Always wanted to go to Darwin?

Too often, Darwin is regarded as a mere stopover on the way to somewhere else, such as Kakadu. It is actually one of Australia’s most unusual cities with an enticing layer of sophistication on top of the old beer-based tradition. Yes, there is still a beer can regatta and a lot of fun going on in the bars of Mitchell Street but the waterfront development has literally added a new dimension to the city.

Darwin might be where the outback meets the sea but it’s also a lot closer to Asia than it is to Sydney. This shows in the cosmopolitan atmosphere around the city. There’s lots to explore. Here are our best picks.

Best event: Mindil Beach sunset markets
This happens every Thursday and Sunday from the end of April until October when many of Darwin’s residents head down to the beach for the sunset, dinner and some shopping. There are 130 retail stalls selling unique objects from hats to whips and 60 food stalls serving a very wide range of cuisines.

Mindil Beach Markets DSC_9386

Best cultural experience: Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
While you may go to this museum to see Sweetheart, the giant stuffed male crocodile (over five metres long), you’ll find excellent displays on the devastation of Cyclone Tracey and an wonderful collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait art.

Best accommodation: Novotel Atrium Darwin 
Darwin has wide ranging accommodation options from a flourishing backpacker scene to five-star properties. For an affordable mid-price option there’s the four-star Novotel Atrium Darwin on the Esplanade and overlooking the park and Port Darwin. With rates starting at $150 per night it provides a good base for exploring the city and its surrounds.

Best new area: Darwin waterfront precinct
If you haven’t been in Darwin for a few years, you’ll be surprised to find there’s a whole new exciting area on the waterfront. The main part of the city is high above the water and for many years the waterfront was a dilapidated dock area. Now there are hotels and restaurants, shops and safe swimming lagoons. It’s a wonderful place to relax and spend a warm tropical evening.

Best local drive: Litchfield National Park 
Closer to Darwin than Kakadu, Litchfield has its own special attractions. A particularly beautiful spot is Florence Falls where you can enjoy the view from the lookout then walk down and take a swim in the pool with the falls splashing down on you. There’s also a good viewing point nearby of magnetic termite mounds. Wangi Falls are worth visiting, too.

Best multi-day excursion: Kakadu
There has been much written on Kakadu and it is justifiably a World Heritage Site that rewards as many days as you can spend there.

Best luxury excursion: Outback floatplane experience 
If you have the money, or not much time or just want a very intense territory experience, this half day packs it in. You’re picked up at your hotel and taken to the airport for a floatplane flight to a remote lagoon where you board a vessel for a meal while you cruise looking for crocs and other wildlife. Then it’s time for a helicopter tour of the Litchfield floodplains before an off-road buggy trip then a fan boat trip back for the flight home. The five hour tour costs $695.

Best shopping: Aboriginal art
If you are in Darwin 7-9 August 2015 make sure you head down to the annual Aboriginal Art Fair at the Darwin Convention Centre where the art works from over 50 Indigenous Art Centres will be on display. At any other time of the year, you’ll find several fine art galleries in Darwin plus a lot catering to the tourist market. It’s worth looking at before hitting the shops.

Best road trip: Stuart Highway
The 1600km drive from Darwin to Alice Springs is one of the world’s great drives. For many years, like all NT highways, it had no speed limit. But it’s now set at 130km/h. Long road trains and slow cars towing caravans make a lower speed advisable. The two main towns along the way are Tennant Creek and Katherine and it’s worth detouring through Karlu Karlu or the Devil’s Marbles.

Best information: The best place to start gathering information is at Travel NT or call into Tourism Top End at 6 Bennett St, Darwin NT 0800, 1300 138 886.

Have you been to Darwin or always wanted to go? Join our conversation below…