Cairns in 3 Days

Photo by Julia Chapple

It's all action in the sunny, sophisticated coastal city of Cairns

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Spend a perfect 3 days in Cairns. The laid-back vibe in Cairns means visitors should do as they please, from exploring the city’s eclectic dining scene to day trips, which take you to the tranquil, charming village of Kuranda. Take it slow with strolls past the lagoon and stopping for picnic lunches along the Cairns Esplanade. Immerse yourself in Aboriginal culture with a walking tour, or simply relax on the white sand of Mission Beach. If you’re keen to dive straight into action, it’s easy. Snorkel and dive with schools of vibrant fish, bungee jump from on high or cruise past the reef’s many pristine islands in a sailboat.

Whatever your pace, you’ll have no trouble filling your days in Cairns.

Day 1 in Cairns

Ease into tropical vacation mode with a stroll along the oceanfront Cairns Esplanade, the city’s social and recreational hub. Stop for an alfresco breakfast at one of the trendy cafes and watch the energetic locals whizz past on bikes and roller-blades. Afterwards cool off in the huge saltwater lagoon or relax on the grass alongside adventure-seekers from around the globe.

Maintain the easy pace with a walk through the Cairns Botanic Gardens and a lazy afternoon on rainforest-fringed Mission Beach, to the south of Cairns. Cruise the mangrove-lined waterways of Trinity Inlet or explore the area on an Aboriginal walking tour, learning about fish, crabs and medicinal plants. Alternatively, send your adrenalin soaring on a bungee jump or sky dive.

In the evening, browse local Aboriginal artworks at the night markets, watch the flaming sun sink into the horizon and head back to the Cairns Esplanade for a fresh seafood feast.

More Cairns Itineraries

Atherton Tablelands Food Trail … The highlands are known as the food bowl of north Queensland for good reason
Best Picnicking near Cairns … Favourites within easy reach
Best Road Trips from Cairns … From day trips to epic multi-day adventures
Cairns for Romantics … Perfect spots to bring a picnic and bottle of bubbly
Cairns: Where to Eat, Play and Stay … Top picks for making the most of Cairns and the northern beaches

Day 2 in Cairns

There’s a huge variety of tours out to the Great Barrier Reef, with something to suit every level of daring and experience. Go snorkelling, learn to dive or see the reef without getting wet on a glass-bottomed boat.

Take a day tour to the 6,000-year-old coral cay of Green Island. Snorkel alongside brilliant tropical fish, and explore the island’s white beaches and lush rainforest. Visit Michaelmas Cay, home to thousands of nesting seabirds, a myriad of colourful corals, giant clams and reef fish.  Sail past palm-topped islands to Upolu Cay – a small sand island atop a skeleton of coral reef.

Travel to the Outer Reef on a multi-storey pontoon or explore it on an introductory dive trip. Discover the vibrant coral gardens, marine life and turtle sanctuaries with an experienced instructor. Extend your stay and get qualified on a five–day PADI course. For experienced divers, there are multi-day live-aboard trips.

Day 3 in Cairns

Ride the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway from Cairns to Kuranda, dangling just metres above eucalypt-covered ridgelines and dipping into lush thickets of rainforest to enjoy short walks and see Barron Falls plunge 265 metres (875 feet) into the gorge. The cableway is one of the iconic attractions in this area and a must-do for visitors.

When you reach Kuranda, relax over breakfast or brunch before following bright blue Ulysses butterflies to the Din Din Barron Falls lookout, winding through World Heritage-listed Barron Falls National Park to the vertigo-inducing edge of the gorge (1.2km or 0.74mi return, easy). Rest your feet as you cruise the upper Barron River on a 45-minute boat ride, spotting freshwater crocodiles and turtles. Afterwards, hit Kuranda’s lively markets to snap up handcrafted jewellery and unique clothing, Indigenous art and sample irresistible local food and exotic tropical juices. The Kuranda Scenic Railway, which journeys across historical 125-year-old bridges and through 15 hand-made tunnels is another glorious delight, taking you through gorgeous scenery.

Back in Cairns, enjoy a seafood dinner on the waterfront or rev up for some energetic city nightlife at bars and clubs along Spence Street and Lake Street.

This itinerary is compliments of Tourism Australia.

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