Oh the Northern Territory of Australia, that wild-west, dusty-dry, blue-sky film set of a location.
Stuff of legends, a fabled place to disappear and all-round story-rich scenery makes this an absolute must during any Australian trip.
Many put it off however due to the perceived expense of adventuring out to the red centre and beyond.
My advice? … Don’t!
This land is so rich with places, culture, landscapes and history to discover, you’ll never regret making the journey
And so here, especially designed for budget travellers, is my pick of the bunch – the 20 best free things to do in the Northern Territory, Australia.
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#1 Marvel at Devils Marbles
Devils Marbles, located north of Alice Springs, are a beautiful geological feature on the landscape where you can admire the shapes, sizes and surrounds of this giant boulders and strike a great pose for some super insta photos!
This is an awesome spot to wander around for a couple of hours, especially as it’s located in a place that makes it a good driving break if you want to stretch your legs or grab some fresh air.
It’s also brilliant for families, as kids can run around and, of course, it won’t cost you a penny to enter either.
#2 Waterfall Swim in Litchfield National Park
Closely rivalling Kakadu for the National Park top spot in these here parts, Litchfield is certainly better in one way – it’s free to enter!
Situated close enough to Darwin to make this a comfortable day drive or overnight stop, this is another top thing to do in the Northern Territory for families especially.
Great waterfall swims, walking trails and termite mounds mean there’s a lot to explore here, and the very affordable camping facilities are some of the best around.
Check out my ultimate guide to Litchfield National Park to learn more.
#3 Stroll the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens
Set in the Outback town of Alice Springs – the second most populated area in the Northern Territory – these lovely botanic gardens are the perfect way to relax and take in the gorgeous blue skies and nature of this desert town.
Make sure you climb to the lookout and don’t miss the cute cafe here either.
Check out more of the amazing things you can do and learn in these stunning gardens here.
#4 Mistake Mount Connor for Uluru
It’s a classic mistake move – I made it and you’ll likely make it too, because just about everybody does!
Yes, Mount Connor is a giant monolithic, near to Uluru, that will loom onto the horizon as you make your way towards Curtain Springs and if you haven’t seen either before, it’s easy to get them confused!
You probably won’t now, but you can try and catch someone else out!
5 ESSENTIAL PACKING ITEMS FOR AUSTRALIA
#1 Good Camera – You will be pretty much snapping non-stop in Australia and will need a good camera to do this gorgeous country justice. I highly recommend the Sony A6000, which I use for all my travels and love, not least because it’s light, compact and robust!
#2 Good Walking Shoes – There will be a lot of walking in Australia – from cities to national park! Make sure your feet are comfortable therefore with a pair of New Balance Trainers. Perfect for stylish strolling, I love mine
#3 Good Guidebook – I’m still a massive fan of the Lonely Planet Guidebooks and do think their Australia edition is well put together
#4 Good Water Bottle – Travelling in hot old Australia can be thirsty work, so make sure you have a metal water bottle that you can refill as you go, because tap water is drinkable… and free!
#5 Good Sun Hat – And there’s no denying you’ll need a good sun hat for protection in Australia too. In my opinion, you can’t go past this Hello Sunshine one, which is both gorgeous and ideal for keeping the rays off your face.
#5 Explore Darwin’s Museum and Art Gallery
Darwin hosts this great museum and gallery which charts the history and cultural collections of this eclectic city.
It’s a must-see in the city and it’s easy to spend a few hours here exploring the wonderful exhibitions – don’t miss the big croc!
Absolutely one of the best things to do in the Northern Territory, this fantastic space is free to enter and an amazing way to learn more about this part of Australia and its people.
Check out my list of the 10 best free things to do in Darwin for more inspiration about other great spots to visit in this fab city too.
#6 Climb Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park
Set within Nitmiluk National Park, visiting Katherine Gorge is absolutely one of the best things to do in the Northern Territory.
This vast reserve is home to incredible rock formations and a wonderful river that meanders through the giant canyon.
It’s phenomenal to see and should not be missed
You can pay to fish, fly, cruise or kayak in this beautiful escapement, but the good old walking is free.
Enjoy a nice lookout from the top as you go and don’t forget to pack plenty of water, sunscreen and snacks!
Learn more about visiting this stunning area in my ultimate guide to Nitmiluk National Park.
#7 Marvel at the Memorabilia of the Daly Waters Pub
If there’s one thing you should do when you visit the Northern Territory, it’s visit an Outback watering hole.
And by that, I mean a classic pub complete with quirky decorations and the wild windswept feels.
And top of my recommended list is the Daly Waters Pub – stuff of legends!
A quintessential Territory pub oozing character and full of insane collections of memorabilia, this place is well worth a visit!
Turn off the Stuart Highway between Three Ways and Mataranka to enjoy this walk down memory lane.
#8 Cool Down at Edith Falls
Lesser known than most, but just as beautiful, Edith Falls is an absolute find when it comes to refreshing waterholes in the NT.
In fact, it’s one of my favourite spots in the whole region and is definitely one of the best things to do in the Northern Territory for free!
The lower pools can get a bit busier, but there’s a nice walk here up to the upper pools, which tend to be quieter and are incredibly beautiful.
Comes highly recommended.
#9 Discover Ancient Rainforest
If you want to get off the beaten track when you’re in the Northern Territory, which let’s be honest it’s not hard to do (!), a great place to head for is Finke Gorge National Park near Alice Springs.
The wild reserve contains some of the last tracts of rainforest that once covered Australia, and some ancient plant species can still be seen, including the rare Red Cabbage Palm.
Discover this Jurassic landscape for an afternoon, whole day or overnight – it’s all free and there are some basic camping facilities too!
#10 Snap a Stunning Sunset from Mindil Market
Having spent the majority of my time in Australia on the east coast, seeing an ocean sunset again when I got to Darwin was a marvellous thing!
And that’s exactly why snapping a Mindil Market sunset is on this list of the best things to do in the Northern Territory for free.
Mindil Markets take place just outside of Darwin’s centre and grabbing some great food from here, and then sitting on the beach nearby to enjoy the stunning colours of the evening fading light, really does show the NT at its best!
The wonderful bustling Mindil Market is also worth a longer visit too and runs from 4 pm – 9 pm every Thursday and Sunday during the dry season.
#11 Drive through Tenant Creek
An unlikely entry on this list, there’s a few attractions you may want to check out as you pass through Tenant Creek.
Devils Marbles is near this town, but so too are the Mary Ann Dam, Battery Hill Mining Centre and the Nyinkka Nyunyu Culture Centre.
#12 Hike King’s Canyon
One of the best day hikes in Central Australia, the dawn walk in this National Park is a real winner and well worth battling the crowds and early morning blues for.
You can’t camp in the park, but there are several campsites near enough to allow you to get up crazy early so you can make dawn from the top lookout.
Don’t forget to bring head lamps so you can see on your way up in the dark ,and don’t forget your camera for those sunrise views either.
There’s many tour groups that make this excursion, but budget travellers will be pleased to know that it’s totally possible to visit by yourself and that park is free to enter, meaning the whole experience needn’t cost you a thing!
#13 Visit the War Cemetery at Adelaide River
A fitting tribute to the sacrifice many Australians made, the war cemetery at Adelaide River is absolutely one of the best things to do in the Northern Territory.
A key chance to learn more about some of the history behind the memorial ground, this is an interesting stopover if you’re looking to break up a long Outback drive.
#14 Go Crater Crazy
Henbury Conservation Reserve is a fascinating site showing clear evidence of a large, fragmented meteorite that hit earth over 4,700 years ago.
A great place to explore and capture during a dawn photoshoot, it’s certainly a must on my list of the best free attractions in the Northern Territory.
Otherwise, admire the huge Goose Bluff from afar – another great crater imprint in this vast landscape that can be brilliantly spotted and snapped (see the above photo by moi!) from a nearby lookout hill you can drive up!
#15 Dress up a Termite Mound
If you’re driving up to Darwin, you’ll see them.
Yes giant termite mounds litter the northern sections of the Northern Territory especially and a great activity is spotting the best-dressed ones as you drive past!
Alternatively, you can always join the avant-garde fashion designers and pick your own termite mound mannequin if you want too.
Litchfield National Park has some classics!
#16 Relax in Hot Springs
As in one of the best things ever, the natural Bitter Springs at Mataranka make you feel like you’re floating in a tropical paradise, which you kind of are!
No question this is one of the best things to do in Australia’s top end and I’m still utterly amazed it’s free!
If you’ve been camping rough for a few days, Mataranka is also a great way to get a wash in.
#17 Camp on a Cattle Ranch
Curtain Springs Cattle Ranch near Uluru offers visitors the perfect opportunity to camp for free on a working Australian outback farm.
Located near Mount Conner, this is the full Outback experience and for those on a serious budget, it’s a great place to spend the night if you don’t want to stump up the cost of camping at Yulara.
Just watch out for the emus at dinner time!
#18 Tour Parliament House
And now back to Darwin, the state capital, there’s plenty of political and social history to explore here.
One of the great ways to do this for free is to take a guided tour of the city’s Parliament House, which runs every Saturday morning.
Free tours are also available every Wednesday morning during dry season, that is May through September.
#19 Stimulate the Circulation at Ormiston Gorge
Located in the West MacDonnell Ranges, outside of Alice Springs, Ormiston Gorge is one of my favourite spots in this vast and stunning range.
What I particularly liked here was the beautiful trail along this stunning escarpment, which came with some cracking views and few crowds.
After enjoying the walk, you can then test your bravery in the freezing cold waters of the gorge.
Sure to get the blood flowing quicker, just make sure to be safe and sensible if you are braving it!
#20 Star Gaze
Sometimes the simple ones are the best!
Yup, undoubtedly one of the most amazing free things I did in the Northern Territory was climbed on the bonnet of the 4WD at night and watched the millions of stars twinkling as though they were alive.
With zero light pollution to diminish their presence, stargazing in the NT makes you realise there is actually more light in the night sky than there is darkness.
It’s a mind-blowing discovery and one I will never forget the Territory taught me.
PIN IT TO PINTEREST!
So that’s my list of the top 20 things to do in the Northern Territory, Australia.
Perfect for those travelling on a budget, there are all totally free!
Have you been to this incredible part of Australia?
What was your favourite thing to do there?
Please let me know in the comments box below…