Ten Things to do in Cairns After You Have Seen the Reef

So you have your reef tour sorted, and now you are looking for things to do in Cairns for the rest of your visit. Beyond the reef, the region has a lot to offer

Exploring the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns is absolutely amazing. This spot attracts thousands of tourists and is popular among locals as well. It’s absolutely a not-to-be-missed activity.

But it isn’t the only thing to do in Cairns. It would be a shame to travel all the way up to this part of Australia and miss some of the other amazing things to do in Cairns. So, if you’re ready to see more in this tropical part of the world, here’s where you should be headed.

So let’s go find some fun things to do in Cairns

Our Cairns Attractions Map

See the Rainforest

Cairns is surrounded by tropical jungle, so of course, there’s plenty of rainforest for you to explore. In fact, this is one of the most popular and rewarding things to do in Cairns.

The Daintree Rainforest is a true marvel. It’s magnificent, but it’s also so ancient that there were likely to be dinosaurs wandering among its trees at one time. These days, the Daintree is full of quirky flora and fauna.

You may be lucky enough to see the giant stick insects that spit out peppermint-scented liquid. This incredible and strange variety is because of Australia’s relative isolation from the rest of the world. The animals and plant life evolved in isolation, which is why they’re so unique – and dare we say it, odd.

Mossman Gorge - river in Daintree National Park
Mossman Gorge in Daintree National Park

The Daintree also has fantastic scenery, waterfalls, coastal views, and many walking trails for you to explore. Some of the best walking trails include:

  • Dubuji Boardwalk and its one-hour round trip.
  • The one and a half hour round trip from Myall Beach to Cape Tribulation Beach.
  • The challenging six-hour Mount Sorrow Ridge hike.
  • The Rainforest Circuit Track at Mossman Gorge

Where: Daintree Discovery Centre -Tulip Oak Road, Cape Tribulation Rd, Cow Bay
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Visit the Botanic Gardens

When you’re looking for things to do in Cairns, consider a trip to the Botanical Gardens. Cairns is a humid tropical wonderland for plants, and the flora at the gardens is different from anything you’ll see in colder cities.

Cairns botanic gardens
The new Visitors Centre at the Cairns Botanic Garden – Credit: Kgbo, via Wikimedia Commons

The Botanical Gardens in Cairns have some of Australia’s best tropical garden exhibitions. You can wander through on your own, take a tour, check for upcoming events like themed tours and talks, or grab a picnic basket, find a shady area, and relax!

Where: 78-96 Collins Ave, Edge Hill QLD
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Meet the Animals

Australia is known for its weird animals, like kangaroos and koalas. But did you know that Cairns is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the world? It boasts a huge variety of unique Australian animals – from huge crocodiles and koalas to wallabies, butterflies, and endangered birds.

Things to do in Cairns
Get up close to these guys at the Koala Gardens at Kuranda

If you’re interested in checking out the local wildlife and maybe having a cuddle (not with a crocodile), here are the best places and things to do in Cairns:

Visit Some Waterfalls 

Cairns gets a lot of rain. Best of all, it rains in this area during summer, which means it’s warm and comforting. All that water has to go somewhere, which is why visiting waterfalls is one of the best things to do in Cairns. There are several popular waterfalls in the area, but if you’re in the Tablelands, make sure you check out the Millaa Millaa Falls.

Millaa Millaa Falls

The Millaa Millaa Falls is one of the most photographed in Australia. Surrounded by lush rainforest, they’re close to the Zillie and Ellinjaa Falls and offer cool, clean water where you can swim. If you have time, bring a picnic basket with you and indulge in a meal on the grassy area overlooking the falls.

Barron Falls – Queensland, Australia

The Barron Falls, on the other hand, is best enjoyed in the wet season, when they’re at full force. During other times of the year, the water is diverted for hydroelectricity, and the falls are much less impressive. The Barron Falls stretch over 131m from the Atherton Tablelands, towards the Barron Gorge and the lowlands. At full force, the pounding waters are an awe-inspiring sight.

If you are not a local, we suggest you read our guide on Driving in Australia before you get behind the wheel

Discover Paronella Park

Paronella Park was created because of a dream. José Paronella wanted to construct a castle in the middle of Australia. So, beside Mena Creek Falls, he built his castle on five hectares of land, about one and a half hours from Cairns.

Paronella Park
Paronella Park is south of Cairns

The park is one of the best things to do in Cairns if you have kids because of all the activities. There are picnic areas, tennis courts, Queensland’s first privately owned hydro-electric park, and a vast range of experiences – all wrapped in a tropical rainforest. Some of the best things to do in the park are:

  • Look out for rare flora and fauna.
  • Take the 45-minute tour through the park to learn about its history and vision.
  • Try delicious local produce at the café.
  • Check out the amazing architecture that went into making the castle.
  • Take the Darkness Falls Tour for amazing photo opportunities of the castle lit up at night.

Where: 6 Skyrail Dr, Smithfield
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Ride the Skyrail to Kuranda

Kuranda is a charming little town about half an hour from Cairns. But it isn’t easy to get to. There is a road heading up there, but it’s narrow and kind of scary, with huge trucks roaring between the trees. You’ll have a much better time if you ride the Scenic Railway or Skyrail to Kuranda.

The Kuranda Scenic Railway has operated since 1891


The Skyrail is a 7.5km cableway station just 15 minutes’ drive from Cairns. The cableway soars above the thick rainforest of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Barron Gorge National Park. The views from the Skyrail are stunning, and it’s a much more relaxed way to get to Kuranda and all its charms. The cableway gondolas come in several varieties, including glass-bottomed gondolas that allow you to watch the rainforest without any obstructions.

Barron Falls Kuranda
Barron Falls

Once you’re done with the Skyrail, make sure you stop by the Rainforest Interpretation Centre to learn about the rainforest. If you have more time, take an Aboriginal cultural walking tour from the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Barron Falls Station.

Where: 1671 Innisfail Japoon Rd Mena Creek
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Swim at the Magical Babinda Boulders

If you’re looking for relaxing, natural, and slightly magical things to do in Cairns, visit the Babinda Boulders. Located about an hour from Cairns, this iconic attraction is one of the most popular swimming holes in the state. It’s surrounded by rainforest and perfect for a dip at the end of a long, hot day.

Babinda Boulders

The Babinda Boulders are basically a creek lined with huge rocks. The fresh water weaves between stones to fill many large pools, and the water is usually nice and cool, even on the hottest days. The scene is beautiful and relaxing, set against Mt Bartle Frere, Queensland’s tallest mountain.

Where: Babinda QLD 4861
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Spend a Day on Fitzroy Island

Located just 45 minutes from Cairns, a trip to Fitzroy Island is one of the best things to do in Cairns if you enjoy the beach. Slotted perfectly between the reef and the rainforest, this tropical island offers everything – from beautiful and photogenic sites to loads of activities for the family.

Fitzroy Island Credit: North Queensland Tourism

While you’re on the island, make sure you:

  • Go snorkelling and admire the reef.
  • Take a glass-bottomed boat out to explore the reef without getting your hair wet.
  • Try stand up paddleboarding.
  • Take out a kayak.
  • Go hiking and explore the 97 per cent of the island that’s still untouched national park.
  • Go hiking up the Lighthouse Road trail.
  • Relax on one of the many beaches!
  • Learn more about how to protect this tropical jewel and its animal friends at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

Where: Off the coast of Cairns
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Take a Tea Plantation Tour

If you enjoy tea, a stop at the Nerada Tea Plantation should be on your list of things to do in Cairns. Located in the Atherton Tablelands, just an hour and a half from Cairns, Nerada is Australia’s largest producer of Australian-grown tea in the world.

Take a tour of Nerada Tea Plantation

The plantation is spread across 360 hectares of lush, verdant land and focuses on practices that are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable.

While you’re there, shop some of the products, take a tour, or just try some samples and see how you like it.

Where: Off the coast of Cairns
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Shop the Local Markets

Despite the popularity of its reefs, Cairns is still a small, quiet Australian town. If you’re looking for things to do in Cairns that are a bit livelier, try hitting some of the local markets to pick up Australian souvenirs, cheap snacks, and works by local artisans.

The first popular market you should try is the Cairns Night Market. It opens at 5 pm and closes at 11 pm and runs 365 days a year. There’s also a food court in the market which is open from 10 am and closes at 11 pm if you’re looking for an easy snack throughout the day.

The second choice, but by no means inferior, is Rusty’s Market. A local icon in Cairns since its opening in 1975, it’s named after the late Emrys ‘Rusty’ Rees, who developed the market into the thriving food hub it is today. Now owned by Gilligan’s Backpacker Hotel & Resort, it opens at 5 am Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. This old-style farmer’s market is one of the most popular spots for foodies in Cairns and offers some of the tastiest and freshest products in Far North Queensland.

Where: Rusty’s Market – 57-89 Grafton St, Cairns
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The Takeaway

When you’re in Cairns, make the most of your time. See some of the sites beyond the reef and head into the hinterland. Find some of the incredible things to do in Cairns that many tourists miss. When you head home, you’ll have photos and memories that few travellers can match!

Locations and addresseswe have given Google map references for each location. Simply click on the link and the full map will open in your device. From here you can enter your current location and click directions for details.

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