If you’re headed to Australia, don’t pass up the chance to check out all the things to do in Cairns. Sydney gets all the love, but we especially enjoyed our stay in a rainforest treehouse in Cairns. The city’s well known as a gateway to exploring both the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, and it gives you easy access to waterfalls, wildlife, beaches, and more. Here’s our list of the top 10 things we most loved about our trip.
10 Best Things to Do in Cairns
1. Ride the Railway – Kuranda Scenic Railway
The Kuranda Scenic Railway takes you past not one but two gorgeous waterfalls on a scenic train ride through Australia’s World Heritage listed rainforest that’s millions of years old. You’ll pass through mountains, ravines, 15 hand-carved tunnels, and even over a stunning bridge (our favorite photo spot). While in Cairns, this was one of our absolute favorite things to do, and we highly recommend it.
You can read all about our experience here: Kuranda Scenic Railway – Riding the Rainforest Waterfall Train
2. Relax on the Reef – the Great Barrier Reef
Exploring the Great Barrier Reef is probably the most popular of all the things to do in Cairns. The reef actually spans 2,300 kilometres (1,400 mi) along the Queensland coast from the Cape York Peninsula down to Bundaberg, so it can be accessed from more places than just Cairns. But Cairns wins our vote for the absolute best spot to see it, offering everything from accommodation on an island directly on the reef to helicopter tours, glass-bottom boats, submarine experiences, underwater observatories, and more.
You can read a little more about our favorite spots for experiencing the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns on our beaches article here.
Dragon adored Palm Cove Beach. It’s actually located 27 kilometres (17 mi) north of the city of Cairns but is one of the most scenic beaches in all of Queensland. If you’d rather check out a beach a little bit closer to the city, there are several others you can choose from.
We discuss the best ones here: 12 Best Beaches and Swimming Holes in Cairns
4. Visit a Village – Kuranda Village in the Rainforest
If you ride the train we recommended above, it will automatically take you to Kuranda, but you can also get there by car or skyrail. Inside this village in the rainforest, you can watch an Aboriginal cultural performace, visit the Kuranda Koala Gardens, explore the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, or have fun with fossils, rare gemstones, art galleries, and more. We recommend a day to explore the entire village.
You can read our complete review and summary of our experience in Kuranda here: Kuranda Village in a Rainforest – Top 10 Things to Do in Kuranda Australia
5. Marvel at Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge lies nestled inside the oldest continuously surviving rainforest on Earth. The Daintree Rainforest contains 120,000 hectares, but since Mossman Gorge comprises the southern sector of the rainforest, it is easily reached from Cairns and considered the gateway to the rainforest. Visitors can swim in the river billabong, relax by nearby waterfalls, trek across a suspension bridge, or explore the many hiking trails. There’s also a visitor’s center and informational signs planted throughout the walks to teach you about the flora and wildlife abundant in the forest.
6. Climb Aboard a Crocodile Cruise – Bruce Belcher’s Crocodile Cruise
We spent a full hour of cruising the Daintree River aboard Bruce Belcher’s Crocodile Cruise. According to their stats, guests spot crocodiles on 98% of cruises, and we can attest that we saw several during our trip.
For details about the experience, read our review here: Daintree River Cruises – Bruce Belcher’s Crocodile Cruise through Australian Rainforest
7. Behold the Beauty of Barron Falls
Spanning 259 metres (850 ft) wide and reaching 125 metres (410 ft) in height, Barron Falls has remained one of the most popular tourist attractions in Queensland since the 1890s. The flow of the water ranges from a pretty stream to a raging rapids, depending on the time of year and season when visited. Either way, it’s one of the loveliest things to see in Cairns.
You can find all the details about it on our guide here: Barron Falls – Stunning Waterfall Deep in the Australian Rainforest
8. Savor the Sunset over the Cairns Esplanade
If you prefer pools to ocean or are just looking for somewhere safe and beautiful to swim right in the heart of the city, then you can’t pass up the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. There’s even a beach-style entry (including sand) on one side. And since it borders the actual ocean, the amazing sunset views over double water makes an experience almost impossible to find anywhere else. The Cairns Esplanade also features a boardwalk, walking paths, and an abundance of local shopping spots.
9. Soar on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Once you’ve experienced the rainforest by foot, we recommend you also see it by air. You gain an entirely new perspective by looking down at the trees from high above the forest canopy. At Cairns Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, you can ride a glass-bottom gondola, so it feels like you are gliding in the air with unobstructed views of everything below. This is also the only way that you can experience aerial views of the Barron Falls.
Check out our review of our experience riding the skyrail here: Cairns Skyrail Rainforest Cableway – Riding a Glass-Bottom Gondola over a Waterfall
10. Treat Yourself to a Treehouse (and Sleep in the Rainforest)
While visiting Cairns, we opted to stay right inside the rainforest in a luxury treehouse rather than a fancy city hotel, and we couldn’t have made a better choice. A treehouse stay had been on our bucket list for years, and Silky Oaks Lodge luxury rainforest treehouse hotel surpassed all our expectations.
You can check out our article review about our stay here: (coming soon).
We owe a huge thanks to Allison Smith from Flights to Fancy for inviting Adventure Dragon to Cairns and teaching him the ways of the rainforest. All photos not otherwise marked in this Top Things To Do in Cairns article are courtesy of her amazing photography skills.
Please do not copy or reproduce any of the photos or content on this page without permission. It makes dragons sad. And nobody likes a sad dragon. Except for maybe sad people. Away with you, you poopy pirate.
For more Australia travel inspiration, check out some of our other adventures here:
- 20 Photos of the Most Amazingly Beautiful Places in Australia
- The Sydney Opera House is Not White – 10 Sydney Secrets known only by Locals ( plus a One Day Travel Itinerary )
- Kuranda Scenic Railway – Riding the Rainforest Waterfall Train
- Daintree River Cruises – Bruce Belcher’s Crocodile Cruise through Australian Rainforest
- Kuranda Village in a Rainforest – Top 10 Things to do in Kuranda Australia
- Barron Falls – Stunning Waterfall Deep in the Australian Rainforest
- 12 Best Beaches and Swimming Holes in Cairns
- Quirky Hotels in Australia – 10 Unique Stays in a Castle, Treehouse, Prison, Underground City, and More
- Cairns Skyrail Rainforest Cableway – Riding a Glass-Bottom Gondola over a Waterfall
Or view all our Australia Travel Articles here.