When we talk about what to do in Cairns we are not referring only to what to visit in this city in northern Queensland, but to how to organize a few days in Cairns and its surroundings to discover one of the most beautiful regions of Australia.

The east coast of Australia is a wonder, and North Queensland is one of our favorite places in Australia because it has it all: Great Barrier Reef, rainforest, stunning beaches, gorgeous waterfalls, and the chance to see curious Australian animals like the cassowary or saltwater crocodiles.

Crocodile Cairns, Travel to Australia 15 days

  • If you are planning a trip to Australia, take a look at the Guide to travel to Australia that we have prepared for you, it will surely help you organize your trip. We have given him a lot of love.

Since we started traveling around Australia and writing this blog, we have always recommended to everyone who has asked us what to visit in Australia to take an excursion to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia because for us it is without a doubt one of the biggest attractions of Australia.

And surely the best place in Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef is the tropical north of Queensland. Tours to see this wonder of nature depart from the ports of Cairns and Port Douglas. We advise you to spend a few days in the area since you are there.

Great Barrier Reef. Australia icons

Many are those who ask us what to see and what to do in Cairns , about excursions in Cairns , what activities you can do, how to get around the area or what route to organize to spend a few days exploring Cairns and surroundings. That is why we have decided to create this complete guide with everything you need to know to spend some incredible days in the tropical north of Queensland.

As always and so you don't get lost, we have prepared a map for you where we point out the best places to see in Cairns and the most interesting things to do in Cairns and its surroundings.

Remember that you can download the map and carry it on your mobile during your trip to Cairns .

We were going to start this article talking about the best things to see in the city of Cairns, but we have thought better of it, first things first: You are in Cairns to see one of the most important wonders of nature in the world: The Great Barrier of Coral.


The Great Barrier Reef of Australia

1.- Snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia

The first thing you should plan is your excursion to spend the day in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia . The boats leave from the ports of Cairns and Port Douglas, so we recommend that you choose one excursion or another depending on the city you are staying in, because the tours start at 8 in the morning.

Normally the excursions are of one day, they leave at 8-8:30 and return around 16:30. The trip to the Great Barrier Reef lasts about two hours and once there, depending on the excursion you have selected, you will have one or more dives to see the Great Barrier Reef.

It is very important that you keep in mind when you go to choose the tour to see the Great Barrier Reef that you avoid those companies that take you to platforms on the Barrier Reef, although the excursion is cheaper, the coral is destroyed in these areas.

we found Nemo snorkeling off Australia's Great Barrier Reef

2.- Ride a plane to see the Great Barrier Reef from the air

Another great experience to do in Cairns is to see the Great Barrier Reef from a plane or helicopter to appreciate its full extent.

Daintree Rainforest National Park

Once we have decided how we want to see the Great Barrier Reef, another place you have to visit is Daintree Rainforest. This place is the oldest tropical jungle in the world, an ideal place to lose a few days and disconnect (especially since there is no coverage).

3.- Stroll through Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation is one of the most beautiful and wildest beaches in Australia, although not for bathing since crocodiles, sharks and jellyfish live there, but for taking a walk and enjoying the views.

Cape Tribulation, two week trip to Australia

4.- Take a cruise on the Daintree River to see the crocodiles.

It was an experience that we loved. In addition to having the opportunity to see the crocodiles in their natural habitat, you can enjoy some very nice views of the rainforest from the Daintree River.

© Sun Tours and Fun 2016

5.- Enjoy the views of the Alexandra viewpoint

If you are touring Daintree Rainforest National Park by car, you will find this viewpoint on the road to Cape Tribulation about 10 minutes after you have crossed the Daintree River.

routes to explore Australia by motorhome or car: Tropical North Queensland

6.- Go into the jungle

To fully explore the Daintree Rainforest National Park, there is nothing better than taking a walk through the jungle. There are several marked hiking trails that you can do on your own in the park.

Daintree Rainforest Cairns

7.- Take a bath in Mossman Gorge

Mossman is an impressive gorge, south of the Daintree Rainforest National Park, in the area there are pools of crystalline water surrounded by impressive vegetation.

You can visit the area on your own or go to the Mossman Gorge center which is run by local Aborigines and take a tour with them to see the area on foot.

Waterfalls at Atherton Tableland

The inland plateau of tropical north Queensland also hides very special corners, especially if you love to take a dip in waterfalls in the middle of the forest like these:

8.- Slide down Josephine Falls

This area of ​​Australia could not be more fun, the water has formed a natural slide and is an ideal place to take a dip and slide for a while on the rocks.

Josephine Falls, Atherton Tablelands. Two week trip Australia

9.- Get a photon at Millaa Millaa Falls

They are the most photographed waterfalls in Australia, they are in a spectacular setting and there is a picnic area where you can lie down or eat something. They are very visited but you will be able to bathe quietly and it is a great place to take some photos.

Millaa Millaa Atherton Tablelands


The town of Kuranda is located just 30 minutes away by car and its main attractions are:

10.- Kuranda Scenic Train (KURANDA SCENIC RAILWAY)

The train runs from Cairns to the town of Kuranda. The trip is approximately two hours and includes a stop at the Barron Falls station to appreciate them in more detail.

The train runs through 15 hand-carved tunnels, 37 bridges, waterfalls and the Barron Gorge.

Kuranda what to do in Cairns

Dagmar Hollmann, Kuranda, CC BY-SA 4.0

11.- Ride the Kuranda cable car

The cable car offers spectacular views of the rainforest and Barron Falls. The cable car takes you to The Edge viewpoint suspended about 160 meters above the gorge and with a glass floor. Do you dare?

What to see in Cairns (City)

To be honest, we didn't like the city of Cairns very much. As a city it does not have much to see, but the important thing is that it can serve as a base to explore the entire northern part of the state of Queensland, which as we have already told you, is wonderful.

We leave you this explanatory note in case you decide to stay in Cairns and you plan to spend a lot of time in the city, don't do it, organize your days well for excursions to the surroundings of Cairns which is what is really worth it.

If you have time to spend in the city, here are some things to see and do in Cairns:

12. Take a swim at Esplanade Swimming Lagoon

If you want to cool off in Cairns, don't ever take a bath on its beaches. You will realize as soon as you arrive in the city that the sea water is chocolate brown.

© Sun Tours and Fun 2016

Cairns is located at the mouth of a river and the lack of waves means that the silt does not disperse and mix with the deeper water, so when there is wind from the sea the sand sediment rises and the water appears colored Brown.

Seeing the huge crocodiles in the area I would not put a toe in that water.

For this reason, they have created a huge pool on the Cairns promenade, at Esplanade Swimming Lagoon you can take a bath with all the tranquility of the world.

13.- Visit Rusty's Markets

If you are in Cairns during the weekend and you like the markets you can go to see Rusty´s Markets. It is one of the best known and cheapest markets in Australia, it is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so if you want to do the shopping or browse, stop by.

14.- Cairns night markets

They are not the best night markets we have seen, but if you are staying in Cairns and want to go out for dinner at night this is a good place to hang out.

Other things to do in Cairns

15.- Come to Hartley's crocodile Adventure

If you want to see the dreaded crocodiles of northern Australia up close, Hartley's crocodile is the best place to see them without taking a bite.

In addition to crocodiles you can see cassowaries, wombats, kangaroos and many more unique animals of Australia.

© Sun Tours and Fun 2016

16.- Tumabate on the beach of Palm Cove

It is a tropical coastal town where if you are going to find beaches where you can take a dip.


17.- Take an excursion to Fitzroy Island

It is an island located just 29 kilometers south of Cairns. A tropical paradise with jungle and coral reef where you can go hiking through the jungle, kayak, snorkel or just relax on the beach.

Great Barrier Reef. How is Australia

These are the two best options for exploring tropical North Queensland.

Rent a car in Cairns

This is how we have always traveled the area, renting a car through Airport Rental that we pick up at the airport and with which we get going as soon as we land.

Without a doubt, renting a car is the best option if you want to go your own way and the cheapest.

best routes to tour Australia by motorhome

  • If you also want to rent a car to explore North Queensland at your own pace, we recommend that you do so through the Airport Rentals comparator. It is the one that we always use on our trips and helps us find the best prices on the market.

Excursions in Cairns

If you prefer not to drive or you travel alone and you want to do the accompanied visits, a very good option is to book some of the tours that local agencies organize in the Cairns area.

We have many friends who have visited the area on excursions and have had very good experiences.

Road Trip through Cairns and Tropical North Queensland

If you have decided to rent a car to explore the area, here is a suggestion about the route you can take:

© Sun Tours and Fun 2016

Technical data of the route

Departure Point : Cairns Airport

Arrival point : Cairns Airport

Distance : Circular Route

Estimated days : 3 - 4 days.

Best time of year to do the route : You will find better time in the dry season from May to October. If you don't mind getting a little wet because you're going to spend a lot of your time in the water, making the trip from November to April isn't a bad option either, at least you'll find fewer tourists.

Map of the route through Cairns and surroundings

Stops on your route through Tropical North Queensland:

  • Cairns City
  • Kuranda
  • Palm cove
  • Hartley's Crocodile Adventures
  • Port douglas
  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Mossman gorge
  • Cape Tribulation
  • Millaa Millaa Falls
  • Josephine falls

One of the first things you should decide when exploring tropical North Queensland is where you want to stay.

You can use the cities of Cairns, Port Douglas or Palm Cove as a base to get to know the area and from there go moving to do the excursions or spend the night in different places, while making your route by car through Cairns and its surroundings.

We, for convenience, have always chosen a place (the first time we visited the area in Cairns and the second time we stayed in Port Douglas), there we have settled for three or four days and from Cairns or Port Douglas we have moved to explore the area.

Where is it better to stay? Well, as they say, for tastes, the colors.

If you must bear in mind that Cairns is a more touristy city, and therefore with more hotels and more excursions that depart from there, it is also cheaper.

On the other hand, Port Douglas is a quieter little town and for example, Airbnb houses are prettier.

Cairns airport

Cairns is a city with an international airport. If you are in New Zealand, Japan or Hong Kong, for example, you can fly directly to Cairns.

If you are already in Australia, you can find internal flights to Cairns from the main Australian cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Ayers Rock or Brisbane.

  • If you are looking for a flight to get to Cairns we advise you to use Skyscanner , for us the best flight comparer on the market.

Another great option to get to Cairns is to rent a van and drive along the east coast of Australia from Brisbane to Cairns. The distance is 1,700 km, but the stops on the route are totally worth it.

Cape Hillsborough National Park

Summers (December to February) in tropical North Queensland are hot and humid and winters (June to September) are milder and drier.

Because of this and because summer is jellyfish season in North Queensland, the best time to travel to Cairns is from May to October. But if you have to travel to Cairns in summer don't worry, it's perfectly doable.


Well, you already have a fairly complete guide to travel to North Queensland in Australia and visit the Great Barrier Reef and the famous Daintree Rainforest National Park. We hope you like it as much as we do.

These are the resources that a trip to Australia or New Zealand we recommend, we use them constantly and they are the ones that work best:

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Things to do in and around Cairns

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