Cairns unlocked: the 5 experiences you won’t want to miss

written by Kate Gazzard August 20, 2021
Aerial shot of Heart Island on the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Queensland.

Undoubtedly Queensland’s hidden gem, this tropical city is turning up the heat, offering breathtaking experiences you’ll never forget.

Nestled at the very top of the Sunshine State, Cairns is often overlooked in favour of more popular destinations such as the Gold Coast or Port Douglas. But you’d be surprised. This anything-but-sleepy city has loads to offer and is perfect for everyone from avid adventurers and adrenaline junkies to excitement seekers and food lovers.

Whether you fancy some Great Barrier Reef snorkeling or prefer to spend your time 1,500 feet in the air, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Cairns. You’re welcome.

1. Explore the Great Barrier Reef

People snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

How could you go to Cairns and not visit the Great Barrier Reef? That’s like going to Adelaide and not drinking your way through the Barossa Valley or heading to Sydney and refusing to look at the Sydney Opera House. With many day trips from Cairns, explore the world’s largest coral reef system and fully immerse yourself within the most beautiful underwater universe. Whether snorkeling’s your thing or you’re more comfortable keeping dry, there are several ways to visit the Great Barrier Reef including taking a ride in a glass-bottomed boat. Feel the sun on your back, watch as the colourful fish and marine life dance in the ocean and make some unforgettable memories.


2. Take a stroll through the Cairns Botanical Gardens

cairns botanical gardens

While walking through a garden might not be high on your holiday priority list, the Cairns Botanical Garden is something special. Heritage-listed, this beautiful expanse of greenery was built way back in 1886 as a way for both locals and tourists alike to enjoy the tropical flora and fauna found in Cairns. With lots of gardens to discover such as the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden and the Zhanjiang Friendship Garden, you’ll be wandering around taking in the breathtaking sounds, smells and sights for hours. If that hasn’t convinced you, why not take a guided walking tour to learn more about this incredible natural attraction.

3. Get your adrenaline pumping at the Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 zoom and wildlife dome cairns

If skydiving is a bit too extreme but you still like the idea of getting your heart rate up, then the Zoom and Wildlife Dome is the place for you. Located in the heart of the CBD on top of the Reef Hotel Casino, this inside adventure combines an equal parts terrifying and exciting high ropes course with a family-friendly wildlife park, offering the best way to spend a couple of hours. This sanctuary offers the chance to cuddle koalas, learn more about our native animals and get your blood pumping with 2 high ropes courses and 3 zip lines. Did we mention that one of them goes over a 4-metre saltwater crocodile?

4. Play around in Fairy Falls

Fairy Falls in Cairns, Queensland.

Where else can you swim like a mermaid in the home of the fairies? Answer: nowhere. Regardless of what tlc says, you can go chasing waterfalls, especially when you’re in North Queensland. Just a 25-minute drive from the Cairns CBD, Fairy Falls is nestled in the lush Wet Tropics Rainforest and situated close to Crystal Cascades. Guaranteed to have you feeling like you’ve stepped into a fairytale land, this picturesque location makes for some serious Insta-worthy photos thanks to its stunning waterfall and is one of the best free things to do in Cairns. Whether you want to go for a dip in its cool waters or marvel at the peaceful serenity that surrounds this place, Fairy Falls is a must-visit, and that’s non-negotiable.

5. Have dinner at Prawn Star

A plate of fresh prawns sitting beside a cold beer.

You may have had some fancy and special dinners in your life, but we can bet that none of them come close to eating fresh prawns straight out of the ocean on a trawler that used to catch them. Located at the marina, Prawn Star consists of four restored fishing trawlers that are moored together to turn them into a permanent eating destination. Decorated with festoon lights for a simply magical experience on the water, this seafood spot serves up oysters, crayfish, and salmon accompanied by a nice cold beer or bottle of wine. So, sit back, relax, and take in the delicious food and even better company with the thought that life doesn’t get any better than this.

Whether you prefer an action packed holiday or one that’s full of soaking up as much nature as this beautiful city has to offer, Cairns is a place for everyone. The best part? You can do so much more than what we’ve outlined, including going for a dip in the free Esplanade Lagoon or taking some time out to walk the Atherton Tablelands. Cairns is waiting for you, so what are you waiting for?


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