Best Things to Do in Cairns, Australia

Thinking of Cairns as your next getaway? There are plenty of exciting activities for any kind of vacation. Read on to discover the best things to do in Cairns.

Imagine you have landed at Cairns Airport and you have been handed a brochure of all the things you can do in the beautiful city. While putting an itinerary together, the many activities you can do in a short amount of time becomes overwhelming. It’s easy to do, especially with the beautiful region’s year-round warm weather and a fantastic range of activities indeed making it Australia’s adventure capital.

But, we’re here to help, shortlisting the top tourist attractions, including scuba diving and some of the world’s Natural Wonders. Get excited because we have your travel plans covered, continue reading for our ultimate list of things to do in Cairns.

Top 10 Popular Things to do in Cairns

Cairns is well known for its two World Heritage Sites, The Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforests. However, there are plenty of other tourist attractions the area is well known for.

This travel destination is the perfect location for a relaxing trip, connecting with nature or finding a family friendly holiday that anyone could enjoy.

1.Cairns Esplanade.

Price: Free

Location: 52-54 Esplanade, Cairns City QLD 4870

The Esplanade has to be one of the most common things to do in Cairns. Located on the foreshore, the Esplanade is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

On your route along Harbour Walk, you will see the famous Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, a 4,800 square metre saltwater swimming pool to ensure safe year-round swimming. This Cairns haven is easy to spot. Simply look out for its sandy shore gradually declining into the sheltered water, which is the perfect space for children to play.

Make sure to look up any Cairns Esplanade events as there are usually free community activities throughout the week. Be sure to venture into the city from the Cairns Esplanade boardwalk for local coffee shops and other attractions, such as the Night Market and the Aquarium.

2.Cairns Night Market & Food Court.

Price: Free

Location: 54-60 Abbott St, Cairns City QLD 4870

So, you’ve had some fun on the Cairns Esplanade and now you’re hungry. If you’ve timed it right, you should definitely check out the local night market.

The Cairns Night Market & Food Court has a variety of stalls to suit anyone’s needs. An interesting fact is that this night market in Cairns is actually the first night market in Australia, so there is no doubt they have got its arcades down pat.

You’ll find the Cairns Night Market open from 5pm every night, while the food court is open every day from 10am.

As for what the Cairns Night Market & Food Court offers, options include licensed restaurants, massage stalls, pearls, perfect souvenirs or even beauty shops for those last-minute top-ups. The Cairns Night Markets knows how to deliver a good time.

You may also like: Family Friendly Restaurants in Cairns 2021

3.Cairns Aquarium.

Price: From $44.00

Location: 5 Florence St, Cairns City QLD 4870

If you are looking for a turtle-ly good time, then the Cairns Aquarium is the o-fish-al place to be!

Expect a unique experience at the Cairns Aquarium by visiting its 16,000 species that inhabit tropical North Queensland. The tropical aquarium prides itself on creating connections for visitors with stunning environments of The Great Barrier Reef, The Wet Tropics, The Gulf Savannah and Cape York regions.

Experiences at Cairns aquarium are designed to be enjoyed by ages including marine touch pools, marine shows, guided tours! So, if you’re after an educational and fun activity to add to your list of things to do in Cairns, this is it.

4.Kuranda Scenic Railway & Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.

Price: From $57.00

Location: Kuranda QLD 4881

If you are ticking off the iconic things to do in Cairns, look no further than the Kuranda Scenic Railway & Skyrail Rainforest Cableway!

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway connects the city with the lush rainforest of Kuranda. Prepare yourself for a unique view of the ancient forest landscape. The 7.5km long Rainforest Cableway joins Smithfield to Kuranda with stops at Red Peak and Barron Falls.

If you want to travel into Kuranda a little closer to the ground, the Kuranda Scenic Railway provides spectacular views through the dense forest. The 127-year-old railway is Heritage Listed and a National Engineering Landmark, while the 100-year-old carriages provide unique vintage styling of the train itself. Once you arrive in Kuranda, there are many ways to explore the stunning area, including by riverboat tour, guided walk or your own journey in the nature parks.

Before you fill up your itinerary, ensure you leave time to soak up the stunning scenery of Kuranda. Whether you are interested in either the Scenic Railway, Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or both, Kuranda is a must-do on your trip!

5.Cairns Botanical Gardens.

Price: Free

Location: 78-96 Collins Ave, Edge Hill QLD 4870

Thanks to Northern Queensland’s tropical climate, the Cairns Botanical Garden houses some unique and unusual plant species for you to explore. The stunning tropical scape holds more than 4,000 tropical plants, including rare species such as the giant 70kg Amorphophallus Titanum! With plenty of space to explore, the Botanical garden Divides into five different sections, also being home to exotic butterflies and birds.

The Cairns Botanical Gardens also offers guided tours with tour guides or recordings on iPods available to rent. If you are feeling peckish, there are two Cafés open in the Botanical Gardens, or if you have brought your food, there are also picnic resting spots.

For someone looking for a quieter activity for their bucket list of things to do in Cairns, a visit to the Botanical Gardens is a must.

6.Crystal Cascades.

Price: Free

Location: Redlynch Intake Rd, Lamb Range QLD 4870

If you are looking to escape the heat, the Crystal Cascades is perhaps one of the most popular swimming holes and things to do in Cairns. The freshwater Creek is a fantastic spot for an easy 2.4km return walk leading to a famous freshwater swimming hole. Throughout the Crystal Cascades walk, there are opportunities to see multiple waterfalls, bird watching and lookouts.

As a popular tourist destination, the area offers an outdoor picnic area with tables, shelter, drinking water and a BBQ. For adventure seekers, Crystal Cascade guided Cairns tours are offered, including boat trips, canyoning, abseiling and or zip-lining, providing a unique experience on your journey.

However, the Crystal Cascades is also known to be the perfect lazy trip where you can take food down for a picnic, relax and have a dip in the water.

7.Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome.

Price: From $25.00

Location: The Reef Hotel Casino, 35-41 Wharf St, Cairns City QLD 4870

Combine a high ropes course with a wildlife park and you end up with Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome. This incredible attraction is the world’s first experience that includes ropes courses, jumps and zip-lines graded by difficulty, ability to adventure outside the dome for an epic high view of Tropical North Queensland.

For the animal lover, you must add some of the region’s wildlife experiences to your list. Check out Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome website for shows and price packages to ensure an experience catered to your liking.

8.Cairns Art Gallery.

Price: Free.

Location: 40 Abbott St, Cairns City QLD 4870

If you are interested in Australian history, culture and all things creative, then the Cairns Art Gallery is a must-do for your holiday. The Cairns Art Gallery holds several art exhibitions and events so make sure you check out what’s on through their website.

As a heritage gallery, it also provides an educational experience that is ideal for little tackers. Visiting the Cairns Art Gallery is a great way to show support and consideration for community culture, so please make sure to pop in to the gallery if you can!

9.Rusty’s Market.

Price: Free

Location: 57/89 Grafton St, Cairns City QLD 4870

For local produce at an affordable price, make sure to head down to Rusty’s Market! Rusty’s Market have been running for the past 30 years and don’t seem like they will be stopping any time soon. The well-renowned fruit and veg market was named after the late Emry ‘Rusty’ Rees who primarily developed the market to what it is today.

Each Thursday, trucks arrive at Rusty’s Market with fresh fruit and vegetables, then the stallholders will come in and set up for the busy weekend ahead. The Market typically runs from 5am Friday and Saturday until 6pm and Sunday until 3pm.

Even if you do not need any fresh produce, Rusty’s Market is still a great place to visit to get a feel for the community, making Rusty’s Market a must for things to do in Cairns.

10.Cairns Brewery Tours.

Price: From $95

Location: 2 Holden Cl, Whitfield QLD 4870

Now, if you are looking for an activity and don’t have any parenting commitments make sure you book a Cairns Brewery Tour! With six different types of tours you can choose from, Cairns Brewery Tours provides educational experiences at local breweries and distilleries.

Joining a brewery tour is the perfect activity for those wanting to take a break from the touristy styled experiences. You will get the opportunity to chat with local brewers and beer enthusiasts to get a real sense for good beer. Beer tours are great for group activities, wanting to get the lay of the land or if you just want to learn more about beers!

5 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions surrounding Cairns 

The beauty of Tropical North Queensland may tempt you to road trip into Cairns instead of flying. From adventure tours to relaxing national parks, there are plenty of places to visit on your road trip. I know we are meant to focus on Cairns here, but it is always good to know your surroundings, right? Check out these spots for some additional Northern Queensland experiences

1.Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures.

Price: From Adults: $43.00 Children*: $21.50

Location: Captain Cook Hwy, Wangetti QLD 4871

40-minutes north of Cairns and 20 minutes south of Port Douglas, you will find yourself at the wildlife haven of Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. The renowned crocodile farm and the park is an excellent outing for the family with daily wildlife presentations, boat cruises and ample opportunity to get photos with some of the wildlife.

The Wetlands boat tour involves one of the park’s guides taking the group travelling around the Lagoon. You will be able to experience up-close encounters with the crocodiles while being safe in the specially built structure. The Wetlands circuit takes 25 minutes round trip, where you will get to see roughly 19 or more crocodiles ranging in sizes from 2.5m to 5m large.

There is also an easy walking track on the wildlife discovery trail that guides you around the park’s boardwalks. For a first-class experience, remember to pre-book one of the wildlife encounters for a personalised guided tour with one of Hartley’s wildlife keepers.

2.Talaroo Hot Springs.

Price: From $30.00

Location: Gulf Savannah Way (Gulf Development Road, Mount Surprise QLD 4871

The Talaroo Hot Springs are a 4.5hr drive from Cairns, located between Mount Surprise and Georgetown in the heart of Gulf Savannah. It just so happens to be the only tiered thermal hot spring in Australia, so it is something you can only see here.

This unique hot spring offers different sessions to enjoy the hot springs, including a purpose-built boardwalk that leads to a private soaking pool for the ultimate outback relaxation.

If you are interested in learning about the ancient hot springs, Talaroo offers Discovery Tours to learn about the culture and the land. The Hot springs is truly a special place, especially for the Ewamian people, as the ground has rich cultural significance with community history and artifacts connected to the land.

For those camping, Talaroo has accommodation sorted with their camp groups for tents and caravans.

3.Tully River Rafting.

Price: From $129.00

Location: Tully River, QLD

The Tully River is located in the Great Dividing Range, with a length of 133km.

If you want excitement and love adventuring, then Tully River Rafting is an absolute must! Being a hydro river, ability to raft determines if groups can run or not depending on the water release. The Tully River feature grade 3 and 4 rapids but no need to worry as you will have a trained white water rafting instructor with you the whole time.

There are plenty of tour choices, from rafting with a larger group or a smaller sports raft with the option of a half-day trip or full-day trip.

4.Paronella Park.

Prices from: $50.00

Location: 1671 Innisfail Japoon Rd, Mena Creek QLD 4871

Paronella Park is 13 acres of the exotic garden within the lush tropical forest in Mena Creek. The hidden tropical paradise features freshwater streams, stunning waterfalls, and the iconic relics of Jose Paronella’s dream Spanish Castillo.

Paronella’s historic castle has been preserved to continue the original owner’s intentions of this unique space welcoming social gatherings and weddings. You could also book the Darkness Falls Tour for a magical experience of Paronella Park after dark.

Paronella Park is also an estimated 40-minute drive to Mission Beach if you plan to break up your road trip with two locations. There are several accommodations choices in Mission Beach if you need a place to stay after road tripping.

5. Behana Gorge Half Day Tour.

Price: $184.00

Location: Behana Gorge Rd, Aloomba QLD 4860

From the outside of Behana Gorge, you will see the breathtaking Walsh Pyramid. The ‘insta’ worthy landscape is a popular spot to take photos in-between the sugar canes of Behana Gorge Road.

If you travel a little further into Behana Gorge, you will find an oasis landscape filled with waterfalls, native shrubbery and, of course, crystal-clear waterholes that all can enjoy. Try the 46-minute walk within the Behana Gorge if you are seeking free things to do in Cairns.

For those seeking adventure, it is highly recommended to book the Behana Gorge Half-Day Tour. The Behana Gorge Half day tour offers a rainforest adrenaline tour with people going from canyoning to cliff-jumping, abseiling and rock sliding down the Behana Creek as it flows down the stunning Behana Gorge. The minimum age is 8. Therefore it can be enjoyed as a family. However, the Begana Gorge Half day tour could also be fun for you and a group of friends or even solo.

10 Things to do in Cairns — World Heritage Sites

The World Heritage-listed sites are landmark or area with legal protection World Heritage Program by UNESCO administers, which maintains a list of sites worldwide with cultural or natural significance. Even though these places are fantastic tourist destinations, they are also fragile ecosystems that need to be respected and enjoyed with the environment in mind.

Visiting Australia’s iconic natural wonders of the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics is a must for things to do in Cairns. Check out the following 10 landmarks that will start your journey adventuring through the only place to see these natural wonders.

Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the largest world heritage site measuring 2011 km in length and 72 km across at its widest point. There are a vast array of activities to enjoy the Great barrier reef including snorkelling, cruise, scenic flight, scuba diving, getting friendly with the marine life or even just relaxing on the beach and enjoying the view.

The preservation of the Great Barrier Reef is an important environmental concern, therefore one of the best things you can do to help the Great Barrier Reef is to visit it! Every visitor of the Great Barrier Reef pays an Environmental Management charge that contributes to daily management and research for the reef. There are many things you can do at the Great Barrier Reef, we have condensed down the top 5 things to do at the great barrier reef.

1.Reef Magic Cruises.

Prices from: Day cruise: $239.00 Extras: $89.00

Location: Reef Fleet Terminal, 1 Spence St, Cairns City QLD 4870

Step off the wonderful white sand of Cairns Northern Beaches and onto the famous Reef Magic Cruise! The marine tour offer an array of tropical fun, including their popular day trip that runs directly from Cairns to the Marine World activity pontoon positioned on the outer Great Barrier Reef. Enjoy a 90 minute cruise on the motor catamaran then explore what the reef has to offer, with a buffet lunch included.

Reef Magic Cruises offers other bucket list experiences with their company such as helicopter ride, introductory and certified diving even snorkelling tours! If you are looking for a truly unique experience, try SeaTREK helmet diving where the company provides a guided underwater walking tour, no swimming required!

2.Green Island and Fitzroy Island.

Prices from: $165.60

Location: Green Island QLD 4871

IF you are finding it a bit challenging to fit Green Island and Fitzroy Island into your itinerary of things to do? Why not add booking a Fitzroy Island Adventure 2-day package tour to your list.

The 2-day tour allows for 5.5 hrs – 6 hrs on each island where you have time to explore each island in your own way. Green Island is well known for its snorkelling and the uniqueness of this coral clay Green Island where a rainforest was able to grow from.

During your visit at Green Island, you will have free access to either the glass bottom boat or snorkel.

While Fitzroy Island is larger in scale, it also is an awesome place to visit if you are a lover of snorkelling, hiking and swimming with turtles! When you are all tucked out from adventuring the popular locations, both Green Island and Fitzroy Island offer retail therapy and restaurants to recoup.

3.Port Douglas.

After a one hour drive north from Cairns and you will find the famous Port Douglas. Being a well-known location loved by many Australians, Port Douglas has several attractions that will build up your itinerary.

Make sure to head down to the water when in Port Douglas head to the water to enjoy the Four-Mile Beach. At the Port Douglas beach, you will view the Coral sea, which connects to the most biodiverse marine globally, the Great Barrier Reef. The Four-Mile Beach starts from the base of Flagstaff Hill down to the mouth of the mighty Mowbray River.

For an extraordinary view of the Great Barrier Reef, make sure to book yourself a Great Barrier Reef Scenic Flight, a direct helicopter tour out of Port Douglas.

If you need a break from the sun, a fun thing to do is head down to the Port Douglas Markets. The Port Douglas Markets run Every Sunday from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm on Wharf street, providing an excellent opportunity to support Port Douglas locals!

4.Palm Cove.

Located between Ellis beach and trinity beach you will find the stunning Palm Cove, well-known for their picturesque palm trees on the beach, Palm Cove is only a 30-minute drive north form Cairns. Palm Cove is a relaxing village well known for tropical accommodation and being a prime wedding location.

There are numerous options of spas, restaurants, resorts, and bars for a truly relaxing get-away. Making Palm Cove a perfect choice to treat yourself while checking through your list of things to do. If you are still seeking a little adventure in your holiday, there are plenty of trips and activities you can book, any resort you are staying at will discuss these options and travel needed.

5.Hastings, Saxon and Norman Reefs.

Hastings, Saxon and Norman Reefs are located along the outer reef of Australia’s Continental Shelf. Each reef is easily accessible through snorkelling, diving, cruises trips.

The horseshoe shaped patch reef of Hasting Reef has an average depth of 13m which makes it a perfect spot for diving. However, for those who like to snorkel depending on the tides, the reef flat is only 1-3m of water.

Norman Reef is located along the continental shelf, 70 km off the east coast while being an incredible spot for spotting tropical fish that often has visibility up to 30 meters.

Finally, the beautiful Saxon Reef’s lagoon area is an awesome spot to explore the fascinating giant boulder corals. Some exciting marine life that are expected to be found at these locations are green sea turtles, parrotfish, butterflyfish and even Giant Maori Wrasse!

Wet Tropics Rainforest.

Exploring a 100-million-year-old rainforest definitely needs to be on your list of things to do in Cairns Australia. Adventure away from the city and travel to popular locations within Tropical North Queensland. The dense rainforest makes up 0.12% of Australia and stretches 450 kilometres along the Northeast coast to far north Queensland.

This biotope has unusual plant life, beloved animals, rare and even endangered species. The delicate ecosystem of the wet tropics makes it important to respect and maintain the beautiful landscape.

As mentioned, there are plenty of ways to experience the famous tropical rainforest such as Skyrail rainforest cableway, river rafting, hiking and day tours. However, if you are wanting a more in-depth experience of must-see locations , make sure to check out the following destinations!

1.Daintree Rainforest.

The Daintree Rainforest is a unique biological diverse rainforest of far north Queensland that is unspoilt by artificial structures. Not your typical tourism experience, the Daintree rainforest is a wildlife habitat to 30% of Australia’s reptile, frog, marsupial species including 430 bird and 12,000 insect species. On the edge of the dense forest, you will find Cape Tribulation beach off the Coral Sea. If you get the opportunity, make sure to check out Ocean Safari’s reef tour from cape tribulation as a must for things to do in Cairns Australia!

There are plenty of fun activities that can be enjoyed in the Daintree Rainforest including river cruises, retreat, visiting the village, Cape Tribulation tours, wildlife watching, hikes and more. If you are wanting to stay at Daintree Rainforest or near Cape Tribulation, from private campsites to resort accommodation up on offer.

2.Babinda Boulders — Devil’s Pool.

The small town of Babinda is located on the Bruce Highway roughly 60 kilometres South from the Cairns. You may have already heard of Babinda for their attractions in Wooroonooran national park including Josephine falls, Devil’s pool, or the unique Babinda Boulders. The Boulders found in the picturesque landscape are named after the huge outcrops of granite boulders found along the creek, amongst volumes of crystal-clear mountain water.

Babinda Boulders is an easy 2 km walk that offers three lookouts of the incredible rock formation and waterfalls. For facilities there are Campsite options, BBQ picnic areas, toilets and showers available. However, there are some restricted swimming and walking areas so make sure to check out provided safety information at the main parking area.

3.Barron Gorge National Park.

A great way to see the Barron Gorge Nation Park is typically from the birds-eye-view of the skyrail rainforest cableway. However, there are several different reasons to experience the Barron Gorge including the Barron River that dominates the park and the intense tiered Barron Falls that is an estimated 250 meters high.

There are several walking tracks such as the 1.2km Barron Falls Look Out Track to the 13km Stoney Creek/Douglas trailheads, Kamerunga. The designated camping areas which sourround the national park include the Speewah Conservation Park, however there is a picnic area located at Lake Placid in the lower section of Wrights lookout. Other activities that can be enjoyed at the popular national park are wildlife viewing, river rafting the Barron River and discovering Barron Gorge Hydro-Power Station.

4.Atherton Tablelands.

The rural town of Atherton is a scenic, 1 hour and 25-minute drive from Cairns via the Kuranda Range or Gillies Range. It is a laid-back town where you can enjoy local produce and the beautiful natural landscape. In town it is recommended to visit restaurants, markets and farming areas. However, it is highly recommend you add a waterfall circuit. A couple of popular falls in Atherton Tablelands include, Malanda Falls which is located near the Malanda Visitor Centre.

The Malanda falls is a nice relaxing walk with a café nearby, being a perfect spot for people who have little ones. One of the most popular locations that has Instagram worthy waterfalls is the Millaa Millaa Falls. After featuring in television commercials, the 18-meter waterfall has gone from a local secret into a popular tourist attraction.

Another waterfall for the list would be the Zillie Falls, the roaring falls surrounded by giant boulders and rock pools to swim in. If you are looking for something impressive make sure you check out Lake Eacham in Crater Lakes National Park. To put the size of Lake Eacham into perspective, the length is 840m, area of 64 ha and average depth is 66m!

5.Mossman Gorge.

Mossman Gorge is approximately 77km north of Cairns and is known to being a hidden gem of Tropical North Queensland. Being part of the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation, the Mossman Gorge is a part of the oldest surviving rainforest for over 100 million years. The largely unchanged forest is known as a rich green surrounding, while have freshwater swimming locations, scenic walking tracks and stunning picnic areas.

The Mossman Gorge is a place of significant cultural that is important to the Kuku Yalanji people for thousands of years. Now the Kuku Yalanji people invite visitors to enjoy their space and encourage the opportunity for visitors to connect with the beautiful land. There are tours you can take throughout the national park that also connects with other beautiful spots such as Cape Tribulation while being able to take cruises down the Daintree River.

There are also plenty of resort and other accommodation options if you are wanting to stay in the stunning environment and enjoy a few more day trip adventures of the tropical rainforest.

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