From bungee jumping in the world’s oldest rainforest to snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, here’s our complete guide of the best things to do in Cairns Australia!
Cairns is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia. One look at this amazing town, and it’s easy to see why.
Located in Far North Queensland, Cairns Australia boasts a tropical climate with year round warm weather, as well as gorgeous rainforests and natural beauty.
Many travelers also visit Cairns because it’s a popular jumping point to the Great Barrier Reef.
This attraction by itself makes Cairns Australia worth a visit. It’s an incredible natural wonder that should be on any traveller’s bucket list.
But that’s not all.
Cairns is also a dream come true for adventurers and thrill-seekers. The city has everything from scuba diving and bungee jumping, to helicopter rides and the famous Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
You can take day trips around the Cairns region, head north into the dense rainforest, beach-hop along the coast, go hiking in wildlife parks or swimming in Mossman Gorge.
There are also more laid back Cairns activities like night markets, botanical gardens, the Cairns Lagoon, and the Cairns Aquarium.
Our List of the Best Things to Do in Cairns Australia
With all the top things to do in Cairns, you can guarantee you’ll never get bored.
There are numerous amazing day trips to nearby rainforests and islands, as well as fun Cairns attractions in the city itself.
Many tourists looking to visit Cairns may have trouble deciding which Cairns attractions to pick for their trip.
So we’re going to break down the best things to do in Cairns in the hopes of helping other travelers plan their stay.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at everything this marvellous city has to offer.
READ MORE: Find everything you need for your Australia adventure in our travel guide.
1. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
Of course, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the greatest Cairns attractions.
A World Heritage listed Area, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest system of coral reefs in the world. It is located in the Coral Sea and is home to a vast assortment of marine life.
One of the best ways to experience this natural phenomenon is to simply see it up close by snorkelling or scuba diving.
Taking a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef is much like going to another world. It’s certainly something you’ll never forget and is definitely one of the best things to do in Cairns.
There are various tours available that will allow you to take part in this once in a lifetime, amazing experience. Sunlover Reef Cruises is one of the more well-known tour companies in Cairns, though there are many more.
Just north of Cairns is a smaller town called Port Douglas, which is another popular spot to take day trips to the reef.
Aside from general reef tours, you can book numerous day trips from Cairns to some of the bigger and more exciting islands off the coast.
Green Island and Fitzroy Island are two of the best day trips from Cairns. These islands located in the Great Barrier Reef have stunning beaches and lots of snorkeling opportunities.
Whether you just book a snorkeling day tour from Cairns or you take day trips to places like Green Island or Fitzroy Island, the Great Barrier Reef is a must-see in Cairns.
2. Visit the Village of Kuranda
Kuranda is a nearby village in Tropical North Queensland that is surrounded by rainforest, and is one of the most fascinating places to visit in the Cairns area.
It contains many amazing attractions such as a bird aviary, a wildlife park, Barron Falls, and the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park.
Along with being one of the best things to do in Cairns, it’s only a short drive from the city. But a highlight of visiting Kuranda is skipping normal transport and riding the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
Jump aboard this comfortable steam train ride for many scenic views of the surrounding rainforest.
Or you can get a bird’s eye view of the rainforest by riding in an enclosed gondola known as the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
You can enjoy both of these experiences in the same day by taking the Kuranda Scenic Railway to Kuranda and the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway back to Cairns, or vice versa.
Make it a day trip and spend lots of time absorbing all the culture and natural beauty that Kuranda has to offer.
3. Take a Ride in a Helicopter
It’s no secret that Cairns is an absolutely gorgeous city.
While one can easily admire its natural beauty on the ground, it’s even more spectacular when you’re in the sky.
While you’re in Cairns, you have the option of taking a scenic flight over this beautiful city in a helicopter.
Scenic flights last for about thirty minutes and give you an incredible view of the city and the surrounding rainforests.
It also provides another spectacular way of seeing the Great Barrier Reef, including Green Island, Fitzroy Island, and other picturesque islands off the coast of Cairns.
You may even be able to see all the way to Mission Beach, one of the most famous beaches south of Cairns.
A quick stop at the Great Barrier Reef is included in this helicopter tour.
This is probably one of the most expensive Cairns experiences, but so worth it if you’re willing to splurge.
4. Skydive Over the Great Barrier Reef
What better way to do Cairns sightseeing than from above?
For many people, skydiving is considered the ultimate thrill-seeking activity.
Booking this skydiving experience is easily one of the most exciting ways to see the beauty of all of the nearby World Heritage areas. Of course, you can’t miss the Great Barrier Reef.
But you’ll also get amazing, aerial views of the Atherton Tablelands and the Daintree Rainforest.
No previous experience is necessary as you’ll be tandem skydiving with an experienced instructor on your back.
Once you’ve landed, you can purchase photos and videos of your dive. This way, you can preserve the memory of this adventure forever.
Either way, it’s something you’ll certainly never forget.
5. Zipline Through the Daintree Rainforest
During your vacation, you can go on a ziplining tour in the Daintree Rainforest, part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage-listed site.
This lush rainforest is not only one of the city’s most beautiful attractions, it’s the oldest tropical rainforest in the world. A visit to this diverse and wild place is a must, and zip-lining is a super fun way to experience the jungle.
You can also expect to see some of the rainforest’s local wildlife such as koalas and kangaroos while you’re there.
Cape Tribulation is the best town to visit in the Daintree for adventure activities. It’s very remote, but it puts you right in the heart of the rainforest.
Take a day trip from Cairns up to Cape Tribulation and book a zip lining tour with one of the local companies there.
No previous ziplining experience is needed for a tour. Your instructors will show you everything you need to know.
The platforms here range from 7 to 16 meters off the ground. You’ll have the opportunity to explore every aspect of the rainforest’s canopy during this time.
In this way, you get to enjoy the rainforest’s natural beauty while experiencing some adrenaline-pumping action.
Even if ziplining doesn’t appeal to you, still make the trip up to Cape Tribulation. It’s the only place where two world heritage sites, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, meet in harmony.
Spend a day cruising along the Daintree River looking for crocodiles, hiking in the ancient rainforest, or seeking out natural swimming holes.
6. Visit the Crystal Cascades
A refreshing swim in Crystal Cascades is another fun day trip to take while exploring the dense rainforests of Cairns.
Crystal Cascades is a swimming hole surrounded by many magnificent boulders and waterfalls found in Queensland’s tropical north.
This swimming hole is extremely popular among the locals, and tourists are beginning to discover it as well.
Crystal Cascades is also a popular spot for cliff diving.
This is where people leap off the surrounding cliffs into the water below. Its highest point is known as “No Fear.”
Please note that this is a potentially dangerous activity. If you plan to do this yourself, please be careful.
Also, be aware that there’s no phone reception and no tours that can take you to this spot. Therefore, it’s a good idea to plan how you’ll get there and back ahead of time.
READ MORE: Be sure to explore Airlie Beach when you are in Queensland!
7. Bungee Jump
Booking this bungee jump experience is another one of the best things to do in Cairns.
Here you’ll be able to bungee jump off a 50-meter tall tower in the rainforest of North Queensland.
This is something that’s sure to get your heart racing, and it’s also a fun way to experience Australia’s natural beauty.
You can also take a ride on the Minjin Jungle Swing while you’re there. On this swing, you can go flying through the jungle at speeds of over a hundred miles an hour.
Do this alone, or share the experience with up to two friends.
It’s a wild experience, to say the least, and it’s something you’ll never forget.
The bungee jump is run by the legends at AJ Hackett. We’ve done their jumps in both Macau and Queenstown. Highly recommended.
8. Shop the Cairns Night Markets
If you want to do some shopping in Cairns, then this is where you want to go.
The night Cairns markets open at 5 pm and feature everything a person could possibly want. You’ll find everything from clothing and jewellery, to electronics and much more.
It’s the perfect place to go if you want to pick up some souvenirs. Not to mention its food stalls serve food from all around the world.
In addition to the night Cairns markets, you might want to check out Rusty’s Market as well. This place has been famous among local food lovers for years.
It’s one of the best places around Cairns to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables, and it’s also considered somewhat of a cultural hub in Cairns.
Combine the Cairns markets with a visit to the Cairns Aquarium and a stroll along the Cairns Esplanade.
If you’re visiting the Cairns region in the summer months, you can’t swim in the ocean due to stingers. But the Cairns Lagoon is a man made swimming pool with sand near the Esplanade where you can swim on hot days in Cairns.
Or you can check out the Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome, a local adventure and entertainment centre with educational presentations and rope-climbing courses.
All these attractions can easily fit into a Cairns itinerary, as they are all close to each other.
9. Go White Water Rafting
This is yet another exciting activity you can do in the World Heritage rainforests of Cairns. This time, you can go white water rafting across its wild rivers and streams.
You have two different rivers you can choose from: The Barron River and the Tully River.
The Barron River provides grade 2 and 3 rapids and is a great way to get acquainted with this activity.
Or you can try the Tully River if you’re looking for more of a challenge. Tully River features grade 3 and 4 rapids.
No matter which river you choose, no prior experience is required. Depending on the tour you choose, you can also enjoy an Australian barbecue beside the banks of the river.
Either way, river rafting is a great way to reconnect with nature in the Cairns region and have a lot of fun while you’re doing it.
10. Cruise the Great Barrier Reef
A more relaxed way to explore the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef is by going on a Great Barrier Reef Cruise. Reef cruises are one of the best Cairns attractions for more chill travelers who just want to relax.
When you go on this boat cruise, you’ll spend the day on a Great Barrier Reef pontoon boat that has Wifi, a full buffet, and drinks.
From there, you can see the reef’s massive assortment of marine life from a glass-bottom boat, or you can get a closer look in a semi-submersible vessel.
You can also go diving any time you’d like for an extra charge if you change your mind about getting wet.
Check out this fantastic full-day cruise in the Great Barrier Reef where you will have 5 hours to spend exploring the National Park or snorkelling. The cruise also includes a buffet lunch, glass of wine, canapes and live music!.
You can’t visit Cairns without seeing the reef in some way. So whether you want to snorkel, sky dive, take day trips to islands, or try reef cruises, you’re sure to have an amazing time regardless.
11. Explore the Chillagoe Caves
If you’re interested in exploring the vast underground world near Cairns, then this is one of the best Cairns attractions for you.
Chillagoe is a former mining town that’s about two and a half hours from Cairns. It’s famous for its system of limestone caves.
It has almost a thousand caves in all, and there are multiple Cairns tours available that will allow you to see them.
You’ll find many brilliant stalagmite and stalactite formations here. They also contain Aboriginal art and the fossils of extinct animals.
While you’re in Chillagoe, you can also visit its local museum to learn more about the town’s mining history. This is something that any history lover is sure to appreciate.
Chillagoe is also located right on the Australian outback, and you can expect to see many different animal and bird species while you’re there.
All curious explorers should add the caves to their list of the best things to do in Cairns.
12. Hike the Rainforests
Hiking in the wet tropics rainforest of Queensland is an unforgettable experience. The ancient rainforests up here create a thriving wildlife habitat so you can see incredible varieties of native flora and fauna.
While you’re in Cairns, you can choose to go hiking in either the Atherton Tablelands or the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. Each of these hiking tours offers a unique experience.
When you go to the Atherton Tablelands, you’ll see a gigantic fig tree that’s over 800 years old.
Crater Lakes National Park is a popular spot to visit in the Atherton Tablelands as well. There are a few lovely walking tracks that snake around the volcanic crater lakes of the park.
There is also a Waterfall Circuit there, where you can hike to multiple majestic waterfalls.
On the other hand, a visit to the Daintree Rainforest will allow you to take a dip in the beautiful Mossman Gorge.
The Dubuji Boardwalk in Cape Tribulation is easy and fun for the whole family. The boardwalk stretches over mangroves, swamps, and dense jungle and has informational signs about all the cool plants you’re seeing.
As you might expect, both of these areas contain an impressive assortment of wildlife. You’ll see all sorts of birds and reptiles while exploring these regions.
This is your best chance to see some of these animals up close. If you love to be in nature, then this is one of the top Cairns attractions for you.
13. Ride in a Hot Air Balloon
It might surprise you to learn that Tropical North Queensland happens to be the ballooning capital of the world.
It’s another incredible way to see the beautiful country of Australia from the sky and definitely one of the most unique things to do in Cairns.
This happens early in the morning as the sun is rising.
As such, you’ll get breathtaking views of the Atherton Tablelands, along with much of the area’s beautiful farmlands and rivers.
This ride can take either thirty minutes or an hour, depending on which tour you choose.
During the ride, your pilot will be able to show you various points of interest in the area.
You also have the opportunity to learn something new during this trip.
If you’d like, you can help inflate the balloon for your ride and then help pack it up afterwards.
14. Go Road Tripping Up The Coast
We’ve mentioned lots of attractions around Cairns Australia, such as Kuranda, Port Douglas, and Cape Tribulation.
One of the best ways to experience this stunning slice of coastline is renting a car and doing your own road trip.
You can just drive around for one day if you’re short on time, or make it a longer trip and drive all the way up to the Daintree and spend a few days there before heading back.
There are plenty of car rental places in Cairns, so pick something that suits you and hit the road!
You could even do this road trip right from the Cairns Airport before you head into town.
All you have to do is drive north along the Captain Cook Highway and you’ll pass all the best beaches and towns.
Stop by Four Mile Beach, Ellis Beach, Pretty Beach, and Trinity Beach for refreshing swims. Wander around the charming, laid back beach towns of Palm Cove and Port Douglas.
Take the ferry over the Daintree River and head north into the world heritage listed rainforest.
Nature is one of the best Cairns attractions, so just driving through it all is one of the best ways to experience the area.
15. Learn More About the Tjapukai Aboriginal People
This is a fun way to unwind after a day of thrill-seeking activities in Cairns Australia.
On the Aboriginal Cultural Tjapukai Night Tour, you can spend an evening learning more about Australia’s indigenous Tjapukai people.
You’ll get to understand Aboriginal culture through a combination of theatre, music, and storytelling.
It’s a truly incredible show and is something you must see if you enjoy learning about other cultures.
This night also includes a buffet dinner that’s full of great food and desserts.
Furthermore, you have the opportunity to enjoy the award-winning Tjapukai Art Gallery once the show is over.
You’ll even have the option of hanging out with the performers if you choose to do so.
16. Explore the Botanical Gardens
This is another one of the best things to do in Cairns for people who want to chill out and enjoy nature without all the adrenaline.
The Flecker Botanical Gardens was originally established in 1886 and is one of the largest exhibitions of tropical plants in the country.
There are a number of rare plants to be found here, and anyone who loves nature is sure to enjoy it.
Along with its vast array of plant life, there is also a wide assortment of bird species living here as well.
This makes it a fantastic place to visit for bird lovers.
In addition to this, it also features two cafes with a variety of breakfast and lunch options.
Or you could simply find a place to sit down and have a picnic.
Either way, Flecker Botanical Gardens is a great place to bring your friends or family after you’ve had your fill of thrill-seeking.
It’s sort of a hidden gem of Cairns city, as most tourists take day trips into the massive rainforest outside the city to go wildlife watching. But the Botanic Gardens are right in Cairns and they’re super impressive as well!
- Address: 78-96 Collins Ave, Cairns Australia
- Opening hours: every day from 7:30 AM – 5:30 PM
- Price: Free
Thanks for reading about the 16 best things to do in Cairns!
By now, you should have a very good idea of what to do in Cairns Australia.
It’s a truly amazing city full of excitement and natural beauty.
Located where the rainforest meets the reef, Cairns is nestled between two of Australia’s most impressive natural landscapes.
You can cruise over the jungle on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to Kuranda, or zipline through the incredible Daintree National Park.
You can take day trips and reef cruises to the outer reef, Green Island, or Fitzroy Island. Or travel up the coast towards Cape Tribulation, Port Douglas, Palm Cove, and more.
Alternatively, you could travel south and further explore places like Mission Beach, Wooroonooran National Park, and other attractions south of Cairns.
Also, you can have fun in downtown Cairns by visiting the markets, swimming in the Cairns lagoon, and checking out the Cairns Aquarium.
Cairns itself is amazing, and there is so much excitement in the entire Cairns region as well.
So whether you’re fully exploring this tropical corner of Australia or you’re just flying into Cairns, start booking your vacation today and you’ll be making new memories in no time.
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