City Guide: Cairns — The Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef


Cairns is often called the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but there’s much more to this stunning destination than just proximity to the reef. It is fast becoming one of Australia’s most popular holiday destinations, even amongst the natives from other parts of the country, because of its amazing weather, stunning wildlife, and vibrant nightlife.

Whether you like wild adventure, sunbathing on acres of white sand, or dancing the night away with an elaborate cocktail in hand, Cairns has something for you. We’ve rounded up all the best things to see and most fun activities to do while you’re there, plus a few of the best restaurants to refuel in when you’re tired from all that fun.

What to See

It’s not all about the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, there’s plenty more to see while you’re there.

Cairns from Above

Cairns is stunningly beautiful from any angle, whether you’re hiking through the rainforest or diving at the Great Barrier Reef, but the best way to see it all is undoubtedly from above. Forget helicopters and noisy airplanes though, the only way to experience cairns from above is by hot air balloon. Nothing compares to the serene tranquillity of floating above the spectacular landscape, which spreads out in a tapestry of colours below you. Book an early ride and enjoy the breath-taking beauty of a Cairns sunrise so close you almost feel like you could touch it.

Cairns Botanic Gardens

Australia’s flora is spectacularly diverse and many plants that are native to the tropical Cairns region can’t be found anywhere else in the world. If you want to marvel at the area’s diversity, there’s no better place to do so than Cairns Botanic Gardens. Without the manicured feel that similar gardens often have, the tropical flowers and unusual plant varieties give the gardens a wild, primordial feel. With winding paths, hidden leafy bowers, and shaded nooks, it’s the perfect place to while away an hour or two on a hot afternoon.

Kuranda Rainforest Village


The Great Barrier Reef isn’t the only natural wonder on offer in Cairns and the region’s stunning rainforest is something you have to see during your visit. One of the best ways to do this is to get the SkyRail Rainforest Cableway and travel the five miles between the base of the rainforest and the Kuranda ‘Village in the Rainforest’. The cable cars offer spectacular 360° views over the lush greenery of the tropical landscape, as well as glimpses of the reef stretching out across the distance. The village itself is famed for its amazing markets showcasing local crafts, so be sure to stop by for an unusual souvenir (kangaroo back scratcher, anyone?).

Must-Do Activities

Make the most of your time in beautiful Cairns, starting with these three must-do activities.

Swim in a Secret Spot

If you can’t stand crowded beaches and trying to dodge kids as you swim, then it’s time to head out into the rainforest for some spectacular secret swimming. With glittering freshwater pools fed by cascading waterfalls, the rainforest around Cairns is the perfect place to indulge in some peaceful wild swimming. Head to Josephine Falls to revel in the tranquillity and beauty of the forest, and for the most amazing natural slides you will ever experience. It’s well worth the walk through the rainforest, and there’s no better way to cool down on a hot, tropical day.

Snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef

This one may seem obvious, but we’re going to include it anyway. You can’t visit Cairns without taking a dip beneath the ocean’s surface and getting up close and personal with the amazing flora and fauna of the Great Barrier Reef. Hire out a snorkel and flippers, or bring your own, and spend some time discovering why people rave about this unbelievable underwater world. From unique fish you can’t see anywhere else in the world to the jewel-like jungle of underwater plants, the reef can’t fail to take your breath away.

cairns city guide

Dance the Night Away

Cairns is a spot that attracts partygoers and with its wealth of amazing bars and seemingly constant happy hour, it isn’t hard to see why. Whether you head to Pier Bar for two-for-one drinks set to toe-tapping live music or Lilo Bar for DJs and cocktails by the pool, heading out for a night of dancing is a must when you’re visiting Cairns. If you feel like the bar scene isn’t for you, head to Tjapukai’s night fire, where you can experience 40,000 years of indigenous culture and storytelling well into the night.

Where to Eat

And after all the exploration and adventure, you’ll certainly want to sample some of Cairn’s delightful foodie highlights.


If you don’t eat anywhere else during your time in Cairns, make sure you experience the institution that is Ochre. Serving up spectacular indigenous flavours in truly authentic fare, this is an Australian dining experience you can’t miss. With a fusion of indigenous bush food ingredients and local produce, Ochre serves up mouth-wateringly delicious dishes that you wouldn’t usually dare try. Be adventurous and order salt and native pepper leaf crocodile or char-grilled kangaroo sirloin with a quandong chilli glaze

Corea Corea

korean food in cairns australia

It might seem weird to go all the way to Australia and eat Korean food, but Corea Corea is a local favourite for good reason. Outrageously cheap, with free mugicha on tap, the food is excellent quality and the cool restaurant is the perfect place to escape the lunchtime heat. They have a huge selection of Korean BBQ, as well as kimchi and veggie options. It is the stone pot dishes that are truly stand out, however, so order whichever you fancy and load up on kimchi.


Situated in the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, Tamarind is the place to go if you’re looking to impress someone special. Their spectacular take on modern Asian fusion has earned them a coveted chef’s hat awarded by the Good Food Guide and a meal here will leave you without any doubt it was deserved. Go all out and order the nightly degustation menu, with or without wine pairings, to sample a range of the delicacies coming out of this kitchen. Dishes like Penang duck curry and beef tataki with coconut foam, massaman gel and rendang oil will still have you raving about their flavours long after you’ve returned home.

If this guide has made you desperate to experience a getaway in beautiful Cairns for yourself, why not book one of Cruise1st UK’s amazing deals on a voyage that stops there? Browse the full collection online or call our friendly sales team on 0808 2746 777.

Cairns: The Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef
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Cairns: The Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef
Cairns is often called the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but there’s much more to this stunning destination than just proximity to the reef.

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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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