Year-round good weather, laidback locals and palm trees lining the beachside streets that are filled with buzzing bars and restaurants. Add in being the gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and it’s little wonder why Cairns in Far North Queensland continues to be one of the most in-demand destinations for a tropical getaway.
Credit: Tourism Australia
Cairns City is small in size but full of fun, and you can easily make your way around on foot. The location of Cairns is what makes it so desirable. You have access to the busy marina with frequent boat services to get passengers out to the magical Great Barrier Reef and the blissful islands off the coast. On the other side and heading inland, you have the lush greenery and incredible biodiversity of the Daintree Rainforest – which so happens to be the world’s oldest.
Cairns is the ultimate outdoor playground. Fill your days exploring some of Australia’s finest natural wonders, chasing waterfalls or snorkelling with an abundance of sea life and rich coral.
Things to do and see in Cairns
With so much waiting for you outside the Cairns city limits, it can be easy to forget about the city itself. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this bustling area – with galleries, markets, and thrill-seeking adventure all at your fingertips.
One of the newest aquariums in Australia, the state-of-the-art aquatic underwater world awaits. Experience marine life encounters and visit the turtle rehabilitation centre, or for something special, see the aquarium after dark with a guided nocturnal tour, and dine with the sea life around you.
Opening from 5am for the early risers, Rusty’s Market has become a weekend staple for Cairns locals. The enclosed markets are open Friday through to Sunday, with vendors selling fresh produce, flowers, and lifestyle goods and homewares.
Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome
This is one the kids – and the big kids – will love. The indoor wildlife park is fitted with rope courses and ziplining, and home to crocodiles and koalas. It’s not every day you get the chance to zipline directly over a real crocodile (his name is Goliath) lurking in his enclosure below.
Cairns Botanic Gardens
Join an audio guided or walking tour as you make your way through the lush tropical paradise at the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Spot the colourful birds as you go and enjoy the tranquillity of the gardens.
Located on the lively esplanade, the Cairns Lagoon is the best swimming spots in the city. Cool off in the 4800 square metre saltwater pool, without the stress of stingers and crocodiles that are in the FNQ beaches and rivers. The lagoon is surrounded by beautifully maintained parklands, shaded areas, and barbeque facilities. It is patrolled by lifeguards – making this an ideal spot for families to settle in for a whole day or an afternoon to escape the heat.
White Water Rafting
Make your way down the Barron or Russel River, enjoying the twists and drops of the rapids as you go. The adrenaline will spike the further you go, but don’t forget to take in the incredible scenery of the rainforest around you. You can go on your own or join a group and have a guide show you the way through the fast-moving water.
Cairns Night Markets
This indoor market and food court (air-conditioning included) opens until 10.30pm each night. Located behind the Esplanade on Abbott St, there are over 70 stalls and licensed bars and restaurants to make your way through.
Skydive or Bungee Jump
Visit Skypark Cairns for a series of adrenaline inducing experiences, including a bungee jump. For a bigger jump, skydive with Cairns Skydiving – the view of the Great Barrier Reef as you make your way back to earth is pretty unbeatable.
Cairns Art Gallery
Enjoy free entry into Cairns Art Gallery and spend an afternoon perusing through stunning artwork and temporary exhibitions. With a strong focus on Aboriginal artists and their work, you can appreciate the culture and history of indigenous people in Far North Queensland
Where to Eat and Drink in Cairns
Treat yourself to a spectacular fresh seafood platter at this busy restaurant at Marlin Marina.
When you need a health kick head to Snoogies in Cairns Main Arcade. Choose from salads, juices, smoothies, and healthy treats.
Oak & Vine
Modern alfresco dining on a rooftop overlooking the beach, Oak & Vine in the Oaks Hotel is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For a unique dining experience, make a booking for lunch or dinner at Dundees at the Cairns Aquarium, and enjoy your meal next to a 70,000-litre marine aquarium.
This waterfront award-winning restaurant provides customer with a menu offering unique Australian native foods, as well as classic food options. The menu is constantly changing to include new dishes developed by the creative chefs.
A charming Italian restaurant serving up fresh seafood. The subtle restaurant is warm and welcoming.
For a taste of France, look no further than C’est Bon on Lake Street. Choose from a selection of French classics like steak tartare and duck confit in a cosy restaurant setting.
A sophisticated waterfront restaurant, serving up delectable modern cuisine, including seafood and Argentinian-style grilled meat.
Wolf Lane Distillery
Being surrounded by beautiful tropical nature was the inspiration behind the unique spirits and coffee liqueurs crafted at Wolf Lane Distillery. Specialising in gin, pay a visit to Wolf Lane Cellar Door for delicious tastings.
Sauce Brewing Co
Cool off with a cold brew at Sauce, with a collection of beers and cocktails on the menu. There’s an extensive food menu to pair some nibbles or a burger with your beverage too.
Also a restaurant, but if you only have time for a drink, Rocco is the place for it. Found on the rooftop of Crystalbrook Riley, this is the highest rooftop bar in Cairns. Sip on a delicious cocktail as you enjoy panoramic views of Cairns.
The Backyard (Shangri La)
Come for a bite to eat, stay for the great atmosphere at the Backyard. The inner-city venue sits on the pier by the water, and the expansive beer garden overlooking the water is the perfect place to relax after a day of adventure.
A Cairns institution visited frequently by the party crowd. No backpacker has visited Cairns without making new friends and memories at Gilligans. Both a hostel and hotel with a swimming pool and 3 bars – Gilligans is one for the books.
House of Commons
If a rowdy party hotel doesn’t spark interest, then the House of Commons may be for you. This chic bar is an homage to the 1920’s, and a nod to London speakeasy style. Open late 7 nights a week, pop in for a quality cocktail.
Where to Stay in Cairns
As with any major city, there is accommodation to suit any budget and style in Cairns. Hostels, self-contained apartments, or luxury hotels. Whatever your pick, there is something that will work for you.
- Mumma’s Hostel
- Travellers Oasis
- Cairns Central YHA
- Palm Royale Cairns
- The Benson Hotel
- Oaks Cairns
- Cairns Plaza Hotel
- Mantra Trilogy
- Pullman Reef Hotel Casino
- Shangri-La The Marina, Cairns
- Crystalbrook (Flynn, Riley or Bailey)
How to Get Around Cairns
Having a car (your own or a hire car) would be beneficial in a place like Cairns. You can take yourself on a self-driving holiday around Cairns and on to Port Douglas or the Daintree. This area of Queensland has beautiful scenic drives everywhere you go.
For travellers without a car, there are public transport and tour options to get you around.
There are regular bus services throughout Cairns, along the beach and through the city. You can catch a bus to Port Douglas, Mission Beach, and Palm Cove.
Only available in Cairns City
Available in Cairns and surrounding suburbs/towns like Mission Beach, Port Douglas, and Atherton Tablelands
Join one of the many guided tours that operate from Cairns. Tours operate daily and visit the best locations in FNQ. Head to the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree, Atherton Tablelands or Cape Tribulation, and make new friends along the way. Tour guides are locals and highly knowledgeable about the region and will give insights into the history and can offer recommendations.
Day Trips from Cairns
Just a stones-throw away from some of Queensland’s best gems, there is an entire list of day adventures waiting for you when you visit Cairns. Take yourself on a self-paced journey through nature, or join a day tour to make the most of your time and get insider tips and insights from Queensland local guides.
Great Barrier Reef
The world’s largest and most famous reef is off the coast of Queensland, and Cairns is one of the most convenient places to depart from. Head to the Cairns Marlin Marina and take a catamaran out to the best snorkel sites across the reef. Most tours will include snorkelling gear, with some including a complimentary beginner dive for anyone wanting to explore a little deeper.
The Moore Reef Pontoon is an incredible floating oasis on the reef. Family friendly with shallow touch pools and enclosed swimming lagoons. Hear from marine biologists and learn about the importance of the reef and the ecosystem thriving below the surface.
This rich forest dates some 135 million years back. There is 1,200 square kilometres of lush greenery, towering trees, tropical plants, and Australian wildlife that call this forest home. Key highlights are Mosman Gorge and crocodile river cruises – the best and most thrilling way to see the predators in their natural habitat.
There are endless walking trails throughout the forest, and kids will love the interactive exhibits at the Daintree Discovery Centre.
Keep your eyes peeled for the blue neck and heads of the territorial cassowary – Australia’s other large flightless bird not to be confused with the curious emu – just be sure to keep your distance!
Escape to Port Douglas for the day for a touch of luxury in North Queensland. Beautiful resorts line the main street, and the spectacular 4-Mile Beach provides a never-ending stretch of white sand and crystal-clear waters.
There are fantastic bars and restaurants along the main drag, where you can sit for hours and embrace the laidback Queensland way of life. Port Douglas is a 1-hour drive from Cairns.
Take the 3-hour journey – including the ferry over the Daintree River – from Cairns to Cape Tribulation. A nature-lovers paradise, find the unique layout where the dense rainforest meets the sparkling beach. Boardwalks and birdwatching, waterfalls and safe swim spots await. Be careful of the wildlife here – tropical Queensland is home to saltwater crocodiles and venomous stingers, so be sure to check signage before swimming anywhere.
Green or Fitzroy Island
The marine islands of Green and Fitzroy Island are slices of paradise amongst the Great Barrier Reef. Jump on one of the catamarans across to the island of your choice from the Marlin Marina, and switch on to island time. Snorkel in the reef, kayak on the turquoise waters, or swim in the shallows. If you want to stay dry, pull up a towel on the soft sand and soak up some rays (don’t forget your sunscreen), or walk through the lush island forest and spot wildlife.
Atherton Tablelands is a lush area where you will find some of Australia’s most magnificent waterfalls. In the wet season these falls are in full force and seeing the amount of water cascading down is mesmerising. Walk the set trails to the best falls – including Millaa Millaa, Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls. Be sure to have your phone handy – these are the perfect Far North Queensland photo op.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Embark on a scenic journey through the rolling Wet Tropics and the Great Diving Range when you take the historic railway from Cairns to Kuranda, via Freshwater. The railway glides high above the ground, giving you breathtaking views of waterfalls, gorges, and waterways.
Things You Need to Know About Cairns
It’s always warm in Cairns. The seasons are broken up into wet and dry season – with each season having pros and cons for travelling.
November to March. Heavy rainfall and monsoon weather leads to high humidity. Rain tends to fall heaviest later in the day and evenings. Heavy rainfall does mean incredibly lush and green rainforest, and the waterfalls are in full force. This is summer in Australia, so it’s not as busy in Cairns with other travellers and can be a cheaper time to travel.
April to October. Little to no rain and warm temperatures. This is a fantastic time to visit Cairns as the humidity is lower, the days are clear, and the beach is safe for swimming.
Stinger season is during the wet season from November to April, and swimming in the beach is not considered safe. The stingers in the water are highly venomous. Fortunately, the Cairns Lagoon is the perfect spot to swim year-round, and majority of the hotels have beautiful pools. Stinger suits can/should be worn if swimming in the ocean during stinger season.
Some areas around Cairns are not safe for swimming due to the presence of saltwater crocodiles – such as Cape Tribulation. Always check for signs before entering any water in Far North Queensland.
Call 000 for emergencies in Australia.
+61 is Australia’s country code.
Tipping is not customary in Australia; however, tipping is always welcome if customers feel so inclined.