There are so many Cairns attractions to choose from, it can be overwhelming knowing where to start.
Cairns is the best place to base yourself to explore Far North Queensland. Yes, there are plenty of things to do in and around Cairns for a good time, but the real reason people come to town is to sleep.
Cairns has the unique position of being in close proximity to not one, but TWO Unesco World Heritage sites as well as hundreds (I’m not exaggerating) of other unique tourist attractions.
The best Cairns attractions to experience during your visit
I’ve put these in order of importance (that is, what people at home will be interested in hearing about).
Depending on how long you plan to stay in Cairns, you might be able to experience all these Cairns attractions. But, if you are short on time, start from the top and work your way down.
1) Great Barrier Reef
This is the crown jewel of the Cairns attractions list. Nearly everyone who walked through the doors of the tourism office I worked in had one goal: To find Nemo.
And I was more than happy to help them do it.
There are dozens of tour operations in Cairns that take thousands of tourists out to the reef each morning. While word never got around town about a particularly crummy tour provider, different things are going to be important to different people.
Are you a certified advanced scuba diver? Then you’ll want to select one of the few boats that offer three dives in a day.
Traveling with young kids and grandma, too? Try one of the pontoons, as you can enjoy the reef through a glass-bottom (or semi-submersible) boat tour, so you don’t have to worry as much about water safety.
Interested in trying scuba, but aren’t too sure? Try a boat with an a la carte diving option so you can decide for sure later on. You can always just snorkel if you decide it’s not for sure.
The important thing to remember is that every single tour company is going to tell you that they go to the best parts of the reef. The entire Great Barrier Reef is great. Just pick what suits your price point and needs.
To book your tour of the Great Barrier Reef, click here.
2) Daintree Rainforest
Entering the Daintree Rainforest is like stepping back in time.
Cell service cuts out as soon as you take the cable car ferry over the croc-infested Daintree River. Keep your eyes peeled for Cassowarys, iconically called “emus in drag” by locals. These dinosaur birds lay lime-green eggs and have claws sharp enough to split you from top to toe in one swipe.
You can zipline over the tree tops, and take a tour of a discovery tour to better understand the ecology of the area. You can walk onto the beach at Cape Tribulation (but heed all posted signage about saltwater crocodiles) and see where the rainforest stretches out to kiss the reef over golden sands.
You can even visit Mossman Gorge to learn more about Kuku Yalanji land and culture by taking part in a guided Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk, led by the local Indigenous community.
To book your tour of the Daintree Rainforest, click here.
3) Kuranda Skyrail and Train
Kuranda is a fun shopping village about 30 minutes north of Cairns. It’s a great place to grab a bite to eat and shop for souvenirs. There are lots of local artists that have storefronts in the town, as well as candy makers, musicians, and clothing outfitters.
There is a small zoo nearby as well as a butterfly sanctuary for you to enjoy.
But the best part of getting to Kuranda from Cairns is the journey itself. The Skyrail and Kuranda Scenic Railway offer unparalleled views of the rainforest, the nearby ocean, and a little glimpse into the history of the development of modern Cairns.
If you have a car, you can make the twisty-turny drive to the top of the mountain, but it’s not nearly as exciting.
To book your tour to Kuranda, click here.
4) Green Island or Fitzroy Island
If you are looking for a chill beach day, then you will part to head out to either Green Island or Fitzroy Island. Both islands are still part of the Great Barrier Reef National Marine Park, but have more of an “island vibe” than going out on a boat for the entire day.
You can still snorkel and scuba dive, so if you get particularly seasick, they might be the best option for you. You can enjoy hiking on Fitzroy island, as well as the Marineland Crocodile Park on Green Island. Both islands take about 30-40 minutes to get to via boat.
To book a tour of Green Island, click here.
5) Atherton Tablelands
One of my favorite things about visiting the Atherton Tablelands from Cairns is that it felt a bit more local. Sure, the couple of times I went I was on a bus filled with backpackers (the first time) and pensioners (the second time), but most of the other people I saw were Queenslanders out with their families.
This is a great place to go to sample tropical fruit, chase a few waterfalls, and enjoy a nice glass of wine. The topography is markedly different than nearer the coast, so it’s a fun second look into what North Queensland has to offer.
It’s also a great way to get acquainted with some non-marine wildlife, as I saw crocodiles, amethystine pythons (gulp), tree kangaroos, and even a few wallabies hopping around.
To book an Atherton Tablelands tour, click here.
No matter what Cairns attractions you choose, make it a priority to explore the area on your Australian vacation.