fun things to do in Cairns

The gateway to the world-famous Great Barrier Reef, this small, scenic Aussie town is shrouded in natural beauty. Although it began life as a swamp, these days, there’s no shortage of things to do in Cairns, now abundant with backpackers, cruise liners, day trips, and luxury hotels.

Welcoming three million yearly travelers, this adored coastal city is the launchpad to the countless wonders of North-East Australia. So grab a towel, some sunscreen, hiking shoes, and flip-flops, and prepare for an unforgettable adventure.

1 – Come face to face with a crocodile at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

Crikey! The infamous Crocodile Attack Show is energetic fun for all ages: colossal crocodiles are fed from a distance before performing death rolls and head shakes. If you simply can’t get enough of the crocs, take a wetlands cruise and see the prehistoric creatures up close.

Catch Australia’s venomous snakes; spot local cassowaries, wombats, wallabies, and quolls; and even feed the cuddly koalas and kangaroos — all at Hartley’s!

2 – Find Nemo in the Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Spend the day on a luxury yacht, take a snorkeling lesson, and lose yourself in the dazzling aquatic display of the Great Barrier Reef. For a more immersive experience, hire scuba gear and get close to (but don’t touch) the colorful anemone.

Of course, no trip is complete without wading through Michaelmas Cay’s white sands and sapphire waters, looking out over the stunning coral reef.

Read more about the best Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns.

3 – Ride an Army Duck at Rainforestation Nature Park

Rainforestation Nature Park
credit to Rainforestation Nature Park

Ride an amphibious Army Duck car through the ancient Kuranda rainforest to check out the flora and fauna, before the Duck turns into a boat as you splash into the lake.

While you’re there, catch an Indigenous dance performance complete with traditional spear presentation and didgeridoo-playing before trying to throw a boomerang — if you don’t remember how to throw one, don’t worry, it’ll come back to you.

4 – Ride the Kuranda Scenic Railway

Kuranda Scenic Railway

All aboard! Feel the charm as the train weaves through Barron Gorge National Park, skirting around the mountains, past waterfalls, and eventually up to the village of Kuranda. An undisputed crowd favorite, Kuranda is not only the gateway to the rainforest, but also home to local markets, a treetop cable-car, and relaxation spots — visiting is one of the best things to do in Cairns, hands-down.

5 – Watch a Cairns sunrise in a hot air balloon

hot air balloon tour in Cairns

Want to see why Queensland is dubbed the ‘Sunshine State’?

Set an alarm clock and take in the awe-inspiring sunrise above the Atherton Tablelands; gaze through the morning fog over the rolling hills; and then, as the fog lifts, be dazzled by the golden light that basks the landscape as far as the eye can see.

It’s simply unmissable.

6 – Glide through the treetops in the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Ready to soar through the treetops between Cairns and Kuranda?

With views spanning the plush rainforest all the way out to the Great Barrier Reef, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is one of the most exciting things to do in Cairns.

Cableway tickets typically include entry to Rainforestation Nature Park and/or lunch at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park — making for a perfect day in the outdoors.

7 – Zipline the Daintree Rainforest

zipline the Daintree Rainforest

Dubbed “the most extraordinary place on Earth” by Sir David Attenborough himself, the Daintree is simply spectacular. While many visitors opt to cruise or hike the rainforest, spotting exotic flora and fauna along the way, there’s arguably an even more impressive way to experience its beauty: stroll the aerial walkways before zip-lining through the canopies for birds-eye views you’ll never forget.

8 – Put your feet up at Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation

There are plenty of things to do in Cairns but even the strongest legs eventually need a break. Cape Tribulation — in the heart of the Daintree — boasts remote beaches, camping grounds, and resorts, creating the perfect atmosphere for some much-needed R&R.

If you’re still up for more adventure, check out the boardwalks, try horse riding, or take a dip in the warm waters.

9 – Go canyoning at Behana Canyon

canyoning at Behana Canyon

Start by abseiling down the aesthetic rocky gorge into the water by the stunning, gushing waterfall. Then explore the gorge and wade through the rainforest before (safely) jumping off rocks into the deep pools below!

While you can cater your adventure to your personal fitness and thrill-seeking levels, locals recommend trying a little of everything.

10 – Take the ferry to Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island

Sail to the lush rainforest of Fitzroy Island, a beloved (also quiet and unspoiled) locale boasting adventure activities and hiking trails fit for every type of traveler.

Walk around at your own pace before heading to the beach where the rainforest meets the reef; snorkel with colorful wildlife; ride a glass-bottom boat over the reef; or hire a paddle ski — there’s no shortage of things to do!

11 – Chase waterfalls at Atherton Tablelands

Millaa Millaa waterfall, Atherton Tablelands

The Tablelands are jam-packed with notable waterfalls including Millaa Millaa and Dinner Falls, all of which are perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot day.

Make sure to stop at Lake Eacham, a stunning volcanic crater lake known for its unique residents; look out for platypuses, kangaroos, and tree frogs — or if you’re a little more adventurous, take a nocturnal wildlife tour!

12 – Go white-water rafting on the Barron River

white-water rafting on the Barron River

After your first lesson or refresher course, the raging rapids await (don’t be afraid to get wet!) — whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran rafter, this will surely get the adrenaline pumping. Once you’ve conquered the whitewater, kick the feet up and float downstream through Barron Gorge National Park, a postcard-worthy rainforest home to deep ravines and rugged rocks.

13 – Go tubing on the Mulgrave River

tubing on the Mulgrave River

The more private cousin of rafting, tubing is perfect for solo travelers — tubes hold singles, whereas rafts are shared.

Once again, no matter your experience level, the rapids on the beautiful Mulgrave River are a sight to behold; after tackling the rapids, let the current take you downstream where pristine rainforest views await.

14 – Take the Darkness Falls Tour at Paronella Park

Paronella Park

Jose Paronella’s dream was to build a castle in a very special part of Australia, and today, that dream still stands! The estate’s remarkable architecture is complemented by five hectares of tropical gardens and a floodlit, 1930s hydro-electric generator — a must-see when illuminated at night. To learn the whole story behind the incredible estate, tag along on one of the guided tours.

15 – Ride a helicopter over the Great Barrier Reef

helicopter tour over the Great Barrier Reef

To really appreciate the size and scope of the largest coral reef in the world, you have to see it from above. Fly over the glistening waters and see Green Island and Arlington Reef from the air; look out for whales if you’re flying in the winter; and, year-round, keep an eye out for manta rays, turtles, and colorful coral!

16 – Skydive over Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef

skydiving in Cairns

If you’re looking for fun things to do in Cairns, nothing compares to skydiving. Take to the skies and feel the adrenaline surge as you freefall for a full minute from 15,000 feet, greeted by unparalleled views of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest.

Then pull the chute and steer yourself onto the drop-zone where you’ll be begging to have another go.

17 – Fly over the Far North Queensland coastline

airplane tours in Cairns

If skydiving is still a little too intimidating, enjoy the sights in comfort instead, appreciating the coastline from the window of a private plane, with an informative pilot firing off tidbits the whole way through.

The color contrast between the aqua reefs, their surrounding deep blue waters, the golden beaches, and green rainforests beyond — well, it’s nothing short of spectacular.

18 – Take a jeep tour through the rainforest

jeep tours in Cairns

Get an insightful tour of the local rainforest (not to mention a little taste of the Aussie Outback) and get up close to cassowaries, kangaroos, and other wildlife (including the 900-year-old ‘strangler’ fig tree!) from the comfort of your very own jeep!

For lunch, settle into local ice cream and a buffet lunch, or grab a classic Australian ‘pub meal’.

19 – Cruise on the Barron River

Barron River cruise

The Barron River, winding through the picturesque Kuranda Rainforest, hosts spectacular cruises fit for the whole family. Spot crocodiles, turtles, birds, and fish from the comfort of your boat while indulging in a delicious two-course meal — and yes, you can bring your own alcohol!

For breathtaking sunset views over the river, head onto the water in the late afternoon.

20 – Conquer the terrain on an ATV

ATV tour in Cairns

The ruggedness of a jeep meets the dexterity of a bicycle on an all-terrain vehicle! Join a small group and speed down the dirt roads, across creeks, through the vast countryside, and, of course, into the rainforests.

If you’re lucky, you might even get to say ‘hello’ to the local wildlife or pick fruit straight from the trees for lunch.

21 – Take the kayak turtle tour

kayak tours in Cairns

Grab a kayak and row from Palm Cove to Double Island along the reefs and mangroves. Turtles and manta rays are commonplace, but keep your eyes out for some rarer finds like dolphins and whales!

Shuttle bus transfers are available from Cairns to the kayak departure point, while children over 6 and first-time kayakers are welcome too.

22 – Jet boat through the Trinity Inlet

jetboat tour in Cairns
credit to Bad Fishy

See Cairns speed by from the water as you rush through the Inlet on your jet boat. As the sun beat down, the wind in your hair and the water breaking on the boat provide the perfect cool down.

Your captain won’t hesitate to show off either — get ready for boat spins, high speeds, wave slides, and plenty more.

23 – Go stand-up paddle-boarding at the Goldsborough Valley

stand-up paddle tour in Cairns

An undisputed fan favorite paddle-boarding activity, the Goldsborough Valley tour takes visitors upstream through some rapids, before letting guests roam a swimming hole where snorkeling, local fruits, and board games await.

While you’re there, consider a hike through Wooroonooran National Park to Kearneys Falls for a perfect photo op, then hop back on your board and journey back to Cairns!

24 – Bungee jump at Skypark

bungee jump at Skypark by AJ Hackett in Cairns
credit to Skypark Cairns

A playground for thrill-seeking grown-ups, Skypark boasts a giant swing and BMX riding tracks, as well as Cairns’ highest viewing platform, cold drinks, and occasional live music.

The highlight, however, is the bungee jump: a heart-pumping, 164-foot plunge above a natural lagoon. Are you brave enough?

25 – Ride the Giant Jungle Swing

Giant Jungle Swing, Skypark by AJ Hackett in Cairns
credit to Skypark Cairns

This is child-friendly but it’s no playground swing. In 3.5 seconds you’ll go from 0 to almost 75 mph and swing nearly 150-feet in the air over the beautiful rainforest.

Up to three guests can share the Giant Jungle Swing at any one time, but we’ll let you choose which one of you pulls the self-release to start the swing!

26 – Dine in the twilight at Cairns Aquarium

Cairns Aquarium

Obviously, the aquarium by the Great Barrier Reef has unparalleled biodiversity with shimmering fish and habitats for miles. But for a different experience, visit at dusk — a truly unmatched visual spectacle.

The nocturnal fish and amphibians come out to play in the shadows as you’ve never seen before, with dinner, drinks and dessert included, of course.

27 – Take on the ropes at Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome

Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome
credit to Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome

In the heart of Cairns atop the casino, Cairns Zoom is the world’s first high-ropes course in a wildlife park. The Dome Climb provides excellent city views from its peak before the 42-foot PowerJump descent awaits!

The ropes challenge is complete with thrilling ziplines, including one that glides over Goliath, a 13-foot saltwater crocodile!

28 – Go on a whale-watching cruise

Cairns whale-watching cruise

In the winter, it’s routine for humpback whales to migrate to Cairns and rest at Nudey Beach on Fitzroy Island.

For the best way to see the moms and calves, board a cruise ship to Fitzroy Island and sign up for a whale-watching tour! Make sure the camera batteries are charged because they don’t stick around for long!

29 – Browse the Cairns Museum

Cairns Museum

Visit the Cairns Museum and journey back in time with stories of the native Aboriginals, the European settlers, and the old Cairns locals who transformed a steamy swamp by the forest into the tropical paradise it is today.

Cyclones, hippies, parades, and plenty of toads punctuate the story — for history buffs, it should sip atop the list of things to do in Cairns.

30 – See the nocturnal animals at Kuranda Koala Gardens

Kuranda Koala Gardens

By day, the Gardens host adorable koalas, quokkas, wombats, and wallabies; but by night, the intriguing nocturnal mammals of the area (bilbies, mahogany gliders, and squirrels) come out to play.

For the perfect Instagram picture, the staff will let you take a picture with a cuddly koala!

31 – Join a Cairns hipster & street art tour

Cairns hipster & street art tour

How about some indie things to do in Cairns? Cairns has been dubbed the secondary hipster capital of Australia thanks to its boutique coffee, street art, vintage shops, and stylish barbers — and the local guides know every hipster gem!

Don’t pack lunch and don’t drink coffee beforehand, you’ll want to try something at every stop.

32 – Immerse yourself in butterflies at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

There’s just something about butterflies! Thousands of these delicate, cute, and colorful animals flutter around and land on you if you stand still at the sanctuary — but keep an eye out for two particular butterflies: the gorgeous Blue Ulysses and the almost-glowing Cairns Birdwing.

Within the sanctuary, learn about the myths and legends of the universally loved creatures too.

33 – Watch a traditional fire ceremony at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

One of the oldest cultures in the world will welcome you just outside of Cairns with a drink and traditional face paint. Then watch the fire ceremony, didgeridoo show and traditional dance — which you can join if you have the moves!

Wrap up the evening with a traditional buffet dinner (catered to modern tastes) is served before hitting the town.

34 – Dream of flight at Birdworld Kuranda

Birdworld Kuranda

In Australia’s largest free-flying aviary, Mother Nature has truly outdone herself: the colors of the birds, plants, and ponds are spectacular.

Keep your ears open too — listen carefully and you’ll hear the calls of majestic lorikeets, chatterbox cockatoos, galahs, and stunning macaws, among so many more.

35 – Wine and dine at Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

A sublime natural and culinary spot, the Atherton Tablelands are a visitor favorite. With the rainforest as your backdrop, sample the local coffee, wine, cheese, jam, fruits, and liqueurs to your heart’s content. Or, for something more formal, dine at the country restaurants or set up a picnic at the volcanic Lake Barrine.

Can’t decide where to eat? Join a food and wine tour to sample all the region’s very best treats!

36 – Explore the rainforest… by night!

rainforest night tour near Cairns

By now you’ve seen the rainforest by day and appreciated the sights and sounds of the lush greenery. But when the sun goes away, the rainforest really comes out to play! Under the stars, a whole new wave of curious animals venture out including frogs, owls, geckos, gliders, and more.

You haven’t seen a rainforest until you’ve seen it under the moonlight.

37 – Walk the plank at the Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat

Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat

Some of the best things to do in Cairns are a little further out. This 8-acre Wildlife Habitat is split into five sections: woodlands, wetlands, rainforest, nocturnal, and savannah; all with opportunity and space to interact and explore.

Those brave enough can walk the plank — a balance beam over a billabong of fierce-looking crocodiles — otherwise, there are plenty of equally-enjoyable Habitat tours.

38 – Dive, snorkel or stay dry at Agincourt Reef

snorkeling at Agincourt Reef

From Port Douglas, discover the wonderful edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Agincourt is especially good for scuba diving and snorkeling, with the option of marine biologist-led snorkeling tours or reef floor walking tours (with oxygen helmets).

If you want to keep your hair dry, look through the window from the comfort of a semi-submerged submarine as you cruise past the divers.

39 – Treat yourself at Palm Cove

Palm Cove

Australians flock here for weddings and honeymoons — walking down the esplanade, you’ll see why: it’s simply paradise on Earth!

Lined with elegant restaurants, spas, resorts, shops, and bars; there’s plenty of opportunities to practice some self-care before sipping a cocktail in front of a famous Palm Cove sunset.

40 – Sail the Low Isles

Low Isles sailing tour

Board the luxury catamaran at Port Douglas with a light lunch as you approach the Coral Sea. There you can choose to snorkel, ride a glass-bottom boat, take a walk along the Low Isles, or just lie on the deck.

Follow that up with afternoon tea, canapes, and a drink as the sun sets over the distant mountains as the boat glides back to beautiful Port Douglas.

41 – Go fishing at Trinity Inlet

fishing in Cairns

With Cape Grafton, Kings Point, and Fitzroy Island all boasting points where you can catch all different sorts of sea life, there are plenty of places to go fishing around Cairns.

A common local favorite, however, is Trinity Inlet where you can catch yourself a couple of Aussie seafood delicacies: a delicious mud crab or a large barramundi.

42 – Help set sail to Green Island

Green Island

Ever wanted to steer a ship? Now’s your chance! Help hoist the sails and direct the group all the way to the snorkeling point at Pinnacle Reef! Snorkeling is no easy task though, and you’ll definitely be working up an appetite — thankfully, the boat awaits with a seafood feast.

Afterwards, kick back with wine and cheese en route back to Cairns.

43 – Ride a horse in the hills of Myola

horse riding near Cairns

Australian folklore is full of heroes on horseback, so what better way to explore the rolling mountains by the Kuranda rainforest than on a horse? Newbies can be escorted by staff, otherwise, just sit back and relax as you trot over the hills.

For the ultimate day out, combine horse riding with a petting zoo visit or ATV ride.

44 – Soak up the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

If you’re looking for somewhere to cool down in Cairns, look no further. Sitting next to the CBD on the Trinity Harbour foreshore, the sapphire waters of the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon offer underwater seating benches, sandy shores, outdoor gym equipment, and shaded gardens — all in all, it’s an ideal spot to cool down by the Esplanade’s bustling shops and cafes.

45 – Buy a beer and a souvenir at Cairns Night Markets

Cairns Night Markets

Staying around the Esplanade, the air-conditioned Cairn Night Markets are essential. Browse over 70 market stalls full of jewelry, arts and crafts, and souvenirs for your friends and family back home.

If you need to unwind, stop into a massage tent before grabbing a wine or beer from a huge range of Italian, Chinese, and local eateries.

46 – Climb the less-famous Pyramid at Wooroonooran National Park

Wooroonooran National Park

With stunning and relatively simple trails to boot, including the Mamu Tropical Skywalk which elevates almost 50-feet, Wooroonooran is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. For a more difficult climb, conquer the 3000-foot-tall, natural Walsh’s Pyramid.

Feeling competitive? Every year in August is the Great Pyramid Race where racers bolt to the summit and back down again.

47 – Walk the Cairns Botanic Gardens

Cairns Botanic Gardens

Lose yourself in a sea of exotic trees, flowers, waterbeds, and animals without leaving Cairns!

A little closer to home, the Botanic Gardens’ guided and self-guided tours will take you around the world from the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden to the Freshwater Lake, Zhanjiang Friendship Garden with carved granite dogs, and so much more.

48 – Ride in an armored vehicle at the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum

Australian Armour and Artillery Museum in Cairns
credit to Australian Armour and Artillery Museum

As the southern hemisphere’s largest artillery museum, there’s no shortage of fascinating exhibits at the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum.

Witness artillery from all around the world that washed up on Aussie shores (with an emphasis on the WW2 era), or, for a more hands-on experience, fire a bolt-action WW2 rifle with no license required before taking a joyride in one of the armored display vehicles.

49 – Cleanse yourself at Mossman Gorge

Mossman Gorge

In the south Daintree, the Mossman River has carved out a natural rocky gorge, surrounded by greenery — and it’s nothing short of stunning.

Come and be greeted by the traditional owners, the indigenous Kuku Yalanji people, who will cleanse you of evil spirits in a smoke ceremony. Or, swim in the waters before tasting local ice cream, and don’t forget to snap an Instagram selfie at the Alexandra Range Lookout!

50 – Hold on tight as you waterski at Cairns Wake Park

Cairns Wake Park

Feel the wind in your hair, and don’t let go as you rocket along the waters! Cable-water skiing is a unique, exhilarating activity for all skill levels and there are few better places to try than the Cairns Wake Park.

For the ultimate daredevils, navigate the slaloms and ramps like you’re an aquatic Tony Hawk.

51 – Crack a geode at the Crystal Caves

Crystal Caves, Cairns
credit to The Crystal Caves Cairns

If you’re looking for things to do in Cairns that combine nature and souvenirs, this beloved locale is a must. Head to Crystal Caves for a cave tour before choosing your own geode and cracking it open yourself!

If you want a crystal that’s been refined a little more, elegant jewelry awaits in the gift shop too.

52 – Surf at Etty Bay

surfing in Cairns

More known to locals than tourists, Etty Bay on the Cassowary Coast is a safe and exciting surf beach away from the tourists. True to its name, cassowaries are a common sight at the beach, particularly during the late afternoon and dusk.

Note that cassowaries are wary of humans, so enjoy these gracious, flightless birds from a distance.

53 – Dinner, drinks, and dance on a luxury catamaran

Cairns sunset dinner cruise

Board a catamaran, drink in hand, and drift by the waterfront before setting anchor at Trinity Inlet for a delectable three-course buffet dinner. Need a soundtrack to complement the sunset view? Hit the dance floor and enjoy the live music!

On Thursday to Saturday nights, there’s also a fully-licensed bar onboard!

54 – Dine lavishly at the Flames of the Forest

Flames of the Forest dining experience
credit to Flames of the Forest

A candlelit dinner in the rainforest is just too good to pass up.

Sit under the silk marquee, let the acoustic guitar play gently in the background, and feel the romance like never before; then sip on the local wines and dine on a set six-course tropical menu. The best part? They’ll pick you up from your hotel too!

55 – Explore the Cairns Art Gallery

Cairns Art Gallery

Sitting within the historic walls of a heritage-listed 1936 government building, the popular Cairns Art Gallery provides the perfect indoor afternoon respite for any day too hot or too stormy.

Besides the gallery that features a Ned Kelly exhibition, aboriginal art, and a wider focus on local artists, the free museum also boasts a cute gift shop and an on-site cafe.

56 – Have your own private beach

Cairns private helicopter tour

Board a helicopter tour, marveling at the views on your way to a deserted Vlasoff Cay — from there, the beach is yours for a couple of hours. You’ll be left with snorkeling gear, a beach umbrella, chairs, and a picnic (with champagne!).

In this tourist haven, you’ll be left alone (or with your partner or family) to enjoy your private slice of paradise.