I’ve visited Cairns three times. The first time was back in 2007 with my family and last year, I visited twice with a bunch of friends. I must be honest, I’m not particularly fond of the actual city of Cairns. However, there are great nature experiences in the surrounding areas that make this city a must-visit on the Australian East Coast.
Cairns is known for being the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. And with good reason tonnes of people go there every year primarily to experience those two spots. However, greater Cairns offers much more and in this Cairns travel guide, I will give my best tips to what to see and do and where to eat and drink in the city and beyond.
Dive or snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
No visit to Cairns without experiencing the world famous Great Barrier Reef. There are several companies that offer more or less the same dive and snorkel tours to the reef. However, I can highly recommend a day trip with Divers Den aboard ReefQuest that caters both divers, introductory divers and snorkellers. ReefQuest operates daily and brings you to the Outer Greater Barrier Reef where you’ve got up to three dives/snorkelling sessions at two different locations. You might be lucky and experience sharks, turtles, stingrays and tonnes of fish including Nemo.
319 Draper St, Parramatta Park (www)
Take a dip in the Lagoon
Even though Cairns is located next to the ocean, unfortunately, you can’t go for an ocean swim due to deadly stingers that inhabit the waters in Northern Queensland. Instead, you should take a dip in the giant swimming pool named the Lagoon that is placed in the middle of the city right next to the ocean. On hot days, the Lagoon is definitely the place to relax and cool down.
52/54 The Esplanade, Cairns City (www)
Watch the sunrise from a hot air balloon in the Atherton Tablelands
If you’ve always wanted to try hot air ballooning, the ride with Hot Air Balloon Cairns in the Atherton Tablelands is highly recommendable. From the air, you’ve got the perfect view of the beautiful area and the absolute best spot for watching the sunrise. A hot air balloon ride is quite expensive but worth the cost, I would say.
1 Spence St, Cairns City (www)
Located three hours drive north of Cairns, Cape Tribulation is known for being the place where the rainforest meets the reef. It’s a beautiful area with lots of hidden beaches that are surrounded by lush mangrove. I can highly recommend driving to Cape Tribulation Beach and take the short Kulki Boardwalk for the best views.
Cape Tribulation (www)
Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world and is a wonderland for nature lovers. There are several things to see and do in the large area, and especially Mossman Gorge is worth a visit. Carved by the Mossman River, Mossman Gorge is a beautiful spot. There are a few walks to take in the area that offer great views of the gorge and take you through the surrounding rainforest.
Other things to do in Daintree include plenty of great lookout spots, some beautiful rainforest walks and river cruises. We didn’t find the latter very interesting though.
2333 Cape Tribulation Rd, Cape Tribulation (www)
Port Douglas is a fashionable and charming little town with some of Northern Queensland’s best beaches. The latter is probably the reason why this old fishing village now has become a resort paradise for both national and international tourists. However, Port Douglas offers more than just nice resorts, for example, a vibrant city centre with plenty of great restaurants, bars and shops.
Port Douglas is located an hour drive north of Cairns and is a perfect spot to stop on the way to or from Daintree Rainforest to get a great meal, do some shopping or for having a relaxing moment at the beautiful Four Mile Beach.
Located on a little fishing boat at the Cairns Marina, Prawn Star offers a fish and seafood feast. It’s quite primitive and there are not many places to sit or many options to choose from on the menu, but the seafood is absolutely amazing and the experience is authentic – highly recommended.
Marlin Marina, E31 Berth, Pier Point Rd, Cairns
Waterbar & Grill
Altogether, I’ve spent nine days in Cairns and five evenings, I’ve had dinner at Waterbar & Grill. Normally, I aim to eat at different places but after trying Waterbar & Grill for the first time, I keep coming back because the food is amazing. If you like juicy steaks, this is the place to go.
1 Pier Point Rd, Cairns City (www)
The Lillipad Cafe
The Lillipad Cafe is located in the middle of the city centre and is a nice and vibrant café and restaurant that serves fresh and delicious dishes varying from burritos and crepes to burgers and salmon. Their El Guapos’ Tacos and their various homemade juices are especially recommendable.
72 Grafton St, Cairns City (www)
The Mexican (Port Douglas)
If you find yourself in Port Douglas, which I definitely think you should at one point, a great place to eat is at the Mexican. As the name implies, they serve Mexican dishes but with an Australian twist, and it’s delicious. They are specialised in tacos and have among others one with crocodile meat on the menu.
43 Macrossan St, Port Douglas (www)
The best place to get a drink in Cairns is at Salt House. It’s a nice and open bar located at the Marina that serves delicious cocktails and great bar dishes. Salt House is a great place to hang out during the day and a fun place to have a party during the night.
Despite the bar area, Salt House also houses a traditional restaurant and a pizzeria.
Marina Point, 6/2 Pier Point Rd, Cairns City (www)
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