Welcome to Cairns, the vibrant gateway to Australia’s most astonishing natural wonders. Nestled in the heart of Tropical North Queensland, Cairns is not just a city; it’s a launchpad to adventures that span from the depths of the ocean to the heights of the rainforest canopy.

Here, where the Great Barrier Reef meets the Daintree Rainforest, every day promises a new adventure, a new story. This guide takes you through the top experiences in Cairns, where each activity isn’t just something to do; it’s a memory to be cherished.

The Best Things to Do in Cairns, Australia

1. Exploring the Great Barrier Reef

Imagine diving into the world’s largest and most enchanting underwater kingdom – the Great Barrier Reef. As a premier destination for snorkelers and divers, Cairns offers an unparalleled gateway to this marine marvel. Picture yourself gliding alongside vibrant corals, swimming with schools of iridescent fish, and maybe even encountering a gentle sea turtle.

Tour operators like Quicksilver Cruises and Reef Magic cater to all levels, ensuring that whether it’s your first time snorkeling or you’re a seasoned diver, you’ll have an unforgettable experience. Departing from Cairns Marina, these tours offer full-day excursions that are as educational as they are exhilarating. While the pricing varies, starting around AUD 150 for snorkeling and reaching up to AUD 250 for diving, every dollar spent is an investment in memories that last a lifetime.

The best time to visit this underwater wonderland is from June to October, when the water is crystal clear, and the marine life is most active. Remember, the reef is a precious ecosystem; engaging in eco-friendly tours helps preserve its natural beauty for generations to come.

Great Barrier Reef - The 20 Best Things to Do in Cairns, Australia
Great Barrier Reef

2. Daintree Rainforest Adventures

Just north of Cairns lies a living museum, the Daintree Rainforest. Older than the Amazon, this ancient rainforest is a tapestry of lush foliage, hidden waterfalls, and unique wildlife. Embark on a journey with tours like Daintree Discovery Tours, where the rainforest’s secrets are unveiled.

Glide along the mirrored waters of the Daintree River, where crocodiles sunbathe on the banks, and colorful birds flit through the canopy. These guided tours, often including pick-up services from Cairns, are more than just walks; they are immersive experiences into a prehistoric world. With prices starting at around AUD 100, the Daintree Rainforest isn’t just a destination; it’s an adventure back in time.

As you wander beneath ancient ferns and listen to the symphony of the jungle, you’ll feel a connection to the earth that’s both grounding and exhilarating.

3. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

From the depths of the ocean and the heart of the rainforest, we ascend to the skies. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is your ticket to a bird’s-eye view of the lush tropical landscape. This unique experience takes you over and through the canopy of the rainforest, offering panoramic views that stretch all the way to the Coral Sea.

As you glide silently over the treetops, each bend reveals a new vista, each moment is a chance to spot a cassowary or a Ulysses butterfly. The cableway, with its route and viewing stations, becomes a journey through the layers of the rainforest. Ticket prices, offering both standard and glass-bottomed gondolas, vary, providing options for every budget. This serene journey through the treetops is not just a scenic ride; it’s a floating path through nature’s masterpiece.

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is more than just a tourist attraction; it’s a celebration of the ancient and the majestic, seen from a perspective like no other.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

4. Kuranda Scenic Railway

Prepare to embark on a historical journey that weaves through the heart of Cairns’ lush landscape. The Kuranda Scenic Railway is not just a mode of transportation; it’s a step back in time. This iconic railway, originally constructed in the late 1800s, offers a scenic route like no other.

Starting at Freshwater Station, the train takes you through rainforest-clad mountains, past cascading waterfalls, and over steep ravines. The journey itself is an attraction, with informative commentary highlighting the history and natural beauty of the region. The Kuranda Scenic Railway connects Cairns to the picturesque village of Kuranda, a destination in itself. Tickets, available in standard and first-class options, offer a comfortable and nostalgic experience.

Be sure to check for combined packages with the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway for a full day of exploration. This journey is a testament to the romance of rail travel, where every turn reveals a new chapter in the story of Cairns.

5. Hot Air Ballooning

Imagine the Cairns skyline painted with the first light of day, as you gently ascend in a hot air balloon. Hot air ballooning in the Atherton Tablelands is a breathtaking experience that lets you witness the sunrise from a unique vantage point. As you float above rolling hills, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the lush landscape below.

The Atherton Tablelands, with its undulating terrain and crisp morning air, is the perfect setting for this adventure. Companies like Hot Air Balloon Cairns offer early morning departures, ensuring that you catch the first rays of sunlight. The pricing varies depending on the package you choose, but the experience is priceless.

It’s a serene and almost meditative journey that lets you appreciate the beauty of Cairns from a different angle. Be sure to dress warmly, as the mornings can be cool at higher altitudes.

6. Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

To truly understand a place, you must delve into its culture and history. At Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, you have the opportunity to do just that. This park is a living cultural center that immerses you in the traditions of the indigenous people of Australia.

Located just a short drive from Cairns, it’s easily accessible and offers a range of activities and performances that shed light on the rich history and customs of the Aboriginal people. From dance performances that tell ancient stories to interactive experiences like boomerang throwing, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for this remarkable culture.

The entry fees are reasonable, and there are often special event packages available. As you engage with the music, art, and storytelling of the Aboriginal people, you’ll leave with a profound respect for their heritage and a sense of connection to the land.

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park - The 20 Best Things to Do in Cairns, Australia
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park | rod_pugh_

7. Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

After all the adventure and cultural exploration, sometimes you just need to unwind. Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is the perfect place to do just that. This man-made lagoon, located in the heart of Cairns, is a hub of relaxation and recreation.

Whether you’re looking to soak up the sun, take a refreshing dip, or simply lounge by the water, the Esplanade Lagoon offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The best part? It’s free! The lagoon is safe for swimmers of all ages, with lifeguards on duty. It’s also surrounded by lush parkland, providing plenty of shaded spots for a picnic.

As you relax by the lagoon, you’ll have the perfect vantage point to admire the Coral Sea and the surrounding mountains. It’s a tranquil oasis that perfectly complements the adventurous spirit of Cairns.

8. Fitzroy Island Day Trip

Just off the coast of Cairns lies a tropical paradise waiting to be explored – Fitzroy Island. This idyllic coral island is a haven for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and those craving a slice of paradise.

A day trip to Fitzroy Island is a must when visiting Cairns. You can catch a ferry from Cairns, and in just 45 minutes, you’ll find yourself in a world of lush rainforest, pristine beaches, and crystal-clear waters. Fitzroy Island is a paradise for snorkelers and hikers. You can explore the underwater wonders of the fringing reef, take a hike to the summit for panoramic views, or simply relax on the powdery white sands of Nudey Beach.

The island offers various activities, and you can rent snorkeling gear on-site. Fitzroy Island offers a tranquil escape from the mainland’s hustle and bustle, making it a perfect day trip for relaxation and adventure.

Fitzroy Island - The 20 Best Things to Do in Cairns, Australia
Fitzroy Island | @kyle_hunter

9. Bungee Jumping at AJ Hackett

For those who seek the ultimate adrenaline rush, Cairns offers a thrilling experience – bungee jumping in the heart of the rainforest. AJ Hackett Cairns provides the opportunity to take a leap of faith from a purpose-built bungee tower set in the lush jungle surroundings.

Whether you’re a seasoned thrill-seeker or a first-time jumper, the AJ Hackett team ensures your safety and guides you through the heart-pounding experience. The adrenaline rush as you freefall and rebound back up is an unforgettable sensation. The site offers various jump options, including a BMX bike jump for added excitement.

While the cost varies depending on the type of jump, the experience is worth every penny. Just imagine the stories you’ll have to share after taking a leap into the unknown.

10. Cairns Botanic Gardens

Amidst all the adventures, it’s essential to find moments of tranquility and connection with nature. The Cairns Botanic Gardens offer precisely that. Located just a short drive from the city center, these gardens are a serene escape into a world of diverse flora and fauna.

The gardens are divided into several sections, each showcasing unique plant species from around the world. Stroll through the lush rainforest section, where towering palms and tropical plants create a canopy of green. Explore the Gondwanan Heritage Garden, which features ancient plant species that date back to the time of the dinosaurs.

The gardens are not only a feast for the eyes but also a place of education, with guided tours available to learn more about the diverse plant life. Best of all, entry is either free or by donation, making it accessible to all. As you wander through this botanical wonderland, you’ll find moments of serenity and appreciation for the beauty of the natural world.

Cairns Botanic Gardens - The 20 Best Things to Do in Cairns, Australia
Cairns Botanic Gardens

11. White Water Rafting

For thrill-seekers, Cairns offers the adrenaline-pumping adventure of white water rafting. The Barron and Tully Rivers are renowned for their challenging rapids and scenic gorges.

Companies like Raging Thunder and Foaming Fury offer guided rafting tours that cater to different skill levels, ensuring both beginners and experienced rafters can enjoy the rush. The experience of navigating through turbulent waters and steep drops amidst the backdrop of lush rainforest is a heart-pounding adventure you won’t soon forget.

Safety is a top priority, and expert guides accompany each trip. The cost of these tours varies depending on the river and duration, but the memories you create will be priceless.

12. Cairns Aquarium

Dive into a world of marine wonders at the Cairns Aquarium, a place where the mysteries of the Great Barrier Reef come to life. Located in the heart of Cairns, this state-of-the-art facility allows you to explore the diverse aquatic life of the reef and surrounding waters without getting wet.

The aquarium features interactive exhibits and immersive displays that showcase everything from colorful corals to menacing sharks. It’s a perfect place for both kids and adults to learn about the underwater world and gain a deeper appreciation for the reef’s fragile ecosystem.

Check the website for ticket prices and special events, and be sure to set aside some time to explore this underwater wonderland.

13. Atherton Tablelands

Escape the coastal heat and venture into the cool highlands of the Atherton Tablelands, just a short drive from Cairns. This region is a natural playground, known for its stunning waterfalls, serene crater lakes, and lush rainforests.

Take a scenic drive and visit attractions like Millaa Millaa Falls, Lake Eacham, and the Curtain Fig Tree. You can also embark on guided tours that offer insights into the area’s unique flora and fauna.

The Atherton Tablelands is a paradise for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the tropical coast, and the experiences here are as diverse as the landscapes.

Atherton Tablelands
Atherton Tablelands | @elisahalina

14. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

Get up close and personal with Australia’s most iconic reptile, the crocodile, at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. Located just north of Cairns, this wildlife park provides a safe and educational environment to learn about these fascinating creatures.

You can witness crocodile feeding shows, take a boat cruise to spot crocs in their natural habitat, and explore the park’s various exhibits featuring native wildlife.

Hartley’s is more than just a zoo; it’s an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Australia’s unique wildlife and conservation efforts. The cost of entry is reasonable, and there are often family-friendly packages available.

15. Helicopter Tours

To truly appreciate the scale and beauty of Cairns and its surroundings, consider taking to the skies on a helicopter tour. Cairns Helicopter Tours offer a range of aerial adventures, from scenic flights over the Great Barrier Reef to exploring the lush rainforests of the Daintree.

Imagine soaring above the crystal-clear waters of the reef, spotting marine life from the air, or hovering above secluded waterfalls in the rainforest. Helicopter tours provide a unique perspective that allows you to see the region’s natural wonders in a whole new light.

Prices vary depending on the duration and destinations of the tours, but the memories you create will be priceless.

16. Night Markets and Food Tasting

As the sun sets over Cairns, the city comes alive with its vibrant night markets. Wander through the bustling stalls at the Cairns Night Markets, where you can shop for unique souvenirs, clothing, and handmade crafts.

The market also offers a diverse range of dining options, with international cuisines and local delicacies to satisfy your taste buds.

Don’t miss the opportunity to try some of the region’s famous seafood, such as barramundi and prawns, at one of the seafood stalls. The night markets are not just a shopping experience; they are a cultural and culinary adventure.

17. Aboriginal Art Galleries

Cairns is a gateway to the rich and diverse world of Aboriginal art. Explore galleries showcasing the work of indigenous artists from various regions of Australia. These galleries offer an opportunity to learn about Aboriginal culture and history through art.

From traditional dot paintings to contemporary pieces, you’ll find a wide range of artistic expressions that reflect the deep connection to the land and stories of the Aboriginal people.

Be sure to visit the Indigenous Art Centre in Cairns, where you can purchase authentic Aboriginal artwork and support the local artists.

18. Green Island Day Trips

For a day of tropical island paradise, consider a day trip to Green Island. Located just a short boat ride from Cairns, Green Island is a coral cay surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

Here, you can snorkel among vibrant coral gardens, relax on sandy beaches, and explore the island’s lush rainforest. The island offers a range of activities, including glass-bottom boat tours and semi-submersible coral viewing.

Green Island is a fantastic destination for families and those looking to experience the beauty of the reef without venturing too far from the mainland.

Green Island
Green Island | @serajwright

19. Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome

If you’re traveling with family or simply want to add some excitement to your Cairns adventure, don’t miss the Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome. Located in the heart of the city, this attraction offers a unique combination of wildlife encounters and adventurous activities.

Get up close to Australian wildlife, including koalas, snakes, and crocodiles, in a natural setting. The highlight is the DomeClimb, where you can walk along an external platform high above the city, providing breathtaking views of Cairns.

For the brave-hearted, there’s also the zipline and ropes course known as the ZOOM activities. It’s a thrilling experience that combines fun, education, and a touch of adrenaline.

20. Fishing Expeditions

For anglers, Cairns is a dream destination. The waters around Cairns are known for their abundant marine life, including the famous black marlin. Charter a fishing boat for a day of deep-sea fishing and the chance to reel in a big catch.

Experienced guides will take you to the best fishing spots, and you’ll have the opportunity to target various species of fish. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a beginner, a fishing expedition in Cairns promises excitement and the thrill of the catch.

Travel Tips

  • Cairns’ climate is tropical, so it’s important to pack appropriate clothing, sunscreen, and insect repellent.
  • Booking tours and activities in advance is recommended, especially during peak tourist seasons.
  • Respect the natural environment and follow guidelines for responsible tourism, including reef protection and wildlife conservation.
  • Cairns is a gateway to other destinations in Tropical North Queensland, so consider extending your trip to explore the surrounding regions, such as the Atherton Tablelands and the Daintree Rainforest.