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12 Best Beaches and Swimming Holes in Cairns

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Headed to Cairns or Far North Queensland? We’ve compiled a list of the top swimming holes and best beaches in Cairns to help you beat the heat and soak up some scenery.

Great Barrier Reef

best beaches in Cairns Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef by Paul Toogood (left) and Steve Evans (right)

The Great Barrier Reef’s not a beach by itself but rather lies along a strip of beaches and oceanfront spanning 2,300 kilometres (1,400 mi) along the Queensland coast from the Cape York Peninsula down to Bundaberg. And as one of Australia’s biggest attractions and the prime reason vacationers flock to Queensland, it’s an opportunity that can’t be passed up. Cairns is world-renowned as one of the prime gateways to the Great Barrier Reef, and just a 45-minute ferry ride can transport you to island shores located right on the reef.

best beaches in Cairns Great Barrier Reef from Fitzroy Island
The Welcome Bay at Fitzroy Island by Riftreef
best beaches in Cairns Fitzroy Island dead coral washed ashore
Dead coral washed up on the beach on Fitzroy Island by Alexandre Goloskok (left) and ogwen (right)

Our favorites are Green Island and Fitzroy Island because they have offer such a wide variety of different ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef.

Options include:

  • Swim, snorkle, or scuba from anywhere on the reef
  • Glass bottomed sea kayak at Fitzroy Island
  • Underwater experience by submarine at Fitzroy Island
  • Underwater Observatory at Green Island
  • Glass bottom boats from Green Island
  • Or, alternatively, take a scenic helicopter or seaplane flight directly from Cairns, which will fly over these islands for an aerial Great Barrier Reef experience

Mossman Gorge Billabong

best beaches in Cairns Mossman Gorge billabong Daintree Rainforest

Mossman Gorge lies a little north of Cairns in the southern end of the World Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest. The river’s become a hot spot for tourists looking to swim or relax by the cascading waterfalls nearby. The gorge also contains several walking trails, including one that crosses over a suspension bridge before connecting with a loop track. It’s a great spot to experience the Australian rainforest on your first visit to Far North Queensland, though it’s a little further away from Cairns City (80 km or 50 mi) than the other entries on this list.

Cairns Esplanade

best beaches in Cairns Esplanade lagoon
Photo Dragon took while flying over the esplanade

The Cairns Esplanade is famous for the crystal clear waters of its lagoon running parallel with the ocean shoreline, and it’s been a focal point for the city since 1876. It’s a perfect place to safely swim while watching the waves gently lap at the shore as the sun slowly dips below the horizon. Sunsets on the esplanade are spectacular, often setting the sky ablaze in rich hues of pink, blue, and deep shades of purple.

Palm Cove Beach

best beaches in Cairns Palm Cove Beach

Named after the palm trees that line the beach (surprise surprise), Palm Cove Beach lies 27 kilometres (17 mi) north of the city of Cairns, and is one of the most scenic beaches in all of Queensland.

Holloways Beach

best beaches in Cairns Holloways Beach
Photo by Alexander Khimushin

Holloways Beach is just a 12 minute drive from the center of Cairns City and has a lifeguard on duty for most of the year. Although it’s a bit narrow (just a few metres in width), its beauty makes it easy to see why we’ve ranked it one of the best beaches in Cairns.

Trinity Beach

best beaches in Cairns Trinity Beach
Photo by Rehali2001

If you’re looking to escape the overly touristy areas but aren’t looking for something remote or secluded, Trinity Beach is the perfect place for you. Lively but not overcrowded, it’s a popular hang out spot among locals rather than tourists. The beachfront offers free-to-use BBQ grills, and there are plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafes to choose from along the esplanade as well.

Four Mile Beach

best beaches in Cairns Four Mile Beach Port Douglas
Four Mile Beach by Malcolmj

Approximately 70 km (40 mi) north of Cairns, Four Mile Beach lines the coast of Port Douglas, creating a postcard-perfect shore to play on or explore. The residential community hides behind rows of pretty palms, giving the beach the illusion of being completed secluded from anyone or anything. You can stroll the entire four miles of sand in quiet solitude away from the bustle of city life.

Machans Beach

best beaches in Cairns Machans Beach
Photo by Sippala

Machans Beach is on this list because it’s the closest beach to Cairns City and just 1 to 2 km north of the Cairns International Airport. It exists as a part of a residential neighborhood, so it’s quiet and not too crowded. The southern end of the bay has a large stretch of beach that’s perfect for taking a scroll to admire your surroundings.

Yorkeys Knob

best beaches in Cairns Yorkeys Knob
Photo by Kgbo

Yorkeys Knob has become a tourist hot spot over the past couple of years, and it’s a popular place for surfing and other water sports due to the southeasterly winds hitting the beach on a sharp angle. There’s a sand bar that provides jumps for surfers as well as great place to walk out to sea during low tide. And if you fancy checking out a waterfall from high above the rainforest canopy, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway lies just five minutes away.

Read More: Cairns Skyrail Rainforest Cableway – Riding a Glass-Bottom Gondola over a Waterfall

Stacked Rocks Beach

Somewhere between Port Douglas and Cairns City lies a stretch of beach dominated by stacks of…well, cairns. Fun Fact – the word cairns originates in Scottish Gaelic, meaning “a human-made stack of rocks or stones.” So it only seems appropriate that one of the best beaches in Cairns would be a beach full of cairns. How exciting. You get a spot on this list just for making us chuckle.

Ellis Beach

best beaches in Cairns Ellis Beach
Photo by Dkeeghan

Ellis Beach neighbors Palm Cove but is mostly undeveloped, secluded, and much quieter than its more popular companion. The six kilometers of rugged solitude is part of the draw for most visitors, who come to the beach to escape from the stresses of everyday life. Despite the nakedness of most of the shoreline, the beach does have a handful of charming, oceanfront bungalows that you can rent for a relaxing vacation on the Coral Sea.

Rainforest Treehouse Lagoon

best beaches in Cairns Rainforest Treehouse Lagoon

While visiting Cairns, we stayed a little outside the city at a luxury treehouse in the Daintree Rainforest. It had a lagoon that was small, private, and breathtakingly gorgeous. The resort also supplies free kayaks to anyone who’d like to take a stroll down the boardwalk to the Mossman River (it runs right alongside the property, and you can even choose to stay in a treehouse that directly faces the river).

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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 Best Beaches 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:

Or view all our Australia Travel Articles here.


Jillian Michelle
FAIRY DRAGON MOTHER at Adventure Dragon. Artist. Writer. Dreamer. Adventurer. I still believe kindness can change the world. I just want to inspire.

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