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Cairns is one of the doors to the Great Barrier Reef; however, it's also a tropical paradise crammed full of wonders just waiting to be discovered. With just three days here, you'll barely scratch the surface of the city's sights and activities, but this guide will help you make the most of your 72 hours in Cairns — whether you'd like to relax by the gorgeous lagoon at the Esplanade, or adventure into a rainforest that is millions of years old.

Good for
  • History Buff
  • Thrill Seeker
  • Nightlife Seeker
  • Nature Lover
  • Foodie
  • Peace and Quiet Seeker
  • Beach Goer
  • Like a Local

12 Places

3 City Tips

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Map

12 Places

Day 1

The Lillipad Cafe

Restaurants

Great Adventures

Sightseeing Tours

Tamarind

Restaurants

The Reef Hotel Casino

Casinos

Day 2

Kuranda Scenic Railway

Scenic Railroads

Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

Nature & Wildlife Areas

Night Markets

Flea & Street Markets

Ochre Restaurant

Restaurants

Day 3

Hot Air Balloon Cairns

Balloon Rides, Private Tours

Cairns Esplanade Swimming Lagoon

Beach & Pool Clubs

Raw Prawn Seafood Restaurant

Restaurants

Esplanade Boardwalk

Hiking Trails

Monica U's City Tips

  • If you're planning to do some "adventuring", it is best to rent a car for a couple of days than to rely on public transport or taxis.
  • If you visit Cairns during the months of November through May, watch out for the Stingers! (Usually there are vinegar bottles on hand at the majority of the beaches.)
  • The main CBD is pretty accessible by foot, but if you want to travel farther afield (or travel quickly), buy a bus day-pass.
    Day 1
  • Save
    The Lillipad Cafe
    Restaurants (Mexican, Russian)
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    Lillipad is one of those little cafes that is always full, and with good reason: It serves really big meals! It is a great spot for sharing, say, an Irish Breakfast or a Breakfast Burrito, and the coffee is always very good too.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    Tips
    • It can get really crowded at breakfast time, so get here early.
    Plan to stay:/
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #18 of 454 restaurants in Cairns
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Huge Serves! 16/12/2017
    • Shocking service. Food ok. 13/12/2017
    • The Lillipad Cafe
    Address:
    72 Grafton St
    Cairns, Queensland 4870
    Australia
    Phone:
    +61 7 4051 9565
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    07:00 - 15:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Great Adventures
    Sightseeing Tours
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    When in Cairns, you simply have to visit the Great Barrier Reef. My tip: If you only have a few days, skip the Green Island tour and take the Outer Great Barrier Reef tour instead. Sure, it will take about 1.5 hours to get there, but the staff is wonderful, you get to have morning tea, and once you arrive both the snorkeling and diving are fabulous. This is exactly what you came to Australia for!

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • The tour does not leave Cairns until 9.30am, so I definitely recommend you have some breakfast first — it is going to be a long day!
    • Bring your own towel and motion sickness pills, just in case.
    • If you are the type of person who likes to eat regularly, bring some snacks with you, such as nuts and gummy candy.
    Plan to stay:/
    More than 3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #56 of 160 Tours in Cairns
    • Fantastic Guided Scuba Diving 17/12/2017
    • Great day 13/12/2017
    • Great Adventures
    Address:
    One Spence Street
    Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal
    Cairns, Queensland 4870
    Australia
    Phone:
    4044 9944
    Other:
  • Save
    Tamarind
    Restaurants (Contemporary, Fusion)
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    Located inside the Reef Casino, this award-winning restaurant offers delicious food, excellent service, and a dim-lighted, rattan-chaired, Asian-inspired theme that will transport you to another world...

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Must See
    • Luxury Traveller
    • Trendsetter
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    Tips
    • If you are super hungry or just want a memorable meal, try the 7-course degustation menu.
    • Definitely make a reservation for this restaurant, as it gets booked out well in advance!
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #11 of 454 restaurants in Cairns
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • A Delightful Dinning Night 15/12/2017
    • My degustation fave 12/12/2017
    • Tamarind
    Address:
    35/41 Wharf Street
    Cairns, Queensland 4870
    Australia
    Phone:
    +61 7 4030 8897
    Price range:
    USD 12 - USD 75
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    18:00 - 22:30
    Other:
  • Save
    The Reef Hotel Casino
    Casinos
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    The Reef Casino is a great place to end your day. Here, you can try your luck in the casino, kick back and be seen at one of the chic bars (like Vertigo!), or dance the night away at the nightclub, Velvet Underground.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Luxury Traveller
    • Trendsetter
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Nightlife Seeker
    Tips
    • Check the casino website for special offers on accommodation and entertainment.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #34 of 126 things to do in Cairns
    • Breakfast on shore!! 15/12/2017
    • Good Casino 02/12/2017
    • The Reef Hotel Casino
    Address:
    35-41 Wharf St.
    Cairns, Queensland 4870
    Australia
    Phone:
    +61 7 4030 8888
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    09:00 - 05:00
    Other:
  • Day 2
  • Save
    Kuranda Scenic Railway
    Scenic Railroads
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    If you only do one train trip in your life, get on board the Kuranda Scenic Railway for an amazing ride through one of the oldest rainforests in the world: the Barron Gorge National Park. You will pass amazing waterfalls as you trundle through tunnels and over picturesque bridges way up in the mountains.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Luxury Traveller
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • If you want to travel in style, book the Gold Class experience. It includes drinks, individual seating, and some nibbles on the way up.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #7 of 126 things to do in Cairns
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Great train journey up to the rainforest 16/12/2017
    • Gold Class was great 16/12/2017
    • Kuranda Scenic Railway
    Address:
    Bunda Street
    Cairns, Queensland 4870
    Australia
    Phone:
    +61 7 4036 9333
    Other:
  • Save
    Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
    Nature & Wildlife Areas
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    Located right next to the Kuranda Heritage Markets, the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary affords you the opportunity to see up to 1500 different varieties of tropical butterflies, including the Cairns Birdwing. It is an amazing experience to be able to see so many of Queensland's native beauties all in one place.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • You can book one of the 30-minute guided tours through the aviary at no extra cost.
    • Spend some time browsing the Kuranda Heritage Markets.
    • A visit to the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary is actually included with your Kuranda scenic tour.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #1 of 33 things to do in Kuranda
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Intersting place, the other two stops were more enjoyable to me 03/12/2017
    • Disappointing 30/11/2017
    • Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
    Address:
    8 Rob Veivers Dr
    Kuranda, Queensland 4881
    Australia
    Phone:
    +61 7 4093 7575
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    10:00 - 16:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Night Markets
    Flea & Street Markets
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    The Cairns Night Markets, located right at the Esplanade, are open from 4.30pm to 11pm, making them handy for early-night fans and night owls alike. There are a lot of local arts and crafts, souvenirs, and local soaps and candles to browse here.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Shopping Fanatic
    • Family
    Tips
    • There are food stalls at the market, in case you get a little hungry before dinner .
    • Take an extra layer in case it gets a little chilly at night.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #36 of 126 things to do in Cairns
    • Very disappointing! 17/12/2017
    • Nothing special 17/12/2017
    • Night Markets
    Address:
    71/73-75 Esplanade
    Cairns, Queensland 4870
    Australia
    Phone:
    +61 7 4051 7666
    Other:
  • Save
    Ochre Restaurant
    Restaurants (Australian)
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    In my opinion, Ochre is one of the best restaurants in Cairns. There are very few restaurants in Australia where you can taste authentic Australian food (such as emu, crocodile, and kangaroo) done as well as it is here. Come for the tasting or game platter, and sample all of the country's natives spices in one delectable and memorable meal.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Luxury Traveller
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    Tips
    • If you are into cooking, cooking demonstrations are offered to groups of 10 or more.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #0 of 0 restaurants in
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Great Australian cuisine 29/11/2016
    • Love Ochre! 13/11/2016
    • Ochre Restaurant
    Address:
    43 Shields St
    Shop 6
    Cairns, Queensland 4870
    Australia
    Phone:
    +61 7 4051 0100
    Price range:
    USD 17 - USD 30
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    18:00 - 21:30
    Mon - Fri
    11:30 - 14:30
    Sat - Sun
    10:00 - 12:00
    12:15 - 14:30
  • Day 3
  • Save
    Hot Air Balloon Cairns
    Balloon Rides, Private Tours
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    Yes, a hot air balloon ride does mean an early start (pick-up is around 5am), but it makes for a magnificent way to start the day. Your hot air balloon will fly through the tropical Atherton Tablelands, and then drop you back at 9.30am, just in time for a hearty breakfast.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Luxury Traveller
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • White clothing is advised against.
    • Bring a warm layer for the early morning ride.
    Plan to stay:/
    More than 3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #39 of 160 Tours in Cairns
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Brilliant 05/11/2017
    • Celebrating 13/09/2017
    • Hot Air Balloon Cairns
    Address:
    1 Spence St
    Cairns, Queensland 4870
    Australia
    Phone:
    +61 7 4039 9900
    Price range:
    USD 152 - USD 152
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    03:30 - 05:30
    08:00 - 20:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Cairns Esplanade Swimming Lagoon
    Beach & Pool Clubs
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    Located in the center of town, the 4-hectare Cairns Esplanade Swimming Lagoon is the perfect spot to get a tan, lounge on the deck, gaze up at the magnificent mountains surrounding Cairns, or take a dip in the crystal clear waters. It is one of my favorite activities, any day of the year.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • There are several picnic and BBQ tables surrounding the lagoon.
    • If you have kids, they can splash around freely at the popular water playground here.
    • There is always a lifeguard on duty for your safety.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #4 of 126 things to do in Cairns
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • The Dream Pool 17/12/2017
    • Amazing local pool 16/12/2017
    • Cairns Esplanade Swimming Lagoon
    Address:
    52 - 54 The Esplanade Cairns
    Cairns, Queensland
    Australia
    Phone:
    +61 7 4044 3715
    Hours:
    Wed
    12:00 - 21:00
    Thu - Tue
    06:00 - 21:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Raw Prawn Seafood Restaurant
    Restaurants (Seafood, Australian, Soups)
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    I come to Raw Prawn Seafood Restaurant for two things: the QLD prawns, served grilled with garlic (and sometimes combined with bugs if I am in the mood), and the view — perfect, placid, tropical Cairns-style. Whenever I suck the last bit of prawn meat from the juicy, garlicy head, all my troubles always seem far, far away...

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Luxury Traveller
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    Tips
    • The grilled pineapple adds a nice twist to the garlic prawns.
    • The two-course set lunch is a great deal.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #24 of 454 restaurants in Cairns
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Amazing 16/12/2017
    • Ate here and loved it! 16/12/2017
    • Raw Prawn Seafood Restaurant
    Address:
    101 The Esplanade
    Cairns, Queensland 4870
    Australia
    Phone:
    +61 7 4031 5400
    Price range:
    USD 14 - USD 34
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    11:30 - 22:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Esplanade Boardwalk
    Hiking Trails
    See more photos
    Monica U Says:

    It's your last day in Cairns, and what better way to end your tropical adventure than with a leisurely walk along the Esplanade Boardwalk. You will enjoy fantastic views of the lagoon and mountains, be serenaded by the local buskers, and even learn a little more about the history of the aboriginal people.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • There are many restaurants, cafes and ice cream parlors along the boardwalk.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #2 of 126 things to do in Cairns
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Great for an evening stroll 17/12/2017
    • Well set up for a stroll 17/12/2017
    • Esplanade Boardwalk
    Address:
    The Esplanade
    Cairns, Queensland 4870
    Australia
    Phone:
    +61 7 4044 3715
    Other:
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