A complete guide to the absolute best things to do in Cairns Australia. Explore Australia’s best tropical adventure destination with these unmissable Cairns attractions including epic waterfalls, untamed rainforest and reef-lined islands.

When it comes to the ultimate Australian travel experience, Cairns is up there with the best. Visiting this region is an amazing experience allowing travellers to experience wonders of the natural world. This is a unique place where two world heritage sites collide– the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree National Park.

From exploring the incredible rainforest waterfalls to seeing the Great Barrier Reef first-hand, Cairns has attractions for every visitor. After spending several months exploring the best hikes and waterfalls, experiencing the pristine coral reefs after sailing to tropical islands and checking out some of the epic adrenaline activities on offer, I’ve compiled this detailed list of the best things to do in Cairns, Australia.

Cairns has been a blast and is one of my favourite destinations in Australia. So, here it is, my ultimate travel guide to The 50 Best Things to do in Cairns, Australia!

What’s in this Cairns Travel Guide?
  1. 50 Best Things to do in Cairns Australia
  2. Cairns Australia Travel Guide
  3. Beyond Cairns: More Australian Travel Guides and Blogs

Itinerary: How to Spend 5 Days in The Tropical North

50 Best Things to do in Cairns Australia

So, here’s the list.

Being quite a long resource to Cairns, here are a few things to help you navigate this post.

  • I’ve written individual blog posts for the majority of the activities listed. You’ll find links to these below each item and they contain useful guides with loads more photos.
  • At the bottom of the list, there’s a comprehensive travel guide to Cairns. This goes beyond the activities in and attractions and gives you some detailed tips for visiting the region.
  • The climate in Cairns is different to the rest of Australia. Check out this useful packing list so you don’t miss out on things you’ll want to bring.
  • If you’re still planning your trip, head over to this area and accommodation guide to find the best places to stay in Cairns.
  • For tours and experiences, I’ve written a rundown of the 11 best tours as a quick-list if you’re in a rush.

1. Experience the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

By far, one of the most popular things to do in Cairns for visitors is the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. This world-renowned gondola cableway spans 7.5 kilometres over World Heritage listed Wet Tropics Rainforest connecting Cairns (Smithfield) to Kuranda.

It’s a very unique experience and one of the funnest ways to immerse yourself in the beauty of the world’s oldest rainforest ecosystem in the Barron Gorge National Park. The trip is definitely an experience in itself. However, one great thing about this attraction is that you’ll get to tick off a few Cairns highlights such as Barron Falls and a trip to Kuranda in an awesome day trip.

A new addition to the Skyrail system is a stop at the Edge Lookout, which gives you incredible views on a glass platform over Barron Falls.

I highly recommend combining the Skyrail to Kuranda with the Scenic Rail back to Cairns. This is the most cost-effective and epic way to explore both attractions and includes hotel transport.

Book the best price online in advance: Combined Scenic Rail and Skyrail Ticket


READ MORE: Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Experience – Complete Guide

2. Visit the Great Barrier Reef (outer Reef)

Forget the Whitsundays— Cairns is truly Australia’s best gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s the most intriguing attraction and the reason why many people come to Cairns in the first place. It’s fair to say that if you’re planning a trip to Cairns, then you have to see the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest living organism and a Unesco World Heritage Site. The tropical coral reef spans nearly 350 000 square kilometres up the Queensland coast and is a truly incredible marine wildlife park which is home to abundant marine life.

Interestingly, the majority of the coral reef is fairly far out to sea in other parts of the state. However, Cairns in Tropical North Queensland is the best place to base yourself since this little seaside town is the closest coastal city on the outer reef.

There are dozens of Great Barrier Reef tours running from the Cairns reef terminal. However, the below is the most popular since you’ll head out in a premium catamaran for a fraction of the cost of some of the other day trips.

Best Outer Reef Deal Currently: Great Barrier Reef Full-Day Trip


3. Visit Australia’s Most Beautiful Beach at Fitzroy Island

Out of all of the incredible islands off Cairns, Fitzroy is my personal favourite. It’s got a touch of everything you’d expect out of an incredible Tropical Far North Queensland island.

You’ve got rainforest hikes, incredible snorkeling and diving, white, sandy beaches, a turtle rehabilitation centre, an epic resort & campground and some of the clearest water you could imagine. It’s also the closest island to Cairns, which makes it super accessible!

Also, if you’ve never heard of it, chances are that you would have still seen it in photos and posters. Nudey Beach, on the tip of the island, has been ranked as Australia’s most beautiful beach several times. It certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Book the cheapest fast-ferry ticket online: Fitzroy Ferry ($85)


If you’re only in Cairns for a few days and don’t know what island to check out, read my guide comparing the best Islands off Cairns.

4. Experience a Scenic Flight Over the Reef

The true scale of the Great Barrier Reef is difficult to comprehend. It’s a common saying that the best way to see the Great Barrier Reef is from the sky— and not just on the flight in.

Scenic flights depart from Cairns airport, which is only a quick 15 to 20-minute drive from town, and the same distance if you’re staying on the Northern Beaches.

Trips usually run between 30-40 minutes, which gives you plenty of time to snap some epic shots of the coral reefs from above. The best part is the planes can fly at a much lower altitude than commercial jetliners, so you’ll get the best possible view.

While I haven’t done one yet, you can also book helicopter tours which are among one of the most popular attractions over the 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!

Get a better deal: Great Barrier Reef Scenic Flight (All-inclusive from Cairns)

Sandy Cay off Cairns on a Plane Flight

READ MORE: Great Barrier Reef Flight – What to Expect & Which One to Book

5. Witness Some of Australia’s Best Waterfalls

Cairns has some of the best waterfalls on the East Coast of Australia. Lucky that, because we all know that Cairns can get HOT, especially in the summer months.

As you might imagine, there are plenty of epic waterfalls to choose from. These range from jungle behemoths to quaint, isolated freshwater swimming holes. The best way to explore the waterfalls is to rent a car. However, if you’d prefer a locally guided day trip, then I’ve summarised some of the best ones below.

Also, below you’ll find some of the highlights, but I’ve also written a comprehensive guide covering all of the best waterfalls in Cairns, including some epic hidden gems you won’t want to miss.

TourPriceWhat’s Included
Most-booked waterfall tour from Cairns$115Josephine Falls, Millaa Millaa, Dinner Falls, Crater Lakes
Cheapest Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Tour$107Josephine Falls, Millaa Millaa, Dinner Falls, Curtain Fig Tree
2D1N Waterfall and Atherton Camping$251Barron Falls, Lake Eacham, Overnight Camping, Peterson Creek (platypus viewing), Curtain Fig Tree, Josephine Falls
West Mulgrave Falls

6. Hike to the Summit of the World’s Tallest Natural Pyramid

If you didn’t spot Walsh’s Pyramid on the flight in, then you won’t miss it when driving around Cairns. This mountain is known as the largest freestanding natural pyramid in the world. And, it’s located just a short drive from town!

If you’re reasonably fit, take the steep hike to the summit. At the top, you’ll get one of the best unobstructed, 360-degree views on offer in Cairns. All in all, it takes approximately 3-4 hours to summit and return, so make sure to plan ahead.



7. Go Hot Air Ballooning For Sunrise

Did you know that Cairns is the best place in Australia to experience hot air ballooning? That’s because the year-round warm weather and clear skies makes for a perfect ballooning climate!

Hot air balloon trips depart from Mareeba, up in the Tablelands but included in a ticket is return hotel transfers. If you’re looking for a way to experience an extra-special sunrise in Cairns, then I can highly recommend these trips by Hot Air. Below you’ll find a link to a blog post that I recently published with loads of photos from this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

These trips are also surprisingly affordable since Hot Air have the largest fleet of balloons in Australia. Go check it out for yourself.

Book best price from Cairns: Hot Air Balloon Trip from Mareeba (hotel transfers included)

hot air balloon cairns

FULL POST: Hot Air Balloon Cairns – Everything You Need to Know

8. Visit the Atherton Tablelands

Just behind the rainforest mountain ranges opposite Cairns are the high and flat regions known as the Atherton Tablelands. Most people don’t know this, but the best rainforest hikes and waterfalls are actually found in this area.

Getting to the Tablelands will require your own transport, but it’s well-worth planning at least a day or two for the region. Many of the things recommended on this list of the best things to do in Cairns are actually found in the Tablelands, so don’t miss it!

Read More: Adventure Ideas in the Atherton Tablelands

9. Visit Green Island

Cairns, where the rainforest meets the reef. There are many islands scattered around the coastline from Cairns, but perhaps none are as iconic as Green island.

Green Island is an incredible cay-island with fringing reef stretching far out from its lush shores. It’s even got its own unique rainforest flora and fauna and some resident turtles that you’ll find chilling in the shallows.

To get here, you’ll need to book a boat leaving from Cairns Harbour. There are several day-trip tours but below I’ve linked to the best-rated and best-value trip to save you time searching.

Book: Full-Day Green Island Catamaran Sailing & Snorkeling Trip for Under $100


READ MORE: Green Island – Your Complete Guide to Great Barrier Reef Island Paradise

10. Go White Water Rafting on the Barron River

One of the best half-day activities in Cairns is this epic 2-hour white water rafting trip down grade 3 rapids on the Barron River.

The great thing about this trip is that it’s super close to town which means it won’t take up your whole day! The Barron Gorge is also one of the most scenic places near Cairns, which means this is always a whitewater rafting experience to remember!

10% OFF: Barron Gorge Whitewater Rafting when you use code: OLLY10

Read More: White Water Rafting (Barron River)

Barron River White Water Rafting Tour Cairns

11. Camp at the Summit of Queensland’s Tallest Mountain

Did you know that Queensland’s tallest peak is just a short drive from Cairns? Located in the ancient Wooroonooran National Park lies Mt Bartle Frere, an epic rainforest-covered mountain with a dedicated hiking trail.

Reaching a total altitude of 1611 above sea-level, it’s a steep and fairly difficult hike, since you start close to sea-level. You can attempt the climb in a day, but it’s better to take your time and camp near the summit for rewarding sunset views across Cairns and The Tablelands.

Based on my experience, hiking to the summit of Mount Bartle Frere was up there with my favourite things to do in Cairns and a must-do activity for anyone chasing for the best views in the area.

Sunrise at Mt Bartle Frere Summit

FULL HIKING GUIDE: Mount Bartle Frere

12. Take a Trip to Kuranda

Kuranda is Cairn’s very own little hippy rainforest town. Although it feels isolated, after only a short 30-minute drive from Cairns, you’ll find yourself exploring unique market stalls, delicious street food and a lively music scene in the midst of the tropical rainforest. In my opinion, a trip to Cairns Australia is just not complete without first checking out Kuranda!

Below are a few of the attractions on offer in this quaint rainforest village.

Read More: Travel Guide to Visiting Kuranda, Australia


13. Jump Aboard The Kuranda Scenic Railway

While you can to Kuranda from Cairns by road, the best way is to combine the Skyrail with the Kuranda Scenic Railway. This combination trip is by far the most-booked activity in Cairns and there isn’t a better way to experience the world’s oldest rainforest so close to the small town of Cairns.

The Kuranda Scenic Rail tracks through pristine rainforest and beneath towering waterfalls in the Barron Gorge. There are a few spots to get off and enjoy the view but the train itself is also a main attraction! The combined trip is also the most cost-effective way to experience both activities and allows you to spend a whole day adventuring in Kuranda.

Book discounted ticket: Scenic Rail ticket only


VISITING CAIRNS? READ: The Ultimate Packing List

14. Explore the World’s Oldest Rainforest

The World Heritage Listed Wet Tropics Area surrounding Cairns is listed as the world’s most ancient rainforest. The Daintree in particular has existed as it is for 180 million years. To comprehend just how old that is, the dinosaurs went extinct just 65 million years ago!

If a hike through the Daintree Rainforest is on your Cairn’s to do list, then you’re in luck. I’ve documented some of the best hikes in the region, from short walks at Mossman Gorge, to strenuous climbs at Devil’s Thumb.

If you had to choose one in-land activity or attraction from Cairns Australia, it’d have to be seeing the Daintree!

Devils Thumb in the Daintree Rainforest

15. Check Out a Barron River Boat Tour

If you make it to Kuranda from Cairns, I highly recommend making time for a Barron River boat tour. These trips are one of the most underrated Cairns attractions and in my opinion, are one of the best ways to experience the Kuranda rainforest.

A river boat trip is also one of the cheapest things to do in Cairns and the Tropical North as far as paid activities go. $20 will get you a 45-minute guided return trip up the Barron River, with plenty of opportunity to spot native wildlife including freshwater crocodiles!

Book: Barron River Boat Tour From Kuranda ($20)


16. Spot a Real Life Dinosaur

Far North Queensland is home to Australia’s own, breathing, living dinosaur— the Cassowary. You might have seen them in wildlife parks before but in Cairns and the Tropical North, they’re locals.

Okay, while you won’t see a cassowary on the Esplanade Boardwalk, you might be lucky enough to spot one if you head out to any of the waterfalls or hikes in this list of best things to do in Cairns. However, spotting a wild cassowary is pretty rare these days. Land clearing, domestic animals and road traffic have reduced the population to nearly as low as 2000!

However, if you want a 99% guarantee of a cassowary sighting, you’ll need to head to Etty Bay, where a small population come to enjoy the tropical sunset each night.


READ MORE: Etty Bay Cassowaries – Where and How to Spot Wild Cassowaries Safely

17. Go Scuba Diving

If you’ve ever wanted to try scuba diving, then what better place to do it than the Great Barrier Reef? While snorkelling trips are always fun, you just can’t compare it to the immersion of diving.

Luckily, some Australia’s best-rated scuba shops run out of Cairns. Surprisingly, trial scuba is pretty cheap and will give you a great taste of the experience. On the other hand, for those who want to go deeper than 12 metres, you could get your PADI Open Water Certificate as well.

What if you’re already certified? Diving day-trips operate from Cairns Fleet Terminal every day and are one of the absolute best activities in Cairns to try!

Book: Best-rated Scuba & Snorkeling Trip From Cairns

Most affordable option for 4-Day PADI Cert: Open Water PADI 4-Day Course on the GBR


REVIEW: Best Great Barrier Reef Tour – Dive Master Review

18. Go on a Croc-Spotting Tour

Far North Queensland is home to the world’s biggest (and most dangerous) reptile, the saltwater crocodile. Locals will tell you not to swim in estuary and river systems because you never know what will be hiding under the surface.

Truthfully though, you’ll have a hard time spotting a salty on your own. But, trust me— they’re there. If you want to see them in the wild for yourself, you’ll want to go on a croc tour. These Cairns activities depart right next to the Daintree River ferry everyday, so make a day out of it!

The company I went with use electric motors which are much quieter than big petrol outboards. They’re also the cheapest at only $30 a ticket! But, they often fill up because people grab a ticket while waiting for the Daintree Ferry. I recommend booking online if you’re set on a Daintree croc-spotting activity from Cairns.

Book: Daintree River Crocodile Tour (Electric-engine: $30)


My Review: Best Daintree Crocodile Tour in FNQ

19. Go Beach Hopping

While the clearest water and best beaches are out on the islands, Cairns still has some awesome beach spots worth visiting. Don’t worry, most have a croc and stinger net so you can still enjoy a swim without a worry! Going beach-hopping from central Cairns is one of the best free things to do in Cairns.

Some of my personal favourites include Trinity Beach, Palm Cove and Ellis Beach. But, if you would prefer to explore some you might not have heard of yet, then make sure to read my guide to the best Cairns beaches too.


20. Grab a Bite at Palm Cove

One of the best places to stay and eat out during your visit to Cairns is on the Northern Beaches. Palm Cove has a tropical vibe with some of the best restaurants in town. This postcard beach has been made famous Australia-wide for its rows of coconut palm trees which line the golden shores.

Palm Cove is also a great spot to base yourself when visiting Cairns Australia. It offers a more relaxed and tropical vibe than the downtown esplanade and has loads of attractions and activities to check out nearby.

Stay at Palm Cove: High-end: Alamanda | Mid-range: Paradise on the Beach | Budget: Flashpackers

Tip: If you’re after a good bite to eat, you won’t find a better pizza than at Il Forno at Palm Cove!


21: Visit the Incredible Frankland Islands

The Frankland Islands are a series of five islands just outside the mouth of the Mulgrave River, south of Cairns. In my honest opinion, Franklin Islands has the best snorkelling out of any of the islands off Cairns! Surprisingly it’s also one not many people tend to visit.

The coral reef here is extremely healthy and abundant with a diverse range of sea life. If you’re looking for the best snorkelling island day-trip, then this is your choice over Fitzroy and Green Island. While I do like them all, the reef here is just hands-down a lot healthier,

10% OFF: Book the only ferry to Frankland online with Backpacker Deals
Code: OLLY10

Frankland Islands Aerial

More: Frankland Islands – Everything You Need to Know

22. Unwind at Lake Placid

Okay, not the lake from the movie. There’s “PROBABLY” no crocs in this lake.

* Update Jan 2021: A local resident and frequent swimmer at Lake Placid has recently been attacked by a crocodile while swimming in Lake Placid. Far North Queensland is a wild place. Remember that crocs could be hiding anywhere, so always be croc-wise.

Lake Placid is a little-visited lake at the base of the Barron Gorge, just a short drive from Cairns. If you’re looking to escape the crowds, unwind and spot some colourful rainforest birds, this is a great bet!

Lake Placid Cairns

23. Visit the Crater Lakes

If you’re planning a trip to the Tablelands from Cairns, then don’t miss Crater Lakes National Park. Chances are, you’ll pass them on the way, just after Gillies Range Road.

Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine are two huge, blue freshwater lakes Crater Lakes surrounded by cool rainforest. Here, you’ll find walking tracks, rare rainforest birds, picnic areas and an awesome freshwater swimming opportunity.

24. Discover a Volcanic Sink Hole at Hypipamee Crater

This particular item on the list of things to do in Cairns requires a bit of a drive. In saying that, it’s well worth visiting if you’re planning a trip to The Tablelands.

Located high on the Evelyn Tableland is an awesome little park with an epic volcanic pipe. It’s said that the deep sink hole was caused by ancient volcanic activity in the region.

There is a short walk to the crater, which also includes a stop at Dinner Falls. However, due to the altitude and dense rainforest, temperatures here are often much cooler than in Cairns, so you might skip the swim in the cooler months.


READ MORE: Dinner Falls and Mount Hypipamee Crater Loop

25. Stop By the Incredible Curtain Fig Tree

Deep in the rainforest near Yungaburra lives an incredible, ancient tree known as the Curtain Fig Tree. This particular fig tree is so huge that it has its own national park designation; the Curtain Fig National Park.

This spot is truly a hidden gem unbeknownst to most visitors but a proud icon for Tablelands locals. Don’t miss it and make sure to add it to your list of must-see Tablelands and Cairns attractions!


READ MORE: Curtain Fig Tree Yungaburra, Tablelands Region

26. Go Canyoning at Behana Gorge

The Behana Gorge is an epic place to spend a day exploring, swimming, and enjoying the tranquility of the Tropical Far North’s amazing rainforests. This gorge is located in the Wooroonooran National Park, just south of Cairns.

While you can visit Behana Gorge and Clamshell Falls for free, the best way to experience it is on an organised canyoning trip from Cairns. This Cairns activity is run by professional local guides who pride themselves on showing you the beauty of this incredible canyon sustainably.


READ MORE: Clamshell Falls on the Behana Gorge Waterfall Track

27. Road Trip to Port Douglas

Port Douglas is another must-visit town in Far North Queensland. Not only will you have easy access to the Low Isles, but the township itself is also one of the most iconic destinations near Cairns.

Highlights include watching the sunset at the famous Port Douglas pier, crocodile spotting on the creek and checking out the popular Four Mile Beach.

Port Douglas is also one of the best places to base yourself if you’re planning trips out to the Daintree. So, if you’ve got time, I’d recommend splitting up your trip to make more time for this epic destination.

Stay in Port Douglas: High-end: Shantara Resort | Mid: Newport Resort | Budget: Global Backpackers

Read: Ultimate Travel Guide to Port Douglas

Read the comprehensive Port Douglas Accommodation Guide to discover the best areas and deals.


28. Take the Scenic Road

The Cairns to Cape Tribulation Drive is up there with the most scenic drives in Queensland, and perhaps Australia. Taking the coastal drive is one of the best things to do in Cairns if you want to see more of the coast.

It’s possible to complete the entire journey in one day. However, it’s probably best to take your time, spending a night in Port Douglas to split it up. Highlights of the journey include seeing the epic beach roads north of Cairns, crossing the Daintree River via a car ferry and seeing where the rainforest meets the reef at Cape Tribulation.

Great Barrier Reef Drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, Queensland Australia
Cairns to Cape Tribulation Coastal Road

READ: Cairns to Cape Tribulation Drive – The Most Scenic Drive in North Queensland

29. Spend a Day at The Low Isles

Another island destination a little closer to Port Douglas is the famous Low Island in the Low Isles. This is another flat, sandy cay island with surrounding reef and its very own resident lighthouse.

There are several boats that depart for the Low Isles from Port Douglas daily. However, the island is never as busy as the islands closer to Cairns like Green Island or Fitzroy. This makes it a perfect day trip for couples who would prefer a bit more privacy.

Book: Luxury Catamaran Sailing Trip to the Lowe Isles

Low Isles, Snorkeling Port Douglas

FULL POST: Complete Guide to The Low Isles

30. Walk the Length of Four Mile Beach

Also located near Port Douglas, Four Mile Beach is one of the widest and longest white-sand beaches near Cairns Australia. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to swim, relax and even catch a wave on a day with good swell.

If you make it to this iconic beach, then I’d also recommend taking the coastal track that wraps around from the northern point of Four Mile Beach to the township of Port Douglas. This track leads to an epic ocean viewpoint which also almost nearly made this list!

4 Mile Beach Port Douglas
Four Mile Beach at Port Douglas

31. Dare a Trip to Babinda Boulders & Devils Pool

Roughly 65 kilometres southwest of Cairns is the quaint town of Babinda. Here, you’ll find one of the best freshwater swimming spots near Cairns.

This is the perfect spot to cool down by swimming in fresh flowing creeks flowing from the foothills of the Bellenden Ker Range. The great thing about this spot is that you’ll have the opportunity to swim in the clear water all year round!

While Babinda Boulders is usually a pretty safe place to swim, Devil’s Pools can get notoriously dangerous in the wet season. Unfortunately, many people have died at this Cairns attraction and aboriginal legend claims the place is haunted.

Babinda Boulders

READ MORE: Babinda Boulders and Devils Pools

32. Go Hiking

As you would have found out by now, Cairns is known for many things. One of the absolute best things to do in Cairns Australia is to go hiking. There are hundreds, if not thousands of epic rainforest trails in the vicinity of Cairns, leading to epic waterfalls, mountain viewpoints and epic sunset spots. In my opinion, going hiking is one of the best activities in Cairns to discover the stunning scenery of the region.

For a complete guide, check out my huge list of all of the best hiking trails in Cairns. Otherwise, below are a few of my favourites close to town.


33. Hike to the Plane Wreckage on Mount William

The Mt William hike is a very little-known trail that branches off from Smiths Track near Stoney Creek, just north of Cairns.

At the top, you’ll find the remains of a 1986 plane crash, which tragically claimed the lives of eight people when it struck the ridgeline 250 metres from the highest point on Mount William. It seems that the wreck has been moved to the summit, where there are now prayer flags and a memorial where one can pay respects.


READ MORE: Mt William Hike Cairns – Plane Wreck Site

34. Drive to Tully Gorge

While the Tully Gorge waterfall lookout was once a Queensland icon, its fame slowly dwindled to once again become a hidden gem, only really for those who really want to make the effort to reach this incredible attraction.

Tully Gorge is a 293-metre rocky gully carved by the Tully River as it runs downstream from the densely forested Cardwell Range. The short walk to the lookout offers some of the most incredible, prehistoric views that have to be seen to be believed.


READ MORE: Tully Gorge Lookout – How to Get Here & What to Expect

35. Go Bungy Jumping

Did you know that Cairns has its very own AJ Hacket Bungy activity (bungee jump)? In fact, Cairns is the ONLY place in Australia where you can bungy jump! So, if jumping off a 50M+ platform has always been on your “bucket list”, then make sure to book a giant leap with this epic adventure activity at the heart of the rainforest just near Cairns’ Northern Beaches.

Book: Cairns Rainforest Bungy Jump


36. See Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef at Cape Tribulation

Stepping right onto a reef-lined tropical beach from the rainforest is a special kind of experience that is hard to come by. The diverse natural beauty, rich history and ancient aboriginal culture of Cape Tribulation makes this a must visit location near Cairns.

Known as the final frontier, Cape Tribulation marks the start of the truly raw Australia. Rich in native flora and fauna, there’s plenty of things to see and experience in Cape Tribulation. If you’re planning a trip to Cairns and looking for attractions, activities and things to do, make the effort and visit this incredible part of the world to see it for yourself!

Book: Daintree, Mossman Gorge & Cape Trib Tour From Cairns

37. Explore Mission Beach and Dunk Island

Are you road-tripping down the Queensland Coast? Perhaps you want to branch out from Cairns and explore what else is on offer in Far North Queensland. If so, then heading down to Mission Beach is a must.

When visiting Mission Beach, I’d highly recommend getting the ferry to Dunk Island. If you do, you’ll leave most of the tourists behind and get to explore one of the Coral Coasts best-kept secret. There’s hikes, snorkelling, an epic sandbar, and even a huge abandoned resort! If you have time, then you could also spend the night camping on Dunk Island.

One of the best parts about visiting dunk Island is that it’s much cheaper to get here than the other Cairns Islands.

You can book a return ferry ticket here for only $40.

Oh, and don’t miss neighbouring Mound Island, a tiny desert island reachable by boat or kayak.

Dunk Island & Mount Island

READ MORE: Exploring Dunk Island: Best Things To See And Do

38: Check Out the Innot Hot Springs

When you think of things to do in Cairns and the Tropical North, I’m sure the last thing you think of is a warm thermal spring!

Located inland in the Atherton Tablelands are the Innot Hot Springs. These are warm springs heated by geothermic energy. They’re free to enter, so if you’re looking for attractions and adventure ideas in the Tablelands on a road trip from Cairns, go check it out!

Innot Thermal Springs

Related: Visiting the Innot Hot Springs

39: Day Trip to the Outback (Chillagoe Caves)

Up for an epic 4WD adventure out west during your visit to Cairns?

Billy Tea Safaris run awesome guided tours that truly go off-the-beaten-path. These trips run to the volcanic region of Undara Volcanic National Park as far west as the Chillagoe Caves. This area is famous for its incredible caves and lava tunnels.

If you’ve got your own car and a bit of time to kill, you certainly won’t regret a trip out to Chillagoe Caves! On the way, make sure to stop by at the Granite Gorge as well!

Chillagoe Cave Tour in the Atherton Tablelands

40: Stock Up on Fresh Produce at Rusty’s Market

Rusty’s Market is a Cairn’s local market with serious South East Asia vibes. Here, you can pick up anything from locally grown produce to exotic fruits! If you like spicy Thai food, I highly recommend the Thai papaya salad– the best I’ve had outside Thailand!

You’ll find rusty’s market on Grafton Street near the Zoom & Wildlife Dome. Opening days are Friday — 5am to 6pm, Saturday — 5am to 6pm and Sunday — 5am to 3pm.

Tip: This is a very popular spot on Sunday mornings where you can often pick up great deals on fresh produce!

Rusty's Markets Cairns

41: Wander Through the Cattana Wetlands

Travellers staying on the Northern Beaches have close access to one of the best nature and bird-watching reserves in Cairns. The Cattana Wetlands is a great spot to wander through and spot native birds and even the occasional crocodile!

You’ll find this hidden wetland park near the university suburb of Smithfield, just 25 minutes north of the CBD.

Catanna Wetlands, Cairns Australia

More: Cattana Wetlands – Wildlife & Walking Tracks

42: Cairns Botanical Gardens

The Cairns botanical gardens is a great place to visit and one of the top things to do since it’s so close to town and the international airport.

While you’ll always find a huge range of diverse tropical plants and lush rainforest on most of the hiking trails in the region, the Cairns Botanic Gardens contains more than 4000 different species!

Better yet, travellers will find printed labels and brochures throughout the park making it the perfect place for nature lovers to learn about native flora.

Butterfly at the botanical gardens, Cairns Australia

43: Walk Through the Cairns Night Markets – Best Thing to do in Cairns At Night

In central Cairns, you’ll find a vibrant night market starting every night after 4:30 pm. If you’re looking for things to do in Cairns at night, this is a great option!

You’ll find the market at 71-75 The Esplanade and they are open nightly until 11:00 pm. Here, you are free to browse seventy retail outlets and loads of different food options. If you’re up for a late snack or looking for a bargain in Cairns, head down to the markets, one of the best free things to do in Cairns!

Cairns night market

44: Check Out the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

One of the best known landmarks in central Cairns is the famous Cairns lagoon. The lagoon is roughly the size of an Olympic swimming pool with a maximum depth of around 1.6 metres.

It’s conveniently located on the Cairns esplanade, and chances are you’ll walk past it while wondering around town. There are toilet facilities and change rooms right next to the pool, making it a great spot to swim and cool down right in the heart of town.

Cairns lagoon on the Esplanade

45: Newest Attraction: Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome

The Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome is one of the newest attractions located right in the heart of town.

This is a unique activity that is known as the world’s first Challenge Ropes Course inside a wildlife habitat. This is an awesome adrenaline and adventure activity with several courses involving tunnels, climbing walls, cargo nets, ziplines and even a 13 meter freefall drop!

Entry ticket: ZOOM & Wildlife Dome – 5x reentry allowed with online booking.

Cairns Zoom Wildlife Dome

46. Stay at Fitzroy Island Resort

Okay, so I’ve already mentioned visiting Fitzroy Island as one of the top things to do in Cairns. However, did you know that staying at the Fitzroy Island Resort is actually one of the best (and most affordable) resort options in Cairns?

There’s so much to do and see on Fitzroy from amazing beaches, tropical rainforest, coral reefs, hikes, and great snorkeling! Therefore to tell you the truth, you’ll want to visit for more than just a day!

The resort itself is also great, and comparatively cheap when you’re looking at the price of other high-end resorts in town. I’d suggest allocating at least a night or two to staying here if you’re still planning your accommodation.

Check price & availability for your dates: Fitzroy Island Resort


47. See Town

While many of the things to do in Cairns on this list are in the surrounding area, sometimes all you want to do is check out and learn about the town itself!

The best way to do this is to get shown around by a local. This Cairns half-day city sightseeing tour is one of the top-rated on the web. This tour is run by an experienced guide and includes pickup in an air-conditioned vehicle.

Cairns city sightseeing tour bus

48: Visit the Cairns Aquarium

If I’m being honest, I hands-down prefer animal interactions when they are in their natural habitat, especially when you’re visiting the Great Barrier Reef!

However, I do understand that snorkeling or diving on the reef isn’t accessible to every visitor. So, if you want to learn about the marine life and coral reef ecosystems, the passionate educators at the Cairns aquarium are world-renowned.

You’ll find the aquarium right near the reef terminal, which is walkable from town. If you want to skip the line, you can book an aquarium ticket online in advance with Get Your Guide.

Cairns aquarium

49: Replant Coral With the Reef Restoration Foundation

If you’re looking for a meaningful way to give back to the planet on your visit to Cairns, consider helping out the Reef Restoration Foundation.

This is an organised team of environmentalists with an aim to regenerate damaged coral reefs in Cairns Australia. They are supported by the James Cook University and is a large team of volunteers dedicated to replanting coral reefs.

If you hold a Rescue Diver certificate or above, you can contact the RRF on their website to help out with coral replanting. I recently went out on a trip with the RRF to replant corals at Fitzroy Island and it was a very meaningful and educational activity.

50: Spend a Night on the Great Barrier Reef Pontoon

Some say it’s polite to leave the best ’til last. Well, if I had to pick one epic activity to do in Cairns Australia that really ticks off the Great Barrier Reef bucket list, spending a night on the reef pontoon would have to be it!

This once in a lifetime tourist attraction takes visitors out for an awesome snorkelling or diving trip on the outer reef. Then, visitors will get to experience the Great Barrier Reef from sunrise to sunset with onboard a premier liveaboard!

Book: Cairns: Overnight Great Barrier Reef Pontoon Experience


Cairns Australia Travel Guide

With all of the epic things to do in Cairns, you’ll undoubtedly be getting keen for your next trip. Below I’ve included a bit of a guide to help you plan and make the most of your trip to Cairns Australia.

Cairns Australia Accommodation Guide – Where to Stay

Planning a trip to Cairns and wondering where to base yourself? Below I’ve listed some of the best options near Cairns Esplanade. I’ve also written a comprehensive accommodation guide to Cairns, so make sure to check that out too before you book!

Also, if you’re looking to stay in Port Douglas, I’ve got some tips on finding great accommodation deals there too.

This hotel offers the best bang-for-buck. In terms of an epic stay for a decent price! The location is perfect, close to the esplanade and features include three swimming pools, two tennis courts, a jacuzzi, a fitness centre and even an award-winning restaurant.

Check price and availability for your dates


Best 5-Star Luxury Without the Price Tag: Pullman Reef Hotel Casino
If luxury and location are what you’re after, you can’t beat the Pullman. It’s rated Cairns’ best hotel and features restaurants, a pool, live music gigs and even a casino! If nightlife is your thing, don’t go past this one.

Check price & availability at Pullman


Stay on the islands: Fitzroy Island Resort

If you’d rather sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands, look no further than the Fitzroy Island Resort. While you can get out here on a day trip, I highly recommend spending the night so you get more time to explore the reef, coral beaches and rainforest walking trails.

Review: What it’s like to Stay on Fitzroy

Check price & availability at Fitzroy Island resort


Best Budget Hostel With a Pool – Gilligan’s Backpackers
The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns is Gilligan’s Backpackers. That’s because this one has a swimming pool, AC, a complete kitchen and a great common area to meet other travellers.

Check price & availability at Gilligan’s



How to Get Around in Cairns?

By far, the best way to experience Cairns and the Tropical North is to have your own car. This will give you the freedom to explore all of the epic attractions and things to do in your own time and at your own leisure. If you’ve flown into the Cairns airport, then your best bet is to grab a rental. Luckily, there are loads of garages and rental companies in town meaning you can usually get a decent price.

However, to get the best rates you have to know where to look. Below you’ll find some links to the best resources for booking rental cars in Cairns.

  • RentalCars.com – a rental car comparison site. Great way to compare rates and availability across companies.
  • Car Next Door – sharing economy car rental app. I usually use this if I need to rent a car anywhere as it always ends up cheaper. Use my link for $15 off your first booking.
  • Spaceships Vans – this one’s for the backpackers and budget travellers. One of the most affordable camper van options in Australia. I’ve had great experiences with them in New Zealand and Australia and always recommend them.
rental van in Cairns, Australia

When is the Best Time to Visit Cairns?

Cairns is a Queensland destination that can be visited at any time of the year. However, it’s important to know that unlike the southern regions of Australia, Cairns has two seasons; wet and dry. That’s because Cairns and the surrounding area of Far North Queensland enjoys a tropical climate.

As a result, always get decent weather, although it can get pretty hot and humid in the wet season, with heavy rain common in the afternoons.

Dry Season: April to November
During this time, weather is usually dry and warm, averaging around 26-28 degrees Celcius. This is a great time to visit as there is less rain and there aren’t usually any dangerous stingers. This is the best time to visit Cairns and explore all of the epic things to do here.

Wet Season: December to March
During these hot and wet summer months, Cairns can see tropical rainfall almost daily. However, recent weather changes mean that Cairns hasn’t had a “real” wet season for a few years now. However, the weather is noticeably hotter, averaging around 32 degrees. If you visit Cairns during the wet season, the waterfalls will have better flow and you’ll generally have less wind at sea, especially around December time. However, keep in mind that tropical cyclones can occur, and you’ll probably want to wear a stinger suit when swimming.

How Many Days in Cairns is Enough?

Of course, you might be wondering “How many days in Cairns is enough? If you want to see and do it all, then I’d recommend spending at least two weeks in Cairns. If you’re rushing it a little and just want to tick off a few bucket list items, then you can choose some of the highlight options for your Cairns itinerary like a reef flight, scuba diving trip or a visit to Fitzroy Island and maybe squeeze them into a week.

Cairns is the adrenaline and adventure capital of Australia. It’s also got some of the most diverse natural wonders in the world; namely the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Combined with all of the hikes, waterfalls, beaches and islands on offer, you’d be silly to rush through this region.

If time isn’t an issue, then I believe the optimal amount of days to say in Cairns is about a month. This will give you plenty of time to explore the best things to do in Cairns Australia and still have enough time to relax and unwind.


How Much Does it Cost to Visit Cairns?

As you probably know by now, I always stick to a pretty low travel budget. This is because I genuinely prefer cheap things to do, like waterfall hikes and snorkelling. If you’re like me, then expect to pay around $70 per day. However, for days where you choose to do some of the more expensive things to do in Cairns, this total budget can get much higher.

I’d say the average traveller visiting Cairns Australia could expect to pay between $120 to $250 per day. But, again, this will depend on accommodation options, as well as any Cairns tours, activities and attractions. The bottom line is that Cairns costs roughly the same as many other tourist destinations in Australia.

Unfortunately, many tourists who visit Cairns tend to rush through this incredible destination. I can understand this, since Queensland and Australia, in general, can be an expensive place to travel to. However, as I found out, most of the best things to do in Cairns are free. So, if you’re on a budget, then there’s no need to rush. Take your time, and start ticking those epic Cairns attractions off your bucket list!

hot air balloon trip from cairns

Beyond Cairns: More Australian Travel Guides and Blogs

That wraps up the full list of the best things to do in Cairns Australia. This post has been updated significantly since I first uploaded it three years ago.

Since then, I’ve been back several times to explore even more incredible Cairns highlights, attractions and activities. After all this time, I can finally say that this is the most comprehensive Cairns travel guide you’ll find on the internet!

Of course, there are things that didn’t quite make this list. You’ll find a bunch of more epic travel guides, hiking guides, waterfall and adventure guides on my Cairns tag page. If you want more information for each Cairns attraction listed in this blog post, remember to head back up and click the links for the complete guides too!

Also, if you feel like there’s an activity or experience that deserved a spot on this list, make sure to let me know by leaving a comment below.

Thanks, and enjoy the Tropical North!

Great Barrier Reef Scenic Flight Tour


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4 thoughts on “50 Best Things to do in Cairns, Australia – Top 2022 Guide”

  1. You visited so many gorgeous places on my wish list! Cairns looks like something from another world, and your photos capture it beautifully!

  2. Hi great read however you may want to update about Lake Placid, crocs have often been seen in this Lake and only in the last week someone was attacked by one

  3. Hi Glenn,

    Thanks for that, I did hear about the attack last week, it’s very unfortunate but I’m glad he’s okay. I’ve put an update in under this attraction. I think it’s important to note though that the man who was attacked swam in Lake Placid 3 times a week for the past 8 years. Either way, it’s definitely a good idea to be croc-wise in FNQ, to be fair you probably wouldn’t catch me swimming here .

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