hot in Darwin. Make sure you; drink plenty of water; slip, slop, slap; dress accordingly; and stay out of the heat as much as you can.

Wildlife, particularly crocodiles, is something to be very careful about when in the outdoors or near any bodies of natural water. Check online for any warnings about specific spots, always follow any signage on the site, and if in doubt about an area, just avoid it altogether. Avoid disturbing any wild animals, small and large, including the kangaroos, emu, buffalo, camel, pigs, horses, etc you may see.

 

Box Jellyfish converge on Darwin's beaches from November to May, so avoid swimming at these times - refer to warning signs at the beach.

Darwin is prone to the occasional cyclone which is evidenced by the destruction caused by cyclone Tracey back in 1974 that is covered at the Museum and Art Gallery NT. The season for cyclones is from November to April. Check the news on the TV or radio for any warnings and advice.

If you go out drinking in Darwin city centre, be careful not to overdo it on the cheap drinks and take the usual precautions to avoid getting into any trouble.

See this link for more information about safety aspects in the NT.

 

History

The area now occupied by Darwin has a human history dating back over 60,000 years with the Aboriginal people of the area being the Larrakia (Saltwater) people. The Aboriginal culture remains strong in the Northern Territory, stronger than anywhere else in Australia, so it's a great place to encounter and learn about the oldest continuous culture in the world through art, performance, guided tours and more.

Darwin harbour, named after famed botanist Charles Darwin, was explored in 1839 by British colonists. The town, originally named Palmerston, was then founded in 1869 with just 135 people but grew further after gold was discovered at Pine Creek in 1871 during the construction of the overland telegraph line from Port Augusta that connected Australia to the rest of the world.

Many of the immigrants to Darwin in the 1870's were Chinese, who worked in the goldfields. The White Australia policy starting in 1901 led to many leaving, but some stayed and became Australian citizens. You can find out more at the Chinese Temple and Museum.

 

The town was re-named Darwin in 1911.

World War 2 was notable for Darwin as it was the scene of "Australia's Pearl Harbour" when Japanese forces launched a bombing attack on the unprepared city in 1942. Dozens more bombing raids struck the city between 1942 and 1943. Learn more about this at the WW2 tunnels attraction and at the military museum.

On Christmas day in 1974 Cyclone Tracey devastated the city by killing 71 people and destroying 70% of the buildings. 30,000 people had to be evacuated by being airlifted to safety whilst the city was rebuilt. You can learn more about this event at the Museum and Art Gallery NT where a harrowing recording of the 250km/hr winds can be listened to.

Read more at the Wikipedia entry here - wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Darwin

Kakadu NP.jpg

Kakadu National Park © Tourism NT

 

Where Next?

Darwin is right at the top of the Northern Territory and a good jumping off point for a number of incredible trips that take you through some classic outback Australian landscapes.

 

Kakadu - Whilst already mentioned in our 'Things to do' list, it is special enough, and worthy enough of a multi-day trip, that we need to state here that Kakadu is the top place to visit when venturing out from Darwin.

Arnhem Land - Beyond Kakadu is Aboriginal owned Arnhem land, which can only be visited with a permit or on a tour, both needing a 4x4 vehicle. You can get to know the landscape through the eyes of an Aboriginal tour guide who will show you the land in a way you could never imagine by yourself.

The Ghan - One of the great train journeys of the world, The Ghan is a pricey and luxurious journey that travels for several days between Darwin and Adelaide or Alice Springs, making a few stops along the way for an excursion.

The Kimberley - West of Darwin and the Northern Territory, just over the border in Western Australia, The Kimberley is an iconic outback area full of adventure, wonderful natural landscapes, and remote cattle stations. The Gibb River Road is a 4x4 trip (no sealed roads through here) and you should allow at least a week.

Road Trip - WA, Alice Springs and Uluru, or Queensland, are all great destinations to take an outback road trip. Give yourself a couple of weeks and you can find yourself on an incredible outback journey full of amazing landscapes and interesting characters.

Need info on 'How to get to Darwin?' or 'Where to stay?'

Go to the second page of our travel guide for the full run down.

Or, go to page 1 to discover all the 'Things to do'.

AUTHORED BY

Christopher Jubb, Founder of Travel Unpacked

More information available on our About page

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