Cairns for First Timers – Things to See & Do

This is a collaborative post.

Cairns has long been established as a tropical paradise, thanks to its idyllic location in Far North Queensland, Australia. This small, friendly city is surrounded by natural wonders, nestled between rainforest-clad mountains and the Great Barrier Reef. The city itself is worth visiting alone, with a vibrant city centre that’s easy to get around, with world-class dining and fantastic accommodation options. If you’re visiting Cairns for the first time, there are several must-see things you should add to your bucket list. Book your Cairns accommodation and set out to see these amazing sights and attractions:

Great Barrier Reef

Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef – the largest reef system in the world and a true ecological wonder. A first visit to Cairns wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the reef. There are lots of ways to see it but most people opt for a day cruise to allow time for some snorkelling or scuba diving. Cruises usually include a few stops at idyllic reef locations where you can swim among the beautiful coral and sea life.

Other cruises include visits to some of the beautiful islands on the reef, such as Green and Fitzroy Islands, where you can laze on a coconut palm-fringed beach and snorkel straight off the shore. Multi-day trips are also available if you’re really into diving.

Another fantastic way to really see the enormity of the reef is from a bird’s eye view. Take a scenic helicopter flight to view the reef from above and stop off at a secluded sand quay in the middle of the reef.

Great Barrier Reef Coral

Cairns Esplanade

One of the first places you may see in Cairns is the fantastic esplanade area. This entire area along the foreshore has been transformed over the years into a cultural and lifestyle precinct for all to enjoy. There are no beaches in the city of Cairns, so there is an amazing artificial beach here called the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon.

Take a dip to cool off in the tropical heat, before enjoying some shopping at the Pier. You’ll also find some of the city’s best restaurants here, as well as the casino if you’re looking for a night out.

Cairns Esplanade

‘Cairns Esplanade Lagoon’ via Flickr, licensed via CC 2.0

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

A must-do on any first visit to Cairns is the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. This 7.5km long cableway traverses the rainforest-clad mountains of Barron Gorge National Park, providing the perfect introduction to Cairns’ lush tropical rainforest. The cableway is a relaxing way to see the forest, taking you high above the canopy before descending down into the rainforest itself. The cableway stops at two different stations where you can hop off and wander around the rainforest, and view the spectacular Barron Falls which is magnificent after heavy rain. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway terminates in Kuranda, a quirky town in the rainforest.


Situated in the heart of the tropical rainforest in the mountains above Cairns, Kuranda is a rustic, quirky town in a magnificent setting. There are many things to do in Kuranda, but the highlight is the famous Kuranda Markets, where you are sure to find some unique buys and there is always plenty happening, with good food and live music.

Getting to and from Kuranda is half the fun. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway terminates here, making an idyllic and adventurous way to travel from Cairns. Another fantastic way to get to Kuranda is by the scenic Kuranda Railway, making its way up the mountain from Cairns through stunning scenery. Enjoy rainforest, waterfalls and breath-taking views over Cairns. A popular way to travel is to go up to Kuranda via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and take the Kuranda Railway back to Cairns.

Daintree National Park

Located about 100kms north of Cairns, the Daintree Rainforest is one of the oldest rainforests in the world and would have to be the most diverse and pristine rainforest in Australia. If you really want to immerse yourself in the rainforest during your time in Cairns, this is the place to do so. A long day trip can be made from Cairns, though a few days would be needed to really make the most of your time here, with so many incredible places to visit, including Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef.

Mossman Gorge, Cairns

‘Mossman Gorge’ by Tehani Schroeder via Flickr, licenced via CC 2.0 

Palm Cove

The best beaches near Cairns are located north of the city. Palm Cove is one of the top beach spots in Cairns and if you’re looking for a beachside resort, this is the place to go. The beach here is that postcard perfect stretch of sand fringed with coconut palms. You’ll find great shops, cafes and restaurants, all located along the beautiful waterfront. Palm Cove is about half an hour’s drive from Cairns, or an hour by public bus.

Palm Cove Beach, Cairns

‘Palm Cove Beach – Cairns’ by Lenny K Photography via Flickr, licensed via CC 2.0

Atherton Tablelands

The Atherton Tablelands is a lush, high plateau situated inland from Cairns, and is packed full of beautiful scenery and interesting attractions. The pinnacle of the Atherton Tablelands is its stunning series of waterfalls and serene crater lakes.

Crater Lakes National Park is a must-visit, made up of Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham – two freshwater lakes formed by the craters of ancient volcanos. Enjoy a refreshing dip in the fresh water or stroll around the rainforest clad shore.

Just as impressive are the waterfalls around the tablelands. There are plenty to choose from but the most perfect would have to be the stunning Millaa Millaa Falls.

Another attraction not to miss is the Curtain Fig Tree – an enormous fig tree with wide hanging roots that resemble a massive curtain. There are plenty of charming towns to visit as well to break up the journey between the attractions.


These are just a few of the many amazing things to see and do in Cairns – a city surrounded by stunning natural beauty and interesting attractions that are sure to keep you busy throughout your stay. Visiting these attractions during your first visit will have you wanting to come back to Cairns time and time again!

Have you ever been to Cairns, or elsewhere in Australia? How was your experience? Share your thoughts below.

This is a collaborative post.

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