There’s a lot more to do than just laze on the beach in Cairns. You can scuba dive and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and experience rainforest wilderness adventures.
Take a trip up to the Daintree Rainforest and see where two of the world’s richest ecosystems meet. Or, ride the renowned Skyrail Rainforest Cableway between Cairns and Kuranda.
Cairns Botanic Gardens
While cruises to the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef and wilderness adventures in the nearby Wet Tropics National Park are popular attractions, Cairns also offers a variety of other fun and exciting activities for visitors. The city’s beautiful botanical gardens are a popular option, with its shaded walkways offering relief from the city’s hot weather.
The lush gardens are home to a wide range of tropical plants including rare and exotic orchids, heliconias, bromeliads and ancient cycads. They are surrounded by grassy areas, meandering streams and hidden staircases making them feel like an enchanted forest.
Cairns Botanic Gardens are also home to an impressive range of birds. Depending on the season, you might see up to 40 different species of feathered creatures frolicking in the flora.
If you’re interested in getting to know the birds better, you can book a guided tour of the gardens. Alternatively, you can attend one of the regular bird-feeding sessions that are held at the gardens. The Friends of the Botanic Gardens also host a number of events throughout the year, such as their pre-Easter, Fathers Day and Christmas plant sales.
One of the best things to do in Cairns for families is a trip to the aquarium. Here, kids can meet the sea creatures from the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest, while adults can learn about their habitats and conservation. You can also watch daily presentations and even get a hands-on experience at the marine and terrestrial touch tanks!
You can also see a variety of freshwater wildlife at the aquarium, including pig-nosed turtles and eel tail catfish in the Freshwater Stream exhibit. Then, head to the Mangroves exhibit to spot keelback snakes, forest dragons, and white lip tree frogs. You can even take a closer look at pythons, tarantulas, and lizards that are native to Tropical North Queensland!
The Aquarium is surrounded by the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, making it the perfect place to observe these incredible ecosystems. There are many different hikes here, from short walks at Mossman Gorge to strenuous climbs at Devil’s Thumb.
The Australian Armour & Artillery Museum
This museum houses a large collection of tanks and armoured vehicles from many different countries including Great Britain, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Australia and Russia. It is also home to a tank firing range, where visitors can experience the closest thing they will ever get to a real tank ride.
It’s one of the best things to do in Cairns and a must-see for history buffs! It’s open nightly and features seventy retail outlets and loads of food options.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure during your visit to Cairns, you should book a trip on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. It will take you over the canopy of one of the world’s oldest rainforests and give you an incredible view of Cairns and the surrounding area.
The Daintree Rainforest is a World Heritage Listed natural wonder and is one of the most ancient rainforests on the planet. It’s the place to go if you want to see wildlife and hike through the rainforest, with hiking trails ranging from short walks at Mossman Gorge to strenuous climbs up Devil’s Thumb.
Josephine Falls is one of the most scenic waterfalls in Tropical North Queensland. It is located in the Wooroonooran National Park and offers scenic hiking trails, rock pools, a natural slide and a diverse collection of unique Australian wildlife. The water at this site is crystal clear, with the rainforest providing a backdrop of lush green plant life and brightly coloured wild flowers.
A short stroll from the picnic area leads to the beautiful waterfall itself. Take a refreshing dip in the pools or stroll along the well-marked bushwalking trails that run through the rainforest. There are a variety of options for walkers, from the easy 1.2 kilometre trail to the more challenging 10 kilometre hike up to Broken Nose.
The best time to visit Josephine Falls is during the Australian school holidays, when you’ll find families splashing about in the shallow waters of this rain forest swimming hole. The Esplanade Lagoon is another fun and safe option for kids, filled with saltwater pumped in from Trinity Lagoon and patrolled daily by lifeguards.
Whether you’re visiting for a few weeks or just a weekend, Cairns has plenty of things to do to keep you occupied. From exploring the Great Barrier Reef to shopping at a variety of local markets, there’s something for everyone here.
Water lovers will love the city’s beautiful esplanade lagoon, which offers safe all year swimming, and can choose from countless marine adventures. There are also rainforest tours in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and scenic flights to Kuranda.
In the heart of downtown, the Cairns Museum is housed in a historic old school building and features many collections and exhibits of regional history. You’ll learn about the early pioneers, who worked hard slashing cane, building railways and logging in the rainforest. You’ll see their cool artefacts and get a sense of the climate that has made this region one of the world’s most beautiful and interesting places.
Other highlights include a trip to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park and climbing to the top of Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome, the world’s first challenge ropes course in a wildlife park where you can hang out with koalas, cockatoos and snakes.
Whether you are looking for fresh local produce or a fun day out, Rusty’s Market is the place to be. The market has something for everyone, from tropical fruits like dragonfruit and starfruit to locally caught seafood, such as barramundi and prawns. The market also has a variety of sweet treats, including cakes and pastries.
Visitors to the market should try the delicious local cuisine, which includes dishes like Australian meat pies and sausage rolls. The market also has several vendors that offer Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines.
There are many things to do near Rusty’s Market, including swimming in the Esplanade Lagoon and walking along the scenic boardwalk. The market is also close to the city’s best beaches and attractions, such as the Cairns Botanic Gardens and the Cairns Aquarium.
If you are interested in visiting Rusty’s Market, you can get there by taking public transit. Moovit offers free maps and live directions to help you navigate your way around the city. You can also see how long it will take you to get there and learn about any delays or cancellations in real-time.
The Green Island is a beautiful coral cay that makes up part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Whether you’re a snorkeler or just looking to spend time relaxing on the beach, this is an ideal tropical getaway. You can visit the island on a self-guided day trip or book a tour.
For water babies, the Cairns Lagoon offers safe all year swimming and stretches of beach with lifeguards patrolling. Alternatively, head to the famous Tully River for a white water rafting adventure down grade 2 and 3 rapids.
If you’re lucky enough to be in the region in November, you might even get to see the world’s largest wild cassowary at Etty Bay. Otherwise, spotting one in the wild is pretty rare these days as land clearing and domestic animals have reduced their population significantly.
You’ll find plenty of fun things to do on the land with tours that take you to rainforest waterfalls, a tropical zoo and even a crocodile farm where you can get up close to the biggest crocodile in captivity called Cassius!
Best Places to stay in Cairns
Cairns, nestled along the stunning coastline of Queensland, Australia, is a tropical paradise that beckons travelers with its pristine beaches, vibrant marine life, and lush rainforests. As a popular gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns offers a plethora of accommodation options that cater to every traveler’s needs and preferences. Whether you seek luxurious beachfront resorts, cozy boutique hotels, or budget-friendly hostels, Cairns has a perfect abode for your tropical escapade. Let’s explore some of the best places to stay in Cairns, ensuring a memorable and blissful experience in this coastal gem.
1. Shangri-La Hotel, The Marina – Coastal Luxury: Situated on the waterfront of the Cairns Marlin Marina, the Shangri-La Hotel offers luxurious rooms and suites with stunning views of the Coral Sea and Trinity Bay. Indulge in world-class amenities, including an outdoor pool and spa facilities.
2. Pullman Reef Hotel Casino – Harbor Elegance: The Pullman Reef Hotel Casino boasts a prime location in the heart of Cairns, overlooking the Trinity Inlet. Guests can enjoy sophisticated rooms, a rooftop swimming pool, and a range of dining and entertainment options.
3. Riley, a Crystalbrook Collection Resort – Urban Oasis: Riley is an urban oasis offering contemporary design and lush amenities. With its beachfront location, the resort provides direct access to Cairns’ Esplanade Lagoon and city center attractions.
4. The Abbott Boutique Hotel – Historical Charm: Housed in a beautifully restored heritage building, The Abbott Boutique Hotel offers a blend of historical charm and modern comforts. Located in the city’s center, it provides easy access to cafes, restaurants, and shopping.
5. Cairns Queenslander Hotel & Apartments – Family-Friendly Retreat: Ideal for families, Cairns Queenslander Hotel & Apartments features spacious accommodations with kitchenettes and access to pools and BBQ facilities. The hotel offers a relaxed ambiance within walking distance of the Esplanade.
6. Gilligan’s Backpacker Hotel & Resort – Vibrant Hostel Experience: Gilligan’s is a lively hostel and resort that caters to budget-conscious travelers seeking a vibrant atmosphere. It offers a pool, bars, and entertainment options, making it a social hub in Cairns.
7. The Lakes Cairns Resort & Spa – Tranquil Serenity: Nestled within tropical gardens, The Lakes Cairns Resort & Spa offers a serene escape from the city’s bustle. Guests can unwind in comfortable rooms and enjoy the resort’s lagoon-style pool and spa facilities.
8. Il Palazzo Boutique Hotel – Italian Elegance: Il Palazzo Boutique Hotel exudes Italian elegance with its charming architecture and decor. Located in the city center, it provides a peaceful retreat close to cafes, shops, and the Esplanade.
9. Coral Tree Inn – Cozy Comfort: Coral Tree Inn offers cozy and affordable accommodations in a tranquil setting. The inn features a pool and lush gardens, providing a peaceful haven for relaxation.
10. Global Backpackers Central – Backpacker’s Haven: Global Backpackers Central is a friendly and budget-friendly option for backpackers. Located in the heart of Cairns, it offers a convenient base for exploring the city’s attractions and vibrant nightlife.
10 interesting facts about Cairns
- Great Barrier Reef Access: Cairns is often referred to as the “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.” The city’s strategic location makes it a popular starting point for exploring one of the world’s most diverse and magnificent natural wonders.
- Tropical Climate: Cairns enjoys a tropical climate throughout the year. The city experiences two distinct seasons: the wet season from November to May, characterized by heavy rainfall and humidity, and the dry season from June to October, offering pleasant weather for outdoor activities.
- Aboriginal Heritage: The Cairns region has a rich Aboriginal heritage, with the local Yidinji people being the traditional custodians of the land. Visitors can learn about their culture and history through guided tours and cultural experiences.
- Esplanade Lagoon: The Cairns Esplanade is a popular recreational area featuring a massive lagoon pool. It provides a safe and enjoyable swimming experience for locals and tourists alike, especially during the stinger season when marine stingers are present in the ocean waters.
- Kuranda Scenic Railway: The Kuranda Scenic Railway is an iconic attraction that takes visitors on a breathtaking journey through lush rainforest and picturesque landscapes from Cairns to the village of Kuranda, known for its arts and crafts markets.
- Cairns Night Markets: The Cairns Night Markets offer a vibrant shopping experience where visitors can find a variety of souvenirs, local handicrafts, clothing, and international cuisines. The markets are open every night, making it a popular spot for tourists to explore.
- Cairns Wildlife Dome: Located on top of the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, the Cairns Wildlife Dome provides an opportunity to experience Australia’s unique wildlife up close, including birds, koalas, and crocodiles, all within a simulated rainforest environment.
- World’s Oldest Rainforest: Just a short drive from Cairns, the Daintree Rainforest is considered one of the oldest rainforests in the world, dating back over 135 million years. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers incredible biodiversity and natural beauty.
- Skydiving Capital: Cairns is renowned as Australia’s skydiving capital, attracting adventure enthusiasts from around the globe. The breathtaking aerial views of the Great Barrier Reef and lush landscapes make it an unforgettable experience.
- Ironman Cairns: Cairns hosts the annual Cairns Airport Ironman, one of the world’s most challenging triathlon events. Athletes from all over the world gather to test their endurance against the backdrop of Cairns’ stunning natural beauty.