Cairns has come a long way from struggling cane town to international resort city. It might not have a beach, but the mudflats and mangroves along the Esplanade foreshore have been replaced with a multimillion-dollar development of parks and the dazzling saltwater lagoon, with top-quality restaurants overlooking the marina. And if you do want some sand, it’s a short local bus ride or easy drive to the Cairns’ Northern Beaches.
Old salts claim Cairns has lost some of its character and sold its soul, but it has an infectious holiday vibe and a tropical aura, and it ticks to the tune of tourism. The central business district is more boardshorts than briefcases – a mini urban jungle of tour shops, booking agents, car-hire agents and internet cafes. There’s no limit to the activities you can organise: cruise boats, catamarans and yachts heads to the Great Barrier Reef each day, while tours depart for the Atherton Tableland, Cooktown and Cape Tribulation. The city is awash with backpacker bars and nightclubs, as well as accommodation and eateries in all price ranges. It’s a perfect place to meet other travellers – and to kick off your Far North experience.
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Our top picks for Cairns
Cairns Foreshore Promenade: Every city should have a massive saltwater swimming lagoon like the one on this popular promenade!
Night Markets: Head to the night markets for all your Aussie kitsch needs – there's no such thing as too many stuffed koalas
Mt Whitfield Conservation Park: This last remaining vestige of Cairns rainforest has some scenic hiking trails
Red Ochre Grill: Native Australian ingredients and local produce, artfully prepared to pioneer its own culinary genre
Tjapukai Cultural Park: Learn about the local Indigenous traditions at this cultural park
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