It seems Darwin is a place many struggle to leave. The joke is that you come for a week and end up staying for years.
We certainly met a few locals who’d ended up in Darwin unplanned like that.
It’s easy to see the appeal. There are so many things to do in Darwin for families. The weather is a balmy 30 degrees in the dry season (although it gets disgustingly humid and hot in the wet time of year) and the sun doesn’t stop shining.
We ended up spending a month in this tropical part of the world and loved the never-ending list of things to do. In fact, a month wasn’t even enough time to cross everything off our list.
But after jotting down a guide for another travelling family, I thought it’d be useful to share the sites we did see while we were there. Best of all, most of them were free!
Things to do in Darwin for families:
Leanyer Water Park
This is possibly the best water park in Darwin – and it’s free! There are three large waterslides to choose from for the big kids (aka Dave and me) and then a large splash area for the younger kids, which has numerous slides as well.
There’s a huge pool to swim in too, and some of it is covered by shade sails.
There is also a playground that’s perfect for toddlers and older kids too, and plenty of space to have a picnic. There are free BBQs and a reasonably priced kiosk for snacks if you forget to bring a packed lunch.
Open every day except Monday.
Palmerston Water Park
This waterpark was a five-minute drive from where we stayed, which made it extremely convenient when the weather got too hot! The waterslides for the big kids are perfect for racing each other, as they’re the open air type where you fly down on your belly on a mat.
The splash area isn’t as large as Leanyer but I think Ruby preferred it because it didn’t have a lot of water spraying all the time like Leanyer does. She especially loved the toddler waterslide and went down it about a hundred times.
There is also picnic tables here and lots of shady spots to sit.
Open every day except Tuesday.
Howard Springs is in a more natural setting than the other water parks, with a large splash area that extends out from a man-made waterfall. Adjacent to the splash area is a nature adventure playground that Ruby loved, including a big slide and flying fox.
Back in the day, the lake here was a popular swimming spot but these days you can’t swim because of bacteria in the water has deemed it unsafe. This is the main reason they build the splash area. Across the bridge there is also a circular toddler pool that’s about one metre deep.
There are BBQs here and shady picnic spots.
Open every day.
The Darwin Waterfront
The Wave Pool
We loved the waterfront down near the CBD and went there a few times. There’s a large wave pool next to the beach area where you can relax on a pool donut and surf the waves every 20 minutes or so.
There are lots of beach umbrellas and sun loungers, so it’s a good spot to spend an afternoon. We took Ruby in the pool and I accidentally flipped out of the donut with her in my lap at one point, which gave us all a fright.
If your child is frightened by the waves (which Ruby was – temporarily – after that incident!) then there’s also a splash area for younger kids.
Adults are $7 and seniors / kids over two are $5. Buy your wristband at the kiosk and you can come and go as you please.
There’s a netted beach down at the waterfront too, which is child-friendly as there are no waves and no chance of crocs getting in. (Although watch out for jellyfish!)
There’s a sandy area so there’s a chance to build some sandcastles, while the grassed area adjacent is the perfect place to put your towel.
Further up from the shore is a playground that’s perfect for kids aged 2-8. Bigger kids can pay to spend some time on the massive inflatable waterpark adjacent to the beach. Not sure how much it costs as we didn’t get a chance to do it.
Live music can often be heard on the waterfront on Sunday afternoons.
Although this isn’t a guide to restaurants in Darwin, I thought I’d give a shout out to the restaurant on the waterfront, Hot Tamale. We went there twice for happy hour (4pm-6pm) when they serve $5 tacos (set of three) and $5 beers and margheritas.
The tacos were delicious and the staff gave Ruby pencils and colouring in pads while we were there.
Need we say more?
Places to play
The Fun Bus
The Fun Bus is a playgroup with a twist. Mondays to Fridays it travels around Darwin, bringing its fun stations to different parks between 9am and 11:30am.
The Fun Bus team sets up different play areas, including craft, painting, puzzles, blocks, toys and books, for kids to play with.
Ruby had an absolute ball. For more information on where the bus is headed to, visit this website.
This park has a really good playground for toddlers, with swings and lots of climbing areas which are all undercover. The Fun Bus visits this park, which is how we discovered it.
The Botanical Gardens have large dinosaurs Ruby liked to look at the top of the hill, while at the bottom there’s a playground. The café is kid friendly and features toys and cars for the kids to ride around in. The coffee is delicious too.
We didn’t manage to get here but we’ve heard this restaurant is a lot of fun. There’s a merry-go-round in the middle which the kids can ride on while you eat your lunch or dinner.
Darwin is not short on markets! There seem to be markets in every suburb, adding to the hippy-feel of the place.
Perhaps the most famous markets in Darwin, if not in Australia. They are on Thursday and Sunday nights, right down on the beach. Head there when they open at 4pm as they tend to get very busy.
Buy some food from one of the many reasonably priced international food stalls and head down to the beach to enjoy the sunset while you eat your dinner.
This market is held on Friday evenings in the dry season. We didn’t go there ourselves but heard it was really good for kids because they have a big grass area for them to run and play while you eat your dinner from the food stalls and listen to live music.
Held on Sunday mornings, we loved this market because there is a playground in the centre, which allowed Ruby to let off steam while we sat nearby and ate pho from the Vietnamese stall. Highly recommend that stall – the food is so good! The mango lassies from the fruit juice stall are also delicious.
Expensive to get in at $40 an adult, but you can spend hours here. Make sure you ask at the entry desk when the croc feeding times and animal handling times are so you don’t miss them.
Seeing the crocs jump up for chicken and being able to hold a baby croc were the major drawcards of this park.
Unlike the other wildlife park, this one also has lions and tigers, monkeys and other animals. The enclosures are a little dated.
The budget was a bit stretched after Crocodylus so we didn’t make it to Crocosaurus. It’s cheaper to get in by a few dollars ($36 an adult) and the main attraction here is that you can go cage diving with the crocs. Of course, that’ll set you back another $170.
Conveniently located in the CBD.
Territory Wildlife Park
Our friend who’d visited all three parks reckons Territory Wildlife Park was the best and if I had my time again we’d probably head there over Crocodylus.
It’s a big park but if you don’t have the energy to walk to all the exhibits in the heat, you can catch a shuttle bus. The park is big on conservation too, which gets a thumbs up from us.
Adults are $37 for entry.
Another one located in Darwin’s CBD. I must admit we didn’t visit because they feed the fish bread to attract them in to the shore. I don’t feel it’s healthy to feed fish bread in their natural habitat – even my mum’s fish in her saltwater tank are fed better than that. It doesn’t seem to natural to me, and you have to pay $15 an adult for the privilege, so we gave it a miss.
You can feed the fish (we didn’t do it cos I think it’s a big expensive?)
One more for the adults than the kids, but if you’re homeschooling on the road it’s a great place for education. A recent revamp of the museum has brought a brilliant film to the cinema screen there.
They use old photos overlayed with audio-visual effects to re-create the bombing of Darwin. Frightening as it takes you back in time.
Outside there is a big garden you can walk around with different sheds displaying war time machinery and memorabilia.
Entry costs $20 an adult.
Museum and Art Gallery
It’s free entry for this amazing museum and art gallery. Downstairs there’s a kids room where Ruby enjoyed a play with the puzzles and drawing and painting. Take a look at the sculptures on the walls here too – brightly coloured ants and flowers. I’d love to decorate Ruby’s dream playroom with art like that!
When we visited there was an exhibition on about the moon and it was very interesting, telling the story of how different cultures around the world revere the moon.
There’s also a large warehouse displaying boats from around the world, as well as the body of Sweetheart – the Northern Territory’s most famous crocodile resident.
Darwin Aviation Museum
Dave visited this museum with his dad and said the highlight was the massive B-52 airplane which resides in the main hangar. There were many displays talking about the wars the planes were involved in, with a collection including a Cobra gunship helicopter, a Mirage jet fighter and an F-111 swing wing bomber (Dave’s favourite).
$16 for entry.
WWII Oil Storage Tunnels
Built in the hope of saving Darwin’s precious oil from the bombings, we didn’t visit these historic tunnels but our friends took their kids and said it was worthwhile.
Entry is only $8.
Spots for a picnic
La Beach Fish and Chips at Cullen Bay
If you can’t be bothered packing a picnic but still want to relax in a beautiful picnic setting, head down to La Beach at Cullen Bay. The fish and chips are delicious here, but what really steals the show is the stunning view of the ocean. There’s a large grassed area for you to spread out your picnic rug as you munch on fresh seafood.
We headed down to this area a couple of times for an evening picnic. On one side of the road is a lake and on the other is a grassed area overlooking the ocean. There are rocks you can beach comb on and a couple of children’s playgrounds. Picnic tables can be in short supply on the weekends, so pack your chairs and camping tables.
You can’t miss Berry Springs for a picnic or a swim. This stunning natural waterhole is about 40 minutes south of Darwin. It’s made up of three large pools and the first features a natural waterfall.
The water isn’t too cold but bring your pool noodles as two of the pools are very deep. It’s free entry and there are lots of spots to picnic. There’s a kiosk open during the high season too.
There is an endless list of sports clubs in Darwin and the good news is that a lot of them are very family friendly. For the three we went to (listed below) they are all next to each other along the Darwin waterfront.
Darwin Trailer Boat Club
This club is probably the best one for kids because there is both a pool and a playground adjacent to one another. You can get a table quite close to the facilities, so you can relax while your kids run wild.
The only downside is they’ve grown a large hedge along the waterfront which blocks out some of the view.
Right next door to Trailer Boat Club you’ll find the Sailing Club. This spot probably has the best food (I can recommend the mussels!) but there isn’t a pool.
There is, however, a playground for the kids.
Ski Boat Club
Further up the road from the Sailing Club you’ll find the Ski Boat Club. There isn’t a playground at this one, but you can sit right opposite the water and enjoy the view. There is a pool, although it’s set back from the water quite a bit.
Where we stayed in Darwin
Our first ten days in Darwin were spent at Free Spirit Resort. The pool area was great for kids, although it’s not shaded, and the water was warm enough to swim. They have entertainment on most nights in the high season and kids club activities most days.
It was quite expensive to stay there though ($50 or so a night) and you’re shoved in like sardines. It also didn’t feel too safe – I was in reception when a woman came in to report a theft and twice I saw police on the premises investigating happenings.
We spent the rest of our time in Darwin at Charlie’s Place which is on a local’s property near Palmerston, which is about 20km out of Darwin.
You have to be self-contained to stay here, as all he offers are cold showers and there isn’t a toilet. However, there are free washing machines and a dump point. There’s also a kids’ cubby house and swing set. Charlie and his wife are very kind and Charlie is great with kids. Ruby loved collecting eggs from the chickens there and most days Charlie would bring us frozen mango from his farm! Delightful.
It cost $25 a night at Charlie’s Place, including power and water. You can find him on Wikicamps, he’s located in Marlow’s Lagoon. But beware – the midgies were pretty bad when we were there and bit us to shreds. Take plenty of repellent!
Ready to go to Darwin?
I hope you’ve found my guide of things to do in Darwin for families useful – please let me know if there’s something you think I should add! For more information on Darwin life for families, use this website which I found helpful while we were there.
Have you been to Darwin? Where was your favourite place?
For more articles on the Northern Territory, see here.