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Port Douglas Vs Palm Cove Vs Cairns

Not sure whether to holiday in Port Douglas, Palm Cove or Cairns? We didn’t know either until we went ourselves. We’re giving you an insight we wish we had read before we went up to Northern Queensland on holidays.

If you’re wondering where to stay in Northern Queensland, fear not… we have you covered. We spent a fair bit of time researching between Port Douglas, Palm Cove and Cairns and couldn’t decide which would be the best area for us to stay in.

The season starts from June – September in Northern Queensland as temperatures are of a comfortable heat meaning you can escape the winter in Sydney and head for a bit of summer sun. It’s also nice to know you can be on British summertime too as this time of year always makes me miss the UK and the long summer nights.

The next step was deciding where to go and the decision was between the main holiday areas of Port Douglas, Palm Cove and Cairns. After booking a cheap flight to Cairns (North Queensland’s main hub), we had to decide which town would be the best for us and our holiday. Making that decision is a big one and it really can reflect on whether you’re going to have a good holiday or not.

So after talking to a few friends who had been there and others who grew up in the area, we decided to go with Port Douglas as we wanted to stay somewhere that was quiet but a bit lively at night with good restaurants. We stayed there for 5 nights, then had an over night liveaboard on a dive boat and our last night in Cairns before an early flight the next day.

On our holiday we went to all three places and here’s my review of Port Douglas Vs Palm Cove Vs Cairns.

Make sure you check out our epic guide for Cairns below.

Port Douglas


  • We picked Port Douglas because there’s a beach (unlike Cairns)
  • It’s an upmarket town – with rarely any backpackers
  • Great vibe for families
  • Close to the Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation and Mosman Gorge
  • Beautiful coastal drive between Port Douglas and Cairns which takes 1 hour


  • Loads of restaurants but really expensive and quality wasn’t great (average main meal around $35+)
  • Accommodation was more expensive
  • The town is quite large, a little bit too big for us – we wanted to stay somewhere smaller
  • Most resorts are on the edge of town meaning there were lots of tourists cycling around. To walk into town from most of the resorts would take a good half an hour at least

Best Port Douglas Accommodation

  1. Luxury: Niramaya Villas & Spa, home to beautiful luxury villas you won’t find anywhere else.
  2. Luxury Couples Only: Shantara Resort is a beautiful retreat across the road from the beach.
  3. Mid Range: Peppers Beach Club perfect for families with lagoon pool and gym.
  4. Budget: Paradise Links Resort with boutique accommodation over the road from the beach.

Palm Cove



  • Since we wrote this original post, we have since stayed in Palm Cove because we regretted not staying here last time
  • Perfect for couples (we are in our 30’s)
  • Palm Cove is really small – but it has a great vibe, with loads of modern cafes and restaurants all opposite the beach!
  • Yes, there is a beach here
  • It’s only a 20 minute drive from Cairns and 40 min drive onto Port Douglas, a great mid way point
  • From our research accommodation was cheaper than Port Douglas
  • Has the best holiday vibe out of the three places
  • Top Tip – we found a beach near Palm Cove called Ellis Beach where you could stay in bungalows right on the beach (find out more here)!


  • Might be too small for families.
  • Longer drive up to Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation
  • No big supermarket in the town so would need to get supplies in Cairns

Best Palm Cove Accommodation

  1. Luxury: Alamanda Palm Cove By Lancemore offers superb accommodation swimming pools and day spas opposite the famous Palm Cove beach and palm trees.
  2. Mid Range: Stay at the Insta famous Thala Beach Nature Reserve (the one with the palm trees plantation) which is an eco-friendly wildlife retreat with your own private beach!
  3. Budget: The hidden gem we mentioned above, Ellis Beach Oceanfront Bungalows!




  • It’s the cheapest of the three places to stay in
  • The food is really good and much cheaper than Port Douglas and Palm Cove
  • It’s the main hub so a five-minute drive to the airport and all the day trips and diving trips to the Great Barrier Reef depart from there.
  • Jump on a day trip to Green Island or Fitzroy Island. If you’re unsure which one to go to, check out our review of them here.
  • It’s the biggest town so more bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels to choose from
  • Easy to get to the mind blowing Atherton Tablelands, which basically means unbelievable waterfalls to swim in!
  • Make sure you visit the incredible Paronella Park, a Spanish castle you won’t find anywhere else in the world! (Read our Paronella Park review here).


  • Cairns is definitely a backpacker town with backpacker travel shops back to back, hostels and loud bars along the centre of town
  • There’s no beach but there’s a lido in the middle of town which slightly makes up for it.
  • It’s not our jam but might appeal to those looking for more of a larger town vibe.

Best Cairns Accommodation

  1. Luxury: You’ll get a private beach and Cairns highest bar at the popular Crystalbrook Riley
  2. Mid-Range: Book your own apartment at the beautiful Southern Cross Atrium Apartments
  3. Budget: Cairns Queenslander Hotel & Apartments is a favourite amongst tourists as a four star accommodation
  4. Backpackers: Party lovers will love Gillagan’s Backpackers (I stayed there years ago as a backpacker!)


  • Port Douglas is great for families and has a cracking beach, but it is the most expensive
  • Palm Cove is perfect for the lazy kind of holiday where falling out of bed and onto the beach is a given, with gorgeous modern restaurants & cafes to choose from.
  • Cairns is the perfect holiday for backpackers or anyone on a tight budget.
  • We personally loved Atherton Tablelands the most and would stay between there and Palm Cove next time!


  • The season is June – September where you can swim in the water as there’s no jellyfish that time of year. It’s also the best temp so not too hot. But don’t worry if you’re visiting during Summer. We recently went and absolutely loved it! You can read our review of visiting Cairns in Summer here.
  • Rent a car – if you want to explore then rent a car as there are loads to do. The best things to do in Cairns are actually located outside of all of the towns mentioned in this post so it’s best to drive around. To us, the hidden gems in Tropical North Queensland are located in Atherton Tablelands, Daintree and Cape Tribulation. Expect epic waterfalls, mind-blowing swimming holes and adventure at its best! You can check out our new Atherton Tablelands guide for more information!
  • Put mossie spray on when going to Mosman Gorge – you’ll have loads of bites (like we did) and you won’t even notice until later in the day.
  • Definitely do a helicopter flight over The Great Barrier Reef – it was the biggest highlight of our trip and much better than going scuba diving for a few days. If you’re looking to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef, we 100% recommend going to the Southern Great Barrier Reef to Lady Elliot Island. It’s the best diving we’ve done anywhere in the world (expect whales, sharks, manta rays etc).

We hope our guide for choosing between Port Douglas vs Palm Cove vs Cairns has somewhat helped you make some decisions. If you’re needing some advice, drop us a comment below and we’ll do our best to help you!


Port Douglas vs Palm Cove vs Cairns

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