Travelling Welshman
Instagram @tompj
Australia,  Oceania,  Top Lists

The 20 Best Highlights to See in Cairns

Along the vast Australian East Coast, there’s one point on the map which has become the stop/start mark for many travellers – Cairns. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked!

In this wild wonderland of natural beauty, Cairns is where Mother Nature produced her finest work! In this kaleidoscope of unforgettable experiences, the region offers a high density of national parks, one-of-a-kind wildlife and above all else, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

So, in that case, let’s dive into the 20 best highlights to see in Cairns.

This article may contain affiliate links which I may be compensated for at no extra cost to you dear readers!

Great Barrier Reef

Cairns to see reef
Exploring life below the water. Photo by Queensland, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The shining jewel of the big blue’s crown, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most significant natural wonders of the world, and there’s little wonder why!

In this glorious kaleidoscope of marine life, visitors are free to explore the vibrant underwater paradise beyond our shores. Whether you’re snorkelling or diving, you’ll live out your deepest Finding Nemo fantasies by running into sea turtles, stingrays and even a few reef sharks! You’ll be hooked for sure!

Want to find out about the different tours on offer in Australia? Check out 8 Best Tours on Australia’s East Coast.

Barron Gorge National Park

Cairns to see waterfall
Majestic falls

Even by Australian standards, Cairns has an immense amount of natural beauty to offer! That extends to the immense rainforest ranges that cover this region of the country. Though of all mother nature’s playgrounds, Barron Gorge is at the top of that list.

With its breathtaking scenery and enough wildlife to make you feel like Crocodile Dundee, it’s a spot yearning for adventure! And talking about nature, you might run into a peculiar cassowary or an enormous flying fox!

Yet for most, the true pièce de résistance of creation is the majestic waterfall that unleashes its fury onto the canyons below.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Cairns to see cableway
A bird’s-eye view. Photo by Louise Marshall, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Luckily, Barron Gorge has far more to offer! Follow in the footsteps (or wingbeats) of the park’s many birds to glide above the canopy in the incredible Skyrail Rainforest Cableway!

With this immense birds-eye view, visitors have a whole new perspective of the forest and the gorge itself! By far it’s the best view you will get throughout this iconic national park.

Kuranda Scenic Railway

Cairns to see train
All aboard! Photo by Robert Linsdell, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

All aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway as we make our way through the towering rainforests of Barron Gorge toward the charming village of Kuranda!

Though the village itself makes for a great little day trip, the real highlight is just getting there! This nostalgic railway is where old-world charm meets jaw-dropping natural beauty as it takes visitors through lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and breathtaking ravines that leave you wondering if you’re travelling through a postcard.

Fitzroy Island

Cairns to see fitzroy
Pristine. Photo by ogwen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Australia’s East Coast is littered with pristine getaways and secluded islands that would make a Bounty advert look tame. For a real slice of paradise, Fitzroy Island is the place to be!

This pint-sized piece of heaven is a favourite amongst sun-soakers and thrill-seekers alike with its palm-fringed beaches and crystal-clear waters. The only thing missing is a fresh coconut!

The ultimate 3-week itinerary of what to do and see as you adventure across Australia’s East Coast, from Melbourne to Cairns.

Click here!

Atherton Tablelands

Cairns to see tablelands
Time to dive in! Photo by Rob and Stephanie Levy, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The treasure trove of natural diversity can be found just a stone’s throw away from the streets of Cairns. The Atherton Tablelands is not only one of the closest but by far one of the best!

Among the UNESCO-listed tropical rainforests, Mother Nature plays her greatest hits in the form of majestic waterfalls, lush flora and quirky wildlife to boot! As you walk along the trails you will eventually arrive at the set of a shampoo advert in the form of Millaa Millaa Falls, and it’s the perfect place to take a dip!

Cairns Wildlife Dome

The house of wildlife. Photo by Sheba_Also, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You might be surprised to learn that Australia has quite a few unique critters living across its lands. So where better to see all of God’s peculiar creatures great and small than at the Cairns Wildlife Dome?

Unleash your inner Steve Irwin as you snap a selfie with cuddly koalas or get your fingers snapped off by agro-saltwater crocs. The entire venue is nestled amidst the stunning city skyline, acting like Noah’s Ark with a chic modern twist!

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

A slice of culture. Photo by Bgabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The long storied history of Australia far precedes the arrival of any European! These lands were first inhabited by the Aboriginal tribes who laid the foundation of Australia’s culture and heritage.

At this immersive cultural park, visitors will be able to learn more about the fascinating cultures and traditions of these indigenous tribes. It’s a place where history meets flair in a captivating celebration of their rich heritage. Witness ancient rituals and carefully crafted skills the way you never have before and learn what really makes this country oh so unique!

Port Douglas

A day by the bay. Photo by Bahnfrend, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

With any decent coast comes charming little coastal towns, and Port Douglas is just that! Nestled in the embrace of the ocean waves, this vibrant gem offers a laid-back yet luxurious vibe that’ll leave you wanting to extend your stay.

From palm-lined beaches that could rival any tourist hotspot to the village brimming with delightful eateries and boutique shops, Port Douglas knows how to pamper its visitors.

Cairns Night Markets

Shopping galore. Photo by Philip Mallis on Flickr

It’s not just the animals that turn nocturnal when dusk falls around here. When the lights go down, the streets come to life, and Cairns Night Markets open up shop for all to see! These narrow pathways and haphazardly placed stalls make this spot the undisputed champ of evening delights!

Whether you’re on a quest for dazzling trinkets, mouthwatering street eats, or knick-knacks or souvenirs, these markets have everything you’d ever need!

The Cairns Museum

Dive into the history of this great city! Photo by Jerry & Roy Klotz, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From tales of pirates and short-lived gold rushes to the vibrant indigenous culture of the region, Cairns boasts a rich selection of mind-tickling history. Where better to learn about its storied past than at The Cairns Museum?

Inside visitors will discover the colourful tapestry of Australia’s history by uniting the past and present. This quirky time capsule has a finger on the pulse of the region’s past and has quite an interesting story to tell.

Paronella Park

Cairns to see park
Relics of a different age

Channel your inner Tomb Raider as you explore this relic from a forgotten time. Buried deep within the foliage and vines of the rainforest are the remains of Paronella Park – an enchanting castle and gardens straight out of an adventure novel!

This enchanting wonderland beckons adventurers to step into a fairytale-like realm, and looks like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie! With its picturesque bridges and cascading waterfall, it’s a whole new world of exploration.

Cape Tribulation

Cairns to see cape

Seeing as you’re so close to the coast, you may as well make the absolute most of it! Journey to the very tip of the Daintree Rainforest and you’ll be standing at the meeting point of two World Heritage sites at Cape Tribulation.

Not only does it have a name that sends a shiver down an adventurer’s spine, but the pristine sandy beaches and the azure waters of the Great Barrier Reef create a heavenly symphony of natural wonders.

Rusty’s Markets

Get your root veg here! Photo by Katie Hannan on Flickr

Step right up and get your fresh produce at Rusty’s Markets, the finest procurer of food, aromatic spices, and eclectic crafts in the land!

This bustling bazaar of culinary wonders is a kaleidoscope of flavours and colours that promises to awaken the taste buds and ignite the adventurous spirit of any traveller.

Crystal Cascades

Stop in wonder. Photo by Korkut Tas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Under the intense heat of the Aussie summer, there is no better way to beat the heat than to take a refreshing dip in Mother Nature’s own backyard!

Nestled like a hidden gem amidst the lush emerald rainforests, the Crystal Cascades are one of many jaw-dropping, fairytale settings where one can cut loose and cool off in the waters that flow through the mighty rainforest!

There’s more of Australia to see beyond Cairns!

A comprehensive guide on visiting the world’s largest sand island and adventuring hotspot of Fraser Island on Australia’s East Coast!

Click Here!

Cairns Esplanade

Time to cool off! Photo by Alex Monckton, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If taking a dip in a snake-infested rainforest doesn’t take your fancy, then Cairns has the perfect alternative! The vibrant coastal playground of the Cairns Esplanade is where the sun-kissed sands and the shimmering sea join forces to create an aquatic playground.

Along this long promenade, you’ll pass a litany of public pools, picturesque boardwalks, and of course, ample opportunity to witness the beauty of Carins’ coast first-hand.


Drink up!

Aussie’s love a good drink, and there’s no better place to down a scooner or two than at Giligan’s! The name is held highly amongst backpacking circles for its one-stop-shop approach to backpacking and travel culture.

It’s not just a hostel; it’s a pulsating, vibrant, and downright legendary social hub where the party never sleeps, and the good times flow like a never-ending cascade of tropical waterfalls. With a charismatic blend of fellow travellers, live music and poolside entertainment, Gilligan’s is more than just an accommodation choice – it’s a rite of passage for anyone seeking to embrace the wild and unforgettable spirit of Cairns.

Palm Cove

Miami, is that you? Photo by Kgbo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture paradise – what do you see? Palm trees swaying in the breeze? Turquoise waters brushing gently against golden sands? A sunset falling over a shoreside promenade? Well, that is exactly what you find at Palm Cove.

Looking like a slice of Miami, Palm Cove effortlessly steals the limelight as one of Australia’s top-notch highlights. From unwinding along the swanky beachfront to exploring the Great Barrier Reef, Palm Cove is the picture-perfect spot to make you fall head over heels for its tropical allure.

Babinda Boulders

Never too much nature. Photo by Sheba, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One more from Mother Nature’s finest, the Babinda Boulders – the absolute rockstars of Australian highlights! These boulders aren’t just your regular pebbles, oh no, they’ve mastered the art of captivating visitors with their impeccable charm.

Nestled amidst lush rainforests, this geological ensemble invites you to take a refreshing dip in its crystal-clear waters that flow amongst them.

Cairns Aquarium

Slippery friend

Though the lands of Australia have a myriad of wildlife worth exploring, nothing can compare to the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef and its colourful creatures!

At the Cairns Aquarium, you’ll get to see an underwater extravaganza as the marine residents flaunt their shimmering scales and fascinating features. From the enchanting dance of ethereal jellyfish to the rockstar attitude of rambunctious rays, this aquarium is a front-row seat to the parade of the sea.

Thank you so much for reading The 20 Best Highlights to See in Cairns! Now check out these other helpful articles!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.