Heading to Kakadu with kids? Chances are you will drop in on Darwin as most visitors do, stopping in for supplies on the way to or from an adventure in the outback. We did the same on our way to Kakadu, flying in and staying a couple of nights and checking it out, here’s some of the best things to do in Darwin with Kids, a City Guide for families:
PROS of Darwin with kids
The local Territorians are some of the nicest people who share the population of Darwin with a collective mix of travellers from; itinerant workers, caravan towing grey nomads, busloads of tourists, 4WD families and plenty of backpackers with all the time in the world. Drop and and soak up the transient happy traveller vibe with a beautiful beach sunsets, good food great outdoor family fun and crocodile attractions.
Cons of Darwin with kids
Whilst I wouldn’t fly to Darwin specifically for a weekend just to visit Darwin, if in the neighbourhood, it’s worth a 2 night stay. The transient community does mean that staff employed at restaurants and attractions basically don’t care with high staff turnover rate. The only other downside of Darwin is the lack of a good place to swim that is 100% safe from crocodile, though the wave pool works just fine.
Reason why families should visit Darwin
Talk to any twenty something visitor on their gap-year and they probably say the best thing to do in Darwin are the bars and pubs on Mitchell Street. However the relaxed outdoor city of Darwin offers plenty of family friendly things to do in a pretty part of the country.
Best things to do in Darwin with Kids
Crocs, the best Laksa, beach sunsets, Darwin markets or a wave pool to beat the heat, here are the very best things to do in Darwin with kids.
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
Address: Follow sings on Gurlith Avenue, Mindil Beach. Between Sky City Casino and the Botanic Gardens.
Indonesia is around 2.5 hour flight away, the close proximity, makes Darwin a cultural melting pot with food heavily influenced by Asian flavours, which ultimately means a good Laksa can be found in Darwin.
Mindil Beach Market Open Hours (Open Dates)
From the last Thursday in April (27th April 2017) to the last Thursday in October (26th Oct 2017) join the masses that flock to Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. Grab a bite a from the variety of food stalls and secure a nice spot to watch a picture perfect sunset on the beach
Food at Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
Whilst Asian food dominates, there is also a variety of other cuisines including Greek, Italian and fresh juices or fruit smoothies galore. Watching the smoothie ladies at the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets whip one up is an attraction in it’s own right.
It’s a happy, hippy and bustling atmosphere at the Mindil Markets, with circus acts, whip cracking demonstrations and fire breathers to entertain the kids. Bring cash as there is a seemingly endless array of stalls selling an eclectic mix of arts, crafts and trinkets, there’s everything from paintings, beads, necklaces, tie dyed clothes, soy candles, NT number plate wind chime or a crocodile foot keyring.
TIPS for Mindil Markets with kids
- There are plenty of people about, head early to secure a good spot, or be prepared for a little walk.
- Carparking is free, but arrive well before 6:30pm (sunset) for a good spot.
- It was difficult but still do-able to maneuver the stroller around. A baby carrier may have been easier.
- Take cash, all the stall vendors operate on a cash only basis. However, if you do require more money there is an ATM which charges a small fee for the huge convenience.
- Pack a picnic rug or chair and BYO drinks. You can easily tell the locals from the tourists on Mindil Beach, they are the ones set up on a nice part of the beach with picnic rugs and a cold esky filled with beverages for the sunset show.
- Not many people actually swim in the water at Mindil Beach. It’s one of those swim at your own risk beaches, with potentially nasty jellyfish in the wet season and crocs. Saltwater crocs have been spotted at Mindil Beach.
Other Darwin City Markets
- Parap Markets, located in Parap Village Shopping Precinct off Parap Road, is a smaller market which operates every Saturday of the year between 8am and 2pm. It’s here that you can find Darwins Best Laksa.
- Nightcliff Markets, located in Nightcliff Shopping Centre operates every Sunday from 8.00 am to 2.00 pm filled with food stalls as well as arts, crafts, entertainment and masseurs. There’s also a playground onsite.
Museum & Art Gallery of Northern Territory
The Museum & Art Gallery of Northern Territory was originally a time filler before heading to Acquascene, which we did not rate at all (tourist trap). The free museum on the other hand was the highlight of our visit to Darwin.
A well laid out museum seamlessly flowing from one exhibit to another. The Museum and Art Gallery of NT is supremely kid friendly with plenty of open spaces. The standout for us were the beautifully presented exhibits of Northern Territories flora and fauna. Other highlights included great educational pieces on Cyclone Tracey and excellent Aboriginal art and cultural pieces of both modern and traditional style.
Here’s also where the kids get to meet a very large taxidermic crocodile by the name of Sweetheart. The 5.1 meter croc started becoming a danger when he decided to attack boats along the river in the late 70’s. When he was caught to be relocated he subsequently became tangled with a log and drowned. Sweetheart the crocodile now resides permanently at the museum.
The Museum & Art Gallery of Northern Territory also has a dedicated area just for kids called The Discovery Centre, where lots of educational and kid friendly exhibits are provided, all free of charge.
Rotating paid exhibitions are worth a look
As well as the free permanent displays, the museum arranges paid exhibitions throughout the year. Whilst we were there the kids enjoyed the outdoor Dinosaurs Alive exhibit, with life-like robotic dinosaurs popular with kiddies including T-Rex and Velociraptor.
Whilst the dinosaurs were great, it’s not quite worth the $50 family price (2 adults + 2 kids) price tag. Understandably, the entire production must cost a bit to bring to the Top End, however for us, the kids were just as happy in the free areas.
Wave Lagoon Darwin
Address: Kitchener Dr, Darwin City NT 0800
By far the safest spot to swim in Darwin is the Wave Lagoon located in the Darwin Waterfront Precinct. Free of crocodile, nasty jellyfish and very clean as far as public swimming pools go.
For a small fee (Family $18, under 2 free), kids can enjoy a very large pool that gradually deepens. Young kids can splash by the shallow shore and the more adventurous can ride the artificial waves on the floatation rings or boogie boards provided. There were also children floatation devices and noodles available. Click here for cost of entry to the Wave Lagoon.
A great set up with plenty of shade and large toddler pool area, separate to the wave pool with sprinklers and splash area.
The waves are quite constant and big so little ones may find this a bit frightening. However, there’s a 10 minute break between each wave cycle where the kids can swim out and paddle in calm waters.
Adjacent to the fenced Wave Lagoon is a separate patrolled Recreational Lagoon which has a nice little sandy beach. It’s safe to swim as water is maintained and monitored and a mesh screen and stinger net provided to prevent stingers (or crocs!) coming in on the beachside of the lagoon.
Where to eat around Darwin Wave Lagoon’s Waterfront Precinct
There are plenty of restaurants around the pool for a bite but are a little on the pricey side. Alternatively take a walk to Stokes Hill Wharf precinct and grab some fish and chips on the jetty. My husband claims that the meat pies there are excellent.
TIPS for Wave Lagoon
- Toilet, shower and change facilities provided
- Lockers are available for hire
- Swim nappy is required for all babies and toddlers not yet toilet trained
- First 2 hours in the Kitchener Drive multi-level parking is free after that its $2 for 3 hours and $4 for 4 hours. Click here for latest parking prices and information.
The Esplanade & Bicentennial Park
Address: Esplanade, Darwin City NT 0800
Take a stroll along the Esplanade overlooking Darwin Harbor and the Timor Sea beyond. On one side are popular hotels, resorts as well as historical buildings including Parliament House; on the other is Bicentennial Park, which runs the length of Darwin Harbor.
Though the sun doesn’t set on the harbor and there aren’t any pretty sandy beaches, during the evening catch the sea breeze on a nice flat stroll along paved walkways. It’s a lovely walk through established parklands and open grasslands. There’s a playground for the kids, park benches when they tire, a lookout over the harbor and several war memorials to pay homage.
The park attracts major gatherings, we were in Darwin during the Greek Glenti Festival, complete with children’s carnival, live entertainment and Greek food. Check out Tourism NT Events & Festivals here.
Address: Jervois Rd, Darwin City NT 0800
Darwin is great for this outdoors and this place looked wonderful. Deckchair Cinemas is an outdoor open air cinema with deck chairs provided. Enjoy a movie under the stars. Hot food, drinks and alcohol is available.
Check out the cinema sessions and ticket prices. Unfortunately, when we were there a film festival with Indy non-PG rated films were showing. The previous week they had Frozen. Kids under 5 are free and family tickets are $35 for a single session.
Address: Jervois Road, Darwin Waterfront Precinct, Darwin, Northern Territory
Having just come from Kakadu we were croc’d out. However, Darwin and the NT is all about crocodiles and here are Darwin’s best crocodile attractions:
Address: 58 Mitchell St, Darwin City NT 0800
Worth a mention is Crocosaurus Cove. I’ve been debating whether this is touristy or a unique Darwin offering.
Whilst the prices are steep e.g. $98.80 (at time of writing) for a family ticket, there appears to value for money with lots of attractions. With crocs in the wild, they are often in muddy waters or in the distance. With Crocosaurus Cove, you get to see the crocs up close and in clear aquariums.
For kids, they have various animal enclosures and activities including; croc feeding, turtle feeding and reptile demonstrations. There’s also highly rated fish and reptile enclosures. A separate platform is available to dangle some meat and feed crocodiles below.
Crocosaurus Cove is famous for the “Cage of Death” where a perspex cage is lowered into a pool where the very large croc by the name of Chopper resides.
Kids do miss out (maybe quite happily) as there is a 15 year plus age limit. For the little ones, they can “swim with crocs” in a pool with a heavy duty glass barrier separating them from juvenile crocodiles. Take you kids lead on this, mine could go either way, either freak out or be really into it, depending on the day.
TIPS for Crocosaurus Cove
- There’s a 10% off discount code in the 2014 Annual Destination Darwin Visitor Guide (page 33) which you can pick up a free copy at the Tourism Information Centre located on Corner of Smith & Bennet Street.
- Bring swimming gear for a dip with the kids
- Plan your visit ahead of time – work out the session times for attractions. For example there are only one meet the reptiles session each morning and afternoon and you may miss them if not timed right. There have also been reviews where people were left disappointed as the animals weren’t very active having just been fed, plan your visit, click here for attraction times.
- Located on busy Mitchell Street, parking can be hard to find. If you are staying near the Esplanade, consider walking if it’s not too stinky hot. Otherwise check out free and paid car park locations here.
Address: 58 Mitchell St, Darwin City NT 0800
Along the Adelaide River safely behind the enclosures of a boat, witness wild crocodiles launching themselves out of the river for a bite to eat.
It’s approximately 1 hour drive from Darwin (70 km towards Kakadu) and prices start at $80 for family of four for an hour long tour.
Nearby is a great little free attraction called Windows on the Wetlands attraction, which you can read more about here.
TIPS for Jumping Crocodiles
- There are select tour times each day 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm.
- For the Adelaide River Queen Cruises cruises for kids under 4 years only operate at 11am and 1pm. The smaller boats are not suitable for kids.
- Just remember no arms outside of the boat checkout a croc launching at tour guide.
For a gentler less jumpy immersion into the croc world, there’s Crocodylus Park. It’s a short drive (15km, 16 minutes) from Darwin CBD. Unlike Crocosaurus, this is a wildlife park with boat rides to view crocs in their natural habitat.
There are both the salities and freshies and babies to view. There are also a variety of other animals including big cats, reptiles, monkeys and Aussie mammals. At $105 for a family of four, it’s a good day trip from Darwin and more a zoo than just Crocs. If it is crocodiles you’re after though, I’d be tempted to stick with Crocosaurus Cove in the heart of the city.
The not so great, Aquascene
During high tides at Doctors Gully in Darwin Harbor, Aquascene offers what sounds like a wonderful experience for the kids, where you get to hand feed a variety of wild fish.
It is Darwin’s darling, many locals and tourists alike have fond memories. We couldn’t help to feel like tourists trapped.
Where to stay in Darwin with Kids
Darwin accommodation is expensive during the dry season. Even booking ahead doesn’t provide much discount. We went during peak season at the start of June and it was busy and prices were high. Here are our pick of the best places to stay in Darwin for families:
Our original flight arrangements had us arriving late. We also intended to head straight to Kakadu from Darwin. Staying close to the airport with kids meant we could quickly settle them for an early start the next morning.
Airport hotels also offer free shuttle busses, which saved a day of hiring a car (and hire cars are also expensive during peak times).
We chose the Novotel Airport Darwin (which use to be the Rydges). It’s nothing special, but everything you expect from a Novotel, clean, comfortable and kids play and eat free!
Our family fit comfortably in a standard twin room (two double beds) with a small bathroom (with bath) and tea / coffee facilities.
During June, we paid $280 for 2 adults and 2 kids, which was a good rate compared to other hotels in Darwin.
On our return from Kakadu, we stayed at Double Tree Hilton Darwin, not to be mistaken by DoubleTree by Hilton Esplanade (formerly Holiday Inn) which is right next door.
This was chosen due to the location on Esplanade, right across from Bicentennial Park and walking distance to major attractions. However, in hindsight, for families provided you have your own car, it’s not necessary to stay in the thick of it all.
The Double Tree by Hilton Hotel building is relatively old and the pool though lovely is a bit tired. The rooms however have been refurbished. They are a good size with ocean views. There is also a laundry available which was handy as well as free parking and free wi-fi in the lobby. As for the service and food, both need improvement. It’s those transient backpacker staff, short on experience and overwhelmed easily.
This was one of the only hotels that had a good rate at the time, we paid $280 per night whilst everywhere else was $310+
The Wharf Precinct is a better fit for families and is my choice for where to stay in Darwin. Located in a newer development, there are nice restaurants and bars about and views of the waterfront. Located across from the parklands and the Wave Pool, it’s also a short walk or drive to any of the major attractions include Stokes Hill Wharf.
Adina Waterfront Apartments offer 1 bedroom apartment style hotel accommodations. When we were booking it was a bit too pricey, a 1 bedroom for 2 adults and 2 kids was in the vicinity of $350+ per night, though they advertised from $279 for a studio.
Another good option for family accommodation is Cullen Bay. It’s a nice relaxed area with restaurant and resorts centered around the Marina. It’s also popular for the seafood eateries. Within walking distance to Mindil Beach Markets and the Casino.
Cullen Bay Serviced Apartments are a cheap and cheerful option for families.
Best time to goto Darwin with kids?
Darwin is divided into a dry season from April to September and the wet season, from October to March. Avoid the wet season when travelling with kids. The days are hot, humid and uncomfortable. There are storms and downpours as well as nasty stingers in the water. Reason why the Mindil Sunset Markets and other attractions are not open.
The best time to goto Darwin with kids is in the dry season – April to September. The weather is delightful, still hot during the day but not sickly humid, whilst the evenings are balmy. There are clear blue skies and little rain.
Combine a Darwin trip with Kakadu, the perfect time to go is in June with beautiful sunny days minus the humidity. Unfortunately the best time to go does coincide with school holidays and peak prices. Try early June or late July / August, either side of the school holidays for slight price variances and smaller crowds.
What to pack for Darwin with kids?
How many days do you need in Darwin with kids?
Darwin is a small city with all the main attractions relatively close together. You will not need 2 days to cover the major sites.
Try to time your visit during Mindil Markets open days.
Extend your stay and venture into Kakadu with kids
Day trips from Darwin
Spend a little longer still for great day trips from Darwin, these include:
Many claim Litchfield National Park is just as good, if not better than Kakadu. The main reason Litchfield is so loved is due to the spectacular plunge pools, waterfalls and swimming holes within close proximity of each other and an easy 100Km (1hour 40 minutes) from Darwin. Check out the popular Wangi Falls here.
Berry Springs are a series of natural spring fed pools located an easy 45 minute drive from Darwin. Bring goggles as there are plenty of fish in the pools.
Getting to Darwin
Qantas, Virgin, Tigerair and Jetstar fly direct flights, daily from the East Coast. It takes approximately 4 hours and 10 minutes to fly to Darwin (DRW).
Getting around Darwin
If you are staying at a central part of Darwin, you can possibly get around to all the major attractions by walking, bus and taxi. However with young kids, the most convenient option is to hire a car to go at your own pace.
Cars hire can be found at Darwin airport.
Book in advance as the earlier the booking the more money you can possibly save. We hired from Europcar which we found to have the best deal June and hired a 4WD for touring Kakadu. Having booked months in advance, we did try to pick up the car a day earlier as our flight times had been changed to arrive earlier into Darwin. The price had doubled and were advised if we changed our booking, a new and higher rate would be applied.
Around the CBD
I love a CBD that is arranged in a grid, it makes it easier to get around. When you arrive, head to the Corner of Smith and Bennett Street to the Visitor Information Centre. They have great maps, guides and advice for Darwin. You will also be in the heart of Darwin. Smith street is the main hub for shopping, food and dining.
Along Smith Street, from the top of Daly Street to Bennett Street is a good 15 minute walk with kids, which leads you to the Darwin Waterfront. The streets running parallel to Smith Street, Cavanagh and Mitchell Street as well as the streets interconnecting, Kunckey and Bennett Street provide further shopping, amenities and dining.
The Mall is located between Knuckey and Bennett street, here’s also where you will find free WIFI courtesy of the City of Darwin.
Aside from Mitchell Street with it’s bars, pubs and eateries, the CBD region is very quiet on a weekend, The Mall and surrounding shops open Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm, Saturday 9am – 12noon and most shops are closed on Sunday.
Darwin has all the amenities of a city, you can pick up what you need in town. If you’re heading to Kakadu, buy all your supplies in Darwin including alcohol before heading into the National Park.
Everything you need is in the CBD with your usual retailers, souvenir shops, pharmacies, both Coles and Woolworths Supermarket in and around Smith Street.
Casuarina Square is the largest shopping center in Darwin and has all the major retailers including Target, Kmart, Big W, Woolworth and Coles. Also popular retailers, optometrists, Medicare and major banks.
One of the last shopping hubs before heading into Kakadu, North Lakes has a small group of shops including a full-lined Coles supermarket, Bakery and B.W.S.
Cavanagh Medical Centre is located on 50 Woods Street, Darwin CBD. Private practice, no bulk billing.
Open hours: Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm. Saturdays 9am to noon. Contact: (08) 8981 8566
Territory Medical has four centres around Darwin. In the CBD Territory Medical Mitchell is located in the Mitchell Center on Mitchell Street. Open: Monday to Friday 8:30amto 5pm. Saturdays 9am to 1pm. Contact: (08) 8948 4333
The other centres are in Territory Medical Nightcliff, Territory Medical Bayside and Territory Medical Essington. Private practice, no bulk billing.
Open from 10.00 pm to 8.00 am daily. Walk-in care only, no appointments. Free emergency service.
Address: Palmerston Health Precinct. Corner Roystonea Avenue and Temple Terrace
Where to eat in Darwin with kids
There are plenty of choices in Darwin for a casual bite to eat. As well as the famous markets; Parap, Mindil Beach and Nightcliff, there are a collection of family friendly places to eat in Darwin.
Darwin CBD (Smith, Mitchell, Cavenagh & Knuckey St)
Shop 6/38 Smith Street, Darwin, Northern Territory. Inside the The Galleria Food Court. Open hours: Monday to Saturday 10am-3:30pm.
Halfway down Smith Street is where you will find The Galleria a shopping center which has a food court attached. Of note is Roast and Noodle 328, offering very good Chinese style hawker food at a nice price. They are the one of the only places open past noon on a Saturday in the area. I am a bit picky when it comes to a good duck and rice dish and this one didn’t disappoint. Check out Urbanspoon reviews here.
5/28 Mitchell St, Darwin, Northern Territory. Open hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11:00 am to 3:00 pm for Lunch and 5:30-9:00 pm Dinner
32 Smith Street, Darwin, Northern Territory. Open hours: Monday to Saturday for Lunch: 10:30am – 2:30pm. Tuesday to Friday 5:30pm -9:00pm
We were on the hunt for the best Laksa in Darwin, which is suppose to be Rendezvous Cafe a family run Malaysian eatery focussing on weekday lunches and limited dinner hours. Check out Urbanspoon reviews here.
Unfortunately, when we arrived (just past noon) the restaurant was just closing. It’s a very understated eatery and tricky to find, located near the middle of Smith Street, opposite the Victoria Hotel, inbetween the Book Exchange and Creative Jewellery store you find the entrance to 32 Star Village Plaza. Head straight through the arcade and you will find a small unassuming shopfront, with plenty of award winning accolades stuck to the front door.
93 Mitchell Street, Darwin, Northern Territory. Next to Darwin Entertainment Center, Mitchell Street. Open hours: Monday to Friday noon to 3 pm; dinner seven days a week from 6pm.
Located in the Mitchell Center, 55-59 Mitchell St, Northern Territory. Open hours: Monday to Friday 11am to 3pm for lunch and 5pm to 9pm for dinner. Saturday 11.30am – 3pm Lunch & 5pm – 9pm Dinner. Sunday 5pm – 9pm Dinner
Japanese restaurant serving up Yakitori Skewers and Gyoza. Has tremendous reviews and worth a visit. Check out Urbanspoon reviews here.
6/24 Cavenagh Street, Darwin, Northern Territory. Open Hours:
Sari Rasa is a favourite with the locals and serves up authentic Indonesian. Check out Urbanspoon reviews here.
37 Knuckey Street, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
Moorish Cafe is a Spanish Tapas restaurant with a twist of Northern African and Mediterranean influences. Set in a relaxed atmosphere, people are raving about it. Check out Urbanspoon reviews here.
Deck Bar offers Eastern and Western cuisine in a outdoor pub atmosphere. A good option for a Laksa if Rendezvous is closed. They also have the usual pub fair. The fish and chips looked pretty good.
As a note, on a weekend the early afternoon rings in the start of a weekend session, so the music was being cranked up and the DJ was setting up for good times. Either avoid the party by dining early or head somewhere else. Check out Urbanspoon reviews here.
Stoke Hill Wharf
Kid friendly al fresco dining on the jetty, with fish and chips, noodles, burgers, meat pies and gelato to keep the kids satisfied.
Great little area with modern restaurants overlooking the waterfront. See a full list of the areas restaurants here.
Shops D1 & D2 19 Kitchener Drive, Darwin, Northern Territory. Open hours: Daily at 11:30am to 2:30pm for lunch and 5:30pm to 9:30pm for dinner.
Get your fix of Pho with a side of coconut juice at the modern, family friendly Chow restaurant on the waterfront. Open for lunch every day from 11:30 am till 2:30 pm and for dinner from 5:30 pm till 9:30 pm. Check out Urbanspoon reviews here.
It’s all about seafood and views when dining in Cullen Bay. Check out a list of restaurant and amenities here.
55 Marina Blvd Larrakeyah, Northern Territory. Open hours: Monday to Saturday from 5.30pm to 10:00pm
All you can eat seafood buffet style dining at Seafood on Cullen. It’s quick convenient and has a large selection of food (not just seafood). Sometimes they offer all you can eat Chilli Mud Crab! Views are out towards sparkling Cullen Bay and there is indoor and outdoor dining. Check out Urbanspoon reviews here.
Have you been to Darwin, anything that is worth a mention for visitors dropping by with kids? For some activities to do just outside of Darwin, please see my Darwin with kids guide, coming soon.