Cairns travel guide

Cairns Tourism | Cairns Guide

You're Going to Love Cairns

Cairns is a cosmopolitan city with 140,000 residents in North Queensland. The city serves as a base for visitors to explore some of Australia's most spectacular natural wonders, including the Great Barrier Reef, Cape Tribulation, the Daintree Rainforest, and Kuranda.

There are a number of beach resorts close to Cairns and the city itself also has plenty to offer, with great nightlife and a wide variety of accommodation. The food is good, too, with a huge range of restaurants offering Asian and international cuisine. Japanese food is a particular strong point.

Cairns is a renowned hub for backpackers and that helps to create a buzzing atmosphere in the city's many pubs and clubs. Look out for the tropical fruit wine that is made locally in the surrounding fruit farms.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Cairns

1. Take a Hike

Cairns is surrounded by tropical rainforest and much of it is easily accessible from the city. There are more than 200 hiking trails taking you through this UNESCO World Heritage Site, offering a wonderful way to get closer to the spectacular forests and mountains.

2. Cairns Wildlife Dome

If you prefer your nature a little closer to home, visit the Cairns Wildlife Dome on the roof of the Reef Hotel Casino. Here you will find a replica rainforest environment, complete with koalas, wallabies, crocodiles, and parrots.

3. The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is perhaps the major tourist attraction in the Cairns area. There are lots of operators offering day tours or overnight cruises to the reef, where you can scuba dive or snorkel on one of the world's great natural wonders.

4. Try Adventure Sports

Cairns is a major center for adventure sports enthusiasts. You can try hang gliding, skydiving, or whitewater rafting. Hot air ballooning is particularly popular, and the local climate of clear sunny weather and light winds makes it perfect for the sport. Trips start at daybreak and offer spectacular views across the region.

5. Cairns Museum and Regional Gallery

The Cairns Museum offers an interesting depiction of the history of Cairns and the surrounding area. Cairns Regional Gallery, meanwhile, is housed in a handsome 1930s building and hosts regularly changing exhibitions of local artists.

What to do in Cairns

1. Cairns Esplanade: Instagram-worthy Views

A trip to the ocean wouldn't be complete without the promenades that separate the worlds of men from that of marine life. The pool at Cairns Esplanade is the perfect synthesis of the natural and the manufactured, offering a recreational area for visitors and locals alike to enjoy the coastline views. Here you can find many cafes, shops, and businesses as well as a skate park for the true extreme sport enthusiasts. In front of the main promenade is the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon which features calm waters perfect for swimmers of all ages.

2. Great Barrier Reef: A Natural Wonder

The most popular outdoor attraction in Cairns is undoubtedly the Great Barrier Reef. This 2,300km stretch of ocean contains the world's largest coral reef and is considered one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Here you can enjoy many outdoor activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, kite surfing, and whale watching amidst one of the most diverse and vibrant underwater ecosystems. If the Great Barrier Reef has ever been on your bucket list, now is the time to visit. Coral bleaching and climate change have claimed large sections of the surrounding ecosystem, threatening the longevity of this natural wonder.

3. Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park: Pay Respect to Australia's Indigenous Past

Long before European settlers immigrated to Australia, the native Aboriginal people had a long and meaningful history with the land. At the Tjuapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park you can learn more about the cultural traditions and lifestyle of this ancient people through guided tours, concerts, and theater performances. The biggest attraction however is the home-style food which is served in a buffet-style for visitors. The Cultural Park is located right next to the Australian Armoury and Artillery Museum outside of Cairns City Proper.

4. Flecker Botanic Gardens: Step into Paradise

The gardens were first founded in 1886 as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, before being sold to Alderman Fletcher in 1912. The greenspace is divided into several sections of gardens, lakes, and conservatories, putting an emphasis on local flowers and fauna. The Flecker Botanic Gardens are located in the Edge Hill neighborhood and offer free entry to the public. For a special treat, visitors can attend one of the garden's year-round Saturday events which are held among the tropical foliage. Past events include basket weaving workshops, botanical fruit drawing lessons, and guided bird watching tours.

5. Daintree National Park: Become one with Nature

Moving from the Great Barrier Reef National Park up through the forested peaks of Cape Tribulation is Daintree National Park. This protected area is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Australia, where visitors can enjoy zip-lining through the tropical canopy alongside natural wildlife. The park is ripe with biodiversity as one of the oldest rainforests in the world, housing many rare animal species within it's green expanse. From babbling brooks to waterfalls, moss covered trees to clear water ponds, Daintree National Park is the perfect adventure companion to the Great Barrier Reef.

1. Cairns Esplanade: Instagram-worthy Views

A trip to the ocean wouldn't be complete without the promenades that separate the worlds of men from that of marine life. The pool at Cairns Esplanade is the perfect synthesis of the natural and the manufactured, offering a recreational area for visitors and locals alike to enjoy the coastline views. Here you can find many cafes, shops, and businesses as well as a skate park for the true extreme sport enthusiasts. In front of the main promenade is the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon which features calm waters perfect for swimmers of all ages.

2. Great Barrier Reef: A Natural Wonder

The most popular outdoor attraction in Cairns is undoubtedly the Great Barrier Reef. This 2,300km stretch of ocean contains the world's largest coral reef and is considered one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Here you can enjoy many outdoor activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, kite surfing, and whale watching amidst one of the most diverse and vibrant underwater ecosystems. If the Great Barrier Reef has ever been on your bucket list, now is the time to visit. Coral bleaching and climate change have claimed large sections of the surrounding ecosystem, threatening the longevity of this natural wonder.

3. Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park: Pay Respect to Australia's Indigenous Past

Long before European settlers immigrated to Australia, the native Aboriginal people had a long and meaningful history with the land. At the Tjuapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park you can learn more about the cultural traditions and lifestyle of this ancient people through guided tours, concerts, and theater performances. The biggest attraction however is the home-style food which is served in a buffet-style for visitors. The Cultural Park is located right next to the Australian Armoury and Artillery Museum outside of Cairns City Proper.

4. Flecker Botanic Gardens: Step into Paradise

The gardens were first founded in 1886 as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, before being sold to Alderman Fletcher in 1912. The greenspace is divided into several sections of gardens, lakes, and conservatories, putting an emphasis on local flowers and fauna. The Flecker Botanic Gardens are located in the Edge Hill neighborhood and offer free entry to the public. For a special treat, visitors can attend one of the garden's year-round Saturday events which are held among the tropical foliage. Past events include basket weaving workshops, botanical fruit drawing lessons, and guided bird watching tours.

5. Daintree National Park: Become one with Nature

Moving from the Great Barrier Reef National Park up through the forested peaks of Cape Tribulation is Daintree National Park. This protected area is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Australia, where visitors can enjoy zip-lining through the tropical canopy alongside natural wildlife. The park is ripe with biodiversity as one of the oldest rainforests in the world, housing many rare animal species within it's green expanse. From babbling brooks to waterfalls, moss covered trees to clear water ponds, Daintree National Park is the perfect adventure companion to the Great Barrier Reef.

Where to Eat in Cairns

The area around the Esplanade is packed with restaurants and bars, with lots of grills and seafood. Japanese food is also extremely popular. Sushi Express serves up its dishes from a sushi train designed to look like the Kuranda Railway. Dishes range from A$2.50 to A$4.50, and they also serve tempura and sashimi. Rattle 'N Hum is a popular grill on the Esplanade, offering main dishes from around A$20. The wood-fired pizza is good and it has a number of excellent local beers. Villa Romana Trattoria is a good Italian with some tasty seafood dishes.

When to visit Cairns

Cairns in March
Estimated hotel price
$31
1 night at 3-star hotel
Cairns in March
Estimated hotel price
$31
1 night at 3-star hotel

The peak tourist season in Cairns is from May to November, when temperatures are cooler at 78 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity is low. The wet season starts in December and runs through to February, with temperatures reaching 89 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity hitting 62 percent.

Data provided by weatherbase
Temperatures
Temperatures
Average
Celcius (°C)
Data provided by weatherbase

How to Get to Cairns

Plane

Cairns Airport (CNS) offers both international and domestic services. There are direct flights to New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Guam, Singapore, and Indonesia. Domestic flights go to Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and the Gold Coast. A shuttle bus connects the airport with the city. It departs hourly and the fare is A$15. Taxis are also available and a typical fare into the city center is around A$30.

Train

Cairns train station is sited in Cairns Central shopping center, and is close to the waterfront and most of the major hotels. There are regular services to Brisbane, Rockhampton, and Townsville. A single fare to Brisbane is from A$132. A second line, the Kuranda Scenic Railway, runs daily to Kuranda, stopping on top of the spectacular Barron Gorge for a great photo opportunity.

Car

The main north-south route is the Bruce Highway, which runs along the coast for more than 1,000 miles. It will take 22 hours to drive non-stop to Brisbane but there are many interesting towns along the route where you can break your journey and explore.

Bus

Greyhound Australia offers regular services between Cairns and major Australian cities such as Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney. The bus station is on Pier Point Road, near the beach. A typical one-way fare from Sydney is around A$410 and the journey takes around 50 hours.

Airports near Cairns

Airlines serving Cairns

Lufthansa
Good (1,366 reviews)
United Airlines
Good (2,467 reviews)
American Airlines
Good (3,907 reviews)
KLM
Good (290 reviews)
Air France
Good (291 reviews)
British Airways
Good (937 reviews)
SWISS
Excellent (355 reviews)
Air Canada
Good (626 reviews)
Emirates
Excellent (659 reviews)
Etihad Airways
Good (201 reviews)
Finnair
Good (446 reviews)
Singapore Airlines
Good (153 reviews)
LATAM Airlines
Good (628 reviews)
ANA
Excellent (99 reviews)
Japan Airlines
Good (297 reviews)
Qantas Airways
Good (100 reviews)
Cathay Pacific
Excellent (21 reviews)
Vistara
Excellent (52 reviews)
FlexFlight
Excellent (1 reviews)
Air New Zealand
Excellent (35 reviews)
Show more

Where to stay in Cairns

Cairns has a compact city center and most tourist accommodation is fairly central. The Cairns Beach House Backpackers Hostel offers shared dorm accommodation, and has a good pool and bar onsite. The Holiday Inn Cairns has a great location on the Esplanade. The Sebel Cairns is a good upscale hotel with spacious rooms and excellent views over the city and harbor.

Popular neighbourhoods in Cairns

Downtown - this is the city's buzzing center. You will find plenty of nightlife, restaurants, and bars, and lovely views from the Esplanade. Most of the attractions are close by and tours tend to leave from the area, so Cairns Downtown is a good choice if you don't have a car.

Palm Cove - this is a quieter option for a more relaxed visit. It has a lovely beachfront with good hotels and restaurants. The Esplanade is lined with 500-year-old Melaleuca trees, while coconut palms offer shade on the beach. The area is known for its spas and the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park.

Yorkeys Knob - this is a sleepy beach area with some bed and breakfast and apartment accommodation. A must-see for every visitor is the Boating Club, which offers stunning views from its perch over Half Moon Bay.

Where to stay in popular areas of Cairns

Most booked hotels in Cairns

Shangri-La The Marina, Cairns
Excellent (8.5, Excellent reviews)
$309+
Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort
Excellent (8.2, Excellent reviews)
$306+
DoubleTree by Hilton Cairns
Excellent (8, Excellent reviews)
$287+
Pullman Cairns International
Good (7.8, Good reviews)
$314+
Rydges Esplanade Resort Cairns
Good (7.6, Good reviews)
$298+
See all hotels

How to Get Around Cairns

Public Transportation

Cairns has a good bus network operated by Sunbus. There are frequent services from the city center to all of the suburbs and the Northern Beaches. Single fares are from A$2.20 or you can buy a daily ticket covering the entire network for A$13.40.

Taxi

Taxis are widely available across the city. The starting fare is A$6.20 and you will then pay A$3.64 per mile.

Car

A car can be convenient to visit some of the outlying attractions and beautiful countryside, although most of the tourist sites within the city itself are easily reached on foot. Car rental will cost around A$50 per day, and Avis and Sixt are both present in town.

The Cost of Living in Cairns

Shopping Streets

There are Night Markets every night on the Esplanade, with stalls selling clothes, games, and local crafts. Cairns Central is the city's main shopping mall, with 180 stores and lots of restaurants. Here you can buy a wide range of fashion and household goods. The area is also known for its pearls, with the best coming from Torres Strait. They are widely available from stores in the city center.

Groceries and Other

Smithfield Shopping Centre has two supermarkets and is a good option for food shopping, while Rusty's Market on Grafton Street specializes in local produce. A quart of milk in Cairns is around A$1.25, while a pound of apples will cost A$2.20.

Cheap meal
$17.70
A pair of jeans
$100.31
Single public transport ticket
$5.20
Cappuccino
$5.41
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