20 Top Things to Do in Cairns, Australia | 2023 Guide

Located in Tropical North Queensland, the city of Cairns is one of Australia’s most popular destinations. Although it’s quite small as far as Australian cities go, it’s a huge draw for tourists due to the Great Barrier Reef to the east and the lush rainforest to the north and west. 

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Cairns is the perfect destination for adventure seekers. With so many incredible natural wonders nearby, the city really stands out from its sister cities.

The large number of adventurous things to do in Cairns, Australia draws fun and energetic crowds that result in a vibrant atmosphere. This city is one of our favourite destinations in all of Australia, thanks to the incredible natural beauty that surrounds the city and all the possibilities for adventure.

Best Time to Visit Cairns

Cairns has generally consistent weather all year round. Temperatures will be hot and steamy no matter when you visit. Diving and snorkelling conditions are good throughout the entire year, too.

Cairns does have a wet and dry season, but all things considered, they aren’t all that different. If you really want to avoid the rains, you’re better off visiting between April and September.

Sustainable Guide to things to do in Cairns Australia
Cairns, Queensland, Australia
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Top Things To Do In Cairns, Australia

When it comes to the best attractions in Cairns, you won’t find them in the city itself but rather in the region to the West and to the North of Cairns. The best advantage of staying in Cairns is that you are conveniently located within 1-2 hours of most attractions in the Far North Queensland region, which makes it easy to organise tours to any destination in the area. 

If you are looking to get the most out of your time in Cairns, here are some things you should do.

1. Explore The Great Barrier Reef

Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and you absolutely cannot miss it while in town. Made up of nearly 3,000 smaller reefs, the world’s largest coral system is one of the most precious natural wonders of the world.

The reef is over 3,000 km (1864 miles) long, so while you won’t be able to explore the entirety of this famous Cairns attraction, you should definitely try!

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most well-known diving destinations in the world. While parts of the Great Barrier Reef can be accessed from a number of destinations along the East Coast, some of the best dive spots in the Great Barrier Reef are found just a short boat ride away from Cairns.

These include spots like Nathan’s ReefEscape ReefOsprey ReefRibbon Reefs, and many others. 

Australia QLD GBR pixabay 1920 2
Great Barrier Reef

Take a Liveaboard to the Outer Great Barrier Reef

Experienced diver? Consider joining a Liveaboard to the Outer Barrier Reef. Trips to the Outer Great Barrier Reef range from quick, 3N/4D adventures to longer 7N/8D diving safaris and start at just $224 AUD per day

Take a Day Trip to the Great Barrier Reef

Looking for a shorter trip? Passions of Paradise offers a fantastic day trip to the Great Barrier Reef for those with little or no previous diving experience. Their day trip allows you to snorkelswim, or dive in two different locations along the reef and to experience the diverse reef structures and the marine life that lives within them.

Napoleon Wrasse in the Great Barrier Reef
Napoleon Wrasse in the Great Barrier Reef

2. Visit The Daintree National Park 

The Daintree National Park is undoubtedly one of the best day trips from Cairns. Part of the Wet Tropics Rainforest of Queensland, this incredibly diverse ecosystem is a huge highlight for anyone visiting Cairns

There are two spots open to visitors within Daintree National Park: the Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation

things to do in cairns australia
Daintree National Park

Daintree Rainforest River Cruise

Don’t miss an opportunity to explore the most densely populated mangrove estuaries in the world and get a chance to spot some local wildlife. Crocs, snakes, lizards, birds, and more are plentiful in this area, and your trusted local guide will be able to point them out to you along the way. 

Daintree River Cruise Centre, the operator that runs these tours is one of the oldest eco-certified operators in the area, so you can trust that your experience will be ethical and respectful to the wildlife that calls this river home. 

Daintree River from the Daintree River Cruise
Daintree River from the Daintree River Cruise

Mossman Gorge

The majority of the area near the Mossman Gorge is covered in inaccessible rainforests and mountain woodlands, but access to the Gorge itself is still possible from the Mossman Gorge CentreThe Mossman Gorge is particularly popular with those who want to immerse themselves in the lush green rainforest environment. 

There are 3 short walking trails, plus the famous Rainforest Circuit Track that begins on the far side of Rex Creek bridge and meanders through the rainforest. 

To get the most of your time in the Mossman Gorge consider joining one of the guided tours to learn more about the gorge and the flora and fauna of Daintree National Park.

The Dreamtime Gorge Walk, conducted by the local Indigenous people, is a great option. This Mossman Gorge tour takes visitors on a guided walk along the track, identifying culturally significant sites, demonstrating traditional plant use, identifying bush food sources and providing a great explanation of life in the rainforest. This is a group tour, so be prepared to share a rainforest with 15-20 other visitors. 

If you are looking for a more private and unique experience, we recommend this Exclusive Daintree Tour with FNQ Nature Tours, a fantastic sustainable tour operator based out of Cairns. 

3. Take a Day Trip to Cape Tribulation

Another great way to experience the Daintree National Park is on a day trip to Cape Tribulation, a small town located about 140km north of Cairns. The drive along Cape Tribulation Road is incredibly picturesque, passing through the dense Daintree National Park. 

Cape Tribulation Beach itself offers a very different perspective on the Daintree National Park, as it is the unique spot where the rainforest meets the reef! 

It’s easy to visit Cape Tribulation on your own, but if you are looking for a unique guided experience, consider organising this Private Daintree Afternoon Tour with FNQ Nature Tours. The highlight of this tour is definitely the guided night walk that will allow you to experience the Daintree National Park in a very unique way. 

Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation Beach, Daintree National Park
Cape Tribulation Beach, Daintree National Park
Things to do in Cape Tribulation for Every Responsible Traveler
Max at Cape Tribulation Beach

4. Explore Atherton Tablelands

If you’re wondering what to do in Cairns and want something completely unique, visiting the Atherton Tablelands area is an excellent choice for a day trip. The Tablelands area is known for great wildlife, beautiful rainforests, stunning waterfalls, and some unique local produce, like the region’s famous cheese.

We explored this awesome part of this region with FNQ Nature Tours on their unique Tablelands Exclusive Tour.

Hanging out with a wallaby at the Granite Gorge Nature Park in Atherton Tablelands
Hanging out with a wallaby at the Granite Gorge Nature Park in Atherton Tablelands

5. Check out Millaa Millaa Waterfall

One of the most popular Cairns attractions and the highlight of Atherton Tablelands, Millaa Millaa is a striking waterfall perfect for cooling off on a hot day. The swimming hole below the falls is deep and cold, and you can swim right up to the waterfall’s pummeling flume.

There are over 17 other waterfalls and in and around the Atherton Tablelands area, just outside of Cairns that are fun to explore and offer an excellent way to cool down on a hot day.

Millaa Millaa Waterfall, Atherton Tablelands, Cairns, Australia
Beautiful Millaa Millaa Waterfall

6. Visit Lake Barrine

Lake Barrine is another great spot for wildlife and nature in Atherton Tablelands and a great way to get a taste of the unique flora and fauna of Tropical North Queensland without having to navigate the crowds at the Daintree National Park. 

The Lake itself is home to many creatures that can be spotted on a guided boat tour, like turtles, snakes, eels, and more. At the same time, the Crater Lakes National Park that surrounds the lake offers an opportunity to experience a typical rainforest environment. 

Lake Barrine, Atherton Tablelands, Cairns
Lake Barrine, Atherton Tablelands, Cairns

7. Visit Kuranda & Barron Gorge National Park

With stunning waterfalls, gorgeous hiking trails, and lush jungles, the Kuranda region and its main attraction, Barron Gorge National Park, is one of the most exciting Cairns attractions and another destination for a day trip from Cairns. 

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

This gondola ride over the rainforest is not for the faint of heart. You’ll soar over the tall trees suspended in a glass-bottom car for unbelievable views of the park, Cairns, and the sea. Along the way, you can stop at two different points for canopy walks. This unique Cairns attraction is a 7.5 km (4.5 miles) long ride, and although it can get quite busy and a bit touristy, it’s still a very picturesque ride. You can pre-book your Skyrail Rainforest Cableway ticket HERE.

8. Kuranda Scenic Railway

The Kuranda Scenic Railway is known as one of the most beautiful train rides in all of Australia. The 115-minute journey from Cairns to Kuranda navigates dense rainforest, waterfalls and 320-metre steep ravines. It’s a beautiful ride with some spectacular views along the way!

An interesting way to visit the Kuranda region is to combine a Kuranda Scenic Railway Tour with a Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Tour, for a different perspective on the area. You can pre-book this great Combo Ticket HERE.

Things to do in Cairns Australia
Kuranda Scenic Railway. Photo courtesy of Tourism Australia

9. Hike to Barron Falls

Take a short and easy hike to the Barron Falls lookout point to witness this impressive waterfall firsthand. The waterfall splits into many sections at the top, spreading out over a vast expanse of rock. 

10. Visit Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Right at the entrance of Barron Gorge National Park is the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Although it’s one of the popular Cairns tourist attractions, it’s also a great place to learn about Aboriginal history and customs right at the source.

The centre hosts a variety of shows and activities that visitors can participate in, such as dancing, cooking, boomerang crafting, and spear-throwing. A visit here is one of the top things to do in Cairns, Australia.

Tjapukai Cultural Centre
Tjapukai Cultural Centre. Photo credits: Tourism and Events Queensland

11. Try Some Extreme Sports

Cairns is often called the “adventure capital of Australia.” There’s no better place in the country to try out some extreme sports and get your adrenaline pumping.

Whether it’s sky-diving, bungee jumping in a nearby national park, or white water rafting on the Tully River, there are plenty of extreme activities in Cairns for every type of traveler.

Skydiving in Cairns. Things to do in Cairns.
Skydiving in Cairns – extreme sports at its best!

These are the ones we particularly recommend:

  • Sky Diving from 15,000 Feet – get a chance to fly over the treetops of the Daintree Rainforest and get an aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef. This is the ultimate adrenaline rush experience!
  • Canopy Tour over the Daintree Rainforest from Cairns– an unforgettable way to experience the Daintree Rainforest from a unique perspective as you zipline through the canopy on this fun 2-hour zip line tour. 
  • Full-Day Tully River White Water Rafting Trip with Dinner – spend a day on the Tully River, regarded as Australia’s best river for white water rafting. Prepare for Grade 3 and 4 rapids, a riverside BBQ lunch, and a whole lot of fun!
  • Rainforest Bungee Jump – experience an adrenaline rush like you have never before as you bungee jump off a 50m Tower inside the Daintree Rainforest. 
  • Giant Jungle Swing Experience – if bungee jumping feels a bit too extreme, why not swing through the rainforest on a multi-person swing instead? Hold on to your friends/loved ones as you experience high speeds and acceleration as you drop from 45 metres to one metre in 3.5 seconds. 
  • Rainforest River Tubing Adventure – the least extreme of all activities on this list, this tubing adventure will have you drifting down Mulgrave River or through the Behana Gorge on a giant inflatable tube. Navigate small rapids and soak up the scenery on a gentle journey through the rainforest.

12. Sunbathe On Mission Beach

While there are countless amazing beaches near Cairns, one of the most stunning is Mission Beach. Just a two-hour drive south of the Cairns CBD, this is the perfect place to escape to for a relaxing and peaceful day at the beach.

Things to do in Cairns Australia
Mission Beach, Queensland

13. Explore Four Mile Beach

Four Mile Beach is considered to be Port Douglas’ most exquisite shoreline. With its soft white sand, crystal-clear water, and gentle waves, Four Mile Beach offers a relaxing experience. Here you can soak in the Australian sun, unwind, and revel in the natural beauty.

Regrettably, you shouldn’t swim at this beach because there are stinging creatures in the water. It’s best to wear a special stinger suit if you plan to swim here. You can also watch the sunrise over the Coral Sea from a viewpoint on the path that’s up and behind the beach, or you can take morning runs along this path near the beach.

14. Explore Lava Tubes In Undara Volcanic National Park

Undara Volcanic National Park is said to have the longest lava tubes in the entire world. Here, you can take a tour through them with a local guide, where you’ll learn all about how they were formed as well as how the geology of the park functions in the present day.

Afterward, spend the day hiking through this beautiful park and experiencing the beautiful scenery. This is definitely one of the more undiscovered day trips from Cairns.

15. Go Hiking In Lamb Range

Hiking in the beautiful Lamb Range is one of the best things to do in Cairns for active travelers. Dotted with waterfalls, rugged mountains, and thick jungles, this area is the perfect place for a wild adventure. 

The region is very undeveloped, making it a remote natural experience perfect for spirited hikers, but the lack of infrastructure makes it challenging to explore the Lamb Range on your own.

If you are keen on some hiking, FNQ Nature Tours runs private hiking tours in Cairns for travelers of all fitness levels and is an ideal tour operator to accompany you on this type of adventure. 

Things to do in Cairns: hiking
Vast national parks offer plenty of hiking trails just outside of Cairns

16. Enjoy A Day Out at Cairns Esplanade 

Cairns Esplanade is a lovely place by the water in Cairns, and its main attraction is a big man-made pool with sandy beaches that overlook Trinity Inlet. This pool is quite large, covering about 4800 square metres, and it’s filled with saltwater from Trinity Inlet. They use a special system to keep the water clean.

Nearby, you’ll find Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. It’s accessible for wheelchairs, has lockers and changing rooms, and the best part is that it’s free to use all year round. There are also cafes and shops around the lagoon and on the street just across from it. 

If you continue down the Cairns Esplanade, you’ll come across Muddy’s Playground, which is an ideal spot for young children and families. Don’t forget to check the opening times before you go!

17. Explore The Cairns Botanic Gardens

The Cairns Botanic Gardens is a pleasant place to enjoy a cup of tea and discover the local tropical plants. It has a long boardwalk that displays different types of plant environments. 

Located just outside Cairns, you’ll need a vehicle to get there. Cairns Botanical Gardens is a relaxing way to spend a day or even just an hour or two, and among all the things to do in Cairns, it’s possibly the most laid-back option.

18. Visit The Cairns Night Markets

Cairns Night Markets are among the most famous in Cairns, and they’re open every single day of the year. These markets are located right in the city centre, and the best part is they’re undercover, so you don’t have to worry about rainy nights. With a wide variety of stalls, there’s something for everyone here.

Apart from the local products, the Cairns Night Markets also have a food court where you can find a variety of dinner options. Plus, they offer affordable massages, so why not treat yourself while you’re there?

19. Take a Day Trip to an Island

Take a catamaran tour to Green Island departing from Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal. The terminal is located on the south side of The Esplanade, past the lagoon. This Green Island tropical island paradise tour usually lasts about 4 hours, so you’ll have plenty of time for snorkelling, free diving, or both.

If you prefer a longer day trip, consider taking Fitzroy Island day trip to explore the island. On this tour, you’ll experience an 8-hour day trip from Cairns Marlin Wharf to Fitzroy Island. Explore the island at your leisure, enjoying its beautiful beaches and dense rainforests. 

Once on Fitzroy island, you can enjoy activities like snorkelling or take a ride on their glass-bottom boat to see the underwater world. If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s an option for scuba diving. And for nature enthusiasts, there’s even a turtle rehabilitation centre to visit.

Green Island
Green Island, Cairns

20. Visit Palm Cove

Palm Cove is a charming coastal destination known for its beautiful melaleuca trees, a beautiful beach, great food, even better coffee, and a scenic jetty. You can easily reach other northern beaches from Cairns by road, and there’s even a cycling path from Cairns to Palm Cove. 

Palm Cove is a major attraction among the Northern Beaches, and it’s a popular stop for cruise ships as well.

Skip a visit to Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome is a popular zoo and wildlife park in the heart of Cairns city, just a short walk from Cairns Esplanade and the pier. Three zip lines transport visitors to the animal exhibits that feature mammals, nocturnal creatures, reptiles, amphibians, and a bird aviary.

While this facility promises to offer exciting experiences, we strongly recommend that you consider alternatives to visiting zoos for ethical and conservation reasons. 

Zoos, in general, have faced scrutiny regarding animal welfare and conservation practices and while many now engage in a variety of conservation efforts, they still promote keeping animals in captivity, a practice we just cant get behind. 

Instead, we encourage you to explore ways to see wildlife in their natural habitat and to support conservation efforts, sanctuaries, and rehabilitation centers that prioritize the well-being and protection of animals in their natural habitats. We’ve mentioned a few of these options throughout the article. 

Skip a Stroll Around Cairns Aquarium

Cairns Aquarium, located just a short walk from the Esplanade, is another Cairns attraction we recommend that you skip during your time in the city. 

The Aquarium highlights the animals and diverse marine life of Far North Queensland’s Wet Tropics Rainforest. With over 15,000 animals, it offers opportunities to observe various marine and rainforest creatures up close.

The aquarium does emphasize its commitment to conservation, but if you’re seeking alternatives that prioritize the well-being and preservation of marine life in their natural habitats, we recommend exploring alternative eco-friendly and sustainable marine life encounters in the region (there are plenty!). By doing so, you can contribute to the protection of these ecosystems while enjoying a more responsible way to appreciate the beauty of Far North Queensland’s natural environment.

READ NEXT: Ultimate Brisbane to Cairns Drive Itinerary

Best Hotels In Cairns

Riley & Crystalbrook Collection Hotels

The Crystalbrook Collection is a series of luxury hotels with a focus on sustainability. We recently had the pleasure of staying at Riley, a brand new eco-hotel right on the city’s waterfront, and absolutely loved our room, the hotel’s beautiful facilities, and awesome on-site restaurants.

It was truly one of the best eco-hotels we’ve stayed at during our time in Australia. Rates at Riley start at just $248 AUD per night, a great price for the value!

Sustainable Guide to things to do in Cairns Australia
Our room at Riley Hotel in Cairns

Crystalbrook Bailey

Bailey is the second Crystalbrook hotel in Cairns, located just down the street. While the rooms are nicely designed and high-quality, they may feel a bit small at 26 square metres, and there’s no balcony, which limits the view of Cairns’ scenic beauty. They also have a strong sustainability policy to minimise their environmental impact. 

They have a small pool and gym, and the hotel houses the city’s best steakhouse, sourcing sustainable meat from their own ranch on the Atherton Tablelands. 

Crystalbrook Flynn

Flynn is situated in the heart of the esplanade and is known for its lively and social atmosphere. They have a spacious open-plan dining area called Boardwalk Social, which comes alive on weekends with live music and entertainment. Don’t worry, the rooms are soundproofed, so you can have a peaceful night’s sleep.

Their pool, though a bit small, offers stunning views and is right next to the dining area. The rooms are modern and well-furnished, though slightly smaller due to the central location. The good news is that most rooms come with a balcony for some outdoor space.

They also maintain a comprehensive sustainability policy that aims to minimise the environmental impact.

YHA Cairns Central

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly and eco-conscious option, check out the YHA Cairns Central hostel.

We love YHA Hostels and have stayed in many of them around Australia. They’re modern, fun, and affordable. Best of all, they keep sustainability at the forefront of their values. The Cairns YHA is no exception.

Best Restaurants In Cairns

Prawn Star

For seafood direct from the ocean, Prawn Star is your best bet. Located right on the harbour’s edge, you can watch the ships come in for the night as you dine on delicious crab, fish, mussels, crayfish, and more. Eating here should definitely be on your list of the top things to do in Cairns.

The Lillipad Cafe

Incredible breakfast and lunch are served up at the Lillipad Cafe. You’ll find sustainable seafood, gorgeous crepes, and heaping health food bowls.


For delicious and low-key vegetarian food, head to Snoogies. At this healthy restaurant, you’ll find all sorts of colourful dishes from salads to power balls to raw juices and everything in between.

Paper Crane 

Paper Crane is one of the newest editions to Cairns. Located at Riley’s Hotel, this stylish restaurant with a modern Asian fusion menu serves up delicious meals. Here, you’ll find menu items like local mud crab served Singapore-style, vegetable gyozas, and ramen. 

riley hotel cairns is an eco-friendly choice


Rocco is the place to go if you love Mediterranean food. Located on the rooftop of Riley’s Hotel, Rocco is the hip new restaurant in Cairns. On the menu, you’ll find dishes like grilled calamari, Turkish bread and dips, roasted eggplant, and haloumi cheese and more. This is also THE place for the best drinks in Cairns. Make sure you try the Punch Pot!

riley hotel cairns is an eco-friendly choice
Punch Pot – a Moroccan mint tea cocktail at Riley

How Much Time Do You Need In Cairns?

Cairns is the kind of place where you could spend a few days to a few weeks!

Between excursions to the Great Barrier Reef, adventure sports, national parks, and day trips to tropical rainforests and beyond, you could spend a month here having adventures every single day. Since most people don’t have that long on their trip, we’d recommend five days at the absolute minimum. Anything more than that is an excellent bonus.

Cairns is one of our all-time favourite Australian destinations. With so many exciting things to do and see, we’ve checked off some big bucket list items in Cairns city. We especially love it because of all the amazing nature and wildlife nearby. We implore you not to miss thrilling Cairns on your next trip to Australia!


Have you been to Cairns? What other awesome things to do in Cairns would you add to this list? 

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