The Northern Territory stretches from the Top End down to the Red Centre in the heart of Australia. Making up 20 percent of the continent's landmass—but home to only one percent of its people—the NT is known for its strong Aboriginal cultures, impressive landscapes, and unique country towns.
This vast expanse of country can be difficult to navigate for visitors, so it's best seen on a well-planned road trip or a guided tour. Festivals such as the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair in August, Barunga in early June, Garma in August, and Mahbilil in late August offer a chance to experience the music, dance, food, art, and culture of local Aboriginal communities.
The climate in the Top End is warm and tropical, with a wet season from November to April that can result in road closures and tropical storms. Further south, the Red Center has four distinct seasons and a semi-arid climate, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit in summer (December to February) and plummeting to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in winter (June to August).
No matter when you choose to visit, the NT is packed with adventurous things to do and see. Read on for our full guide to the top destinations in the Northern Territory.
The capital of the NT, Darwin is a 4-hour flight northwest of Sydney. This tropical city is nestled between the Timor Sea and one of Australia's best national parks: Kakadu. The city itself has a population of around 150,000 and is located on the traditional lands of the Larrakia Indigenous people.
Darwin makes the perfect base for your NT adventure, with plenty of restaurants, accommodation, and tour providers who can help you reach the Territory's more remote attractions.
Thrill-seekers should check out Crocosaurus Cove, home to Australia's only crocodile cage dive, while history buffs will be spoiled for choice when it comes to World War II historical sites. For local food and souvenirs, don't miss the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets on Sunday evenings.
Just off the coast of Darwin, the Tiwi Islands are home to an internationally renowned artistic community. The Tiwi people reached the Islands around 20,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, and since then have developed a distinct culture and artistic style due to their isolation from the mainland.
Bathurst Island can be reached by ferry on Thursdays and Fridays; the trip takes around 2.5 hours. Day tours by plane are also available. If you can't make it to Tiwi, Outstation Art in Darwin showcases work from the islands and other remote Indigenous communities.
If you've heard of the Northern Territory, you will likely have heard Kakadu mentioned alongside it. It is the largest national park in Australia and a dual-listed UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding natural and cultural values. Highlights include Gunlom Plunge Pool, the Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) rock art gallery, and Yellow Water Billabong.
You can easily spend three days or more exploring the park, so we recommend booking one of the dozens of camping or glamping sites, resorts, or lodges within the park. The traditional custodians of Kakadu are the Bininj and Mungguy Aboriginal people. If possible, take a tour with an Aboriginal guide to get the most out of your visit.
Known for its towering waterfalls, Litchfield National Park is a 1.5-hour drive from Darwin and can easily be visited as a day trip, although there are campgrounds on site if you'd like to stay longer.
Hiking trails and designated swimming areas are plentiful throughout the park, including Florence Falls, Wangi Falls, and Tjaynera Falls. (These areas are surveyed by park authorities for saltwater crocodiles before being opened to visitors.) Check the park website for alerts and road closures before setting out, especially during the wet season.
A 3-hour drive south of Darwin, Katherine is the gateway to the Outback. With a population of just over 6,000 people, the town is a hub for mining and defence employment in the NT.
Nearby Nitmiluk National Park is Katherine's biggest tourist attraction, where you'll find Nitmiluk Gorge, Edith Falls, and a collection of rock art by the Jawoyn people, the traditional owners of the land. Take a river cruise through the gorges or hire a canoe and camp overnight. For the ultimate luxury, take a helicopter ride to your own private swimming hole. Visit the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre before setting off for all the essential information.
An hour south of Katherine, the thermal pools at Mataranka make this little town a favorite with backpackers and RVers alike. Visit the small Never Never Museum (which takes its name from a classic Australian novel set in Mataranka) to learn about the traditional Aboriginal custodians of the country, the Mangarayi and Yangman people, as well as the North Australian Railway, the Overland Telegraph Line, and the region's significance in World War II.
You can also explore a replica homestead from the early days of white settlement in Mataranka, in addition to the waterways, hiking trails, and historical sites of Elsey National Park. With a population of only about 200 residents, Mataranka offers basic accommodation and dining options.
Alice Springs in Australia's Red Centre marks the halfway point between Darwin and Adelaide. The town is often used as a jumping-off point for tours of the wonders of Central Australia, including Uluru, Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), Kings Canyon, and the MacDonnell Ranges. (There is also an airport at Uluru for time-pressed visitors who'd rather head straight for the rock.)
Around 25,000 people live in Alice, on the traditional lands of the Arrernte people. Visitors can enjoy the Araluen Arts Centre, hike the Larapinta Trail, or dine on native ingredients at the Barra or Red Ochre Grill.
The Aboriginal art galleries of the Central Desert communities around Alice Springs (like Arlpwe, Ampilatwatja, Papunya, and Warlukurlangu) are well worth a visit, but most require an appointment in advance.
Arguably Australia's most renowned landmark, Uluru is located a 5-hour drive southwest of Alice Springs. Rising up out of the red dirt, this is the world's largest monolith. The traditional owners of the land, the Anangu, have long requested that visitors do not climb the rock, and as of 2019, climbing has been permanently closed.
There's still plenty to do in the national park, including partaking in cultural experiences, hiking, cycling, camel-riding, and sky-diving. We recommend spending two or three days here to see both Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), another beautiful rock formation. There are lots of accommodation, dining, and tour options nearby.
A 3-hour drive from Uluru, Watarrka National Park features another red rock landmark that is just as impressive. Here, visitors can survey the surrounding landscape from the 300-foot high canyon walls of Kings Canyon, a location made famous by the classic Australian film "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."
The 3.7-mile Rim Walk is a great (although relatively strenuous) option, with stunning views across the rugged desert and the green valley below. You'll also find more hiking trails, camel tours, and accommodation within the park.
This national park covers around 1,000 square miles west of Alice Springs. Its striking landforms have been most famously depicted by the paintings of Western Arrernte artist, Albert Namatjira.
The Larapinta Trail is the best way for experienced walkers to see the West Macdonnell Ranges. The full trek stretches just under 150 miles, but it is broken up into 12 sections that can be completed in a day or two. Day trippers can also check out sites like Simpsons Gap, the Ochre Pits, Ellery Creek Big Hole, and Ormiston Gorge. Nearby Standley Chasm is privately operated with a separate entrance fee.
Many landmarks within the park are sacred to the Arrernte people, so make sure to obey all signage. Basic camping areas are available, as well as accommodation at Glen Helen Resort.
Arnhem Land is a majority-Indigenous region in the northeastern corner of the Northern Territory. The Yolngu people have lived here for at least 60,000 years, preserving traditional culture and language. Nhulunbuy, the region's largest township, can be reached by 4WD from Katherine during the dry season or by plane from Darwin or Cairns all year round. You can also drive from Darwin through Kakadu National Park to get to some locations in west Arnhem Land in the dry season.
Travelers can soak up the tropical climate at Banubanu Beach Retreat on Bremer Island, take advantage of the world-class fishing spots, learn about Aboriginal art at Yirrkala or Injalak Hill, and forage for bush tucker with a local guide.
To visit Arnhem Land, you'll need permits from the relevant Aboriginal authorities (Northern Land Council and/or the Dhimmurru Aboriginal Corporation). We recommend joining a tour to get the most out of your trip.