Referring to Australian tourism, travellers immediately think of big cities that have been famous for a long time such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth but perhaps few visitors know today the city of Cairns also has been becoming a new tourist paradise which attracting millions of visitors every year. Cairns is a harmonious city of combination of modern, bustling beauty with unspoiled nature. Cairns also impresses visitors with its breathtaking natural landscape from poetic golden sand beaches to mangrove forests, primeval forests and spectacular mountain ranges. In particular, a World Heritage Area recognized in 1981 – Great Barrier Reef is one of the 7 new natural wonders of the world. If you’re planning a trip to Australia this summer, you definitely can’t miss Cairns. So, what to do and how to plan a perfect budget trip to Cairns for the first-time? Let’s check out our Cairns travel blog (Cairns blog) with the fullest Cairns travel guide (Cairns guide, Cairns tourist guide, Cairns visitor guide, Cairns Australia travel guide) from how to get there, best time to come, where to stay, best places to visit and top things to do and suggested Cairns itinerary 3 days to find out the answer!
The city of Cairns is located in the north of Queensland State, Australia was established in 1876. It was named after the Governor of the state of Queensland at that time, William Wellington Cairns. Cairns about 1,700 km from Brisbane and 2,420 km from Sydney with an area of 1,687 km² and a population of nearly 280,000 people.
From Cairns, you can head straight to the tropical fertile highlands of Atherton Tablelands, riding along the Savannah Way – a route of highways and major roads in the northern Australia that linking Cairns with Broome in Western Australia or learn about the history and traditions of the indigenous inhabitants at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Even more wonderful, you can hiking to Australia’s northernmost point on the Cape York Peninsula.
Cairns guide: Overview of Cairns
Cairns is a small city in Far North, Queensland, Australia. The city of Cairns is very beautiful, modern, peaceful and there are so many things to do, to see, especially it has two World Heritage Areas are the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
Initially, it was established to serve miners at the Hodgkinson Mineral Area. However, today Cairns has become a famous tourist city that attracts a large number of tourists around the world by countless attractive and interesting destinations. Cairns is one of the top 10 destinations for international tourists. According to Wikipedia, this is the fourth most popular destination for international visitors after Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. However, there are less domestic tourists come here because it is too far away and isolated from major Australian cities.
Cairns travel blog: When to go?
Cairns climate has two characteristic of seasons: Wet and dry. The wet season starts from December and lasts until February or March. Winter is dry and cool from April or May and usually lasts until September. October and November are considered the peak season of scuba diving and snorkeling activities because the weather conditions during this time are most ideal.
The water temperature in the coral reef areas ranging from 22 degrees Celsius (in winter) to 29 deegrees Celsius (in summer), making it suitable for most times of the year to explore these areas. The weather in the tropical rainforest is similar but the rainforest is more attractive in the blooming season. July and August are the best times to watching Minke whales and humpback whales as they migrate along the coast. November marks the annual coral spawning season, making the scenery so breathtaking that you can only see on the Discovery Channel.
Cairns Australia travel guide: Getting there
Getting to Cairns from other Australian cities you can travel by bus, train or the most convenient way is by plane. Airfares from Brisbane to Cairns ranging from AU$ 115 – AU$ 250 with low-cost carriers like Jetstar or Tiger Air. You can find cheap and affordable tickets and suitable routes on Skyscanner, Google Flights or Kayak.
The airport is only about 7km from the city center of Cairns. So, after arriving at the airport, you can take a taxi to get to the hotel you booked in advance, traveling time about 10 minutes for AU$25.
If you do not take a taxi, you can also use the Sun Palm Shuttle express bus with the fare of AU$ 16 / adult to Cairns CBD, and AU$ 27 to the Northern Beaches and to Port Douglas.
Additionally, you can hire a transfer service in advance here, it picks you up at the airport and will drops you off at the door of your hotel.
Cairns travel blog: Getting around
The main taxi station is located at Lake Street in the city center. Call 131 008 or visit www.blackandwhitetaxis.com.au for more information. Besides, the blue Sunbus is a cheap and reliable means of transportation. These buses run to suburbs, northern beaches and Palm Cove, and also offer service to smaller towns, including Atherton Tablelands, Cooktown, Kuranda, Mission Beach and Port Douglas.
Cairns guide: What to do and where to go?
The Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef is one of the most tourist attractions in Cairns. It is the largest coral reefs in the world and home to a wide variety of marine life including 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometers over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometers. This is one of the 7 new natural wonders of the world. It is the only natural wonder the world you can see from space.
You can reach the Great Barrier Reef in just 90 minutes to 120 minutes away from the city center of Cairns, the world’s largest coral reef. With blue and transparent water that seems to be seen at the bottom, Great Barrier will surely attract you at first sight. It is one of the most enjoyable experiences in Cairns. You can snorkeling or scuba diving to observe the diversity of coral reefs and thousands of different sea life.
On the way to the coral reef you will stop by an island called Green Island. This island has only 37 acres area but this is the only island owns the Rain Forest in which there are many kinds of birds and very rare and special trees.
You can book a boat tour to enjoy cool sea breeze, fresh air and watch the romantic, poetic scenery here, you can also dive into the water to see a variety of colorful corals as well as swimming with sea creatures of all kinds such as whales, stingray, dolphins, sea turtles…
From June to October, the average temperature of seawater is 26 degrees Celsius, this is a best time for you to snorkeling and watching the coral.
Dolphins and whales watching
The city of Cairns is known for its diverse marine activities and if you love to watching dolphins and whales, you’ve come to the right place. There are many tour operators operating cruising excursions and you will find a wide range of marine species here depending on the time you visit.
The Great Barrier Reef forms a spawning sanctuary for cetaceans (whales and dolphins) with 35% of the total species of whales and dolphins living in the oceans chose the reef as their home. In particular, in the period from July to September, there are over 2,000 humpback whales migrate to the city of Cairns to giving birth and raising their babies, making a round trip of over 10,000 km from the waters of Antarctic.
Kuranda Village and Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Coming here you will have the opportunity to learn about the customs, culture and history of the first people once live in Australia. Watching them perform traditional dances, throwing boomerang – a very special weapon that hits the enemy and turns back to the pitcher.
Kuranda is a village surrounded by rainforest and one of the most attractive places to visit in Cairns. It has many great attractions such as the aviary, wildlife park and Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Kuranda Village is a must-see place for those who love nature, peace and tranquility. Without high-rise buidlings and houses or hustle and bustle life, Kuranda was idyllic with pretty small wooden houses, green trees and red dirt roads.
Visiting Kuranda market, you will surely be attracted by the intricately crafted handicrafts, the fabrics or colorful brocade clothes characteristic of indigenous peoples.
Another interesting experience here is you can take a scenic train through Kuranda. This is a trip by steam locomotive which passing many sights of the rainforest surrounding the village. You also can watch the rainforest by riding by Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Or you can enjoy both on the same day by taking a train to Kuranda and a cableway ride back to Cairns.
Crystal Cascades is a series of natural water holes (pools) on the Freshwater Creek surrounded by many rocks and magnificent waterfalls. These pools are extremely familiar to locals and recently, many tourists also started coming here and exploring. With the clear water surrounded by large rocks and water from the natural spring source that is extremely cool and pure, surely immersing in these pools will make your soul and body to be relaxed in the maximum and most wonderful way.
Crystal Cascades are also known as a popular spot for cliff diving where adventure lovers often jump off the surrounding cliffs into the water below. Its highest point is known as No No Fear. However, this game is quite risky, so you should consider it carefully before trying this thrills.
Address: Redlynch Intake Rd, Lamb Range QLD 4870, Australia
Hours: Open 24 hours
This promises to be one of the most exciting places to visit in Cairns. During your vacation, you can take a zip lining tour in the Daintree rainforest. This rainforest is one of the most beautiful attractions of Cairns. While exploring this place, you can also spotting some of the local rainforest wildlife such as koalas and kangaroos – the animals that make up the beautiful symbol of Australia.
Address: 2333 Cape Tribulation Rd, Cape Tribulation QLD 4873, Australia
Journey to the past
The Tropical North Queensland is a region that preserves the intact green and long-standing rainforests of Australia. This place is immersed in the heritage; indigenous mysticism; cascading waterfalls and ancient pine trees. The rainforest is also home to a peaceful home to a quarter of the amphibian population, one third of mammals and freshwater fish and nearly half of the country’s bird population. A place you can not miss when coming to the North Tropical Queensland is Mossman Gorge in Daintree National Park.
Cairns Night Markets
If you want to shop in Cairns, this is definitely a must-go place. The night market in Cairns opens at 5pm and has almost everything you need: Clothes, jewelry, electronics, food … Like many other markets, the night market in Cairns city is a shopping paradise for shopaholic. It sells many typical items of local people so you can freely choose and buy souvenirs to give to friends and relatives.
Address: 54-60 Abbott St, Cairns City QLD 4870, Australia
In addition to the night market, you may also want to visit the Rusty market. This is one of the best places to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Rusty Market is open on early Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. Actually, this is quite an interesting place because not only tropical fruits, but this market also offers a variety of foods such as Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese with relatively cheap prices from AU$ 10 – AU$ 15.
Address: 57/89 Grafton St, Cairns City QLD 4870, Australia
Hours: Friday: 5AM–6PM/Saturday: 5AM–6PM/Sunday: 5AM–3PM
Cairns Botanic Gardens
The Flecker Botanic Gardens was established in 1886 and has a number of rare plants. Along with the diversity of plants, there are also many species of birds living here. In addition, there are two cafes with various options for breakfast and lunch. The botanical garden is a great place to have a picnic with family and friends.
Address: 78-96 Collins Ave, Edge Hill QLD 4870, Australia
Hours: 8:30AM–4PM/Saturday, Sunday: 9:30AM–2PM
Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls
Atherton Tablelands with a collection of spectacular falls located in northern Queensland, including 10 majestic waterfalls and rich tropical forests. Places to visit such as: Australia’s largest Millstream waterfall, Millaa Millaa waterfall with wonderful natural scenery, Nandroya waterfall with many unique shapes… Also, if you love to exploring the rainforests and want to challenge yourself with an exciting trekking trip, this place is the perfect choice for you.
Cape Tribulation Beach
Coming to Cairns, you will have the opportunity to freely indulge in the wild and windy beaches. So, don’t forget Cape Tribulation beach nestled in the Daintree rainforest. Currently in Cairns, there are many day trekking trips through the forest, exploring the ancient ecosystem in the oldest rainforest in the world. You will have more knowledge about flora and fauna after this exciting journey.
Snorkeling and scuba diving
With the largest coral reef system in the world including more than 3,000 coral reefs and a variety of diverse and rich corals, snorkeling or scuba diving and watching coral is an activity you cannot miss when traveling to Cairns. In Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef is listed in the list of natural wonders of the world with a diverse species of marine life, many of which are listed on the red list. Not only that, with about 900 large and small islands off the coast of Queensland, this is the ideal place for you to explore the mysterious of the ocean, watch exotic algae, seaweed, immerse yourself in cool seawater, swimming with whales and more than 1,500 species of fish, more than 100 species of sharks…
Explore the two coastal villages of Palm Cove and Port Douglas. Palm Cove is a quiet and relaxing place with ancient Melaleuca trees. You will love your ride in this tranquil and delicate setting. While Port Douglas is a tropical oasis, half an hour to the north of Cairns on a nice path through the forest and along coastline. Port Douglas is the perfect place for you to experience a peaceful atmosphere of a village, a place to recover, regain your spirits and health. Enjoying the turquoise waters of the coral reefs, crystal clear waters at Mossman Gorge or Four Mile Beach with golden sand stretches next to palm trees, surely you will be relaxed and satisfied.
Cairns is a beautiful land but have you ever thought of admiring this place from above? You can see this beautiful city from above in a helicopter. The helicopter tour will last around thirty minutes and gives you an incredible and panoramic view of everything of the city, majestic falls, rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef.
This is also one of the best ways to see the Great Barrier Reef. You will also get amazing views of Atherton Tablelands, the Daintree Rainforest and other beautiful spots in the Cairns region. You will also participate in a parachuting trip with an experienced instructor.
Thrilling bungy jumping in the Cairns rainforest
Do you like adventure games? Then try bungy jumping in the Cairns rainforest. This will be an unforgettable experience for you. You will challenge yourself when take a bungee jumping from the top of a tower with a height of more than 50m, this is the most popular activity in Australia, do not forget to wear a helmet and fasten your seat belt to ensure safety. In addition, you can also enjoy romantic dinners or “playing hard” at the skybar at Cairns tower.
AJ Hackett offers bungy jumping service with 16 different styles, including Minjin Jungle Swing – an user-controlled set of jump equipment that allows 3 people to jump and fly through the forest at a speed of 45m / 3.5 seconds, maximum speed at 120km / h. Those who want to see can sit in the high available huts.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Watching the vast landscape from above, enjoying the feeling of floating in the middle of the air and taking pictures of the majestic scenery… is an experience not to be missed. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway was built as a pioneer in the world in the field of environmental tourism. This service gives riders have 90 minutes (one way) or 2.5 hours (round trip) overhead to see the heritage rain forest of Cairns. You can choose to start or end your journey at Caravonica or Kuranda Village. It is better to combine the sightseeing by cable car with other ways like going by train on the Kuranda Scenic Railway for a half or full day tour.
Seeing the lava up-close-and-personal
Normally, being able to see the lava up close wouldn’t be an entertaining idea, but don’t worry, the place is completely safe! At Undara Volcanic National Park, guided tours will take you into an off volcano so you can firsthand see Undara Lava. Only 23 countries have the lava tubes and lava tubes in Undara are said to be the longest in the world.
There’s so much more fun in Undara: You can stay overnight at a tent village or a hut, enjoy a Wildlife tour at Sunset, or watch exciting events like Opera in the Outback is held once a year in October.
The city of Cairns is extremely popular with young backpackers from all over the world and a great nightlife scene has popped up to serve. Among the various great spots around, Lyquid is considered the best nightclub in town. The interior is lavish with a beautiful whirlpool entrance and is a great way to meet and mingle with active travelers from around the world.
Cairns guide: Cairns itinerary 3 days, suggested on how to spend 3 days in Cairns
Day 1: The sights in Cairns
Morning: Walking, cycling or skateboarding along The Cairns Esplanade before stopping for breakfast and immerse yourself in saltwater swimming lagoon.
Afternoon: Take a tour with your guide through Cairns Flecker Botanical Garden then visit Cairns Tropical Zoo. Or get up close to crocodiles and tropical fish by boat along the mangrove waterways of nearby Trinity Bay.
Evening: Explore the Cairns Night Markets to find and buy gifts and local Aboriginal artworks. Watch the blazing red sun sink over the horizon at Marlin Marina before kicking off a seafood feast at a restaurant along the Cairns Esplanade.
Day 2: Great Barrier Reef
Taking a full day tour to Green Island, a 6,000-year-old atoll in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Snorkeling to see tropical fish through 15 hectares of colorful coral reefs. Then stop to explore the island’s white sand beaches and lush rainforests. Or you can spend the whole day on a snorkeling excursion in the Great Barrier Reef. Diving into the crystal clear waters and explore secret gardens, floating mounds and sea turtle shelters with an experienced guide.
Day 3: Kuranda Rainforest
Take the Kuranda Scenic Railway train through mountains, rainforest, waterfalls and national park to the picturesque village of Kuranda set in a tranquil rainforest. Visitors also can take a boat down the river, see butterflies, colorful parrots, platypus and freshwater crocodiles. Or hike through World Heritage-listed rainforest to the Barron Falls Observatory. Buy aboriginal antiques, handicrafts and jewelry as well as macadamia nuts and tropical juice from village market. Learn how to play a didgeridoo at Doongal Aboriginal Art and watch a famous performance at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park.
Cairns travel blog: What to eat?
There are many signature dishes in Australia you can find in Cairns such as: Beetroot burger, grilled crocodile meat, grilled lamb, grilled kangaroo, pavlova cake..
Cairns guide: Where to stay?
Below we recommend more best budget, mid-range and upscale hotels with good ratings and reviews you can refer to.
- Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, a top rated 5-star hotel with room rates from $177/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Hilton Cairns, a top rated 5-star hotel with room rates from $177/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Pullman Cairns International, a top rated 5-star hotel with room rates from $175/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Cairns Plaza Hotel, a top rated 3-star hotel with room rates from $89/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Mantra Esplanade Cairns, a top rated 4-star hotel with room rates from $89/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Mantra Esplanade Cairns, a top rated 4-star hotel with room rates from $133/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
Cairns guide: Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Cairns you can refer to
- Shared Cairns Airport Transfer (CNS) from and to Cairns, Port Douglas, Palm Cove
- Great Barrier Reef Cruise (GBRA)
- Grand Kuranda Experience
- Kuranda Scenic Railway Heritage Class Admission in Cairns [Klook Exclusive 10% Off]
- Cairns Canyoning
- Cape Tribulation and Daintree Wildlife Tour
- Cairns Highlights Half Day Tour
- Unpublished Cairns Reef Tours Full Day Green Island by Big Cat
- Cairns Aquarium General Admission Ticket
- Fitzroy Island Ferry Transfer Ticket from Cairns