Are you planning on a trip to Cairns, Australia?

If you’re new to the area, Cairns has an incredible environment filled with unique wildlife and natural landscapes. 

There are plenty of things to do within the main city, but there are even more sights to see around Cairns.

We’ve picked out the 14 best things for you to see and do on your next trip to this sunshine city.

Table of Contents

1. Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef, visited by over 2 million people every year, is one of the country’s most popular destinations.

The reef system stretches over 2,300 kilometres of Australia’s East Coast making it the largest coral system in the world.

It is also home to over 1,500 species of fish and over 30 different marine mammals including whales, dolphins and dugongs.

What’s the best way to experience the Great Barrier Reef?

Snorkelling Reefworld

Experience the Great Barrier Reef from the safety and comfort of the innovative and spacious pontoon Reefworld.

Snorkel and dive in the clear waters, enjoy tanning on the decks, or learn about the reef while staying dry via semi-submarine with their reef experts.

Helicopter Tour

Enjoy a scenic helicopter tour over the Great Barrier Reef from tropical Cairns.

Capture stunning photographs as you float about the gorgeous water and reef setting.

You’ll also be able to see the famous heart reef, coral formed in the perfect shape of a love heart.

Scuba Diving

Take a tropical adventure to learn how to scuba dive on the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef.

Most courses offer gentle progression from pool to reef.

You’ll be fully qualified after some basic training before seeing the beautiful reef from down under.

Visit Islands

Within the confines of the Great Barrier Reef are hundreds of tropical islands and atolls.

However, not all of these can be easily accessed by the general public.

Although there are many popular locations that do allow tourists.

Some of the best islands to visit include Daydream Island, Hamilton Island, Whitsunday Islands and Green Island.

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2. Green Island

Green Island in Far North Queensland is a short boat trip away from Cairns.

Most visitors take a full or half day cruise to the island and enjoy a wide variety of activities, both in and out of the water.

The natural environment is also protected by the Green Island National Park.

What are the best tours to Green Island?

Half Day Cruise

The Half Day Green Island Cruise is ideal for those wanting to sample the natural surrounds of Green Island.

With a choice of morning or afternoon departure times, the Half Day Cruise spends a manageable 2 hours on Green Island.

Just enough time to have a look around and try your hand at a few of the island’s many activities.

Full Day Cruise

The Full Day Green Island Cruise is a great way to spend 4-5 hours on Green Island.

Starting in Cairns, the cruise has multiple departure options and includes either free snorkelling gear or a tour on a glass bottomed boat.

For additional cost, you can enjoy an onboard buffet lunch and choose from a variety of island activities.

What activities are on Green Island?

Enjoy a day out on the water with a glass bottom boat trip, a semi-submarine adventure, some ocean walking, or just good old snorkelling.

Alternatively, enjoy the water with a variety of watersports equipment like canoes and paddle boards available for rent.

If the water isn’t for you, try a stroll along the beaches, or into the rainforest boardwalk to the island’s marine museum and crocodile park.

Of course, for some the prospect of lying on a beach lounge under the umbrella is more than enough activity, and the views are spectacular.

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3. Daintree Rainforest

The Daintree Rainforest is located in Far North Queensland about 2.5 hours away.

It is an ancient monolithic ecosystem home to thousands of different plant and animal species.

They represent the very height of environmental diversity in Australia.

Daintree rainforest is thought to be over 135 million years old and is a World Heritage Listed area.

It covers 1200 square kilometres, the largest area of tropical rainforest in Australia.

What can you see at the Daintree Rainforest?

Daintree Discovery Centre

This is often the first stop for visitors seeking information about the rainforest.

This award-winning educational centre gives you access to different levels of the rainforest.

You can walk on the forest floor, canopy boardwalks or join a tour.

There is also a comprehensive display centre which will give you a better idea of the environment in Daintree Rainforest.

Daintree Village

Daintree Village has an interesting history, closely connected with the first settlers that came to the region.

Now, the town is home to a small population of around 100 people, and is supported by farming and tourism.

Daintree Village also has a few cafes, a timber museum, a souvenir shop and local Aboriginal art gallery.

Nearby, you’ll find the Daintree River.

Here, you’ll have a chance to spot birds, crocodiles and other wildlife.

This is why most tourists use the village as a base to better access the rainforest itself.

Mount Sorrow

Mount Sorrow is one of the Daintree Rainforest’s most challenging bush walking tracks.

The track takes around 5 – 6 hours to complete and weaves through many different areas of the rainforest.

It stretches from the lowlands of Cape Tribulation to a small mountain lookout, offering views of Cape Tribulation, the Daintree coastline and beyond.

Cape Tribulation & Mossman Gorge

These are the two main natural landscapes of Daintree Rainforest that most tourists explore.

Cape Tribulation is north about 1.5 hours away while Mossman Gorge is about 35 minutes south of Daintree Village.

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4. Mossman Gorge

This rainforest area of the Gorge contains one of the oldest surviving rainforest on earth and is and ideal place to learn about Australia’s tropical wildlife.

The Kuka Yalanji Aboriginal people are the traditional land owners.

What can you see and do at Mossman Gorge?

Mossman Gorge Visitors Centre 

This is a new eco-tourism development in the area.

The centre is aimed at visitors looking for an authentic experience in Indigenous Australia.

For instance, there is also an Indigenous Art gallery with work from the local Kuku Yalanji people.

They also manage visitor shuttle buses to the gorge and tours.

Dreamtime Walks

Mossman Gorge Visitors Centre offers Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks.

They are also guided by local Indigenous people and take you along private tracks to cultural significant places.

You’ll see past traditional bark shelters through the rainforest on easy-graded paths.

This is a 1.5 hour tour.

It includes a traditional smoking ceremony, dreamtime stories told by local experts and exclusive access to areas on Kuku Yalanji land.

Plants and Animals

You will see a variety of Australian native wildlife and plant life.

For example, Mossman Gorge is home to a number of rare plant species including Hope’s Cycad, the Daintree Cheese Tree, the Maple Silkwood and the Atheron Oak.

In terms of wildlife, the region is home to the rare Green Ringtail Possum, the endangered Spotted-Tail Quolls and the adaptable Boyd Forest Dragon.

There have also been more than 430 bird species spotted in the Mossman Gorge area.

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5. Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation, a headland area located in far North Queensland, has long been a magnet for global travellers.

This is where two famed World Heritage listed destinations, the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, meet.

The coastal rainforest atmosphere is unique due to the many unusual and rare examples of flora and fauna.

Cape Tribulation has long been one of Australia’s most pristine destinations, providing a perfect mix of two starkly different environments: the rainforest and the reef.

What can you see and do at Cape Tribulation?

Beaches

There are many beaches in Cape Tribulation which are generally not crowded throughout the year due to limited accessibility.

Popular spots include Cape Kimberly, Cow Bay Beach, Thornton Beach and Coconut Beach.

Activities

Activities are available to suit all types of visitors.

For example, you can go zip lining, join a 4WD tour, try exotic fruit tasting, or go on a mangrove river cruise.

Wildlife

Cape Tribulation’s unique wildlife has thrived over the years.

The most popular animals all visitors want to see are the Estuarine Crocodiles.

Although these are interesting creatures, they are very dangerous and even small crocodiles can pose a threat to swimmers.

Another unusual Cape Tribulation creature is the Southern Cassowary, which are large birds that can stand up to two metres high.

Areas in Cape Tribulation have been classified as Outstanding Cassowary Habitat Zones, and they are often spotted by visitors to the area.

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6. Barron Gorge National Park

Extending from the elevated Atherton Tablelands to the lower coastal regions, the Barron Gorge National Park features some amazing wildlife and interesting history on a backdrop of tropical rainforests and mountains.

Barron Gorge National Park is an ideal location to observe and explore the Barron River, which travels more than 60 kilometres through the park.

What can you see and do at Barron Gorge National Park?

Skyrail

Jump on board the skyrail so you can get perfect scenic views of the lush rainforest and Barron Falls.

There are two stops between Smithfield and Kuranda terminal.

You can alight at each stop to explore the different scenery in the area.

Park Walks

One popular method of exploring the Barron Gorge National Park is to take one of the long or short walks that traverse the many different areas of the park.

These walks allow visitors to get off the roads and see the true natural beauty of the park from within.

Barron Falls

Barron Falls is certainly the most dramatic highlight of the Barron Gorge National Park.

The best time to visit is during rainy seasons.

There’s a lookout point at Barron Falls station so you can take plenty of photos of the water crashing into the river.

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7. Atherton Tablelands

This natural retreat sits lush and green in Queensland’s tropics, with an average height of around 700 metres above sea level.

The Atherton Tablelands showcases Tropical North Queensland’s beautiful rainforest, rolling hills, exquisite wildlife, amazing waterfalls, friendly people and a rich cultural history.

What can you see and do at Atherton Tablelands?

Natural Wonders

The Atherton Tablelands region is marked with volcanic craters, waterfalls, cave sites, and unique flora.

The waterfalls are especially famous particularly Australia’s tallest waterfall, Wallaman Falls; and the widest single-drop waterfall, Maillstream Falls.

Many others can be seen on walking treks designed to give visitors the best viewing opportunities.

On these trails you can see other natural landmarks.

For example, the Hypipamee Crater, formed by an exploding volcanic vent.

Or the Undara Lava Tubes, the world’s longest continuous lava flow from a single volcano.

Also, the Chillagoe’s limestone caves, which shows evidence of once being a part of an underwater coral reef.

Visitors can also see the amazing 500-year-old Curtain Fig Tree and swim inside 10,000-year-old crater lakes.

Gourmet Trails

Never has the term ‘from paddock to plate’ meant more than it does in the Atherton Tablelands.

Both gourmet and general food enthusiasts will find themselves marvelling at the fertile nature of the region.

Atherton Tablelands produce sugar cane, coffee, mangoes, maize and macadamias.

As you venture through the area there is an abundance of high-quality eateries, scenic cafes and roadside stalls.

Exciting Activities

For the adventurous there’s a chance to leap from Australia’s only bungy tower, traverse the waterways via kayak or float above it all from a hot air balloon.

Fish to your heart’s content, or educate yourself in one of the regions many interesting arts and cultural centres or museums.

For those looking for something more directed, there’s a wealth of tours covering rainforest wildlife, guided food trips and wine trails.

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8. Rusty’s Market

Rusty’s Market has been an iconic Cairns attraction for more than three decades.

It has grown from a meagre six stalls to the bustling social centre it is today.

Weekends is the busiest time since there are fresh tropical fruits and vegetables.

Try your palate on the diverse foods available and enjoy a stroll through the many shops.

What can you see and do at Rusty’s Market?

Fresh Fruit & Vegetables

Rusty’s Market has always been one of Cairn’s largest and most well known farmer’s markets.

The range of fresh fruit and vegetables on offer will be a unique and immersive tropical experience.

Stalls sell everything from normal oranges and pears, to the exotic dragon fruit and custard apples.

You’ll also find most owners have expert knowledge on the produce they’re selling.

Delicious Food

There’s also a diverse range of local and international food to try.

For example, Vietnamese soups, Thai curries, and the local Australian pie.

There’s a food court area with space for visitors to sit and enjoy the atmosphere as they eat.

Alternatively, you can just get takeaway and head down to the nearby Esplanade to enjoy your meal.

Souvenirs and Unique Buys 

Rusty’s Market has evolved from a food-focused attraction to the arts and social centre of Cairns.

These span from homemade soaps and body scrubs, to clothing, jewellery and second-hand goods.

If you’re looking for a souvenirs that is unique and showcases the remarkable cultural blend in Cairns, Rusty’s Market is definitely the place to be.

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9. The Wildlife Habitat

The Wildlife Habitat at Port Douglas is a hideaway for Australian native animals

It is approximately 1 hour drive from Cairns.

Enjoy a day amongst unique Australian flora and local wildlife.

Interact with native birds, encounter kangaroos and learn all about the creatures that call Australia home.

What other experiences can you enjoy at the Wildlife Habitat?

Breakfast With The Birds & Lunch With The Lorikeets

Enjoy the unique experience of breakfast in the wetlands so you can see an orchestra of native birds.

Breakfast includes a tropical buffet, with exotic fruit platters, cereals, pastries and a full hot breakfast including bacon, eggs and sausages.

Lunch is a full selection of foods from tasty soup to BBQ meats and salads.

Keep an eye out for the many birds, who are fond of visitors and fly freely among the guests.

Tours and Shows

There are many guided tours and free presentations held throughout the day.

The Wildlife Habitat offers a newly constructed presentation hut to allow you to get up close with most animals.

So this is a fantastic learning experience and perfect for visitors of all ages.

Photographic encounters are also available at an additional cost with koalas, pythons and crocodiles.

VIP Tour Behind The Scenes

Go behind the scenes at The Wildlife Habitat for an informative VIP Tour.

With very small group sizes, you can get a unique perspective of the Wildlife Care and Rescue Centre at The Wildlife Habitat.

You’ll also see Quarantine areas, the Eucalyptus Plantations and even the Food Preparation areas of the park.

This tour is an ideal way to gain insight into the day-to-day life of the keepers at The Wildlife Habitat, learning all about how they care for and maintain the many animals in the park.

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10. Cairns Wildlife Dome

Did you want to see Australian wildlife in Cairns city centre?

Don’t worry about travelling too far for an authentic local Australian fauna encounter, because the Cairns Wildlife Dome is located on the roof of the famous Pullman Reef Hotel Casino.

With a variety of Australian animals on display, the Wildlife Dome offers something for everyone.

What can you see and do at Cairns Wildlife Dome?

Keeper Talks and Presentations 

The Cairns Wildlife Dome offers a full day schedule of expert keeper talks on the animals that call the Dome home.

These talks allow visitors to get an insiders look at the animals.

Many of the shows are centred around a feed, which is another great way to see the animals interacting with the keepers.

You’ll see cockatoos, kookaburras, frogs and even a four-metre long crocodile named Goliath.

Cairns ZOOm 

The Cairns ZOOm is a high ropes course. 

It stretches to heights of more than 10 metres and operates in the upper levels of the dome.

Divided into a variety of skill and fitness levels, Cairns ZOOm contains sixty-five different crossings over two height levels.

This includes obstacles ranging from climbing walls to tunnels, cargo nets and even skateboards.

There are also four thrilling ziplines located on the Cairns ZOOm course.

The most popular course travels directly over the enclosure of mammoth crocodile Goliath.

Dome Climb 

If you’re eager to get a bird’s eye view of the Dome, the Dome Climb is the place to be.

You can  explore the globe internally or head outside and see the views of Cairns from the top.

Both internal and external walks are carefully managed for safety.

Wildlife Encounters 

Cairns Wildlife Dome is similar to other wildlife parks in Australia.

For instance, they provide up close and personal experiences with some of Australia’s favourite animals.

This includes sugar gliders, snakes, koalas and even crocodiles.

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11. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

A world first in environmentally friendly eco-sustainable tourism, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is the perfect way to experience the World Heritage listed tropical Cairns rainforest.

Covering over 7.5 kilometres of rainforest, the Skyrail showcases natural views of Cairns and reveals sights of the Coral Sea.

What experiences are on offer at Skyrail Rainforest Cableway?

Mid-Forest Station Activities 

There are two mid-forest stations along the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway where visitors can stop to experience the rainforest atmosphere.

Red Peak, the first station from the Smithfield Terminal, is a lush wonderland with a short boardwalk.

At the next stop, Barron Falls Station, there is a slightly longer walk to see the impressive Barron Falls.

There is also an optional Djabugay Aboriginal Guided Tour that can be taken from the Barron Falls Station, which covers Aboriginal rainforest history, traditional bush foods and shelters.

Diamond View Gondola 

Get a new perspective of the rainforest with Skyrail Rainforest Cableway’s Diamond View Gondola. 

There are 11 Diamond View Gondolas that have a glass floor, allowing passengers to look directly down as the rainforest passes by below them.

Canopy Glider 

For guests wanting to feel the wind in their hair and experience something a little more thrilling, there’s the Canopy Glider.

This experience involves a trip from either Smithfield or Kuranda Station on the open sided Canopy Glider, with a maximum of four guests.

A guide accompanies the group to act as an interpreter as you glide over the rainforest, with flawless 360-degree views.

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12. Kuranda Scenic Railway

The Kuranda Scenic Railway is one of the most stunning and unique rail journeys in the world.

Hop aboard the historic train for a trip of a lifetime and see the incredible beauty of the World Heritage listed rainforest.

The rainforest has some of the world’s oldest trees.

You’ll see a diverse range of flora and fauna, much of which can be experienced on the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

What can you expect on the Kuranda Scenic Railway?

Beautiful Views

The trip takes around 2 hours and runs through gorgeous rainforest scenery with incredible waterfalls vistas and deep ravine views.

There are stops during the journey so you can take in the views and explore towns along the route.

Plenty of Food options

For those on the train not taking a package that includes food (such as the Heritage Class package), there are still places to get food during the journey.

The Freshwater Station has a restaurant open daily for breakfast and other meals.

In Kuranda, there are a number of local cafes and eateries where food can be easily purchased.

Of course, there are no limits on bringing your own food for the journey.

This is recommended for anyone with specific dietary requirements.

Package Deals

Kuranda Scenic Railway has partnered with other local attractions to give visitors more discounts.

These other attractions include the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Rainforestation Nature Park, and the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park.

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13. Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Step back into Australia’s culture history at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, where one of Australia’s oldest traditional Aboriginal cultures comes to life.

Learn about the Tjapukai people, their history and how they live in the modern world today.

The Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park gives you a look at the Aboriginal people of Australia.

They have been in operation for more than 25 years and is now Australia’s largest Indigenous cultural park.

What can you see and do at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park?

Shows

Celebrate the living history of the Indigenous people of the rainforest through a variety of interesting shows including musical performances, dance shows, and bush tucker informational lectures.

Activities

A wide range of hands on activities are demonstrated at the park.

You can learn how to make and play a didgeridoo, try traditional hunting techniques, eat some bush tucker and even have your faces painted with traditional colours of the rainforest.

Tjapukai By Night 

For an all-inclusive night of both learning and entertainment, you will be amazed by Tjapukai By Night.

This experience is a full night of activities, taking everyone through the amazing Tjapukai culture from a new perspective.

You’ll see a traditional welcome ceremony and local performers.

There will also be a delicious four-course buffet dinner at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park’s Boomerang Restaurant.

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14. Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary is the largest butterfly flight aviary in Australia.

Moreover, it’s the perfect all-weather day out for tourists.

Explore Kuranda village and meet one of the sanctuary’s many resident butterflies, who love to use people as landing spots.

What can you see at Australian Butterfly Sanctuary?

The Aviary 

The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary’s aviary is home to over 1,500 individual butterflies, spanning a variety of rainforest species.

It has been custom built to be as close to the natural rainforest habitat as possible

Some species include the amazing electric blue Ulysses and the Cairns Birdwing butterflies.

You may even have butterflies land and rest on you.

Guided Tours 

The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary offers two tour options to visitors, which are included in the sanctuary admission tickets.

These are the guided aviary tour and the behind-the-scenes laboratory tour.

Educational Exhibits 

In addition to guided tours, you will find a wealth of information on exhibits.

You’ll see a microscopic exploration of a butterfly’s anatomy, a Silk Moth Caterpillar exhibit and even a UV display to show you a butterfly’s vision.

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echo
For all new cities, I go overboard on my itinerary, just to see every major attraction. Countries I've visited include New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Cambodia, Japan and Thailand. Mostly Asian countries. Next target - Europe!