Cairns Australia

Cairns has bars, boardwalks and boutiques, galleries and gardens, lagoons and lakes, waterfront dining and cool cafes. You can get here by plane, train or automobile, and there’s so many different places you can stay. The city has a free lagoon swimming pool and extensive Esplanade and waterfront dining precinct. There’s a public transport network, with buses going to and from the city to the suburbs and beaches. Or hire a car and make your own plans. As a regional centre and tourist destination, Cairns has all the shops and services you could possibly need, most of which are open 7 days a week.

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We love Cairns. For Julie, it’s the markets, botanic gardens, walking tracks and trails. For Richard, it’s the restaurants, marina and Reef Fleet Terminal, where every good diving trip starts and ends. For Ethan, it’s the ice-cream shops, sporting fields and bike paths. If you are visiting our tropical town, there’s lots of tours to choose from and free things to do as well. Cairns is a place for people of all ages and interests, and we’re pleased to provide an overview of some of our favourite things to do.

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Cairns is a coastal city home to over 160,000 people. It’s a multicultural community, which is reflected in the diverse array of dining experiences and cuisine available. We love its natural beauty. The reef on one side the rainforest on the other, and in between the two, leafy suburbs with lush gardens and parklands. Cairns is a beautiful destination where the emphasis is on lifestyle and outdoor living, from the alfresco cafes to the free green gym fitness stations, walking tracks and trails and local markets. The tropics inspires the creative types too, and you will see lots of public art around the city and waterfront areas, in fact if you arrive by plane, there’s some excellent installations at the airport’s domestic terminal. We have lots of favourite places around Cairns and will share them with you. So, grab your water bottles and get out and about to explore all this city has to offer. Side Note: For the purposes of this website, we focus on Cairns city here and will look at the Northern Beaches on another page. Coming soon.

Things We Love About Cairns

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Cairns Esplanade and Waterfront.

If you live here or are visiting here, there is no doubt you will spend time in the city and at its Esplanade and waterfront precincts. The ‘postcard’ shot of Cairns city usually includes the Esplanade lagoon swimming pool, with its woven fish installation and grassy surrounds. Entry to the 4,800sqm saltwater lagoon pool is free and there are public amenities including electric BBQs. The Esplanade has 2.5km of boardwalks and pathways, as well as beach volleyball courts, a skate plaza, bouldering park and fitness stations. At the southern end of the Esplanade is Cairns’ best kids splash playground known as Muddy’s – not for the mud, but for the large mudskipper sculpture. This is suitable for kids of all ages. The Cairns Esplanade and waterfront marina have a wide array of cafes and restaurants, covering everything from fast food to fine dining.

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Nature.

Cairns has a lot of gardens, parks and green spaces, which is awesome news for nature lovers. The Cairns Botanic Gardens is somewhere we love to go to, for garden inspiration, plant sales (twice a year by the Friends of the Botanic Gardens) and coffee and cake. It’s located on Collins Avenue in Edge Hill, which is just 4km from the city. Entry is free and there’s lots of shady pathways and little streams, towering trees and open grassy areas – make sure you check out the conservatory, with its beautiful orchids, ferns and carnivorous plants. The Botanic Gardens is a part of a larger precinct which includes the nearby Freshwater Centenary Lakes and its kids Nature Playground, the Gondwanan Gardens and Fitzalan Gardens. All are connected by boardwalks and paths.

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History & Heritage.

Long before Cairns was Cairns, this land was lived in and on by the First Nations people, specifically the Yirrganydji people belonging to the Djabugay language group. In 1770 Captain James Cook sailed on by and named Trinity Bay, but it wasn’t until 1876 that Cairns was officially founded and then declared a town in 1903, with a registered population of around 3,500 people. Since then, the town has grown and lived through major weather and historical events, including several severe tropical cyclones and being at the forefront of training for the Battle of the Coral Sea in World War II. The Cairns Museum has great displays and exhibitions and is open Monday to Saturday. There’s also several heritage listed buildings in the city, including Cairns Regional Gallery and adjacent Court House.

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Food & Dining.

Foodies will love Cairns for its beautiful tropical fruits, fresh seafood, juicy steaks and banging burgers, but that’s just the beginning. Cairns is home to a multicultural population, and this is reflected in the dining experiences on offer, ticking all the boxes from fast food to fine dining. There’s Japanese, Chinese and Thai, Italian, Greek, French and German, American, English, Australian and more. There’s fusion foods and menus, cocktail bars with charcuterie boards, breweries and distilleries. There’s cafes and restaurants across the city open 7 days a week, and if you want to scope out what’s on offer, then the Cairns Esplanade and waterfront precinct – including the Pier, Harbour Lights, the Hilton and Cruise Liner Terminal – is a great place to start and end your dining for the day. We have a few favourites, with Waterbar & Grill Steakhouse sitting in top spot for family celebrations.

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Shopping.

Is Cairns really known for shopping? Probably not, we are more of a nature-based destination – that being said, there are some simply awesome boutiques, homeware stores, arts and craft shops and souvenir shops. For the ladies chasing tropical attire, check out the stores on Grafton Street and in the arcades, if you have a vehicle then Kuranda has some great little boutiques, as does Port Douglas. Want a new art piece to take home? Cairns Regional Gallery has a wonderful gift shop, as does NorthSite Contemporary Arts, UnderArt Gallery and the Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre. If you’re chasing souvenirs, the tours and attractions have a great range, and you can check out the stores across the city as well.

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Markets.

Cairns has some awesome markets! The most popular is Rusty’s Market which is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Rusty’s is an institution in Cairns and is a bustling hive of activity, beloved by locals and visitors. It sits in a large undercover space between Grafton and Sheridan Streets in the city, and has an outstanding array of fresh tropical fruits, vegetables, herbs, artisan breads, cheeses, eggs and more. There’s coffee, cold pressed juices, gluten free treats, dips and snacks, fresh flowers, plants, art and craft items, jewellery and more. Tanks Arts Centre Markets are another favourite of ours, running on the last Sunday of every month between April and November, located in the Cairns Botanic Gardens precinct in Edge Hill (4km from the city).

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Free Things To Do.

Cairns has a lot of free things you can do. If you like public art, then check out the installations on the Cairns Esplanade and waterfront precinct. We love the Citizens Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, which is on the waterfront just down from the lagoon, and there are murals on building walls around the city. If you want to get back to nature, then the Cairns Airport Mangrove Boardwalk is excellent, as is the Cairns Botanic Gardens and adjacent parklands. If you’re feeling fit, the Mount Whitfield Conservation Park (near the gardens) has four walking tracks of varying durations. They provide the chance to explore the rainforest and see some of its inhabitants including brush turkeys, orange-footed scrub fowls and pademelons. Swim at the lagoon pool, check out Rusty’s Markets and make use of the free BBQ facilities.

Cairns may be small in size but she’s big on beauty, and offers residents and visitors a truly tropical lifestyle. There are tours departing the city every single day, providing a diverse array of experiences across Far North Queensland. Staying in the city means you have convenient access to the cafes and restaurants, lagoon pool and Esplanade, shops and services. There’s kids playgrounds, parklands and public art, galleries and gardens, boardwalks and breweries, tracks, trails and tapas bars. Cairns is the place we choose to live, and we love it – the dress code is casual and the weather is warm – so come on up – your Far North Queensland adventure starts here.

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Ethan’s Thoughts On Growing Up In Cairns.

Cairns is a very beautiful place. We are surrounded by amazing nature, like tropical rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. I was born here, and my earliest memories are of having fun at Muddy’s splash playground. I remember playing on the big mudskipper and I loved the water. I had birthday parties there too. Palm Cove is my favourite beach and it has a really nice ice-cream shop. My favourite restaurant in the city is Waterbar & Grill at The Pier and I love shopping at Cairns Central. I feel very lucky to live here, because we are so close to the Great Barrier Reef. My favourite thing to do in Cairns is diving and if you can, you should try it too.

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Questions About Cairns

Where is Cairns?

Cairns is located on the Queensland’s north-eastern coastline, in Australia. If you are driving, it’s around 1,700km north of Brisbane, which is Queensland’s capital city, and just over 1,000km south of Australia’s most far northern point, Pajinka on Cape York.

How do I get to Cairns?

You can drive to Cairns, or catch a bus or train. The city also has an international and domestic airport, with regular flights connecting Cairns with the rest of Australia and the world.

Is Cairns worth visiting?

Yes! Cairns is definitely worth visiting. This city punches above its weight when it comes to natural beauty and attractions, with the Great Barrier Reef on one side and World Heritage rainforest on the other. It’s got beaches and waterfalls, rainforest rivers and gorges, parklands and gardens, breweries and boardwalks, cafes, restaurants, markets and so much more.

How many days should I stay in Cairns?

How long is a piece of string? – There’s no definitive answer to this question. Cairns offers an abundance of things to do and see, from the reef to the rainforest, the beaches, the Tablelands and more. At an absolute minimum I would suggest 6 days and 5 nights, you won’t see it all but you will get a wonderful slice of our tropical life.

Day 1.

Arrive in Cairns and settle into your accommodation. Explore the Esplanade and waterfront precinct and wander around the city.

Day 2.

Jump on one of the many Cairns tours to the Great Barrier Reef. There’s a lot to choose from, so we’ve written an Ultimate Visitor Guide for Cairns Reef Tours to help you find the right one for you.

Day 3.

The rainforest awaits your discovery. Cairns is surrounded by rainforest so you can choose your own adventure here. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway (Review), a leader in ecotourism, is just over 12km from the city and provides an amazing treetop journey to Kuranda. The Tablelands has lots of waterfalls and crater lakes and Mossman Gorge, the Daintree and Cape Tribulation are to the north. All of these are excellent and to help you decide, we’ve written the Ultimate Visitor Guide for the Cairns Rainforests.

Day 4.

See the sights around the city. Bad Fishy Cairns (review) does crazy good jet boat rides in Trinity Inlet – we highly recommend this! There are guided fishing charters, or you can hire a boat for some relaxed fishing. Check out Cairns Aquarium and visit the galleries and Cairns Museum. The leafy suburb of Edge Hill is just 4km from the city, there’s cool cafes here and you can explore the Cairns Botanic Gardens (review) and Tanks Arts Centre, if you are feeling fit hike up one of the tracks and trails of Mount Whitfield Conservation Park. Browse the shops and enjoy the cafes and restaurants.

Day 5.

The Tablelands is too good to miss! Kuranda is a must visit with wildlife attractions (cuddle a koala and see a Cassowary at Birdworld Kuranda), markets, boutiques and lots of shopping. Beyond that, the Tablelands has lots of tiny townships, rolling pasture, dairies, crater lakes, towering trees and more.

Day 6.

Sleep in, lunch late and pack up. Depending on your departure time, check out some of the shops and enjoy your last hours in our lovely city.

How are we here already! You’ve seen a lot, but there’s more to do. The Beaches. Cooktown. The Outback. The Cape. The Gulf Savannah. Cassowary Coast.

What is the weather like in Cairns?

Cairns is a tropical city – a place of endless summers. December to March is the hottest time of the year, with lots of storms and showers. It’s a great time to see the rainforest and the waterfalls, and the water temperature at the reef is usually around 26 degrees, making for very comfortable snorkel and dive conditions. The rest of the year, April to November, is usually big blue sky days, with cooler evenings and crisp mornings. As locals, we always feel this is our time to shine. Cairns is definitely the perfect ‘winter destination’ for those seeking some fun in the sun.

Should I stay in Cairns or Port Douglas?

It all depends on what you are wanting to do during your holiday. Rather than picking one over the other, we’ll look at the differences between the two. Cairns is a larger city than Port Douglas, with all the shops and services you need. More tours depart from Cairns than Port Douglas, giving you more options on the things you might see and do. Cairns has a wide array of accommodation options, with something for all budgets. The Esplanade lagoon and waterfront precinct is a great place to relax and unwind and Rusty’s Markets is open every Friday to Sunday.

Port Douglas is more of a resort town. There is lots of accommodation and some high-end hotels. The ‘main street’ is Macrossan Street, and it has lots of clothing and souvenir shops and restaurants. Reef tours depart daily from the marina and some rainforest tours do pick-ups from Port Douglas, including Cassowary Falls. Four Mile Beach is a popular place to relax and unwind and lots of visitors also choose to chill at their hotel / resort pool. Every Sunday there are markets in Port Douglas.

So, if you want more of a beach-style / resort town vibe, then Port Douglas is for you. If you want to be close to the action and have more choice when it comes to things to see and do, then Cairns is the place for you.

How far is Palm Cove from Cairns?

Palm Cove is around 25km from Cairns. You can self-drive, catch a taxi or uber or use the local bus service.

How many people live in Cairns?

At last count, there were just over 160,000 people living in Cairns. That number is growing every year as more people make the tree-change, sea-change to this tropical town.

What are the free things to do in Cairns?

There are lots of free things to do in Cairns – so many in fact, we will write a blog on this at a later date and add it to the site. In the meantime, here’s a quick wrap of free things to do in Cairns. Swim at the Esplanade Lagoon pool. Explore the Esplanade boardwalk which has interpretive signage and public art. Check out the Cairns Airport Mangrove Boardwalk. Visit the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Take a hike in Mount Whitfield Conservation Park. Soak up the local arts scene with a visit to Cairns Regional Gallery and Tanks Arts Centre. Make use of the free gym and fitness stations on the waterfront. Check out Rusty’s Markets on Grafton Street, open Friday through to Sunday. Step back in time at the Pioneer Cemetery. Take the kids to Muddy’s Splash Playground, or the Nature Playground.

Does Cairns have any walking tracks?

Yes – Cairns has quite a few walking tracks and trails. The most popular are at Mount Whitfield Conservation Park and include the Red, Yellow, Blue and Green Arrow tracks. All involve walking up steps and slopes, these are a popular place to exercise for locals. There is a walking track between Crystal Cascades and Copperload Dam, this is a rough and challenging trail. Glacier Rock is another challenging track, which goes from Stoney Creek up the mountain to Glacier Rock, passing over the Kuranda Scenic Railway tracks along the way. Ivan Evans Walk is a moderate track which starts from the end of Ellen Close in Bayview Heights, this one is dog friendly so you can take your fur baby.

Where is the Cairns Botanic Gardens?

The Cairns Botanic Gardens is on Collins Avenue in Edge Hill, which is 4km from the city. You can self-drive with plenty of parking or catch the local bus service, which has a stop immediately outside the gardens.

Are there are any kids playgrounds in Cairns?

Yes – there are lots of kids playgrounds in Cairns. Possibly the most popular is Muddy’s splash playground, which is on the Cairns Esplanade. This one is suitable for children of all ages and has lots of water play areas. It also has climbing equipment, a flying fox, mouse wheel, see saws, play houses and more. There is a café on site. Further north on the Esplanade is the Fun Ship Playground which has climbing features, puzzle games, sea saws and a slide. While on the southern end of the Esplanade, adjacent to Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal, there is the Figtree Playground which has been cleverly created around a large, established fig tree. The other larger kids playgrounds in Cairns are in the suburbs. Edge Hill has the Centenary Lakes Nature Playground, which is a great space for kids to explore and engage with nature, and is a part of the Botanic Gardens precinct. While Brinsmead has the Goomboora Park Adventure Playground, which is adjacent to a freshwater swimming creek.

Where are the Cairns markets?

Cairns has a few different markets, the most popular of which is Rusty’s Markets which is open every Friday to Sunday. Located in a covered space between Grafton and Sheridan Streets, Rusty’s Markets is the locals ‘go to’ place for fresh tropical fruits and vegetables, herbs, artisan breads, cheeses, eggs and more. There’s coffee, cold pressed juices, gluten free treats, dips and snacks, fresh flowers, plants, art and craft items, jewellery and more. Tanks Arts Centre Markets are another favourite of ours, running on the last Sunday of every month between April and November, located in the Cairns Botanic Gardens precinct in Edge Hill (4km from the city). Cairns also has the Night Markets, which is open every night and is in an arcade on the Cairns Esplanade. It has a food court and range of souvenir shops.

Is the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon pool safe to swim at?

Yes – the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is safe to swim at. There are lifeguards on duty. It’s open Thursday to Tuesday 6am to 9pm and on Wednesdays, it’s open 12pm to 9pm – closed for cleaning and maintenance in the morning.

Where’s the best burgers in Cairns?

This is a hot topic at I Love Cairns as Richard loves burgers – so much so, he’s written up a story of his favourite burger locations. In his opinion, the best burger in Cairns is at the Waterbar & Grill which is located deckside at the Pier Shopping Centre complex.

What’s the best place to have breakfast in Cairns?

If you are staying in the city, then we think the best place/s to have breakfast is Bang & Grind on Spence Street, Perrotta’s at the Gallery, outside Cairns Regional Gallery on Shields Street, or Wharf One which is adjacent to the Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal on the waterfront. If you are in Edge Hill, then Noa and Ozmosis are the go.

Is Cairns a family friendly destination?

Yes – Cairns is a family friendly destination. Julie was born and raised here and this is where we choose to stay and raise our son. There are activities, tours and attractions for people (and children) of all ages. The weather is tropical and we love maximising our adventures in nature.

Is Cairns an accessible destination?

Yes – Cairns is an accessible destination for people of all ages and abilities.

Where can I learn about Cairns’ history?

The Cairns Museum in the city is the best place to learn about Cairns’ history. It’s located on the corner of Lake and Shields Streets and is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm. There is an entry fee.

Where is the public art in Cairns?

A lot of Cairns’ public art is located across the Cairns Esplanade and waterfront precincts, including the woven fish installation in the Lagoon pool. There are some striking pieces outside the Cairns Domestic Terminal (arrivals) and also in front of the Cairns Performing Arts Centre. There are murals painted on various buildings across the city.

Where can I watch and listen to live music in Cairns?

Tanks Arts Centre, the Cairns Performing Arts Centre and Munro Martin Parklands host regular concerts and shows. Check their websites for what’s happening during your visit. Alternatively various pubs, clubs and restaurants sometimes have live music.

Is it better to holiday in Cairns or Port Douglas?

If you want to be central to all the tours and activities, then Cairns is the place to be. If you want more a beachy / resort town vibe, then Port Douglas is for you.

What is Cairns really like?

We love Cairns. Obviously. This town is perfectly positioned to provide immediate access to world class natural attractions, including of course, the World Heritage listed Reef and Rainforest. It has beaches and waterfalls, mountains and gorges, lush parklands and gardens. Of course it also has shops and services, cafes and restaurants and a vibrant arts and cultural community. More than that though, Cairns has a laid-back lifestyle with plenty of places to relax and explore.

Where’s the best place to stay in Cairns?

There is no ‘correct’ answer to this question, at it all depends on your budget and preferences. If you want to be central, then find a hotel on or around the Cairns Esplanade and waterfront precinct. If you have a family, then there are plenty of self-contained and semi-self-contained apartments and units. Another popular place for families is the Cairns Coconuts Caravan Park, now called the BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Cairns Cocnut. There are bed and breakfast properties in the suburbs, mostly in the Edge Hill area and of course lots of Air BnB places. There are backpackers, caravan parks, hotels, motels and resorts from the city and across the suburbs.

Can you get around Cairns without a car?

Yes – if you are staying in the city area, then you will not need a car. The city is not that big that you can’t easily get around. There is a bus service that operates from the city to all surrounding suburbs, including the beaches and Palm Cove. You can also book a range of tours to the reef and rainforest, most of which provide a Cairns city pick-up service. However if you want to get out and explore yourselves, then we do recommend hiring a car as this gives you the freedom to craft your own itinerary and destinations.

Can I go fishing in Cairns?

Yes you can go fishing in Cairns. Fishing is permitted 24 hours a day along most of the Esplanade. You can also hire a tinny or pontoon boat from Cairns Boat Hire and go fishing in Trinity Inlet, they even supply the rods, reels and bait. Alternatively, you can book a guided fishing tour of varying durations and destinations from Cairns.

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About Us

I Love Cairns is owned by Richard, Julie and Ethan Johnston. Before Ethan was born, Julie and Richard spent many years diving the Great Barrier Reef. After he was born, we spent many years snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef. Now Ethan is a certified Junior Open Water Diver – we do both – snorkelling and diving the reef. When we aren’t blowing bubbles, we love walking on tracks and trails, fossicking and finding treasures, jumping into waterfalls, paddleboarding and 4WDing. We live for weekends and holidays, getting out of the house, off the screen and into nature to make some memories. Where do we go? As many different places as possible, above and below the sea. We love Cairns and hope you are inspired to visit our beautiful, tropical city.

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