When most people think of Darwin they probably think of cyclones, crocs and the funny headlines of the NT News. But the capital of the Northern Territory is a town with depth – rich in history, culture and fascinating wildlife. There is something to do and see for everyone in the family when travelling to Darwin with kids! This post will outline everything you need to know about Darwin holidays for families.
I lived in Darwin for about 8 years after moving there on a bit of a whim. At first – being single and childfree – I fell in love with the vibrant nightlife and laidback lifestyle. But soon after I met my husband and my stepchildren. It was then that I discovered Darwin is brimming with things to do as a family – including camping, fishing, parks and playgrounds, wildlife, culture and history.
Even after living here for so long, we are still discovering new things to do. We travelled to Darwin last month to visit the big kids. We were surprised at all the new things popping up in and around town – including an awesome playground on the Esplanade and the Big Buoy inflatable water park at the Waterfront. We also revisited some of our old favourites and loved introducing them to little man – such as the Territory Wildlife Park and Aquascene Fish Feeding. We can guarantee you won’t run out of things to do in Darwin with kids – we certainly didn’t!
The people and culture
Darwin is a great base from which to explore the Top End Region. The traditional landowners of Darwin are the Larrakia people and Aboriginal people are the original custodians across the Top End. This is a fantastic place to meet and learn more about our first Australians.
Unforgettable, once in a lifetime destinations in this region include Kakadu and Nitmiluk National Parks, the Tiwi Islands and Gunbalanya. Take a tour run by local Indigenous guides to experience first hand their amazing spiritual connection to the land, see ancient rock art, and hear about their Dreamtime stories.
The city of Darwin itself is very multicultural, with strong Greek and Chinese communities and a prominent influence from its close Asian neighbours. The eclectic mix of cultures creates an atmosphere that is completely unique to Darwin. The city is a virtual smorgasbord of authentic international cuisine. If you take the time to explore the many local markets and surprisingly diverse restaurants of Darwin you will be sure to find something you’ve never tried before. We loved celebrating Chinese New Year on our recent visit. We watched the Chung Wah Society perform lion dance blessings for all the local businesses.
Overall it is the distinct atmosphere of Darwin that makes it a bucket list destination. Wandering through the Mindil Beach markets on a warm evening, watching the sunset, smelling the array of exotic dishes and listening to the sounds of the didgeridoo gives the impression you’re in a completely different country – and right in the heart of Australia – all at once!
There is so much to explore in Darwin with kids that we couldn’t include it all here. Instead, we have provided a comprehensive list of all the attractions and activities of the region that are ideal for family holidays categorised by nature and wildlife; history and culture; and parks, playgrounds and swimming.
In the meantime, we will point out here our absolute favourite must-do experiences:
- Try an authentic paw-paw salad from one of the many local markets. Our favourite is from Mary at the Parap Markets on a Saturday morning.
- Watch the sunset from the Ski Club, Trailer Boat Club or Sailing Club while you enjoy a cold drink on the lawn. The kids will love running around on the grass and exploring the playgrounds. The Trailer Boat Club even has a pool.
- Learn all about the role that the region played in WWII and the devastating bombing of Darwin which killed over 240 Australians and allies. Visit the local historical sites and attractions in the city, including the Darwin Military Museum at East Point.
- Take a Sunset Cruise on the Darwin Harbour – there are several tour operators to suit various budgets including full dinner and drinks packages, or pre-dinner nibbles and the opportunity to BYO drinks.
- Head to Stokes Hill Wharf for dinner with a view (try the Tom Kah Soup). Before you eat, stop in at the Royal Flying Doctor Service tourist facility to learn about two local iconic historical stories and the Indo Pacific Marine attraction for a lesson in the coral ecosystems of the region.
- See the Jumping Crocs at Adelaide River and visit the Humpty Doo Tavern for lunch on the way back. Then just wait to see how many times you notice someone wearing a Humpty Doo Tavern singlet in unexpected locations all over the
- Set aside a day to explore Litchfield National Park and take in the stunning scenery. Enjoy a dip in the refreshing Buley Rockholes and walk the stairs to Florence Falls (if your calves are up to it).
- Catch a performance and enjoy the festive atmosphere and sure-to-impress local talent at Browns Mart Theatre.
- Purchase an authentic Aboriginal painting from one of the local art galleries. It will serve as a memento of your experience in the Top End and create a talking piece for visitors to your home for years to come.
- If you can, time your trip for one of the iconic NT events of the dry season – our picks would be the Darwin Festival or the Beer Can Regatta.
Best Family Accommodation Darwin
There are so many places to stay in Darwin with kids – your options are varied. First you should consider where to stay in Darwin as there are benefits to each location.
A good point to note is that accommodation in Darwin will always be cheaper during the build up and wet season when the town is quieter.
Darwin city is central and close to a number of top Darwin attractions, such as Crocosaurus Cove and the Esplanade. The Waterfront is a short walk (approximately 5 – 15 minutes depending which end of the city you are staying) and Midil Beach and Cullen Bay are a five minute drive. There is a large range of cafes, restaurants and pubs to choose from.
You have a range of accommodation options in the city including hotels, self-contained apartments, AirBnB and even a holiday park. Accommodation is slightly more expensive here, but if you’re after convenience it is a popular choice. You can still find affordable accommodation if you look on the outskirts of the CBD or are willing to forgo luxury.
A popular choice for families, the Waterfront features the wave pool, swimming lagoon and a number of restaurants, cafes and pubs. It is a short walk across to the Wharf and only a five minute walk to the CBD.
You will pay a bit more for the convenience – and accommodation options include hotels, self-contained apartments through sites such as Stayz and AirBnB.
Located a five minute drive from the city (or a very reasonable walk), and close to Mindil Beach and the Darwin Casino – Cullen Bay offers lovely views of the yachts and is close to a number of waterfront restaurants. There are a number of self-contained apartments available here and you can get a little more for your money than the Waterfront or city.
Palmerston is Darwin’s satellite city, located a 30 minute drive from town. It is a great place to base yourself for travel to the northern suburbs (only 15 minutes drive), and places like Litchfield, Berry Springs and Adelaide River. You can find more affordable accommodation options here – including a hotel, AirBnB’s in apartments and houses with pools. And there are enough restaurants, cafes and pubs to keep you well fed.
You can find a number of family friendly holiday parks in the greater region of Darwin, Palmerston and further out at Howard Springs (perfect if you’re wanting to explore places like Litchfield, Berry Springs, and Adelaide River).
General Tips for Travelling to Darwin
The ‘dry season’ is the most comfortable time of year. It generally runs from May to October (although from September the ‘build up’ begins with increasing humidity and no rain). June – August is most pleasant and this is when most of the popular events are held. However, it is also a more expensive time to visit- as it is peak tourist season.
The wet season is still a worthwhile time to visit. This is when you can catch some of the most awe-inspiring storms you will ever see. They rarely last long and usually pass through just once a day which still gives you plenty of time to get out and about. You can get some amazing deals on accommodation and flights – and the attractions will be less busy. It is extremely humid though, so pack and prepare accordingly. If you absolutely hate the heat – especially muggy heat – then you may be best to avoid this time of year.
Hiring a Car is recommended – many attractions are a decent drive from the CBD, and although buses are available, the public transport system is not extensive compared to other capital cities. We hired a sedan on our recent trip – only a few places require 4WD for access. We recommend you check if there is somewhere in particular you want to visit before you book your car but more likely than not you will get around fine in a two-wheel drive.
There are plenty of places to swim in the Top End, but there are also many places that are off-limits due to saltwater crocodiles and stingers. Unless you see a sign that says it’s safe to swim please don’t risk it. But don’t worry – Darwin is not short of places to swim, with many safe man-made and natural picturesque swimming locations to choose from.
Many tourist attractions offer combined pricing specials with other local attractions or tours – these are detailed on their websites, so make sure you check them out before you book.
What to do in Darwin with Kids:
As mentioned, there is so much to do in and around Darwin that I have written three more posts – check them out here!