Fun in the sun: the best things to do in Cairns

With so many amazing attractions in Cairns, it’s hard to know where to start. These are our top picks.

People shopping at colourful fruit stalls at Rusty’s Markets, Cairns, Tropical North Queensland.
  • Jetstar
  • May 2021

Cairns – where do you start? The beaches? The world’s oldest rainforest? The waterfalls? The Great Barrier Reef? This tropical jewel of a city is a wonderland of natural beauty, moving effortlessly between eco-relaxation and adrenaline-fuelled adventure and everything delicious in between. It’s one of those destinations that can twist to suit – it’s ideal for a family getaway or an indulgent weekend with friends. It’s a foodie hub and an adventure playground. Cairns really does have it all and here are some of the best things to prove it.

Swim with whales on the Great Barrier Reef

Of course, you have to experience The Reef. It’s one of the seven wonders of the world and you’ll see why when you get there. There are a whole host of reef-related activities you can do, from snorkelling to island-hopping, but swimming with Dwarf Minke Whales has got to be one of the best. Plus, this is the only place in the world you can swim with them. Catch them mid-year as they migrate north. You’ll head out on a boat then suit up and get in the water as they glide by.

A snorkeller with a camera watches a nearby dwarf whale, Great Barrier Reef, Tropical North Queensland.
Don’t let the name fool you – these whales are still big!

Immerse yourself in Rainforestation

Rainforestation Nature Park is a magical meeting of Australian wildlife, Indigenous culture and amazing, heritage-listed Kuranda rainforest. The Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience gives an incredible insight into Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, including a corroboree in the natural amphitheatre. Afterwards, get on board an amphibious World War II Army Duck to tour the forest, learning about all the flora and fauna around you, then drive through the lake for a cruise with a difference. Wildlife keepers offer guided walking tours and the elevated boardwalks give you prime viewing of the resident koalas, wombats and crocodiles.

Two koalas in a tree at Rainforestation Nature Park in Kuranda, Tropical North Queensland.
Get up close to the wildlife at Rainforestation Nature Park

Zipline over crocodiles at Cairns ZOOM

Cairns and Tropical North Queensland is a dream world for adventure sports lovers and adrenaline junkies. The natural landscape, heaving with dense rainforest and skyscraper-high waterfalls, is an epic arena for canyoning, abseiling, ziplining and beyond. If you don’t have time to head out into the wild, you’ll find the Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome on the roof of the Reef Hotel Casino. Turn the thill-o-meter right up with their Hi-ZOOM tour, which incorporates rope climbing and ziplining, with the giant Goliath the crocodile lurking in the waters below. Count your toes!

A close-up of a large crocodile’s teeth at Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome, Tropical North Queensland.
Keep your feet up as you zipline over this one.

Get cultured at Tanks Arts Centre

For a good dose of Cairns’ contemporary arts scene, head to Tanks Arts Centre situated within the Cairns Botanic Gardens. This heritage-listed complex, which opened in 1995, is actually made up of three decommissioned WWII oil storage tanks (hence the name), which have been repurposed into innovative arts and entertainment spaces. You can still feel the original purpose in the space, which makes for a wild backdrop for live shows. Tanks also hosts markets and workshops, so check out the program when you’re planning your Cairns getaway – you never know who you might see.

People queuing at night outside Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns.
Poised among the palms, Tanks does perfect backdrop.

Eat local at Rusty’s Markets

Tropical North Queensland is a flavour bomb of juicy tropical fruit and crazy-fresh seafood. For a tasty snapshot of the local produce, head (hungry) to the bustling and lively Rusty’s Markets for colourful and succulent mangos, pineapples, lychees, you name it, all begging to make it home for a fruit platter. There are deli stalls, seafood stalls, bakeries, spice traders and coffee stands. It’s a gourmet snapshot of Cairns flavour, so do your shop then find a spot in the food court for a tasty snack from one of the hot food stalls.

People shopping at colourful fruit stalls at Rusty’s Markets, Cairns, Tropical North Queensland.
Pick up fresh local produce at the lively Rusty’s Markets.