Darwin, a relaxed, particularly hot, tropical and multicultural city with a population of more than 100,000 sits on the far northern coastline overlooking the Timor Sea and was first named in 1839 by Captain John Stokes of HMS Beagle after his colleague Charles Darwin. The aptly named city is capital to the Northern Territory, a vast area more than 5 times the size of the UK with a quite extraordinary range of unique flora and fauna and home to some of the world's oldest races, the Aboriginal tribes.
A common fast fact that best illustrates the vast nature of the Northern Territory, if not Australia as a country and continent, is that Darwin is actually closer to Jakarta, Port Moresby, Dili and even Singapore than it is to any of the other capital cities of Australia.
But being so remote only enhances its appeal, according to most travellers who have experienced the city's heartbeat. Darwin is blessed with unique features when compared with the rest of Australia and has a very distinct Aboriginal presence in both its culture and history. Most notable is the town's relaxed, cosmopolitan vibe, ethnic diversity and the very fact it is so close to tourism hotspots and cultural icons such as a resort on the beach, Tiwi Islands, Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks, Katherine Gorge, arid land in the south, the red crags of the Kimberleys, the Red Centre and the piece de resistance, Ayers Rock (Uluru).
Aside from all the spoils that surround the city, it must be said the allure of Darwin herself will have you parking your campervan for some time and discovering its own special highlights. There's superb nature walks, great markets, trendy cafes, tasty eateries, buzzing nightlife, a casino by the beach and much more. Don't ever let anyone fool you into believing its remote location means you'll be bored stiff; quite the contrary.
The weather is worth keeping an eye for when considering a wise time to visit. There's two very different seasons to keep in mind. The wet season generally runs from November to March, in which torrential rain hits hard for a few hours a day. The dry season sets in from April to October and is considered heaven on earth for humans as far as climate goes - sunny, warm days followed by refreshing, cool and crisp nights.
Food is such a huge part in any holiday or trip, and despite its small-city status, Darwin does not disappoint. Plating up specialities like crocodile tail, freshly caught seafood, and market-style cooking of every cuisine, even hardcore food-lovers will be impressed. Darwin’s close proximity to Southeast Asia also plays a part in the city’s diverse food scene. The Mindil markets in particular showcase this multicultural blend with fresh herbs, lime, and spice appearing in samosas, bowls of noodles, and plates of fresh laksa.
And it’s not just dinner; Darwin has jumped on the brunch train, with local cafés drawing inspiration from indigenous bush tucker and the fresh produce of the region to make this mid-morning meal a standout.
So where can you find the best bites in Darwin? From speciality coffee shops to food trucks, read on to find out our top picks of where to dine out during your stay.
This quirky little red and white trailer serves some of best fish and chips in Darwin. It’s not only visitors that love to tuck into a plate at Jetty and the Fish, but locals too, and you’ll find that the best way to eat your dinner is on the sand. Make sure you check their Facebook page to see where the trailer is parked for the evening, and be prepared to line up – It’s that good.
If you’re a big fan of specialty bread and pastries, you can’t leave Darwin without visiting Alley Cats. Think fresh macarons, tangy salads made with local produce, and delicious loaves of fresh bread. And if that’s not enough, this trendy patisserie also serves up extreme milkshakes. Open seven days a week; you might find yourself back here every day.
Whet your palette at this scenically located restaurant
With a name you’re sure to remember, Pee Wee’s is one of Darwin’s most chic fine dining options. The beachside setting is the key draw for this restaurant, and with a little luck your table will be a few steps from the ocean. The chefs at Pee Wee’s turn out plate-loads of seafood every night; this might be a good time to try Darwin’s famous mud crab.
The Aboriginal Bush Traders Café and shop, located in the historic Lyons Cottage, is a 100% not-for-profit enterprise where all the earnings are fed back into community projects. Learn more about the rich indigenous history and culture of the Top End, and purchase your authentic souvenirs. If you’re a fan of damper, or would like to try some of this traditional Aussie bread, be sure to ask for a serving of damper with your choice of spread.
Settle down to a fine dining experience at Darwin’s Char Restaurant Source: chardarwin.com.au
If you like to dress up, you’ll be at home at Char Restaurant. This steakhouse and grill is a hip choice for a special occasion or holiday meal. The steaks are prime cuts and served with all of your favourite side dishes. If the budget permits, try the Rib-Eye on the Bone and checkout the impressive wine list featuring some of the very best Australian drops.
For authentic Thai and Indian cuisine, Hanuman is both sophisticated and unassuming. This 25 year old Darwin institution is a fashionable favourite with locals. The curries are worth raving about, but the prices are a little steep. It’s best to make a reservation for weekend nights because it can get busy in the dry season.
One of the oldest and best in Darwin, Parap is a colourful market with a vast array of arts and crafts, great food offerings including superb Asian varieties, general bric-a-brac, fresh juice and it's all in a relaxed environment as you wind your way through the stalls. Every Saturday from April to the end of the year. They run from 8am to midday.
Perhaps there's no more charming market in the world than Mindil Beach Markets that are held at sunset on Thursday and Sunday nights in the dry season. Soak up the tropical night air and views as you peruse 60 food stalls (Greek, Sri Lankan, South American, Turkish, Indian, South East Asian and more). Then there's hundreds of stalls offering arts, crafts, massage, tarot card readers, artists, jewellers as well as live street theatre and buskers.
Every Sunday from 8am to 2pm the Nightcliff markets come alive with much variety including hemp designer clothing, copper sculptures and lots of crafts, cds, furniture, clothing, massage and, of course, lots of food and freshly brewed coffee. It's only been going since the late 1990s, but it's carving out a big reputation with both visitors and locals. Find it in Progress Drive, Nightcliff.
With Darwin being such a unique destination, the accommodation is as diverse as the visitors it attracts. From wilderness retreats to minimalist hotel rooms, Darwin has something to suit every taste and budget. And it’s not just for the lucky visitors on holiday; business travellers staying in the CBD are treated to sweeping views that rival those of Melbourne or Sydney, with the city’s sleek industrial architecture and open green spaces on show.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Darwin’s population tends to swell during the cooler months, so booking ahead during the June-September period is advised.
Sit by the pool and soak in the Darwin sun at the Palms City Resort Source: palmscityresort.com
Situated a stone's throw from the Esplanade, the Palms City Resort receives consistently good feedback from visitors. Sticking to the tropical vibe of Darwin, the resort is well-kept, budget friendly, and conveniently located in the heart of everything. Its close driving distance to some of the best restaurants and cafés in the city. For work travellers, the hotel also boasts free Wi-Fi and business amenities. Palms City is just a short stroll from trendy Friday afternoon watering holes, perfect for when you need to loosen the tie and unwind.
Learn why Skycity is drawing in crowds of holidaymakers every year
If holidaying in style is your thing, Skycity Darwin might just be the spot for you. Settle in to your beach vacation with a walk along the promenade, a pampering session in the eight-room spa, or sample the cuisine at one of the many restaurants. With rooms overlooking the tropical landscape, you might not want to leave your hotel room. Only a 25-minute drive from airport.
The impressive Darwin Central Hotel is a favourite with Darwin holiday goers Source: darwincentral.com.au
Another firm favourite, the Darwin Central Hotel is an excellent value pick for vacationers and business travellers alike. With generously sized rooms, friendly staff, and located centrally to the Esplanade, this hotel is a good choice for anyone wanting convenient access to the CBD. Unlike the Palm City resort, Darwin Central has enough parking to easily accommodate your car, saving you the stress of having to search for a vacant spot after a long day of sightseeing.
Immerse yourself in Darwin’s great outdoors with the Wildman Wilderness Lodge Source: wildmanwildernesslodge.com.au
You won’t even notice the two-hour drive from the airport to the Wildman Wilderness Lodge because the journey is as beautiful as the destination. The multi-award winning lodge is perched amongst the beautiful Mary River wetlands, and is a perfect spot for getting away from it all and immersing in Darwin’s picturesque outdoors. A little on the pricier side, the lodge consists of ten cabins and fifteen safari tents. Think white linen, natural colours, and wooden floors, all set around the main building with an infinity pool. When you’re not exploring the nearby Kakadu National Park, you’ll probably find yourself dining on the sun soaked veranda that wraps around the reception and restaurant. Your hardest decision? Which wine to have with dinner.
Darwin and fishing go together like fish and chips – it’s a perfect match.
You can choose to go out with a fishing charter just choose your dates carefully because the dry and wet seasons offer very different experiences.
There are four main fishing seasons in Darwin: the wet season, runoff, dry season, and the buildup. While the wet season brings heavy rain, it can also lead to great fishing conditions as the floodplains burst with life.
As the monsoon season clears, it’s Barra that fisher folk are clamouring for and the creek mouths are full. The dry seasons, however, might be the perfect time to go, if not for the picture-perfect sunsets then for the reef fishing. Snapper are out in force during the dry season so make sure you’re equipped to reel in a big one.