Things to do in Cairns: The Ultimate Cairns Bucket List

CAIRNS

The last city in the top northern end of the Queensland sunshine state has abundance of things to see and do. Need to come and explore

Looking for things to do in Cairns can be a headache if you aren’t already intimately familiar with the Tropical Far Norths capital. Plenty of the suggestions online are non-specific to the city. Don’t be fooled; there are more than just a few things to do in Cairns that will give you a distinct impression of what the tropical paradise is all about.

Yeah, The Reef City gets a bad wrap as the comparatively dull northern child of the Tropical North capital, but those who do Cairns just aren’t looking hard enough. Below you’ll find the best things to add to your itinerary, whether you’re rolling solo or heading here with some mates. Even if you’re a local, we guarantee you’ll find something on this list that you haven’t done before.

First, I have to cover the essentials – where to eat, and where to stay.

Where to Eat in Cairns?

Cairns may not have the reputation of epicurean excellence that major capital cities like Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Hobart and Melbourne enjoy, but the Tropical North’s capital is far from a wasteland of cheap burgers and late-night kebabs.

You can keep up to date with my round-up of the best old and new restaurants in Cairns city and its surrounding areas, and you’ll find some of the main precincts listed below. But don’t overlook Cairns waterfront restaurants, from beloved fine dining institutions to casual classics. Some of the restaurants in Cairns to throw on the dining bucket list which I enjoyed and recommend are:

  • Tamarind Restaurant – The powerhouse in Cairns fine dining, and a reference for contemporary menu and Asian fusion.
  • C’est Bon Restaurant – The only French dining place in Cairns serving delicious authentic French cuisine.
  • O’chre Restaurant – The exotic fine dining restaurant, serving unique Australian native foods and a range of exquisite dishes.
  • Dundees Restaurant – The best waterfront dining in Cairns, serving a diverse menu from seafood, finest steaks to Asian dishes.
  • Tha Fish Restaurant – This fine restaurant specialise in serving fish dishes but also serve variety of quality cuisine to choose from.
  • Prawnstar Restaurant – This seafood restaurant specialise in serving seafood dishes only and also serve variety of seafood to choose from.
  • Waterbar & Grill Steakhouse – The ultimate premier steak restaurant in Cairns fine, serving the highest quality.

For more on where to dine in Cairns check out some of my best following round-ups:

Where to Stay in Cairns?

Cairn’s sprawl of four and four & half star lifestyle hotels is one of the city’s strongest assets. Convenient, unpretentious, unique, and supremely comfortable – these waterfront accommodations are all first-rate choices if you’re deciding on where your Cairns base is going to be. Keep the following in mind when looking for where to stay:

  • Cairns Harbourlights Hotel – Cairns Waterfront luxury style accommodation right in the heart of all fine dining restaurans. 
  • Crystallbrooks Flynn – One of the newest Cairns Waterfront contemporary luxury accommodation straight in the heart of Cairns promenade. 
  • Crystallbrooks Riley – Newly built contemporary hotel centrally located at the northern end of Cairns iconic waterfront Esplanade, features 311 stylish rooms and suites.
  • Crystalbrooks Bailey – Newly built Cairns luxury accommodation straight in the heart of Cairns city centre. 
  • Shangri-La Hotel – The only accommodation in Cairns, prominently situated on the marina, providing guests with both a direct gateway to the reef and panoramic view of the Marina.
  • DoubleTree Hotel (Hilton Hotels) – A relentlessly modern four-star hotel located on Cainrs Esplanade. 
  • Pullman Cairns International Hotel – One of the most popular hotels in Cairns with personality-led design with a unique sense of style located right in the heart of Cairns city 

What to do in Cairns city?

Cairns has grown from laidback sugarcane town to stylish modern city – the erstwhile capital of Tropical North Queensland, with a year-round outdoor lifestyle. You’ll feel like you’re on holiday from the minute you arrive. The sun is shining, the air is steamy and palm trees line the streets. Throw out the schedule, throw on your swimsuit and settle in for a seriously good time.

My Cairns City Bucket List: From Cairns city to Palm Cove

Fly or Cruise to Great Barrier Reef experience

Just right in the heart of the Cairns city on the waterfront is the Cairns Reef Scenic Flight. Fly out to Great Barrier Reef on a comfortable seat of a helicopter as you sip a glass of wine on a unforgettable experience. Witness the bird’s eye view of Great Barrier Reef from above or take a Reef Cruise boat. My best option is to take a Cruise Boat out to the reef and take a scenic flight back. This is regarded as the one of the World’s Greatest Natural Wonders. It is unique and incredibly breathtaking.

Ride through the rainforest jungle experience

Just right in the heart of the Cairns city is the Kuranda Scenic Rail. Take a journey through the rainforest on a comfortable seat on Kuranda Scenic Railway Goldclass as you sip a glass of wine on a unforgettable train ride experience. Witness the rainforest as you wind along the side of the mountain range, crossing waterfalls and jaw-dropping cliffs and bridges while enjoying the incredible views.

Glide over rainforest canopy experience

Just within 15 minutes drive north of Cairns City will bring you to Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. It is an unique way to see the rainforest because you will be skimming the top of it. The cable cars glide just metres over the canopy providing panoramic views of the rainforest, the Coral Sea and Cairns Highlands. As you journey over and through Australia’s World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforest and Barron Gorge National Park will give a taste of an unforgettable rainforest experience. Your adventure includes time at two mid-stations, where you alight from.

Evening sunset or Dinner Cruise along Cairns inlet

From the Waterfront Reef Terminal of Cairns, you can take a Sunset Cruise or Evening Dinner Cruise along the Cairns Inlet. It is an unique way to see the city of Cairns by night. The Cairns Sunset Cruise takes you from Cairns’ Marlin Marina, past Harbour Lights and the navy base, to explore crocodile infested Trinity Inlet and its tributaries. To enjoy a fantastic evening of calm water cruising with a delicious dinner and fabulous views, including sunset over the rainforest-clad mountains (depending on the time of year), take a evening dinner cruise which will take you on a journey deep into the interior of Trinity Inlet and its winding tributaries. You will have the chance to see the Cairns city slowly light-up with adoring neon lights.

Pitch a tent at Fitzroy Island

In just 45-minutes ferry ride from Cairns Reef Terminal is Fitzroy Island, better known as Fitzzy to locals, is hands down the best island camping spot in Cairns. This beach camping site is the most popular on the island and locals flood the area everytime. Fitzroy is considered the largest and only island in Cairns region where camping is permitted. The island has a variety of resort accommodation but if getting back to nature is more your thing, then camping is the best way to go, located right next to the beach. There are plenty of ways to do things. Imagine getting out of the tent in the morning, grab your mask and snorkel or do some hiking and fishing which are equally popular. My favourite thing is heading up to Fitzroy Island Summit in the morning. Here, you have the birds eye view of the resort, surrounding islands and the Queensland coast. The views are stunning.

Picnic and walk in the tropical rainforest gardens

Although if you want to do something closer to the CBD, Cairn’s City Botanic Gardens and Centenary Lakes is only 5 minutes drive or 5km walk from the very heart of the city, and it’s also a popular spot for a more low-key picnic. Take an easy rainforest walk along the boardwalk. The Centenary Lake Park is best for BBQ’s, picnic and wildlife watching while the Botanic Gardens is the single best spot for an atmospheric picnic.It is a perfect spot for an easy walk atmosphere among exotic tropical plants which are only unique to the area.

Drink your way through brewery crawl

Take a break from all the outdoorsy stuff and stick closer to Cairns City with a good ol’ brewery crawl across some of the city’s finest bastions of craft beer. The trio of Hemmingsway, Blue Sky Brewery, and Sauce Brewery. make Cairns the best place for you and the friends to grab some pizzas, burgers and tapas with a decent feed in between. To be more adventurous, within few minutes of drive out of the Cairns city you will find more of locals finest brewery: Barrier Reef Brewing and Macalister Brewing

Quench your thirst with some of the refreshing bars

From suave bars for the cocktail connoisseur to more casual haunts, for when you simply crave a beer on the beach, make your way through some of the best bars in Cairns.

Three Wolves Bar: Concocted by a trio of gents passionate about sophisticated drinks, the bar is proudly overflowing with options in the way of specialty whiskey, spirits, cocktails, wines and beers. Bar bites abound to help line that stomach of yours, crowd-favourite charcuterie included. The venue is so passionate about drinks it also offers a number of masterclasses to better explore the world of cocktails and whiskey.

Flamingo’s Tiki Bar: Flamingos Tiki Bar, an tropical oasis in the heart of Cairns that serves elaborate rum cocktails. Once you enter into this playful and welcoming bar, will make you smile. The unashamedly kitsch Polynesian décor is a delight and the vibe is friendly and laid back.

Rocos Rooftop Bar at Rileys: If awe-inspiring views strike your fancy then Cairns’ highest rooftop bar and restaurant is a must-visit. Rocco is one of the most recent additions to the city’s drinking scene, introduced as a part of sleek new five-star accommodation offering, Riley.

The Conservatory Bar: The eclectic Conservatory Bar is one-to-watch for the music lover. While food and drink are in ample supply, the drinking den prides itself on its lively gigs. The selection of many specialty cocktails and wines will make you wanna stay longer to taste it all.

Oaks Rooftop Bar: This bar on the top floor of the Oaks Cairns Hotel is the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine and views of the lagoon, the Esplanade, and out to sea as you watch the reef boats come in after a day out on the reef. With the breeze in your hair and something cold in your glass, it’s hard to think of a better place to be.

Which most a fairly quiet and semi-isolated suburbs with a tonne of things to do including tastings at Macalister Brewery in Smithfield, and a round at some of the tropical norths best restaurant and attractions – Skyrail, Bungy jumping, Lunico restaurant at Trinity beach, Palm Cove Golf Course and luxuries accommodations and fine dinings at Palm Cove. The most exciting is hitting up these places and many places along the northern suburbs to experience for what is easily the best easy day drive in far north.

It depends on the type of eatery and attractions you want to see and do, but popular stops include the Yorkeys Knob Boat club, Trinity Beach Tavern, Ellis Beach Cafe, Holloways Beach Cafe & bar, The Fox and The Barn Bars at Stratford. If it beats the hell out of dragging your feet around Cairns and surrounding areas looking for the next hit of precious alcohol, with the help of local information centres will help and direct you to some of the more underrated local pubs, bars, and wineries around Cairns.

Hike, Mountain Bike or Stroll around Lakes

For more outdoor activity things to do in Cairns and surrounding areas, walk up the well pathed walkway to the top of Mt Whitfield (known as Blue and Red Arrow Walk), where you have the stunning views of the Cairns city, airport and the surrounding areas to the nothern beaches and the coastline. For incredible world class views of Great Barrier Reef northern beaches and suburbs, go on a semi-dense bushland and 20km of trail perfect for hikers and medium grade walk up Earl Hill either starting at Trinity Beach or Trinity Park. Plus its completely free to head on up to the lookouts.

For better nature views, take a stroll around Cattana Wetlands to capture birdlife around the lakes within 15 minutes of drive from Cairns city. For mountain bike fun, go with Cairns Mountain Bike Tours & Hire have access to one of the highest profile trail systems in the world, with a network of almost 60 kilometres of trail, some of it UCI level and overlooking the Great Barrier Reef.

Go on a andrelaline and thrill-seeking ride or swing

For adrenaline adventures and activities to do in Cairns, why not raise the hairs on your back and try Bungy Jumping and Jungle Swing. The idea of free-throwing yourself off a high tower towards a shallow pool or free-fall on a swing, to put it mildly, scary as hell for most people. It’s the thrill of a lifetime! It is all about the fear factor. Bungy Jumping or jungle swing for some people is about pushing your limits, challenging your mind and body, and simply being able to say, “I did it!” For others it’s just another natural high they crave on a regular basis.

Make your way to Northern beaches and Port Douglas

Some of the best things to do in Cairns isn’t actually in Cairns city, it’s in northern beaches of Cairns city or up to Port Douglas. When the Cairns CBD streets isn’t doing it for you, it’s only a short drive to the Cairns northern beaches, where you’ve got Yorkeys Knob, Trinity Beach, and Palm Cove offering some of the best restaurants and views in Cairns. This is a great way to take a break from all the outdoorsy stuff and stick to something to do more leisurely. For a scenic drive, take an easy short trip drive up to Port Douglas, 60km north of Cairns. Here you find some of the best place for you to enjoy some award-winning restaurants and do a sunset cruise along the Port Douglas inlet in the evening. Otherwise, consider taking a 30 minutes windy drive up to Kuranda township, a village located in the rainforest.

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