Darwin has so many free activities to enjoy, whether you like being a beach bum and watching epic sunsets, wandering around markets filled with delicious food and handmade crafts, partying all night or admiring street art. This city is one of our favourite cities in Australia. It's small but it certainly packs a punch! We spent a month in Darwin in our camper van Nelson and fell in love with the laidback vibes, mixed cultures and spectacular sunsets!
Our recommendations here are all free or inexpensive. However, of course, you may want to treat yourself sometimes too! Either way, we’ve given you the best tips to make your money stretch as far as possible.
Recommended time: 4-7 days.
When To Go
Darwin is the perfect Australian winter getaway, as its tourist season is between May - October. If you haven’t been to Australia yet, you’ll soon learn that it's not always hot weather and sunshine! Most cities between May-August are pretty cold, with average temperatures as low as 10 degrees! However, during this time, the markets in Darwin are in full swing, the nightlife is booming and the temperatures range between a comfortable 20 - 33 degrees with pure sunshine and blue skies! What more could you ask for?
In contrast, the wet season in Darwin between November - April sees temperatures rising into the 40’s and with the markets closed and crocs out in full force, this time of year would make it difficult to enjoy Darwin to its full potential.
It is important to remember that saltwater crocodiles are always in the waterways surrounding Darwin, no matter what time of year. For this reason, we didn’t venture into the open water at any time. If you want to risk it, we learnt from a local that watching the water for half-hour will help you see if a croc comes up for air. He also simply said that if anyone else is swimming, it usually means it is fine. You can decide if you’d like to take the risk!
Free Things To Do In Darwin
#1 Visit The Free Water Parks
It is quite a familiar attraction around the Northern regions of Australia to find small free water parks for children to enjoy, mostly these are playgrounds with tipping water buckets and a few obstacles spraying water at a kids height. However, Darwin water parks don't discriminate against us adult folks who want to get in on the free water fun action! The water parks in Darwin have flume slides with double rings to go down in a pair and racer slides too! There are two free water parks in Darwin, both of which are just 20 minutes from the city centre. Furthermore, for the campers reading this, they also have free showers, bbq’s, wifi and plugs!
To summarise, here are more details on the two water park options in Darwin:
Palmerston Water Park
This water park has the free racer slides, which consists of 6 competing 100-metre lanes of fun, at 14 metres high! There’s a point in the middle that really feels like you're flying! It’s great fun, especially as your racing speeds are recorded at the bottom when you exit. Aside from the racer slides, most attractions in this park are aimed more towards children. In addition, there are bbq’s available here too, so it's perfect to enjoy a couple of hours here with some food as well. In peak times, there is also a small kiosk offering food to buy, although we didn’t see it open.
Leanyer Water Park
This was our favourite of the two water parks. It has three giant flume slides, which include a fast slide, a larger slower one and a two-person ring slide. They are all so much fun! As well as that, there's also a shallow pool to relax and cool down in the beautiful sunshine. Not only does this park have free bbq’s and wifi, but also plugs nearby the kiosk. We spent many days working on our blog here as the wifi is decent and unlimited!
East Point Reserve
Not exactly a water park, but there is a lake here that you can swim in, without the fear of crocs! This was also our favourite bbq spot in Darwin, which is just a few minutes away from Fannie Bay. It has bbq spots dotted along the beachfront and a lake which is safe to swim in when it gets too hot! The parking here is free and if you don’t fancy cooking, Rescue Me Food Services is open between 5-8 pm, Thursday - Saturday. Serving up delicious fresh fish and chips, gelato and more! We also found other stalls open here on the weekend mornings, including a Creperie and a brunch cafe truck.
When the tide is out, you can also venture through the sand to the mudflats. Make sure you have flip flops or easy-to-wash shoes on, as you’re going to get muddy! It's a weird sensation squelching through the mud but also makes a really good reflective shot like this one…
We also found Kangaroos hopping around behind the fenced area on the right of the road, so look out to see these city-dwelling roos!
There is an open plug on a large metal box as you walk towards the lake from the main road.
#2 Visit The Beaches
The key attraction that Mindil Markets is built around is the gorgeous sunsets on the beach! It gets very crowded, which is unavoidable but the vibe here is friendly. You’ll find local Aboriginal and Tiwi islanders playing their traditional instruments and plenty of groups enjoying a picnic, food from the stalls and a drink or two whilst watching the sun go down. If you hang around after dark, you’ll also see the fire dancers coming out to perform and practise their skills for you too! This is the main event on our list of free things to do in Darwin.
Mindil Beach has working cold showers available, as well as an open plug to use on the side of the toilet building.
Nightcliff Beaches and Coastline
The coastline along Nightcliff parade is beautiful. Sink your toes into the sand or you can enjoy them from the clifftops, where you’ll find free bbq’s, a jetty to walk along and a sunset park to enjoy those fabulous sunsets we promise you won’t get sick of! You’ll also find one of the unique free gyms mentioned below, along this coastline.
The Waterfront Precinct
The Waterfront Precinct has plenty of restaurants and bars to relax in or for the more adventurous, there is also a wave pool to have fun in with inflatables and noodles included. The Wave Lagoon costs around $7 to use but can be admired freely from outside. There's always lots of free events happening here too, from craft fairs to outdoor cinemas. We saw an outdoor cinema projected on the water for the Darwin Film Festival, which was pretty special! Check out the latest events here.
There isn’t any free parking around here, so you’ll have to pay for parking to visit or walk from the city centre.
Casuarina Beach & Mangrove Boardwalk
This beach supposedly has a section which is a nudist beach. We didn’t see any nudists. However, we did enjoy the empty beach to ourselves! We also checked out the mangrove trail here, although be prepared with bug spray as there are loads of mosquitoes!
#3 Check Out The Free Markets
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
This is the unmissable attraction on our free things to do in Darwin! The market opens every Thursday and Sunday, from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday of October. Mindil Markets is home to an abundance of live performances, food stalls and homemade crafts and souvenirs.
Top Tip! Make sure you have cash for Mindil Markets as most food stalls only take cash. The onsite ATM charges and always has massive queues.
There is a huge variety of food available at Mindil markets, from every corner of Asia to classic fish and chips, fresh juice shakes and crocodile burgers… if that floats your boat! If you are on a budget, our best tip is to get food between 7:30 and 8 pm. At this time, most of the food stalls offer their food at discounted prices. We enjoyed a plate of fish and chips for just $7 and haggled some great prices for the Chinese too!
The Live Performances
Micks’ Whips is the whip-cracking sensation of the Northern Territory! His performances are a unique spectacle to see. Definitely an unmissable attraction on our list of free things to do in Darwin. His performance varies, depending on the day, so you’ll have to visit on both days to see his whole repertoire! In addition, Mick also lets guests come on stage prior to his show to try whipping themselves, which is always interesting to see as it really shows how good he is when he performs.
EmDee’s high energy didgeridoo playing is a supreme musical spectacle, made up of a drummer and a dude playing about 12 didgeridoos at once. EmDee takes the expected sounds of a didgeridoo and turns them into a high energy drum 'n' bass performance! This is only made more enriching by the local Tiwi and Aboriginal natives joining in to dance and show off their impressive hip-shaking moves! This is a must-see performance! We'd say this ticks a visit to a small rave in our list of free things to do in Darwin! Please try to give them a tip, as we’re sad that they may not be there much longer if they don't get the donations they need to survive.
Fire performers are all over Mindil Beach after the sun sets but The Burning Circus are the real professionals. They hold performances just behind the food stalls before you hit the beach.
Live performances on the bandstand stage. On the furthest right of the market, as you look at it from the car park, you’ll find a bandstand with rotating musicians throughout the night. This is a nice spot to enjoy your food as there’s plenty of tables and chairs laid out for guests to relax and enjoy the music.
Arts & Crafts
There are so many stalls at Mindil Beach, it would be impossible to name every item available to buy. We enjoyed watching local Aboriginal artists painting art, which was available to purchase. As well as homemade and decorated didgeridoos, boomerangs and more. Additionally, there are items that weren’t to our taste but need to be seen to be believed, such as real-life animals claws as backscratchers and crocodile teeth on necklaces. Also, there are plenty of stall selling clothes, toys and unique souvenirs to take home. For the most part, these stalls will accept card, although if you are likely to buy big items like paintings you may get a better deal with cash.
How To Get There
Mindil Beach is a 30min walk from the city centre or the bus service is available too. Buses cost between $3-7, depending on whether you need a day pass or a 2-hour journey pass.
There is also free parking available outside the market for those driving.
Parap Village Markets
Parap village markets are on every day except Sunday, between 8 am - 5 pm and 8-2 pm on Saturdays. Here you will find plenty of delicious food stalls, some of which you’ll recognise from Mindil Beach Market and lots of local stalls with characterful handmade crafts and live music to enjoy as you walk around.
Parap also has a square that has a variety of cafes and restaurants to enjoy too. We spent a day here working on our blog from one of the many cafes with wifi.
Nightcliff is another great area of Darwin, which also has a weekly market every Sunday from 8-2 pm. One of our favourite finds here, were these figures made out of goon (boxed wine) bags and having our first taste of black garlic. Nightcliff also has a regular pizza truck if you fancy treating yourself to dinner.
#4 Simply Wander Around the City...
Check Out The World-Class Graffiti
Darwin holds a graffiti festival each year which invites artists from across the globe to add to Darwins ever-expanding collection of street murals. As if our list of free things to do around Darwin wasn't enough, the whole city is a free outdoor art gallery! We were fortunate enough to be in Darwin during the "wall season" festival and we were able to see these beautiful grand pieces develop over the time we were there. The festival usually runs during the last two weeks in September. If you aren’t visiting during these times, you can follow this map to see all the pieces they already have.
Air Raid Arcade
This arcade, lined with shops, cafes and bars is really cool. Even the shops that are derelict have crazy figures and ornaments in them to check out through the window. It's difficult to explain the charm and quirkiness but definitely worth seeing for yourself. The Mad Snake cafe found here, is themed by old comics and has a wall of memorabilia to check out as you wait for your order to be made. We also loved the look of Babylon Bar, although we didn’t get a chance to visit in the end but let us know how it is if you go!
Similar to the air raid arcade, this outdoor precinct has a variety of shops and cafes to check out, including a delicious chocolate shop!
#5 Check Out a Free Live Music Session
We weren’t joking when we said there are always free things to do in Darwin! We found posters all over the city inviting us to free live music sessions throughout the week at different locations. We'll mention the main ones we found below. You can bring a picnic to these events or enjoy food from the available stalls. It is important to remember that alcohol is prohibited, so save the champagne for another night…
#6 Enjoy a Cheap Night Out on Mitchell Street
Mitchell Street is equivalent to the bar strips of Europe. Thus, the street is packed full of open bars, groups wandering around in search of their next pit stop and the easily recognisable Monsoons staff handing out free shots and drinks tokens. Some would say its pretty tacky, but sometimes you just have to embrace the tack and get involved! We promise you’ll have a fun night.
Monsoons was a big hit for us! We loved it, as we managed to win over $200 worth of drinks playing Bingo and enjoyed 5 free drinks at Ladies Night every Thursday, even if they were just bubbly and lemonade. They also had other events like jelly wrestling and free beer pong nights, amongst other fun activities. There is something happening every day here and they often have good meal deal offers on too. We particularly liked their veggie pizzas. Definitely a hot spot for us, on this list of free things to do in Darwin.
Discovery is the electronic music venue of Mitchel Street. Don’t be thrown off by the front bar, which also has Latino nights and live bands playing. Head to the back of the bar and through the door to the loo's and you’ll find yourself entering a huge electronic music venue with strobe lights and bass to make your face melt! On Fridays and Saturdays, they usually offer free entry and on Fridays, you can also enjoy $4 drinks all night!
The perfect day-drinking pub, as it also has a pool in the courtyard! We came here for Darwin Pride, which was so much fun! Check out what other events are taking place here.
This is the most famous gay club in Darwin. On Friday, entry before midnight is just $5, along with the drinks! The main attraction here is the drag acts, which take place every hour or so on stage. You’ll discover that Australia’s gay music scene loves a drag act. We can’t remember a gay event we have been to which hasn’t had one at some point of the evening!
This is THE bar for cheap food, drinks and sports. We also hung out here to make use of the free wifi and plugs.
Sadly, we didn’t make it into Opium as entry prices were out of our “free” budget. It is worth mentioning though, as it is Darwins most popular RnB club. Whilst we were in Darwin Cali Swag District performed there!
#7 Visit the Crown Casino
We don’t particularly enjoy casinos, however, this casino is a popular tourist attraction for more than just its gambling amenities. The outdoor pool area has beautiful views of the seafront, with a bar-restaurant and pool access available. Perfect to kick back and relax for an afternoon!
#8 Visit Bicenntenial Park
This stunning park, near to the city, has a beautiful esplanade along the water and the best exercise park we’ve ever come across, just opposite the DoubleTree Hilton hotel. If working out isn’t your thing, there’s a fun play area next to the gym with a fun swirly slide, just be sure to tuck your legs in!
There is no free parking here so park nearer the city or walk from a nearby area. If timed right, the afternoon sprinklers perfectly spritz the esplanade for a refreshing walk to cool down in the Darwin heat, or after a fun workout!
#10 Visit An Old House
Burnett House is one of the last original buildings in Darwin to survive the devastating cyclone and war. We didn’t get a chance to visit inside, but you can see old bullet holes in the gate from outside! Visits with a guided tour are available for a small price.
#11 Find All The Free Fun Boxes!
Darwin has these great communal activity boxes, which are spread across the city. They are bright yellow with ‘Activate Your Inner Child’ printed on the front of them. Each box contains a variety of giant games to play, like Jenga, Snakes and Ladders and Connect Four. We found them at the waterfront precinct, Mindil Beach and Cullen Bay. This simply adds another dimension into this list of free things to do in Darwin!
#12 Enjoy The Free Park Gyms
This isn’t your average tourist attraction, although, for those who do enjoy working out, we found two particularly good free park gyms around Darwin. We know it's exercise, but this still counts as free things to do in Darwin right?
Nightcliff had a unique set up of exercise stations, situated along a running route, each with three different exercise machines. It was really nice to be able to enjoy the views of the beaches as you head to each exercise station, adding in both cardio and strength training too.
The gym here was THE best free gym we’ve ever seen! Located in front of the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel. The features included magnetic bells for weight training, multi nets with rings for elevated press-ups and more, suspension trainers and 3 different height steps. There were so many different exercises per station it had its own app called KOMPAN to provide online personal training. Alternatively, you can just follow the instructional signage provided across the park.
Places to Eat & Drink
We’ve listed all our favourite spots, including the ones we’ve mentioned above, in one quick list!
- Cool Spot - $$
- Laneway Speciality Coffee - $$
- Parap Bakery - $
- Mindil Market - Heaps of food stalls to enjoy. - $
- Rescue Me Food Services (Thursday to Saturday evenings) - $$
- Shenanigans (great drinks deals) - $
- Monsoons (we loved the vegetarian pizzas!) - $
- Uncle Sam’s Takeaway Food (24-hour food spot) - $
- Discovery (usually $4 drinks all night with Techno and RnB, Hip Hop nights) - $
- Lola’s Pergola Bar (chilled pub with funky circus-themed decor) - $$
- The Trader Bar (upmarket cocktail bar) - $$
Where To Stay
We mostly stayed in our camper van at the free truck stop but we also enjoyed a few nights at Oasis Tourist Park when we arrived too.
Oasis Tourist Park - This campsite is a short drive outside of Darwin and is the most affordable campsite in Darwin. The site also has a decent kitchen and swimming pool to enjoy too.
Puma Truck City - Berrimah - Enjoy free camping at Berrimah truck stop. You’ll find loads of backpackers based here and lots of space if you want some privacy. This truck city also has showers available for paying customers.
Campervan Top Tips:
- Best showers - Mindil Beach, East Point Reserve, Berrimah Truck Stop, Water Parks.
- Best BBQs - East Point Reserve, Mindil beach.
- Plugs - Water Parks, East Point Reserve, Mindil Beach
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