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How to spend a weekend in Darwin
Planning a short getaway? This is a guide to the best things to do in Darwin.
Despite having a tropical climate that rivals Queensland’s, and as much natural beauty, Australia’s top end is still relatively undiscovered.
For many sun-seeking holidaymakers, the Northern Territory, with its red dirt and blistering outback, doesn't scream 'laid-back holiday destination'.
But there is more to the NT than the desert rocks, rugged gorges and tropical rainforests for which is has become famous.
This nature playground was recently ranked fourth in the Lonely Planet’s guide to the top regions to visit for 2019 and, with a burgeoning food and drink scene, brilliant beaches and emerging arts scene, it’s little wonder travellers are starting to take notice of this shining northern star.
And Darwin is leading the trendy charge, with gentrification transforming the city into a hub of culinary and cultural activity.
From refined restaurants and craft breweries to cultural events, sunset markets and scenic art galleries, there is no shortage of things to do in the up-and-coming tourism hot spot.
Sunsets over Darwin city.
The best things to eat, drink and do in Darwin
Litchfield National Park
It may not be as well known as Kakadu, but Litchfield National Park is just as stunning. Spanning approximately 1500 kilometres of pristine Territory parkland, this nature park boasts everything from misty waterfalls and watering holes to beautiful hikes, ancient gorges and four-wheeled adventure tracks. At just over an hour’s drive from the city, it’s well worth a visit. Stop for a dip at Berry Springs Watering Hole on the way. If you’re looking for a natural encounter that’s a little closer to the capital, Charles Darwin National Park and Holmes Jungle Nature Park are within easy reach of the CBD. nt.gov.au/leisure/parks
Mindil Beach Sunset Market
Get your retail therapy on at Darwin’s largest market. There’s something for everyone, with more than 200 stalls selling everything from arts and crafts to gourmet delicacies. Mindil Beach Sunset Market is on Thursdays and Sundays from April to October. mindil.com.au
There’s nothing like spending a night with the stars, under the stars. Kick back with a cocktail in a comfy deckchair and watch the sun set over the sea before the movie starts. The Deckchair Cinema, operated by the Darwin Film Society, runs seven nights a week from April to November and boasts a cinema reel of box-office hits and family favourites, as well as local and foreign indie films. deckchaircinema.com
Darwin Military Museum
History buffs will be in their element at the Darwin Military Museum, where an immersive Defence of Darwin Experience gives visitors an insight into the event that changed the face of the city forever: the Japanese bombing of Darwin on 19 February, 1942. darwinmilitarymuseum.com.au
Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory (MAGNT)
Check out The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, which overlooks Darwin’s Arafura Sea. The MAGNT is home to internationally renowned artistic, cultural and scientific collections, as well as the annual Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards – the most significant celebration of its kind in Australia. magnt.net.au
Ride the wave without worrying about crocodile encounters at the waterfront’s coolest attraction: the Wave Pool. Here, you can get out your boogie boards and doughnuts and have a swell time or, if you’d prefer to soak up some sun, pull up a banana lounge or pick a spot on the lawn. Alternatively, entry to the nearby Leanyer Recreation Park, which boasts pools, water slides, skate parks, toilets, showers and barbecue facilities, is free. waterfront.nt.gov.au
They say you should never smile at a crocodile, but what about going swimming with them? Get up close and personal with some of the largest saltwater crocs in Oz at Crocosaurus Cove, where brave adage-breakers can take on the Cage of Death – a spine-tingling underwater experience that puts you right into the jaws of the terrifying reptiles – from the safety of a glass cage, of course. crocosauruscove.com
If you’re looking for an unforgettable cultural experience, you can’t go past a day tour to the Tiwi Islands. A 2.5-hour ferry trip will land you on Bathurst Island for a guided tour, where you will get to experience life in a modern Aboriginal community, learn about local traditions and rituals, and watch as local artisans create their world-famous art. sealinknt.com.au/tours/tiwi-day-tour
PM Eat & Drink
When it comes to dining, Darwin is not short on mouth-watering restaurants. And PM Eat & Drink is a local favourite. The modern, share-style Australian diner is all about simple dishes that showcase local ingredients. Don’t miss their char-grilled octopus with a side of watermelon and feta salad. pmeatdrink.com
Fresh is also the flavour of the day at Chow, a casual fusion restaurant dishing up all your favourite southeast Asian eats. We’re talking five-spice chicken breast barbecued on a lava stone grill, caramelised fish clay pots, sugar cane prawns and Thai-style oysters with lemongrass, lime, ginger and chilli. chowdarwin.com.au
You say oysters, we say get in my belly. And if there’s one place to get shucked in Darwin, its Oyster Bar. With its prime waterfront location, this is the ideal spot to relax with a glass of bubbles and oysters served any way you like them – raw, smoked, steamed, stewed, baked, fried or even roasted. Plus, there’s an epic selection of flavours to cater to global tastebuds – from chilli and cheese to Thai, panko and everybody’s fave – Kilpatrick. oysterbar.com.au/darwin
Is there anything more satisfying than a scoop of gelato on a hot day? A double scoop. Especially when it’s from the masters at Johnn Johnns, whose delicious range of flavours features everything from ice-cream classics to exotic tastes such as durian, pandan, taro and coconut, and strawberry balsamic pannacotta.
Exploring a new city is thirsty work and, thankfully, Darwin’s CBD is brimming with watering holes of a different kind. The Precinct, a waterfront tavern and craft beer hall, is one of those. This family-friendly venue boasts sport on the big screen, unpretentious meals and one of the best beer lists in the city. theprecincttavern.com.au
Stop in at this circus-themed gastropub for a meal and wash it down with a pot of amber nectar from local One Mile Brewing company. The breezy harbourside hangout in Cullen Bay, with its quirky interior and sprawling undercover decked area, is the ideal spot for laid-back arvo sips, a relaxed lunch or a cheeky game of pinball. lolas.net.au
Stone House Wine Bar
If you prefer bubbles over brewskis, Stone House Wine Bar & Kitchen is the place to get your chardon-yay on. With a selection of fine wines from around the world, as well as some of the best boutique Aussie drops, you can rose all day at this upmarket CBD wine slinger. They’re also carving delicious cheeses so plonk yourself at one of the garden tables and settle in for a serious wine and cheese session. stonehousedarwin.com.au
Get into the true-blue spirit, literally, at Snapper Rocks. This cheerful waterfront watering hole is a celebration of all things Aussie, with a focus on showcasing craft Aussie distillers, brewers and roasters. Pull up a picnic table on the lawn and soak up some rays and some G&Ts. snapper.rocks