Our Darwin city walk skirts the scenic waterfront that fringes the Northern Territory’s easy-going tropical capital, taking you through the compact historic quarter, along the tree-lined esplanade, and through leafy parkland shaded by lofty trees. Do our self-guided stroll at your own pace, visiting sights en route or returning to them later.
Vibrant, multicultural Darwin, the low-key capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, may be best known as the departure point for road trips to Kakadu National Park, Mary River National Park and Litchfield National Park to learn about ancient Aboriginal culture and absorb awe-inspiring natural beauty. But Darwin also warrants some of your time and your best introduction to the NT capital is on our Darwin city walk.
Boasting shady bay-side parks, galleries showcasing Aboriginal art, engaging museums, mouth-watering markets, and wonderful opportunities for waterfront dining, Darwin makes a fantastic base for acclimatising before venturing into the Top End’s national parks or road-tripping down to Nitmiluk, Katherine and Alice Springs, or across to the Kimberley in Western Australia, and the best way to experience it as far as we’re concerned is on foot.
Established as a Singaporean-style trading post in 1869, the languid city has attracted Asian visitors to its shores ever since, enriching the local cuisine and culture. Darwin’s compact historic quarter was once home to a Chinatown, while the city’s markets sell every kind of Southeast Asian food there is, from Cambodian pancakes to Sri Lankan curries. Distances aren’t great between sights but the heat and humidity can be debilitating during the hottest months when you may want to do this walk by car!
Darwin’s laidback locals are an eclectic mix of people, too, who enjoy the sultry heat and unhurried pace of life in the tropical Top End. In the cooler months, you’ll meet them at Darwin’s markets, cafés and pubs – as well as getting some exercise, kicking back in a park, or taking in the views on this Darwin city walk.
Darwin City Walk Itinerary – A Self-Guided Stroll Around Tropical Darwin
Our Darwin city walk will give you a great introduction to the compact city centre and key sights in the area immediately surrounding the city.
Start your Darwin city walk early before it heats up. Take plenty of water, wear a hat and slap on some sunblock. Take a taxi to the Darwin Waterfront if you’re not staying nearby so you don’t wear yourself out even before you’ve begun the walk. Have the driver drop you on the Wharf at the very end of Stokes Hill Road.
Begin your Darwin city walk at Stokes Hill Wharf, a working wharf where historic pearl luggers, luxury catamarans and party boats set sail for sunset cruises. This is where the airboat tours and fishing charters also depart.
Locals love to while away a weekend afternoon or dry season evening at Stokes Hill Wharf’s breezy seafood restaurants, fish and chip shops, and casual eateries. Note where you’d like to dine so you can make a booking when you return as the wharf gets busy in the evening for dinner.
For now, enjoy the morning light then head in to the Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility (Stokes Hill Wharf; 9.30am-5pm daily; entry fee) to learn about two iconic Northern Territory stories, the founding of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) by Reverend John Flynn in the NT in 1939, and the Bombing of Darwin by the Japanese on 19th February 1942, which destroyed most of the city, including the Wharf.
On the self-guided tour, which allows you to explore at your own pace, you can take a peek inside the decommissioned RFDS aircraft and engage in interactive exhibitions that incorporate touchscreens and virtual reality to relive a patient’s experience with an RFDS Pilot and dramatic bombing of Darwin Harbour.
After, drop into Indo-Pacific Marine (29 Stokes Hill Road; Tue-Sun 10am-2pm; entry fee) to see the fascinating exhibitions of marine eco-systems and learn about the rich yet fragile marine environment of Darwin and the Northern Territory. The live coral displays are especially impressive.
Continue our Darwin city walk with a stroll along the waterside path in front of the Darwin Convention Centre, passing the wave pool, the picturesque public beach and lagoon, which is safe for swimming due to sea wall and nets that keep stingers out. The palm-shaded park is a fab spot for a picnic and there’s often live music on dry season evenings and during weekends.
Look out for the public art scattered around the park, including indigenous artist Janice Murray’s kid-friendly sculpture of a Jabiru bird, which children are invited to sit on; Indonesian-born artist Dadang Christanto’s palm tree sculptures, set within a real palm grove. The stainless-steel hands and heads on the fronds represent aspects of life and death, with the hand with out-stretched open fingers representing reconciliation.
Take a detour to the entrance to the Kitchener Drive car park (you’ll spot the signs) to see artist Polly Johnstone’s colourful mural inspired by the Cassiopea Andromedia jellyfish, while inside the glass observation lifts nearby there’s a sculptural pattern by indigenous artist Wukun Wunambi, which represents the connection between gapu (water) and guya (fish) and is inspired by sacred saltwater designs the artist learned from tribal elders after the death of his father.
Walk up Kitchener Drive to the historic World War II Oil Storage Tunnels (9am-4pm; entry fee), which were created to protect Darwin’s oil supplies and run beneath the city. They now house a subterranean museum honouring the heroes and victims of World War II and the bombing of Darwin through exhibits and art.
To resume our Darwin city walk, take the steps up to Survivor’s Lookout. At the top of the stairs, to your left, the lookout has information boards about the bombing, the largest single attack on Australia by a foreign enemy. There were once stunning views over the bay from here but now the trees have grown so high they’re obstructed. It’s a shame, but the trees are also stunning.
You’re on the Esplanade now and across the road are the handsome historic Administrators Offices. While these splendid colonial-style stone buildings may look like they’ve stood here for centuries, they were devastated when Cyclone Tracy hit in 1974 and rebuilt. The first building constructed on the site was the Palmerston Police Station, but the wooden structure was destroyed by white ants, so a stone building was erected in 1881.
A stone court house was added in 1884, and while it survived the 1942 bombing of Darwin, the adjoining police station was damaged and demolished. Both buildings served as the Naval Headquarters until Cyclone Tracy destroyed both buildings. Miraculously, some of the original doors, windows and veranda posts were discovered amongst the wreckage and saved and were incorporated into the new buildings.
Cross the road to Smith Street to see more historic buildings that survived Cyclone Tracy, including the ruins of the 1902 Christ Church Cathedral, cleverly incorporated into the modern church, 1885 Brown’s Mart Theatre, and the 1883 Palmerston Town Hall ruins. Note the enormous banyan tree, the Tree of Knowledge, by Brown’s Mart Theatre, a reminder that Darwin’s Chinatown stood here before the World War II bombing.
If you continue directly ahead, you’ll come to the pedestrianised Smith Street Mall, Darwin’s main shopping area, which boasts Aboriginal crafts and art galleries, souvenir and gift shops selling crocodile products, jewellery stores specialising in local pearls, boutiques, cafés, and restaurants, some tucked into shopping arcades.
For now, hang a left on Bennett Street and stroll past the excellent Tourism Top End building (do return later; this must be one of the best tourism offices in Australia) and then another left to State Square, home to the imposing white Parliament House (which offers free 90 min tours), Northern Territory Library, and the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory. The foyer boasts an impressive mosaic floor by indigenous artist Norah Napaljarri Nelson, as well as some splendid burial poles from Arnhem Land.
To resume your Darwin city walk, tiptoe across the manicured lawn to The Esplanade and you’re not far from where you were before, near Survivors Lookout. Directly in front of you, you’ll see the elegant 1883 Government House, in the tropical style of colonial architecture, which you can take a few moments to admire. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were open to the public?
From here, you can continue your Darwin city walk with a saunter along The Esplanade for a bit, then take the path on your left into the leafy Bicentennial Park, home to the Darwin Cenotaph Memorial, among other sights. Stop at the lookout to soak up the aquamarine waters of Fanny Bay along the way.
Call into the charming Lyons Cottage on the corner of The Esplanade and Knuckey Street. Built in 1925 as lodgings for the Darwin Cable Company staff, it’s now managed by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and is now home to the wonderful Aboriginal Bush Traders, an indigenous art gallery and boutique, which has a fabulous range of authentic handicrafts, art and gifts, along with the fab bush food café.
Further along, Old Admiralty House, on the corner of Peel Street and The Esplanade, is a 1920s tropical-style house on stilts. At the end of The Esplanade, if it’s high tide you could follow Doctor’s Gully Road down to Aquascene to hand-feed fish. Check the tidal times, and therefore the fish feeding times, before you set out for your Darwin city walk if this is something you really want to do.
Backtrack up the hill and take Daly Street to Gardens Road, then turn left, heading downhill to the luxuriant George Brown Botanic Gardens where you can take a breather and take in the lush surrounds before continuing on to Conacher Street to the superb Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT). The Museum has compelling exhibitions of Aboriginal art, as well as the preserved remains of Sweetheart, a 5.1m 780kg crocodile captured in 1979, a stirring Cyclone Tracy display, and a wonderful Maritime Gallery.
Once you’re done, fill your water bottle here for the last 3km stretch of our Darwin city walk. Turn right into Atkins Drive and walk past Mindil Beach Reserve, home to Darwin’s popular sunset markets, and head uphill to Kahlin Avenue. Turn right to Mylill Point Heritage Park for fine examples of 1930s tropical architecture, before following the road down to Marina Boulevard and Cullen Bay Marina.
Our Darwin city walk ends here at Cullen Bay Marina, where you can reward yourself with a cold glass – or probably a bottle – of something and a bite to eat at one of the many eateries overlooking the picturesque marina, bobbing with boats.