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15 Best Things To Do In Cairns

Cairns, a city located in the far north of Queensland, Australia is known for its tropical climate, natural beauty and access to the Great Barrier Reef. It is a popular tourist destination for those who love to explore nature and enjoy outdoor activities. With so much to see and do in Cairns, it can be overwhelming to decide where to start.

In this article, we have compiled the best things to do in Cairns that will help you make the most of your visit. From exploring the rainforest to snorkeling in crystal clear waters, or visiting Fitzroy Island and Port Douglas, there are plenty of things for every traveler to put on their itinerary.

1. Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

If you're in Cairns, you can't miss the opportunity to visit the world heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The reef is a vast ecosystem that stretches for over 2,300 kilometers and is home to thousands of species of marine life, including coral, fish, turtles, and dolphins.

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef is an unforgettable experience. You can choose from a variety of activities, including snorkeling, scuba diving, and glass-bottom boat tours. Snorkeling is a great option if you want to see the coral and marine life up close without going too deep. If you're a certified scuba diver, you can dive deeper and explore the reef's many underwater caves and canyons.

The Great Barrier Reef is famous for its stunning coral formations, which come in a variety of shapes and colors. You'll see hard and soft corals, as well as anemones, which are home to clownfish like Nemo. Also keep an eye out for giant clams, which can grow up to 1.2 meters wide and live for over 100 years.

The reef is also home to a wide variety of marine life, including over 1,500 species of fish. You might see schools of colorful parrotfish, angelfish, and butterflyfish, as well as larger species like sharks and rays. If you're lucky, you might even spot a sea turtle or a pod of dolphins.

2. Cairns Botanical Gardens

Cairns Botanical Gardens

If you're a nature lover, you must visit the Cairns Botanic Gardens, which is situated just a few minutes away from the city center. The garden is a vast expanse of lush greenery, and it's home to a wide range of tropical plants and flowers. The garden is free to visit, and it's open every day from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm.

As you stroll through the garden, you'll come across several themed sections, including the Flecker Garden, which showcases the region's native flora. The Rainforest Boardwalk is another highlight, which takes you on a journey through the dense rainforest. You'll also come across several lakes and ponds, which are home to a variety of aquatic plants and animals.

Cairns Botanical Gardens is also a haven for bird watchers, and you'll get to see several species of birds as you walk through the garden. You can also take a guided bird watching tour, which is available on certain days.


Address: 78-96 Collins Ave, Edge Hill QLD 4870, Australia

Phone: +61 7 4032 6650

3. Cairns Aquarium

Cairns Aquarium

For a fun and educational experience in Cairns, you can't miss the Cairns Aquarium. Located in the heart of the city, this world-class aquarium offers visitors the chance to see and interact with a wide variety of marine life and ecosystems found only in Australia's Tropical North Queensland.

The Cairns Aquarium is home to over 15,000 animals and 10 different ecosystems, including the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest. You can explore these ecosystems through interactive exhibits, touch tanks, and even a 10-meter underwater tunnel.

One of the highlights of the Cairns Aquarium is the Marine Life Encounter tour, which takes you on a guided journey through the aquarium's exhibits. You'll learn about the different species of marine life found in the region, including the iconic Australian fish like the clownfish, barramundi, and coral trout.

In addition to the Marine Life Encounter tour, the Cairns Aquarium offers a variety of other experiences and activities. You can watch feeding sessions, attend educational talks, and even participate in a behind-the-scenes tour to see how the aquarium operates.


Address: 5 Florence St, Cairns City QLD 4870, Australia

Phone: +61 7 4044 7300

4. Palm Cove

Palm Cove Australia

If you're after a relaxing and luxurious getaway during your stay in Cairns, Palm Cove is the perfect destination for you. This picturesque beach town is known for its pristine beaches, lush rain forest, and top-rated resorts. Here are some of the best things to do in Palm Cove:

  • Relax on the Beach: The main attraction of Palm Cove is its stunning beach. With crystal-clear waters and soft sand, it's the perfect place to unwind and soak up the sun. You can rent sun loungers and umbrellas or simply lay a towel on the sand and enjoy the view.
  • Enjoy the Resort Pool: Many of the resorts in Palm Cove have their own pools, which are often just as beautiful as the beach. If you're staying at one of these resorts, take advantage of the pool and enjoy a refreshing swim or lounge on a sun lounger.
  • Indulge in a Spa Treatment: Palm Cove is known for its luxurious spas, which offer a range of treatments to help you relax and rejuvenate. From massages to facials to body wraps, there's something for every visitor.
  • Take a Walk Along the Esplanade: The Palm Cove Esplanade is a beautiful boardwalk that runs along the beachfront. Take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the stunning views of the ocean and the rain forest.
  • Explore the Rainforest: If you're feeling adventurous, take a hike through the nearby rain forest. There are several trails to choose from, ranging from easy walks to more challenging hikes.

5. The Australian Armour & Artillery Museum

Australian Armour & Artillery Museum

Source: Australian Armour & Artillery Museum

If you're a history buff or simply interested in military history, then the Australian Armour & Artillery Museum is a must-visit Cairns attraction. Located in the city's northern suburbs, this museum is dedicated to preserving and displaying armored vehicles and artillery from the 1800s to the present day.

The museum houses over 200 armored vehicles and guns on display, representing 15 countries' military heritage. You can explore exhibits showcasing iconic tanks from the WWII era and learn about the evolution of armored vehicles over the years.

One of the unique features of the museum is the shooting gallery located on-site, where you can experience a hands-on firing experience with WWII rifles. In addition, the museum offers a training program for those interested in learning about the maintenance and operation of armored vehicles.

After exploring the exhibits, you can head to the gift shop to purchase souvenirs, books, and other military-related items. The museum is open daily from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM, and admission fees apply.


Address: 2 Skyrail Dr, Smithfield QLD 4878, Australia

Phone: +61 7 4038 1665

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6. Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Rainforest

Another popular thing to do when in Cairns if you are into nature, is to visit the Daintree Rainforest. This UNESCO World Heritage listed site is the oldest rainforest in the world, dating back over 135 million years. It's home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including some rare and endangered species.

One of the best ways to explore Daintree Rainforest is by taking a guided tour. There are several tour companies that offer a range of options, from hiking tours to wildlife spotting tours. You can also visit the Daintree Discovery Centre, which is an excellent starting point for your exploration. Here, you can learn about the rainforest's history and ecology, and even walk on an aerial walkway to see the canopy up close.

If you're interested in wildlife, Daintree Rainforest is the perfect place to spot some unique animals. Some of the most famous residents of the rain forest are the tree kangaroos, which are only found in this part of Australia. You may also spot flying foxes, catbirds, magpie geese, and Lumholtz tree kangaroos. If you're lucky, you might even see a cassowary, which is a large flightless bird that's native to the area.

For those who love hiking, there are plenty of trails to explore in Daintree Rainforest. Peterson's Creek Conservation Park is a popular spot for hiking, with several trails ranging from easy to challenging. Along the way, you'll see beautiful waterfalls and natural pools where you can take a refreshing dip.

Lastly, if you're interested in learning about the Aboriginal culture, you can visit the Mossman Gorge Centre, which is an Aboriginal cultural park. Here, you can learn about the local Kuku Yalanji people and their traditions and even take a guided tour of the rain forest with an Aboriginal guide. The Daintree Rainforest is a unique and beautiful destination that should not be missed when visiting Cairns.

7. Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

If you're interested in learning about the indigenous culture of Australia, Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park is a popular tourist destination near Cairns. The park is situated in Smithfield, just a short drive from Cairns, and offers a unique opportunity to experience the traditions and customs of the Tjapukai people.

At the park, you can participate in a range of activities, including spear and boomerang throwing, didgeridoo playing, and traditional dance performances. You can also take part in a fire-making ceremony and learn about the medicinal properties of native plants.

One of the highlights of a visit to Tjapukai is the Creation Theatre, a 25-minute show that tells the story of the Dreamtime through music, dance, and special effects. The show is performed in a state-of-the-art theater and is a great way to gain insight into the beliefs and traditions of the Tjapukai people.

If you're short on time, you can also opt for a guided tour of the park, which includes a visit to the art gallery and a chance to sample traditional bush tucker.

8. Cairns Esplanade

Cairns Esplanade

If you're looking for a place to relax and enjoy the tropical climate of Cairns, then the Cairns Esplanade is the place for you. It's a beautiful waterfront promenade that stretches for 2.5 kilometers and offers the best views of the Coral Sea.


The boardwalk is perfect for a leisurely stroll, jog, or cycle. You can take in the sights and sounds of the ocean while enjoying the cool breeze. The boardwalk is also a great place to spot some of the local wildlife, including kangaroos and various bird species.

Cairns Lagoon

The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is a massive swimming pool that's perfect for families and individuals who want to cool off from the tropical heat. It's a man-made pool that's surrounded by sandy beaches, making it feel like you're swimming in the ocean. The lagoon is also equipped with BBQ facilities, so you can have a picnic while enjoying the view.

Night Markets

The Cairns Night Markets are a popular attraction for both locals and tourists. They're open every night and offer a variety of shopping and food options. You can find everything from souvenirs to handmade crafts, and there's always something new to discover. The food stalls offer a range of international cuisine, so you can satisfy any craving you might have.

9. Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

For a scenic drive through the lush rainforest and rolling hills, the Atherton Tablelands is the best place to visit in Cairns. Here are some of the top attractions in the area:

Josephine Falls

Josephine Falls is a popular spot for swimming and picnicking. The waterfall cascades into a series of natural rock pools, making it a great place to cool off on a hot day. Be cautious when swimming, as the rocks can be slippery and the water can be hazardous during heavy rainfall.

Curtain Fig

The Curtain Fig is a unique attraction that is worth a visit. This towering fig tree has roots that cascade down like curtains, creating a natural spectacle. There are walking trails around the area, so you can explore the beautiful rainforest.

Gillies Range

The Gillies Range is a scenic drive that connects the Atherton Tablelands to Cairns. The winding road offers stunning views of the surrounding rain forest and hills. There are plenty of lookout points along the way, so you can stop and take in the scenery.

Crystal Cascades

Crystal Cascades is a series of natural rock pools and waterfalls that are perfect for swimming. The crystal-clear water is refreshing on a hot day, and there are grassed areas and BBQs for picnicking. Be cautious when swimming, as the rocks can be slippery.

Tinaroo Dam

Tinaroo Dam is a popular spot for fishing, boating, and water sports. There are picnic areas and BBQs, making it a great place for a family day out. You can also take a guided tour of the dam and learn about its history.

10. Green Island

Green Island Australia

If you want to escape from Cairns and you love to visit a tropical paradise, then places like Green Island is the perfect tourist attraction to see. Located just off the coast of Cairns, this beautiful island is surrounded by crystal clear waters and stunning coral reefs. Here are some of the best things to do on Green Island:

  • Snorkeling: Explore the underwater world and see the diverse marine life up close. With a variety of snorkeling spots around the island, you're sure to have an unforgettable experience.
  • Glass Bottom Boat Tour: If you prefer to stay dry, take a glass bottom boat tour and see the colorful coral and fish without getting wet.
  • Cruise: Take a cruise to Green Island and enjoy the scenic views along the way. There are plenty of options available, from half-day to full-day cruises.
  • Stinger Suits: When swimming or snorkeling in the waters around Green Island, it's important to wear a stinger suit to protect yourself from jellyfish stings.

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11. Rusty's Market

Rusty's Market cairns

If you're a fan of fresh produce and local goods, then Rusty's Market is a must-visit Cairns tourist attraction. This market is open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and is located in the heart of the city. You can find a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and more at Rusty's Market.

One of the highlights of Rusty's Market is the coffee and breakfast options available. You can grab a delicious cup of coffee and a pastry to enjoy while you browse the stalls. If you're looking for a heartier breakfast, there are plenty of vendors selling breakfast items like bacon and eggs, pancakes, and more.

For lunch, there are plenty of options available as well. You can find food vendors selling everything from traditional Australian meat pies to Asian food like dumplings and noodles. There are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options available for you to enjoy.

One of the unique aspects of Rusty's Market is the focus on local and sustainable goods. Many of the vendors sell organic or locally sourced produce, and there are even vendors selling handmade crafts and clothing.


Address: 57/89 Grafton St, Cairns City QLD 4870, Australia

Phone: +61 7 4040 2705

12. Cairns Museum

Cairns Museum

If you're interested in the history of Cairns, then the Cairns Museum is one of the best things to see. Located in the award-winning School of Arts building, the museum contains five galleries that showcase the history of Cairns, including Aboriginal traditional owners, sugar cane history, WW II, tourism development, local architecture and cyclones, as well as the inside story of living in the tropics - among crocs, toads, jellyfish and snakes!

The museum is an architectural gem, featuring a grand entrance and stunning interior. The exhibits are well-curated and informative, with plenty of interactive displays and multimedia presentations to keep you engaged. You can easily spend a few hours exploring the galleries and learning about the rich history of Cairns.

One of the highlights of the museum is the Aboriginal gallery, which features a range of artifacts and displays that showcase the culture and traditions of the local Indigenous people. You can learn about the Dream time stories, bush tucker, and traditional hunting and fishing practices. The sugar cane gallery is also fascinating, with exhibits that highlight the importance of sugar cane to the region's economy.

The Cairns Museum is really a great place to learn about the history and culture of Cairns. Whether you're a history buff, a culture vulture, or just looking for something to do on a rainy day, this museum is definitely worth a visit.


Address: Cnr Lake and Shields St, 93/105 Lake St, Cairns City QLD 4870, Australia

Phone: +61 7 4051 5582

13. St Monica's Cathedral

St Monica's Cathedral in Cairns

If you're into visiting religious sites and admiring beautiful architecture, St Monica's Cathedral in Cairns is a must-see. This stunning cathedral is located at 181 Abbott Street, Cairns, Queensland 4870, Australia. It's a popular attraction in Cairns, and it's easy to see why.

St Monica's Cathedral is a beautiful Catholic church that boasts an impressive façade and intricate interior design. The cathedral's architecture is a blend of traditional and modern styles, making it a unique and fascinating sight to behold. The cathedral is also known for its stunning stained glass windows, which add to its beauty and charm.

If you're interested in attending a religious service, St Monica's Cathedral holds mass every day. The cathedral also offers guided tours, which are a great way to learn more about the cathedral's history and architecture. The tours are led by knowledgeable guides who can answer any questions you may have.


Address: 181 Abbott St, Cairns City QLD 4870, Australia

Phone: +61 7 4046 5600

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14. Barron Gorge National Park

Barron Gorge National Park

If you're a nature lover, you must visit the Barron Gorge National Park. Located just a 20-minute drive from Cairns, this park is home to an amazing rainforest, cascading waterfalls, and diverse wildlife.

One of the best ways to explore the park is by taking a ride on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. This cableway offers a bird's-eye view of the park's stunning scenery, including the Barron Falls. You can also take a guided tour of the park with an experienced guide who can tell you about the park's history, flora, and fauna.

If you're feeling adventurous, you can try white water rafting in the Barron River. This is an exciting way to experience the park's natural beauty while getting your adrenaline pumping.

There are also several short walks you can take within the park, such as the Wrights lookout track, which offers panoramic views of the park, or the Barron Gorge lookout track, which takes you to a lookout point over the gorge.

Please note that camping is not allowed in the park, but there are several accommodation options available in nearby Kuranda, Mareeba, and Cairns.


Address: Wrights Lookout Rd, Kuranda QLD 4881, Australia

Phone: +61 7 4093 9311

15. Undara Volcanic National Park

Undara Volcanic National Park

If you plan on taking a day trip from Cairns and are in search of a unique natural wonder to explore during your trip to Cairns, the Undara Volcanic National Park is one of the top things to visit around Cairns. This park is located about 275 kilometers southwest of Cairns and is home to one of the longest lava tube systems in the world.

One of the best ways to experience the park is through a guided tour. The Undara Experience offers a range of tours, including a half-day lava tube tour and a full-day tour that includes a visit to the Kalkani Crater. These tours are led by knowledgeable guides who can provide insight into the park's geological history and the plants and animals that call it home.

The highlight of the park is undoubtedly the lava tubes, which were formed over 190,000 years ago when a volcano erupted and lava flowed through the area. The lava cooled on the surface, creating a hard crust, while the lava underneath continued to flow, eventually leaving behind a series of hollow tubes. Today, visitors can walk through these tubes and marvel at the unique geological formations.

In addition to the lava tubes, the park is home to a variety of other natural wonders, including the Kalkani Crater, which is one of the best-preserved volcanic craters in the world. Visitors can also explore the park's rugged landscape on a bushwalk or take a scenic drive through the area.


Address: Yaramulla Rd, Mount Surprise QLD 4871, Australia

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Q: What is Cairns popular for?

A: One of its most renowned features is the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches over 2,300 kilometers along the coastline. Cairns serves as the gateway to this UNESCO World Heritage site, attracting millions of visitors each year who come to explore its diverse marine life through activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving. The city also offers an array of options for those wanting to experience this awe-inspiring wonder from above, including helicopter rides and seaplane tours.

Apart from the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns boasts another natural gem that entices adventure seekers and nature lovers alike: the Daintree Rainforest. As one of the oldest rainforests on Earth, it is home to a remarkable range of flora and fauna species found nowhere else in the world. Another highlight is Cape Tribulation, where lush rainforest meets pristine beaches.

Q: Are people friendly in Cairns?

A: When it comes to the friendliness of its people, Cairns does not disappoint. The locals here are known for their warm and welcoming nature, making visitors feel right at home from the moment they arrive.

One of the factors contributing to Cairns' friendly atmosphere is its prominent tourism industry. As a popular gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and other natural wonders, thousands of tourists flock to Cairns each year.

Local businesses have adapted accordingly, providing exceptional customer service and ensuring that visitors have a positive experience during their stay. This hospitality spills over into day-to-day interactions as well; whether you're asking for directions or seeking recommendations on where to eat or what activities to try, locals are often eager to help out with a smile.

Q: Is Cairns a party town?

A: While Cairns does offer a vibrant nightlife scene with numerous bars and clubs dotting its streets, it would be unfair to label it solely as a party town. One aspect that contributes to the perception of Cairns as a party town is its thriving backpacker culture. Many young travelers flock to Cairns seeking adventure and fun, often staying in budget-friendly hostels that create an atmosphere conducive to socializing and late-night revelry.

The city also hosts various events throughout the year that cater to party-goers, such as the infamous Full Moon Party held at one of Cairns' beachfront venues. These factors certainly contribute to an energetic nightlife scene where visitors can enjoy live music, dancing, and drinks until the early hours of the morning.

Q: What are the best free things to do in Cairns?

A: One of the best free things to do in Cairns is to explore the lush and diverse natural wonders that surround the city. Take a leisurely stroll along Cairns Esplanade, a picturesque boardwalk stretching for over 2 kilometers with stunning views of Trinity Bay.

Another must-do free activity in Cairns is to visit the iconic Cairns Botanic Gardens. Boasting lush rainforest sections and uniquely designed tropical gardens showcasing exotic plants from North Queensland, this botanical paradise provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature's beauty without spending a dollar.

Lastly, don't miss out on experiencing some of Australia's unique wildlife by visiting one of Cairn's many free wildlife parks and reserves. Head over to Centenary Lakes Nature Play Space where you can spot local birdlife among expansive parklands while your children enjoy interactive playgrounds.

Q: Do you need a car to see Cairns?

A: While having a car can certainly provide flexibility and convenience, it is not necessary to explore Cairns fully. The city is well-served by public transportation options such as buses and taxis, making it easy for visitors to get around without their own vehicle.

Q: How far is Cairns City from the airport?

A: Cairns Airport is conveniently located just approximately 7 kilometers away from the heart of Cairns City. This means that upon arrival at the airport, travelers can expect a short journey to reach their desired destinations within the city center.

The most common mode of transportation between Cairns Airport and Cairns City is by taxi. The journey typically takes around 15 minutes depending on traffic conditions.


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