Darwin or Perth: The Northern Territory or the West Coast?

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Sydney and Melbourne might have long been favorites of visitors Down Under, but Australia’s other capitals shouldn’t go overlooked. If you’re tossing up Darwin or Perth, neither city will disappoint. Still, it will be hard to choose between them.

Located on opposite ends of the country, both cities are incredible travel destinations, with each bringing something unique to the table. Perth is something of an urban oasis where art galleries, alfresco breweries, relaxed neighborhoods, and vibrant events all live in perfect harmony. While Darwin is famous for being a gateway to the great Australian wilderness, boasting a multicultural culinary scene, warm climate, abundant outdoor markets, and a homely holiday vibe year-round.

Whether you’re looking for a lively retreat, something a bit more laid back, or the best of both, one of these cities is guaranteed to deliver, and today we’ll explore everything that makes Darwin and Perth worth visiting, to help you make an informed decision. Let’s dive in.  

Darwin or Perth: The General Vibe

Perth center
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The city of Perth has become an increasingly popular tourist destination as a result of its easy-going atmosphere, thriving art scene, vibrant nightlife, and gorgeous beaches. It’s a bubbly location where relaxed beaches meet a thriving metropolis, and it definitely offers the best of both worlds, but it might not be the best place to visit if it’s a grounded holiday you’re craving. 

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On the other hand, Darwin isn’t as upmarket or pretty, but it’s got a sort of quirky charm to it, and it’s well worth visiting if you’re a fan of the outdoors, waterfalls, wildlife, or pub crawling. It’s frequently compared to Bali and boasts a waterfront area surrounded by trendy cafes, bars, seafood restaurants, and shops. You’re also likely to witness some awe-inspiring thunderstorms, and it’s renowned for its warm, inviting vibe, as well as cultural diversity. In fact, it’s home to over 100 nationalities with around 50 social, cultural, and religious organizations.

Ultimately, when it comes to the general vibe, we think dynamic Perth takes the cake since it offers both relaxing and lively experiences, while Darwin tends to be more laid back on the whole.

Winner: Perth

Darwin or Perth: The Beaches

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Perth is blessed with a seemingly endless stretch of world-class beaches, perfect for a casual swim, or watersports. Plus, the shores are usually lined with shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels, and surf shops. 

Surrounded by a high-rise cityscape, the magnificent Scarborough Beach is the main sandy spot in Perth. With crystal clear, blue sea, white sand, and sunshine, as far as the eye can see, it’s the perfect place to kick back and relax. There’s also the culturally diverse City Beach, situated right in the middle of Perth’s northern suburbs, with plenty of shady grass areas, which has made it a popular spot for sunset picnics. You could even pay a visit to the discreet Coogee Beach, which has a gothic backdrop of an abandoned power station and houses a jetty for fishing and jumping into the ocean.

In contrast, Darwin’s beaches generally aren’t very safe to swim in since they’re often home to crocodiles and jellyfish. Still, they’re undeniably picturesque, and there are exceptions to the rule.

For starters, you could visit Mindil Beach. You can’t swim there, but it’s all about what happens on its shores. The infamous Mindil Beach Sunset Market is well known for its live entertainment, and stalls selling authentic Aboriginal artwork. On top of this, it also has over 60 food stands specializing in international cuisine. Of course, the dazzling golden-hued sunsets aren’t too bad either.

Vestes Beach is another option. Boasting a trailer boat, two large boat ramps, and a few sailing clubs, it’s certain to melt any boat lover’s heart. What’s more, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory sits at the opposite end of the beach. So, while it might not always be safe to swim there, you can rest assured that there’s plenty to do.

Be that as it may, Perth is the clear winner since its beaches are far less dangerous while having much more to offer.

Winner: Perth

Darwin or Perth: The Nightlife

Darwin harbour at sunset
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From secluded pubs to Australia’s best craft breweries, trendy cocktail spots, and lavish rooftop bars, Perth has a breezy drinking spot for every taste and occasion. Adding to the enticement, Western Australia is known for its ‘Sunday Session’ tradition, where you can finish the weekend drinking at the pub, Aussie style.

The inner-city suburb of Northbridge has a reputation for being particularly lively, and it’s home to some of the most vibrant nightlife in Australia. There’s something for everyone, and you’ll find it all from mega-clubs and live music hotspots to intimate wine bars and LGBTQ-friendly venues. Perth doesn’t have any shortage of festivals, concerts or annual events either, and there are plenty of fine dining restaurants and local eateries. 

On the flipside, Darwin is a lot more relaxed, but you’ll still find an abundance of charming local water holes, and even some more upmarket options in the Waterfront Precinct area. 

Several of the most popular spots can be found along Mitchell Street in the heart of the city. It’s a great place to mingle with locals and houses sidewalk cafes as well as upmarket restaurants. There are even some quaint European pubs, and the street’s peaceful atmosphere makes it an excellent choice for both singles as well as families.

At the end of the day, your preferred nightlife scenarios will boil down to personal preference, but if you ask us, Perth is definitely the more exciting city when it comes to going out.

Winner: Perth

Darwin or Perth: The Things to Do 

Darwin landscape
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Although Darwin and Perth are both fairly isolated cities that have a lot to offer, they’re quite different. When it comes to cuisine, the best culinary treats in Darwin can be found at local markets like the Parap, Mindil, and Nightcliff markets. Here you’ll find everything from fresh produce and delicious laksas to tiny doughnuts, fresh oysters, gourmet coffees, and breakfast crepes. You can also find perfectly battered fish and fine local cuisine throughout the city.

In contrast, Perth is known for its bustling nightlife and massive selection of upmarket cafes, restaurants, and tapas-style venues that offer outdoor seating, ocean views, and luxurious cocktails.

Perth might have more options to choose from in terms of nightlife and dining options, but Darwin definitely has the upper hand when it comes to outdoor pursuits. With its unforgettable waterfalls, red rocky cliffs, ancient Aboriginal art, abundant wildlife, and neighboring Tiwi Islands it offers a truly unforgettable wilderness experience. You could even attend a jumping crock or sunset champagne cruise.

Still, Perth has plenty to offer with its beautiful beaches, water sports, and the nearby surfer’s paradise of Rottnest Island. However, we can safely say that it’s more suited for cosmopolitan adventures. Even so, the city still offers plenty of opportunities to explore its history and culture with its many museums and historical sites, but Darwin offers a more diverse variety of things to do.

Winner: Darwin

Darwin or Perth: The Climate

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The starkest difference between Darwin and Perth is the climate. Perth has beautiful, sunny days most of the year, but it can get a little cooler during the winter months, while Darwin reaches temperatures over 86 degrees Fahrenheit almost every single day.

The Northern Territory boasts a tropical savanna climate with distinct wet and dry seasons, just like nearby Indonesia and the island of Bali. Most of Australia, like Perth, experiences its winter from June to August, but this is actually the driest time in Darwin. Nearly every day is sunny with blue skies and the afternoons are humid. For Australians, this makes Darwin a great place to escape for some so-called “winter sun” despite it being the summer months in the northern hemisphere.  

Darwin is perennially hot with unwavering high temperatures year-round. In contrast, Perth is more temperate but still warmer than capitals like Sydney and Melbourne. Perth’s climate is Mediterranean with hot, dry summers from December to April and wet winters. Perth can reach highs of 90 degrees Fahrenheit from as early as November, but winter hovers around the 60 to 70-degree mark. Perth is less extreme which can be favorable to some, but when it rains, it really rains.

When it comes to choosing between Darwin and Perth, it could simply come down to the time of year you plan to visit. For sunshine over the festive period, Perth’s your best bet, but if winter sun is what you’re after, namely June to August in Australia, Darwin wins. 

Winner: Draw 

Darwin or Perth: The Costs

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Despite being situated on opposite ends of Australia, Darwin and Perth are fairly similarly priced. Naturally, there are still some disparities, and comparing the day-to-day costs between the two can help you make an informed decision on where you want to stay or move.

Darwin is well known for being centrally located with affordably priced accommodation, and since Perth is much more metropolitan than Darwin, Darwin is a slightly cheaper travel destination overall. 

Typically, a modest hotel room for two costs around $136 AUD per night in Perth, but you’ll pay more for nicer amenities and a better location, while it’ll cost you about $114 AUD a night in Darwin. 

Taxi trips, private drivers, and public transportation costs the average visitor about $23 AUD per day in Perth, nearly double what you would spend in the North. When it comes to food, the average traveler in Perth spends around $33 AUD daily, but prices can vary, and sit-down restaurant prices are often much higher than fast or street food prices. Day-to-day food expenses in Darwin will cost just one dollar more. 

Rent prices in the metropolitan area of Perth are actually 20 percent lower than in Darwin, with a city center apartment in the north costing over $2,000 AUD a month on average compared to $1,700 AUD in Perth. Still, this could be down to Perth’s larger and inefficient layout compared to Darwin’s desirable waterfront center. This equals out when it comes to the suburbs, and you can expect to pay $1,300 AUD a month on average for rent in Perth compared to just $1,150 AUD in Darwin. Darwin also benefits from higher average salaries, almost 30 percent more than those in Perth, making it liveable and affordable. 

Based on these figures, we can see that Darwin is the less expensive destination, which makes it an excellent choice if you’re craving a more luxurious lifestyle or a short budget break. 

Winner: Darwin

Darwin or Perth: The Verdict

Darwin is a great place to visit if you’re a fan of easy-going atmospheres, the outdoors, or learning about different cultures. Whereas Perth has quite a bubbly nightlife, with ​​a great line-up of festivals, concerts, and events throughout the year, in addition to a thriving watersports scene.

Both cities offer relatively laid-back environments, and opportunities to get closer to nature, but at the end of the day, the ideal destination for your getaway will depend on your individual needs. For us, Perth takes the win because it offers a broader scope of experiences overall, but we still think Darwin is more than worthy of exploring.

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Esmé is an English literature graduate and freelance writer. Originally from London, Esmé is lucky enough to call Bali home. Her travels have taken her from the far corners of the East to the islands of the Caribbean. When she's not writing, you'll find her lying on a beach somewhere, lost in a crime novel.