The small Queensland commune of Cairns is best known as the gateway to the mesmerizing coral reef system of the Great Barrier Reef. But the city is so much more than what initially meets the eye. The region's tropical climate and unique setting atop the Coral Sea also translates into great getaway vacation prospects; whether you wish to tread the paths along tropical forests, ride the carriages of a heritage railway track, set sail on guided boat excursions and/or luxury cruises, Cairns has all the answers for you.
The city also has a busy waterfront which has drawn travellers to its range of activities for long now, but the outer suburbs are equally intriguing. Choosing the right neighborhood to base yourself at is an incredibly important decision and that's why we have come up with a comprehensive guide for you. Here, we have listed some of the best neighbourhoods of Cairns and what they might have in store for you traveller!
Affiliate Disclosure: As an Airbnb Associate and Booking.com affiliate, we earn a small commission when you book through links on this page.
The go-to choice for many first time travellers, Cairns' city centre has all the luxuries that one could seek from a getaway vacation. For starters, the neighborhood is home to the city's main marina and all you need to do is to visit a local service provider and take your pick from the list of activities, which include cruises and boat rides, guided tours of the shore and snorkeling excursions of the reef among others.
The picturesque port stands by the side of a busy promenade, laden with waterfront cafes and trendy bars so you will have something to do even without having to hit the waters. The Waterbar & Grill Steakhouse, Vitalia's and Howlin' Jay's are some of the most popular restaurants in all of Cairns!
The city centre is also home to some of the region's biggest cultural institutions and tourist attractions. You can start your day with a tour of the Cairns Museum and Cairns Art Gallery which showcase the region's history and Australasian art in separately repurposed government buildings. Children might also enjoy trips to the Cairn's Aquarium, known for its underwater ecosystem exhibits as well as the nearby Wildlife Dome, a popular adventure park with outdoor sporting activities and interactive shows.
The Cairns Train station is situated a little west of the marina; this is the place where you need to be at for the Kuranda Scenic railway tickets. Iconic red and gold carriages undertake the route through the tropical rainforests in one of a kind experience, one that you would definitely regret missing out on! You may want to arrive a little early to explore the station's many shopping venues.
The 2 and a half kilometre long stretch running along the shoreline in central Cairns, known popularly as The Esplanade, is by far the liveliest part of town. Somewhat of a cross between a palm tree-shaded boardwalk and a mixed-use space, this is the one venue that has it all. And the best way to quickly acquaint yourself with the neighborhood is by taking the Cairns Heritage walk, a guided tour that will take you through the must-visit historic and current venues.
And once you have been through a brief of the Esplanade, you can then go ahead and explore your options. Whether you choose to take a dip in the sparkling Cairns Esplanade Lagoon; or go out restaurant hopping; or host a nice family barbecue at the open-air plazas; or simply opt for long evening strolls and the accompanying sunset viewings, your options around the locale are truly endless.
The neighborhood is also great for outdoor activities as the waterfront is dotted with skateboard parks and volleyball courts, which can get a little busy during peak hours, but are definitely worth the extra waiting time. And if there's any time left to spare at all, you can always revisit some of the neighborhood's famous landmarks - the RAAF memorial, Cairns Cenotaph (both war memorials) and the Muddy's Event Lawn among others.
Esplanade is one of the most walkable of all Cairns neighbourhoods; in fact, exploring the stretch of the main thoroughfare through causal walks is one of the most exciting prospects of staying in the vicinity. And that's why you will never have to look for any other means of transportation for getting from one point to the other. Hotel options are many and some of the best that the coastal town has to offer!
While technically still an extension of the main Esplanade, Cairns North warrants a separate mention of its own. It is in this outer suburb that you will find the best prospects of an outdoorsy vacation, and it all begins with the waterfront. The coastline here does not have too many modern entertainment options, but is instead popular with travellers who enjoy being out in nature. While in vicinity, you are bound to come across grassy lawns with outdoor barbeque settings, forest covered jogging tracks and even a few bird watching hotspots. In short, always be on the lookout!
The choices become a bit more diverse as you move inland; and yet, the biggest draws here remain the vast outdoors. You can't help but be drawn to such scenic spots as the Les Davies Park and the Esplanade Coconut Grove. Outside of those, you can spend time around the other sports fields. The memorial pool, tennis lawns and hockey fields (all of which lie on Lake Street) are especially impressive. Here, you can also indulge in seafood delicacies including lobster dishes and some fish & chips at the Ocean World Market just across the street.
The neighborhood lies fairly close to the Cairns Airport, making it a great choice for travellers looking to stay in the vicinity of the transport hub. Sheridan Street/Captain Cook Highway connects the neighborhood to the rest of the city's major areas. Hotels and homestays are in plenty and largely concentrated around the central Lake Street.
A hub for exciting adventure sports and a free spirited vibe, Portsmith is the place for the young and the reckless. What better way to kick-start your vacation than with a jump from a height of 14000 feet; for that, all you need to do is undertake the training program at Skydive Cairns - one of the neighborhood's big draws.
Portsmith also has a port of its own, located at the side of the Chinaman Creek. Besides your regular cruises and trips to the expansive reef, you can also undertake guided tours to the mangrove-heavy Admiralty island and Trinity Reserved Forest (home to an information centre on indigenous history).
Adjacent to the neighbourhood's waterfront lies a major warehouse district with a few great restaurants and takeout coffee shops, but the options become more interesting as you head a little northward. The Cairns Showgrounds is a mixed-use space, known for its open-air markets selling local crafts and street food. The alternative appeal looms large in this section of the neighborhood as small indie boutiques, thrift stores and pawn shops dot the nearby streets, as do a diverse range of eateries. Be it your craving for a local seafood or burger, the neighborhood has you covered!
Portsmith's proximity to the city centre and the Esplanade solves almost all commuting issues; most major landmarks are a quick cab ride away from almost all parts of the neighborhood. The port also operates a few transport ferries to nearby islands and other city ports. You will not have too much trouble finding a reasonably priced accommodation option in the vicinity either.
While the city centre does have a few beaches, they fade in comparison with ones that lie outside of the traditional boundaries. Hence, if you picture yourself having lazy beachside vacation still, you might have to give up the city luxuries for the vast outdoors. And there are fewer better places that offer that than the northern neighborhood of Trinity Beach. Named after a long sandy strip of the same name, the neighborhood has all the perks of a beachside locale without losing out on the distinctively Cairns touch.
A splendid beach day awaits you at the neighborhood's main draw; here, you can spend time lazing around the soft sand, sunbathing, or even better, by going out on turtle spotting tours. The beachside is also lined with top-notch seafood restaurants and cafes that have outdoor seating. That way, you can hop back for a quick lunch or evening drinks at all times. The tracks around trinity beach are also a little more challenging than the ones around the more mainstream areas; the views from the top of some nearby hillocks (such as Earl Hill), however, are definitely worth the effort!
Trinity Beach is a little farther out than most other neighborhoods on the list, but is just right for travellers looking to avoid city crowds. Beach resorts and seaside hotels should be the preferred choice in this part of the city.
And for the last neighborhood in the list we bring to you the family friendly Edge Hill. Centred around the expansive Flecker Botanic Gardens, this neighborhood has all the makings of a quaint weekend. The central draw is built around a water inlet and is dominated by tropical gardens and forest reserves; it makes for quite a trip, one where you can enjoy a nice outdoor picnic and discover the natural bounties of the region without having to travel too far out of the city.
And for all the talk about the natural setting, Edge Hill is in fact quite artsy. Some major visual and performing arts venues fall in the vicinity of the neighborhood; amongst the must-visits are the Tanks Arts Centre - known for its ever-changing contemporary exhibits, the Cairns Chinese Garden - with serene looking theatre house in outdoor pagodas and Cairns Concert Orchestra - the local performance hall. Rest assured, you will never run out of things to do in and around Edge Hill.
Edge Hill is surrounded by the bigger Mount Whitfield Conservation park on the west and southwest; several walking trails run through the forest reserve and make the neighborhood an absolute delight to discover on foot. Connectivity to the other neighbourhoods is also relatively straightforward as regular bus services are available for all major city stations. While in Edge Hill you might want to look for a nice cabin or homestay close to the forest!
That's our complete list of neighbourhoods from Cairns traveller. Take your pick and get packing for your next vacation; the Great Barrier Reef awaits!