A useful travel resource listing the best Cairns tours & experiences to book during your next trip to the Tropical North!
Cairns is considered Australia’s tropical adventure capital! There are so many epic adventures to be had up here, from exploring the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef to hiking in the Daintree; the oldest surviving rainforest on earth.
In this guide, I’ll be outlining the absolute best bookable experiences and tours in Cairns so that you can plan your visit to this incredible slice of Australia. I’ve listed the following trips based on my personal experience during my time living in Tropical North Queensland so you get an unbiased opinion!
- QuickList: The Best Cairns Tours & Outdoor Experiences
- 11 Epic Cairns Tours to Book in 2023
- 8 Best Cairns Day Tours & Full-Day Experiences
- 4 Best Half-Day Tours From Cairns
- Updated Live: What are the Top-Ranked Tours in Cairns?
- 5 Quick Tips for Booking Tours in Far North Queensland
- More Far North Queensland Travel & Adventure Blogs
I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. I visit every destination I write about & handpick all recommendations.
QuickList: The Best Cairns Tours & Outdoor Experiences
In a rush? Here's a quick list of the top 4 bookable activities in Cairns!
- Fitzroy Island Full Day Trip - the closest (and cheapest) Great Barrier Reef Island to visit from Cairns. Check out the world-famous famous Nudey Beach and hike to the island's summit
- Daintree & Mossman Gorge Trip - visit the oldest rainforest in the world in the Daintree National Park. Visit Cape Tribulation, Mossman Gorge and get an included cruise.
- Great Barrier Reef by Catamaran - visit the outer reef and snorkel or scuba dive at two pristine reef locations.
- Scenic Reef Helicopter Flight - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Great Barrier Reef from above on a scenic helicopter flight from Cairns city.
Travel tip: By far, the best islands for snorkeling in Cairns are the Frankland Islands (pristine reef). There is only one boat trip allowed to stop on these islands and you can book this directly with BackpackerDeals + use code OLLY5 to get $5 off.
11 Epic Cairns Tours to Book in 2023
Guess what? Travel is back on the cards, and Cairns is one of the best places in the world to spend a tropical getaway!
I've split this article into two sections. The first covers the 7 best organised day tours from Cairns, and the second section includes 4 half-day activities.
8 Best Cairns Day Tours & Full-Day Experiences
There are so many epic tours and Cairns experiences worth booking. In this section, I'll include the best day tours which cover full-day activities and highlights in Cairns.
There's a link to each tour using the same booking website that I used on each of my trips. This way, I've saved you the hassle of comparing prices and guaranteeing the best rates for your bookings.
1. Cairns Skyrail & Kuranda Scenic Railway
This Kuranda day tour from Cairns combines two of the region's premiere attractions; the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Kuranda Scenic Rail. The Skyrail is an epic cablecar system running over the rainforest canopy from the Northern Beaches to Kuranda.
This trip is a self-guided tour, meaning that you can enjoy the rainforest and all of the awesome things to do in Kuranda at your own pace. This Cairns tour includes:
- Skyrail ticket
- Scenic Rail ticket
- Pickup & drop-off to your hotel
The Skyrail and Scenic rail are among the most popular tours you can book from Cairns, and a combined ticket will save you money and makes for a convenient return trip back to your hotel or accommodation in town.
2. Great Barrier Reef Tour from Cairns: Premium Catamaran Cruise
Did you know that Cairns is considered the best place in Australia to visit the Great Barrier Reef? That's because it has the largest reef fleet terminal and is situated much closer to the outer reef than other parts of Queensland.
If you're looking for the best reef tour in Cairns for a full day of snorkelling, I've got you covered. The famous GBR catamaran tour gets you out to outer Great Barrier Reef the reef in style, onboard a luxury catamaran!
Somehow, this is also one of the most affordable reef tours in Cairns! No wonder it's so popular.
This trip visits two reef locations and includes lunch, snacks, drinks and all the snorkelling gear you'll need.
3. Fitzroy Island Day Tour
The full-day adventure ticket includes the fastest catamaran ferry ticket, getting you out to the island in just under 45 minutes! There are so many highlights on Fitzroy, which is one of my favourite tropical islands in Australia. Check out Nudey Beach, climb to the highest point on the Fitzroy Island lookout track and snorkel or go scuba diving with turtles and other amazing marine life just off the beach!
You can also rent snorkelling gear and book a glass-bottom boat experience through the same company.
Tip: Book a Half-Day Trip
Only got time to visit the island for a few hours?
Currently, there's a great deal you can snag with BackpackerDeals, offering cheaper half-day return ferry tickets. Use code OLLY5 to save $5 OFF all tours.
4. Daintree Rainforest Full Day Tour From Cairns
The UNESCO World Heritage Listed Daintree Rainforest is the oldest surviving rainforest on earth. It's home to tropical plants and abundant wildlife found nowhere else on earth!
Checking out the Daintree is a must when you're in Cairns. If you're short on time and looking for a Cairns tour to book for a full day adventure. I highly recommend the trip with Cairns Adventure Group if you're considering Daintree Rainforest tours with a local guide.
This trip begins in Cairns nice and early and takes visitors all the way up to Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the reef. You'll also stop by Mossman Gorge, jump on a crocodile spotting tour down the Daintree River, and cool down in the freshwater swimming holes of Cape Tribulation.
5. Green Island Tour
Green Island is the second island worth visiting during your trip to Cairns. This one is a little flatter than Fitzroy Island but has a further-reaching reef. Boats operate daily to Green Island from Cairns, getting there in roughly 45 minutes.
Green Island is arguably the most popular island to visit from Cairns due to its clear waters and amazing surrounding reef.
Once you arrive, you are free to snorkel on the reef, explore the rainforest island interior or book an optional glass-bottom boat tour!
6. Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Tour
Did you know that most of the epic Cairns waterfalls and hikes you would have seen pictures from are actually found up in the Tablelands? This often neglected region near Cairns is in my opinion, much better for raw adventure!
If you're looking for Cairns tours featuring waterfalls and swimming spots like the iconic Josephine Falls and the Millaa Millaa Waterfall Circuit, then make sure to check out the link to this Atherton Tablelands trip from Cairns.
If you're interested in spending a day in the tropical rainforest, this tour is easily one of the best. You'll see a lot in a day, including epic waterfalls and native wildlife like platypus and if you're lucky, Tree Kangaroos! This trip is definitely worth it, especially if you're short on time!
7: Frankland Islands Day Tour From Cairns
If I had to pick the absolute best Great Barrier Reef island day tour from Cairns, I'd pick the Frankland Islands.
That's because this beautiful set of islands just south of Cairns has by far, the healthiest and most pristine coral reef out of all the rest. There's only one company that runs tours to Frankland Islands from Cairns, and they've been doing it for 50 years!
$5 OFF: Booking online with Backpacker Deals when you use code: OLLY5
This full-day island tour includes a coach transfer from Cairns to the ferry at the Mulgrave River.
Here, visitors will embark on a 30-minute scenic river cruise before breaking through the heads and out to Frankland Islands. This day tour is all-inclusive, meaning you'll get access to snorkelling gear, kayaks, SUPs and get fed morning tea, lunch and dinner!
4 Best Half-Day Tours From Cairns
Looking for some epic tours in Cairns to squeeze into a morning or afternoon? These last few experiences are in my opinion must-do's and definitely worth checking out!
1. Great Barrier Reef Scenic Flight
The true wonder and scale of the Great Barrier Reef can only truly be realised from the sky! Luckily, there is a quick 30-minute scenic flight departing from Cairns offering an opportunity to witness this global treasure in a quick morning or afternoon trip from Cairns!
If I'm being honest, this was probably my favourite experience in Cairns and one that I'd recommend to anyone visiting. The flights are surprisingly affordable and regardless, you just simply would never regret this once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Tips for booking: Great Barrier Reef Flights From Cairns
Or... Combine a GBR Cruise & Helicopter Flight
Prefer a helicopter tour? It's possible to combine a full-day GBR cruise with a 10-minute helicopter flight directly from the reef pontoon. This Get High package is actually cheaper than a 30-minute flight from Cairns City
Read my guide for more information or book directly below.
2. Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Flight From Cairns
Another epic and unmissable experience that you can book from Cairns is a sunrise hot air balloon trip! These trips start nice and early and include hotel pickup, taking you up to the scenic Tablelands in time for a sunrise lift-off!
This experience is another epic must-do, and it'll get you back to Cairns by 10 am!
If you've been thinking about ticking this one off the bucket list for a while, you're in luck. Hot Air ballooning in Cairns is one of the cheapest and best places to do it in Australia!
3. Crocodile Spotting Tour on the Daintree River
Cairns and the Tropical North is home to the world's largest species of crocodile; the saltwater (estuarine) crocodile!
These guys inhabit the waters around Cairns, meaning you'll have to be careful where you swim! In saying that, they're usually quite tricky to spot! However, if you're set on the idea of spotting a wide crocodile, the best place to do it is on the Daintree River.
The best Cairns crocodile tour is run by Solar Whisper, an electric-boat tour allowing visitors to get closer to the crocodiles without disturbing them in their natural environment. Of course, you'll need to make your way up to the Daintree River along the Great Barrier Reef Drive, but who's complaining about that?
Travel tip: If you want to spot crocs closer to Cairns, you can do so at Hartley's Crocodile Adventure, just north of Palm Cove. Of course, these crocs aren't wild but live in a big park. I prefer the Daintree option for sure!
4. Barron Gorge Whitewater Rafting (Half Day Tour)
The last half-day tour in this list of epic bookable experiences in Cairns is a whitewater rafting trip down the Barron River.
This tour is a 2-hour experience operated by professional rafting guides. The Barron Gorge is also one of the most scenic places near Cairns, which means this is always a whitewater rafting experience to remember!
$5 OFF: Barron Gorge Whitewater Rafting when you use code: OLLY5
50+ More Cairns Bucketlist Items
- Visit the Cairns Islands
- Kuranda Railway & Skyrail
- Rusty's Markets
- Day trip to Cape Tribulation
- ... +51 more things to do in Cairns!
Updated Live: What are the Top-Ranked Tours in Cairns?
11 epic tours not enough for you? Below you'll find a list of the current top-ranking tours you can book in Far North Queensland.
Cairns Accommodation Guide – Where to Stay
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.
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.
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.
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.
4. Pepper's Beach Club Palm Cove
Stay at the best beach resort in the heart of Palm Cove on Cairns's Northern Beaches!
5 Quick Tips for Booking Tours in Far North Queensland
Before you head off on your ancient rainforest and reef adventures, check out this quick list of useful tips.
- Compare prices online first - all budget-conscious travelers should always check prices for tours on sites like Viator and GetYourGuide before booking on the street. These platforms have thousands of tours and only the most reputable agents can publish their activities there.
- Try to visit the rainforest & the reef - the two natural wonders of the ancient Daintree Rainforest (World Heritage Rainforest) and Great Barrier Reef are the two primary attractions in Cairns. Don't miss them!
- Spend a day on the islands - the islands off Cairns are among the most beautiful in Australia. Don't miss them!
- Book in advance - during the busy holiday seasons and weekends, many of the best tours will be booked out! While it's not always essential, I definitely recommend booking in advance. Get Your Guide and Viator offer free cancellation, which helps with flexibility.
- Visit the Tablelands - most people, unfortunately, miss this epic slice of Australia on their visit to Cairns. There are several tours running to the beautiful waterfall-laden Tablelands from Cairns. If you have your own car, you can drive here as well on your own itinerary.
More Far North Queensland Travel & Adventure Blogs
That wraps up this travel guide to the best Cairns tours and experiences worth booking! There were a few that missed the top 11, but that just goes to show how many epic adventures are to be had in Tropical North Queensland.
For more travel ideas or some adventure inspiration for solo or independent travel, check out some of my many other guides to Cairns and the surrounding region below.