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I have a love/hate relationship with Cairns, when I arrived in March 2017 I had planned to stay just a couple of months to work and save a bit of money before continuing on to another part of Australia.  However, Cairns had other ideas for me… it took me much longer than I’d anticipated to find work and there were times I hated it and thought I was going to have to go home.  Had I done a bit of research and realised the level of unemployment in Cairns I potentially could’ve avoided unexpectedly spending nearly 6 months there!

However, everything happens for a reason right?! And the plus side to this?  I made some incredible friends and got to explore a lot of the area!  So here are my top 10 things to do in Cairns 🙂

1. The Great Barrier Reef

I feel like the Great Barrier Reef is deserving of being number 1 on my list of things to do in Cairns (although the rest of the list is in no particular order!), primarily because I’m obsessed with marine life and like to think of myself as a mermaid!  No visit to Cairns would be complete without a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef.  You can snorkel the Great Barrier Reef or dive there, and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed by either.  In my opinion, the best way to do this is on a liveaboard, this is when you stay out at sea overnight.  This allows you to get to the best dive spots and gives you much more time to explore the reef (plus a lot fewer people around!).  I went out twice with Divers Den, once on their Ocean Quest liveaboard and once on Aquaquest from Port Douglas… both were awesome.  I’d highly recommend checking out this guide to find the best liveaboards in Australia.

An over under photo from snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef

Pretending to be a mermaid. Photo by Katie from @mycolourfulworld_

An orange clown fish in an anemone on the Great Barrier Reef

I found Nemo!

2. Coffee and Eats

Having spent so much time in Melbourne, my coffee snobbery has reached a whole new level and the first thing I had to do when I got to Cairns was find the best coffee.  My absolute favourite would have to be Blackbird, their cold brew is incredible!  However, in very close joint second place are Pantry 15 and Caffeind.

For cocktails, head to Three Wolves… their espresso martinis are amazing (they use Blackbird coffee).  They have a happy hour every day so it’s well worth going and trying a few cocktails then.

Pantry 15 and Caffeind both do great food, but my top brunch spot has to be Lillipad.  The portions are huge (I would always have enough to take home), they’re reasonably priced and the food is delicious.  I’d highly recommend the Parisian style eggs (my mouth is watering thinking about them!).

And finally, don’t forget to check out Gelocchio for the best gelato in Cairns.  The thing I love most about them is that you can order a single scoop and still get two flavours… salted caramel and chocolate every time!

Travels of Sophie enjoying a coffee at Blackbird Cafe in Cairns

Blackbird Cafe.  Photo by Katie from @mycolourfulworld_

3. Go chasing waterfalls

There are SO many waterfalls around Cairns that you’ll be spoilt for choice.  The most popular and well known are those on the waterfall circuit in the Atherton tablelands.  There are lots of different tour companies that offer various day trips to the waterfalls, but personally, I’d recommend getting a few friends together and hiring a car.  These are some of my favourites:

  • Nandroya
  • Elinjah
  • Zillie
  • Babinda (stop at pie store)
  • Kuranda
  • Crystal Cascades
Long exposure photograph of Zillie Falls from the top viewpoint

Zillie Falls

Long exposure photograph of Nandroya Falls featuring Travels of Sophie

Nandroya Falls

4. Atherton Platypus Park

I may have squealed with excitement the first time I saw a platypus.  They’re the strangest creatures, and a lot smaller than I expected.  They are pretty rare to see in the wild, but the Platypus Park at Tarzali Lakes offers a 90% sighting rate.  We waited around 10 minutes before spotting our first one, then saw around 4 or 5 more.  It’s well worth the visit, and you can easily include it on the way to other spots such as the many waterfalls in the area.

A platypus in the water at Atherton Platypus Park, Tarzali Lakes

5. Rusty’s Market

One of my favourite things to do in Cairns is to visit Rusty’s Market.  The market on Sheridan Street is open every week from Thurs-Sun and has lots of local and exotic fruit and veg to choose from.  The prices are usually much better than any supermarket price, and by Sunday afternoon the prices are often halved to sell things off.  Pick up some rambutan and mangosteen…. They’re delicious.  Or just wander around and try a bit of everything on offer from the tasters!

6. Fitzroy Island

 Just a 45-minute boat ride from Cairns, you’ll find the tropical Fitzroy Island.  The best thing about this spot for me is that you can actually swim in the ocean here, free from the fear of encountering a croc.  With its perfect white sand and turquoise waters, Nudey Beach is one of the most picturesque beaches I’ve seen in Australia.  You can also stay overnight on the island if a day trip isn’t enough for you.  Check here for availability and current prices.

Tropical blue waters and white sands of Nudey Beach, Fitzroy Island. A short boat ride from Cairns

Nudey Beach, Fitzroy Island

7. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

The Skyrail offers unique views over the Daintree rainforest, the oldest continually surviving rainforest on earth.  Additionally, you can take your time exploring the boardwalks or take one of the complimentary ranger-guided tours to find out more about the rainforest.  After testing out all the different gondolas, I’d highly recommend the Canopy Glider, the open-air gondola as it allows you to really feel immersed in the forest.

View from the Cairns Skyrail overlooking the rainforest and a rainbow

The view from the Skyrail

8. Botanic Gardens

The botanic gardens are home to a variety of tropical plants and are the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll.  It’s a really easy 10-15 minute cycle from Cairns city centre.  Pack something insect repellent though as the bitey bugs there also like to come out in the afternoon!

Travels of Sophie amongst the lush greenery in the botanical gardens in Cairns

Getting lost amongst the lush greenery of the Botanical Gardens

9. Enjoy the tropical weather

Cairns has a tropical climate year-round, so take some time to lay back and soak up the sun.  Cairns lagoon is the perfect spot to do this and allows ample opportunity for some interesting people watching.  There’s also public BBQs here, so get into the Aussie spirit and cook something up on the barbie.

If you fancy some beach time, hop on a bus to Palm Cove for some beach time, where you’ll find the beach lined with gorgeous palm trees.

One of the many things to do in Cairns; have a swim in the lagoon

Taking a refreshing dip in the lagoon

10. Take a road trip to Port Douglas and Daintree

Just north of Cairns is the coastal town of Port Douglas where you’ll find plenty of restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and quirky stores.  Port Douglas is only an hour or so from Cairns so can easily be visited as a day trip.  However, if you have more time it’s well worth heading further north along the Great Barrier Reef Drive up to Cape Tribulation to explore the ancient Daintree Rainforest.  If you want some inspiration then check out my Port Douglas to Daintree 4 day itinerary.

Sunrise at Cape Tribulation in Port Douglas, Daintree

The heart of Cape Trib


Enjoyed my Top 10 things to do in Cairns guide?  PIN IT! 🙂

Top 10 Things to Do in Cairns Australia - Travels of Sophie Top 10 things to do in Cairns Australia. Everything you need to know to help you plan the perfect trip to Cairns #cairns #australia #thingstodo #travelguide  Top 10 things to do in Cairns, Australia. A travel guide to some of the most popular things to do in Cairns. #cairns #australia  Top 10 things to do in Cairns, Australia. A travel guide to some of the most popular things to do in Cairns. #cairns #australia  


  1. January 12, 2018 / 4:36 am

    Holy macaroni! Cairns is BE-A-UUUUUUUUUUU-TI-FUL!
    I’m literally typing this with my mouth open. Drop dead gorgeous place. Definitely so much to do and see there. Putting this on my bucket list of places to go 🙂

    • Travels of Sophie
      January 12, 2018 / 5:24 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Cairns really is gorgeous and totally worth adding to your list!

  2. January 12, 2018 / 6:15 am

    OMG! That place looks amazing!! Thanks for this little guide.

    • Travels of Sophie
      January 12, 2018 / 6:21 am

      Yay! I’m so happy you like it 🙂

  3. Mane
    January 12, 2018 / 7:26 am

    What an amazing place! Is this real?! Wow! Just wow! This is my time first hearing this place but I’m amazed! What a wonderful place! You captured the most stunning views!

    • Travels of Sophie
      January 12, 2018 / 8:34 am

      It’s a really gorgeous part of Australia. Definitely worth a visit!

  4. January 12, 2018 / 12:11 pm

    Great tips! When I went I did the GBR, enjoyed the coffee (great coffee everywhere I went in OZ) and experienced the tropical weather. Gotta go back to check off the rest

    • Travels of Sophie
      January 12, 2018 / 4:33 pm

      I really miss the Australian coffee!!

  5. Lauren C
    January 15, 2018 / 9:21 pm

    Very beautiful places!! I would love to visit the Cairns and the barrier reef!

    • Travels of Sophie
      January 15, 2018 / 9:56 pm

      It’s totally worth a visit!

    • Travels of Sophie
      August 29, 2018 / 11:26 pm

      Thank you!

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**All photos contained in this photography-based travel blog are copyright of Adam Marland & Sophie Clapton. 
They are not to be used for any purpose without the expressed, written consent of their owners.**