20 Best Things to Do in Cairns, Australia

Cairns, Australia
steny02 / shutterstock.com

Most people know Cairns, Australia, to be the doorway to the Great Barrier Reef.

But did you know that it's a bucket-list-worthy destination on its own, too?

Situated in the northern part of Queensland, Cairns has lots of treats in store for visitors.

Hot air balloon rides, sandy beaches, and exciting nightlife are just some of these things.

While a visit to the Great Barrier Reef tops everyone’s Cairns itinerary, you must also see the nearby Daintree Rainforest area and take a dip in the Crystal Cascades.

Curious about what else the city has to offer?

Here are the best things to do in Cairns, Australia:

Have a Beach Day in Palm Cove

Scenic view of Palm Cove
Darren Tierney / Shutterstock.com

Palm Cove is considered to be Cairn’s most beautiful suburb.

It is situated just beside the seashore.

The beauty of its sandy beach is beyond words and is something you have to experience for yourself.

The waters of Palm Cove
Darren Tierney / Shutterstock.com

You can go scuba diving, kayaking, or sunbathe at the beach.

Visitors from all over the globe come to this beach to rejuvenate themselves.

There is also a golf course nearby.

So, if you are a professional or want to try your hand at something new, you can head there.

Daytime view of Palm Cove shops
Norman Allchin / Shutterstock.com

Learn about the Flora and Fauna at the Cairns Botanic Gardens

Lush greenery at Cairns Botanical Gardens
AustralianCamera / Shutterstock.com

Australia's flora is beautifully showcased here at the Cairns Botanic Gardens.

You can learn about the tropical plantations here and get a glimpse of some of the continent's native birds.

Waters surrounding a pavilion at Cairns Botanic Gardens
calligraphira / Shutterstock.com

This botanical garden is very different from others you might have seen in places with cooler climates.

There are also a lot of walking tours at the botanic gardens, where you learn about all the species as you walk by them.

A fig parrot on a tree at Cairns Botanic Gardens
Agami Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

Get a Bird's-Eye View of Cairns while Riding Hot Air Balloon

Silhouette of Hot air balloons in Cairns
Victor, Kim Tien Chee / Shutterstock.com

Visiting Cairns without taking a ride in a hot air balloon is like missing out on a skiing trip while you are in the Alps.

Did you know that Queensland happens to be a famous hot air ballooning destination?

The best time to get on one of these balloons is in the early morning when the sun is just about to rise.

A Hot Air Balloon about to take flight early in the morning
kdreams / Shutterstock.com

The views are spectacular as you get to see the Great Barrier Reef, the rainforests, the green farmlands, and the blue oceans.

Swooping amidst the clouds is an adventure in itself.

Your pilot will also let you know about the lookouts while you are up in the sky.

Colorful Hot Air Balloons at Cairns
kdreams / Shutterstock.com

Experience the City's Buzzing Nightlife

Night view of Cairns
Igor Corovic / Shutterstock.com

Did you know that Cairns has a pretty exciting nightlife?

Despite being known as a gateway to many natural attractions, it transforms into an exciting place for party animals by the end of the day.

Cairns Night market and coffee club
Paskaran.T / Shutterstock.com

So, if you also happen to be one of them, Cairns is just the destination for you.

The young generation of Australia chooses Cairns to come and party.

There are several pubs and clubs in the town which will show you how lively Cairns can be when you want it to be.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Have the Adventure of a Lifetime at the Great Barrier Reef

Snorkeling in The great Barrier Reef
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

Being the world’s largest coral reef and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Great Barrier Reef is flocked by millions of tourists every year.

A trip to Cairns is never complete without going there.

There are several ways to explore the Great Barrier Reef.

A turtle swimming at the Great Barrier Reef
Regien Paassen / Shutterstock.com

You can swim around and look at the blend of different colors or try snorkeling or scuba diving.

There's also an underwater observatory that visitors can check out.

The boat cruise through the crystal waters is heavenly, too.

A coral colony at the Great Barrier Reef
Pete Niesen / Shutterstock.com

Cool Off in the Crystal Cascades

Majestic view of Crystal Cascades
AustralianCamera / Shutterstock.com

If it gets too hot and you feel like taking a dip in some cool water, the Crystal Cascades is a beautiful place to do that.

Grab ahold of some of your friends and head over there.

It's located just 20 minutes away from the city.

Downstream of Crystal Cascades
AustralianCamera / Shutterstock.com

Situated in the bosom of the tropical rainforest, the Crystal Cascades is a picturesque hidden gem near Cairns.

If you want to have a picnic, there are some spots where you're allowed to have a BBQ party.

The waters of Crystal Cascades
Paul Feikema / Shutterstock.com

Hike around the Daintree Rainforest

Aerial view of Daintree Rainforest, Australia
ProDesign studio / Shutterstock.com

A two-hour drive away from Cairns, the Daintree Rainforest is the oldest in the world.

It covers a massive area and is filled with a wide variety of flora and fauna.

It is said that the bats and butterflies for which Australia is famous are found right here.

The sights are charming and extremely picturesque.

Cool spring along Daintree Rainforest's trail
Cre8 design / Shutterstock.com

The trails are vast and innumerable.

Hike through them and take a minute to sit back and look at the beauty around you.

However, the entire place is too big to cover on foot.

For this very reason, there is now a helicopter service that flies just above the rainforest, showing you an aerial view of all of it.

Tall trees near the waters of Daintree Rainforest
DANIELA WEINSTEIN / Shutterstock.com

Paddle Amidst the Daintree Rainforest

Cruising in Daintree
Janelle Lugge / Shutterstock.com

If you don’t feel comfortable walking or flying through the vast Daintree Raintree Forest, there is another option, especially for people like you.

You can hire a paddle boat and cruise through the crystal waters that flow among the forests.

The activity is extremely relaxing and will allow you to have a look at every corner of the large tree-filled forest.

Sweep through the waters and try stopping to eat some local fruits.

Do catch the sunset on the boat.

Spend a Day at the Magical Cape Tribulation Beach

Aerial view of Cape Tirbulation beach
Darren Tierney / Shutterstock.com

Cape Tribulation is the iconic spot that joins two heritage sites: the Daintree Rainforest on one side and the Great Barrier Reef on the other.

This beach is a three-hour drive away from Cairns.

A palm tree on Cape Tribulation Beach's shore
ProDesign studio / Shutterstock.com

The place looks almost magical during the sunsets.

Moreover, it boasts golden sand that shines when illuminated by the sun.

There are a lot of local tour operators who organize trips that will take you to the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest, and Cape Tribulation Beach.

The waters of Cape Tribulation Beach
Angelina Pilarinos / Shutterstock.com

Ride along the Famous Kuranda Scenic Railway

A train at Kuranda Scenic Train
tomoki1970 / Shutterstock.com

Kuranda is a quaint town 40 minutes away from Cairns.

There are several tourist spots to check out there, but what attracts tourists more than the village itself is the process of getting there.

While there are many ways by which you can travel to Kuranda, the best one would have to be by taking a train ride along the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

The railway goes through a windy path that offers some of the most splendid views of the rainforest.

Welcome sign of Kuranda Scenic Railway
designium / Shutterstock.com

Built over 100 years ago, the railway was initially used for carrying goods between Cairns and Kuranda.

It no longer offers that service today, but it still operates to take tourists from Cairns to Kuranda.

The trip takes only two hours, which will feel like just a couple of minutes, as people are usually engrossed in the scenes outside the windows.

To return to Cairns from Kuranda, try riding the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which offers exquisite aerial views of the rainforest.

View of a beautiful waterfall along Kuranda Scenic Railway
Liesbetje / Shutterstock.com

Visit the Atherton Tablelands

Aerial view of Tablelands
FiledIMAGE / Shutterstock.com

The Atherton Tablelands is situated just an hour away from Cairns.

It's an exceptionally tranquil and scenic region.

A waterfall at Atherton Tablelands
Darren Tierney / Shutterstock.com

If Cairns gets too hot for you, you can always go on a road trip and head here.

The altitude here is higher, and the temperature is lower.

There are a lot of sweet spots located here, along with pretty little dairies and bakeries.

Curtain fig tree at Atherton Tablelands
FiledIMAGE / Shutterstock.com

Take in the Sights as You Stroll through Cairns Esplanade

People swimming on Cairns Esplanade's lagoon
Martin Valigursky / Shutterstock.com

The Esplanade is an excellent choice for a peaceful stroll at sunrise or sunset in Cairns.

This stretch of seashore has undergone a significant makeover and is now a bustling gathering place for residents and visitors alike.

Cairn Esplanade features lush tropical gardens, playgrounds, a swimming lagoon, and a foreshore promenade stretching down the beachfront.

The waters of Cairns Esplanade
Martin Valigursky / Shutterstock.com

The tidal flats and mangroves along the coast are teeming with birds, and interpretive signs offer intriguing insights into the area's ecology.

Amenities include a climbing park, a beach volleyball court, bike routes, a skate park, fitness equipment, and water-themed playgrounds.

There are a variety of restaurants and cafes to choose from and several grills scattered over the park's lawns.

Daytime view of Cairns Esplanade
CoolR / Shutterstock.com

Experience the Heavenly Port Douglas

Colorful sunset over Port Douglas
Katie Purling / Shutterstock.com

Port Douglas is a mesmerizing seaside town located near Cairns.

Things are a little more expensive here, but the ambiance is incredible.

There are a lot of spas and boutiques that offer splurge-worthy products and services.

If you are looking for a honeymoon destination, Port Douglas is an ideal location.

Arial view of Port Douglas beach
Martin Valigursky / Shutterstock.com

It is laid-back, quiet, and has some lovely spots.

Wander about the little area, sit on the beach, relax, and learn more about their exotic history.

Four Mile Beach and the Port Douglas Lighthouse are excellent places to check out when you're in town.

The town's views are beautiful and serene, and the place overall offers visitors a great travel experience.

People at the Port Douglas lookout
Alex Cimbal / Shutterstock.com

Encounter Lava Up Close at the Undara Volcanic National Park

Undara underground lava tunnel
Stuart Perry / Shutterstock.com

Have you ever seen lava in front of you before?

A lot of you are probably bound to say no.

Three hours away from Cairns, the Undara Volcanic National Park offers visitors a chance at this rare experience.

While it may seem strange, it's actually safe.

Arch lava tube entrance at Undara Volcanic National Park
Bangkokflame / Shutterstock.com

At the Undara Volcanic National Park, there are a lot of tours available where designated guides show you lava and let you see it up close.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

The volcano is now extinct, but the lava tubes are still very much present.

Only 23 countries in the entire world provide this opportunity, and this national park is said to be the biggest one to do so.

The view from Undara Volcanic National Park
M. Kuehl / Shutterstock.com

Spot Australia's Living Dinosaurs Called Cassowaries

A Cassowary on grass
Michal Sloviak / Shutterstock.com

When it comes to visiting Cairns, summer is the ideal time of year to see Australia's living dinosaurs, cassowaries, and their chicks.

They're not your usual canary if you're not already aware of this renowned flightless bird.

Cassowaries are lean, fruit-eating machines that can reach 1.8 meters tall and weigh 70 kilograms.

Closeup of a Cassowary
Agami Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

With their forest-green eggs hatching and tiny feet making their first steps, the young cassowaries of the Cassowary family can only be seen in the summer (if you're lucky enough to see them).

A vacation to Tropical North Queensland would not be complete without viewing a southern cassowary, which is the only one seen on the continent of Australia.

Razor-sharp nails of a Cassowary
Andreas Ruhz / Shutterstock.com

Plan a Day Trip to Green Island

Daytime view of Green Island
Marco Saracco / Shutterstock.com

Located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Green Island is the perfect example of an Australian beach.

Boasting the perfect mix of a long coastline, golden sand, a beautiful blue sky, and turquoise water, Green Island is a famous tourist destination.

It is not far away from Cairns and is just a 45-minute drive away from the city.

Aerial view of Green Island
Rowena English / Shutterstock.com

Many nice resorts are located here and will make you consider staying overnight.

Foreigners flock to this beach throughout the year, and it is generally a crowded place.

The pristine sea, vast rainforests, and sunny weather make it an enjoyable place to visit.

People snorkelling on Green Island's water
Neale Cousland / Shutterstock.com

Ride the Gondola through the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Exterior of Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is Cairns' most popular tourist attraction.

The world-famous gondola cableway connects Cairns to Kuranda across the Wet Tropics Rainforest.

Barron Gorge National Park's oldest rainforest environment is one of the world's most breathtaking, and this is one of the most exciting ways to see it.

View of Skyrail Rainforest Cableway's gondolas
Angela N Perryman / Shutterstock.com

The journey itself is a worthwhile endeavor. In addition, you'll be able to see some of Cairns' most popular attractions in one day, including Barron Falls and a visit to the Kuranda Aboriginal Village.

The Edge Lookout, a new stop on the Skyrail system, offers breathtaking views of Barron Falls from a glass platform.

Gondolas of Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

Climb the Walsh's Pyramid

View of Walsh's Pyramid from the road
Jam Travels / Shutterstock.com

Cairns' famous natural landmark, Walsh's Pyramid, is visible even if you missed it on your plane trip.

The world's tallest freestanding natural pyramid, this peak is 922 meters tall.

It's also only a short drive from the city center!

Take the challenging ascent to the top if you're up to the challenge.

The 360-degree views from the summit are some of the best in Cairns.

Getting to the top and back takes around three to four hours, so prepare early.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to the perfect Australian vacation, Cairns is one of the best.

Traveling to this part of the globe and seeing the natural beauty it has to offer is an unforgettable experience.

Cairns has something for everyone, from visiting the Great Barrier Reef to a trip to the rainforest waterfalls.

Spotted a mistake, have some feedback, or just want to chat with our editorial team? Click here to get in touch.
Find out more about Travel Lens and read our editorial guidelines here.