Wondering how to fill your time in Cairns? Tick off these must-do experiences.
As the gateway to Queensland’s tropical north, Cairns is home to the iconic Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics, as well as idyllic beaches, bustling markets, delicious restaurants, and a deep connection with Australia’s Indigenous cultures. Check out our list of 30 things to do on your next visit to Cairns.
1. Stroll along Cairns Esplanade
Want to stretch your legs and explore Cairns at the same time? Feel the sea breeze and the sun on your face on a gentle walk along the picturesque 2.5-kilometre boardwalk, passing parklands, public artwork, a water play area, playgrounds, and al fresco dining spots.
Chase stunning sunset views along the Cairns Esplanade. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
2. Take a dip at Cairns Lagoon
Along the esplanade, you’ll also find the man-made 4800 square metre saltwater Lagoon offering all-year-round safe swimming with views out to Trinity Inlet.
Lush views of the Cairns Lagoon and Esplanade. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Hosting sandy shores and beach volleyball courts for everyone to enjoy, this is the closest beach to the city centre making it a convenient spot to stop for a dip. Nearby you’ll find public toilets and showers, lockers, and electric BBQs. Aquatic wheelchairs are also available for visitors to use in the Lagoon. Best of all — it’s free!
Find a sandy spot to sit on the manmade shore. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
3. Dine at Cairns’ cafes and restaurants
Speaking of al fresco dining spots, Cairns has plenty of great cafes and restaurants to eat your way around. Whether you’re looking for relaxed waterfront views along the esplanade, scenic beachfront dining, or fresh seafood straight off the trawler, you’re spoilt for choice on where to taste Tropical North Queensland’s vibrant flavours.
Feast on freshly cooked seafood at Prawn Star. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
4. Feel inspired at Cairns Art Gallery
Housed in a landmark heritage building, Cairns Art Gallery holds spectacular exhibitions featuring historical and contemporary art by leading regional, national, and international artists. Escape the heat and wander around at leisure or join an art class, talk, or event.
5. Immerse yourself at Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome
Got a rainy day to fill? Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome is a fantastic all-weather wildlife exhibit that immerses you in a rainforest environment while birds fly freely around you.
Conquer your fear of heights at Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Here you can have your photo taken with a koala, enjoy Australian wildlife presentations, be educated about the region’s native fauna, and have a go on the world’s first high ropes course in a wildlife park where you’ll zipline directly over the resident crocodile Goliath.
Test your limits on the thrilling obstacle course. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
6. Browse the Cairns markets
With so many diverse offerings in Cairns, there are plenty of markets to explore, from stalls along the beachside promenade to those out in the rustic country and more in between.
The Cairns Night Markets are especially popular as they’re open every night of the week and offer over 70 market shops to explore including a varied food court.
It’s the perfect place to grab dinner and hunt for a bargain. With its lively atmosphere, Rusty’s Markets are also highly favoured and considered to be the best place to browse the region’s local produce.
Stop by Rusty’s Market for an array of tropical fruits and fresh produce. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland/ Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
7. Relax on a Cairns beach
With some of Queensland’s most stunning coastlines right here in Cairns, you’re never short of a spot to lay your towel. From the tranquillity of Trinity Beach to the spacious Four Mile Beach, take your pick from these top beaches and pack up the Esky for a day of sun, sea, and sand. If you’re willing to drive an hour for a unique swimming spot, head to Babinda Boulders to swim surrounded by lush rainforest and giant granite boulders.
Visit the iconic Babinda Boulders. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
8. Explore Palm Cove
Alongside Cairns’ beaches are some beautiful coastal towns to discover. The resort town of Palm Cove is especially lovely, giving you that instant ‘on holiday’ feeling. Here you’ll be greeted by a gentle pace and its signature Melaleuca trees along the esplanade with an array of restaurants, cafes, and boutique shops to explore.
Stroll along the beautiful beaches in Palm Cove. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland / Tourism Palm Cove)
9. Get to know Port Douglas
Or for a coastal town with a more upbeat vibe, set your sights on a day trip to charming Port Douglas. Just an hour’s drive north of Cairns, this tropical mecca is a gourmet hotspot for the foodies among us. After a long lunch and a spot of shopping, treat yourself to a day spa and sip sunset cocktails at the marina.
Dreamy ocean views from Port Douglas. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
10. Bar hop around Cairns
From rooftop sunset drinks at Rocco by Crystalbrook and outstanding craft beers at Hemingway’s Brewery, to a quick pick-me-up along the esplanade at Flamingos Tiki Bar, or even a late-night boogie with your favourite tipple at The Woolshed, there’s no shortage of pubs and bars in Cairns to wet your whistle.
Grab a cold pint at Hemingway’s Brewery. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
11. Chase waterfalls near Cairns
There are countless sparkling waterfalls and swimming holes to explore in Cairns’ vast backyard, including in the Atherton Tablelands, a lush region of green rainforest.
Zillie Falls is just breathtaking. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
For three of the best, head to The Waterfall Circuit and take in the sights of Millaa Millaa, Zillie, and Ellinjaa Falls. When you’re ready for refreshments, the Atherton Tablelands also has an incredible food trail to work your way around.
Dive into the refreshing waters of Millaa Millaa Falls. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
12. Rise above Cairns in a hot air balloon
As the sun rises, see Cairns from above on a scenic hot air balloon ride offering 360-degree views of the miniature world below. Receive a commemorative certificate and a glass of bubbles or juice with a breakfast snack on landing. Don’t forget your camera to capture the Queensland pre-dawn amber glow.
Elevate your experience in Cairns with a hot air balloon ride. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
13. Dive on the Great Barrier Reef
A visit to Cairns isn’t complete without an adventure on the world-famous Great Barrier Reef. Want to see the coral and marine life up close? Join an all-inclusive day tour where you have the opportunity to jump right in and snorkel or dive.
Dive into the depths of the famed Great Barrier Reef. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
For an added twist on your experience, different operators offer different tours, such as a waterslide on the reef with Sunlover Reef Cruises, an educational Indigenous-led tour with Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel, or an underwater observatory with Quicksilver Cruises.
Join an educational Indigenous-led tour with Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
14. Travel to the mountain village of Kuranda
Make your way to quirky Kuranda via Skyrail, a 7.5-kilometre cableway that rises high above Barron Gorge National Park — part of Australia’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. On arrival, there’s plenty of charm to explore, including the bohemian shops, galleries, cafes, and outdoor markets of Coondoo Street, a cultural experience at Rainforestation Nature Park, or a peaceful stroll at the Butterfly Sanctuary. Travel back via the Kuranda Scenic Railway, a 37-kilometre railroad that traverses through valleys, past waterfalls, and around mountaintops.
Be in awe of the indigenous performances at Rainforestation Nature Park. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
15. Discover the Daintree Rainforest
Thought to be over 135 million years old, the Daintree Rainforest is the oldest surviving rainforest on earth and there are many ways to explore it.
Take in natural wonders from the Daintree Rainforest. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Venture along the family-friendly elevated boardwalk at the Daintree Discovery Centre, or join one of the many Daintree tours on offer – from learning about different bush foods and medicines with Walkabout Cultural Adventures to a guided tour at Mossman Gorge.
Walkabout Cultural Adventures offers Indigenous-led tours of the Daintree. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
You can also spot crocs on the river (or float down the river yourself), or enjoy the most scenic ice cream of your life at Daintree Ice Cream Company.
Learn about the fruit of the forest at the Daintree Discovery Centre. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
16. Seek adventure experiences in Cairns
It’s no secret that Cairns is the adventure capital of Queensland but you might be surprised at how many high-adrenaline activities there are to get stuck into. Don’t mind heights? Skydive over the Great Barrier Reef, take a giant leap into the rainforest on a bungy jump, or cruise through the sky on a hang gliding flight. If you prefer to make a splash, enjoy the thrill of white water rafting, abseil in waterfalls, or have some extreme fun on a Bad Fishy jet boat ride.
Embrace a rush of adrenalin on a ride with Bad Fishy. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
17. Go beach horse riding
Experience the beauty of Cape Tribulation on a guided horse-riding tour through the majestic Daintree Rainforest on your way to Myall Beach. On arrival, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the coastline with views of the Great Barrier Reef and walk your horse into the shallow waters — it’s the perfect holiday photo snap.
Journey through Cape Tribulation on a guided horse-riding tour. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
18. Escape to a tropical island off Cairns
If you’re dreaming of a white patch of sand, swaying palm trees, and crystal-clear water, a tropical island paradise is exactly what you can find off the coast of Cairns. A couple of the most accessible to get to are Fitzroy Island and Green Island — both just 45 minutes away via ferry. Snorkel, bushwalk, order lunch with a cocktail, or just simply relax.
Your well-deserved tropical getaway awaits on Fitzroy Island. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
19. Take a scenic flight above Cairns
Looking for the ultimate Cairns luxury experience? The signature helicopter tour from Nautilus Aviation is a journey of a lifetime flight to Vlasoff Cay. Departing Cairns in your private charter, soak in the amazing aerial views over the rainforest-clad coastline and across the waters of the Coral Sea before touching down on Vlasoff Cay, a major jewel in the Great Barrier Reef crown. Here you can enjoy the sand beneath your toes, relax in the shallows, or snorkel in the coral reef waters. A gourmet picnic hamper with sparkling wine is served under your private beach umbrella.
Admire the beauty of Cairns on a scenic flight with Nautilus Aviation. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
20. Meet the marine life at Cairns Aquarium
Without having to get wet, spend the day exploring the world above and below the water at Cairns Aquarium. With more than 16,000 aquatic animals to meet and greet, it’s the ideal activity for marine-life lovers, and you can see the habitats native to Tropical North Queensland too. While you’re there, get up close and personal with the rescued sea turtles on a rehabilitation centre tour.
Get up close and personal with marine life at the Cairns Aquarium. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
21. Go back in time at Cairns Museum
Discover the interesting stories of Cairns’ past and present at Cairns Museum where you’ll learn all about living in the tropics. From the railways and the rainforest to cyclones and Indigenous resistance, it’s a fascinating insight into the region’s history.
Get to know the fascinating history of the region at Cairns Museum. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
22. Explore the beauty of Cairns Botanic Gardens
Green thumbs rejoice. Just a short drive north of the city centre, Cairns Botanic Gardens is known as one of the best exhibits of tropical plants in the country. It also has a rainforest boardwalk, a freshwater lake, and a nature playground. Free guided tours are available and it’s a great spot to take the kids to burn some energy.
Spot diverse species of butterflies at Cairns Botanic Gardens. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
23. Get cultured at Cairns Art Gallery
Spend a morning at Cairns Art Gallery, the city’s only visual art museum. Housed in a heritage building, the gallery holds around 30 exhibitions throughout the year ranging from sculpture to photography to installation, with a strong focus on local and Indigenous artworks.
Immerse yourself in the cultural fabric of Cairns.
24. Do a spot of shopping in Cairns
If you’re a lover of quirky things then you’ll probably lose yourself down the little laneway that is Oceana Walk. This retail arcade is home to a collection of eclectic stores selling everything from boho-chic clothing to eco toys to vintage books and vinyl records. Be sure to stop by Blackbird Laneway espresso bar for a pick-me-up of fresh, locally roasted coffee. For big-name brands, head to Cairns Central Shopping Centre, the largest shopping centre in Tropical North Queensland with over 170 stores.
25. Splash around at Cairns Aqua Park
Watersports enthusiasts will love the inflatable water playground at Cairns Aqua Park — a lot of fun for the whole family! It’s a great way to cool off and burn some energy. There are even kneeboarding and wakeboarding lessons available.
26. Swim with Minke Whales
Did you know the Great Barrier Reef is the only place in the world where you can swim with dwarf minke whales? Combine that with this only being available in June and July, which means it’s one of Cairns’ most exclusive experiences. To come face-to-face with these majestic creatures, hop onto a liveaboard expedition (typically for three to seven days) with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, Divers Den, or Pro Dive.
Come face-to-face with Minke Whales. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
27. Hear the stories of our Indigenous peoples
Queensland’s tropical north is the only place you’ll find both of Australia’s Indigenous cultures — Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Explore Mossman Gorge on the Dreamtime Walk where you’ll visit sacred sites and witness a traditional smoking ceremony; watch the Pamagirri Dance Show at Rainforestation Nature Park; try spear and boomerang throwing with Walkabout Cultural Adventures or learn from the Indigenous Sea Rangers on a Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel tour.
28. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
One of the oldest-running tourist attractions in the Cairns region is Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. Daily activities include breakfast with the koalas, cassowary feeding, and a boat cruise to spot crocodiles.
Get a chance to spot salties up close. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
In between shows, make sure to wander the 2.5-kilometre boardwalk through melaleuca wetlands and eucalypt woodland to enjoy a wide variety of native and exotic animals.
Sign up for Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures and experience feeding the big crocs for yourself. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
29. Relax at a luxurious Cairns day spa
If you’re ready to kick back and sink into a massage, the good news is Cairns has plenty of pamper treatments to choose from. Palm Cove is particularly well known for its luxurious day spas including the Reef House Boutique Hotel & Spa; their signature spa package includes a botanical body exfoliation, a full body hydration massage, and a seasonal spa facial. Or for something closer to the city centre, Eléme Day Spa at Crystalbrook Riley has a flexible menu so their therapists can personalise each treatment to best suit you.
30. Hop aboard a Cairns Fishing Charter
Want to enjoy the luxury of having your own skipper and crew on a private fishing charter? Spend the day with Cairns Reef Fishing for an enjoyable deep-fishing experience chasing some classic reef species.
Cast a fishing rod from your private boat with Cairns Reef Fishing. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
A full range of quality fishing gear is provided, and the knowledgeable crew is happy to help you learn if you’re looking to improve your fishing skills.
You might catch a big fish if you’re lucky. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)