Cheap thrills: a budget-friendly guide to Cairns

With its knockout beaches and urban lagoons, you don’t need a million to enjoy this 5-star town!

Cairns Esplanade with swimming lagoon and ocean, Tropical North Queensland.
  • Jetstar
  • May 2021

Dreaming of a tropical getaway but the bank balance isn’t coming to the party? Not to worry, Cairns is a sun-drenched wonderland with a 5-star feel and it’s perfect for budget travellers or a laidback family holiday. From beachside wellness experiences to soaking in nature’s day spa, here’s how to live it up in Cairns without breaking the bank.

Shop at the Cairns Night Markets

Cairns is home to some gorgeous markets, including Rusty's, but Cairns Night Markets give you the biggest bang for your buck. It’s a night out, a cheap meal and a buffet of bargains all rolled into one. It’s conveniently located on the Esplanade so you can go for a sunset stroll then dive into the market. Enjoy some street food in the food court, pick up a few affordable gifts and even treat yourself to a massage or a fish foot spa (you know the ones).

People sitting outside the blue neon exterior of Cairns Night Markets, Tropical North Queensland.
The Night Markets bring shopping, dining and nightlife together.

Swim at Josephine Falls

If you want to chill out in nature’s day spa, Cairns is surrounded by some of the most magical waterfalls, and they’re all an easy drive away. Josephine Falls is just an hour south and has stunning falls and a natural rockslide. (There’s a wheelchair accessible viewing platform at the top.) Even closer is Crystal Cascades in the Redlynch Valley. It’s less than half an hour from Cairns and is a heavenly collection of swimming holes and waterfalls. Then there’s Fairy Falls, near Crystal Cascades, a magical waterfall hidden within the lush rainforest.

A waterfall and swimming hole at Josephine Falls, Wooroonooran National Park, Tropical North Queensland.
Find your secret swimming hole at Josephine Falls.

Hit the Red Arrow walking trail

Sure, Cairns is all about lazing around in the tropics, but it’s also a fabulous fitness destination. All that stunning landscape just makes you want to get out into it. Mount Whitfield, right on the doorstep of the Cairns CBD, is where you’ll find the Red Arrow Walking Trail. This scenic track will take you through rainforests and up to heights where you’ll be rewarded with expansive views over the airport runway and to the sea beyond. There are some steps involved, so you’ll get a good workout while you take in the local scenery, and all without spending a cent.

A view of Cairns airport runway and Coral Sea from Mount Whitfield, Tropical North Queensland.
Make it to the summit and you’ll be rewarded with the views.

Do free yoga on the Esplanade

And not just yoga! Pilates, Zumba, Aqua Zumba, beach volleyball, meditation – there are loads of free fitness classes along Cairns Esplanade, at the soundshell at Fogarty Park and even in the lagoon. They’re generally early morning classes, so you can live your absolute best life doing yoga against a scenic Cairns sunrise sky or getting your cardio in with a Zumba session on the grass. Take a dip in the lagoon afterwards to cool off then get nourished with a smoothie bowl at one of the nearby cafes. Live that wellness dream and leave the price tag behind.

A group of people do aerobics in the park at sunset surrounded by palm trees in Cairns, Tropical North Queensland.
Get your heart rate up and your budget down with free exercise in the park.

Feel glamorous at Palm Cove

Just north of Cairns, you’ll find Palm Cove, a small but totally glamorous beachside town full of luxury resort hotels, chic day spas and elegant, award-winning restaurants. Not sounding very budget-friendly, right? Wrong. You might not be checking in to a 5-star hotel, but you can still get a bit of that Palm Cove lifestyle by picking up some local seafood (or fishing for it yourself!) and heading to the foreshore. Grill up a picnic on the free public barbecues while you revel in the tropical seaside views.

A sandy beach and silver sea with a hammock tied to two palm trees at Palm Cove, Tropical North Queensland.
Palm Cove’s idyllic beachfront is unbeatable – and free.