Darwin has a fascinating history which has shaped the town and its people. It is a history that is defined by ancient Indigenous beginnings, it’s tragic bombing during World War II and the devastation of Cyclone Tracy. There is no shortage of ways to explore Darwin’s history – with real-life relics scattered around the region and many tourist facilities dedicated to its major events.
Darwin is also a great place to explore the cultures of the region and to purchase authentic Aboriginal art. There is something for all the family here – both children and parents are guaranteed to learn something new in this vibrant city.
Here I have listed some of the key historical and cultural attractions in and around Darwin city for your family to visit. For an overview on travelling to Darwin with kids or a list of activities related to nature and wildlife check out our other posts!
Defence of Darwin Experience – Darwin Military Museum
Located at scenic East Point, this powerful interactive experience offers an opportunity for families to learn about the contribution of the region during WWII and the devastating bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942. The facility also exhibits artefacts, weaponry and photographs from Australia’s defence history. Both at the museum and throughout East Point you can see real life artillery, bunkers and buildings from the war.
If you have a keen interest in Australia’s defence history you will find more remains from WWII displayed at Berry Springs Nature Park, Charles Darwin National Park, and Casuarina Coastal Reserve. Adelaide River war cemetery is also located just over an hours drive from Darwin. The Darwin Cenotaph located on the Esplanade commemorates Australian servicemen and women who have served in conflicts throughout Australia’s history. Last but not least, check out the WWII Oil Storage Tunnels near the Waterfront for more lessons in this period of Darwin’s history.
Cost: Adult $18 Children (5 - 15 years) $8 Open: Seven days, except some public holidays (opening hours vary for dry and wet season). Located near: Lake Alexander, East Point playgrounds, walks and bike paths, Fannie Bay Gaol, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Aquascene Fish Feeding Learn More: http://www.darwinmilitarymuseum.com.au/about.html
Fannie Bay Gaol
This is a great free activity for the family which is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Make sure you schedule it into your travel itinerary to ensure you don’t miss out. The Fannie Bay Gaol was Darwin’s main prison from 1883 until 1979. Its fascinating history is on display at the grounds including information on the last executions held in 1952.
Cost: Free Open: Wednesdays and Saturdays 10.00 am - 3.00 pm Located Near: Lake Alexander, East Point walks and bike paths, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Defence of Darwin Experience, Parap Markets (Saturday mornings year round) Learn More: https://www.magnt.net.au/fannie-bay-gaol
Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility
At the Stokes Hill Wharf you will find the Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility. Here you can experience two iconic historical stories through incredible technology. The kids’ attention is sure to be held as Darwin’s history is shared through holograms, virtual reality, interactive storytelling mini-ghosts, and real-life full-sized replicas. The attraction covers two stories, including the bombing of Darwin Harbour in WWII and the history of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Cost: Adult $26 Child (6 - 12 years) $14 Open: Seven days 9.30 am - 6.00 pm (varied hours for public holidays) Located Near: Stokes Hill Wharf, the Waterfront (including the wave pool and recreational lagoon and restaurants), the Indo Pacific Marine facility. Learn More: https://www.rfdsdarwin.com.au
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
This museum showcases the fascinating history, natural sciences, and art of the region. The Cyclone Tracy exhibition features relics, photographs and an actual audio recording from the night of the infamous event. The cyclone hit on Christmas Eve 1974, killing 65 people and devastating the city. Sweetheart, an infamous 5-metre long crocodile which harrassed people in dinghies at a local fishing spot in the 1970’s is on display and sure to capture the kids’ imagination. The museum cafe has beautiful beachfront views – or you can pop over to the Ski Club just opposite for a relaxed drink while the children play on the lawn.
Cost:Free Open: Everyday 10.00 am - 5.00 pm Located near: Ski Club, Darwin Casino, Cullen Bay, Fannie Bay Gaol, East Point Reserve, Darwin Military Museum. Learn More:https://www.magnt.net.au/magnt
Aviation Heritage Centre
Located about 15 minutes from Darwin CBD, the Aviation Heritage Centre houses huge and impressive aircraft including a B52 Bomber, F-111C Strike Fighter, the wreckage of a crashed WWII Japanese Aircraft and rare footage from the city’s bombing. The size of the B52 will astound and makes the centre worth a visit on its own.
Cost: Adults $15 Children (under 12) $7 Open: Every day 9.00am - 5.00 pm Located Near: Crocodylus Park, Charles Darwin National Park, Leanyer Water Park Learn More: https://www.darwinaviationmuseum.com.au
Mbantua Aboriginal Art Gallery
Instead of buying another tacky t-shirt or stubby cooler from a typical gift store – take home some affordable artwork as a memento of your travels. I always pop into Mbantua Art Gallery when I’m visiting Darwin. It is conveniently located in the Smith Street Mall and it stocks a large range of stunning artwork and affordable giftware from local Indigenous artists. On our latest trip, I bought some lovely cushion covers made from fabric printed with paintings by NT artists Lena Pula and Jeannie Mills Pwerl. This is a great place to buy quality gifts and importantly royalties go back to the artist and their community.
Located Near: Smith Street Mall, the Waterfront, the Esplanade playground, Aquascene Fish Feeding, Crocosaurus Cove Learn More: mbantua.com.au
Aboriginal Bush Traders Gallery and Cafe
This is a lovely little gallery housed in the historical Lyons Cottage on the Esplanade in Darwin city. It showcases a variety of authentic Indigenous artwork and products. What makes this gallery special is the adjoining cafe which specialises in native Australian foods. What a great way to immerse the kids in Aboriginal culture by trying some bush tucker and browsing the traditional and contemporary art that is on display.
Open: Monday to Friday 7.30 am - 3.00 pm Located Near: Smith Street Mall, the Waterfront, the Esplanade playground, Aquascene Fish Feeding, Crocosaurus Cove More information: https://aboriginal-bush-traders.myshopify.com
Coomalie Cultural Centre
Located at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education Campus (approximately a one hour drive from Darwin CBD), the Coomalie Cultural Centre is worth a visit. Stop in on your way to Litchfield National Park and check out their collection of Aboriginal artwork from across the Top End and Central Australia.
Open: Monday to Friday 8.30 am - 4.00 pm Located Near: Litchfield National Park, Darwin River Tavern Learn More: https://cac.batchelor.edu.au
Darwin City Street Art
The first Darwin street art festival was held in October 2017 and has left its mark on the city. Check out the vibrant murals popping up around town – a great place to start is in Austin Lane. The City of Darwin local council has also introduced eight purpose-built lightboxes showcasing local art across the city. These are located in the Smith Stree Mall, Chinatown carpark and Nightcliff Pool.
Cost: Free Located Near: Crocosaurus Cove, Smith Street Mall, the Waterfront and Aquascene Fish Feeding Learn More: Start here - https://darwinstreetartfestival.com.au/map/ and https://www.darwin.nt.gov.au/community/programs/arts-culture/public-art
Chung Wah Society
The first Chinese labourers arrived in Darwin in 1874 and at one stage the number of Chinese residents was greater than the European population of the city. Chinese people have played a large role in shaping Darwin. Their community spirit is still felt today through the Chung Wah Society. On our recent holiday to Darwin during Chinese New Year we joined in on the festivities and watched members of the society perform the Lion Dance for businesses all over town. You can learn more about the history of the Chinese community in Darwin at the Chung Wah Society Museum and view their Temple in the city centre.
Cost: The temple is free to visit (donations appreciated), the museum costs $4 for adults and $2 for children Open: The temple is open year round 8.00 am to 4.00 pm daily, the museum is open during the dry season (check website for opening times). Located Near: The Waterfront, Crocosaurus Cove, The Esplanade playground, Smith Street Mall Learn More: http://www.chungwahnt.asn.au/index.php?page=about-the-chung-wah-society