Cairns is a small town of fewer than 170,000 people in the North of Queensland. It is one of the most popular locations in Australia with great weather and temperatures all year. Most tourists use Cairns as a base for their Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest adventures. You can expect amazing beaches, snorkeling at the reef, tours through the rainforest, and lots of adventurous tours and activities in Cairns. These are my top things to do in Cairns, Australia!
QUICK PICKS: 3 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CAIRNS
Don’t have time to read the whole post? No Problem. Here are my top three picks for the best activities in Cairns.
17 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA
In this blog post, I will share with you some of the best tours in Cairns aswell as a load of free activities and viewpoints to include in your itinerary.
Outer Great Barrier Reef Cruise & Scenic Helicopter Flight
Outer Great Barrier Reef Cruise & Scenic Helicopter Flight: You can’t visit Cairns without experiencing the Great Barrier Reef! It’s literally a must when considering the best things to do in Cairns! On this tour, you snorkel at two amazing Great Barrier Reef locations and then take a helicopter flight over the reef. You get to explore the reef from under the surface and in the air! This is one of the top-rated things to do in Cairns.
- Visit 2 spectacular outer Great Barrier Reef locations and snorkel for 5 hours
- Soar over the reef on a short scenic helicopter flight
- Enjoy a complimentary glass of wine and light snack on the way back
- Relax on the full-length sun lounge or on one of the three spacious deck levels
Daintree, Mossman Gorge & Cape Tribulation Tour
Daintree, Mossman Gorge & Cape Trib Tour: This is the MOST popular tour in Cairns and gives you the whole experience in one day trip. Here’s what you can expect from the itinerary.
- Visit Mossman Gorge, the Daintree River, Rainforest Boardwalk, and Cape Tribulation
- Experience a wildlife river cruise, learn about the fragile ecosystem, and try to spot crocodiles
- Discover the scenic Great Barrier Reef Drive and enjoy panoramic views over the sparkling Coral Sea
- Participate in a Smoke Ceremony with the Kuku Yalanji people, the Aboriginal owners of the land
- Listen to highly trained guides who give an expert rainforest interpretation
Self-guided Kuranda Scenic Rail & Sky Rail Day Trip
Self-guided Kuranda Scenic Rail & Sky Rail Day Trip: On this Cairns tour you will explore Kuranda and the World Heritage-listed rainforest. First, you will take in the sights by historic railway before taking the Sky Rail over the rainforest.
- Discover World Heritage-listed pristine rainforest by historic scenic railway
- Take a ride on the cableway, gliding just meters above the rainforest canopy
- Visit Kuranda markets, unique shops, and wildlife parks
Kuranda Sky Rail & Scenic Rail
- Best way to see Kurana
- World Heritage Rain Forest
- Full day-trip.
Half-Day Barron River White-Water Rafting
Half-Day Barron River White-Water Rafting: Test your skills on grade 3 level rapids on your journey through the rainforest. In between the fast-paced action you can take in the stunning scenery and enjoy the wildlife action on the banks of the river. Prepare to get wet and wild as this adventure is not for the faint-hearted. It definitely goes down as one of the most fun things to do in Cairns and this definitely one of the most exciting tours I’ve ever done.
- Marvel at the stunning rainforest landscapes of Barron Gorge National Park
- Ride the grade three rapids of the Barron River, including the Roostertail
Fitzroy Island Full-Day Adventure Tour
Fitzroy Island Full-Day Adventure Tour: The Fitzroy Island tour is the best day trip from Cairns. The beaches, snorkeling, and viewpoints on this island are just incredible and a great spot for families or couples to relax, adventure and explore.
- Cruise by ferry to Fitzroy Island and enjoy up to 7 hours of leisure time
- Snorkel the coral reef to see an abundance of marine life, or watch it from the comfort of a glass-bottom boat.
- Take wilderness hikes on up to 5 different trails, suitable for all levels of fitness
Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling and Diving Tour
Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling and Diving Tour: The best way to explore the Great Barrier is on a day trip to snorkel and dive. Take a luxury boat to a private reef for a safe and relaxed snorkel and dive adventure.
- Experience a comfortable day on the reef on a modern vessel
- Dive or snorkel at 2 exclusive outer reef locations
- Enjoy a delicious pre-packed picnic lunch
Even after considering all of the fun things to do in Cairns, the Babinda Boulders is right up there for me as one of the highlights of the trip. Surrounded by lush rainforest, the Babinda Boulders is a popular swimming hole with crystal clear water.
This is a place you want to hang out at for a couple of hours. Bring down lunch or a picnic and really explore this gem of a spot. Make sure you walk around the corner to check out Devil’s Pool, which is next on the list below!
There’s an epic tour (I’ve linked it below) that includes the Babinda Boulders and also, Josephine Falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, the Volcanic Crater of Lake Eacham, Babinda Boulders, Henrietta Creek or Malanda Falls, and a Tea Plantation in one day so you can get a great taste of Cairns with one action-packed tour.
Book your tour: Cairns Full-Day Tour (includes Babinda Boulders)
The crystal clear waters of Babinda Creek flow through the Boulders and eventually spill over into Devil’s Pool. On the day I looked out over Devil’s Pool it was carnage. I didn’t even consider touching the water. It was beautiful watching the raw power of the water as it spilled down into each pool, one after another at one of the most popular attractions in Cairns.
However, during times of less rain, the pools are actually a popular spot to jump in for a dip. There are some interesting stories surrounding Devil’s Pool. The story goes that there is a spirit of a woman, Oolana, at the bottom of the pool luring young men to their death. The tale originated after Oolana threw herself into the pool after being separated from her love. 17 deaths have occurred at Devil’s Pool, therefore proceed with extreme caution.
Daintree & Cape Tribulation Guided 4WD Tour
Daintree & Cape Tribulation Guided 4WD Tour: One of the best ways to see many of Cairns’s top attractions is on a Four Wheel Drive tour. Go where the others can and have an incredible adventure seeking the best sights of Cairns. Enjoy spectacular views on the recently-named ‘best drive in the world‘
- Spot crocodiles and other wild animals on the river cruise
- Spend free time at the famous Cape Tribulation Beach
- Benefit from a small group tour (maximum 16 guests)
- Cool down on a freshwater swim in the pristine Emmagen Creek
One of the most remarkable things about Tropical North Queensland is that even when you aren’t at the beach you can be on the beach. What I mean by this is that when you sit down along the banks and look up at the epic Josephine Falls you can sit on the sand. These sandy banks are found all throughout the rainforest and add an element of the oasis to the region.
Josephine Falls was booming on the day I visited but normally you can jump in the many different cascading pools for a refreshing dip in the crystal clear water!
You can check out the tour below, which includes Josephine Falls and Babinda Boulders, Millaa Millaa Falls, the Volcanic Crater of Lake Eacham, Babinda Boulders, Henrietta Creek or Malanda Falls, and a Tea Plantation in one day so you can get a great taste of Cairns with one action-packed tour.
Book your tour: Cairns Full-Day Tour (includes Josephine Falls)
Waterfall, Wildlife, and Rainforest Tour
Waterfall, Wildlife, and Rainforest Tour from Cairns: Explore some of the best ‘wild’ places to visit in Cairns with waterfalls, swimming holes, and rivers on this full-day tour. It’s one of the top-rated activities in Cairns for those who love to have a swim and are up for an adventure.
- Visit Millaa Millaa Falls, which is Australia’s most photographed cascade
- Explore a landscape of rugged mountains, winding rivers, and rainforests
- Swim and float on inflatables at cascading waterfalls and swimming holes
Halfway between Townsville and Cairns is the stunning Mission Beach. Four beach villages are linked together by 14 kilometers of golden sands. This coastline is a sunrise special, facing directly to the east and lined with palm trees need I say more. We woke up early and watched as the sun slowly rose over the ocean and finally broke through some low cloud cover.
There are plenty of things to do in Cairns or in the surrounding towns like Mission Beach, which is only a short drive away. It’s a perfect place for a walk or bike ride along the beach path.
Overnight stay on Great Barrier Reef Pontoon
Overnight Experience on Great Barrier Reef Pontoon: Once 3 pm rolls around all of the pontoon guests get back on the ferry and head back to Cairns. That is except of course, for those who are sleeping on the pontoon! That’s right you can sleep on the Great Barrier Reef.
- Enjoy between 2-5 dives or snorkel sessions each day at exclusive reef locations
- Experience amazing coral and sea life at some of the best dive and snorkel locations on the Great Barrier Reef
- Re-energize with delicious meals prepared by the onboard chef
- Take time to relax on one of the sundecks or in the comfortable bar and saloon areas
The beauty of the overnight stay is it’s just you and a few mates on a pontoon built for 100-200 people. There are no crowds or busy tourists looking for their kids. It’s totally chill and you can really enjoy the reef experience at a much slower pace.
Daintree Rainforest River Cruise
Daintree River Cruise: This was the most surprising activity of my trip. I thought it would be a relaxing cruise with not too much action but boy was I wrong. We hopped into our small river cruiser, grabbed a pair of binoculars, and tuned into our veteran guide, Ian ‘Sauce’ Worcester. Ian pretty much made the tour as good as it was with some help from the local wildlife. We saw crocs, frogmouths, snakes, and lots of birdlife throughout the tour.
Daintree River Drift Tour
Daintree River SUP or Drift Tour: The world heritage listed Daintree Rainforest is so big and so beautiful, that there are never enough ways to explore this natural gem. Cruising on a stand-up paddleboard or on an inflatable as part of a river drift are both amazing activities in Cairns. The challenging current kept us alert as we navigated our way upstream, inspecting every sandbank and Avatar tree along the route. Cruising through this beautiful scenery was one of the most relaxing things to do in Cairns!
We stopped after half an hour to eat some local fruits and have a refreshing swim. It was here that we turned back downstream, sitting and laying on our boards enjoying the serenity of the Daintree Rainforest and appreciating the natural sounds of the environment.
Mossman Gorge Indigenous Dreamtime Walk
Roy Gibson had a dream and that was to preserve the heritage of the indigenous people of his region and to give an opportunity to his community to be involved in a positive project they could take ownership of. This dream became a reality when he acquired the land and backers helped him build the 20 million dollar Mossman Gorge Centre.
We went on a guided Dreamtime Walk through the Daintree Rainforest. Before we entered we took part in a smoke ceremony and asked for welcome and protection from the spirits. Along the way, we looked at communication rocks, medicinal plants, tools, and other unique aboriginal traditions and ways of life. The Aboriginal people have some of the most resourceful and unique techniques in all areas of life that helped them to not only survive but thrive in the often harsh landscapes of Australia.
The Dreamtime Walking Tour is a great introduction to the Aboriginal culture and how they interact with their environment.
Ocean Safari Tour: Cape Tribulation Snorkel
Ocean Safari Tours took me out on what was definitely the highlight of my snorkeling in Queensland. The snorkel trip uses a Zodiac-style boat, built for speed and transport. From Cape Tribulation, the boat zips you and 20 others out to a small caye/island. On this trip you can expect:
- Visit two reef sites – Mackay and Undine Reefs
- Explore the underwater world
- Spot turtles and other wildlife
- Enjoy a small group size of only 25 people
This short trip with Ocean Safari is a great way to snorkel the reef without the crowds of Cairns. Much more chill much more relaxing. The Ocean Safari half-day tour costs $145, which is far less than in Cairns and doesn’t require the long ferry in and out.
Explore Thala Lodge
Thala Lodge is an eco-resort just out of Cairns. I didn’t stay at the resort but a friend suggested I stop by to hang out in their epic little palm field for an hour. Thala Lodge is an award-winning eco-resort and it would actually be a great spot to stay for a night or two with lots of attractions in the area to explore. Symmetrical palms from above are always going to be fun. Hanging out here is one of the lesser-known things to do in Cairns.
Bungee Jumping in Cairns
Bungee Jumping with a BMX bike from the top of a roof? Sure why not. AJ Hackett Cairns is the ultimate hang-out spot for adrenaline junkies. Only 15 minutes from the city center it’s one of the best things to do in Cairns that involves hardly any driving! They have a giant swing and multiple bungee platforms to entertain you for hours. At the base of the jump is a big pool of water that dunks the jumper’s head ever so slightly.
I decided to do the BMX bungee, it’s the only place to do it in Australia so why not! I first had to do one regular jump and then one running jump from the ramp on the roof. The running jump was awesome and felt like a superman cliff jump. Once I graduated from the running jump the boys set me up on the BMX and off I went, rolling down the ramp before I came hurtling down to the water! AJ Hackett Cairns is one of the top 10 things to do in Cairns for adrenaline junkies!
Book the Bungee BMX package: Bungee Jump BMX Package (3 Jumps)
Book a single bungee jump: Bungee Jump (With Cairns Hotel transfers & Souvenir T-shirt
Bungee Jump Cairns
- BMX style available
- Pool beneath jump
- Leap of faith swing
MY TOP THINGS TO DO IN CAIRNS VIDEO
If you prefer to watch rather than read I put together a few highlights from each activity in this video:
I hope you enjoyed my guide to the top things to do in Cairns and have an adventurous holiday.
WHERE TO STAY IN CAIRNS
Luxury in Cairns City – Pacific Hotel Cairns: This 4-star hotel is an amazing spot to base yourself for a few days in Cairns and surprisingly it comes in at under $150 a night, which is a steal!
Value Pick in Cairns City – Gilligans Backpacker Resort: Not your average backpacker accommodation. It is actually great for families to with more of a resort-style feel with a pool and nice facilities. Cairns can be expensive so this is a good way to keep your costs down but still have the resort feel.
Best Eco-Resort – Thala Resort: an award-winning eco-resort and it would actually be a great spot to stay for a night or two with lots of attractions in the area to explore.
Cape Tribulation – Safari Lodge: Safari Lodge is where I stayed during my time at Cape Trib. I also did my snorkeling and boat cruise on the Great Barrier Reef with them. They have the best restaurant for breakfast and lunch with healthy food and they run all of the tours out of the hotel grounds so it is super convenient for booking tours.
What are my favorite pieces of travel gear?
There are four pieces of gear that I simply never travel without. These are four items that I using right now and this list gets updated every year! Here are my travel essentials.
- Packing Cube Set: Once you cube you’ll never go back. Organize your clothes within your luggage with these smart mesh containers. It will revolutionize your packing.
- PackTowl Quick-Dry Towel: A quick-dry towel is a must for travelers. It hardly takes up any room and dries in seconds.
- Travel Wallet: Keep your passport, wallet, and vaccine card safe as well as any forms and important documents you need to store.
- Grayl GeoPress Water Filter Bottle: I’ve used this for three years. It filters your water with one press and you can drink directly from it. Never buy a plastic water bottle again!
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