Darwin's Mindil Beach sunset markets may be a famous tourist draw, but it's at the weekend markets in the suburbs that locals do their shopping and their socialising. There are markets at Parap (Saturday, 8am-2pm, Parap Village), Nightcliff (Nightcliff Shopping Centre, Sunday, 8am-2pm) and Rapid Creek (Rapid Creek Shopping Village, Trower Road, 8am-2pm) and they are a great place to glimpse the multicultural nature of this city. Try Jakarta satay lontong, listen to bush poets and Aboriginal buskers, stock up on local produce or browse the craft stalls run by alternative types off the hippie trail.
The Tiwi Islanders are superb Australian Rules football players: the game was introduced by missionaries in the early 20th century and the Tiwi have since contributed many stars to the national league. If you're in Darwin in mid-March get on whatever transport you can to the Tiwis for the Tiwi Footy Grand Final, otherwise watch the Tiwi Bombers fly at weekend games in Darwin over the Wet Season (November-March).
August sees the Darwin’s Civic Park transformed by the Darwin Festival into a balmy night-time wonderland, strung with lights and filled with music and other performances. The festival has a strong South-East Asian and Indigenous flavour has outdoor art galleries and loads of free family-oriented activities. At the very least, wander up to Civic Park, grab a bite to eat (the city's top restaurants all set up stalls) and soak up the atmosphere.
The Indigenous festivals that bloom in the Top End in the Dry Season are a great way to encounter Aboriginal Australia. Barunga Festival, held over the Queen's Birthday long weekend in June, is a huge community celebration of traditional and modern culture, while Walking with Spirits at nearby Beswick Falls, is a hybrid theatre piece featuring traditional songmen.
Visit Mylilly House for high tea (Sundays, 3.30pm-6.30pm), and marvel at the genius of 1930s architect Beni Burnett.
Or hit Darwin’s spanking new Waterfront Precinct, with its convention centre and centre piece ‘Wave Lagoon’. While seasoned surfers may scoff at the ‘waves’ here, the Lagoon has proved a hit with Darwinians and visitors alike. Be warned: Weekends are family mayhem join the Mitchell St backpackers at the nearby stinger-free swimming cove for a more chilled out vibe.
If you get a ticket, go to the Darwin Cup Ball. They're not cheap (around $300), but this party at the casino for 3000 people during the Darwin Racing Carnival in August is a great excuse to frock-up (and you don't get many in Darwin).
Darwin has a vibrant visual arts scene and Parap village is the place for gallery hopping. Check out: Nomad Art, Tiwi Art Network, Outstation and 24HR, The NT Centre for Contemporary Art. Cross Cultural Art Exchange in Harriet Space near the city and Northern Editions, Printmakers at Charles Darwin University are also worth a visit. The hottest artists are showcased during August (on the back of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards). Be aware that many galleries are closed for December and January.
And finally, only in Darwin would you find a crocodile park in the middle of the city’s nightclub strip. Crocsaurus Cove on Mitchell St has proved a huge hit since it opened two years ago, with its ‘Cage of Death’ booked out months in advance (Entry: $28-$16).
Got any other suggestions, or feedback on the above?
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