Cairns with kids: best free things to do
Cairns is all fun and sun and perfect for a family holiday. Keep the kids entertained without breaking the budget with these free, family-friendly ideas.
- October 2018
- Updated June 2021
With its year-round warm weather, abundant tropical surrounds, and the Great Barrier Reef a boat ride away, Cairns has long been a favourite holiday destination for families. If you’re watching the budget, there are plenty of things to do that will keep the kids happy while not costing a cent. Here are a few of our top picks.
The scenic waterside stretch of Cairns Esplanade is a popular recreation area. Head for the saltwater Lagoon for a safe swim and a relaxed picnic under the palm trees. Watch locals perfecting their tricks at Skate Plaza, one of Australia’s biggest skate parks. Or have fun learning new skills at a free fitness class, with bouldering, beach volleyball, and aqua Zumba among the options. There are also public artworks along the waterfront – great for stimulating inquisitive young minds on an afternoon walk.
You’ll find free-to-use playgrounds dotted around Cairns. On the Esplanade, Muddy’s Playground has different areas to suit different age groups. Kids can splash around in the water park, clamber on rope bridges, hide in playhouses – you name it. South of the Esplanade, kids can live the treehouse dream at Fig Tree Playground, where slides and tunnels are built around a large fig tree. A short drive inland, Goomboora Park adventure playground is surrounded by leafy spaces and even has a waterhole.
Tropical waterfall swimming
It can get pretty steamy in the Tropical North. Fortunately there are many scenic spots where the family can cool off for free. A 90-minute drive from Cairns, the lush Atherton Tablelands is home to so many waterfalls there is a ‘waterfall circuit’, including Millaa Millaa, Zillie and Elinjaa. Take a dip near tumbling waters, soak in rock pools, picnic, and look out for wildlife like platypus, flying foxes and striking tropical butterflies. For relief from the heat closer to town, take the kids to Crystal Cascades – a series of falls and swimming holes along Freshwater Creek.
Botanic Gardens discovery
With its tropical flora, grassy lawns, ornamental lakes and bridges, and abundant birdlife, Cairns Botanic Gardens is ideal for a few hours of exploration. As well as free entry, there are free guided tours, including a Tuesday-morning birdwatching tour. You and the kids can spot everything from rainbow lorikeets to brush-turkeys – be sure to pack the binoculars. There is also a fortnightly Little Taccas program, keeping under-fives entertained with garden discovery walks, storytelling and art and craft.
Colourful Cairns markets
Expand your kids’ tropical fruit knowledge with a wander around the colourful stalls at Rusty’s Markets, running Friday to Sunday. Already know a dragonfruit from a mangosteen? There are knick-knacks, street food snacks, and the sights and sounds of a lively marketplace to take in too. The Night Markets is also good for browsing on a balmy Cairns evening. Further afield, don’t miss the markets at Kuranda – a mountain village surrounded by rainforests about 25km from Cairns.