Taking a Cairns Holiday, Milaa Milaa, Atherton Tablelands.

Everything you need to know about visiting Cairns

Every year is a good year to visit Cairns, which offers a huge amount of bang for your holiday buck.

Because, why visit just one World Heritage-listed wonder, when you can easily visit two in the same trip? 

With the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns’ front yard and the Wet Tropics Rainforest in its backyard, it’s safe to say nothing is done in halves around this north Queensland city. 

To make the most of the northern frontier, arm yourself with this Cairns holiday guide and maximise your time in the tropics.

Why go

Put simply, Cairns’ natural environments are the stuff of Attenborough documentaries (here’s looking at you Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest).

Besides specialising in natural beauty, it’s a place full of contrasts. You can expect equal shares of action and relaxation.

If you like your holidays like your movies, you’ll be happy to know Cairns’ adventure scene would keep Jason Bourne out of trouble. Seriously, this city has a reputation for world-class mountain biking through its hilly surrounds.

If the only kind of sweat you like to work up is in a sauna, there’s plenty of spots to recharge your batteries. Especially when you’ve got this pick of islands to put your feet up.

When to go

The Esplanade, Cairns | Tropical North Queensland | Everything you need to know about taking a Cairns holiday

This is a tropical paradise of just two seasons, wet and dry. No matter which you choose, you’ll rarely need to pack a jumper. It would be headline news for the city’s temperature to drop much below 20°C (68°F).

Both seasons have their ups and downs – but really, summer is hot and humid and winter is balmy and dry.

Wet season – AKA the green season – runs from November through to March, but don’t dismiss a trip just yet. There’s plenty to do in Cairns in the rain since the corollary of gloomy skies is that the waterfall chasing game starts to get good.

Summer will only dampen your plans in Tropical North Queensland if you were planning a trip to ‘the tip’ (AKA Cape York), since roads don’t open (usually) until June each year.

What to do there

Skyrail | Cairns holiday guide

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway | Photo by @jilarapearl via @tropicalnorthqueensland

Get the diary out and start making priorities. One thing’s for certain, you’re not going to have enough hours in the day to tackle all the things to see and do on your Cairns holiday.

Cut straight to the World Heritage-listed chase, by choosing which reef tour is right for you so you don’t waste any time Finding Nemo.

Up the flora and fauna action with a trip to the Wet Tropics Rainforest, whose Central Precinct is just 20 minutes from the Cairns CBD. The Rainforest Village of Kuranda guarantees a taste of the world-class foliage without any of the mileage to get there (just a fun ride on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway).

This is also one of the best places in Australia to connect with Indigenous culture, whether you take a road trip, join a tour, or discover the local Indigenous art scene.

Take a scenic drive north of Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef Drive to reach Cape Tribulation, where lush rainforest meets secluded white sandy beaches and the Reef.

Fun isn’t just reserved for daylight hours. One of the unexpected benefits of Cairns’ international appeal is it has some of the latest retail opening hours on the east coast. After dark bars, cane toads and night dives all become part of the holiday agenda.

Where to eat and drink

Ganbaranba Noodle Collosseum | Cairns holiday guide

Ganbaranba Noodle Collosseum | Photo by Krista Eppelstun

You don’t need to worry about having a diet blow-out on a Cairns holiday; you can pack your latest fad-diet because it dishes up fresh tropical fruit, seafood, prime local produce and healthy cafes that will appeal to every type of fit traveller.

If you’re more of an ‘I’ll diet when I get back’ kind of traveller, Cairns won’t let you go hungry either. There’s so many food trails, you could easily mistake your holiday for a culinary tour.

On the drinks front, you’ll find Cairns specialises in your version of the ‘nectar of the gods’. Whether its coffee that’s actually gone from crop to cup, award-winning gin or craft beer made from water purified over 40,000 years.

If you’re looking for the best spot for a nightcap, simply follow the trail of backpacker breadcrumbs to find out who is serving happy hour.

Where to stay

Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas | Everything you need to know about taking a Cairns holiday

With two million visitors each year taking a Cairns holiday, there’s certainly no shortage of beds in the tropical capital.

Catering for everyone from budget backpackers to five-star luxury honeymooners, this is the kind of destination best filtered by price.

Stay in the thick of the Cairns CBD if you want to have all of the city’s amenities within the shadow of your hotel and the option of leaving your car at home. Palm Cove is a great option for those who want to be a little further out of the action, with its resort and restaurants strip serving up everything you could wish for on holidays.

To easily balance reef and rainforest, drive one hour north to check into the ultimate resort playground – Port Douglas – using this accommodation guide.

Of course, for insane levels of luxury there’s always Bedarra Island Resort, Lizard Island Resort or Haggerston Island, accessible via helicopter from Cairns airport.  

Best day trips to take

Josephine Falls | Cairns holiday guide

Josephine Falls | Photo by @nomadiclio via @tropicalnorthqueensland

It pays to get out of the CBD when you have a whole UNESCO-worthy rainforest and grazing plateau right behind you.

An hour west of the Great Dividing Range, you’ll find the Atherton Tablelands, which combines rolling hills, tropical rainforests, former timber-logging villages and damn good food into one impressive day trip.

Pair the original paddock-to-plate destination with a visit to one or two of these cascading beauties on the waterfall circuit for the perfect day out.

Looking for more day trip ideas? We’ve got a whole post of them!

Things you need to know

Cane Fields, Cairns, Tropical North Queensland | Everything you need to know about taking a Cairns holiday

There’s only one thing you need to know before you go and that’s how to pronounce this city correctly. Repeat after us: CANS. Now that you’ve got your tongue around its pronunciation, you’re good to go.

Seriously though, pack the mosquito repellent.

Local’s tips

Mossman Gorge | Cairns holiday guide

Mossman Gorge | Photo by @thegingerwanderlust

Sure the reef is famous, but the lesser-known freshwater swimming spots are what really commands locals’ attention come the weekend. Go on, dive in.

When will you be in Cairns next? Share with us below.