Cairns, the gateway to Tropical North Queensland, is a haven for adventure seekers, nature lovers, and those in pursuit of unforgettable experiences. With the Great Barrier Reef at its doorstep and the lush rainforest in its backyard, Cairns beckons travelers with a promise of diverse landscapes and thrilling activities. If you’re venturing to Cairns for the first time, pack your enthusiasm, swimwear, and an open mind. Here are 15 must-do activities to make your first trip to Cairns an epic adventure!
1. Visit the Great Barrier Reef:
Seas the day with a visit to the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage-listed wonder. Choose from a variety of reef experiences, whether it’s a day trip to the nearby islands or an extended stay on a liveaboard. Snorkel, dive, or simply marvel at the breathtaking underwater world that awaits just off the coast of Cairns.
2. Discover Reef Experiences at Cairns Aquarium:
For an immersive underwater adventure without getting wet, explore the Cairns Aquarium. Dive into 16,000 species across 10 ecosystems and 71 exhibits. This aquarium stands out as the only one in the world showcasing wildlife from two World Heritage-listed sites. Dive with sharks, take a Marine Life Encounters tour, and witness the wonders of the ocean.
3. Wander the Cairns Botanic Gardens:
Embark on a journey through 38 hectares of lush greenery at the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Established in 1886, these tropical gardens house rare and well-established plants. Join guided walks to spot wildlife and marvel at the impressive Amorphophallus Titanum, a Jurassic-looking flowering plant.
4. Get Active Outdoors on the Esplanade:
Trade the gym for Cairns’ great outdoors with a workout on the 2.5km Cairns Esplanade. Join locals for a scenic run or walk along the Coral Sea, with markers every 500m for easy distance monitoring. Embrace the tropical surroundings and refreshing sea breeze.
5. Swim in the Rainforest:
Escape the tropical heat by taking a dip in the refreshing waters of Stoney Creek, Crystal Cascades, or Fairy Falls. Nestled in the Wet Tropics Rainforest, these natural swimming spots offer a serene and picturesque experience just 25 minutes from Cairns CBD. There’s even this Uncle Brian’s Cairns Waterfalls and Rainforest Tour, a fantastic, fun-filled journey through North Queensland’s spectacular Atherton Tableland’s Region, stopping at beautiful waterfalls and swimming in clear mountain waters.
6. Discover Rusty’s Markets:
Explore the vibrant and bustling Rusty’s Markets, a Cairns institution for over 30 years. With over 180 stalls, this market offers everything from fresh produce to unique souvenirs. Immerse yourself in the colours and flavours of Tropical North Queensland’s local produce.
7. Go Bar Hopping in Cairns:
Quench your thirst in the tropical climate by exploring Cairns’ best bars and breweries. From speakeasy-inspired gin joints to rooftop bars with Coral Sea views, the city offers a diverse and exciting drinking scene. Sip on refreshing beverages and soak in the vibrant atmosphere.
8. Hit the Shops for Local Treasures:
Indulge in retail therapy and discover unique souvenirs at Cairns’ local shops. Wander through the Cairns Night Markets, Cairns Central, Oceana Walk, Grafton Streets boutiques, or explore one of the many local markets for pocket-sized treasures and handcrafted goods.
9. Have a Seafood Feast at Prawn Star:
Savour the flavours of the ocean by indulging in a seafood feast at Prawn Star. Moored fishing trawlers adorned with festoon lights offer a unique dining experience at the marina. Enjoy fresh seafood and cold beers with a picturesque view.
10. Catch an Art Exhibition:
Immerse yourself in the vibrant arts scene of Tropical North Queensland by visiting the Cairns Art Gallery and Court House Gallery. Experience how the natural environment influences local artists and explore Indigenous art at Bulmba-ja in Cairns.
11. Turn Back the Pages of History at Cairns Museum:
Delve into the rich history of Cairns at the Cairns Museum on Lake St. Explore Indigenous stories, tales of cane pioneers, and intriguing moments in time, including toad plagues, mold outbursts, and the impact of the 1970s hippie movement.
12. Explore Cairns’ Best Playgrounds:
If you’re traveling with little ones, make a stop at Cairns’ family-friendly playgrounds. Muddy’s Playground on the Cairns Esplanade offers a range of activities, including a flying fox, slides, and a rope bridge. Add Fig Tree Playground and Centenary Lakes to your family itinerary for progressive and nature-inspired play.
13. Take a Dip in the Cairns Lagoon:
Cool off in the iconic Cairns Lagoon, a saltwater swimming space with 4800 square meters of space facing the Coral Sea. With safe swimming conditions in the heart of the CBD, the lagoon is a popular spot day and night. Pack a picnic for the nearby BBQs or join free fitness events hosted by Cairns Council.
14. Catch a Show at Munro Martin Parklands:
Enjoy outdoor performances and cultural events at Munro Martin Parklands. Stay updated on the city’s events through Ticketlink, where you’ll find a comprehensive list of happenings at The Tanks, Munro Parklands, and Cairns Performing Arts Centre.
15. Attend Free Fitness Events:
Make the most of your Cairns experience by joining free fitness events organized by Cairns Council. From pilates to volleyball, these events are a fantastic way to stay active and meet locals. Head to the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon area and participate in community fitness activities while enjoying the stunning surroundings.
No matter what you opt for, your first trip to Cairns is sure to be an extraordinary adventure filled with natural wonders, cultural experiences, and memorable moments. Cairns welcomes you with open arms and a plethora of activities to make your first trip unforgettable. Dive into the vibrant tapestry of Tropical North Queensland and let Cairns leave an indelible mark on your travel journey.
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