If you want to know about things to do in Cairns, Australia, you have hit the right page. I have put together a list of options that will act as a good starting place for you. Before we get to that, however, let me first talk a little bit about what makes this North Queensland city such a great place to visit.

Cairns is situated on the north-east coast of Queensland in the region of the Great Barrier Reef. That alone is significant enough to put the city on your travel bucket list. As far as its size, Cairns is in the top five Queensland cities in terms of population and the fourteenth most populous city in Australia. The greater metropolitan area encompasses almost 190 square miles.


Gold is that which drew Britons to the area around Cairns in the mid-1800s. In fact, the city itself was established in 1876 to facilitate exports of gold to Britain. Local and imported labourers drained the local swamps and removed the mangroves, using the trees to build the facilities that would be required to support the gold industry.

Visitors to Cairns today can still see many remnants of the city’s historic past. They can also experience the culture of the local Gimuy people, an indigenous group who still claim native title rights to the land.

With that behind us, it’s time to address your purpose for reading this post. You want to know what to do in Cairns; I have some good suggestions. Many of these are decidedly different to things to do in Sydney, for example.

Great Barrier Reef Snorkel Dive

You might not be surprised to learn that a fair number of tourists looking for things to do in Cairns, Australia go there specifically for the purpose of visiting the Great Barrier Reef. And why not? The city’s location on the coast makes it a perfect launching point for reef tours. You can book with a company offering tours and snorkelling via luxury catamaran, or choose a tour operator focused on showing the reef from the perspective of a Marine biologist.

There are far too many tour operators to list all of them here. It is probably a good idea to search for a few online before your trip, paying attention to reviews as you go. Don’t be afraid to contact operators and ask questions either.

Cairns Harbour Cruise

A Cairns Harbour Cruise on the air-conditioned Crocodile Explorer takes you on a two-hour tour that slowly meanders through a variety of estuaries. Slowly cruise alongside the mangroves and crocodiles with distant mountains providing the perfect backdrop. You can take a morning or afternoon cruise and, if you like, pair it with a two-course lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants. Cruises run from September through March and start at AUD $46 per person. A lovely, serene activity for those looking for what to do in Cairns with the family.

Cairns Landscape - What to Do in Cairns




Hot Air Balloon Tours

If you are not much of a water person, you can see the Cairns area by air. Just sign up for a hot air balloon ride through the CairnsAustralia.com website. Tour operators pick up passengers at their beach-side hotels and take them on a fantastic balloon ride that offers a whole new perspective. The $250 trip is a four-hour experience from start to finish. Passengers are returned to their original departure point – even if picked up from their hotels.

Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Flight From Cairns - Things to Do in Cairns, Australia

Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Flight From Cairns


Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

The Tjapukai Original Cultural Park is one of the most visited attractions in the Cairns region. Lying just a 15-minute journey outside of the city, it is a place where you can explore one of the oldest cultures on earth. Live performances of dance and music are combined with excellent food, cultural and historical presentations, and incredibly beautiful scenery.

Tjapukai offers multiple packages for both day and night visits. Each package includes unique features, so you might want to check their website before you book. Prices can be as low as $60 per adult and as high as several hundred dollars. They also offer family packages, too. Perfect for all those thinking about what to do in Cairns.

Music Maker at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park - What to Do in Cairns

Music Maker at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park



Kuranda Scenic Railway

Cairns Wet Tropics should not be missed. This famous rainforest is home to 1,200 species of plants, 800 different rainforest tree types, and all sorts of creatures. The best way to see it is by way of the Kuranda Scenic Railway. This railway runs between Cairns and the rainforest village of Kuranda. It takes you past tumbling waterfalls and through deep ravines, the highlight being the Baron Gorge. The entire trip is narrated by an English-speaking guide. There are three classes of travel; entry level is the Heritage class at $50 per adult, $25 for children, or $125 for the family (one way). Return on the railway or take the Cableway. This is one of the more exciting things to do in Cairns, Australia.

Kuranda Scenic Railway - Things to Do in Cairns, Australia

Kuranda Scenic Railway


Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

After seeing the rainforest from the ground, why not take a trip on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway? This cable car experience carries you across 7.5 km of lovely rainforest terrain high above the canopy in a six-person gondola. To say the view is incredible is to state the obvious. A round trip runs $75 for adults, $37.50 for children, and $187.50 for families. You can also take a one-way ride as well, picking up the scenic railway on your return.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Cairns

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway


Flames of the Forest

If you want to know what to do in Cairns when it comes time to eat, there is no shortage of great restaurants in and around the city. I recommend the Flames of the Forest experience. Flames of the Forest is a unique dining experience set deep in the rainforest. Dine under a black silk canopy intimately lit with candles and decorated with hand-made crystal and chandeliers. You can choose a package that includes an Aboriginal cultural performance or a more romantic experience for you and the love of your life. Advance bookings are necessary.




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Image Attribution:

  1. Cairns Landscape: By Imaposter – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44688352
  2. Hot Air Balloon: https://www.partner.viator.com/en/3406/tours/Cairns-and-the-Tropical-North/Sunrise-Hot-Air-Balloon-Flight-From-Cairns/d754-5641P4
  3. Music Maker: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zayzayem/15727136993
  4. Railway: By Kelisi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
  5. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway: Louise Marshall (Skyrail Rainforest Cableway) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons