Things to do in Cairns

Known as the gateway to tropical holiday destinations such as Port Douglas and Palm Cove, as well as to UNESCO world heritage-listed attractions including the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, the city of Cairns is rapidly becoming a popular vacation spot in and of itself. Located in tropical North Queensland, sunny Cairns offers a fantastic combination of contemporary dining and shopping within a relaxed, beach-side setting. Stay with us as we uncover the best places to stay, the top activities to do, and the most popular places to eat in Cairns. You’ll be hankering for a Cairns vacation in no time!

Getting to Cairns

Cairns Airport sign.

For Australian visitors travelling from interstate, you can book flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to Cairns relatively cheaply and easily! Local Australian airlines such as Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Qantas all fly directly and regularly from those cities to Cairns Airport.

Once you’re amongst the Cairns Aiport arrivals, of course, you’ll need to get to your Cairns accommodation. Some visitors to Cairns seek out a Cairns taxi. Another popular method of transport to get around the seaside town is to organise car hire in Cairns. For other travellers, however, Cairns is not the final destination. You will find that you can quite easily and quickly get to other popular Queensland holiday destinations (such as Port Douglas and Palm Cove) by using Cairns as a starting point. For example, you can get from Cairns to Port Douglas by booking the comfortable local shuttle bus that operates between these two locations daily.

Cairns weather

It must be said – Cairns’s summery weather can be hard to beat! Boasting a sunny, cloudless and pleasantly warm climate for most of the year, Cairns is far from wintery. If you’re curious to learn more, you can quite easily check the Cairns weather radar via BOM Cairns. Also known as the Bureau of Meteorology, you can trust the BOM radar Cairns to deliver an accurate Cairns weather forecast practically every time. You may also notice when checking, that Cairns usually has relatively warm temperatures of between 28 degrees Celsius, which can increase to the mid-30 degrees Celsius mark. Being a tropical location, there can also often be some rain and precipitation in Cairns at times.

Cairns accommodation

A dock in Cairns with hotels behind.

Admittedly, Cairns hotels are not very hard to come by! Indeed, holiday accommodation in Cairns is virtually a dime a dozen and is scattered throughout the seaside town at various locations. That is not to say that Cairns’s accommodation is not of excellent quality! On the contrary, there are many fantastic hotel locations to choose to stay at in Cairns, including:

The Cairns Colonial Club Resort

The popular and up-market Carsns Colonial Club Resort is a decidedly tropical boutique-style property. It is located on an 11-acre property of stunning tropical gardens. As such, the luxe resort-style accommodation option boasts as many as 345 rooms, all surrounded by serene gardens, lush greenery, and forest vegetation.

The Hilton Cairns

The Hilton Cairns is centrally located within the main town centre of Cairns. As such, it is much more of a city-style rather than resort-style accommodation option, but its location is hard to beat! Part of the iconic Hilton group and offering clean, modern and sophisticated rooms, this hotel is sure to please visitors who choose to stay here!

Shangri La Cairns

Also known as the Shangri La The Marina, this luxury Cairns resort offers luxe, upscale accommodation suites situated on the Cairns Marina. Just 10 minutes from Cairns airport, the location of this property is ideal for travellers booked on cruise departures leaving from the Marina. It is also very close to the Great Barrier Reef Terminal, as well as the Pier Shopping Centre.

Novotel Cairns

The Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort is both family-friendly and luxurious. It offers guests access to a lagoon-style pool featuring a swim-up bar! Recently refurbished in 2019, it is a 4.5-star property.

Pullman Cairns

It is important to note that the Pullman accommodation group offers two different hotel options in Cairns. These include their beach-front, sea-view location known as the Pullman Cairns Reef Hotel Casino, not to be confused with their centrally-located city-based hotel, the Pullman Cairns International. If travelling further afield, there is also a Pullman property in Palm Cove – the Pullman Palm Cove Sea Temple Resort and Spa.

Pacific Hotel Cairns

The Pacific Hotel Cairns is located on the picturesque Cairns Esplanade. Book a balcony room for stunning views overlooking Trinity Harbour. This property also offers easy access to cruise departures from the harbour terminal. You won’t be disappointed in this venue!

Mantra Trilogy Cairns

Clean and comfortable, this particular property is somewhat more budget-friendly and affordable than other resort-style accommodation options available in Cairns. If you’re looking for a last-minute stay, this hotel can often be found on Wotif Cairns.

Gilligans Cairns

Gilligans Cairns is a self-proclaimed ‘adventure destination’. As such, it is predominately targeted to a younger, more adventurous demographic. Known for its bars and nightlife, it is also likely to attract backpackers and international travellers.

Things to Do in Cairns

Cairns beach.

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is essentially a family-friendly adventure water park. As well as the option to swim in the Cairns Lagoon, this location also offers visitors access to a popular skate park and ramp, as well as other parks and play areas. Fun for the whole family!

Cairns Aquarium

Known to be the most newly-built aquarium in Australia, this attraction is a must-visit! Take the family along for the day, and be amazed by spectacular sights including underwater animals and ecosystems. Casual visits are available to purchase on-site. Alternatively, you may wish to take the family on a guided tour of the aquarium for a more in-depth experience.

Skyrail Cairns

Drive just 15 minutes north of Cairns, and you will find the Cairns Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. An experience that is not for the faint of heart, the Skyrail offers spectacular views from above the rainforest with treetop aerial canopy rides.

Cairns Botanical Gardens

Known to many as an idyllic tropical sanctuary – a tropical paradise even – the Cairns Botanic Gardens have an extensive selection of native tropical plants for visitors to enjoy and delight in.
Just like the Cairns Aquarium, guided tours are on offer here, as well as casual visits.

Cairns Museum

Located in the heritage-listed School of Arts Building, this site is an important attraction and is of particular appeal to visitors interested in the history of Cairns.

Shopping in Cairns

Naturally, it wouldn’t be a holiday without a spot of shopping! Fortunately, contemporary Cairns is the ideal shopping destination for even the most discerning shopper. With something for everyone, some of the many stores available in Cairns include Bunnings Cairns, Harvey Norman Cairns, Big W Cairns, Kmart Cairns, Officeworks Cairns, Anaconda Cairns, and of course, Woolworths Cairns for all of your grocery needs! Best yet, most of these stores can be found within the centrally-located Cairns Central Shopping Centre – which makes them conveniently placed in the centre of town, and easy for visitors staying in the city to access on foot!

Restaurants in Cairns

There are many dining hotspots to choose from in Cairns! But some of the best, most popular restaurants in Cairns include:

Bellocale Italian Seafood Restaurant

When holidaying by the beach, it makes sense that you’ll be craving seafood! For fresh, delicious seafood in a modern, contemporary setting, you will have a great time at Bellocale Italian Seafood Restaurant.

C’est Bon French Restaurant Cairns

For authentic French cuisine, head to C’est Bon French Restaurant Cairns. In a bright, light-filled and airy restaurant setting, expect to be served bistro classics such as Steak Tartare and Duck Confit.

Ochre Restaurant

Located within the city centre, this modern Australian dining spot utilises local produce and flavours in its food. Think native game, herbs and seafood – all combining to offer a unique local dining experience.

Tamarind Restaurant

Craving some Asian cuisine? Look no further than Tamarind Restaurant. Offering fine dining with an Asian-inspired twist, the menu boasts exotic, tantalising dishes such as Penang duck curry and delicate chilli scallops. Located within The Reef Hotel Casino, this luxury eatery also happens to be award-winning – having been awarded a Chefs Hat award, as well as a World Luxury Restaurant award!

Waterbar and Grill Steakhouse

Another popular modern Australian eatery, expect steak cooked to perfection, and a variety of other meats coupled with rich sauces, fresh salads, fries, and other sides. Delicious!

Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar

If you’re in the mood for Greek Cuisine, go no further than Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar. Featuring authentic fare including delectable souvlaki meats such as lamb, pork and chicken which melt in the mouth, as well as fresh, tangy salads, you will love it here!

Restaurant Oak & Vine

A more low-key lunch and dinner spot located in the town centre, go here for a simple yet tasty meal that won’t break the bank. Think cafe-style fares such as sandwiches, focaccias and pastries coupled with great coffee.


A guide to things to do in Cairns, including the best restaurants, accommodation options, and activities.

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