Planning a trip to Cairns? Well, amigo, you’ve come to the right piece of prime internet real estate. I spent a few days exploring gorgeous, tropical Cairns and have sourced the very best things to do, eat, see and discover while you’re there. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Cairns before, feel free to add your tips and advice to the comments below.
As always, our guides and content are completely free. If you find this post (or anything we do) useful, we’d be grateful if you considered using the affiliate links at the bottom of this post. We’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, these are the services we love and use ourselves. Thank you in advance for your support! Phoebe and Matt
1. Visit the Crystal Cascades
It takes around 20 minutes to drive from the heart of Cairns to the Crystal Cascades and it is absolutely time well-spent. Once you’ve got your fill of swimming at the beach, pack up the car and head out to this gorgeous spot. The walk from the carpark to the cascades, at the top, will take you about 10-15 minutes. Once you arrive you’re treated to cool, fresh water flowing over rocks and boulders, creating your own private swimming holes. There’s a waterfall and it’s a really special spot to jump in for a swim. Also, there’s a Mr Whippy at the bottom so you can get an ice cream afterwards. 10/10 would swim again. Find the Crystal Cascades here.
2. Get coffee from Blackbird Espresso
For the very BEST coffee in Cairns, you have to visit Troy at Blackbird Espresso. The coffee here is amazing and the perfect way to start your day. The team are super friendly and welcoming, the service is great and it’s a really cool little spot in the heart of Cairns. If I could, I’d be getting a coffee from here every day. Seriously, their beans are the best! You can also grab a bite, like cake and cookies, with options for gluten-dodgers too. Find Blackbird Espresso here.
3. Join a cultural tour and learn about the Indigenous culture
If you come to Tropical North Queensland, you should really think about joining one of the great cultural tours hosted by an Aboriginal-owned tour company. It’s a chance to see Australia in a way you have never seen it before or, if you’re visiting for the first time, have a really special experience. There are a few different tours around the place, but a good place to start is with The Bama Way, who offer tours of a few days long, or Adventure North Australia, who offer day trips. Find The Bama Way here and Adventure North Australia here.
4. Have brunch at Ozmosis Cafe Kitchen
Take a trip to Ozmosis Cafe Kitchen for a really delicious breakfast or brunch, complete with great coffee. I really loved the food here, especially their Acai Bowl and their iced-latte was fantastic. They offer yummy bites with options for gluten-dodgers and vegetarians and a really cool space to sit and relax. Find Ozmosis Cafe Kitchen here.
5. Watch the sunset at the Esplanade
Even if you only have one day in Cairns, I really recommend you get yourself down to the Esplanade at sunset. It is the perfect spot to watch the sunset and I gotta tell you, it’s pretty dang spectacular. The sky goes all crazy shades of pink, orange and yellow. There are planes taking off and the sky reflects off the water, it’s really just a gorgeous spot to end the day. Find the Cairns Esplanade here.
6. Visit Barron Falls
Jump in your hire-car and get yourself to Barron Falls. There’s a really nice walk from the carpark out to the view-point and it’s a really lovely spot to stay a while. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the Kuranda Scenic Rail train come chugging past and get yourself a nice photo-op, it’s equal parts old and majestic (like Betty White). Otherwise, just enjoy the view of the falls and, if you’re anything like me, scheme of ways to get down there for a swim. Find Barron Falls here.
7. Take a day trip to Palm Cove and Port Douglas
If you’ve got time to spare, you should definitely take a day trip to Palm Cove and Port Douglas. Stop in at Palm Cove for an iconic shot of those gorgeous palm trees hanging dreamily overhead, then jump in for a swim at the beach. Keep driving up to Port Douglas and stroll Macrossan Street’s art galleries, boutiques, quirky stores and more. The drive up is really pretty and it’s so easy, only taking around an hour or so to do.
8. Visit the cheese and chocolate factory
Holy crap! Clear your damn schedule, because you’re spending the entire day scarfing down cheese and chocolate at Gallo Dairyland a.k.a the happiest place on earth. Seriously, why did it take so long for someone to combine cheese and chocolate in the same heavenly factory place? It’ll take you a very well-spent hour to get there, you’ll then be greeted to lush rolling hills, a cafe and loads and loads of cheese and chocolate. Find Gallo Dairyland here.
9. Have dinner at Bay Leaf
One of my favourite restaurants in the whole world is a place called Bumbu Bali in, yep, Bali. It turns out one of the very amazing chefs from Bumbu has found himself in Cairns, which means you can get your paws on their amazing food right here in Queensland. It’s pretty much the best thing to ever happen to me and I won $50 on a scratchie once. Anyway, long story short, you have to eat here. It’s the best Indonesian food you’ll ever have! Be sure to try the satay (you’ll want to drink the sauce) and the corn fritters. Find Bay Leaf here.
10. Visit Mossman Gorge and the Daintree Rainforest
An hour and a half or so from Cairns, you’ll find yourself at the stunning Mossman Gorge, part of the Daintree Rainforest. You can go for a hike through the jungle then cool off in the crisp, cool and very refreshing water of the gorge. I have a killer blog post on must-know tips for visiting, you should definitely read that here. It’s Pulitzer Prize worthy.
11. Get out to Kuranda
Take a drive up the range and you’ll find yourself in Kuranda, which should take around 40 minutes or so. The drive is really pretty, with lots of winding roads and nice lookouts with great views over Cairns. In Kuranda, you’ll find some great places to explore. There are markets permanently set up, with little shops selling arts and crafts, clothing, jewellery and more. There are also some great cafe’s, to sit and just relax for a while. Find out more about things to do in Kuranda here.
12. Check out the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
While you’re in Kuranda, stop in at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. This place is really lovely, there’s an enclosed area bursting with lush green foliage and beautiful butterflies flapping around everywhere. The longer you stand there and stare at them, the more amazing they become. There’s also a cool space where you can see the caterpillars and cocoons. It’s ideal for families, but also for big kids (me) who like pretty things (also me). Find the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary here.
13. Do a day-trip out to the reef
This one is a no-brainer. If you have the time, you should definitely take a day-trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a chance to swim with turtles and fish, floating over the brightly covered reef and exploring a truly beautiful part of Queensland. There are loads of options when it comes to reef tours, some will go all day and others will be half-day trips. It will just come down to your budget and how much time you can spare. Find Great Barrier Reef day trips here.
14. Have drinks at Salt House
When it comes to sunset drinks, the best spot hast belong to Salt House. Along the boardwalk, with great views of the mountains and the pretty colours of the sunset, this place takes the cake. They have some great options for share plates, perfect for snacking on with a cold drink (or seven). Find Salt House here.
15. Go to the nude beach
If you feel like unleashing your peach on the beach, you should visit the nude beach at Buchans Point. It’s an unofficial nude beach, but I can confirm that when you go there you’ll definitely find other people with their clothes off too. I read a few things on the internet about people feeling weird, but we didn’t encounter anyone creepy. Does that mean we were the creepy ones? Just remember eyes up. Find Buchans Point here.
16. Check out the night markets and Rusty’s Market
Like a moth to the flame, you’ll be hard-pressed to resist the pull of the night market and Rusty’s market. I’m going to give it to you straight, guys. Both are passable, but not overwhelmingly great. You should probably still have a peek at both, but don’t plan your whole day/night around them. Just duck in for a look then leave, they’re really touristy and a bit bland, to be honest. No links for you. Embrace your shame and google them. Let your browser history record that you intentionally went looking for them.
Useful travel resources for your North Queensland trip!
As always, our guides and content are completely free. If you found this post (or anything we do) useful, we’d be grateful if you considered using the affiliate links below. We’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, these are the services we love and use ourselves. Thank you in advance for your support! Phoebe and Matt
Skyscanner – our go-to for booking flights
Agoda – one of our go-to sites for booking hotels (if you get sick of camping)
Booking.com – another of our go-to sites for booking hotels
Rental Cars – a great search engine for renting a car
TourRadar – a great search engine for booking tours
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.