17 Best Things to Do in Cairns, Australia

Cairns, Australia

Welcome to Cairns, Australia, a slice of paradise I'm privileged to call home.

Enveloped by lush rainforests, vibrant marine life, and the friendly charm of its locals, this tropical gem is a treasure trove of unique experiences waiting to be unearthed.

Whether you're looking for adrenaline-fueled adventures, peaceful nature walks, or rich cultural immersion, Cairns offers an abundant array of surprises that never ceases to amaze even its most long-standing residents.

As a seasoned guide through the well-trodden and hidden paths, let me help you navigate the 17 best things to do in Cairns, Australia!

About this article: This article was written by a local contributor based on their own experiences and those around them. While this list showcases some remarkable places, it's important to note that this is an opinion piece, and there are many other exceptional places to visit that are not featured here.
Our aim is not just to guide you to popular places but to encourage you to venture out and experience the city for yourself.

Experience the Fun at Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

View of the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
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The first thing that strikes you about the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is its vibrant and lively atmosphere.

This is a place where you can feel the community's energy, whether you're visiting first thing in the morning or at the end of the day.

One of my favorite things about the Lagoon is the free water aerobics classes on Saturdays.

It's a chance to get fit and have fun while enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

And when the workout is done, showers and toilets are conveniently located nearby.

What's a day at the Lagoon without some good food?

The free gas barbecues are perfect for a quick and simple meal.

I usually pick up a few satay sticks and a Greek salad from the nearby Woolworths.

Don't forget to oil the grill before cooking.

People swimming and relaxing at Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
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I highly recommend picking up some fresh fruit from Rusty's markets if you're visiting on the weekend.

The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is not just a great place to swim but also a great area to relax and spend time with friends and family.

There are plenty of spaces on the grass and picnic seating for everyone to enjoy.

The lagoon-style pool with a beach entrance is a favorite among kids.

And you can rest easy knowing that there are always lifeguards on duty.

It can get pretty packed in here, especially in and around the pool.

But that's part of the charm; it’s a bustling hub where everyone comes to cool off and have a great time.

Visiting in the cooler months provides a different experience.

Even with the temperatures hovering around 24 degrees, the place still buzzes with activity.

Beautiful view of the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
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Have Memorable Adventures with Ocean Freedom & Ocean Free

Living around the magnificent Great Barrier Reef, you'd think I'd have seen it all.

But every expedition with Ocean Freedom and Ocean Free is a new adventure that never ceases to take my breath away.

I remember my first dive alongside my teenage son, and it was a day to remember!

The ocean was our playground, and the team at Ocean Freedom & Ocean Free were our guides.

The immense variety of fish, the majestic turtles, and, yes, even a reef shark made our dive an unforgettable experience.

Everyone was visibly content, and the mood was light and joyous.

The food served was delicious, making our day even more enjoyable.

Another day, I took the Ocean Free tour to Green Island.

Despite the morning rain and choppy waves, the experience was nothing short of exceptional.

It was thrilling to stand at the front of the sailboat, feeling the spray of the ocean against my skin.

The staff was always attentive, and the food was as satisfying as ever.

See the Saint Monica's Cathedral

Entrance of the Saint Monica's Cathedral
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Every Sunday morning, my footsteps echo through the quiet halls of Saint Monica's Cathedral, a visit that has become an essential part of my weekly routine.

This cathedral isn't just a place of worship, it's a masterpiece of art and history nestled in the heart of Cairns.

The beauty of the cathedral is spectacularly breathtaking, especially when the first rays of the sun pierce through the 24 windows that together hold over 1,500 pieces of glass.

The windows, with their vivid colors, narrate the creation story from Genesis and hold another series known as the Peace Windows, marking the end of World War II.

Interior view of the Saint Monica's Cathedral
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From the inside, it feels like you're in a different world that can't be seen from the outside.

Being a local, I've had the privilege to attend the early 6:30 am Mass on Sundays.

It's the perfect way to start an adventure-packed day or find inner peace before the hustle and bustle of the week begins.

The cathedral, spacious and calm, echoes with the sound of prayer, stirring a sense of tranquility that's hard to describe.

The stained-glass windows are a sight to behold, especially when the sunlight filters in, casting a beautiful play of colors all around.

Their beauty is accentuated by the light reflecting off them, creating an atmosphere that's both enchanting and serene.

View of the old Saint Monica's Cathedral
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Experience the Underwater Magic with Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard

There's a certain charm about waking up at dawn to the soft lapping of waves against the side of a boat.

I’ve been living here in Australia for so long, but the enchanting allure of the Great Barrier Reef never ceases to amaze me.

Aboard the Reef Encounter, courtesy of Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard, I was excited to complete my SSI Open Water Diver certification.

The convenience of doing the theory portion on the SSI App meant that I only had to focus on the practical training here.

The unique part about the Reef Encounter is that there are no pool sessions.

All the training happens right in the heart of the grandeur of the Great Barrier Reef.

Depending on the weather, it can get a bit bumpy, but it quickly gets you accustomed to real diving conditions.

I always find that nothing beats the thrill of diving headfirst into the azure waters and getting accustomed to the underwater realm.

Spend a Wonderful Day at Cairns Aquarium

Exterior view of the Cairns Aquarium
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Ever since Cairns Aquarium opened, I've found it to be a splendid experience that unveils the underwater marvels of my local environment.

The aquarium is a treasure trove of more than 16,000 specimens from 9 ecosystems, each meticulously maintained.

There's always something new to discover, from the vibrant and diverse fish native to our Great Barrier Reef to the mysteries of the ocean depths.

The aquarium's layout is thoughtfully designed, guiding visitors on a mesmerizing journey through each aquatic landscape.

Display information is readily available and comprehensive, enhancing the experience with fascinating facts about the marine life before you.

As a frequent visitor, I can assure you there is always something to learn here.

Illuminating corals at Cairns Aquarium
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One highlight of my visits is interacting with the knowledgeable staff.

I was particularly captivated by a session about sharks and rays - their passion for these formidable creatures was contagious!

The guides are incredibly engaging, making the tours exciting for children and adults.

They even provide a schedule of activities to help you plan your visit.

I highly recommend getting there at 10 am, right when they open, to have the best chance of participating in all the activities.

No visit to Cairns Aquarium would be complete without a stop at their restaurant.

With an impressive backdrop of the aquarium, it offers an immersive dining experience that's unique.

It's the perfect place to relax and refuel after exploring the underwater world.

Colorful fish at Cairns Aquarium
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Jump Into Adventure with Skydive Cairns

Have you ever wanted to feel the adrenaline rush of free-falling from around 15,000 feet?

As a thrill-seeking resident, I've had the privilege of experiencing that sensation, and let me tell you, it's like no other.

Skydive Cairns is my go-to place for such once-in-a-lifetime adventures.

Every visit to Skydive Cairns brings along a fresh wave of excitement.

Even though there might be occasional delays due to unpredictable weather conditions, the team ensures to keep the communication clear and timely.

They directly convey any changes, always prioritizing our safety above all.

So, keeping that in mind, the delays are easily bearable.

They are quite understanding of nature and its unpredictability.

The instructors are incredibly attentive for those of you who might be a bit anxious about the jump.

They patiently guide you through the process, ensuring to calm your nerves.

With their guidance, you're bound to have an amazing experience.

What's even more exciting is the tremendous view as you make your way down.

You are treated to breathtaking sights of key spots around Far North Queensland.

The beautiful landscape offers a scenic spectacle you'll remember for a long time.

Exterior view of the Cairns Art Gallery
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A visit to the Cairns Art Gallery is one of my absolute delights right here in Cairns.

It's a charming, restored 1936 government building tucked just a stone's throw away from the Esplanade.

You can feel the history in the walls as you step inside; it's as if the building is sharing its tale of transformation.

The exhibits never fail to leave me spellbound.

The gallery has a knack for curating collections that are not just visually appealing but deeply informative and moving.

It's a perfect place to soak in creativity without having to lighten your pocket since the entrance is free.

And, if you're lucky, you might even find an art piece that resonates with your soul.

Adjacent to the art gallery is the Court House Gallery, another place worth checking out.

It's like doubling the cultural experience without needing to travel far.

The architecture is another feature that adds charm to the place.

The building is chic, and its thoughtful design perfectly complements the art.

Have Fun at Muddy's Playground

Signage of the Muddy's Playground
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Ever since moving to this area, I've been in awe of the beauty surrounding us.

One of my favorite spots to spend the day is Muddy's Playground.

Nestled on the picturesque Esplanade, it's a haven for both kids and adults.

I often take my little ones there, and they love the assortment of playground apparatus and activities.

My toddler can't get enough of the water play area, while my older ones love scaling the various climbing frames and slides.

Seeing them interact with other local kids and even tourists who drop by is wonderful.

The playground caters to different ages, so there's something fun and exciting for every child.

The view from the playground is simply breathtaking.

Visitors enjoying their picnic at Muddy's Playground
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You've got the sparkling waters of the ocean on one side and the lush greenery on the other.

It's a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life.

I'm also impressed by the upkeep of the place.

You'll often see employees tending to the landscaping and ensuring the cleanliness of the Esplanade.

The play equipment is always in top-notch condition, and safety is a priority here.

Have Unforgettable Adventures with Silverswift

Let me share a little secret: nothing compares to the thrill of exploring the mesmerizing underwater world, especially aboard the Silverswift catamaran cruisers.

Having been a part of numerous reef diving and snorkeling trips across the globe, I can confidently vouch for the unparalleled experience that the Silverswift offers.

Their superb tandem of stylish catamaran cruisers, equipped with sundecks and bars, are a treat to the senses.

My heart always flutters excitedly as the cruisers slice through the waves, the distant horizon appearing closer with every heartbeat.

You couldn't ask for a better vessel to embark on your aquatic exploits.

Aboard the Silverswift, there's never a dull moment, even if the weather turns a little choppy.

The onboard photographer never fails to capture those magical moments, her skillful craft unaffected by the rocking boat.

Meanwhile, the accompanying marine biologist is a treasure trove of knowledge, always open to queries and discussions about the vibrant marine life.

The culinary experience offered on board is nothing short of delightful.

The food is lovingly prepared well ahead of time, adhering to the highest food safety standards.

Whether it's the sumptuous lunch or the refreshing beverages at the bar, your taste buds are in for a treat.

Explore Munro Martin Parklands

Beautiful red flowers at Munro Martin Parklands
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Every now and then, I find myself yearning for a bit of tranquility amidst the hustle and bustle of city life.

That's when I go to Munro Martin Parklands, tucked away just north of the CBD.

It's a calming oasis, a stone's throw away from the hospital and nestled snugly between Grafton and Sheridan Streets.

The parkland is a multi-purpose haven featuring a significant stage smack dab in the middle.

Surrounded by lush, grassy seating, it's a perfect spot to enjoy the occasional performances that the city brings in.

I have spent countless evenings soaking in the cultural vibe in these beautiful open-air shows.

One striking feature of the park is its beautifully manicured gardens.

At the northern end, you'll find a variety of trees and shrubs that provide the perfect backdrop for a quiet afternoon stroll or perhaps a picnic.

I've spent Sunday afternoons here, picnic basket in tow, lazing on the plush grass, devouring a good read under the dappled sunlight filtering through the trees.

Vines at Munro Martin Parklands
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But the park's horticultural prowess doesn't end there.

It boasts a range of exotic plants and blooming vines that add that magical touch of nature.

The gardens are beautifully laid out, and walking through them is like traversing a botanical wonderland.

You'd be amazed at the variety of flora this place hosts.

Needless to say, it's a haven for nature lovers like me.

The park is gated, meaning it's safe and well-maintained.

There are only a few entry and exit points, which helps keep the place secure and serene.

It's truly a space that combines nature, culture, and relaxation, making it a treasured slice of Cairns.

Shop Various Products at Rusty's Markets

Visitors happily purchasing fruits from the Rusty's Markets
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There's something undeniably enchanting about plunging into the bustling atmosphere of Rusty's Markets every weekend.

It's not just a marketplace but, rather, a vibrant feast for all senses.

The first thing you notice when you step in is the explosion of colors from the various fruits and vegetables.

It's as if the entire rainbow has been captured in these stalls, with tropical fruits in every shade you can imagine.

You can't help but feel a twinge of excitement as you pick out your fresh fruit and vegetables for the week.

It's common to find fruits and veggies you've never seen before.

The sense of discovery is part of what makes each visit to this place exciting.

Each vendor's stall is like a mini food adventure waiting to be explored.

Fresh greens sold at the Rusty's Markets
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Throughout the years, Rusty's has become a space where the community gathers, vendors become friends, and every purchase feels like supporting a family.

It's a tradition that's been going strong since 1975, and I'm proud to be a part of it.

The authentic food stalls are my favorite part.

There's nothing like indulging in a hot, delicious meal from the food stalls after a morning of shopping.

It feels like having a taste of Bangkok in our own backyard.

You'll love the flower section if you're a fan of beautiful, fresh blooms.

It's like stepping into a beautiful garden.

Whether you're looking to brighten up your home or surprise a loved one with a bouquet, you'll find the perfect bunch here.

Tropical fruits sold at the Rusty's Markets
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Discover the Wonders of the Great Barrier Reef with Great Adventures

I've been living in Cairns for years now, and I can tell you, nothing compares to the beautiful offerings of our backyard.

My recent trip with Great Adventures, an eco-friendly travel company here in Cairns, was one that left a lasting impression.

The day started with a smooth catamaran ride to the outer reef, where I had the most memorable snorkeling experience.

I have snorkeled in the inner reefs before, but this was on a different level.

Swimming alongside Wally, the friendly Maori Wrasse, at Moore Reef Pontoon was pure magic.

A child in my group, who decided to stay dry, was equally thrilled to witness the reef's marine life from the underwater observatory.

A key part of the trip was the informative semi-submersible tour.

The air conditioning aboard was a pleasant surprise.

Though it might feel a bit chilly, it's nothing that a warm jacket can't handle.

The highlight of the day, however, was the guided snorkeling tour.

Even though it is optional, having an expert show you around the vibrant reef and sharing knowledge about the ongoing coral regeneration work is worth every penny.

The buffet lunch was more than satisfactory, and the Great Adventures crew ensured a well-organized day filled with fun and adventure.

Revisit the Past at Cairns Museum

Exterior view of the Cairns Museum
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This gem is nestled in our city's heart - the Cairns Museum.

I've made it almost an annual tradition to pay a visit, each time finding something new to marvel at.

You see, here at the Cairns Museum, they've curated an engaging tale of life in the tropics, eloquently told through objects, photos, and archival records.

One of the captivating exhibits I've seen is a piece of the Endeavour Tree.

Yes, the very tree that has its other part housed in another museum!

Not every day you come across such pieces of history, is it?

The museum is so rich in tales and trivia you wouldn't want to rush through it.

It's like diving into a time capsule, immersing in the past, and surfacing back with a newfound understanding and appreciation of our tropical history and lifestyle.

Unwind at Crystalbrook Riley

Exterior view of the Crystalbrook Riley
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What a treat it is to live just a stone's throw away from Crystalbrook Riley.

I enjoy spending many of my weekends lounging by their stunning outdoor pool - a true oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of city life.

The view from the rooftop restaurant as you soak in the sea vista is simply spectacular.

Swimming pool at the Crystalbrook Riley
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It's a fantastic spot for families, with a sand area and a shallow pool section for the little ones.

You'll find me there more often than not, enjoying the serene atmosphere.

One thing you need to try is the hotel's cocktail bar.

Trust me; their cocktails are to die for.

Closeup of the balconies at Crystalbrook Riley
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Other Things to Do Nearby

Stroll Through Cattana Wetlands

View of the Cattana Wetlands
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I've had the pleasure of walking the scenic trails of Cattana Wetlands countless times over the years.

One of my favorite times to visit is during the bird season in September and October.

The park is filled with an orchestra of chirping, perfect for bird-watching enthusiasts.

I often find myself strolling on the boardwalk nestled in the heart of the rainforest, enchanted by the variety of plants and animals that call this place home.

Thick vegetation at the Cattana Wetlands
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I've hosted several picnics amidst the lush greenery with friends and family, savoring the moments under the sun.

There are picnic tables perfect for such occasions and grills for those who love a good barbecue.

The Cattana Wetlands is more than just a park; it's a sanctuary where you can rejuvenate while being one with nature.

If you have a couple of hours to spare, I highly recommend exploring the park.

The residential area of Smithfield serves as a lovely backdrop as you meander through the walking tracks.

And if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the stunning lake and mountain views from the park.

Plants at the Cattana Wetlands
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Have Exhilarating Rides at Smithfield Mountain Bike Park Trail

Every time I saddle up and hit the Smithfield Mountain Bike Park Trail, my love for adventure is rekindled.

This is undoubtedly the crown jewel of mountain biking in Cairns, offering a thrilling mix of terrain.

Believe me when I say the park provides something for every biker's palette, from rooty and rocky tech trails to jumps and the varying dirt types.

I've spent countless days riding these trails, with every visit presenting a new challenge or an opportunity to beat my personal best.

One cannot help but appreciate the park's design.

Its trails run on an anticlockwise loop from right to left, making it a bit tricky to navigate.

Once you get the hang of it, it's easy to figure out where you are or how to get to various trails.

I must admit that riding through these trails on my e-bike is an absolute joy.

It's worth noting that Smithfield Mountain Bike Park is a non-shuttle park with some significant climbs, so the e-bike comes in handy.

However, if you're more of an analog rider with a keen taste for a challenge, you might need a few days to conquer everything, and trust me, you'll need a big ticker for some of the main runs and double black trails.

Of all the trails, Pipeline remains my favorite. It offers a perfect blend of exhilaration and challenge.

The park is also impressively maintained, with a pump/ jump area that never disappoints.

Spend a Day at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

A pair of blue butterfly at Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
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Stepping into the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary feels like being transported into a tranquil, otherworldly paradise.

Home to over 2000 butterflies, it's a place where you can leave your worries at the door and immerse yourself in the enchanting beauty of nature.

The sanctuary holds the wonder and charm of a tropical rainforest - the air is filled with the soft fluttering of wings, and the air is scented with the sweet aroma of nectar.

As soon as you enter, you're greeted by a riot of colors as butterflies of all shapes and sizes flutter around, sometimes even landing on you if you're wearing bright colors.

On my usual visits, I am in awe of the incredibly knowledgeable guides.

Pretty butterflies at Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
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They navigate through the sanctuary with such depth and understanding, shedding light on these beautiful creatures' life cycles and habits.

Their magnified samples offer a unique microscopic view of the butterfly world.

Apart from the flurry of winged creatures, I always highlight the hatchery lab.

It's a remarkable sight to see the metamorphosis of a butterfly up close.

But that's not all; the sanctuary also boasts the biggest fairy garden I've ever seen, adding a touch of whimsy to the whole experience.

No visit is complete without a stop at their gift shop.

It's a treasure trove of unique trinkets and memorabilia that make perfect souvenirs.

Butterfly at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
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Final Thoughts

There's no place quite like Cairns, Australia!

From jumping off a plane with Skydive Cairns to exploring the vibrant and lively Rusty's Markets, every day here brings a new set of adventures.

So here’s to Cairns - a city as vibrant and diverse as its people and a paradise I’m lucky to call home.

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