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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 Tiger Air 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.

Port Douglas


  • We picked Port Douglas because there’s a beach (unlike Cairns)
  • Upmarket town – 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 (1 hour)

Click here to find the best accommodation deals for Port Douglas >


  • 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

Palm Cove



  • We only drove through here but we wished we stayed in Palm Cove as it had a great vibe
  • Perfect for couples (we are in our 30’s)
  • Palm Cove is really small – just one street but it had a great vibe, was really nice, loads of cafes and restaurants and all opposite the beach!
  • Yes, there is a beach here
  • Only a 20 minute drive from Cairns and 40 min drive onto Port Douglas
  • From our research accommodation was cheaper than Port Douglas
  • Had a holiday feel to the place
  • 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)!

Click here to find the best accommodation in Palm Cove >


  • Might be too small for families.
  • Longer drive up to Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation
  • No big supermarket in sight so would need to get supplies in Cairns
  • I can’t vouch for the food because I didn’t eat there (we planned to go so many times but the weather was bad!)




  • It’s the cheapest of the three places to stay in
  • The food is amazing (We ate at Dundee’s and the Paleo Cafe) and much cheaper than Port Douglas
  • 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.
  • It’s the biggest town so more bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels to choose from

Click here to find the best accommodation in Cairns >


  • 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.


  • 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
  • Cairns is the perfect holiday for backpackers or anyone on a tight budget.


  • 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.
  • Rent a car – if you want to explore then rent a car as there’s loads to do. We used ours every day and hired it through Tiger Air when booking our flight($180 for 6 days).
  • 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’s much better than diving in it for sure and was our biggest highlight of the trip!

Port Douglas vs Palm Cove vs Cairns

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  1. I loved Port Douglas, such a great place for a holiday. I was a backpacker there (!) and it was expensive, but being a self catering backpacker it wasn’t so bad. Cairns wasn’t for me, to be honest, but it was a good gateway to the barrier reef. Palm Cove sounds lovely! Next time…!

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