Things to do in Cairns

Fun activities in Cairns

Cairns is the jump-off point for divers wanting to explore the Great Barrier Reef, but there’s plenty to see on-land, with most of the sights focusing on mammal and marine wildlife. Thanks to its ever-growing popularity with domestic and international travellers alike, what was once a sleepy, tropical area of Australia has now developed into a lively tourist spot with happy-hour bars, colourful markets and hipster hangouts. That said, there’s still plenty of open spaces to relax in, from the Botanic Gardens and the artificial beach to the rainforest further afield.

  1. The Esplanade
  2. Rusty’s Markets
  3. Flecker Botanic Gardens
  4. Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome
  5. Cairns Museum
  6. Pub and club culture
  7. Cairns Aquarium

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. The Esplanade

Throbbing with visitors both day and night, the Esplanade is the heart of activity in Cairns. Start the day with a freshly roasted cup of coffee and drink in the view of quintessential Cairns: fig trees framing the waterfront, with cruise boats and seaplanes bobbing in the harbour. There’s an artificial beach and landscaped swimming lagoon, and swing by for the daily night market (from 5pm), packed with fast-food courts, massage stalls and decent souvenirs. WhateverCairns holiday packages you’re browsing, The Esplanade is a highlight that cairn’t (sorry) be missed.

Best for: A lively base.

While you’re there: Cruise along the shops by day and bars at night.

2. Rusty’s Markets

WIth over 180 stalls,Rusty’s Markets sells a range of fresh produce (from exotic fruits to freshly baked breads), bric-a-brac, local-crafted jewellery, clothes and more. First opened in 1975, it’s a cultural melting pot, and is the kind of place you’re likely to find neighbours catching up with each other as they buy their daily items. And if you’re wondering what to do in Cairns on a rainy day, then you don’t need to worry – Rusty’s Markets is all undercover.

Best for: Befriending the locals.

While you’re there: Head to Cairns Museum afterwards, just one street over on Lake Street.

3. Flecker Botanic Gardens

A trip to Flecker Botanic Gardens is one of the best things to do in Cairns, especially if the kids are with you. Roughly 5km northwest of central Cairns, the lush site is filled with tropical plants and fruit trees including bamboo, palms, orchids, Purple Mangosteen and the Durian. There’s also plenty of lawn space to relax or run around on, and there are twice-weekly guided tours (free) which depart from the visitor centre.

Best for: A calming, tropical oasis.

While you’re there: Stop for breakfast or lunch at the on-site Botanic Garden Restaurant.

4. Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome

While you can walk around this small wildlife park, why not zipline across it, instead? Visitors ‘zoom’ across a complex network of high ropes and ziplines (including one over the crocodile enclosure) and can climb the outside of the dome itself, too. Or, if you’d rather stick to ground level, there’s a range of talks, presentations and tours held throughout the day which focus on the range of animals (koalas, nocturnal mammals and more) here.

Best for: Mixing wildlife with adrenaline.

While you’re there: Kids (under 13s) can become ‘keepers in training’ and get up close with the animals.

5. Cairns Museum

Positioned between the Esplanade and Rusty’s Markets, the Cairns Museum is an excellent way to learn more about the region’s heritage through its four informative galleries. In Gallery 1 you’ll find out about the city’s stories as told by the locals; Gallery 2 focuses on ‘Old Cairns’ and how it was transformed into a port town; get an insight into Cairns’ tropical wildlife in Gallery 3; and Gallery 4 focuses on the impact of tourism.

Best for: A rich insight into the region’s history.

While you’re there: Take a break out on the tropical veranda.

6. Pub and club culture

The city’s thriving pub and club culture is one of the funnest ways to enjoy Cairns. Most clubs open their doors around 6pm, with a typical entrance charge of $5; sometimes this is higher if there’s a live band playing. You’ll find that most pubs provide live music at least once a week, and creates a fun party atmosphere. Play beer pong at Gilligans, make the most of the latin jazz nights at The Pier Bar & Grill or check out the indie bands on at PJ O’Briens.

Best for: Letting your hair down.

While you’re there: Each night at Gilligan’s has a different theme – jelly wrestling on a Wednesday, anyone?

7. Cairns Aquarium

With a focus on science and conservation as much as education and fun, there’s plenty to get stuck in with at Cairns Aquarium. There are over 71 habitats and 16,000 animals of Tropical North Queensland origin on display, including reef fish, sharks, frogs and snakes, and even a marine turtle rehabilitation facility.

Best for: Letting your hair down.

While you’re there: Dine with a difference at their Dundee’s at the Cairns Aquarium restaurant, set against an aquatic backdrop

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