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I spent nearly 3 years living in the tropics of the Top End, and found there to be a fantastic range of things to do in Darwin. While it is the state capital of the Northern Territory, this city isn’t too big and bustling, yet it is vibrant, friendly, relaxed, and the area is full of history and natural wonders. The best time of the year to visit is during the cooler Dry Season, although the spectacular storms of the hot and humid Wet Season are also a sight to behold.
We found the Top End to be a very family-friendly destination to visit, with a range of free things to do in Darwin, and plenty of attractions suitable for kids of all ages. Below is a round-up of our favourite things to do in and near Darwin with kids.
Just near the city centre is the beautiful Darwin Waterfront Precinct. With shops, cafes, restaurants, the Stokes Hill Wharf, swimming lagoons (including the Wave Lagoon), playgrounds, parklands and events, this area is perfect for a relaxing and fun day (or night!) with the kids.
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) is free to visit and the home of Sweetheart, a saltwater crocodile over 5 metres long, who is on permanent display in the museum. Other exhibitions include Cyclone Tracy, rock art, maritime history and more.
Just near the Waterfront Precinct is the WWII Oil Storage Tunnels. These secret tunnels were reopened in 1992 and are a unique visitor attraction, with displays on the history of the area.
Feed hundreds of friendly wild fish on high tide at Doctor’s Gully! The kids can enjoy feeding times from the concrete stairs, or can wade in the water amongst the fish.
In the heart of the city is Crocosaurus Cove, home to reptiles of all shapes and sizes. Small enough for even the littlest family members to walk around, there are plenty of shaded areas for when you need a break from the heat. Don’t miss the croc feeding show, and if you are feeling particularly brave, try the Cage of Death experience.
These beautiful tropical gardens cover a massive 100 acres, are over 130 years old, and survived WWII and numerous cyclones (inculding Cyclone Tracy). Enjoy relaxing in the shade, wander the paths, let the kids roam and explore, and then enjoy a refreshing drink and meal at the cafe.
A visit to the Darwin Aviation Museum is a must due to Darwin’s history with WWII, with aircraft displays and information on Darwin’s aviation history.
Not far out of the Darwin CBD is the Leanyer Recreation Park. With free entry, it has a fantastic water park, slides and swimming lagoon, children’s playground and skate park, and plenty of shaded picnic areas.
Although a bit further out than Leanyer, the Palmerston Water Park also free to enter, with a toddler wading pool, wet play areas and 100m, 6-lane racer water slide. There are also plenty of shaded picnic areas, BBQs and a skate park.
The Cullen Bay Marina area was a favourite spot for us to enjoy a sunset picnic during the Dry Season. Spread out a picnic blanket on the large grassy area, and enjoy fish and chips from the local shop while you watch the sun set over the water.
Located on a strip overlooking Mindil Beach on Thursdays and Sundays from 4pm during the Dry Season, these hugely popular markets feature a huge range of stalls, with everything from delicious meals and treats, beverages, arts, crafts and entertainment.
12. Fannie Bay Gaol
Opened in 1883, Fannie Bay Gaol was the main prision for Darwin until it’s closure in 1979. It is now an important historic site for the region and is free to visit.
For a wet and muddy experience the family won’t forget, be sure to check out the Top End Mud Racing nights! Be sure to pack a spare change of clothes.
Howard Springs Nature Park is approximately 27kms south-east of Darwin, and was one of our favourite spots to visit! There are a series of man-made rock pools to cool off in, an adventure playground for the kids, large shaded areas and BBQs for picnics, and the spring-fed waterhole is home to barramundi, turtles and file snakes. The park is open all year and is free to visit.
Berry Springs is a series of clear swimming pools that are perfect for cooling off in, and has shaded areas for picnics. It is generally only open during the Dry Season. Combine the trip out to Berry Springs with a visit to the Territory Wildlife Park next door.
The Territory Wildlife Park is home to animals and plants from the Top End, and is popular with families. It is spread out in a 4km loop, and has a free shuttle, easy walking paths and daily wildlife presentations and displays.
Litchfield National Park is approximately 90 minutes drive south of Darwin, and was my favourite of the National Parks in the Top End! With cool and refreshing swimming holes, waterfalls, magnetic termite mounds and historic ruins, there are plenty of attractions within the park that can be accessed by a conventional 2WD vehicle, and is a fantastic full day trip from Darwin.
18. Wagait Beach
Literally a hop-skip-and-a-jump by ferry from Darwin, or approximately a 1 hour trip via road, is the peaceful beach community of Wagait Beach. As our favourite destination for a quick weekend getaway, Wagait Beach is perfect for relaxing, beachcombing and fishing. The area is also the historic site of the WWII B24J Liberator Bomber Milady wreck.