Travel NQ’s 117 Things to Do in Cairns
As an important tourism hub for North Queensland, there are many things to do in Cairns. It’s highly unlikely that you’d be able to do all of them in one visit so we’ve listed our top 117 activities and broken them down into daytrips, overnight trips, half day trips and short activities for those times when you’ve got a couple of hours to spare (assuming you’re based in Cairns).
So whether you’ve got a few hours to spare before catching a flight or several days to go out bush and see some of the more remote parts of the region, this list has it covered.
1. Bad Fishy – jet boating on Trinity Inlet is a really fun way to waste an hour.
2. Jet skiing around the islands off Palm Beach.
3. Scenic Helicopter Trips – one of the best ways to take in the whole area with views of the reef and mountainous coastline.
4. Sunset Cruise – a great way to start the evening with a short cruise up the inlet before dinner.
5. Cairns Museum – Learn about the history of FNQ with tales of sweat, Aboriginal heritage, hippies and cyclones.
6. Markets – there are a number of markets in the Cairns region including the weekend market on the Esplanade and once a month there’s a good one at the Tanks in Edge Hill. Cairns Night Markets are also open in the evenings.
7. Bungy Jump – AJ Hackett is in the middle of rainforest in Smithfield and the spectacular views make this an awesome place to bungy. It’s worth going there just to watch since it has a gorgeous open bar area where you can watch all the crazy shenanigans. If you’re not quite ready for a bungy jump, try the Minjin Swing instead, which you can do with three people at a time.
8. Cairns Aquarium – Check out the 15,000 animals on display at the new aquarium in town, including the endangered sawfish.
9. Crystal Cascades – sitting in a freshwater creek is one of the best things to do in Cairns in the summer months and Crystal Cascades is one of the closest ones to town.
10. Stand Up Paddle Boarding – SUP is pretty easy to do so if you’ve never tried it, this could be a great way to spend an hour or two. Palm Cove is one place where you can rent them.
11. Jet skiing up Trinity Inlet to spot crocs.
12. Cairns Zoom – high ropes courses right in the centre of town for those who want something quick and active to do.
13. Flyboarding – got a spare couple of hours to kill? Maybe it time to give flyboarding a go? You don’t have to travel far since there’s a company that operates right from the marina.
14. Cable skiing – try wakeboarding, kneeboarding at Cairns’ cable ski park in Smithfield.
15. Wander the Botanic Gardens – the Botanic Gardens are quite small so it won’t take you long to walk around them. Then you can stop for coffee somewhere and continue on through to the Centenary Lakes where you can wander through the wetlands vegetation.
16. Esplanade Lagoon – this is a great place to base yourself for a couple of hours in the late afternoon for some swimming and a BBQ as the sun goes down.
17. Art Galleries – there are a number of art galleries in Cairns. Start at the Regional Gallery on Shields Street and then discover several others around the town centre.
18. Rusty’s – if you’ve got a bit of time to kill on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday head to Rusty’s to amble around the tropical produce stalls.
19. Take a bike ride along the Esplanade – there are quite a few activities along the Esplanade including a bouldering facility.
20. Pampering at Pullman Spa – right in the centre of town this is a great spa to relax before High Tea.
21. Go karting – the go karting centre in Smithfield also has laser tag right next door.
22. Cattana Wetlands – these natural wetlands in Yorkey’s Knob are a beautiful place to go for a nature walk and look for birds.
23. Copperlode Dam – you need a car to get to Copperlode Dam but the views make it a worthwhile trip and if you’ve got time there’s kayaks and SUPs for hire.
24. Kite Boarding – lessons are available at Yorkey’s Knob and Palm Cove.
25. Parasailing – a great way to get aerial views of Trinity Inlet.
26. Laser Tag – there are two laser tag venues in Cairns and both are great fun.
27. Wander the Marina – sometimes Cairns has some of the world’s biggest privately-owned yachts in the marina, which are always worth a look. Alternatively, find a spot in a nearby bar for a cocktail with a view or grab some ready-to-eat prawns off the back of a trawler.
28. Play tennis – there is an international tennis centre in North Cairns with a swim centre right next door.
29. Walk the Red Track – this popular exercise route takes between 20-60 minutes depending on how fit you are and how much you enjoy looking at the views of planes coming in and out of the airport at the top.
30. Photo Tour – local photographer Paul Curtis can tailor make a tour to suit whatever you want, whether its a few quick photography tips at the local Botanic Gardens or a full 1-2 day tour going off the beaten track.
31. Taipans Game – basketball is a major event in Cairns and the Taipans home games are always a good night, even if you don’t support the team.
32. Skyrail – hitching a ride on the Skyrail up to Kuranda is one of the most popular things to do in Cairns and a beautiful way to enjoy the rainforest and views.
33. Barron Falls – this is the biggest waterfall in the region and it is most spectacular after the wet season.
34. River Tubing – there are lots of ways to enjoy the rivers and creeks in FNQ including river tubing, which is great fun and very family friendly.
35. Canyoning – there are now two companies that offer canyoning tours in Cairns. Behana Days go to Behana Gorge and Cairns Canyoning go to Crystal Cascades.
36. Harbour Cruise – the huge mangrove area behind Cairns and up the Trinity Inlet rarely gets a mention but it is a vital part of the reef ecosystem and a stop-off point for a huge variety of migratory birds.
37. Quad Biking – Blazing Saddles offer tours around a cane farm in Yorkey’s Knob on the northern beaches. Assume half a day if you get picked up by their bus from the city centre but if you’re driving yourself you can do it in 2-3 hours.
38. Hang Gliding – tandem flights are available from Rex’s look out on the Great Ocean Drive towards Port Douglas (the same business also offer microlight trips).
39. Explore the lakes – Both Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine are about an hours drive from Cairns. Take walking shoes for a circuit walk in the winter and swimming gear and inflatables in the summer. Oh, and a picnic lunch.
40. Copperlode Dam – Hire stand up paddle boards or kayaks (available for hire for 4 hours).
41. Tjapukai – Cairns’ Aboriginal culture centre is in Smithfield.
42. Hot air ballooning – you’ll need to get up early to make the sunrise flight from Mareeba, but this is a spectacular way to see the Tablelands.
43. SUP tour down Mossman River.
44. Mountain Biking – Cairns is becoming a major hub for mountain biking with a number of top quality trails in the Smithfield area and on the Tablelands.
45. Skydiving – the ultimate way to remember your trip to the Great Barrier Reef!
46. Argo tour in Kuranda – an alternative to quad biking if you’ve got 7-12 year olds tagging along with you.
47. Wildlife Habitat – this zoo in Port Douglas is home to a range of Australian animals.
48. Hartleys Crocodile Adventures – for anybody fascinated by crocodiles this is the best place to go.
49. Fishing – there are lots of options for charter fishing trips from Cairns including river, estuary and reef fishing.
50. Visit the art centre in Yarrabah – this Aboriginal community is the nearest to Cairns on the other side of Trinity Inlet.
51. Behana Gorge – this is one of the region’s most beautiful swimholes.
52. Armoury & Artillery Museum – this is a must-do for military nuts.
53. Lunch at Palm Cove/Trinity Beach.
54. Wait-a-While Wildlife Tour – if you want to see Australian wildlife in the wild then one of the easiest ways to do it is with a small group tour. Wait-a-While Wildlife Tours start in the afternoon so that you can catch glimpses of the animals at dusk and nighttime (since many of our animals are nocturnal). There’s even a good chance of spotting the elusive platypus.
55. Drift River Snorkelling – for something a little bit different, drift snorkelling tours are available in Mossman River.
56. Kuranda Scenic Railway – this old railway is a great way to travel up to Kuranda. If you’re short on time, take the early morning train and then come back on the Skyrail.
57. Babinda Boulders – one of many popular swimholes.
58. Daintree Crocodile Cruise – crocodiles are on most people’s must-see lists and this is one of the best ways to see them.
59. Horse Riding – there are several options for horse riding in and around Cairns but if you’re pushed for time, Blazing Saddles is only 10 minutes from the city centre and they offer horse riding tours around pockets of rainforest and an old sugar cane property near Smithfield.
60. Abseiling and rock climbing tour – a great way to enjoy the views of Cairns (suitable for beginners or experienced).
61. White Water Rafting – Foaming Fury do half day trips on the Barron River, which is quite close to Cairns and involves much less travelling than some of the other trips.
62. Seawalker at Green Island – there are heaps of different ways to see the reef but if you want to get underwater without scuba diving, Sea Walker enables you to walk along the bottom of the seabed.
63. Segway Tour – 90 minute tours of the Esplanade and Botanic Gardens on a segway are a different way to see the sights.
64. Golf – there are a number of courses in FNQ so golf lovers will be spoilt for choice.
65. Drive the Great Ocean Drive – the drive up to Port Douglas is one of the most scenic coastal roads in Australia so why not drive up for lunch?
66. Yungaburra – this quaint little village in the central Tablelands is a good hub from which to explore the area and a great spot for lunch or coffee.
67. Sugarworld – this small water park in the southern end of Cairns is a great place to keep the kids entertained for a few hours.
68. Bushwalking – there are heaps of options for bushwalking in Cairns. The blue track and green track are close to the Botanical Gardens and the track up to Glacier Rock starts at Stoney Creek.
69. Flames of the Forest – this is definitely one of the Far North’s most spectacular dining experiences with delicious food in a rainforest setting (50 minutes from Cairns).
70. Wineries – you may not associate the tropics with wineries but there are a number of places that make wines and liquers made from tropical fruits.
71. Microlight trip – there are several options for anyone interested in experiencing a microlight trip. They go from Jaques Coffee Plantation, Rex’s Look Out (on the road to Port Douglas) or Mourilyan. Each has very different views.
whole day trip
72. Green Island – this small emerald cay off the coast of Cairns is great for a snorkelling daytrip.
73. Fitzroy Island – Fitzroy is also quite to Cairns and easily accessible for a daytrip, although there is a resort on the island if you wish to stay longer. Since Fitzroy is an island rather than a coral cay, it is bigger with a few walking tracks.
74. Low Isles – the boats to the Low Isles go from Port Douglas but you can still make it a daytrip.
75. Frankland Islands – these islands are national park islands to the south of Cairns so if you want a truly Robinson Crusoe experience these should fit the bill.
76. Reef Trip – there are obviously oodles of different trips going out to the reef everyday.
77. Rainforestation – this attraction near Kuranda is a really good way to get your fix of Australian animals, Aboriginal culture and rainforest all in one destination.
78. Drive to Port Douglas for lunch and a spa treatment – Port Douglas is only 50 minutes from Cairns and definitely worth a visit.
79. Mossman Gorge – this beautiful swimhole near Port Douglas is run by the local Traditional Owners so there’s also a cultural centre.
80. Coffee Trail – one of the many crops grown on the Cairns Tablelands is coffee so if you’re a coffee lover you can visit a couple of plantations as well as the Coffee Works museum in Mareeba. You can tour the Jaques Plantation on a segway or gyrocopter.
81. White water rafting – the Tully River, about two hours south of Cairns, has the highest grade rapids for rafting tours and Raging Thunder offer full day tours.
82. Herberton Historic Village – this is a great day trip for history buffs.
83. Jungle Surfing – this activity is located in Cape Tribulation in the Daintree so it’s a good three hours drive from Cairns but wizzing through the canopy on ziplines is a beautiful way to spend the day.
84. Ingan Tours river kayaking – this is a great day with an Aboriginal guide so there’s also a few cultural insights included. They operate on the Bulgan River near Tully (two hours south of Cairns).
85. MIssion Beach – this small coastal community is a hub for nature-based tourism and one of the places where you are almost guaranteed to see a cassowary in the wild. There’s also sea kayaking tours (with a possibility of seeing turtles and dugongs), snorkelling tours, skydiving, bushwalking and blo-karting on the beach.
86. Paronella Park – set in the picturesque Mena Creek valley south of Innisfail, this castle is not what you expect to find amongst banana and cane farms but the gardens are beautiful.
87. Tablelands Self Drive Tour – there is plenty to explore on the Cairns Tablelands for a daytrip including waterfalls, lakes, food producers and lots more. To get the most out of it focus on one area ie. southern, central or north.
88. Explore waterfalls circuit – waterfalls and freshwater swimholes are one of the great natural features of the Tablelands.
89. Rapid Boarding – this is a relatively new way to travel down the Tully River and great fun for anyone who loves river activities (it gets cold though).
90. Mamu – this rainforest walkway is south of Cairns and can be included in a driving tour of the southern Tablelands.
91. Daintree Discovery Centre – this rainforest walkway is right in the heart of the Daintree about 2-3 hours drive north of Cairns.
92. Walk the Bump Track – near Port Douglas, this is a popular track for walking and mountain biking.
93. Kuranda – the village in the rainforest is really not that far from Cairns and there are quite a few attractions when you get there. All you need to do is decide how to get there – driving, Skyrail or Kuranda Train.
94. Tablelands food tour – the Tablelands are the food bowl of the north with a range of produce being grown.
95. Trail bike tour – if you’re a motorcycle enthusiast there are lots of options starting from a one day rainforest adventure tour through to a full eight day adventure in Cape York.
96. Aboriginal art classes with Binna – if you’re up near Mossman, pop into the Jambal Art Gallery and sign up for an art class.
97. Book yourself on an intro dive – you don’t need to be an experienced scuba diver to dive on the Barrier Reef, you don’t even need to do the course. You can just book an intro dive and have an instructor pull you around!
98. Cooking Classes in the Atherton Tablelands.
99. Bird watching tour – Far North Queensland is very popular with bird watchers as there is a diverse range of habitats in the area attracting a diversity of wildlife.
100. Fishing Charters – take your pick of Marlin and sports fishing trips from Cairns.
101. Port Douglas Foodie Tour – Port Douglas has garnered a reputation for being the foodie capital of the north with good reason. It has a number of top class restaurants but if food is one of your interests you can also visit a number of producers in the region, whether its chocolate, cheeses, ice creams or tropical fruit products.
102. Aboriginal spear fishing – the Walker Brothers offer tours from Cooya Beach near Port Douglas.
103. Walkabout Cultural Adventure – spend a day in the Daintree with an Aboriginal guide.
104. Lake Eacham – walk the circuit track (3km) and swim in the lake. And, take a picnic for lunch and some inflatables for a cruisey afternoon. Alternatively, nearby Lake Barrine has a slightly longer walk (5km) and a Teahouse overlooking the lake.
105. Undara – if you didn’t associate Australia with volcanoes, Undara will change your view since this is where you’ll find the world’s longest lava tubes.
106. Cape Tribulation – miles from urban development, Cape Tribulation has plenty to keep you there for a couple of days at least, including jungle surfing, horse riding along the beach and much more.
107. Cooktown – about 4 hours north of Cairns, Cooktown is a small town with great historical significance to Australia in a beautiful setting.
108. Chillagoe Caves – about three hours west of Cairns, the outback scenery around Chillagoe is stunning. This is the place to go for star-gazing and exploring caves.
109. Cobbold Gorge – about six hours west of Cairns you come to this beautiful gorge and an area guaranteed to give you an outback fix (this is part of the Savannah Way). You can do a boat cruise of the gorge and also visit a cattle station while you’re there.
110. Hinchinbrook Island – the world renowned walking track on Hinchinbrook Island takes 3-4 days.
111. Liveaboard dive trip – the ribbon reefs to the north of Cairns and out into the Coral Sea offer some of the best diving on the Great Barrier Reef. These involve a 3-4 day trip with some of the most amazing sites you’ll ever see.
112. Minke Whales – for a truly unique Great Barrier Reef experience, Mike Ball Expeditions takes people on 3-4 day trips to snorkel with Minke Whales.
113. Cape York – the remote northern peninsula of Queensland is wild beautiful country but only accessed by 4WD. This is a trip of a lifetime experience and for those who’re really keen there is even a tour operator who takes trail bike tours.
114. Bama Way – as you head north towards Cooktown and Cape York, Aboriginal culture becomes more apparent. Willie Gordon takes guided tours from Hope Vale to discover rock art and talk about Dreamtime stories relating to the area.
115. Sea kayaking to Snapper Island – Paddletrek Kayak Adventures run tours from Cape Kimberley in the Daintree over to the national park of Snapper Island. You do need a reasonable level of fitness and some experience kayaking.
116. Drive the Savannah Way for outback scenery, star gazing, bird watching, fossicking and fishing miles from anywhere.
117. Yoga Retreat – there are several places in the Cairns region that offer yoga, meditation and wellness retreats.