15 things to do in Cairns (Australia)

Cairns is a thriving tourist hotspot in Tropical North Queensland, popular with tourists from all over the world. The city has mild winters, beautiful beaches, stunning scenery, great nightlife, and lots of fun to see and do. Cairns is a must if you’re going to Queensland!

Let’s explore the best things to do in Cairns:

1. Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The colourful corals are stunning, as is the abundance of marine life, perfect for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving.

If you prefer to stay dry, the reef also has plenty of activities to enjoy, such as underwater observatories and semi-submarines, and you can even send postcards from the only Australia Post mailbox on the reef!

2. Cairns Botanic Gardens

Cairns Botanic Gardens

The Arboretum is considered one of Australia’s best displays of tropical plants, and the plants here are very different from what you’d see in cooler climates.

There are also many native animals and birds to see, walking trails to explore, and informative tours to learn about the species in the gardens.

Suggested Tour: Cairns and Botanic Gardens 1.5-Hour Segway Tour

3. Kuranda Scenic Railway

Kuranda Scenic Railway

The scenic railway travels from Cairns to the nearby town of Kuranda, passing through incredible scenery such as World Heritage Forest.

Originally built as a commuter railway more than 120 years ago, the railway is now used as a tourist railway.

Less than 2 hours one way, the stunning scenery makes it a must-stop on your Cairns itinerary.

Suggested Tour: Full-Day Kuranda Tour by Train and Coach

4. Palm Cove

palm cove

Palm Cove is a charming seaside village with what is considered to be the best beach in Cairns.

The village is named after the flat-packed palm trees that line the Esplanade.

It’s a great place for a relaxing day of sun, sand and surf, and a popular spot for kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving.

If you’re a golfer, there’s also a 9 hole golf course just a 1km walk from the beach.

5. Enjoy a refreshing swim at Crystal Falls

crystal waterfall

Crystal Falls is a hidden gem in tropical North Queensland: a freshwater swimming hole set in a rainforest with several small waterfalls flowing into large pools.

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There are BBQ and picnic facilities in the area, and being able to swim in the peaceful and peaceful rainforest is a very magical Australian nature experience.

6. Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Rainforest

The Daintree Rainforest is one of Australia’s picturesque spots, with stunning scenery and rich flora and fauna; in particular, you’ll find the vast majority of Australia’s bat and butterfly species here.

It’s not only a paradise for nature lovers, it’s also a fascinating place for scientists: Australia’s flora and fauna have evolved largely in isolation, and Daintree Park tells the story behind this incredible site , but just enjoying the breathtaking walking trails, waterfalls, forests and coastal vistas.

Suggested Tour: Daintree Wilderness and Cape Tribulation Full-Day Tour

7. Learn about Aboriginal culture at Chapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Chapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

This award-winning cultural park is run by the original custodians of the land and incorporates actors and high-tech holograms to tell their creation myth.

You can also take a canoe ride, join a fireside barbecue and more.

It was a very educational and entertaining experience.

8. Dolphin and whale watching

whale watching

Cairns is known for its abundance of marine life, and if you enjoy watching dolphins and whales, you’ve come to the right place.

Various tour companies operate cruise tours, and depending on the time of your visit, you’ll find a wide variety of species here.

The Great Barrier Reef is a breeding ground for cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and is home to 35% of the world’s whales and dolphins.

In particular, between July and September, 2,000 humpback whales migrate to Cairns to give birth and feed their calves, making the 10,000km round trip from Antarctic waters. These giant mammals are a truly magnificent sight.

9. Visit the plateau

Atherton Plateau

Atherton Highlands, a highland area half an hour’s drive from Cairns, is a great place to spend a few days.

They are not as crowded with tourists as Cairns, which can be a refreshing change if you are looking for a place that is truly peaceful, picturesque, relaxing and unspoilt.

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The higher elevations of the plateaus mean they are milder and less humid than Cairns, making them very comfortable getaways in the middle of summer; like Cairns, winters are mild.

The Highlands are dotted with many sweet towns and although quieter than Cairns, there is still plenty for tourists to do: Highland Express Steam Tour, Houwang Temple Chinese Temple, Gallo Dairy Farm, Coffee Works Boutique Bakery, Lake Barrine Teahouses and charming Tay Cornell historic gold mines.

10. Green Island

green island

Green Island is one of Cairns’ most popular tourist attractions: a coral reef 27 kilometers from Cairns, within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park World Heritage Area, only 300 meters wide and 650 meters long.

Pristine white sand beaches, verdant rainforests and azure waters make it the perfect place to relax and enjoy Australian beach life.

There are cruise ship options on the island, as well as the option to stay overnight at the Green Island Resort, considered one of the most ecologically sensitive resorts in the world.

Recommended Itinerary: Green Island Reef Full-Day Catamaran Cruise

11. Enjoy the hustle and bustle of the night market or Rusty’s Market

rusty market

Once you’ve relaxed in peaceful places like Green Island and the Highlands, you might want some urban fun, and Cairns’ markets are the place to go.

Cairns Night Market is open 365 days a year, with shops open from 5pm to 11pm and food courts open from 10am to 11pm.

There are plenty of souvenirs, delicious food stalls, and the work of local artisans and designers.

Rusty’s Market is open at 5am on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; this farmers’ market has been a hub for Cairns foodies for generations, and it’s worth waking up early to enjoy some of the best produce tropical North Queensland has to offer.

12. Go clubbing at Lyquid Nightlife


Cairns is very popular with young backpackers from all over the world, and a great nightlife scene has popped up to cater to them. Among the various great venues around, Lyquid is considered the best nightclub in town.

It’s very luxurious inside, with a gorgeous water whirlpool-themed entrance, and a great way to meet and mingle with energetic tourists from all over the world.

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13. Enjoy a taste of paradise in Port Douglas

port douglas

Port Douglas is a seaside town north of Cairns with a pleasant atmosphere.

It might be a bit pricey, but if you have the cash to burn, you’ll love the boutiques and restaurants in town.

It’s closer to the Daintree Rainforest than Cairns and a great place to stop when visiting the Great Barrier Reef; the town itself is a great place for a romantic getaway, enjoy seaside fun at Four Mile Beach, or just hang out in town and get a feel for what it’s like atmosphere and learn about its fascinating history.

From Four Mile Beach, you can walk along the scenic Port Douglas Lighthouse to Flagstaff Hill for breathtaking views.

14. Take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to explore the rainforest

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is a 7.5km cableway in Barron Gorge National Park, above the verdant rainforest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The views from the Skyrail are beautiful and it’s a very relaxing way to travel through the rainforest in style.

A variety of funiculars are available, including glass-bottomed gondolas, where you can see the rainforest beneath your feet.

There’s also a fascinating Rainforest Interpretive Centre where you can learn about everything you see, as well as Aboriginal cultural walking tours from the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway’s Barron Falls station.

15. See lava up close

Undara Lava Tube

Usually, being able to see lava up close and personal is not one’s entertainment idea, but don’t worry, this attraction is absolutely safe! In Vendara Volcanoes National Park, your guide will take you into an extinct volcano so you can see the extraordinary Vendara lava tubes.

Only 23 countries have lava tubes, and Undara’s lava tubes are considered the longest in the world.

There’s plenty of other fun in Undara: you can spend the night in a swag tent village or pioneer lodge, enjoy a sunset wildlife safaris, or watch exciting events like the Outback Opera House.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Cairns, Australia
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