Skip to Content
11 Best Beaches Near Cairns & the Great Barrier Reef

11 Best Beaches Near Cairns & the Great Barrier Reef

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

Cairns is famous as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. But did you know that Cairns has some great beaches to visit too?

Cairns is quickly becoming one of Australia’s best travel destinations. It truly does have everything going for it, from epic waterfalls, pristine island gems and bucket list-worthy adrenaline activities, what else could you really ask for?

Well, if there’s one thing missing off that list it’d have to be a couple of unspoiled tropical beaches to cool down at. Lucky for you, there are loads of great Cairns beaches worthy of a visit from Palm Cove on the Northern Beaches to the white sandy shores of Nudey Beach on the Great Barrier Reef.

Ellis beach near cairns

11 Best Beaches in Cairns

In this blog post, I've formed a quick summary list of the best beaches in Cairns and the surrounding Tropical North that you definitely should check out on your next trip! Most of these beaches are accessible via a short drive, bus, or ferry from Cairns.

My favorites are Nudey Beach on Fitzroy Island and Trinity Beach on the Northern Beaches!

Nudey beach on fitzroy island

1. Palm Cove

Palm Cove is one of the most iconic beaches in Cairns. Located on the northern beaches, approximately 30 minutes north of the CBD is a long stretch of palm-tree-lined sand often featured in adverts and travel shows.

Best for: Restaurants and scenic palm trees.

While Palm Cove is mostly famous for its palm trees, there is also a stinger net at the surf club for safe swimming, some world-class restaurants, as well as a rainforest walking track on the north side of the bay.

Palm cove, best beaches in cairns

Best Places to Stay in Palm Cove

Many people choose to stay at Palm Cove rather than in Cairns town since it's closer to the beach. In my opinion, Palm Cove is truly one of the best places to stay in Cairns.

  • Luxury: The Alamanda by Lancemore is one of Cairns' best luxury resorts and features a beautiful pool right beneath the palm trees beside the beach.
  • Good Value Resort: Want a poolside resort next to the beach that doesn't break the bank? Check out Paradise on the Beach Resort.
  • Budget Hostel: Palm Cove is also the best place to base yourself as a backpacker. Flashpackers on the beach is the go-to.
Palm cove cairns

2. Nudey Beach

While you are after the best beaches in Cairns, I present you with one of the best beaches in Australia, Nudey Beach.

Nudey Beach is one of those places that just has to be seen to be believed. Tranquil turquoise waters lap the pearly-white, rainforest-surrounded sands on the very tip of the island. Here, you won't find any crocs lurking in the shallows, just plenty of tropical fish and sea turtles!

However, you have to catch a ferry to get to Nudey Beach since it's located on Fitzroy Island.

The good news is that Fitzroy is one of the closest islands off Cairns, so make sure you make time for it!

Best for: Seeing Cairns' most beautiful beach

Nudey beach fitzroy island things to do, cairns

How to Get to Nudey Beach on Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island is one of the most accessible islands from Cairns. A short 45-minute boat ride from the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal will have you basking on the tropical shores of one of Queensland's most picturesque beaches.

Book: Ferry day-trip to Fitzroy Island
Stay near Nudey Beach on Fitzroy Island: Fitzroy Island Resort

Nudey beach on fitzroy island, cairns things to do,

3. Trinity Beach

Trinity Beach is another Cairns beach, also located on the Northern Suburbs. In my opinion, Trinity Beach is just as beautiful as Palm Cove, just without as many tourists! Similarly, though, this amazing spot is lined with palm trees and finishes at a tight little mangrove cove.

Best for: Tropical palm-tree-lined beach without the crowds
Stay at Trinity Beach: Sea Point on Trinity Beach

At Trinity Beach, you'll find some local restaurants, a stinger-proof swimming net, exercise equipment, barbecues and an all-around tropical vibe.

Trinity beach cairns

4. Ellis Beach

If it's a local hidden gem you're after, then Ellis Beach has to be one of the best beaches in Cairns! This one is also on the Northern Beaches, found just after Palm Cove.

Best for: Stretches of white sand all to yourself + an epic bar and bistro
Stay at Ellis Beach: Ocean Beach Waterfront Bungalows

More than likely, if you make the trip to Ellis Beach, you'll have long stretches of it to yourself. This beautiful Cairns beach looks out over Double Island. While quiet, there is still a small lifesaving club near the car park that maintains a stinger net for safe swimming, all year round.

If you make the trip to Ellis Beach from Cairns, I highly recommend stopping in at Ellis Beach Bar & Grill. They do an awesome Nachos!

Ellis beach near cairns
Ellis beach near cairns

5. Kewarra Beach

Next on the ultimate Cairns beaches roundup is Kewarra Beach. This one is also a local secret of sorts. I say this because you won't typically find many tourists here, just a few locals enjoying a walk or swim.

Best for: Local Cairns lifestyle

If you're keen on checking out Kewarra Beach, I'd recommend heading do the south end. Here, you'll find some shady palm trees to relax under.

Kewarra beach near cairns

6. Green Island

Again, some of the most beautiful beaches in Cairns require a boat to get to! Green Island is perhaps Cairns' most popular island, famous for wide, fringing reef, a huge turtle population and a scenic rainforest interior.

Best for: Snorkelling
Stay on Green Island: Green Island Resort

Turtle sea

How to Get to Green Island from Cairns

Green Island is surrounded by a pristine, white coral-sand beach. The water here is also very clear and perfect if you're looking to do some snorkeling.

To get here, book a return fast ferry day trip online.

Green island from the sky, great barrier reef, cairns, queensland

7. Clifton Beach

Clifton Beach is another quite, local Northern Suburbs beach that is well worth visiting. This one continues on from Kewarra Beach and connects up to Palm Cove in the north.

Best for: Quiet beach with a nice reserve

While you won't find as many attractions or highlights at Clifton Beach as some of the others on this list, it's a nice spot to stop and enjoy a swim.

Clifton beach near cairns

8. Four Mile Beach

The next few items on this list can't really be considered "beaches in Cairns". Instead, they're beach highlights that are unmissable in the nearby Tropical North. The first of these is Four Mile Beach.

Best for: Long stretch of white sand with a great coastal walk
Stay in Port Douglas: Shantara Resort (Luxury) | The Newport (Mid-range) | Global Backpackers (Hostel)

Four Mile Beach is perhaps one of the most iconic beaches in the Tropical North. Located about an hour's drive north from Cairns in Port Douglas is this huge stretch of white. You could easily spend hours here relaxing under the palm trees or enjoying the cliff walk to Four Mile Beach lookout.

4 mile beach port douglas

9. Myall Beach

Many will tell you that a trip to Cairns is incomplete without a stop to see where the rainforest meets the reef in Cape Tribulation. Myall beach is an incredible, white-sand beach with fringing reef and backs onto dense, tropical rainforest.

It's considered the main "beach" at Cape Tribulation and therefore has the most facilities nearby.

Best for: Witnessing the rainforest meet the reef
Stay in Cape Tribulation: Wildwood (Rainforest Cottage) | Cape Trib Holiday House (huge house) | Crocodylus (hostel)

While it isn't advised to swim at Cape Tribulation due to stingers and crocodiles, it's still widely considered one of the best beaches in the Cairns region and the entire Tropical North. If you need to cool down, consider a freshwater swim at the local waterhole.

Travel tip: To get to Cape Tribulation, consider the Great Barrier Reef Drive (self-drive) from Cairns. This is one of the most scenic drives in Australia and is well worth the addition to your Cairns itinerary!

Myall beach, cape tribulation things to do

10. Etty Beach

Etty Beach is the first beach on this list of beaches near Cairns that's located in the south. It's also one of the most unique due to it being a well-known place to spot wild cassowaries. Etty Bay is located approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes from Cairns.

Therefore, this one is better suited to those on a road trip or those spending a day trip down south.

Best for: spotting a wild cassowary on the beach

The best time to spot cassowaries at Etty Bay is in the early morning and late afternoon. You'll usually find them wandering the beach, so it's best to just let them do their thing and admire them from afar.

Cassowary on the beach queensland

11. Mission Beach

The final beach on this list of the best Cairns beaches is again, a bit of a stretch from Cairns itself. Mission Beach is located just under two hours south of Cairns but is a must-visit if you're planning a road trip south.

Best for: huge stretches of white sand, coconuts palms and surrounding island

Mission beach far north queensland

Mission Beach is a world-class Aussie beach that's also often featured in tourism adverts and programmes.

Chances are, you already know a bit about Mission Beach but did you know that just off its shores is Dunk Island, one of the best Great Barrier Reef islands to visit? The best part is that the ferry only takes 10 minutes, so there really aren't any excuses not to go!

Book: Ferry ticket to Dunk Island

Dunk island sunsets queensland australia

Where to Stay In Cairns

Visiting Cairns? The best places to stay are near the Cairns Esplanade or on the sunny Northern Beaches. Below are the top 4 options for varying budgets.

Alternatively, check out my Port Douglas accommodation guide for more ideas on where to stay in Far North Queensland.

Girl sunbathing at crystalbrook riley resort in cairns

1. Crystalbrook Riley Luxury

If luxury and location are what you're after, you can't beat this 5-star resort right in the heart of Cairns Esplanade.

Fitzroy island wharf

2. Fitzroy Island Resort Mid-Range

Sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands! Staying at Fitzroy often works out cheaper than staying in town & means you get more time to explore the reef, beaches, and rainforest walking trails.

Gilligans backpacker resort

3. Gilligan's Backpackers Budget

The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns. Great place to meet like-minded travelers & features a pool, air-con rooms, a huge shared kitchen, & a great common area.

Peppers beach club four mile beach port douglas

4. Pepper's Beach Club Palm Cove

Stay at the best beach resort in the heart of Palm Cove on Cairns's Northern Beaches!

Can You Swim at the Beach in Cairns?

One thing that you have to be aware of when visiting beaches in Cairns is that there are two major marine hazards here: crocodiles and marine stingers. However, most of the best beaches in Cairns have patrolled stinger nets that keep out both crocs and hazardous stingers.

The truth is, both of these guys are deadly and unfortunately, people fall victim to attacks and stings every year. However, if you swim in the nets when on the mainland, you'll be reducing your risk.

Cape tribulation sunset

Best Beaches Near Cairns for Swimming

For those visitors to Cairns purely after a good swim, I'd say that Palm Cove and Trinity Beach are the best on the mainland and close to town.

However, you really can't beat the serenity and beauty of the islands, which are easily the best places to swim and snorkel near Cairns.

Book: Great Barrier Reef Tour From Cairns

Cairns tropical destination packing list, what to pack for cairns

Tips For Enjoying These Tropical Cairns Beaches

While I've already touched on the dangers involved with swimming at the beach in Far North Queensland, the below tips and resources are essential in ensuring you have a safe, enjoyable trip to Cairns.

  • Be croc-wise in croc country: don't swim in saltwater rivers and estuaries and try to stick to the patrolled stinger nets while at the beach
  • Stinger suits: stinger suits offer great protection against hazardous marine stingers. Consider purchasing one before you get to Cairns
  • Reef-safe sunscreen: The world's largest coral reef is under threat. Did you know that typical sunscreens are harmful to the reef. Make sure to grab some reef-safe sunscreen before you get to Cairns.
Car in the rainforest near cairns

How to Get Around to the Beaches in Cairns

Cairns is one of the most popular travel destinations in Australia and car rentals quickly book out!

I recommend booking well in advance. I always use as they compare the widest range of rentals across dealerships in the Far North.

More than Just Epic Cairns Beaches: More Things to Do in The Tropical North

I hope that this quick guide to visiting the best beaches in Cairns and the surrounding Tropical North has helped plan your trip.

I've spent a long time exploring, documenting and photographing the best attractions and adventures in Cairns. Make sure to read some of the other articles below.

Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.