Top things to do in Darwin on a budget
There’s no need to pay top dollar for a holiday in the Top End with these free and low-cost things to do.
- January 2021
While Darwin is no longer a frontier town, it’s still uncharted holiday territory for many. But once you dip into its laidback lifestyle, multicultural food scene and sensational sunsets, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t gone sooner. Prices can be on the higher side due to its remoteness, but there are plenty of free and affordable activities, perfect for travellers on a budget. Here are our top budget-friendly things to do in Darwin.
1. Have a splash at the Wave Lagoon
The best visits to the steamy Northern Territory (or Top End) are regularly punctuated by water. But, mindful of the presence of jellyfish and crocodiles, the only waves we recommend you catch are the ones at the waterfront Wave Lagoon. This artificial wave pool is programmed with different ‘sets’ of waves. It’s part of the waterfront precinct, which is chock-a-block with restaurants, cafés and bars. Definitely not just for kids.
There’s a small entry fee, but with added value in the form of sun lounges (get in early to secure your spot), boogie boards and giant floating rings, it’s worth it. Relax in the shade, bob in the shallows or get in amongst it for some surprisingly big wave action.
Location: Kitchener Drive, Darwin City
2. Get cultural at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Even if you’re not usually into museums, you’ll find plenty of interest at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT). Challenge yourself to experience the intensity of a tropical cyclone via the simple, yet scarily effective, use of a blackened room with real-life audio recordings from the 1974 Cyclone Tracy disaster.
With other exhibits focussing on Aboriginal art, military history and native wildlife, you’ll find answers to many of your questions about this part of the world. To top it all off, you can meet Sweetheart – the now-stuffed, giant crocodile who terrorised the area in the 1970s. Entry is free.
Location: 19 Conacher Street, The Gardens
3. Stroll the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
Established over 130 years ago, these extensive tropical gardens are a delight. Wander aimlessly through towering palms or stroll through a coastal mangrove forest. Explore paths lined with plants used by Aboriginal tribes, and chance upon a hidden waterfall. Will your favourite plant end up being a fragrant frangipani, a spiralling pandanus, an ancient cycad or a delicate orchid?
Location: Gilruth Avenue and Gardens Road
4. Lap up the view at the Nightcliff Pool
Surely a competitor for the world’s most picturesque public pool, Nightcliff is an iconic spot for locals and word is getting out to visitors. With its location on a foreshore cliff, the pool allows bathers stunning views over Darwin Harbour. It’s a typical 50-metre affair, with swimming lanes for those in the mood for some meditative black-line following (or to work off some of the excesses of your holiday), and an open area for those who just want to cool off. An added bonus is the impressive collection of up-to-date magazines, providing the perfect excuse for some serious towel-lounging.
Location: 259 Casuarina Drive, Nightcliff
5. Catch a spectacular sunset at Cullen Bay
Darwin is a sensational place for sunsets, and thanks to a long stretch of coastline facing due west, the sun sinks straight into the sea. You can catch an idyllic sunset view from Cullen Bay, a marina area growing in popularity with plenty of restaurants and bars. Amongst all this is a public grassy area between the water and La Beach Fish and Chips, the perfect spot to soak up the show. Bring a picnic, lay out a rug, and enjoy the sky’s gorgeous changing colours as the sun makes its slow descent (while you wonder why you didn't visit sooner).
Location: 68 Marina Boulevard
6. Savour some multicultural sunset dining
Wondering where to eat in Darwin? One of Darwin’s most iconic experiences is a saunter through the Mindil Beach Sunset Market that runs along the Mindil Beach foreshore every Thursday and Sunday during Darwin’s dry season (April to October). Wander the hundreds of stalls showcasing local arts and crafts as well as the multitude of food stalls that truly showcase Darwin’s delicious diversity. It’s been running for over 30 years now and attracts huge crowds who head down for live entertainment and a swathe of street food, from Thai to Indian, Portuguese to Greek, and many cuisines in between. Grab your friends, choose a budget-friendly dish or two and plant yourself on the sand to savour the flavour while you take in the knockout sunsets descending over the Timor Sea.
Location: Mindil Beach, between Sky City Casino and Botanic Gardens
7. Imagine life behind bars
Fannie Bay Gaol operated from 1883 until 1979 and it’s a fascinating (and sobering) museum that attracts thousands of visitors every year, keen to learn about Darwin’s penal history. Wander this free museum, complete with information panels in the cells, where you can see how prisoners were segregated, where they worked, where they lived and the gallows where some ended their days. It sounds grim but it’s a worthwhile and eye-opening historical site to explore.
Location: East Point Road, Darwin
8. Take in some cinema under the stars
Run by the Darwin Film Society, Deckchair Cinema runs from April to November and is the perfect way to spend an idyllic al fresco Darwin evening. The outdoor cinema is near the harbour – get there a little early so you can catch the sunset and enjoy some very affordable local food under the twinkling stars and strings of fairy lights before settling in to your deckchair to watch the movie. Deckchair Cinema screen a range of movies, from general releases to foreign independent films, plus they make every effort to operate sustainably, so it’s an all-round lush night out for just a handful of bucks.
Location: Kitchener Dve, Waterfront Precinct