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15 Best Things to do in Cairns (Australia)

15 Best Things to do in Cairns (Australia)

Here’s a list of the 15 best things to do in Cairns in Australia, along with famous landmarks, museums, and other points of interest.

Cairns is one of the main tourist destinations in Australia with more than 2,86 million visitors annually. The city is located in Queensland and has a population of around 152,000 people.

Many tourists use Cairns as a base to explore the surrounding areas, which is home to some incredible scenery and wildlife. Some of the highlights of visiting Cairns include the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest, and Kuranda National Park. 

There are many beautiful beaches in Cairns and the nearby area, and there are also some interesting sites and museums to visit within the city limits as well. In this article, I’m sharing some of the best places to visit in Cairns that shouldn’t be missed while visiting. 

Great Barrier Reef

The city of Cairns is perhaps the best place in Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef. Located near some of the most beautiful coral reefs and islands of the Great Barrier Reef, visitors can easily access the reef from Cairns. 

There are so many ways to explore this natural wonderland; stay on a liveaboard dive boat, head out on a diving and snorkeling day tour, or, for something extra special, consider a chartered helicopter flight.

Whichever you choose to do, you’re sure to love discovering the world’s largest coral reef system, which is also considered as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I recommend joining a tour from Quicksilver Cruises, which offers a sustainable way of exploring the Great Barrier Reef without harming it. 

Great Barrier Reef facts

Photo: Jc Photo/Shutterstock

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

There’s no better place in Cairns to soak up the sunshine, swim, and take in stunning views than at Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. It’s a place to meet other tourists and locals, who come here to paddle, exercise, or walk through the parks and along the boardwalk.

There are a plethora of nearby restaurants and coffee shops to enjoy, though the esplanade is best enjoyed with a picnic, as you take in the fantastic views of the Trinity Inlet and mountains beyond. The lagoon is known for its incredible watercolor and it’s a great place to relax.

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Photo: Martin Valigursky /

Kuranda Scenic Railway

Kuranda Scenic Railway was constructed between 1882 and 1891 and is an impressive feat of engineering. On an incredible 1 hour 45 minute journey from Cairns, you’ll pass through 15 hand-made tunnels and over 37 bridges taking in magnificent scenery as you go. 

You’ll come across steep ravines and beautiful waterfalls as you wind your way through dense rainforest on this unforgettable journey. Travel in luxury with Gold Class, where you can take in the historical decor and traditional cedar interior of your train cabin.

Kuranda Scenic Railway

Cairns Botanical Gardens

The Cairns Botanical Gardens offer a tropical oasis just four kilometers from the heart of the city. With over 38 hectares of gardens to explore and plant species found nowhere else in the world, this is an excellent (and free!) attraction for the whole family.

There are four distinct areas to explore within the gardens: Flecker Gardens, Centenary Lakes, Mt Whitfield Conservation Park, and Tanks Art Centre. Each provides a unique insight into the world of plants and the diverse ecosystems they belong to.

Cairns Botanical Gardens

Palm Cove

There are only around 2000 people that are lucky enough to call Palm Cove home. This tiny beachside village, just 30 minutes north of Cairns, is a tropical paradise and the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate at luxury hotels besides a palm-fringed beach.

The esplanade-centered village provides visitors with kayak and boat tour opportunities, plus it’s a great place to try your hand at fishing – you can catch Spanish mackerel, cod, whiting, and more here.

It’s a popular place to go for swimming year-round, and the palm tree-lined beach of Palm Cove makes a lovely little day trip from Cairns, no matter the time of the year you visit. 

Palm Cove in Cairns

Daintree Rainforest

Described by Sir David Attenborough as ”the most extraordinary place on Earth”, the Daintree Rainforest is a must-see for anyone visiting Cairns. Here, you can discover lush greenery, innumerable plant species, and wildlife like nowhere else in the world.

There are plenty of exciting ways to explore this fantastic jungle setting; fly through the trees on a zip wire, cruise the waterways of the Daintree River or take a guided night walk to look out for native Australian wildlife.

It’s a great place to learn more about rainforest animals as well as rainforests themselves. I recommend joining a guided tour to make the most out of your visit. 

Daintree Rainforest

Cape Tribulation 

Step straight from the rainforest onto the beach at Cape Tribulation, the incredible spot where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. Spend time roaming the empty beaches where driftwood washes ashore or join a short walk to take in the beaches and rainforest.

This beautiful part of the Daintree National Park provides visitors with the chance to hop aboard a fast boat to explore all the reef has to offer, though you could kayak to the nearby islands as well. Be sure to try locally-made ice cream and exotic tropical fruits too.

Cape Tribulation 

Babinda Boulders

The Babinda Boulders are a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, who come to see this beautiful swimming hole and its lush surroundings.

The boulders are located around an hour south of Cairns, and the drive there promises spectacular mountain scenery as well as a glimpse of the local banana farming communities.

The area is filled with fast-flowing creeks that meander around the granite boulders; the water streams create large pools of mountain water, perfect for a quick dip in the afternoon heat. It’s a remarkably tranquil environment, and the vibrant rainforest surrounds are simply stunning.

Babinda Boulders

Josephine Falls

See some of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of North Queensland at Josephine Falls and swimming hole. As you make your way to the falls, situated around 75km from Cairns city in the town of Mirriwinni, you’ll enjoy the stunning scenery and beautiful views.

Once you’ve arrived, you can swim in the crystal clear waters, pretend you’re in a television commercial under the waterfall, or relax on the beach underneath a canopy of the rainforest. Be sure to abide by the instructed swimming areas – it’s for your own safety!

Josephine Falls

The Australian Armour & Artillery Museum

The Australian Armour & Artillery Museum houses the most extensive private collection of tanks in all of the southern hemisphere in the heart of Cairns city. Here, military history is brought to life with armored vehicles, artillery, and combat equipment on display spanning multiple decades.

There are over 90 artifacts showcased at the museum, showcasing everything from large tanks to engines, artillery to armored cars. The collections come from all over the world (think Spain, Romania, UK), plus there are many more pieces due to join the museum soon.

Behana Gorge 

Journey to Behana Gorge, just half an hour south of Cairns, by car, or join a tour to have your transportation included. Upon arrival, take a 45-minute hike up a paved trail into the Cairns Pyramind mountain (a tour excludes the walk), surrounded by natural beauty the entire way.

You’ll see small creeks and waterholes along the way, but nothing will prepare you for the picture-perfect white water rapids, waterfalls and swimming holes you’ll see at the end of your hike. Relax, swim, and take in the serene environment.

Behana Gorge 

Make a day trip to Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island, located a 45-minute ferry ride away from Cairns, is a little slice of paradise. This tropical getaway is perfect for a day trip from the city, or you could consider staying overnight at the island’s beautiful boutique resort.

The island is a National Park and incorporates stunning walking trails, pristine beaches, and abundant opportunities for discovering marine life. Snorkel on the calm, sheltered waters or go for a stroll, keeping an eye out for local wildlife as you go. 

Fitzroy Island

Rusty’s Market

Rusty’s Market, which runs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike who come in search of the best local produce from friendly Cairns-based vendors. It’s an icon in the city and houses an eclectic array of stallholders selling all kinds of wares.

Pick up seasonal fruits and vegetables, or purchase unique Indigenous food from Aboriginal and Torres Strait stallholders. The buzzing market hosts an amazing mix of nationalities and is more reminiscent of a carnival than a market!

Rusty’s Market in Cairns Australia

Photo: Ben Wehrman /

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

See Australia’s tropical rainforest from a different perspective as you glide high above the canopy, taking in the breathtaking scenery of rushing waterfalls and lush greenery aboard the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. 

Learn about the ancient plants and animal species that make up the area, and enjoy scenic views across this magical landscape at Red Peak and The Edge Lookout.

Make the most of your journey by downloading the Skyrail Interpretive App and Audio guide and learn more about the area as you explore.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Samurai Gallery Australia

A visit to the Samurai Gallery Australia is to uncover the world of the Japanese Samurai Warrior. The Samurai were the warrior class of Japan for nearly a thousand years, and their practices stressed the importance of loyalty and the mastery of martial arts, something you’ll learn all about with a visit to the museum.

The Samurai Gallery is the only museum of its kind in all of Australia and is dedicated to showcasing the arts, armor, and weaponry of samurai warriors. See unique and authentic items on display and learn all about this fascinating ancient tradition.

Interesting Facts about Cairns

  • It’s the fifth most populated city in Queensland.
  • The city of Cairns was named after Sir William Wellington Cairns.
  • The original settlers of the area are known as the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji people.
  • Cairns is one of the most visited destinations in Australia by international tourists, after Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
  • In addition to tourism, Cairns is also a major exporter of sugar cane, minerals, gold, and various agricultural products.

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