Facts about Cairns:
- Cairns was discovered in 1770 by Captain James Cook, however wasn’t founded until 1876.
- As of June 2018, the estimated population in Cairns was 152,729.
- The Cairns region is home to the Cassowary, known as one of the world’s most dangerous birds, if provoked.
1,680 kilometres north of Brisbane in Tropical North Queensland is Cairns. Every year, more than 3 million domestic and international tourists flock to this beachside beauty because, frankly, it’s beautiful, Plus, there is no shortage of things to do in Cairns a person of any age will enjoy.
Check out these top things to do in in Tropical North Queensland.
Feature image credit: David Clode
7 FREE Things to Do in Cairns
Cairns Botanic Gardens
Location: Collins Avenue, Edge Hill
It’s easy to find yourself mesmerised by the calming effect of the many gardens at the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Add on the lake, conservatory, visitor centre, art centre, adventure playground and places to eat, you won’t run short of things to explore.
Throughout the year, the Cairns Regional Council will run free guided tours so you can learn more about the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden, Bamboo Collection and other flora and fauna. If you haven’t managed to time your visit, keep your eyes peeled for the 40+ bird species, as well as the butterflies who have called the Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory home.
Cairns Esplanade Lagoon & The Esplanade Boardwalk
Location: Esplanade, Cairns City
Price: FREE & Paid activities
Dating back to 1876, the Cairns Esplanade (formerly known as Troughton Esplanade) is a major drawcard for both locals and tourists alike. Along one side, you have cafés, restaurants, the night market, apartments, the hospital and more, while the other boasts long stretches of green grass, ocean views and the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon.
Speaking of the lagoon, it’s the perfect place to cool off during those hot Cairns summers. The 4,800 square metre salt-water lagoon ranges in depth from 32 inches to 5 feet, and is patrolled daily by lifeguards. For the kids, there is Muddy’s Playground, which according to Cairns Attractions, has been called one of the best in Queensland with a water park, flying fox, slides and other fun activities.
Fig Tree Playground
Location: 34–38 Esplanade, Cairns City
If you’re travelling with kids you need to keep occupied, but want a cruisy afternoon, stop off at Fig Tree Playground, located where the Esplanade meets Wharf Street. The kids can go wild on the natural-looking playground, while you chill out and enjoy the views.
Goomboora Park Adventure Playground
Location: Off Shale Street, Brinsmead
Located in Brinsmead, roughly 10 to 15 minutes drive from the Cairns Esplanade is Goomboora Park. While the main attraction for the kids will be the Goomboora Park Adventure Playground, all ages will love the waterhole.
The Cairns Regional Council also states there is an off-leash area for dogs, so if you’re travelling with a four-legged friend, they’ll love this spot too.
Location: 71–75 Esplanade Street, Cairns City
Price: FREE entry
Until 11:00pm every single night (yes, 365 nights a year), the Cairns Night Markets & Food Court are open and raring to go with more than 70 stalls and shops. There is everything from fashion and homeware stores to massage stalls and activities—so there is something to suit all walks of life.
Location: Lake Eacham
Hire a car, pack a picnic and take the scenic 1 hour drive to Lake Eacham. This clear, blue lake is in fact a massive volcanic crater that was formed after superheating of the groundwater caused an explosion. It is 65m deep so be wary if you, a friend or family member are yet to learn how to swim.
What to do at Lake Eacham:
- Walking tracks.
- Picnic areas.
- Musky rat kangaroo, saw-shelled turtle and eastern water dragon spotting.
Lake Eacham is also a stunning spot to just sit, relax and let nature help you unwind. There are toilets available and wheelchair-accessible (with assistance) boardwalks.
Any Beach in the Cairns Region
Everyone and their cousin’s best friend knows about the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns. But there are endless white sandy beaches with crystal clear blue waters to explore. Here are just a few to add to your bucket list:
- Trinity Beach.
- Kewarra Beach.
- Ellis Beach.
- Bramston Beach.
- Machans Beach.
- Holloways Beach.
- Kewarra Beach
5 BEST Things to Do in Cairns When You Have Some Spare Cash
Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
Location: 8 Rob Veivers Drive, Kuranda
35 minutes from Cairns is Kuranda, home to nature parks, jungle tours and rainforest-exploring trains. One of said nature parks in the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary—one of the most popular things to do in Cairns.
In the sanctuary, you’ll be exposed to more than 1500 butterflies in the main aviary, including the electric blue Ulysses, Cairns Birdwing and the Monarch butterfly. There is also a butterfly egg laying area, host plant and food plant walk, laboratory, UV light display, butterfly emergence cage, silkmoth display museum and more.
Location: 8 Rob Veivers Drive, Kuranda
Get up close and personal with more than 60 species of native and exotic birds at Birdworld Kuranda. As you walk through the rainforest exhibit, don’t be surprised if an Amazonian macaw, lorikeet, galah or cockatoo uses your shoulder as a resting spot. You can even see the endangered cassowary.
This is something you don’t want to forget your camera for. If you have a Kuranda Wildlife Experience pass, you can also swing by the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and Kuranda Koala Gardens.
Kuranda Koala Gardens
Location: 2–4 Rob Veivers Drive, Kuranda
Just one trip to the Kuranda Koala Gardens and you can tick off seeing almost every iconic Australian animal. As you wander through the park, you’ll see koalas, freshwater crocodiles, kangaroos, wallabies, snakes, wombats, lizards, monitors and a number of other wallabies.
For an extra cost, you can also get up close and personal with photos with some of the cuddlier animals.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Location: 6 Skyrail Drive, Smithfield
Imagine the sound of trees rustling in the breeze, birds chirping in the distance and utter serenity as you gaze out over World Heritage Listed rainforests. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then add the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to your list of things to do in Cairns and surrounds.
The skyrail spans 7.5 kilometres and takes 1.5 hours if going one way to the forest floor at Red Peak and Barron Falls, or 2 to 2.5 hours return. Once at the bottom, you can join one of the guided boardwalk tours, where you can learn all about the Rainforest Discovery Zone, dating back roughly 130 million years. Then, you can return to one of the six-person gondolas to return to reality.
Great Barrier Reef Tour
Can you really say you went to Cairns if you didn’t explore the Great Barrier Reef? There are endless Great Barrier Reef tours available, all with varying differences, such as length of trip and inclusions.
Many tours will allow you to dive beneath the water and get face-to-face with turtles, fish and other sea creatures. You can even take an extended trip, which includes visiting other sites, such as Port Douglas, the Chillagoe Caves, Fitzroy Island and more.
However, if you plan to visit Cairn around August, book your tour in advance. August has been dubbed one of the best times to visit the region as the weather is good and you miss the school holiday crowds.