Things To Do In Cairns for the Ultimate Tropical Getaway
Just booked your vacay and not sure where to start? These are the best things to do in Cairns to make for a memorable stay.
Easy-going vibes with a dash of urban chic, Cairns is on the up and up, thanks in part to its ever-growing roster of foodie and bar hangouts. But Cairns has always been a crowd-pleaser. Namely for the Great Barrier Reef, meandering waterways and lush parklands that are a veritable playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
As more and more people make a move to this seaside city, Cairns is keeping pace with on-trend bars, health cafes and eateries with seafood fresh from the trawler. This handy guide will have you covered, whether you’re planning a holiday or making a sea change.
Things to do in Cairns: Eat
Ozmosis Café is your go-to for breakfast, lunch and every snack in between. All the classic gems are accounted for, from the classic smashed avo to the more exotic offerings like Bali bowls and Vietnamese coffee. The cinnamon and sugar-coated Gnocco Fritto pillows have our hearts, so save room for dessert! The presentation here is second to none, as is the service, so there is no doubt, these guys will fast become your friendly local.
1/116 Collins Avenue, Edge Hill
There are only a few places in the world where you can find seafood fresher than this. Dining straight on the trawler, Prawn Star is a no-frills foodie experience that is bound to impress. Think oysters and sashimi delivered ocean to table. It’s all about friendly vibes and good food at this cosy joint, floating atop the Coral Sea. Combining the salty sea breeze, delicious food and one of the most unique dining experiences in Queensland, Prawn Star is one of the best things to do in Cairns for an incredible holiday.
Marlin Marina, E31 Berth, Cairns City
Dundee’s at the Cairns Aquarium
No need to travel to Dubai for this insanely Insta-worthy experience. Stop by from breakfast through to dinner if you fancy dining with the fish. You'll dine on the flavours of Australia at Dundee's, as they’re well known for their superbly grilled steaks and fresh seafood. Dundee's incorporate as many local flavours and ingredients as possible. It’s a true Aussie dining experience, and we hear only good things about the native peppered kangaroo loin.
5 Florence Street, Cairns City
Things to do in Cairns: Drink
The only thing that can beat a day of beach-hopping is an evening sipping on cocktails (day bed included). Salt House is your one-stop shop for a lush night out. A casual tapas menu will ensure no one goes hungry and the location is top-notch, meaning this bar should be at the top of your list of things to do in Cairns.
6/2 Pierpoint Road, Cairns City
Visiting a bar with an award-winning wine list has to be one of the best things to do in Cairns, right?! This candlelit bar offers up more than a refreshing beverage at the end of a long hard day snorkelling the reef. Conservatory Bar guarantees live music every Friday and Saturday along with its incredible wine list and a whole spate of seasonal cocktails. Count us in.
12/14 Lake Street, Cairns City
If a fine brew gets your heart beating, then head on over to Hemingway’s. With over 20 beers on tap, the heritage-listed venue also serves a selection of bottled craft beers from all over the world. Is beer not your thing? Then opt for the craft gin-tasting paddle. It all pairs beautifully with the waterside views and a menu full of curated beer snacks, artisanal pizzas and some dang fine burgers. With an unrivalled view of the water and a breezy, laidback atmosphere, Hemingway’s is easily one of the best things to do in Cairns on your next escape.
4 Wharf Street, Cairns City
Classy speakeasy vibes abound at this speciality drinking house. Three Wolves know their spirits, offering an entire tequila menu as well as some divine barrel-aged cocktails. There is a perfect assortment of light dishes to complement the carefully curated beverage list, so get to snacking while you’re at it for the perfect night out at one of the best venues in Cairns.
32 Abbott Street, Cairns City
Things to do in Cairns: Stay
Five-star luxury on the waterfront of Cairns Esplanade? Yes, please! The Crystalbrook Collection’s gorgeous Riley Hotel invites a playful, laid-back and sophisticated energy into your next tropical North Queensland getaway.
Sustainably run without sacrificing any of the luxurious creature comforts you come to expect from a hotel of this calibre, we encourage you to check in and let your hair down with some cocktails by the pool or treat yourself to an indulgent and restorative treatment in the Elème day spa.
The popular Rocco restaurant sits atop the hotel’s tower, making it the tallest rooftop bar in the city, and boasts panoramic views of the coastline.
131/141 Esplanade, Cairns City
Situated just a short walk from the beach and local dining scene, this luxury villa has everything you need for the ultimate tropical escape. 94 Northhouse boasts three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and ample living spaces. For us, the piece de resistance is the stunning alfresco space with a private pool. As soon as you check in, get the drinks on ice and get your swimsuit on, as you won't want to leave your summer oasis in a hurry!
From $1,100 for two nights
94 Cascade Boulevarde, Palm Cove
Accommodating up to six guests, this spacious penthouse has everything you need for your next Cairns getaway. With a modern interior and roomy living areas, you will feel immediately at home and relaxed as you plan your holiday itinerary. Take a short stroll to explore the best of the Cairns dining and nightlife, or simply put your feet up and enjoy the views of the Esplanade, city and mountain ranges.
From $334 per night
Things to do in Cairns: Explore
Kuranda Scenic Railway
One of the most iconic attractions in Cairns is the Kuranda Scenic Railway, an incredible feat of construction and engineering that stands the test of time. Constructed over several years in the late 1800s, the railway originally served as a means of transportation and a way to ensure ample food and essential supplies could make their way to the various settlements across the region and coastline.
Nowadays, the train operates as a tourist attraction that winds around the craggy mountains and through the lush rainforest, stopping off at viewing platforms so that you can ogle at the Barron Falls lookout and snap some photos to remember your trip.
You’ll learn the history of the train and the land you’re passing through via the audio commentary played in your refurbished heritage carriage, as the train travels 37 kilometres and rises 327 metres above sea level.
Sitchu Tip: Make your train ride a little extra special by booking a gold-class carriage. You’ll get to enjoy morning or afternoon tea in your comfortable armchair-style seat, as well as a selection of wine or lager to sip while you ride.
Bunda Street, Cairns Railway Station, Cairns
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
If you take the Kuranda Scenic Railway up the mountain, why not experience the rainforest from a new perspective as you descend? The Skyrail Cableway is locally owned and operated and provides a thrilling way to explore this ancient rainforest without leaving so much as a footprint behind.
You can take the Cableway up to, and down from Kuranda, with platforms to stop off and explore Red Peak (Skyrail’s highest point at 545 metres above sea level) and Barron Falls during your trip.
We recommend allocating around two and a half hours for your Cableway experience if you decide on a round trip, not to mention the time you’ll need to explore all that Kuranda has to offer!
6 Skyrail Drive, Smithfield
There truly is no better feeling on earth than the cool, calm immersion of a freshwater swimming hole. Team that with some tropical heat and a whole heap of exceptionally smooth natural sun-baking rocks, and you'll find yourself in actual heaven. Surrounded by rainforest, it’s easy to see why the sacred location of the Babinda Boulders holds great significance for the custodians of the land.
Take a picnic and spend an entire day in this incredible oasis. But be careful where you swim, as ancient Indigenous magic is at play in these waters, so be sure to read up on the fated love story of Oolana and Dyga before you take a dip!
Babinda, Cairns Queensland
Step back in time at Paronella Park, a 5-hectare tropical paradise containing the remnants of Jose Paronella’s dream. Built in the 1930s and powered by a hydroelectric generator off the waterfall, this Park was once a destination for tourists and locals to enjoy ice cream, picnics by the water and swimming.
Sadly, the Park met tragedy when floods and cyclones ravaged the buildings, but the current owners seek to protect and restore what remains standing. Explore the awe-inspiring gardens, marvel over the castle-like structures and revel in the romance of this stunning and unique experience in tropical North Queensland.
1671 Japoonvale Road (Old Bruce Highway), Mena Creek
Beaches in Cairns are the kind of places you dream about while answering emails on a Monday morning. Here, rainforest meets soft sand, and we promise there is no place you would rather be. Safe year-round, Trinity Beach is one of the best for swimming with designated swimming areas and lifeguards on duty. There is also a paved esplanade travelling the length of the beach so don your joggers and stretch your legs along this stunning tropical expanse.
Trinity Beach, Cairns
Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome
One of Cairns’ more curious experiences, is the Wildlife Dome, perched above the Casino of all places. For the youthful (or young at heart) persons in your travelling party, you can scale a treetop challenge with a Zoom entry. Otherwise, you can keep your feet planted firmly on the ground as you explore the Wildlife Dome, coming face to face with rainbow lorikeets, black cockatoos, galahs and an enormous estuarine crocodile.
There are regular presentations so that you can learn more about (and meet!) a range of birds, reptiles and maybe even a cuddly koala.
The Reef Hotel Casino, 35-41 Wharf Street, Cairns
Hike Up Walsh’s Pyramid
Feeling a little athletic? Take a hike! Walsh’s Pyramid is a short drive or tour bus from the heart of Cairns and is a popular destination for a day hike. Famous for being the world’s tallest freestanding natural pyramid, the view from the top is spectacular, making the 3-4 hour hike genuinely worth it.
If you’re on the fitter side, you could even opt into “The Great Pyramid Race”, which happens annually in August. The fastest to scale the pyramid and back wins a cash prize (and boasting rights).
Walsh’s Pyramid, Wooroonooran, Cairns
If you want to see as much of the gorgeous reef as you can, then we recommend taking to the skies for an experience of a lifetime. If you are going to splurge on a helicopter ride, this is the place to do it. And if you really fancy splashing some cash, opt for a half-day trip that allows you to land and snorkel the reef. Keep your camera handy!
From $399 per person
Green Island Day Tour
Fancy taking a day trip out to a little island offshore? Green Island is a short catamaran ride off the coast of Cairns and is packed full of once-in-a-lifetime activities! Opt for snorkelling with tropical fish (and maybe a turtle or two if you’re lucky!), diving, scenic helicopter flights, parasailing, a Wunyami cultural walking tour or visit enormous hundred-year-old crocodiles at Marineland Melanesia. Or if you want to take it easy, hire a beach lounge and umbrella and lay back with a cold drink and a great book.
From $99 per person
Ports North, 1 Spence Street, Cairns
Millaa Millaa Falls
Get your camera ready, because Millaa Milla Falls is one of Cairns’ most Instagrammable locations! You might want to stay offline and connect with nature instead, so pack your togs and a towel so that you can swim right up to the falls and bask in the wonder of this truly stunning part of the tropics. You’ll spot fish and turtles (and perhaps a platypus if you’re really lucky) in the crystal-clear water, and there’s plenty of room to spread out on the grass and enjoy a picnic.
Theresa Creek Road, Millaa Millaa, Atherton Tablelands Area
If you’ve tried all of the food and drink venues here in our guide already, you can check out more of the best bars in Cairns in our Sitchu-approved shortlist. There are plenty of foodie hits to try, so make sure you make reservations to sample as many of Cairns’ best restaurants as possible on your next vacay!
As always, make sure you tag @sitchu.brisbane in your adventures, so we can see how you’re staying #sositchu in tropical North Queensland!