Guide to Cairns

Jun 30, 2020
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The gateway to Queensland's tropical north, Cairns is a laid-back city best enjoyed outdoors. Visit Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest, but don't miss the great things to do in and around town. You'll find brilliant cafés, bustling markets and plenty of beaches nearby. Relax by a resort pool or spend your days exploring this tropical oasis.

Don't miss

- Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Kuranda Village

- Tucking into tropical fruits and fresh seafood

- Exploring the World Heritage wonders

How to get there 

A range of domestic and international flights arrive at Cairns Airport, a 10 to 15-minute drive from the city centre.

Useful tips

- Decide when to visit and what to pack with this info on seasonal weather in Cairns

- Visit a local information centre for more detailed info on the area


See the Great Barrier Reef

No trip to Cairns is complete without visiting the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef system. Book a day cruise with operators such as Passions of Paradise or Quicksilver Cruises to snorkel and dive among vivid coral gardens and colourful fish. For a longer stay, you can book a three-day liveaboard dive and snorkelling cruise with ProDive Cairns. Or try something different with Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel, enjoy a rare educational opportunity to explore the reef with Indigenous cultural storytelling from traditional owners.

Go island hopping

Discover some of the reef's unspoiled islands from Cairns. Jump on the 45-minute high-speed ferry to reach picturesque Fitzroy Island. Here you can explore rainforest walking tracks, snorkel straight off the beach at Welcome Bay and Nudey Beach and see the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef by sea kayak. Book a day tour to Green Island, a coral cay surrounded by sugar-white beaches and sapphire waters, just 30 kilometres off the Cairns shore. Go off the grid at Hinchinbrook Island, Australia's largest national park island, and discover a landscape of mangrove forests, isolated beaches and sheltered bays. For a truly exclusive experience, book accommodation at reef-fringed Bedarra or Lizard islands.

Get your foodie fix

From the well-known Cairns Esplanade restaurants serving up seafood to the cool city laneway coffee shops and wine bars, the Cairns food scene is buzzing. Start the day with breakfast at Caffiend, a laneway café plating up dishes such as chilli eggs and French toast with cold drip coffee and coconut lattes. Take advantage of the balmy weather and dine alfresco on The Esplanade, with rustic Greek dishes from Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and modern Asian fusion from The Raw Prawn or, mingle with the locals at Rusty's Markets (Friday to Sunday), where you can stock up on fresh local produce from more than 180 stalls.

Learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture

At the only place on Earth where two World Heritage sites collide, Cairns acts as a gateway to explore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. The Tjapukai Cultural Centre and nearby Rainforestation Nature Park offer interactive introductions to the traditional weapons, tools, bush tucker, song and dance of the area. The Daintree Rainforest, located north of Cairns, overflows with ancient Aboriginal culture. Adventure North Australia will teach you to spear crabs that are later eaten around a shared table, Walkabout Cultural Adventures will help you seek out medicinal bush plants and the Flames of the Forest Aboriginal Cultural Experience involves heading into the rainforest near Port Douglas for a seven-dish banquet dinner where your Kuku Yalanji hosts share music, ceremony and storytelling.

Trek through tropical rainforest

The World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest is about a two-hour drive north of Cairns and can be seen on a day trip from the city or over the course of two days, staying overnight in one of its wilderness lodges. The tropical rainforest is home to the most diverse range of plants and animals on earth, including the rare tree-dwelling kangaroo and the endangered cassowary. Start your day at the Daintree Discovery Centre where you can walk along the 125-metre (410-foot) long Aerial Walkway through the mid-level rainforest or take a self-guided rainforest tour. Join a gentle cruise down the Daintree River to spot wildlife in its natural habitat, including saltwater crocodiles. On foot you'll find that rainforest meets reef at Cape Tribulation, where you can easily lose hours walking through tropical lowland forest or along stretches of white sand.

...then experience it from above the canopy 

The mountain village of Kuranda is tucked within the tropical rainforest and is known for its vibrant arts community. Local markets are open daily, selling a range of jewellery, leather goods and Aboriginal art, while bookshops, galleries and boutiques line the village streets. The journey to and from Kuranda is arguably the highlight. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway glides above the rainforest canopy then descends deep into its heart. The 90-minute experience allows time at two rainforest stations, Red Peak and Barron Falls, where you can walk among lush palm and giant ferns. On your way back to Cairns, you can travel on the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway. The two-hour train journey traverses dense rainforest, rugged mountains, tumbling waterfalls and the stunning Barron Gorge.