Get to know one of Queensland’s most adventurous cities.
A place of natural beauty, Tropical North Queensland has plenty of places to explore right on Cairns’ doorstep. Whether you want to glide above the ancient rainforest, dive on the Great Barrier Reef or relax on a tropical island, here are 11 incredible day trips from Cairns.
1. The Great Barrier Reef
Perfect for: Ticking off your bucket list
The coral reef that needs no introduction, this vast UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is best accessed from Cairns where a wide range of tour operators base themselves. Really, a visit to Cairns without at least one trip out into the blue would be criminal.
The Spirit of Freedom is one of many cruise operators on the reef. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Some visitors commit days to exploring all that the Great Barrier Reef has to offer from a liveaboard, but you can easily get a taste with just a day to spare.
Snorkel the coral gardens to see underwater wonders. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Swim, snorkel, sail, or dive among the 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish that the reef plays home to: you might even witness coral spawning, whales migrating, or turtles nesting.
Book a snorkelling trip with Divers Den to scour the barrier reef for marine life. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Distance from Cairns: Many boats depart from Cairns Marlin Marina (a five-minute drive from the city centre) or from Port Douglas. The reef boat journey can take between 45 minutes and two hours depending on your destination.
Perfect for: Nature and shopping
This mountain village of Kuranda is perhaps best known as the home of Skyrail: a seven-and-a-half-kilometre cableway that rises above the resplendent green canopy of Barron Gorge National Park – part of Australia’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
Kuranda Scenic Railway winds through scenic valleys and past majestic waterfalls. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
It’s also home to the Kuranda Scenic Railway, a 37-kilometre-long railroad that traverses through valleys, past waterfalls, and around mountaintops.
Journey through the rainforest on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
You can do both in one day with the combined railway and cableway round trip between Cairns and Kuranda.
Enjoy a cultural experience at Rainforestation Nature Park. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
But beyond the big-ticket attractions, the town of Kuranda has some draws of its own too. Shop local in Kuranda Village around the bohemian shops, galleries, cafes, and outdoor markets of Coondoo Street, enjoy a cultural experience at Rainforestation Nature Park, or take a peaceful stroll at the Butterfly Sanctuary.
The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary features a diverse range of butterfly species. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Distance from Cairns: 40 minutes to Kurnda directly. Alternatively, drive 20 minutes to Smithfield Terminal to catch the Skyrail there.
3. Palm Cove
Perfect for: Lazy relaxation
The coastal suburb of Palm Cove has become a destination in its own right – so much so that many catch the shuttle here straight from Cairns Airport and never venture outside of its postcode.
Set foot on the sandy shores of Palm Cove. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
The balmy shores of this ‘tropical village by the sea’ are lined with palm trees, smart-casual cafes, and restaurants, plus plentiful hotel spas and colourful boutiques.
Embrace the coastal beauty of Palm Cove . (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
While away an afternoon (or longer) exploring the colourful esplanade and strolling along the beach with ice cream, or hit the water by canoe, stand-up paddleboard, jet ski, or catamaran. And don’t leave without visiting the standout local restaurant Nu Nu (bookings highly recommended).
Dine on the sand at Nu Nu Restaurant. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Distance from Cairns: 30 minutes
4. Port Douglas
Perfect for: Tropical fun
Another nearby coastal town worth visiting is Port Douglas which is just as relaxing and luxurious as its Palm Cove cousin, yet it’s much bigger and its nightlife has far more energy.
Picture perfect scenes at Port Douglas. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
A day spent here can be easily filled by splashing in the warm waters of Four Mile Beach, dining at award-winning restaurants, shopping at the weekly markets, hopping on board a sunset cruise or creating your very own bar crawl.
Take advantage of the remote beauty and romance of Port Douglas. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Distance from Cairns: one hour
5. Daintree Rainforest & Mossman Gorge
Perfect for: Ancient culture
Part of the World Heritage Wet Tropics Rainforest, the Daintree is the world’s oldest tropical rainforest and a must-do experience when in Tropical North Queensland. When you’re not looking around in awe at this green wonderland, you can see a croc in the wild, enjoy a walking tour of the Daintree Ice Cream Company orchard or visit the Mossman Gorge Centre.
Learn more when you join a guided Indigenous ecotourism experience led by the Kuku Yalanji people as you walk among the thick of the forest, hear about the plants used as medicine, identify bush foods, and take part in a traditional smoking ceremony to ward off bad spirits on the Dreamtime Walk.
Mossman Gorge is a green wonderland you’ll struggle to leave. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Distance from Cairns: one hour 15 minutes
6. Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Circuit
Perfect for: Easy-going wandering
For incredible scenery, magnificent waterfalls, and delicious food all in one day trip, The Waterfall Circuit is for you.
Millaa Millaa Falls is one of three spectacular falls in the Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Circuit. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Fit in as little or as much as you’d like, but some of the best itinerary items include grabbing freshly roasted coffee from the farm at Skyburry Cafe & Roastery, exploring the main trio of waterfalls (Millaa Millaa, Zillie, and Ellinjaa), taking a break with Devonshire Tea at Lake Barrine Teahouse and tasting homemade ice cream at Mungalli Creek Dairy.
Zillie Falls is a beautiful cascade sandwiched between dense greenery. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Distance from Cairns: one hour 40 minutes
7. Mission Beach
Perfect for: Exploring off the beaten track
Part of the Cassowary Coast, Mission Beach is full to the brim with natural beauty. It’s made up of four gorgeous beach villages (Bingil Bay, North Mission, Wongaling Beach, and South Mission), all linked by 14 kilometres of golden beach so there is plenty to discover.
Aside from uncrowded beach time and local cafe gems, there’s a surprising amount of high-adrenaline activities to get stuck into. From tandem skydiving and white water rafting to exploring the Outer Great Barrier Reef, you’ll leave feeling like you’ve accomplished something unbelievable.
Take it slow in Mission Beach. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Or for something a bit more sedate but no less intriguing, nearby is Paronella Park. This surreal parcel of land has a stone structure that resembles a small castle hidden among a plethora of verdant foliage. The park’s ‘refreshment rooms’ were inspired by the late owner’s childhood memories of Catalan castles. Stay a while and stroll around the park, soaking up the abundant flora and fauna and admiring Mena Creek Falls.
Paronella Park is renowned for the magnificent Mena Creek Falls. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland/ Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Distance from Cairns: Two hours
8. Cape Tribulation
Perfect for: Scenic bushwalking
This remote headland is a wildly photogenic spot for a day trip. Known as the place where the rainforest meets the reef, go beyond the surface of Cape Trib with a bushwalk.
Embark on a bush walk to see sweeping views of Kulki Beach from above. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
The easy Kulki Boardwalk is a great place to start as it’s just a 10-minute round-trip with promising views over the Coral Sea and Cape Tribulation Beach.
Cape Tribulation Beach is where the rainforest meets the reef. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Otherwise, you can put your tastebuds to the test at a rare exotic fruit farm. Or, if you’d like to dial up the adventure a notch, then canter through the rainforest or the shallow waters of the sea on a guided horse ride.
Go on a guided horse ride at Cape Tribulation. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Distance from Cairns: 2 hours 40 minutes
9. Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park
Perfect for: Exploring the unknown
The perfect tonic for hot sticky days when temperatures above ground are too much, join a ranger on a Chillagoe-Mungana Caves guided tour to discover spectacular limestone caves, small galleries of Aboriginal rock art, and a historically significant mining site.
The Balancing Rock in Chillagoe looks majestic under the night sky. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Whether you’re a budding geologist or travelling with curious kids, these subterranean limestone beauties are thoroughly engrossing. Wondering which cave to choose?
Chillagoe-Mungana is home to impressive limestone caves. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Donna Cave features beautiful columns and calcite crystals. Trezkinn Cave boasts an impressive ‘chandelier’ formation. And the vast Royal Arch Cave promises 11 different chambers, ancient marine fossils, and the novelty of carrying a hand-held lamp to explore. Good luck picking — you may as well do them all!
Royal Arch Cave features spectacular stalactites. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Distance from Cairns: 2 hours 50 minutes
10. Fitzroy Island
Perfect for: Outdoor adventure
There are a few dreamy islands off the coast of Cairns but if we had to choose one that offers both paradise and adventure in equal measure, Fitzroy Island takes the prize.
Slip into the turquoise waters at Nudey Beach. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Home to one of Australia’s best beaches (Nudey Beach), spectacular walking trails, easy access to the fringing reef, and an abundance of island tours and activities, there is plenty to pack into a day here.
Off the coast of Cairns is the stunning tropical paradise of Fitzroy Island. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Without question though, snorkelling is a real highlight and if you’re travelling light, you can hire equipment from the island’s resort. Peckish? Enjoy lunch on the outdoor terrace of Zephyr Restaurant or a cheeky cocktail at Foxy’s Bar & Cafe.
Sip a cocktail at Foxy’s Bar & Cafe with overlooking views of Fitzroy Island. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Distance from Cairns: A 45-minute ferry ride from the city’s Reef Fleet Terminal
Written by Chloe Cann with updates by Jemma Fletcher
All day tripped out and want to flop on a Cairns beach? Check out the ultimate guide to Cairns’ beaches.