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Are you planning a trip to Darwin but don’t actually know what to expect? This was me right down to the T. I had done no research, had no expectations and most of all, was not expecting to absolutely love it there.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Darwin is the most underrated city in Australia! A weekend in Darwin had well and truly shown me that people are missing out – don’t be one them!
Honestly, it’s a haven for foodies, market fanatics, sunset lovers and freebie fanatics. Yes that’s right- this city is super budget-friendly. Hello happy backpacker purse strings! There’s so much you can fit into a weekend in Darwin too. With its small size, everything is pretty compact meaning you won’t have to drive far to get to see a lot.
So, if you’ve not yet sunk your teeth into the great things this Northern Territory capital can offer, then this is perfect for you. Here’s my guide to spending 3 days in Darwin that will leave you bragging about it to your friends.
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What’s the weather like in the dry season in Darwin?
The dry season in Darwin runs from May to October and from what I’ve been told, is far more bearable in terms of humidity than the wet season. Tom and I visited Darwin in June and it was hot but the lower humidity made it fine for walking around. For us, it was the perfect time to visit as before we continued on our road trip.
How to spend a weekend in Darwin: your 3 day Darwin itinerary
Park up along the northern end of the Esplanade and take a walk along to soak in the incredible colour of the sea. If you’ve travelled to Darwin from the Red Centre like I had, you won’t have seen the ocean for a while so this will be a welcome sight for you! As you walk along the Esplanade you’ll pass through Bicentennial park where you can see the USS Peary war memorial to honour a ship that was bombed and sunk just off the coast in 1942.
Carry on walking along and you will walk through Parliament House and by the Supreme Court. They’re pretty impressive in a way with perfect greenery surrounding them, but carry on a bit more and you’ll find the newest part of Darwin.
The Waterfront is the buzzy shiny part of Darwin and it’s great no matter what time of day you visit. Here you will find breweries, restaurants and cafes, all with great views over the water. Before you tuck into some lunch, take a dip (for free) in the lagoon and cool off. The Northern Territory is generally a no-go for swimming due to the saltwater crocodiles but this section is completely enclosed.
After a bite to eat at the Waterfront, drive over to the Botanical Gardens and lose yourself in the gardens. You can download an app and scan the QR codes on the signs to follow a route and learn about the many hundreds of plant species that grow there. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours just mooching around here.
One of Darwin’s most famous events is the Mindil Beach Winter Night Markets so you have to check them out. Grab a couple of beers first and go down onto Mindil Beach to watch the sunset. It will be busy but watching the sunset over the ocean is one of the beautiful things about being on Australia’s west coast.
In the market, you’ll find a whole host of stalls, entertainment and treats to keep you entertained. If you’re looking for something different to buy as a souvenir you may well find it here. I also saw an awesome band play at the market which involved a drummer and a sort of beatboxing digeridoo player – it was definitely different!
The Mindil Night Market is a great place to grab your dinner as well. There’s a huge selection of cuisines to choose from but Tom and I opted to try out the awesome Roadkill Café. I’m not sure exactly where the food comes from, given a name like that, but what I do know is their kangaroo and crocodile burgers are delicious.
Darwin’s history is something that is not widely known by people travelling around, but it plays such an important role in how Darwin is today. To learn more about it, spend the morning in the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, an awesome free museum where you can learn more about the animals that live in the area, its history of pearling and also the devastation that Cyclone Tracy. You might have noticed just how new Darwin looks as a whole and this cyclone is the reason why. The whole of Darwin was basically wiped out on Christmas Eve of 19x and has, therefore, had to be rebuilt.
Behind the museum, you’ll find the fab little Saltwater Café. They do some awesome food and it’s in a great spot overlooking the sea. I recommend one of their drinks of the day which are always delicious.
After having a refreshing beverage, drive over to Cullen Bay. This is the really swanky part of town full of waterfront houses, incredible boats and some fantastic places to eat. For lunch today, go to The Ship and enjoy some waterfront dining overlooking the fancy boats. Feel free to feed the fish using the crackers too!
To burn off some of your delicious lunch and, if you’re like me, to bring out the big kid in you, take a dip in Darwin’s free water park. Yes, that’s right, a free water park! Leanyer is a fantastic way to escape from Darwin’s heat and it even has a couple of water slides to go down.
If hawker-style dining is your kinda thing then you’ll love Stokes Hill Wharf. This awesome place looks like a humble old boat shed perched on a pier at the waterfront, but inside you’ll find a host of food stalls. From seafood to Indian cuisine, there’s plenty to choose from and with tables outside, it’s a great place to watch the sunset too.
If there’s one thing that’s usually a big no-no in the Northern Territory, it’s swimming in the sea. Thanks to the massive saltwater crocodiles that live there, you usually can’t go in. However, every Sunday in the dry season, the De La Plage Surf Life Saving club hold swimming lessons for kids. Before the sessions start, the staff spend a few hours dredging the edge of the water for jellyfish and are constantly on the lookout for crocodiles whilst people are in the water. So now is your chance for a swim! The beach here is beautiful as well so it’s well worth a trip here even if your trip doesn’t fall over a Sunday.
After taking a dip or a stroll, do not miss out on breakfast at the De La Plage cafe. The food is insanely delicious, super fresh and you get a huge plate of food. I opted to build my own breakfast with sourdough, salmon and poached eggs. Perfect!
Just to get a bit more of the incredible sea views of Darwin, spend your afternoon doing the walk between Nightcliff and Casuarina. It’s a 12km return walk so make sure you take plenty of water and sunscreen, but it’s an easy walk that will take you right along the water. If you don’t fancy walking it, I still recommend spending time in both of these places as the views are fantastic. Nightcliff is also known for its food trucks, too if you fancied a snack.
If there’s one thing I took away from Darwin is how much of a community feel the city has. It’s one of those places where there seems to always be something going on but in a really accessible way for everyone. The waterfront is a great place to end your 3 days in Darwin. Take a look the Waterfront website here to find out about free events they have going on. When I was visiting they had a movie under the stars night and it was great! Simply turn up with your chairs and movie snacks and sit back for free.
To finish your weekend in Darwin, make your way to the Precinct next to the wave pool at the waterfront. This bustling place is full of pubs, breweries, cafes and restaurants so you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to dinner. Think delicious seafood, local beers and a whole lot of it!