Things to do in Cairns and where to stay complete guide
Situated in the tropical North Queensland Cairns is renowned worldwide as the gateway to the breath-taking Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest. However, if you look a little deeper there’s plenty that Cairns has to offer and should definitely be on your bucket list when visiting Australia.
Cairns was on our bucketlist whilst doing the Sydney to Cairns roadtrip. We was so glad we made it here. It’s a really quirky place with plenty of attractions and classic Australian culture. I remember getting up at 6am and going for a run on the beach, just thinking this place is awesome. There was so many people on the beach at this early time, I knew straight away we was in for a good time in Cairns!
Let’s look what’s in this post for you;
- When to go to Cairns?
- How to get to Cairns?
- Best things to do Cairns
- Best places to stay in Cairns
When to go to Cairns?
There’s never a wrong time to visit Cairns, however, people tend to prefer winter (June to Aug) when temperatures are easier to tolerate compared to summers sticky humidity. April through October is peak visibility time for divers if you’re hitting the Great Barrier Reef.
In Cairns, the monsoon season is from November to April, where heavy rain, hot temperatures and even cyclones can blast the city, but don’t worry; rain is often short lasting and clears the sticky air so is often welcomed.
I would recommend visiting in September before the Christmas crowds arrive and where temperatures are warm but not exhaustively hot. You’ll also be able to finder cheaper accommodation and tours, whilst still making plenty of need friends.
How to get to Cairns?
Most people arrive in Cairns from the airport, which serves daily domestic from elsewhere in Australia and international flights from all over the world. The airport is conveniently located just outside of Cairns city centre and takes around 10 minutes via car. The cheapest option is to book Sun Palm Transport, which offers a bus service taking passengers into the city centre for $6.50 one way or $8 return. If you’re travelling in a large group is maybe worth ordering an Uber to split the fare, which starts from around $12.
If you’re already in Australia you can catch the ‘Spirit of Queensland’ train from Brisbane that departs five times a week and takes a total of 25 hours. Yes that may seem like an eternity, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of in-seat entertainment and service, as well as a comfortable bed for during the night. You also have to option to stop off in between to visit the natural wonder of Fraser Island or the magical Airlie beach to break up the journey!
You can also head jump on a bus in Brisbane and enjoy the ever-changing scenery. The most popular company is Greyhound, where guests are provided with comfortable recliner chairs, free WIFI and charging ports. All you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the view!
If you’ve hired a campervan and decided the combat the ever popular East Coast road trip, take the coast route to witness some of Australia best beaches or take the outback route and see Australia’s more authentic side.
11 Best things to do Cairns on your visit
Snorkel or Scuba Dive in Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef was discovered in the 1970’s and the appeal of this amazing underwater world inspired millions of tourists to flock to the city, making it one of the seven wonders of the world.
The Great Barrier Reef spans 1,800 miles of the East Coast of Australia and Cairns happens to be the easiest place to access the most diverse ecosystem in the world. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in recognition of its outstanding natural universal values. Amazingly there are over 1,500 species of fish, 134 species of sharks and rays, turtles and more than 30 species of marine mammals, including dolphins, whales and endangered manatees – making snorkelling or scuba diving an incredible experience.
There are so many different tour types to choose from including half day tours, day tours and overnight tours. Make sure you do your research beforehand to see what suits you best. Unless you traveling during peak season you don’t need to pre-book tours, there are plenty of excursion shops throughout the city centre providing you with information and the best deals.
Helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef
If snorkeling or scuba diving isn’t for you, this doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the Great Barrier Reef, you can appreciate this natural beauty from the sky in a helicopter tour. Experience a scenic helicopter over several amazing Great Barrier Reef destinations close to Cairns and keep your eyes peeled for manta rays cruising through the shallow reef lagoons or even migrating whales at certain times of the year.
No matter how novice you’re photography skills are you’ll be able to get some great insta shots and certainly make everyone jealous back home. A helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef is certainly one of the best things to do in Cairns.
Daintree Rainforest – The world’s oldest rainforest
This ecologically unique rainforest is home to the most extensive range of rare plants and animals on earth, and all are found within an area of approximately 1200 square kilometers – the largest chunk of protected tropical rainforest in Australia.
There are so many different tours to choose from that you’ll be stuck for choice. Go jungle surfing and embark on a voyage of discovery and adventure high amongst the jungle canopy or visit Mossman Gorge and if you’re lucky to spot a rare musky rat kangaroo.
Daintree river cruise
Why not take a cruise down the Daintree River and look out for the saltwater crocodiles and photograph Daintree’s abundant wildlife up close or visit the Daintree Village where you can have an authentic aborigine’s experience. There really is something for every type of traveler and should be on your best things to do in Cairns itinerary.
This is one of them Cairns activities that you need to have a camera at the ready! You will have some lush photo opportunities throughout the river cruise.
Jungle Surfing Zipline in Daintree Rainforest
This is one of the best adventurous things to do in Cairns! You can get your adrenaline pumping with some crazy adventuring along 5 zip lines along the stunning Daintree Rainforest canopy. You will even get the chance to see a tree kangaroo on your fun-packed day. How cool is that?!
Don’t worry though if you’re a little afraid of heights as it is all very safe and well-manged by a professional team. They will look after you and make sure you’re having an awesome time on the Daintree Forest zipline adventure!
Relax at the Esplanade Lagoon
Situated in the heart of Cairns this man-made Lagoon is perfect for relaxing after busy exploring what Cairns has to offer and best of all it’s FREE!
The kids can enjoy the sandy edges, build sand castles and play in shallow water, whilst the adults can escape the Aussie heat and lounge on the timber decks in moderate shade whilst enjoying a picnic. The Lagoon is open 6am-9pm Thursday – Tuesday and Midday-9pm Wednesdays all year round.
There’s also plenty of shops and restaurants nearby.
Hike up Josephine Falls
Josephine Falls has claimed the title as one of Australia’s most beautiful waterfalls and I can see why. Visitors can cool off and swim in the crystal clear waters and relax on the sandy beaches whilst being in awe of the rainforest’s natural beauty.
The stunning Josephine Falls is 75km from Cairns city centre and takes around 1 hour to drive. If you don’t have access to your own car or can’t find a friend to take you, there’s always organised tours to join, which yes can be pricier but it’s definitely not worth missing out on! There’s also public BBQ’s to use and enjoy just remember to clean up after yourselves. If you’re a fan on bushwalking there’s also plenty of designated hikes to concur ranging from 1km to 15km.
Like the Purling Brook Falls, this is one of the coolest places to visit on the East Coast of Australia.
Take a day trip to Fitzroy Island
Fitzroy Island is a beautiful, unspoiled tropical paradise that provides the perfect escape from all the hustle and bustle of city life and into laid back island living. The Fitzroy Island Flyer departs from Cairns Marlin Marina 3 times a day and takes 45 minutes to reach the Bay of Fitzroy Island. Prices start from $68 for a return ticket.
Spend the day snorkeling, stroll through the National Park rainforest walking tracks, or for the more adventurous hiker, discover breathtaking views of the island and surrounding reefs. There are hiking trails and guided walks, as well as numerous water sports options available or if you simply want to relax on the white sandy beaches reading a book then go for it!
The Babinda Boulders is a popular cooling spot for both tourists and locals. If you’re looking for somewhere with stunning natural scenery and a pleasant relaxed vibe, then this is the place for you. If you have been to Josephine Falls and thought that was cool, you will love the Babinda Boulders.
This is the perfect place for hanging out for a few hours and swimming in the crystal clear water and just lavishing in the incredible scenery!
Here is a couple of tips for visiting the Babinda Boulders;
- Take your swimming gear
- Have a waterproof camera ready for some cool photos
- Take some lunch and snacks with you
- Make sure you have plenty of water
- Suncream is always a top priority
- I would take mosquito spray
Take to the skies on the Skyrail
Enjoy the world’s most beautiful rain forest and embark on a fascinating journey of discovery with Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. The Skyrail will take approximately 1.5hrs one way or 2.5hrs return and can either commence or conclude at either Smithfield or Kuranda, giving you plenty of flexibility depending on your travel arrangement.
The Skyrail is an ingenious way for tourists to travel to Kuranda while enjoying a bird’s eye view and without compromising the pristine rainforest. There are two stops on the route, Red Peak, where you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a ranger guided boardwalk tour and Barron Falls, a magnificent waterfall with spectacular viewing points. No wonder the Skyrail is one of the best things to do in Cairns, it really is a once in a lifetime experience.
White Water Rafting on Tully River
White water rafting is one of my favourite activities, ever! If you’re like me and enjoy this epic sport, then you need to try the white water rafting experience on Tully River!
Some refer this experience as the best water rafting tour in the whole of Australia. You can decide this for yourself. But take my word, it’s AMAZING.
You will get to sail down the river for up to 5 hours whilst marvelling at the absolutely stunning scenery from the World Heritage Rainforest in the breathtaking Cassowary Coast Region of Far North Queensland.. This is no average experience, it’s definitely one of the top things to do in Cairns on your visit!
12. visit Kuranda
This is an awesome little village that I definitely recommend you check out whilst visiting Cairns. You’ll find outdoor activities such as the wildlife park, Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park and the bird aviary. This is why it’s up as one of the best things to do in Cairns on your visit.
How to get to Kuranda? I would look at getting the Kuranda Scenic Railway. This is an awesome steam train, the kids will love this!
Or, what about riding the gondola to get epic views of the rainforest.
Whichever route you take, Kuranda village is definitely worth visiting.
13. Do a scary Bungy jump
Step out of your comfort zone and do an adrenaline-filled Bungy jump in Cairns!
This is definitely one of the best things to do in Cairns and I highly recommend doing it if you can!
This awesome activity is located in the stunning rainforest and you will be able to get a glimpse of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s picturesque!
If you feel like the bungee jump is not for you, then, why not have a go on the giant jungle swing. Which is still just as fun.
The staff there will make sure you have an amazing experience and they will be there every step of the way. Well, until you jump anyway!
14. Go for a hot air Balloon over Cairns
This is one of the best things to do in Cairns and one everyone should do to tick it off the bucket list. You will get incredible views of the lush Tropical North Queensland by floating high into the air in a giant balloon (so much fun).
You will be able to take Instagram worthy photos of Atherton Tablelands as the sun starts to rise. Also, you’ll have a guide that will tell you all sorts of facts and tails along your journey through the sky.
Don’t worry about the admin of getting to the hot air balloon tour in Cairns. The team will pick you up from your accommodation and at the end of the day, they will drop you back off at your hotel (or campervan).
If you looking for adventurous and fun things to do in Cairns. Then this is one of your best options!
You can book the hot air balloon tour in Cairns here.
Best places to stay in Cairns
Cairns offers a wild range of accommodation options to suit every type of traveller and their finical need. Here are our top picks from welcoming budget hostels to indulgent luxury hotels.
- JJ’s Backpackers Hostel (Approx £30 per night)
Cool off in the tropical pool and enjoy a free buffet breakfast every morning, this friendly hostel offers both private and dorm rooms with air-conditioning and is conveniently located close by to lively bars and shops.
There are regular movie nights, table tennis competitions and BBQ facilities perfect for socialising and making new friends, as well as a tour desk to help you make sure your trip to cairns is unforgettable.
Check out the rooms here
- Reef Backpackers (Approx £30 per night)
Reef Backpackers is conveniently located 3 minutes from the train station, meaning you don’t have to lug your bags for miles and saves on that Uber! Guests have the option of either dorm or private rooms with shared bathroom facilities. There’s also an outdoor pool area with sunbeds and a shared kitchen, perfect for cooking simple meals when on a budget.
The staff are super friendly and the hotel has relaxed vibes, perfect for a chilled break away to meet new people and enjoy what Cairns has to offer!
Check out the rooms here
- Palm Royal Cairns (Approx £50 per night)
Set amongst 2 acres of tropical gardens, Palm Royal offers spacious private rooms, with pool and garden views. The staff are very welcoming and strive to make your stay as relaxing as possible, especially having a choice of 3 pools to choose from. There’s also a free shuttle bus service into Cairns town centre, making it ideal for exploring a lively centre whilst staying in a relaxed environment.
Check out the rooms here
- Coral Tree inn (Approx £60 per night)
This 4 star hotel is nestled in the heart of Cairns close to bars, restaurants, shops and the waterfront. Each room is individually designed and comes with en suite bathroom, private balcony and flat-screen TV. Guests can also enjoy the swimming pool, surrounded by lush tropical gardens, as well as a buffet breakfast every morning in the poolside café.
Check out the rooms here
- Shangri-La Hotel The Marina Cairns
This 5-star hotel offers luxury accommodation with stunning views of the Cairns Marlin Marina, as well as offering guests an outdoor swimming pool, gym and free Wi-Fi internet access. The excellent location is a huge selling point for this hotel due to its close proximity to bars, shops and the marina.
The staff are very accommodating and will help book tours and any onward travel. If you’re also looking for high quality food then you’re in for a treat, the Backyard restaurant offers tasty creative dishes and unique cocktails.
Check out the rooms here
- Riley, a Crystalbrook Collection Resort (Approx £110 per night)
Centrally located on Cairns waterfront this 5 star hotel offers over 300 stylish spacious rooms, three restaurants, Cairns highest roof top bar and a lagoon beach with a private pool – now that sounds like heaven!
Guests will even have access to the Eléme Day Spa and gym, as well as a tasty full English breakfast every morning, what’s not to love.
Check out the rooms here
If you’re visiting Australia, you more than likely already have Cairns on you’re bucket list, but if not, make sure you check out this awesome city. After reading this blog post on the best things to do in Cairns you hopefully now have all the information to make your trip to Cairns a once in a life time adventure.