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Plan Your Trip to Cairns: Best of Cairns Tourism

Explore Cairns

Cairns is best known as a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and there’s good reason: Divers and adventure seekers can spend their days exploring the reef, dipping in lagoons, and sprawling out on the beach. After, though, there’s even more to discover in town, from cafes and markets to nightlife (think: backpacker beach bar vibes). Day trips are highly encouraged, too—the rainforests of Daintree National Park are just an hour from the city, and there are plenty of tropical islands worth hopping around by boat. See what travellers are saying and find all the best recs below.

Travel Advice

Essential Cairns

Bucket-list adventures in and around Cairns

You can’t come to Cairns without seeing the region's biggest draw, the Great Barrier Reef. But the northeastern coast of Queensland has plenty of other sights you definitely shouldn’t pass up, from ancient rainforests to towering waterfalls. These highlights should be on everyone's bucket list, even for an Aussie like me.
Kristin Reinhard, Switzerland
  • Daintree National Park
    Don't miss a chance to hike through what’s believed to be the oldest surviving rainforest on the planet. While venturing out on your own is possible, take my advice and hire a guide so that you don't miss highlights like the wide beach at Cape Tribulation. The resident saltwater crocodiles—known to locals as “salties”—are the reason that swimming isn’t allowed here. But it’s still a great place to take in the scenery.
  • Kuranda Scenic Railway
    For the best views of the countryside, I recommend grabbing a seat on the right-hand side of the Kuranda Scenic Railway. As you cross over bridges and through tunnels that were carved more than a century ago, you’ll have the best view of Barron Falls, which becomes a torrent after a storm. Once you’re in Kuranda, head to an animal park to spot some Aussie wildlife or do a little window-shopping before returning to Cairns.
  • Millaa Millaa Falls
    Cairns is a great base for exploring the Atherton Tablelands, with its towering Millaa Millaa Falls just a 90-minute drive from the city. The 60-foot-tall waterfall is one of the most photographed in Australia, and the watering hole below is a fantastic place for cooling off after a day of exploring. Keep your eyes peeled for the occasional platypus. You could easily spend a day exploring this spot along with nearby Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls.
  • Green Island
    It takes just under an hour for your catamaran to reach the shores of Green Island, making it one of the quickest ways to get to the Great Barrier Reef. You can snorkel right from the beach near the jetty, and you have a good chance of spotting green turtles and other creatures. If you prefer to stay on dry land, take a hike on the boardwalk leading through the rainforest.
  • Rusty's Market
    ​​Ever bitten into a fuzzy rambutan, spiky dragon fruit, or knobbly custard apple? Me neither, until I visited Rusty's Market in Cairns. Apart from these lesser-known fruits, you can also expect to find (in season, of course) juicy pineapples, candy-like mangoes, and bananas that weren’t flown in from the other side of the world. It’s open Friday through Sunday, and locals know to get here early for the best selection.
  • Palm Cove Beach
    Palm Cove was recently named the world's best beach, and I’m not going to argue with that. (Neither will the dolphins and whales that frequent this part of the coast.) The long stretch of palm-lined sand is at its best at daybreak, when you might feel like getting up early for a sunrise stroll. Always adhere to the lifeguard's warnings, especially in the warmer months, as marine stingers and crocodiles sometimes call these waters home.
  • Mandingalbay Authentic Indigenous Tours
    Keep an eye out for crocodiles basking in the sun as you venture deeper and deeper into the mangrove forest on this three-hour tour. The wildlife is just the beginning, because the real thrill for me is being welcomed to the traditional lands of the Mandingalbay Yidinj people with a smoke ceremony. You then set off into the rainforest to learn more about bush medicine. It’s an incredible introduction to Aboriginal culture.