Looking for things to do in Cairns? After our recent visit, we felt like we needed to share all of the most amazing places to visit in Cairns, Australia that will certainly blow your mind!
When we previously visited Cairns six years ago, we hardly did anything because we didn’t do much research. This time around we did our research and we were blown away by the absolute jaw-dropping places to visit in this incredible part of Australia. Luckily, you don’t need to spend much time trying to work out where to go in Cairns. We’re going to share all of the must-visit places in Cairns and the surrounding areas!
Don’t do what we did the first time we visited and just stay in Cairns city! Either jump on a tour or hire a car, go exploring and make the most of an epic holiday to Cairns.
Tropical North Queensland is home to many of the ‘best in Australia’ or ‘best in the world’ places. Here are some of these places we mention in this guide.
It’s no surprise Sir David Attenborough said one of his favourite places on the planet is Tropical North Queensland!
Explore two world heritage sites from Cairns – Great Barrier Reef and The Wet Tropics
The world’s oldest rainforest at the Daintree Rainforest.
Snorkel, dive, or fly over one of the world’s seven natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef.
Cairns is the only place you can swim with dwarf minke whales in the world.
The Tully River is home to Australia’s best white water rafting.
Discover the most diverse geology in the world at Chillagoe Caves.
Explore the oldest lava tube systems in the world at the Undara Experience.
Have fun at the world’s first Challenge Ropes Course in a wildlife park at Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome.
Climb the highest free-standing pyramid in the world at Walsh’s Pyramid.
Australian Geographic named Daintree Rainforest Aerial Walkway as one of the top 10 skywalks in Australia!
Drive along one of THE best scenic drives in Queensland on the magical Bloomfield Track.
Photograph the widest waterfall in Australia at Millstream Falls.
Hike one of the best walks in Australia at Hinchinbrook Island.
Australia’s only multi-person jungle swing at AJ Hackett.
Go to the longest-running Aboriginal cultural festival in Australia in the town of Laura.
Phew… that’s a lot to take in.
When To Visit Cairns
Although it might sound like the best idea to visit Cairns is during the day season between July – September with the best weather conditions to visit the Great Barrier Reef, we have also visited during the wet season in the Christmas holidays.
It might be hot and humid to visit in December but there’s something pretty magical about going to the wild swimming spots and Daintree National Park when it’s wet as the rainforest comes alive. You can check out our guide for visiting Cairns in the wet season to see what it’s really like. The good news is that accommodation is much cheaper to visit with less tourists around.
And although many people visit Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef, we were more blown away by the rainforest to be honest. It’s honestly absolutely incredible! We 100% recommend visiting the lesser-known Southern Great Barrier Reef Islands if you get a chance. Lady Elliot Island is fantastic for snorkelling and diving, Heron Island for snorkelling and Wilson Island for luxury adults-only stay! We’ve stayed at them all and loved them!
As we said, we’re going to break this article down into various areas so you can see that there are so many things to do in Cairns and in the surrounding towns. We’ve actually had to cut down this article since we made this map, so luckily for you, you’ll get to see where all of the best spots are in this map!
Firstly, check out our Cairns map so you can see where the majority of the places we mention in this post are located!
There’s no beach in Cairns
Just an FYI but there’s no beach in Cairns which is why everyone goes to the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. You will find beaches in Palm Cove, Port Douglas and in the Great Barrier Reef Islands, but personally I would head to the wild swimming spots because they truely are magical! We’ll mention more about it below in this article.
Best Things To Do In Cairns
Cairns Australia is the perfect place to base yourself if you want to go to Great Barrier Reef islands or go on tours from Cairns. There are loads of resorts and backpacker accommodation to choose from, as well as plenty of restaurants to discover. Although the jewel to visiting Cairns isn’t visiting Cairns city itself, what we love about this area the places to visit nearby.
If you don’t want to do any tours, think about hiring a car and go exploring yourself! You might like to base yourself in either Palm Cove, Atherton Tablelands or Port Douglas.
1. Helicopter Ride Over Great Barrier Reef
We went on a helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns when we first visited six years ago and it was honestly the best thing we did during that trip to see Tropical North Queensland from above. For us, it was a much better experience than being on a boat snorkelling or scuba diving because you get to see how beautiful the reef truly is from above. I wouldn’t hesitate to do this once in a lifetime experience again!
There are quite a few options to choose from when booking a helicopter flight over Great Barrier Reef. Here are the most popular bookings below.
One of the best things to do in Cairns is to head over to the Great Barrier Reef Islands. But, which one is best for you?
With Green Island and Fitzroy Island being the most popular Great Barrier Reef Islands to visit from Cairns, make sure you check out our guide for which one to visit.
While both Cairns islands offer up similar day tours, you’ll want to make sure you visit the best one to suit you. If you’re looking for things to do in Cairns, both islands are some of the most popular day trips.
4. Cairns Skydiving
I remember when I was a backpacker in Australia, everyone told me how I had to go skydiving in Cairns. You know why? It’s because you’ll have epic views of the Great Barrier Reef to enjoy during the experience! Tick off one of the best Cairns attractions you need to do. Find out more about skydiving in Cairns and prebook to secure your spot.
3. Great Barrier Reef Catarmaran Cruise Day Trip
See the Great Barrier Reef on a premium catamaran cruise! You’ll sail to two outer reef locations and have a chance to snorkel, swim or dive. In this all-day trip to Great Barrier Reef from Cairns, you’ll have lunch prepared by an onboard chef as well as morning tea and afternoon tea, and a snorkel tour led by a guide during the trip. Find out more about this really popular day trip from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef.
5. Cairns Overnight Snorkel And Dive Trip
There’s no better way to experience the Great Barrier Reef than to go on an overnight liveaboard boat trip! You’ll be taken to the Outer Great Barrier Reef which is the best spot for snorkelling! Enjoy between 2-5 drives or snorkel sessions EACH day and even do a night dive to hopefully see some of the sharks! Spend time relaxing on the sun decks or in the bar, expect to eat a lot and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience. Find out more about the overnight Great Barrier Reef experience.
6. Swim With Dwarf Minke Whales
Did you know the only place you can swim with dwarf minke whales in the world is from Cairns? You’ll only get a few months of the year to experience the opportunity to come close to such a rare animal. July to July is peak time to see them but they can be found from May to August. Find out more about swimming with dwarf minke whales here.
7. Bungy Like Zac Efron Did
I think Zac Efron literally put the AJ Hackett bungy jump on the global map recently when he took the plunge with his brother. To be honest, AJ Hackett has been in Cairns for a really long time, as I remember it being a Cairns institution when I was. abackpacker years ago! The 50m drop certainly isn’t one of the biggest Bungy jumps in the world, but it’s one of the most popular fun Cairns tourist attractions. Book your bungy tickets here to secure the experience.
8. Fly Through The Rainforest On A Giant Swing
If the idea of bungy jumping in Cairns isn’t your thing but you’re looking for fun Cairns activities, you might like to try the AJ Hackett Giant Swing instead. Bring up to two friends as you drop 45 metres in 3.5 seconds through the rainforest and up to 120km/h. This is Australia’s only multi-person jungle swing! Find out more about the Giant Swing at Aj Hackett in Cairns here.
9. Enjoy The FREE Cairns Lagoon
One of the best free things to do in Cairns is to chill out at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. This is an awesome swimming pool in the heart of Cairns! It makes a great day for anyone looking to laze around for the day in the sun.
There are FREE fitness classes here such as Aqua Fit, Zumba, Pilates and Yoga! Check the Government website here for more details. Visit Cairns Lagoon on a Saturday morning for the Esplanade Markets to pick up some gifts to take back home.
10. Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome
We’ve got another world’s first coming your way! Welcome to Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome which is the world’s first Challenge Ropes Course in a wildlife park. Located on the rooftop of The Reef Hotel Casino, expect a zip line right through the park. Home to koalas, cockatoos and snakes, learn about Aussie animals before jumping 13 metres free fall from a tower.
11. Jump Aboard The Savannahlander Train
The Savannahlander train has got to be one of the best rail journeys in Australia! The unique outback rail experience departs from Cairns on a weekly basis. The fantastically restored 1960s train climbs the Kuranda Range on a four day journey out to Chillagoe Caves, Undara Experience and Cobbold Gorge. I wish we had known about this experience before we visited Cairns as we would have totally done it. Next time for sure!
12. One For The Adventurers
If you’re looking for Cairns tours for adventurers, then a quad bike and white water rafting tour could be the best option for you! Spend the morning off roading on quad bikes and spend the afternoon white-water rafting in Barron Gorge National Park. Transfers from your Cairns accommodation and afternoon is included in this fun day trip from Cairns.
13. Explore Rainforestation Nature Park
We loved how there are many Aboriginal experiences in Cairns to choose from. When you visit Kuranda which is just a 25 minute drive from Cairns, you can join the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience and learn from the oldest living culture in the world! Learn bush remedies, have a go at spear throwing and learn how to use a boomerang in stunning scenery.
15. Kuranda Scenic Railway
One of the most popular things to do in Cairns Australia is to go aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway which make for a brilliant day trip. Opened in 1891, it’s a must-do Cairns attraction you need to put on your list. We would have done it if it wasn’t raining when we visited. The spectacular journey takes you through dense rainforest, steep ravines and some of the oldest rainforests in the world in The Wet Tropics.
You can jump on the train in the centre of Cairns and it will take you up through the Atherton Tablelands and to Kuranda Station, taking about 2 hours. Jump off at Barron Falls as you won’t want to miss it before continuing onto Kuranda Station. From here you can take the Skyrail which we’ll talk about below. Make sure you pre-book your Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail Pass here before you go.
16. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Another one of the most popular things to do in Cairns Australia is to experience the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. The 7.5km scenic Cairns tourist attractions take you above Barron Gorge National Park and into The Wet Tropics, a world heritage area. This multi-award winning touristy thing to do in Cairns is a fantastic opportunity to visit Kuranda and see the absolutely impressive Barron Falls from above. Before you go, don’t forget to pre-book your tickets to get onto the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
17. Barron Falls
Either jump off the Kuranda Scenic Railway at Barron Falls or drive there and witness one of the best waterfalls in Australia above the lush rainforest! We were blown away by this Cairns waterfall and couldn’t believe how impressive it really is. There are quite a few viewing platforms from which to view the falls, but I think it would be best seen from the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
18. Crystal Cascades & Fairy Falls
Two of the most popular waterfalls and swimming spots near Cairns are Crystal Cascades and Fairy Falls. Located just a 20-minute drive from Cairns along the Freshwater Creek, it’s a 3.1km return hike to reach both swimming spots. There are a few other pools along the way but I know Fairy Falls has become the hidden pool, although I’m not too sure how hidden it is due to Instagram.
19. Eat At Prawn Star For Fresh Seafood
Looking for the best places to eat in Cairns? We have been told Prawn Star is one of the best Cairns restaurants! Located at Cairns Marlin Marina, expect super-fresh seafood onboard a quirky boat. Make sure you check it out when visiting Cairns.
Places To Visit Near Cairns
20. Visit Atherton Tablelands
We absolutely love Atherton Tablelands for the amazing waterfalls, incredible hikes, small towns full of character and beautiful rolling hills. We recommend staying at least two nights in the area so you can tick off a few of the amazing places to visit. Read our guide for the 28 best things to do in Atherton Tablelands to read more about this spectacular part of Tropical North Queensland.
Although you really need to read our guide, there’s a few stand outs you absolutely cannot miss.
This is a must visit when looking for things to do in Cairns. The Spanish castle hidden in the beautiful rainforest in Tropcial North Queensland is a sight you won’t see anywhere else in the world. We were blown away by it and spent a few hours here so excited to walk around and take photos of this special place. You can check out our guide for visiting Paronella Park to find out more. Tip – buy the combo package and visit Mamu Tropical Skywalk around the corner as well – it’s brilliant!
There are so many amazing waterfalls in Atherton Tablelands to visit, but make sure you tick off the famous ones along the Waterfall Circuit because they really are all worth visiting!
Swim in Lake Eacham
We just fell in love with Lake Eacham and it’s a must-visit from us when coming to Cairns. The crater lake is huge and there’s something quite magical about it that you need to go in person to see it!
21. Enjoy Palm Cove
We love Palm Cove, and it’s our top pick for where to stay in Cairns! There’s also a few places you need to discover here so it’s not like it’s just somewhere to stay. Palm Cove has a beautiful beach and really has a good holiday feel with plenty of excellent modern restaurants.
Here’s some of our top picks for what to do in Palm Cove.
Visit The Meditation Rocks At Wangetti Beach
Just north of Palm Cove lies the beautiful Wangetti Beach which you’ll find on the coastal drive from Cairns to Port Douglas. You’ll find The Gatz Balancing Rocks at the southern end of the beach. While the art of balancing stones can have many meanings, each stone tends to represent a prayer or thought of gratitude. You might like to stop by and add to this ever-evolving work of art.
Take a photo at the famous Thala Beach Reserve
About 30kms outside of Palm Cove lies the Insta famous Thala Beach Nature Reserve. When we went to search for the palm tree plantations, we actually drove right through it not realising that was it because it is a lot smaller in person. Just be careful when visiting of the falling coconuts!
Vivo For Dinner
Make sure you go to Vivo in Palm Cove for dinner. It’s a fantastic restaurant and totally has a good holiday vibe. We loved it and had a great night!
22. Check Out Port Douglas
The hour-long drive between Cairns and Port Douglas is one of Australia’s most beautiful scenic coastal drives! As a popular holiday destination in Tropical North Queensland in its own right, Port Douglas is beautiful, and close to Cape Tribulation and The Daintree Rainforest too! But, there’s also loads to do here with access to the Great Barrier Reef Islands.
Here’s some of our top picks for what to do in Port Douglas!
Mossman Gorge is one of the most popular places to visit near Cairns. It’s also one of the easiest ways to get into The Daintree Rainforest as you can swim here (be aware most of the Daintree swimming holes are off limits as they are sacred for the local indigenous community). It is a stunning slice of paradise and a bucket list item to tick off that you’ve swam in the oldest rainforest in the world! It is busy so don’t expect to have it to yourself.
Trinity Bay Lookout
One of the first things to do in Port Douglas is to make a beeline to Trinity Bay Lookout. This beautiful lookout has views stretching as far as the eye can see over Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas and right back down the coast towards Cairns. It’s a stunning first point of call when you come to Port Douglas! Good news is you can drive right up to it, so no walking is involved!
Walk Along Four Mile Beach
Four Mile Beach is a stunning beach in Tropical North Queensland everyone should make the effort to go and see. You’ll be able to see it from Trinity Bay Lookout but just be careful when swimming and swim between the flags during stinger season.
23. Cape Tribulation
Although it’s a 2h30m drive from Cairns, Cape Tribulation is absolutely beautiful and where the rainforest meets the ocean. It’s gorgeous here and feels like a world away. You’ll find the second half of The Daintree Rainforest up here too.
Here’s some of our top picks for things to do in Cape Tribulation & The Daintree Rainforest.
Swim At The Beautiful Mason’s Store Swimming Hole
Mason’s Store Swimming Hole is often regarded as the best swimming spot in Cape Tribulation. The turquoise water is enough for anyone looking to find a spectacular swimming hole near Cairns.
Drive One Of The Best 4WD Roads In Queensland
If you’re heading up to Cooktown, the 4WD only Bloomfield Track is one of the most scenic drives in Queensland. Also known as the Coast Road or the Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield Road, the Bloomfield Track is 33km of incredible landscapes, swimming holes and much more.
Daintree Rainforest Aerial Walkway
Walk along one of the top 10 skywalks in Australia according to Australian Geographic at the Daintree Rainforest Aerial Walkway. It sits 11m high above the rainforest and is a spectacular way to take in the experience of standing in the world’s oldest rainforest!
24. Venture down to Mission Beach
When heading South of Cairns you’ll come to the Cassowary Coast which takes you down through Innisfail, Mission Beach and onto Cardwell and Hinchinbrook Island. This is a spectacular part of the coast, home to some excellent swimming holes, hikes, waterfalls and much more. You can check out our full guide for the 28 Best Things To Do In Mission Beach here.
Here’s some of our top picks to see in the stunning Mission Beach. I’m sure you know about the famous cassowaries to find in Mission Beach already!
Our Favourite Swimming Hole At Alligators Nest
Alligators Nest is by far our favourite one out of all of the Cairns swimming holes we went to. It really is absolutely magical and there’s something that makes you feel like you’ve truly found a hidden gem (there are no alligators in the water either!). Seriously, you’ll drive down the road to there and wonder if you’re going the right way. It’s a spectacular spot!
Go White Water Rafting In The Tully River
Go white water rafting in Tully River, home to the best white water rafting in Australia. You can bring the whole family (kids from 6+ years) on the grade 2 and grade 3 rapids as you meander through the famous river. It’s one of those experiences you need to do when looking for the best things to do in Cairns.
Sky Diving In Mission Beach
Sky Diving in Mission beach is one of the most popular Cairns activities. To be honest, it wouldn’t get much better than jumping out of a plane over the Great Barrier Reef. You’ll have views overlooking the beautiful Dunk Island and neighbouring islands from Mission Beach. Plus! You’ll actually land right on Mission Beach – what an experience!! Find out more about sky diving in Mission Beach here.
25. The Outback
There are a couple of places in the outback near Cairns that are totally worth mentioning! If you don’t want to drive here, you can jump aboard the Savannah Lander Train from Cairns for a fun 4 day tour which will take you straight to both.
Head 2h30m out west from Cairns and you’ll come to the incredible Chillagoe Caves. Apparently, there are between 600 to 1000 caves in the Chillagoe-Mungana area. It’s been known that Chillagoe Caves has the most diverse geology in the world and is one of the best day trips from Cairns. Luckily you can jump on a day trip from Cairns to Cillagoe Caves and learn from the locals!
Located a 3h30m South West drive from Cairns will bring you to the Undara Volcanic National Park. As one of Australia’s most fascinating geological wonders, it’s home to the world’s best-preserved and oldest lava tubes. Book a night’s stay in one of the beautifully renovated train carriages and spend the day on a tour through the incredible lava tube systems. Time it right and visit when the annual Undara Outback Rock and Blues Festival is on.
One For The Bucket List
If you’re heading off on an Australian road trip, you totally need to put down Lawn Hill Gorge, also known as Boodjamulla National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Listed National Park has been called one of the top four most important fossil deposits in the world by none over than Sir David Attenborough. Although it’s a 12hr drive from Cairns or a 4hr drive from Mount Isa, you’ll need a 4wd to get here. Hire a canoe and float down the river before jumping in to cool off, it looks amazing!
Where To Stay In Cairns
Here’s our top list for where to stay in Cairns. Check out our guide on where to stay in Tropical North Queensland so you can make the best decision for you as Cairns, Palm Cove and Port Douglas are all quite different from each other.
Luxury: You’ll get a private beach and Cairns highest bar at the popular Crystalbrook Riley
Backpackers: Party lovers will love Gillagan’s Backpackers (I stayed there years ago as a backpacker and it’s still the go to hostel!)
Thanks for making it this far! We hope we’ve inspired you to visit Tropical North Queensland with our epic things to do in Cairns guide! While this is a big list, there are so many more places to visit than the highlights we’ve picked out.
This part of Australia is all about getting out and exploring as much as possible, so we hope you’ll be inspired to use our things to do in Cairns guide to see more than you thought you would on your next holiday.
Things To Do In Cairns
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