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Where to Stay in Cairns: Best Areas & Hotels in 2024

Where to Stay in Cairns: Best Areas & Hotels in 2024

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.

Explore where to stay in Cairns from budget hostels in the Cairns CBD to luxurious beachfront resorts and island suites on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns has a reputation for being one of the best tropical holiday destinations in Australia. Over 3 million tourists visit Cairns yearly to see attractions like the Great Barrier Reef, ancient Daintree Rainforest, and Skyrail.

The top areas to stay to enjoy the best things to do in Cairns are the Esplanade & Cairns City for proximity to the Reef Fleet Terminal and day trip departures. Also, Palm Cove is great for relaxing away from the crowds. Or, stay at the beachfront resorts at Fitzroy Island or Green Island to snorkel or scuba dive!

I’ve visited Cairns over a dozen times, published over 100 Cairns travel guides on this blog, and contributed to the Tropical North Queensland Tourism Board. Now, in this guide, I’ll teach you the best areas to stay in Cairns with my current top hotel, resort, and hostel picks for a range of budgets for your visit.

Fitzroy island wharf
Fitzroy Island Resort is one of my favourite places to stay in Cairns!

My Top Cairns Accommodation Picks

Short on time? Below is my quick list of the best hotels in Cairns to suit all budgets and travel styles.

Best areas to stay in cairns inforgraphic
Map of the best areas to stay in Cairns

Rundown of Where to Stay in Cairns

While Cairns is an extremely popular tourist destination in Australia, only around 150,000 people live here. As a result, Cairns has a laid-back, tropical vibe. Locals refer to the city as "town", reflecting the old-school Aussie way of life in the tropics that can be a stark reminder of just how hectic other cities in Australia can get.

For those of you visiting Cairns here's a breakdown of the best areas to book your accommodation.

Cairns Esplanade

The waterfront is where most of the attractions and activities in the city are located. This is the main tourist strip and you'll find plenty of bars, restaurants, and the famous Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. Typically, hotels and resorts on the Esplanade are the most expensive in Cairns since you'll often get waterfront views.

Cairns City

Refers to greater Cairns and the surrounding suburbs. Many of the hotels and accommodation options in Cairns just off the main esplanade are cheaper but are still within walking distance of almost everything.

Palm Cove

Palm Cove is a small beachfront resort town located along Palm Cove Beach, rated the best beach in the world in 2024 by Condé Nast Traveller. Palm Cove is located on the Cairns Northern Beaches, approximately 30 minutes north of the city. It offers a range of bars, resorts, cafes, markets, backpacker hostels, and my favourite II Forno Pizzeria.

Cairns Islands

There are loads of Islands off Cairns to explore when visiting. If you'd like to stay on a tropical Great Barrier Reef Island, then Fitzroy Island, a quick 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns Harbour is a great choice. Alternatively, you can head to Green Island Resort too.

Cairns infographic for which area to stay

Luxury Hotels on Cairns Esplanade

Rydges esplanade resort in cairns, where to stay accommodationRydges Esplanade Resort$$$
Pullman casino cairnsPullman Reef Hotel Casino$$$
Oaks hotel, one of the best hotels in cairnsThe Oaks Hotel$$
Where to stay in cairns, cairns harbourside accommodationHoliday Inn Cairns$$

Rydges Esplanade Resort

  • Area: Cairns Esplanade
  • Best For: Esplanade Resort with it all

The Rydges Esplanade Resort rated one of the best resorts in Cairns for families is located along the Esplanade. A great choice for visitors looking for a place to stay in Cairns with swimming pools, a kids' waterpark, tennis courts, and a fitness centre.

All rooms have a balcony and range from standard twin rooms with mountain views to executive suites with balcony views over the Coral Sea.

Watch the sunset from the balcony or head down to the Cairns Night Markets.

Rydges esplanade resort in cairns, accommodation

Pullman Reef Hotel Casino

  • Area: Cairns Esplanade
  • Best For: Cairns resort with nightlife & bars

The Pullman Reef Hotel is a great place to stay for Cairns visitors chasing great nightlife. This Cairns hotel has an attached casino and four bars with regular live music.

You'll also find a rooftop pool, spa pool, and sauna with huge, comfortable rooms overlooking Cairns or the Trinity Inlet.

Located close to the ferry terminal it is easy to visit the Great Barrier Reef on a day trip or the nearby Fitzroy Island.

Pullman casino cairns

The Oaks Hotel

  • Area: Cairns Esplanade
  • Best For: Rooftop bar and spectacular Lagoon views.

The Oaks Hotel is Cairns' newest hotel. This accommodation option is perfectly located near the boardwalk and the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon.

This is a great option for those looking for a hotel in a prime spot with a resort-esque feel without breaking the bank. Although the rooms are a little more expensive than the other value hotels on this list, the Oaks makes up for it in terms of quality.  

Hotel pickup can be arranged to visit the SkyRail just 15 minutes drive away.

Oaks hotel, one of the best hotels in cairns, where to stay in cairns

Holiday Inn Cairns

  • Area: Cairns Esplanade
  • Best For: Esplanade views without the expensive price tag

Looking for where to stay on the Cairns Esplanade without a huge price tag? Holiday Inn is a great bet, being one of the best-located hotels in the area. Each room has a balcony either overlooking the ocean or the mountains.

You'll also get to enjoy a pool, restaurant, and fitness area.

Located 6 minutes from the airport and 2km to the ferry terminal where you can book epic reef day trips!

Where to stay in cairns, cairns harbourside accommodation
Cairns lagoon on the esplanade

Hotels & Resorts in Cairns City

Girl sunbathing at crystalbrook riley resort in cairnsCrystalbrook Riley$$$
Cairns colonial club, accommodation near cairns cityCairns Colonial Club Resort$$$
Cairns travellers oasis hotel in cairnsTraveller's Oasis$$$
The red sparrow 2, cairnsThe Red Sparrow 2$$
Budget backpackers in cairns, mad monkey backpacker villageMad Monkey Backpacker Village$
Mad monkey backpacker village dorm roomGilligan's Backpackers$

Crystalbrook Riley

  • Area: Cairns City
  • Best For: Celebrity treatment & world-class service

Update: The Crystalbrook Riley's sister resort, the Crystalbrook Bailey is now the only luxury hotel in Cairns that is dog-friendly! Although not mentioned on this list it is still a recommended place to stay.

The Crystalbrook Riley is one of the most prominent buildings you'll spot near the waterfront in Cairns. This epic 5-star hotel features three restaurants, a lagoon pool and private beach, a day spa, and a 24-hour fitness center.

The highlight of staying at Crystalbrook is by far the service. The reviews are outstanding and definitely worth every dollar.

If you stay at the Crystalbrook, head up to the rooftop bar known as Roccos. This famous bar in Cairns serves delicious cocktails my favourite being the Baklava.

Crystalbrook riley, cairns accommodation guide

Cairns Colonial Club Resort

  • Area: Cairns City
  • Best For: Resort value at a lower cost

Located just a 10-minute drive from the city center, Cairns Colonial Club is a tropical resort you can often book for under $200! I've included it on this list of where to stay in Cairns because it has over 7,000 great ratings and offers excellent value for money.

This affordable resort is set on 11 acres and has 3 lagoon pools and a tasty free breakfast. There's also a great poolside cocktail bar that is a favourite standout in the reviews.

For those looking for things to do, you can explore the Botanical Gardens and Red Arrow Track 2 km from the resort.

Cairns colonial club, accommodation near cairns city, where to stay in cairns

Traveller's Oasis

  • Area: Cairns City
  • Best For: Cheap double rooms close to town

Traveller's Oasis offers some of the best budget rooms for accommodation in Cairns.

While they offer very cheap dorm rooms, you can also pick up great value double rooms. The grounds have a pool and offer an airport shuffle.

Just a 10-minute walk from The Esplanade and 400 m from Cairns Central Shopping Centre and Greyhound bus stop.

If you're looking for where to stay in Cairns on a budget, consider checking out the Traveller's Oasis!

Cairns travellers oasis hotel in cairns

The Red Sparrow 2

  • Area: Cairns City
  • Best For House for families looking to explore

I've added this option because many families sometimes prefer renting an entire house for their Cairns getaway. The Red Sparrow 2 is the best-rated holiday house in Cairns and offers tremendous value.

This holiday home is just a few hundred meters from the waterfront and includes 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, and a family room.

Visitors looking to explore all the epic things to do in the area will love this place as there's a spot for your rental car too!

Cairns full house accommodation red sparrow 2

Mad Monkey Backpacker Village

  • Area: Cairns City
  • Best For: Cheap dorms at a great location

Truthfully, Mad Monkey Backpacker Village is a perfect budget hostel in Cairns. It's great for backpackers looking for a central location with plenty of features. You can rent a bike for free and use the free fitness center!

Did I mention there was a pool too? There's a reason why Mad Monkey Backpacker Village is one of the most booked budget hostels in Cairns!

It is close to the must-visit Rusty's Market which runs Friday-Sunday.

Mad monkey backpacker village dorm room

Gilligan's Backpackers

  • Area: Cairns City
  • Best For: Great location and awesome backpacker vibe

Gilligan's stands out for its great range of rooms and its epic lagoon pool.

Gilligan's always has a great vibe and the kitchen, pool, and lounge area are great places to meet people. It has a nightclub that hosts events that might be worth checking out for your selected dates.

The location is top-notch. You can easily walk to The Esplanade and many great cafes and restaurants in the city.

Gilligans backpacker resort, where to stay in cairns

Beachside Hotels in Palm Cove

Alamanda luxury resort near cairnsThe Alamanda$$$
Outdoor seating and swimming pool at paradise on the beach resortParadise on the Beach Resort$$
Flashpackers in cairns northern beaches hostelFlashpackers$$

The Alamanda

  • Area: Palm Cove
  • Best For: Luxury resort apartments by the beach

The Alamanda by Lancemore is located in Palm Cove, approximately 35 minutes from the Cairns Esplanade. This resort is one of the best offerings for those looking for fully-equipped apartments in a resort setting.

There are three swimming pools, a day spa, a hot tub, and a bar. Each apartment has its own balcony with pool or ocean views.

Many cafes, bars and restaurants are within walking distance and the resort sits opposite the beach which is a great place to watch the sunset.

Alamanda luxury resort near cairns hotel, where. To stay in cairns

Paradise on the Beach Resort

  • Area: Palm Cove
  • Best For: Beach resort at Palm Cove

If you'd prefer palm-lined beaches and waterfront restaurants to nightlife, then I highly recommend booking accommodation in Palm Cove.

It's rated one of the best-value resorts in Palm Cove that offers beach-view studios with balconies overlooking the gardens.

Paradise on the Beach has a pool and is close to Il Forno Pizzeria, my absolute favourite restaurant in the Far North.

Outdoor seating and swimming pool at paradise on the beach resort


  • Area: Palm Cove
  • Best For: Beach vibe hostel

Flashpackers on Palm Cove is a great backpacker hostel with one of the best vibes in Cairns. It's located on the beachfront near the swimming nets and close to lots of bars and restaurants. There's a pool on the property and visitors can book private rooms or beds in dorms.

There's a great common area at Flashpackers and an outside BBQ where you can meet other travelers.

Flashpackers in cairns northern beaches hostel
Palm cove between cairns and cape tribulation

Accommodation on Cairns Islands

Fitzroy island resortFitzroy Island Resort$$
Bedroom suite at the green island resort, cairnsGreen Island Resort$$$

Fitzroy Island Resort

  • Area: Fitzroy Island
  • Best For: Great Barrier Reef island resort

If you've come to Cairns chasing tropical island escapes then Fitzroy Island is one of the best places to stay! Imagine snorkeling with green sea turtles right off the beach followed by sunset cocktails.

The resort offers an outdoor swimming pool overlooking the ocean and large modernly designed rooms with private bathrooms. Scuba diving, water sports, and a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre can be enjoyed on the island.

A visit to Fitzroy Island is a must for anyone coming to the Tropical North!

Read: What It’s Like Staying at Fitzroy Island Resort

Note: While you don't have to stay here to visit the island, this incredible place deserves at least two days of exploring and the resort is hands down one of the best in Cairns!

Fitzroy island resort

Green Island Resort

Nestled on Green Island just a 45-minute ferry ride away from Cairns, you'll find the breathtaking Green Island Resort.

This 4-star resort boasts beautifully designed rooms with garden views. There are 2 pools to enjoy and a restaurant serving delicious meals which the friendly staff can arrange for you to eat on the beach!

Additionally, the resort offers Scuba Diving and snorkeling equipment and services to explore the rich underwater biodiversity of the fringing reef surrounding the island.

You might also like to visit Marineland Melanesia near the resort, housing the largest captive crocodile in Australia Cassius– who is believed to be over 110 years old!

Bedroom suite at the green island resort, cairns
Things to do in cairns, australia

My Hotel Selection Process

  • Accommodation Criteria: I select hotels & resorts in Cairns based on best current prices, location & proximity to main attractions like the day trips to the Great Barrier Reef Islands, waterfalls, and activities like the Skyrail. I scan hundreds of hotel listings to review the current reviews, ratings, and recommendations.
  • My Experience: I've traveled in Cairns for over a year and stayed in many listed resorts and hotels. I've also read hundreds of reviews, comparing them based on my criteria to select hotels offering the best value for money.
  • Top Reviews: All selected hotels maintain exceptional ratings on booking sites such as, Expedia, & I regularly revisit the listings and refresh my selections to guarantee that every hotel consistently upholds a high-quality standard.
  • Local Insights: My hotel selections are based on online listings and word of mouth with recommendations from other travelers, local tour operators, and my personal experiences traveling around Cairns.

Read more about how I review & select hotels & accommodations.

Years Traveling
Hotels Stayed
Olly gaspar

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

FAQ About Staying in Cairns

What are the best areas to stay in Cairns for first-time visitors?

Cairns Esplanade and Cairns City are ideal for first-time visitors. The Esplanade offers waterfront views and is within proximity of all the best attractions, while the city area provides a variety of lower-priced accommodation options within walking distance of many sights.

Can I stay on a Great Barrier Reef island?

Fitzroy Island and Green Island offer resort accommodations directly on the Great Barrier Reef. These islands are perfect for snorkeling, diving, and enjoying tropical paradise settings.

Is Cairns suitable for family stays?

Cairns is very family-friendly. The Rydges Esplanade Resort is great for families, offering pools and a waterpark. The Red Sparrow 2 holiday home in Cairns City is ideal for families looking to explore the area and wind down in their own private space.

What unique experiences can I enjoy in Cairns?

Cairns offers unique experiences like the Daintree & Mossman Gorge Trip to explore ancient rainforests or a Scenic Reef Helicopter Flight for breathtaking aerial views of the Great Barrier Reef. The Fitzroy Island summit hike is also a must-do if you're staying on the island. There are waterfalls like the Crystal Cascades that are worth exploring within a 1-hour drive from Cairns.

When is the best time to visit Cairns?

The best time to visit Cairns is during the dry season, from May to October. This period offers sunny days with lower humidity, making it ideal for exploring outdoor attractions like the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. If you're not used to the heat this is a great time as the wet season in January brings extreme heat and high humidity which may affect your travel plans.

Can you swim at Cairns Beaches?

As you may or not be aware Cairns is home to some of the most dangerous animals in the world - the saltwater crocodile, Box Jellyfish, and Irukandji. It is important to ALWAYS swim inside the nets or Surf Life Saving flags that are provided and wear a stinger suit during the months of November to May. Check the signs (lifeguards update these daily) before entering to ensure it is safe. Always check for updates before visiting creeks or waterfalls as many saltwater crocodiles have been found in popular swimming locations after heaving rain seasons.

The Best Cairns Tours & Outdoor Experiences

Here's my 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 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.

More Travel & Adventure Guides to Cairns

I hope you have enjoyed this accommodation guide to where to stay in Cairns Australia.

For more travel guides, adventure inspiration, and activity ideas in Far North Queensland, check out some of my other articles below!

Pinterest pin for the best places to stay in cairns
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.