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Reviewed on 16 Aug 2019
Darwin is the only tropical city in Australia, being geographically closer to Bali than it is to Sydney. Situated in the lush and verdant far north of the country’s Northern Territory, or the Top End as it is often known, Darwin has a unique feel that separates it from the rest of the country.
And this isn’t just thanks to its remote positioning. People from more than 50 nations contribute to its relatively small population of 110,000. Its gaze is set firmly over the Timor Sea, rather than looking wistfully back inland, but it also encompasses the natural splendour of the Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks, and the beautiful Tiwi Islands.
This city exudes a wonderfully relaxed vibe, but you’ll find plenty of entertainment options too. The restaurants spill out into the streets on balmy nights, and bars and cafés range from local joints to trendy drinking spots. Darwin’s museums celebrate the city's rich past, and its galleries showcase contemporary indigenous art. Its Asian-style markets are a joy to browse, and there are plenty of natural treasures just waiting to be uncovered beyond the city limits.
The area around Darwin’s rich biodiversity is hinted at by the city’s name. In 1839, John Lort Stokes designated the settlement 'Darwin' during the third voyage of the Beagle, in honour of the great British naturalist, Charles Darwin. Today, the city is a cosmopolitan gateway to Australia's northern region and the Asian cultures that lie beyond this. Yet, never far from its modernity, there is a pre-colonial population of crocodile, goanna, snake and wallaby.
Darwin's tropical climate has 2 seasons. It is dry from May to October, and wet from November to April. It has an average temperature of 32°C throughout the year, but there are massive fluctuations in its humidity levels according to the season. Undoubtedly the best time to book your Darwin hotel is during the dry season. Temperatures of 31°C, little to no rain and refreshingly cool nights are almost a given, yet the rain of the wet season does bring some benefits for nature lovers. The landscape is coaxed to life by the atmospheric storms and during the wet season the sunsets truly come into their own. With waterfalls gushing, rivers flowing and the landscape verdant, the wet season is certainly not one you should rule out.
Whether you’re looking for a spa or a budget-friendly brand name, an apartment or a motel, a family-friendly boutique or a business-oriented hotel, Darwin can more than oblige. Accommodation options range from simple guesthouses to 5-star luxury properties, and the level of competition has ensured excellent services and value for money. Immersing yourself in the opulent setting of Darwin Waterfront Luxury Suites is a sure-fire recipe for luxury, while budget-friendly options, such as the Palms City Resort keep prices low but comfort high.
When deciding where to base yourself in Darwin, there are 4 main areas to consider. Darwin Wharf is the main historical part of the city, and there’s plenty of Darwin’s rich past to explore from your hotel here. This area of Darwin played an important role as an Allied base for action in the Pacific. Hotels on the waterfront promise sweeping vistas and are a stone’s throw from many of the city’s best attractions. This delightfully regenerated distinct offers picturesque walking trails and the best restaurants for dining alfresco on freshly caught local seafood.
Downtown Darwin is based around Mitchell and Knuckey Streets. This is the centre of Darwin’s beating multicultural heart, and a hotel here will be ideally located for those looking to dine on the state’s finest international cuisine, or party ‘til the wee hours in one of its lively bars. If you look just outside Darwin, you’ll find hotels deep in the natural landscapes of the Top End. This vast region surrounding the city is where you can experience the remoteness and tranquillity of Kakadu National, Park, Arnhem Land and Katherine.
You can explore Darwin’s history in its museums and at many locations near its wharf. The Fannie Bay Gaol operated as the city’s major prison for more than 100 years, while the riverside Adelaide War Cemetery and the Aviation Heritage Centre showcase Darwin’s significant role during World War I. You can explore another side to the local culture at a number of independent galleries, where local masterpieces are proudly displayed, or at Browns Mart, a vibrant cultural hub with a jam-packed theatrical schedule.
There are many ways to appreciate the natural beauty both within and outside Darwin. The Botanic Gardens and Lake Alexander offer stunning displays of the local terrain, and the nearby Casuarina Coastal Reserve has many idyllic walking paths close to the lapping waters of the Timor Sea. The city is surrounded by unmissable National Parks, including Litchfield and Kakadu. Head away from the Australian mainland to reach the Tiwi Islands, about 95 kilometres off the coast: the ‘islands of smiles’ certainly make a welcoming end to a half-day sailing excursion.
The city’s thrilling activities also go toe-to-toe with its enchanting scenery. You can feed some of the biggest saltwater crocodiles in the world at Crocosaurus Cove. There’s also incredible wildlife to encounter on a monsoon forest walk at Berry Springs; alternatively, you can set sail in a small boat, known as a tinny, to catch some fresh barramundi – or ‘barra’ as the locals say – or choose to cruise the Mary River wetlands to spot some birds flitting through the mangrove swamps.
If you are booking a flight to the Top End and a hotel in Darwin, you can save money by booking them together with Expedia.