A beginner’s travel guide to 60+ fun things to do in Cairns, Australia! Explore epic waterfalls, untamed rainforests, beautiful beaches, & scenic reef-lined islands at Australia’s best tropical travel destination!
In fact, I’ve spent several months exploring Cairns and have been back countless times. This is one of my favorite destinations in Australia, and if you love nature, the outdoors, and real Aussie adventure, this guide is for you.
- Cairns Video: Top 10 Things to See & Do
- 60 Amazing Things to Do in Cairns Australia
- 1. Visit the Great Barrier Reef (Outer Reef)
- 2. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
- 3. Nudey Beach & Fitzroy Island (Australia’s Most Beautiful Beach)
- 4. Cairns Scenic Flight Over the Great Barrier Reef
- 5. Discover 30+ Epic Waterfalls Around Cairns
- 6. Cape Tribulation (See Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef)
- 7. Walsh’s Pyramid – The World’s Tallest Natural Pyramid
- 8. Drive the Bloomfield Track
- 9: Frankland Islands Boat Trip from Cairns
- 10. The Atherton Tablelands – The Best Day Trip From Cairns
- 11. Cairns Road Trip to Port Douglas
- 12. Cairns Hot Air Ballooning Over Mareeba
- 13. Green Island
- 14. White Water Rafting on the Barron River
- 15. Cairns Great Barrier Reef Cruise & Helicopter Flight Combo
- 16. Mount Bartle Frere – Queensland’s Tallest Mountain
- 17. Sightseeing & Hiking In Kuranda
- 18. The Kuranda Scenic Railway – Best Cairns Activity for Families
- 19. The Daintree Rainforest
- 20. Barron River Boat Tour
- 21. Spot a Real-Life Dinosaur – The Cassowary
- 22. Scuba Diving on the Reef
- 23. Crocodile Spotting Tour (Solar Whisper)
- 24. See the Amazing Beaches Near Cairns
- 25. Wildlife Spotting at Night
- 26. Grab a Bite at Palm Cove
- 27. Lake Placid
- 28. Lake Eacham & the Crater Lakes
- 29. Hypipamee Crater & Dinner Falls
- 30. The Ancient Curtain Fig Tree
- 31. Canyoning at Behana Gorge
- 32. The Great Barrier Reef Drive (Cairns to Cape Trib)
- 33. The Low Isles
- 34. Four Mile Beach
- 35. Tandem Skydiving Over the Daintree Rainforest
- 36. Babinda Boulders & Devils Pool
- 37. Go Hiking Around Cairns (36+ Epic Trails)
- 38. The Plane Wreckage on Mount William
- 39. Tully Gorge
- 40. Cairns Bungy Jumping – Best Adrenaline Activity
- 41. Mission Beach and Dunk Island
- 42: The Innot Hot Springs
- 43: Day Trip to the Outback From Cairns (Chillagoe Caves)
- 44: Fresh Produce at Rusty’s Market
- 45: The Cattana Wetlands
- 46: Cairns Botanical Gardens
- 47: The Night Markets – What to do in Cairns At Night
- 48. Paronella Park at Mena Creek Falls
- 49: The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
- 50: Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome
- 51. Thala Beach Nature Reserve
- 52. Stay at The Fitzroy Island Resort
- 53. Let a Local Show You Where to Go in Cairns (Sightseeing)
- 54: The Cairns Aquarium
- 55: Help the Reef Restoration Foundation
- 56: Spend a Night on the Great Barrier Reef Pontoon
- 57: Vlasoff and Upolu Cay
- 58. Crawford’s Lookout in Wooroonooran National Park
- 59. Horse Riding at Cape Tribulation
- 60. Day Trip to Cardwell Spa Pools
- How to Get Around in Cairns
- What to do in Cairns Without a Car
- 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
- Plan a Trip to Cairns
- Beyond Cairns: More Things to Do In Australia & FNQ
I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. I visit every destination I write about & handpick all recommendations.
Cairns Video: Top 10 Things to See & Do
If you don't want to read the whole guide then below is a video featuring my top 10!
60 Amazing Things to Do in Cairns Australia
Visit the oldest rainforest in the world in the Daintree National Park. Visit Cape Tribulation, Mossman Gorge and get an included cruise.
3. Great Barrier Reef by Catamaran Top-Pick
Visit the outer reef and snorkel or scuba dive at two pristine reef locations. You might even get lucky and meet the local Maori Wrasse like we did in the photo.
1. Visit the Great Barrier Reef (Outer Reef)
2. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
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 Around Cairns
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 DiscoverCars 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. Drive the Bloomfield Track
If you're up for a 4x4 rainforest adventure, they don't come as epic as the Bloomfield Track.
This is a coastal 4x4 drive to Wujal Wujal starting at the end of Cape Tribulation and is the starting point of the wild drive to the tip (Cape York Peninsula). Of course, you're going to need an off-road rig for the Bloomfield Track, especially if you're planning to tackle it during the Wet Season.
Otherwise, there is an awesome 4x4 Bloomfield Track tour you can book with Billy Tea Safaris, one of the best activities in the Tropical North!
9: Frankland Islands Boat Trip from Cairns
10. The Atherton Tablelands - The Best Day Trip From Cairns
11. 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
12. Cairns Hot Air Ballooning Over Mareeba
13. Green Island
14. White Water Rafting on the Barron River
15. 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.
16. Mount Bartle Frere - Queensland's Tallest Mountain
18. The Kuranda Scenic Railway - Best Cairns Activity for Families
19. The Daintree Rainforest
20. Barron River Boat Tour
21. Spot a Real-Life Dinosaur - The Cassowary
22. Scuba Diving on the Reef
23. Crocodile Spotting Tour (Solar Whisper)
24. See the Amazing Beaches Near Cairns
25. Wildlife Spotting at Night
Tropical Far North Queensland is home to many native creatures found nowhere else on earth. While everyone knows the famous cassowary and saltwater crocodile, some animals, like the illusive Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo are a little trickier to spot.
That's why I recommend all nature lovers to book this guided Atherton Tablelands wildlife tour departing from Cairns daily.
This guided trip is run by a professional wildlife guide through the afternoon and into the evening, where you can take a walk through the wild rainforest in the dark!
26. Grab a Bite at Palm Cove
27. Lake Placid
28. Lake Eacham & the Crater Lakes
29. Hypipamee Crater & Dinner Falls
30. The Ancient Curtain Fig Tree
31. Canyoning at Behana Gorge
32. The Great Barrier Reef Drive (Cairns to Cape Trib)
33. The Low Isles
Not Sure Which Cairns Island to Visit?
Read my comprehensive guide breaking down the top 9 Islands off Cairns to help you decide!
34. Four Mile Beach
35. Tandem Skydiving Over the Daintree Rainforest
Up for an epic adrenaline-fueled activity in Cairns? Book this once-in-a-lifetime tandem sky diving activity, jumping 15,000 feet over the ancient Daintree Rainforest.
If you ask me, Cairns is one of the best places in the world to tick this one off your bucket list. Firstly, it's much cheaper than in the southern states, and secondly, you'll get to witness the might of the Great Barrier Reef and aerial views of the ancient Daintree in a 60-second freefall.
36. Babinda Boulders & Devils Pool
37. Go Hiking Around Cairns (36+ Epic Trails)
38. The Plane Wreckage on Mount William
39. Tully Gorge
40. Cairns Bungy Jumping - Best Adrenaline Activity
41. Mission Beach and Dunk Island
42: The Innot Hot Springs
43: Day Trip to the Outback From Cairns (Chillagoe Caves)
44: Fresh Produce at Rusty's Market
45: The Cattana Wetlands
Tip: Book the Cairns Airport Shuttle in Advance
Uber is limited and taxis are very pricey in Far North Queensland.
So, if you're Looking for the cheapest and easiest way to get to your accommodation from Cairns Airport, book your transfer in advance. There's also a shared Port Douglas shuttle bus as well.
46: Cairns Botanical Gardens
47: The Night Markets - What to do in Cairns At Night
48. Paronella Park at Mena Creek Falls
José Paronella’s had a dream. He wanted to build a castle and chose to do just that in this special part of Australia.
Paronella Park is a unique attraction situated on Mena Creek, approximately south of Cairns near Innisfail. This is a castle surrounded by tropical gardens created by José all the way back in the early 1900s.
Today, you can tour the castle and surrounding gardens, tennis courts, bridges, and tunnels beside Mena Creek Falls, surrounded by over 7,500 tropical plants.
49: The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
50: Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome
51. Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Located along the Great Barrier Reef drive between Cairns and Port Douglas is the Thala Beach Nature Reserve. This is a beautiful palm tree forest and resort where you can take stunning nature walks with a professional guide, or join in on Australia's only coconut tour!
If you stay at the resort, you'll get all of the activities included, but you can also show up and join in for a fee.
52. Stay at The Fitzroy Island Resort
53. 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 afterward!
54: The Cairns Aquarium
55: Help the Reef Restoration Foundation
56: Spend a Night on the Great Barrier Reef Pontoon
57: 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!
58. 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.
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 Palmerston 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.
59. 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.
60. 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.
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!
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.
- DiscoverCars.com - Great way to compare rates and availability across dealership companies.
- Spaceships Vans - This one's for 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.
- Jucy Vans - Another very popular van rental company with a big yard near the CBD.
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 nontouristy 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.
Below are links to the hikes I haven't mentioned yet in this Cairns to-do list.
- Kahlpahlim Rock (Lambs Head)
- Turtle Rock
- Mount Sorrow at Cape Tribulation
- Ivan Evans Walk/Waddlebla Trail
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 are 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, Aquarium, 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 city's name very differently to the way Americans would. The proper way to say it is: "keahnz"– without the "r".
Plan a Trip to Cairns
Still in the planning stages of your trip to Cairns and the Tropical North? Here's a quick list of essential travel resources that I use to plan and book all my travels around the world independently.
Flights: Find & compare flight deals to Cairns International Airport using Skyscanner. Use the "search by month" feature to discover the cheapest day to fly.
Hostels: When it comes to scoring epic deals on hostels and cheap stays your secret weapon is Hostelworld. If you're traveling to Cairns to meet people, use the “See Who's Going” function.
Travel Insurance: HeyMondo is my top recommendation for travel insurance for Cairns and the Wet Tropics. They've got your back with comprehensive coverage, from unexpected flight hiccups to those "oops" moments. Click the link to get 5% OFF your policy.
Internet & Connectivity: Stay connected as soon as you land in Queensland with Airalo's eSIMS. Aussie sims will work. But if you're coming from overseas, I'd download their app and grab an eSIM before you set foot on Australian soil.
Car Rental: Don't overpay for a rental at the airport. Compare rental car prices across all dealerships in Cairns and Port Douglas. Use DiscoverCars to choose the perfect ride for your journey, whether it's a compact car or an SUV for off-road adventures.
Transportation: Public transport is limited to the natural attractions around Cairns and its best to use tour companies or rent a car. However, if you're arriving at the airport, or need a transfer between Cairns and Port Douglas, use the popular Cairns & Port Douglas shuttle.
To learn more about independent travel to anywhere else in the world, read my ultimate step-by-step guide on how to plan a trip.
Beyond Cairns: More Things to Do In Australia & FNQ
- Top Things to do in Port Douglas - a comprehensive guide to the sleepy Far North Queensland town of Port Douglas
- Cape Tribulation Travel Guide - discover where the rainforest meets the reef at one of my favourite places in Australia
- Cairns Hiking Guide - a huge list of epic rainforest, waterfall, and lookout hikes in Cairns
- Cairns Waterfalls - a huge list of epic waterfalls that I've visited in Cairns and the surrounding tropics.
- Cairns Islands - discover my favorite Great Barrier Reef islands near Cairns and Port Douglas
- Magnetic Island Travel Guide - your ultimate resource to visiting "Maggie" near Townsville.
- Best Things to do in the Atherton Tablelands - my guide to one of Far North Queensland's most underrated destinations
- Accommodation Resources: Discover where to stay in Cairns, the best hotels in Port Douglas and my Cape Tribulation accommodation guide.