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Darwin isn’t the city that springs to mind when you think of Australia. Sure the sails of the Sydney Opera House and the street art laneways of Melbourne are the things that probably come to mind. But trust me, Darwin has a lot going on and to make it even better, there are lots of free things to do in Darwin.
Ah, that magical word… free!
This cosy city located at the top of the Northern Territory is every bit as interesting as it is homely. It feels welcoming and familiar but at the same time, full of hidden gems. Darwin is small (you can pretty much drive from one side to the other in about 20 minutes) and crammed into this space are layers of fantastic food, entertainment and stunning views.
So what is there to do in Darwin? No matter how long you’re visiting for, you’ll always find something going on. So here’s my top 30 budget-friendly and free things to do in Darwin and the surrounding areas. Enjoy!
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30 budget-friendly and free things to do in Darwin
1. Stroll along the waterfront
After spending a lot of time in Australia’s Red Centre, I was over the moon to see the sea again. A walk along the waterfront will show you the shiny new side of Darwin and a great place to spend an afternoon. It has a great chilled atmosphere and everything you need for a lazy day in the Darwin sun.
2. Cool off in the Lagoon
If it’s a refreshing dip you’re after then look no further than the Lagoon at the Waterfront. This awesome free swimming spot let you soak in the suns rays on the grass and take a plunge when you can’t take the heat anymore.
3. Hit the waves at the Wave Lagoon
I don’t think it matters how old you are, there’s something brilliant about being thrown about in waves. As you can’t swim in the sea in Darwin, the Wave Lagoon is the next best thing. This is also on the Waterfront and for a mere $7 you can get yourself a ticket and go for a dip in there.
4. Meander along the Esplanade
Although swimming is generally a no-go in Darwin, that doesn’t mean the ocean views are any less spectacular. A walk along the Esplanade will show you the incredible blue waters and some seriously fancy boats as well.
5. Explore the city centre
On the surface, it might seem that Darwin’s city centre is a little on the forgotten side, but there are some great spots to check out. Take a walk over to State Square where you can see the impressive Parliament House and the Supreme Court or Browns Mart which is a thriving arts precinct. If you want to learn about the cultural diversity of Darwin then head to the Chinese temple and museum.
6. Relax in the Bicentennial Gardens
A walk along the Esplanade will bring you right to Bicentennial Gardens. this leafy green space is home to the Darwin Cenotaph and also a great place to relax and take in the harbour views. There’s plenty of shade from trees making it perfect for escaping the midday sun.
7. Get lost in the Botanic Gardens
The full name of these gardens is the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens but I feel like that’s a bit of a mouthful. Nonetheless, whether you’re green-fingered or not, these gardens are beautiful. You’ll find local plants as well as lily ponds and an African garden. There are also BBQs to use and plenty of space to enjoy a picnic if you fancied.
8. Learn about Darwin at the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory
Say goodbye to boring museums and hello to this fantastic (and free) one. Darwin’s museum is full of loads of awesome exhibits such as aboriginal artwork, the Northern Territory’s immense wildlife, it’s industrial history and even a legendary massive croc named Sweetheart. Here you will also learn more about Cyclone Tracey that ripped through the city which in turn lead us to Darwin as we see it today.
9. Join the fun at Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
As Darwin doesn’t really get winter as us Europeans know it, it’s pretty toasty all year round making it great for outdoor events. Mindil Beach is Darwin’s famous beach and all throughout the winter months between the end of April till the end of October. Here you’ll find live music, heaps of food and over 100 stalls of arts and crafts to grab a souvenir or two.
10. And don’t forget to watch the sunset actually on Mindil Beach
Whilst the market is awesome and I was drawn to the lights like a moth, don’t miss watching the sunset on Mindil Beach itself. Sure it will be busy but watching the sunset over the ocean is always awesome!
11. Watch a free movie under the stars at the Waterfront
As I’ve said, Darwin always seems to have something going on and when I was there they were running one of their free open-air cinema nights. These take place down on the waterfront where they put up a huge screen and speakers. So BYO chairs and snacks and enjoy an alfresco movie! Check out the events page on the Waterfront website here to see when the next one is.
12. Explore the Nightcliff foreshore
Nightcliff definitely feels a little more on the hidden gem side of Darwin with more locals stopping by than tourists. Nightcliff is a great spot to visit for a walk along the foreshore or a swim in its famous pool. Here you will also find an outdoor gym (if you’re trying to be good whilst travelling – I’ve given up) and a variety of food trucks (something I definitely haven’t given up) and also the jetty which is a good fishing spot.
13. Have a beach nearly to yourself (probably) at Lee Point
If you’re wanting a quieter sunset experience with locals then Lee Point is where you should go. This beach was brilliantly close to where I was staying and no matter what time I visited there were very few other people there. It’s perfect for a walk along the sand during the day or sunset at night.
14. Admire the fancy houses and boats at Cullen Bay
Want to go and look at all the things you can’t afford? Visit Cullen Bay. Jokes aside, it really is a beautiful and peaceful area to go and relax. It’s the shiny high-end suburb but there are great places to eat and it’s well worth a look around. It’s also another fantastic spot to watch the sunset.
15. Dodge the crocs and go for a swim at Casaurina Beach
The awesome team and volunteers at Darwin’s surf life-saving club at Casaurina Beach bring you the chance to swim in the sea each week in the dry season. Every Sunday they run the Surf Life-saving club where kids can learn the skills to help out people in the water and to make this possible, the team clear a section of the sea to ensure there are no crocs or jellyfish around. This makes it possible for not only the kids to get in the water, but anyone else who fancies a swim too. They also stay out in the water on boats to constantly patrol the area. So this is your chance to break the rules and swim in the sea in the NT!
16. Have a Sunday sesh on Mitchell Street
If you like hunting out a happy hour then Mitchell Street is where you’ll want to head to. This street is full of bars and pubs and is lively no matter what time of day you visit. If there’s one thing that you should know about Australia is that Sunday drinks are very much a thing and Mitchell Street gives you plenty of options to find a nice cold beer.
17. Ride water flumes for free at Leanyer
Yes, that’s right, Darwin has it’s very own free waterpark! Leanyer Recreation Park is pretty awesome as far as freebies go, with a big pool, a splash area and 2 pretty big flumes to throw yourself down. There are also BBQs and covered picnic areas so it’s the place to go on a hot day.
Cheap places to get awesome food in Darwin
18. Have an affordable waterfront dinner at Stokes Hill Wharf
At first, Stokes Hill Wharf might just look like an old boat shed but inside it has been transformed into a buzzing food hall. Here you will find a great range of cuisines to choose from ranging from delicious fresh seafood, burgers and curries. After you make grab your food you can head to the tables outside and enjoy the sea views and even the sunset over the ocean.
19. Eat your way around the world at Mindli Beach Night Market
I love a market but sometimes I go there and do nothing but look around because it’s all too damn expensive. Fortunately, the Mindil markets are not like this! Here you will find food from a huge range of cuisines for great prices. Not sure how to decide? Why not get a little something from a few stalls and have an around the world feast on the beach!
21. Eat (and drink) until you can’t at The Precinct
Located at Darwin’s Waterfront, The Precinct has a great selection of restaurants and bars to choose from no matter what time of day it is. It’s great for everything from a coffee right through to a boozy night of craft beers at the Precinct Tavern.
22. Have lunch with a little bit of luxury at The Boatshed, Cullen Bay
With Cullen Bay being the seriously high-end part of Darwin, you might think all its restaurants will be far from budget-friendly. Wrong! The Boatshed is a beautiful cafe on Cullen Bay marina serving up delicious and super affordable breakfasts and lunches as well as epic smoothies and shakes. Grab a bite and enjoy your food overlooking the marina.
20. Grab a bite from the Nightcliff food trucks
Not only does Nightcliff offer beautiful coastal views, but also great eats too. Nothing is fresher and more comforting than getting street food from people who love what they make. Take a look at the website and map here to find out where the trucks will be.
23. Have breakfast on the beach at De La Plage Cafe
There’s alfresco dining and then there’s alfresco beach dining! De La Plage cafe is a rather understated little cafe at Casuarina beach that serves up far from understated food. The breakfasts here are epic and you can mix and match the items to create exactly what you want. If you’re looking for a feed a little later in the day then they also serve up amazing burgers and grazing platters in the evening for sunset.
24. Learn about Darwin and soak it all in at the Saltwater Cafe
I’ve mentioned it above but the Darwin Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory really is a great museum to visit. But after you’ve spent the morning learning all about this great little city, don’t miss out on the gorgeous Saltwater Cafe around the back. They cook up a great selection from lighter bites like quiches and chips to bigger meals and the most incredible homemade juices.
Things to do around Darwin on a budget
25. Get scarily close at the Original Adelaide River Jumping Crocs Cruise
Want to get up close (but not too close, don’t worry) to the most notorious creature of the Northern Territory? The Original Adelaide River jumping crocs cruise offers just this! Just 30 minutes outside of Darwin and you can jump on a little boat and watch these creatures out in the wild. The tour guide was awesome too and full of the knowledge of these beastie creatures.
26. Delve deep into Kakadu National Park
Kakadu is a tricky place to visit if you’re not in a 4×4 but if you are, you can reach some amazing places. Think top pools of waterfalls, incredible hikes and some of the best preserved Aboriginal Art and you’ll get an idea of what there is to see.
27. Swim your day away in Litchfield National Park
Oh my goodness, if there’s one national park that I have fallen in love with in Australia, it’s Litchfield. Be prepared to spend the day in your swimmers as you drive from water hole to waterfall before spending the night right next to one, just to top it off. This national park is super easy to drive around and no problem at all for a 2 wheel drive vehicle.
28. Sleep next to a waterfall at Nitmiluk National Park
Just below the more famous Kakadu national park, you’ll find the beautiful Nitmiluk national park. The highlight of Nitmiluk is its huge gorge which you can explore on a number of different tours. If you’re looking for a super budget option then spend the night next to the beautiful Edith Falls and enjoy a refreshing dip in the plunge pool. There is also a fantastic trail that will take you through the trees to the top of the falls, perfect for a morning walk.
29. Soak in the views at Katherine Gorge
Katherine Gorge is massive, beautiful and something you shouldn’t miss. If you’re wanting to do an overnight canoe tour then this is the perfect place for it. If, however, you’re not feeling quite so energetic, take one of the walks to the top of the gorge and breath in the fresh air and spectacular views.
30. Take a blissfully warm dip at Katherine Hot Springs
Yes, taking a dip in hot water in Darwin might sound crazy, but it’s too darn nice to miss. These hot springs are natural and just incredibly peaceful to float around in. You can even follow the gentle cascade down a few levels and immerse yourself in the forest. Bliss!