Planning Your Trip
Things to Do
The Northern Territory is home to Australia's most recognizable landmark: the 1,142 foot-tall red rock Uluru. But for visitors willing to travel even further afield, this vast and sparsely populated region offers plenty to see and do.
At Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park, hiking trails, waterfalls, and unparalleled views await. The town of Alice Springs is the heart of Central Australia, while the capital of Darwin offers laid-back living in the Tropics.
Many of the Territory's top attractions are on the traditional lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, providing the chance to learn more about the world's oldest living culture. Read on for our guide to everything you need to know before venturing into the Outback.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit: If you want to visit both the Top End and the Red Centre, the best time to visit the Northern Territory is from May to October to avoid the heat, humidity, and road closures that come with the wet season.
Language: The most common language spoken in Northern Territory is English, followed by Indigenous languages Kriol and Djambarrpuyngu, and then Greek.
Currency: The Australian dollar (AUD) is the national currency and is used everywhere. The exchange rate is usually between 60 and 75 cents.
Getting Around: Public transport in the Northern Territory is limited due to the enormous distances and small population. There are airports in Darwin and Alice Springs and the Ghan luxury train and Greyhound buses between the two cities. You'll need to rent a car or book a tour to visit national parks like Uluru and Kakadu.
Travel Tip: Outside of major towns, cell service is patchy. For longer trips, it may be worth hiring a satellite phone in Darwin and Alice Springs alongside your car or camper.
Things to Do
The Territory is full of outdoor activities, from hiking through otherworldly landscapes and swimming in turquoise-blue pools to getting up close and personal with crocodiles and wallabies. This region rewards slow travel, so take your time getting to know its unique cultures and landscapes.
- Uluru: This ancient monolith on the lands of the Anangu people is one of Australia's unmissable views, especially at sunset and sunrise. While visiting Central Australia, don't miss the undulating rock formations of Kata Tjuta and the impressive vistas of Kings Canyon.
- Kakadu: Australia's largest national park is on the traditional lands of the Bininj/Mungguy Aboriginal people. Spend at least three days here, cruising Yellow Water Billabong, marveling at ancient rock art, and visiting remote waterfalls.
- Alice Springs: This big country town is known for the incredible hiking in the nearby MacDonnell Ranges and as a hub for Aboriginal art, which can be seen at the Araluen Cultural Precinct and many community arts centers.
Where to Eat and Drink
Darwin, the largest city in the Territory, has a population of 150,000, with a small but thriving dining scene. Dishes here feature lots of seafood, as well as strong Asian and Greek influences.
Popular venues in Darwin include Little Miss Korea, Smith St Social, Yots Greek Taverna, Pee Wee's at the Point, and Chow. A visit to the Mindl Beach Markets on Thursday and Sunday nights is an ideal activity to sample Darwin's most emblematic foods.
In Alice Springs, you'll find a burgeoning cafe culture, alongside a couple of more upscale offerings like Epilogue Lounge, Hanuman, and Tali. For ultimate luxury, we recommend Tali Wiru at Ayers Rock Resort.
Learn more in our full article on foods to try in the Northern Territory.
Where to Stay
The NT measures more than 1,000 miles from north to south , so we recommend planning your itinerary carefully. In the popular tourist destinations of Alice Springs, Darwin, Yulara, and Jabiru, there are plenty of hotels and resorts to choose from.
Accommodation can be limited in between these hubs, especially around some of the more remote national parks. There are some isolated gems, like Cooinda Lodge, Mataranka, and Bremer Island, but otherwise, camping or a guided tour may be your best bet.
Read our complete article about where to stay in the Northern Territory.
Most international travelers fly into Alice Springs or Darwin Airport, although you may need to stop in Sydney, Brisbane, or Southeast Asia first. Flights are also available between regional centers like Tennant Creek, Groote Eylandt, and Nhulunbuy in East Arnhem Land.
The Ghan rail journey from Adelaide takes around 21 hours to Alice Springs and another 33 to Darwin. Car hire is available in Darwin, Uluru, and Alice Springs and Greyhound buses run between Alice Springs and Darwin, across to Broome in Western Australia and down to Adelaide in South Australia.
Culture and Customs
Almost a quarter of the population of the Northern Territory is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, including the Arrernte of Central Australia and the Yolngu of Arnhem Land. There are over 40 different indigenous language groups in the NT, all of whom have a strong spiritual connection to the land.
Specific customs vary throughout the Territory, but you can show respect by not photographing Aboriginal people without permission, listening carefully when cultural information is shared with you, and not entering restricted areas.
You will need to apply for a permit from the relevant land council to enter Aboriginal land in certain parts of the Northern Territory. The four land councils are the Northern Land Council, Central Land Council, Tiwi Land Council, and Anindilyakawa Land Council. Some permits can take up to 10 days, so make sure to apply in advance of your trip.
Tipping in Australia is usually only expected at fine dining restaurants (around 10 percent). In the Northern Territory, feel free to tip your guide or taxi driver, but it is not expected.
Money Saving Tips
Due to the isolation and lack of public transport, a visit to the Northern Territory can be more expensive than other parts of Australia. Tours are often the best way to see more remote parts of the region and learn about Aboriginal culture and history. However, there are a couple of ways to make your trip a little more budget-friendly:
- Hiring a car and camping is one method of significantly reducing your costs, especially if traveling in a group. Most parks and reserves in the Territory have camping sites available for a small fee.
- Refuel in bigger towns whenever possible, as the price of gas can be much higher in remote areas. The same policy applies to groceries.
- In Darwin, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is open daily and free to enter, as is Megafauna Central and the Olive Pink Botanic Garden in Alice Springs.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. "2016 Census Reveals the Changing Face of the Northern Territory." 27 June 2017.
Tourism Australia. "Useful Tips."
Britannica. "Northern Territory." January 10 2020