Located in the North of Australia’s East coast, Cairns is the ideal gateway to discovering the region’s diverse ecosystems. From the Wet Tropic rainforest to deserted white sand beach to the Great Reef Barrier, Cairns has it all. In this blog post, I share the ultimate guide to Cairns, Queensland with top attractions in 2023. After reading this travel guide, you can plan your trip to this incredible region of Australia and enjoy it to the fullest.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
How to get to Cairns?
Located on the East Coast of Australia close to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is part of the State of Queensland.
The most efficient way to get to Cairns from abroad is by plane. In fact, Cairns has an International Airport just a few minutes away from Cairns Center.
“In case you’re coming to Cairns from Australia, most domestical flights are under 4 hours which makes the region super attractive too.”
BY COACH WITH GREYHOUND
When is the best time to visit Cairns?
Cairns is surrounded by various ecosystems such as the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, which is why the city has a tropical climate all year round. As a result, the best time to visit Cairns and its surroundings is during the dry season from June to October. However, if you’re looking for more attractive prices for accommodation and airfares, you can also visit Cairns during the shoulder season, meaning in April/May or in October/November.
Having said that, you should try to avoid visiting Cairns between December and March in order to avoid tropical monsoons and cyclones. In fact, every year the region is subject to major flooding. You’ll quickly notice all the signs indicating water levels along the roads and attractions.
How to move around Cairns?
The city center of Cairns (CBD), is not very big and can be explored on foot. The shopping centers are spread all along the coastline which makes a great and nice walk. However, if you want to discover more than just the downtown, you’ll need a means of transport to get around freely.
Where to stay in Cairns?
How long to stay in Cairns?
The Cairns region is full of natural wonders, from heavenly beaches to rainforests and waterfalls, so you’ll have plenty to do during your stay. That’s why I recommend staying in Cairns for a minimum of 4 days, to get a good feel for this wonderful tropical area and enjoy it to the fullest.
Top attractions to visit in Cairns
As stated before, Cairns offers incredible attractions to visit and highlights perfectly the diversity of Australia’s landscapes.
BEST ACTIVITIES IN CAIRNS CENTER
CAIRNS ESPLANADE & LAGOON
Popular for its esplanade walk along the coast and its salty lagoon with ocean view, Cairns is the tropical city par excellence.
Although the city of Cairns is surrounded by water, swimming is not recommended due to the presence of crocodiles in the area. Indeed, the surrounding area is more swampy, than sandy. As a result, there are no beaches to speak of in the center of Cairns. No worries, though, as you can still enjoy the salt water at the Cairns Lagoon, located at the start of the Esplanade walk.
Cairns Esplanade and Lagoon are both admission-free (how amazing is that!). Note that Cairns Lagoon is closed every Wednesday morning for maintenance.
“There are lockers to store your belongings if you wish, as well as free toilets. There are also a number of small food stores around the Cairns lagoon. Also, the Cairns Esplanade walk is the perfect place for your morning walk.”
CAIRNS BOTANICAL GARDEN
Located just a 10-minute drive from Cairns city center, this free-admission botanical garden is incredibly beautiful, packed with numerous native plants and flowers. Open every day from 7.30 am to 5.30 pm.
Toilets are available inside the botanical gardens. You’ll also find on-street free parking.
MILLA MILLA WATERFALL
Accessible by car with no walking required, Milla Milla waterfall is a well-known spot in the Cairns area, and I can see why!
Surrounded by lush greenery, it’s a magnificent spot to visit as a day trip from Cairns. Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit, as you can take a dip and feel the power of the waterfall. Access is free, as is parking (approx. 20 spaces available, plus spaces for caravans). There are also free public toilets.
It’s worth noting that the waterfall is 1 hour 45 minutes from downtown Cairns. Perfect for a day’s exploration of the region.
“The Northern road from Cairns to Milla Milla waterfall has many twists and turns but is incredibly beautiful. Just be prepared if you get motion sickness.”
Ellinjaa Falls is a waterfall located not far from the Milla Milla waterfall, about 10 minutes by car. Access is also free, with free parking. However, you’ll need to walk ten minutes downhill to reach Ellinjaa Falls. The falls are also a great spot for swimming. With its many rocks surrounding the waterfall, this magical place also makes an excellent spot for a lunch break.
Please note that there are no toilets on site.
“The Milla Milla and Enllinjaa waterfalls are part of the Atherton Waterfalls circuit, but they’re not the only ones. In fact, there are plenty of other waterfalls along the way to explore. Some require a longer walk, such as Nandroya Falls (5km return). Create your own customized tour!”
Located an hour’s drive from Cairns, Josephine Falls is a popular spot for locals who enjoy tobogganing on these slippery rocks. As you can see, it’s an ideal place to spend the day and take a dip. The waterfall is impressive and can be subject to heavy flooding during tropical rains. That’s why it’s important to look out for the signs informing you whether it’s safe to swim there or not.
Access is once again free, with parking and toilet facilities. You’ll need to walk about 15 minutes on a flat paved path to reach the Josephine waterfall.
“If you’re feeling sporty, next to the Josephine falls parking lot is the start of the track to the summit of Mount Bartle Frere. Please note that you’ll need to be in excellent physical condition and wear hiking gear.”
Accessible by canopy walk, Barron Falls is an impressive sight, only 45 minutes drive from Cairns. A short 15-minute walk through the rainforest will take you to the viewpoint overlooking the valley and the waterfall. As you can see, the base of the waterfall is not accessible and therefore not suitable for swimming.
Access is free (as always), with parking available.
“Right next to Barron Waterfall is the village of Kuranda, where you’ll find art markets and animal sanctuaries such as the Butterfly Sanctuary and Koala Gardens. It’s ideal to combine these visits if you’re interested.”
Crystal Cascades is the closest waterfall to downtown Cairns, just 30 minutes by car. Access is via an easy pathed way surrounded by forest and creek (2.2km return).
The waterfall is ideal for swimming (although the water is quite cool). If you don’t fancy a dip, no problem, there are large rocks where you can relax or have your lunch.
Free parking and toilets are available.
“I recommend combining a visit to crystal cascades with a tour of the Cairns Botanical Gardens. It’s right on the road and will give you the perfect tropical combo day!”
FOUR MILES BEACH
Located in the Port Douglas district, Four Mile Beach is a picture-postcard beach of 4 kilometers. Lined with palms and other tropical trees, the beach offers many leisure activities such as swimming, walking, and cycling. In fact, Four Mile Beach is a flat beach with tightly packed white sand. As a result, this heavenly spot makes walking and mountain biking easy and enjoyable. Sunbeds and beach umbrellas can be rented for a daily fee.
Part of the beach is supervised. Several parking spaces are available in the street, with no time limit. Toilets and changing rooms are available at the beach entrance.
PALM COVE BEACH
Just 30 minutes from downtown Cairns, Palm Cove Beach is the ideal place to combine restaurants and beach. There’s also a path along the shoreline under the palm trees, making for very pleasant strolls. Part of the beach is supervised. Sunbeds and beach umbrellas can be rented for a daily fee.
Parking spaces are also available free of charge for an indefinite period. Toilets are available at the lifeguard station.
Also located not far from Cairns city center (30 minutes by car), Kewarra Beach is a pretty, wild white-sand beach. Please note that none of the beach areas is supervised. Toilets and parking are available free of charge. There’s a BBQ area with tables and chairs.
Trinity Beach is the closest beach to downtown Cairns, just 20 minutes away by car. Part of the beach is supervised, and you can even rent sunbeds and beach umbrellas. On-street parking is available.
BEST SNORKELING SPOT
You can’t leave Cairns without exploring a little more of the Great Reef Barrier. And for that, I’ve got just the perfect place: Fitzroy Island. A tropical island in the heart of the Barrier Reef, just a 50-minute ferry ride from the Cairns terminal. Numerous companies offer day trips with activities such as gloss bottom boat, snorkeling tour or visit to the turtle rehabilitation center. Book your spot now!
Once on the island, I recommend walking to Nudey Beach, 1.2 km (return) from the pier. You can also take advantage of the rainforest to stroll through the Secret Garden and observe the forest animals.
Sending you lots of Love,