10 Exciting Things to do in Cairns

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Cairns is the gateway to the Far North of Queensland, a spectacular land on the east coast of Australia that’s every bit as diverse as it is beautiful.

This is tropical Australia, where ancient rainforests hide crashing waterfalls and where white sand beaches open out onto colorful reefs and stunning islands.

There are a lot of great things to do in Cairns. From exploring the offshore delights of the unimaginably enormous Great Barrier Reef to journeying through inland forests that are as humid as they are dense.

This is one of Queensland’s greatest tourist destinations and although the city of Cairns is a long way from anywhere else in Australia, the journey here is worth every extra minute for the opportunity to immerse yourself in this unique part of the world.

To help you to plan your epic trip to one of the most northern cities in Queensland, here is our guide on the best things to do in Cairns.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Australia (Travel Guide)

10 Things to do in Cairns, Australia

Scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef- things to do in Cairns

1. The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is definitely the number one reason to visit Cairns, and for many tourists, it’s even the number one reason to visit Australia in the first place.

This is the world’s largest living organism, it’s the largest barrier reef in the world and its size and scale are almost incomprehensible.

While the reef itself stretches for hundreds of miles along the coast in either direction from Cairns, the city has become somewhat of a jumping-off point to experience it, as some of the best offshore locations are found just a short boat ride away.

The best way to enjoy the reef is by joining a boat tour. The modern, fast boats will supply all the snorkeling or diving equipment you need to get close to the coral and marine life, while if you don’t fancy getting wet, you can even enjoy the reef from their glass-bottomed viewing areas.

Our top recommended tours of The Great Barrier Reef:

Sail trip from Cairns

2. An Overnight Pontoon Stay on the Reef

Of course, one day out on the Great Barrier Reef may not be enough for you, as even in a lifetime it would be impossible to explore all that this intense ecosystem has to offer.

One unique way to spend more time here though is to spend the night on a Pontoon out on the reef.

These man-made contraptions are set up in some of the most diverse areas, and allow you to have a base out on the open ocean from which to extend the reach of your exploration.

You can snorkel or dive from the pontoons or simply sit back and watch the marine life glide past the underwater viewing areas, before spending the night sleeping on the deck with the night sky above and the coral surrounding you.

Green Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

3. Green Island

Green Island is a protected national park that’s found in the wider Great Barrier Reef and just a short 45-minute fast boat ride away from the Cairns Marina.

Green Island is quite simply stunning and here you can find white sand beaches surrounded by green, swaying palm trees.

The interior is thick and forested, and as green as the name suggests, while the surrounding reef is colorful and diverse.

You can snorkel straight off the shore or you can dive or enjoy glass-bottomed boat tours. It’s possible to enjoy just a day trip here, or if you want to spend more time on the island, there’s a luxury resort that you can book into for the night.

Our top recommended tours of Green Island:

Fitzroy Island, Cairns, Australia

4. Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island is another beautiful, protected national park that’s also just 45 minutes away from Cairns. Visiting the islands is a great choice for anyone who prefers to be on dry land rather than spending all day on a rocking boat.

Fitzroy Island has enough activities to keep you occupied for a very long time. Enjoy some pristine beaches, some great snorkeling off the shore or hire kayaks or boats to explore the coastline.

Our top recommended tours of Fitzroy Island:

Best things to do in Cairns

5. Cairns Lagoon and Esplanade

The Cairns Lagoon and Esplanade are really the centers of life in the city. A long boardwalk stretches along the coast, and along its length, you can find green parks, BBQs, picnic benches, cafes and more.

Cairns is hot and tropical all year round and the highlight of the Esplanade is the huge lagoon, a large open-air swimming pool that’s open to the public.

It’s completely free to swim in so whenever you are out and about in the city, remember to pack some swimwear in case you get the urge to cool down and trust us, you will need to cool down.

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Cairns Night Markets

6. Cairns Night Markets

The Cairns Night Markets are open every day of the year and are somewhat of an institution in the city. While they have become a bit touristy, there are still some great local stalls to be found here, selling unique goods from Far North Queensland.

If you are hungry, then this is also one of the best and cheapest places in the city to eat out. A huge canteen by the entrance provides top-quality Asian inspired food alongside a bar serving cold drinks.

Shop in the markets then calls in for some refreshments.

Sunset in Cairns

7. Cairns Botanic Gardens

The Cairns Botanic Gardens are found tucked away on the edge of the city, away from the bustle of the busy center. Entrance is free and there’s even a visitor center where you can learn more about the history of the gardens themselves and of the multitude of species found within its gates.

You can find flora from across the world here, from local Australian species to other tropical plants from different corners of the globe.

The gardens date back to 1886 when the city was just being founded and since then the varied species have grown and multiplied and turned the area into a veritable forest of lush, green scenery.

Inquire in advance and you can book onto one of the many walking tours that take you through different sections of the Botanic Gardens and that offer very interesting insights into the nature that’s found here.

The Botanic Gardens also include the unusual Tanks Art Center, a modern art space that was created from decommissioned navy oil storage tankers that were used during World War II. It’s a great gallery that contains exhibitions from across Queensland in an unconventional setting.

Our top recommended tour including Cairns Botanic Gardens:

Kuranda Scenic Railway Cairns

8. The Kuranda Scenic Railway

Kuranda is a small town found in the rocky cliffs above Cairns. You can drive to this curious settlement, however, a much more interesting mode of transport is the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which leaves Cairns and travels through the verdant rainforest to the town itself.

This tourist train takes around two hours to make the journey and it even allows you to stop off at a platform built specifically to allow visitors to see the huge, crashing cascades of Barron Falls, an enormous waterfall found plummeting over the cliffs halfway up to Kuranda.

Weather permitting, the train runs most days of the year.

Our top recommended tours of The Kuranda Scenic Railway:

Skyrail Rainforest Gondola, Cairns, Australia

9. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Another alternative mode of transport from Cairns to Kuranda is the Skyrail Cableway. This 7.5-kilometer long cable car takes visitors far above the rainforest and up the mountain face to Kuranda at the top.

It’s a breathtaking way to experience the forest and to see the vast expanse of trees and foliage stretching endlessly into the distance. Once you are in Kuranda, you can then enjoy the town’s quirky markets and many interesting tourist attractions, cafes, galleries, and restaurants.

Our top recommended tours of The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway:

Cassowary Crossing sign in Daintree Rainforest

10. Daintree Rainforest

As well as being the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the city is also the gateway to the Daintree Rainforest, which is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Cairns. This huge ecosystem is found just a few hours to the north of the city, and it is recognized as the oldest rainforest in the world.

This is an ancient place with a diversity that can be matched by few other places in the world. From Cairns, it’s easy to join day trips or to hire a car to travel up the coast to the rainforest.

Cross the mighty Daintree River by ferry and then explore the hidden delights of this national park.

There are epic beaches, incredible viewing points and some hot, humid and sticky boardwalks that take you into the dense jungle itself. Although the beaches aren’t always safe for swimming here.

There are a few freshwater swimming holes located inland within the national park, that allow you to cool off in lovely surroundings without fear of being jumped by a crocodile.

Our top recommended tours of Daintree Rainforest:

Best things to do in Cairns

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Exciting Things to do in Cairns


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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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