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15 Best Cairns Tours & Day Trips to Book Right Now

15 Best Cairns Tours & Day Trips to Book Right Now

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.

Discover these top-ranked Cairns tours & experiences to the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest and beyond!

I consider Cairns Australia’s tropical adventure capital! There are so many things to do in Cairns for lovers of nature and the outdoors from exploring the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef to hiking in the Daintree; the oldest surviving rainforest on earth.

Whether you’re an independent backpacker, visiting Far North Queensland with your family, or on a road trip with friends, one of the best ways to explore the region is to book one of the many day trips & half-day tours.

In this updated guide, I’ll give you a rundown of the best bookable experiences and tours in Cairns so that you can plan your visit to this incredible slice of Australia. I’ve ranked the following trips based on my personal experience traveling in the region, as well as local recommendations and the top-reviewed tours on popular booking sites like GetYourGuide, Tripadvisor & Viator.

Barron river white water rafting tour cairns
Whitewater rafting on the Barron River is one of my favorite bookable experiences in Far North Queensland!

10 Best Cairns Day Tours & Full-Day Experiences

I've split this blog post into two sections. The first lists the 10 best day tours from Cairns, and the second section includes 5 half-day activities for those short on time or looking for a quick trip.

To start, I'll include the best day tours which cover a wide range of full-day activities and highlights in Cairns!

Tip: There's a link to each tour using the same booking websites that I use 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. Great Barrier Reef Tour from Cairns in a Premium Catamaran Cruise

Did you know that Cairns is considered the best place in Australia to visit the Great Barrier Reef? That's because access is super easy via the largest reef fleet terminal in Australia. Furthermore, Cairns is located 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, you can't beat the famous GBR catamaran tour that gets you out to the Outer Great Barrier Reef the reef in style– onboard a luxury catamaran!

Why? This trip visits two reef locations (weather dependent) and includes lunch, snacks, drinks and all the snorkelling gear you'll need. It has over 1,500 five-star reviews on GetYourGuide! Somehow, this is also one of the most affordable reef tours in Cairns! No wonder it's so popular.

Great barrier reef near cairns

2. Skyrail & Kuranda Scenic Railway Combo Tour

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 Cairns Beaches to Kuranda.

This trip is a self-guided tour and includes both tickets, 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

Why? 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.

Girl at red peak rainforest discovery centre
Skyrail tour in cairns
Onboard the Skyrail cablecar from Smithfield

3. Fitzroy Island Day Tour

Fitzroy Island is one of the closest islands to Cairns and a day tour to Fitzroy is definitely something you should add to your Cairns itinerary.

The full-day adventure ticket includes the fastest catamaran ferry ticket, getting you out to the island in just under 45 minutes! This do-it-yourself island tour is also the cheapest way to get to Fitzroy Island from Cairns.

Why? 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.

Turtle on fitzroy island near cairns, australia
Fitzroy island tour from cairns
Fitzroy island ferry queensland

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. Using code OLLY5 makes this the cheapest way to get to Fitzroy at the moment.

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 thousands of 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 via GetYourGuide if you're considering Daintree Rainforest tours with a local guide.

Why? This trip begins in Cairns nice and early, taking you along the scenic Great Barrier Reef Drive 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.

Emmagen creek swimming hole in cape tribulation, australia
Myall beach, cape tribulation

5. Green Island Tour

Green Island is the second island worth visiting during your trip to Cairns. This is an amazing 6,000-year-old coral cay that is flatter than Fitzroy Island but has a further-reaching reef. Boats operate daily to Green Island from Cairns, getting there in roughly 45 minutes.

In my experience, Green Island is slightly more popular due to its international fame, clear waters and amazing surrounding reef.

Why? While you can book a tour to Green Island, I recommend instead just booking the boat ticket with included snorkeling gear. This way, once you arrive, you are free to snorkel on the reef, explore the rainforest island interior or book an optional glass-bottom boat tour if you want.

Green island, cairns australia

6. Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Tour

Did you know that most of the epic Cairns waterfalls and hikes you would have seen pictures from are found up in the Atherton Tablelands? This often neglected region near Cairns is in my opinion, much better for raw adventure.

Luckily for you, there are a few great tours heading up to the waterfall circuit and beyond from Cairns daily.

If you're looking for Cairns tours featuring waterfalls and swimming spots like the iconic Josephine Falls and the Millaa Millaa Waterfall Circuit, then I recommend booking the Atherton Tablelands trip from Cairns on Viator.

Why? 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 since it squeezes in many highlights of this region in a single day. Plus, it boasts over 800 5-star reviews on Tripadvisor!

Millaa millaa waterfall circuit
Famous millaa millaa falls in the tablelands
Josephine falls swimming hole

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 trip to 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 Cairns Islands. There's only one company running tours to the Frankland Islands from Cairns, and they've been doing it for over 50 years!

Why? This full-day island tour includes a coach transfer from Cairns to the ferry at the Mulgrave River where you'll go on a 30-minute scenic river cruise before breaking through the heads and out to the 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!

Tip: Get $5 off when booking online with Backpacker Deals when you use code: OLLY5

YouTube video
Frankland islands day trip from cairns

8. Kuranda Army Duck Experience

If you're visiting Cairns, I highly recommend checking out the rainforest village of Kuranda. While you can get there via the Kuranda Scenic Rail & Skyrail, another unique option is this full-day Army Duck Tour.

This full-day tour offers a unique journey aboard an authentic World War II Army Duck, an amphibious vehicle that allows you to traverse both land and water. It's a fun adventure that lets you dive deep into the heart of the rainforest and float down its rainforest creeks, spotting wildlife and rich flora.

Why? The Kuranda Army Duck tour is a very unique attraction combining a thrilling ride with deep exploration of the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage rainforests. This is an especially great day tour from Cairns for families with kids with hundreds of 5-star reviews.

Powered by GetYourGuide

9. Evolution Great Barrier Reef Trip

In terms of a Great Barrier Reef day trip, it's hard to go wrong. Most operate at a very high standard. However, it's also true that it isn't exactly cheap to tick off this bucket list experience. So, choosing the right tour is important.

While I've recommended the catamaran day trip above, my personal favorite Great Barrier Reef trip is aboard the epic Evolution super yacht. I liked this one so much that I've been out to the reef twice with them!

Why? This trip is run by Down Under Cruise & Dive, a local family company. It's also the most impressive boat in the whole Cairns reef fleet and the fastest, meaning you'll spend more time snorkeling or diving on the reef! Additionally, this full-day trip visits 2 reef locations and includes lunch, coffee, snacks and even a wine!

Scuba diving on the great barrier reef tour cairns

10. Chillagoe Caves and Outback Day Trip from Cairns

Looking to get off-the-beaten-path and head inland to explore the outback region of Far North Queensland? You'll want to check out this Chillagoe Caves and Granite Gorge trip starting early from Cairns.

This full-day trip transports you into the heart of Tropical North Queensland's countryside aboard a rugged 4WD vehicle, led by a knowledgeable naturalist guide. The trip is unique because it includes a visit to the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park, spotting Australian native wildlife near the wetlands, exploring historic mining towns, and seeing ancient Aboriginal Rock Art in Chillagoe.

Why: A great choice if you want to explore beyond the beaches, reef trips, and rainforests of Cairns. The unique itinerary on this tour offers a mix of natural beauty, historical insights, and cultural significance, showcasing the fossilised remains of ancient coral reefs, Aboriginal Rock Art, and you will learn about Chillagoe's mining past!

Powered by GetYourGuide

5 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 40-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 my favourite experience in Cairns and one that I'd recommend to anyone visiting!

Why? The flights are much more affordable than the helicopter trip. And, you just simply would never regret this once-in-a-lifetime experience! Seeing the Great Barrier Reef from the sky is a true bucket list moment.

Sandy cay off cairns on a plane flight
Great barrier reef from the sky

2. Great Barrier Reef Helicopter Flight

After staying in Cairns for several months, I’ve been fortunate enough to see the reef from above several times, on scenic plane flights and on a helicopter ride. In my opinion, a helicopter flight is a better experience because you'll get closer to the reef.

Furthermore, helicopter trips are more exciting, and you won't have to share the flight with as many people as the scenic planes. You can book this 45-minute to 1 hour experience from Cairns, or as an optional upgrade departing from a platform on the Evolution tour above.

However, keep in mind that helicopter tours are almost double the price of a scenic flight!

Tip: I recommend booking at least 4-5 days before your helicopter tour. This is usually a good window so you can get a better gauge on the weather conditions.

View from a scenic helicopter tour in cairns
View of the Great Barrier Reef from the helicopter

3. Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Flight From Cairns

Another epic and unmissable experience that you can book is a Cairns 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 so that you have time to relax.

Why? The Tablelands is one of the best regions in Australia for hot air ballooning! You'll get amazing views of the surrounding countryside, rainforest, and Coral Sea. These trips are convenient because they include transport from Cairns! In my experience, Cairns is one of the cheapest and best places to book hot air ballon trips in Australia!

Hot air balloon over the tablelands, far north queensland
Hot air cairns, ballooning in mareeba

4. 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.

I've been on a few croc-spotting tours in Far North Queensland and in my opinion, the best Cairns crocodile tour is run by Solar Whisper.

Why? This is 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?

Daintree saltwater crocodile tour

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. Unfortunately, these crocs aren't wild but live in a big park. I prefer the Daintree option for sure!

5. 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 truly epic 2-hour experience operated by professional rafting guides. You don't need any rafting experience to go on this tour and it's very fun!

Why? These half-day rafting trips run just 30-minutes from Cairns, meaning you can easily squeeze a trip in the afternoon. 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

YouTube video
White water rafting tour in far north queensland

My Tour Selection Process

  • Tour Criteria: I've combed through hundreds of tour offerings to pick high-value potions covering the main natural attractions including the reef & rainforest. I look for trips led by experienced guides with high safety & sustainability standards & those that balance variety, price, reviews, & accessibility.
  • My Experience: I lived in Cairns for several months and have visited close to 10 times since. I've worked with Tourism Tropical North Queensland as a travel expert & writer on solo travel & adventure. I've been on most of these Cairns tours, some multiple times.
  • Top Reviews: All tours on my roundups have earned a high customer rating of at least 4/5 stars on travel sites like Viator, Tripadvisor & GetYourGuide. I have included links to book the best price for each tour.
  • Local Insights: During my visits to Cairns I've met many locals, worked closely with tour guides, & spoken to countless other travelers in hostels and on day trips. Many of my recommendations come directly from those suggested to me.

Read more about how I review & select tours & experiences.

Years Traveling
Olly gaspar

I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. Each tour in this guide is handpicked by me. Read my travel review ethics statement.

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!

Tips for Booking Tours in Cairns

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, Tripadvisor 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.
Devil's thumb boulder in far north queensland, australia

More Cairns Travel Blogs

That wraps up this travel guide to the best Cairns tours and experiences worth booking! There were a few that missed the top 15, but that just goes to show how many epic adventures are to be had in Tropical North Queensland!

Got any updates or suggestions for this post? Help other travelers out by leaving a comment below!

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.

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.