- QuickList: The Best Cairns Tours & Outdoor Experiences
- 55 Best Things to do in Cairns Australia
- 1. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
- 2. Visit the Great Barrier Reef (outer Reef)
- 3. Nudey Beach & Fitzroy Island (Australia’s Most Beautiful Beach)
- 4. Cairns Scenic Flight Over the Great Barrier Reef
- 5. Discover 30+ Epic Waterfalls (Cairns Hidden Gems)
- Car Rentals in Far North Queensland
- 6. Cape Tribulation (See Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef)
- 7. Walsh’s Pyramid – The World’s Tallest Natural Pyramid
- 8: Frankland Islands Boat Trip from Cairns
- 9. the Atherton Tablelands – The Best Day Trip From Cairns
- 10. Cairns Road Trip to Port Douglas
- 11. Cairns Hot Air Ballooning Over Mareeba
- 12. Green Island
- 13. White Water Rafting on the Barron River
- 14. Cairns Great Barrier Reef Cruise & Helicopter Flight Combo
- 15. Mount Bartle Frere – Queensland’s Tallest Mountain
- 16. Sightseeing & Hiking In Kuranda
- 17. The Kuranda Scenic Railway – Best Cairns Activity for Families
- 18. The Daintree Rainforest
- 19. Barron River Boat Tour
- 20. Spot a Real-Life Dinosaur – The Cassowary
- 21. Scuba Diving on the Reef
- 22. Crocodile Spotting Tour (Solar Whisper)
- 23. See the Amazing Beaches Near Cairns
- 24. Grab a Bite at Palm Cove
- 25. Lake Placid
- 26. Lake Eacham & the Crater Lakes
- 27. Hypipamee Crater & Dinner Falls – Volcanic Sink Hole
- 28. The Ancient Curtain Fig Tree
- 29. Canyoning at Behana Gorge
- 30. The Great Barrier Reef Drive (Cairns to Cape Trib)
- 31. The Low Isles
- 32. Four Mile Beach
- 33. Babinda Boulders & Devils Pool
- 34. Go Hiking Around Cairns (36+ Epic Trails)
- 35. The Plane Wreckage on Mount William
- 36. Tully Gorge
- 37. Cairns Bungy Jumping – Best Adrenaline Activity
- 38. Mission Beach and Dunk Island
- 39: The Innot Hot Springs
- 40: Day Trip to the Outback From Cairns (Chillagoe Caves)
- 41: Fresh Produce at Rusty’s Market
- 42: The Cattana Wetlands
- 43: Cairns Botanical Gardens
- 44: the Night Markets – What to do in Cairns At Night
- 45: The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
- 46: Newest Attraction: Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome
- 47. Stay at The Fitzroy Island Resort
- 48. Let a Local Show You Where to Go in Cairns (Sightseeing)
- 49: The Cairns Aquarium
- 50: Help the Reef Restoration Foundation
- 51: Spend a Night on the Great Barrier Reef Pontoon
- 52: Vlasoff and Upolu Cay
- 53. Crawford’s Lookout in Wooroonooran National Park
- 54. Horse Riding at Cape Tribulation
- 55. Day Trip to Cardwell Spa Pools
- How to Get Around in Cairns
- When is the Best Time to Visit Cairns?
- How Much Does it Cost to Visit Cairns?
- Cairns Adventures: More Hiking & Waterfall Resources
- More Cairns Travel & Adventure FAQs
- Beyond Cairns: More Things to do In Australia & FNQ
- Cairns Accommodation Guide – Where to Stay
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.
- …. +8 more in this Cairns tour roundup.
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.
55 Best Things to do in Cairns Australia
1. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
2. Visit the Great Barrier Reef (outer Reef)
3. Nudey Beach & Fitzroy Island (Australia’s Most Beautiful Beach)
4. Cairns Scenic Flight Over the Great Barrier Reef
If there’s one activity you book, make sure it’s a reef flight, one of the absolute best things to do in Cairns!
5. Discover 30+ Epic Waterfalls (Cairns Hidden Gems)
The closest waterfalls to Cairns City are:
Car Rentals in Far North Queensland
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 RentalCars.com as they compare the widest range of rentals across dealerships in the Far North.
6. Cape Tribulation (See Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef)
I’d tell anybody that if you’re coming up to see Cairns, you simply can’t miss a trip to Cape Tribulation.
You can drive here yourself on the Great Barrier Reef Drive (number 28). This is a good idea because there is lots to do up here, including some unique tours and beautiful beaches.
However, if you’re short on time, there’s also a really great Cape Tribulation day trip that includes the Daintree, and Mossman Gorge.
7. Walsh’s Pyramid – The World’s Tallest Natural Pyramid
8: Frankland Islands Boat Trip from Cairns
9. the Atherton Tablelands – The Best Day Trip From Cairns
10. Cairns Road Trip to Port Douglas
Stay in Port Douglas!
Port Douglas is just a short hop from Cairns and makes for an ideal alternative (or addition) with amazing accommodation options. Below are the top-rated picks:
- Top Resort: Sheraton Grand Mirage
- Mid Range: Oaks Resort
- Budget: Global Backpackers
- …+10 more in this Port Douglas Accommodation Guide
11. Cairns Hot Air Ballooning Over Mareeba
12. Green Island
13. White Water Rafting on the Barron River
14. Cairns Great Barrier Reef Cruise & Helicopter Flight Combo
It goes without saying that anybody who makes the visit to Cairns should see the Great Barrier Reef!
But, how do you pick between immersing yourself below the surface, and seeing the grandiose scale from the sky, especially when you’ve got limited time and travel funds?
That’s where this GBR Cruise & Helicopter combo offers the best bang for buck and time! This full-day reef cruise visits two epic locations on the outer reef and includes a 10-minute scenic flight from the reef pontoon.
The crazy thing is that this combo is actually $50 cheaper than if you were to book a 30-minute helicopter flight from Cairns! After taking both a scenic flight and the helicopter trip, I have to say the best way to see the reef from Cairns is by chopper.
Read more tips about the Cairns helicopter tour here.
15. Mount Bartle Frere – Queensland’s Tallest Mountain
16. Sightseeing & Hiking In Kuranda
- The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
- Kuranda Rainforest Nature Park
- Kuranda Koala Gardens
- Rainforest ATV tours
- Rainforest Riverboat Tour (freshwater crocodile spotting) – $5 OFF with code OLLY5
- Two world-renowned markets; the Heritage Markets and Original Markets
17. The Kuranda Scenic Railway – Best Cairns Activity for Families
18. The Daintree Rainforest
19. Barron River Boat Tour
20. Spot a Real-Life Dinosaur – The Cassowary
21. Scuba Diving on the Reef
Wondering what to pack? Make sure to check out my comprehensive packing list for items you’ll want to have once you get up here!
22. Crocodile Spotting Tour (Solar Whisper)
23. See the Amazing Beaches Near Cairns
24. Grab a Bite at Palm Cove
25. Lake Placid
26. Lake Eacham & the Crater Lakes
27. Hypipamee Crater & Dinner Falls – Volcanic Sink Hole
28. The Ancient Curtain Fig Tree
29. Canyoning at Behana Gorge
30. The Great Barrier Reef Drive (Cairns to Cape Trib)
31. The Low Isles
Not Sure Which Cairns Island to Visit?
Read my comprehensive guide breaking down the top 8 Islands off Cairns to help you decide!
32. Four Mile Beach
33. Babinda Boulders & Devils Pool
34. Go Hiking Around Cairns (36+ Epic Trails)
35. The Plane Wreckage on Mount William
36. Tully Gorge
37. Cairns Bungy Jumping – Best Adrenaline Activity
38. Mission Beach and Dunk Island
39: The Innot Hot Springs
40: Day Trip to the Outback From Cairns (Chillagoe Caves)
41: Fresh Produce at Rusty’s Market
42: The Cattana Wetlands
43: Cairns Botanical Gardens
44: the Night Markets – What to do in Cairns At Night
45: The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
46: Newest Attraction: Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome
47. Stay at The Fitzroy Island Resort
48. Let a Local Show You Where to Go in Cairns (Sightseeing)
Tip: This one might be all the way down the bottom at number 47. However, if you’re staying near town, booking this half-day tour is a great idea since you’ll know exactly where to go in Cairns on your own afterwards!
49: The Cairns Aquarium
50: Help the Reef Restoration Foundation
51: Spend a Night on the Great Barrier Reef Pontoon
52: Vlasoff and Upolu Cay
Did you know that just off the coast of Cairns, there are dozens of tiny sandy cays (small desert islands) to explore?
Stepping foot on the soft sands of Vlassof and Upolu Cay is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.
While it was once impossible to reach these reef sandbars without your own boat or jet ski, the epic Ocean Freedom boat now runs snorkel and dive day trips to Upolu!
53. Crawford’s Lookout in Wooroonooran National Park
Crawford’s Lookout and the nearby North Johnston Lookout track is one of my favorite viewpoints in Far North Queensland.
Because this epic view features a magical rainforest scene of the North Johnston River horseshoe bend and requires very little effort to reach.
Of course, you won’t drive all the way to the Wooroonooran National Park from Cairns just for this quick lookout walk. However, this spot is conveniently located on the Palmerstone Highway, which is a beautiful road leading to other must-see highlights like the Mamu Rainforest Skywalk, Nandroya Falls, and eventually Millaa Millaa in the Atherton Tablelands.
54. Horse Riding at Cape Tribulation
Planning a day trip to Cape Tribulation via the Great Barrier Reef Drive? Make sure to book the epic Cape Tribulation horse-riding experience!
This was one of my favorite activities after visiting Cape Trib several times. You’ll get to ride your horses through the oldest rainforest in the world and on the beach where the rainforest meets the reef!
I’m by no means a professional horse rider, but luckily you don’t have to be with Cape Trib Horse Rides, who offer morning and sunset rides from their beautiful ranch property.
55. Day Trip to Cardwell Spa Pools
The last activity on this Cairns bucket list is another epic day trip. This time, I’m recommending a much less-visited destination near the town of Innisfail to the south of Cairns.
The Cardwell Spa Pools is a very famous, turquoise-blue swimming hole that has started making the rounds on social media. If you know what that means, then you’ll know you have to get here quickly!
Unfortunately, there are no tours heading this far south. However, you could easily visit on a day trip from Cairns if you have your own car or a rental.
I recommend stopping by Etty Bay to see the cassowaries on the way and perhaps taking a day trip to Hinchinbrook Island as well.
If you want to go further, then you’ll reach Australia’s largest waterfall, Wallaman Falls.
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.
- Crystalbrook Riley – If luxury and location are what you’re after, you can’t beat the Crystalbrook Riley. This is the best 5-star resort in Cairns and features absolutely everything you’d expect from a Crystalbrook resort.
- Fitzroy Island Resort – Sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands at Fitzroy Island Resort. Spending the night on the island can work out cheaper than staying in town and means you get more time to explore the reef, coral beaches and rainforest walking trails.
- Gilligan’s Backpackers – The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns. Great place to meet like-minded travelers and facilities including a pool. air-con, a huge shared kitchen, and a great common area!
- Pepper’s Beach Club – stay at the best beach resort in the heart of Palm Cove on the Cairns Northern Beaches!
How to Get Around in Cairns
Hopefully, this lengthy travel guide helped you figure out exactly what to do and see in Cairns Australia on your next trip. If you’re wondering how to get to all of these epic places to visit near Cairns, I’ve got you covered.
What to do in Cairns Without a Car
Of course, if you don’t have your own car, you’ll still have plenty to do and see on your holiday. However, as I’m sure you’ve noticed in this travel guide, most of the hidden gems and non touristy things to do in Cairns are located quite a distance from town.
Luckily, there are several day trips and excursions you can take that take the fuss out of transport. Below are some recommendations if you’re not too keen on driving.
- Frankland Islands Day Trip
- Fitzroy Island Day Trip
- Green Island Day Trip
- Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
- Kuranda Railway & Skyrail (transport is included)
- Rusty’s Markets
- ZOOM Wildlife Dome
- Botanical Gardens
- Great Barrier Reef Scenic Flight
- Diving or Snorkelling Day Trip to the Outer Reef
When is the Best Time to Visit Cairns?
How Many Days in Cairns is Enough?
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Cairns?
Cairns Adventures: More Hiking & Waterfall Resources
For those looking to get off the beaten path and explore some amazing tropical hidden gems, this blog will be a great resource for you.
You would have already seen some hiking & waterfall articles linked in this travel guide. However, the truth is I have dozens more! Here are some useful guides for inspiration.
More FNQ Hiking Trails & Viewpoints
Below are links to the hikes I haven’t mentioned yet in this Cairns to do list.
- Ivan Evans Walk/Waddlebla Trail
- Kahlpahlim Rock (Lambs Head)
- Turtle Rock
- Mount Sorrow at Cape Tribulation
More Cairns Waterfalls & Swimming Holes
Below you’ll find even more waterfalls in the Far North Queensland region.
- West Mulgrave Falls
- Windin Falls
- Fairy Falls
- Millaa Millaa Waterfall
- Cannabullen Falls
- Big Millstream & Little Millstream Falls
- Souita Falls
- Mungalli Falls
- Isabella Falls
- Tchupala & Wallicher Falls
- Davies Creek Falls
- Emerald Creek Falls
- Hartley’s Creek Falls
- Spring Creek Falls
- Zillie Falls
- Ellinjaa Falls
- Wankaroo Falls
More Cairns Travel & Adventure FAQs
The most popular beaches near Cairns like Palm Cove, Trinity Beach and Ellis Beach are popular swimming beaches and considered safe due to lifeguards deploying stinger nets. However, it’s important to be croc wise anywhere you swim in the Far North.
Yes, Cairns is situated on the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. There are plenty of places to take a dip, including beaches on the mainland and at many of the surrounding islands. Additionally, Cairns is famous for its amazing freshwater swimming holes and rainforest waterfalls that you can swim in.
Many of the best things to do in Cairns are outdoor activities, which means you’ll likely need a rainjacket or umbrella if you’re visiting in the wet season! The Daintree Rainforest is particularly spectacular in its wet state. However, there are plenty of things to do indoors as well, including the ZOOM and Wildlife Dome, Acquarium, Rusty’s Markets, and strolling the undercover esplanade.
Cairns is famous for its two natural wonders: the Great Barrier Reef and the ancient Daintree Rainforest.
Aussies pronounce the cities name very differently to the way Americans would. The proper way to say it is: “keahnz”– without the “r”.