Passing through Darwin with kids? Trust us, you’re missing out if you don’t stay for a few days to explore what this vibrant tropical city has to offer.
If I had to describe the Northern Territory’s capital city, Darwin, in one word, it would be ‘unique’. Usually, people visit here for work or on their way to somewhere else… Kakadu National Park, Arnhem Land or Bali, Indonesia. But Darwin is so much more than a stop-over or gateway. It’s the place to go if you’re seeking year-round summer weather and chilled Aussie vibes.
Let us tell you more about what to do in Darwin with kids.
But first, a bit about Darwin…
Where is Darwin?
Darwin is on the north coast (the ‘Top End’) of Australia. It’s actually closer in distance to South East Asian countries Indonesia and East Timor than it is to Australia’s other state capital cities. It’s remote. And it’s very tropical.
What are the people like?
Approximately 150,000 people call Darwin home. There is an eclectic mix of born-and-bred ‘Territorians’, immigrants, backpackers, army personnel and an increasing number of transient singles and couples. It’s the wonderful people who make this city as fun and unique as it is today.
Is it always summer in Darwin?
Yes. But, being tropical and so close to the equator can have it’s disadvantages. Darwin has two ‘seasons’; “the wet” and “the dry”.
During the wet season (usually October – April) days and nights are very hot (25-37 °C) and very humid – you can forget about straightened hair staying straight! Many roads and swimming spots outside of Darwin and in Kakadu are closed and too dangerous to access. The ocean is full of stingers. There are monsoons. Sometimes there are tropical cyclones (e.g. Cyclone Tracy flattened Darwin at Christmas 1974). And when it rains, it really rains. On average, Darwin gets 10-80ml of rain on the days that it rains. But in the 2020/2021 wet season, 150ml of rainfall was recorded in one day! (For comparison, Melbourne gets about 640ml per year).
During the dry season (usually May – October), Darwin experiences warm, dry, blue-sky days and cooler nights. Temperatures range from 20-31 °C. There is little rain. And, in late April and throughout May, the roads and swimming holes start to open to tourists. Early in the dry season is when you’ll probably see the best waterfalls. Just watch out for the crocodiles!
So, now that you know all about Darwin, here are….
The top 3 things to do in Darwin with kids
1. Enjoy a laksa at Mindil Beach Sunset Market
The Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are open on Sundays and Thursdays (4pm-9pm) during the dry season. It’s here that you will discover a delicious smorgasbord of local and international cuisines and craft across 200 stalls. The markets also feature an array of performers and musicians from all over and is the best place to hang out if you love people watching.
To keep the kids amused, there are lots of wide open spaces and the sandy beach for them to run amuck. And there’s laughing clowns, jumping castles, face painting, circus workshops and other children’s entertainment.
Hot tip: BYO (bring your own) drinks, grab yourself some calamari, crispy spiral potatoes or a spicy laksa (or all three!) and pick a good spot on the beach to enjoy the sunset over the Timor Sea. It’s spectacular!
2. See some crocodiles
There are numerous places to see crocodiles safely and up close in Darwin. If this interests you, check out:
- Crocosaurus Cove on Mitchel Street (in the city) has numerous reptiles, several big saltwater crocodiles and baby crocodiles, educational talks and underwater cage experiences. There are great underwater viewing areas.
- Crocodylus Park has more than 1,000 crocodiles, lions, monkeys and water buffalo. It specialises in the conservation of saltwater and freshwater crocodiles and features a comprehensive crocodile museum.
3. Splash and play at Leanyer Recreation Park
Take advantage of the hot summer beach vibe all-year-round in Darwin with kids by visiting a free water park.
Leanyer Recreation Park is located in Darwin’s west side, about 20 minutes drive from the city centre. It features a swimming pool, skate park, water play areas and a massive undercover dry playground. In the wet play area, there are three massive water slides range from 100-124m long, paddling pools, and a splash and play playground perfect for younger kids. The undercover “dry” playground features numerous slides, towers and climbing things suitable for kids of different ages and abilities. In fact, it was one of the best playgrounds we’ve been to!
Side note: We heard that Darwin’s Waterfront Precinct’s playground and saltwater Recreation Lagoon was also good for kids from 2 years old. Entry is free and the lagoon is patrolled by lifeguards from 9am-6pm every day. There’s also a wave pool with a small entry fee. It’s right near Darwin Harbour and on our list for next time we visit Darwin.
Bonus! More things to explore in Darwin with kids (or without)
According to reports (ex-Darwin-resident, my mum), Darwin has become a bit more hip and a lot less grunge in recent years. There are roof-top gin bars hidden down laneways, dog-friendly coffee shops with decent coffee and revamped pubs and restaurants. Here are some things you may want to check out if you have a kid-free moment:
- Darwin’s Waterfront Precinct for year-round summer feels.
- Mitchell Street is where you want to go if you’re after a pumping pub or night club on a Friday or Saturday night. Hint: Ask for “mini beers” at The Tap.
- MERAKI Greek Taverna has fantastic food and a great vibe.
- Charlie’s of Darwin is a roof-top gin bar with hidden access via Austin Lane.
- Beachfront Hotel near Rapid Creek Beach has a great BBQ menu and fun vibe.
- Bicentennial Park and Lameroo Beach.
- Charles Darwin National Park and lookout. It has a large wetland and WW II historical sites.
For a little bit of history, check out:
- WWII Oil Storage Tunnels featuring exhibits, photos and art honouring the heroes & victims of World War II.
- The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, displaying Southeast Asian and Pacific art.
- Darwin Military Museum featuring the multimedia Defence of Darwin Experience spotlighting the 1942 bombing raids.
- 1934 Qantas Hanger which has an antique motor vehicle, car & bicycle museum in an unpretentious 1934 airplane hangar.
Warning: swimming at Darwin beaches can be dangerous
Darwin’s beautiful beaches and waterfalls inspire wanderlust. But before you go jumping in, there’s a very dangerous side to Darwin that you need to be aware of.
Crocodiles, particularly saltwater crocodiles (fondly referred to as “salties”), are massive reptiles that move very quickly and quietly through the water and on land to capture their prey. You MUST follow the warning signs and stay at a very safe distance from crocodiles at all times. Even though they can reach 3-6 metres in length, they can sneak, undetected, into waterholes, riverways and onto beaches. And, they can kill you. If you follow the signs and park ranger’s advice, you should be fine.
Poisonous jellyfish, such as box jellyfish, swarm Darwin beaches during the stinger season (October – May). Unfortunately, they can also kill you. There’s some great information about what to look out for and what to do if stung on the NT government website.
Wait! There’s more…
Darwin with kids is fun, but so is the rest of the Northern Territory! Check out our top tips and favourite things to and see: