In recent years, Darwin has become a popular destination for backpackers in Australia. Young travellers are drawn to the laidback lifestyle, guaranteed sun for half the year and stunning surrounding beauty. But another thing that backpackers like is free stuff. While Australia has a bit of a reputation for being rather expensive, and Darwin is hardly the cheapest place in the country, there’s a few free things to do in Darwin that will help you enjoy the culture and surrounding natural beauty of this unique town.
And all of these things to do take place off the notorious Mitchell Street, Darwin’s popular backpacker drinking strip. Head off the road for a day or two and experience the real Darwin around you!
Free Things to Do in Darwin
1. Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
MAGNT (Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory) is completely free to enter and houses an impressive range of artefacts and exhibitions that are so very top end. Get acquainted with Sweetheart, a taxidermy crocodile and local Darwin celebrity, learn all about the unique flora and fauna that survives in Darwin’s harsh climate and educate yourself on the horrors of Cyclone Tracy, Australia’s biggest natural disaster.
2. Catch a sunset
Darwin has a few beaches facing the west, meaning that you can enjoy a surreal sunset as the sun dips below the ocean. These include Mindil Beach, Casuarina Coastal Reserve, Dudley Point and Fannie Bay.
3. Charles Darwin National Park
A short way out of the town centre is this national park. There’s a few great mountain biking trails, but if you don’t own a bike some are great for walking too! There’s also a fantastic view of the city from the park and a few bunkers which were used to store ammunition in the second world war. One of these has been opened up and now serves as a small free museum detailing the most important facts about the war in Darwin and Asia pacific.
4. Lyons Cottage
Lyons Cottage is the only example of colonial bungalow style architecture to be found in Darwin. Each room has a different ‘theme’ displaying Darwins early history. For example there’s a room on the early police force, first maritime explorers and even the pearling industry.
5. Mindl Beach Markets
The Mindl Beach markets are widely thought to be the best evening event in Darwin. Happening every Sunday and Thursday in the dry season, the markets bring together the community in an uplifting way. There’s a range of stalls to look around, as well as fire spinners and buskers providing evening entertainment. Twin this with a beautiful tropical sunset, and you have a pretty perfect free evening in Darwin.
6. Botanic Gardens
The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens, to give them their full name, are found 2km away from the city centre within the same precinct as the Museum and Art Gallery and Mindil Beach (where the sunset markets are held). You’ll see plenty of Northern Territory plants as well as plants from tropical areas around the world. It’s a lovely place to spend the afternoon and you can even do a segway tour of it, if you want to spend a bit of cash.
7. Litchfield National Park
Just over an hour away from Darwin, Litchfield National Park is free to enter and has an abundance of fun activities to explore. Cool off in the safe swimming holes of Florence Falls and Bluey Rockhole, take a 4WD track to the Lost City, or trek one of the numerous short walks and enjoy the natural surroundings of the Northern Territory.
8. Darwin Waterfront Precinct
A fantastic place for a dip, Darwin’s waterfront is loved by locals and tourists alike. You can’t swim in Darwin’s seas due to saltwater crocodiles and jellyfish, but the waterfront has a sheltered lagoon that is safe for swimming – perfect to cool down after a day exploring in the heat! There’s also a range of free activities in the precinct, which range from exercise classes to movie nights.
9. East Point Reserve
East Point Reserve is beautiful and also full of military history. Darwin has a lot of military history and if that’s your kind of thing then East Point Reserve is definitely worth a visit. The Darwin Military Museum is found here along with a mangrove boardwalk, cafes, a fine dining restaurant and more. You can walk along the coast to get here or drive. It’ll take you around an hour and a half to walk from the city centre, but you get to walk beside Fannie Bay and the coast and also see some things you won’t see from the road.
10. Go for a swim at Berry Springs Nature Park
Berry Springs Nature Park is located only around 10km from Darwin and is a great place to cool off in some clear swimming pools. There’s plenty of native wildlife and birds to spot as well as a nice picnic area and even some historical ruins to check out. Head there between March and April if you like flowers as that’s when they bloom.
11. Art Galleries
Like a lot of towns and cities in Australia Darwin has lot’s of art galleries. You can find aboriginal art, modern art, arts and crafts and more. And of course, you can also purchase a piece you fall in love with as well.
12. Parliament House
Like many parliamentary buildings you’re free to enter and take a self-guided or guided tour for free at Darwin’s Parliament House. Within the building you’ll also find the Northern Territory Collection in the Northern Territory Library. Why not sit in the public gallery watching parliament do their thing in the Chamber?
13. Leanyer Water Park
It still surprises me that Leanyer Water park is free, but it is! You can safely swim here with no risk of crocodiles or jellyfish, but better than that, you can enjoy big water slides, pools and other water features. A fun place to spend the day in the Northern suburbs of Darwin.
14. Bicentennial Park
Home to the Darwin Cenotaph and WWII walking trail, Bicentennial Park is a popular place to chill out. There are lovely views over the harbour and plenty of paths for cycling and walking.
15. Chinese Temple
The Chinese have lived in Darwin for many years, beginning during the Gold Rush and continuing today. The Chinese Temple was built in 1887, and although it’s changed a fair bit since then it’s well worth visiting. The Temple is free to enter and it only costs $5 to get into the museum which explains the history of Chinese settlement in Darwin very well.
16. Douglas Hot Springs Park (Tjuwaliyn)
Ok, I’ll admit it, it’s hard to describe this as being one of the free things to do in Darwin, because it’s actually 200km away. However it’s been included because when you’ve been in Australia for a while, you’ll realise that driving long distances to see things becomes quite normal. And the drive is more than worth it because Tjuwaliyn / Douglas Hot Springs Park is really awesome. As well as being able to enjoy the naturally hot pools, you might also see native wildlife such as quolls, bandicoots and flying foxes.
Darwin’s a pretty unique place. It’s a tropical city at one of the more northernmost points of Australia, with a transient population and very dramatic climate. It’s always hot in Darwin, with a distinct dry and wet season: the dry brings six months of soaring temperatures and clear skies, and the wet is even hotter and more humid, with spectacular thunderstorms. But as you can see you can find plenty of free things to do in Darwin no matter the weather!
Want to explore more of the Northern Territory?
Check out Kata Tjuta in The Red Centre
Author: Written with contributions from Antoine Tardif. Antoine is a Canadian travel writer and blogger who now lives in the Cayman Islands. He’s on a mission to show you the less visited site to places around the globe. Follow his adventures on his blog – www.travelinglife.com – or find him on Facebook.