As a tropical oasis located in Far North Queensland, the geographical features of Cairns are quite diverse and beautiful.
Located on the east coast of the Cape York peninsula, Cairns is a coastal city dominated by the climate of the Coral Sea. The Great Dividing Range, which extends the entire length of the east coast of Australia, provides the backdrop for Cairns. The area of the range and the plateau east of Cairns is known as the Atherton Tableland, a beautiful location that should be including in any trip to Far North Queensland.
Surrounded by lush mountains covered in rainforests, Cairns extends from the suburb Edmonton from the South, to Ellis Beach in the North at a distance of over 50 km.
Cairns experiences a tropical monsoonal climate with an average rainfall of 2000 mm per year. However, in periods of extreme wet season weather, Cairns has been known to be inundated with over 1000 mm of rain in just one month.
The average annual temperature in Cairns hovers around 25 ℃, with it usually being mild and relatively dry in the winter (June to October), and hot and humid in the summer (November to May). The summers have been known to reach scorching temperatures over 40 °C, while the winter has experienced temperatures below 10 °C.
Being a tropical monsoonal climate, Cairns can also be subject to cyclones, usually occurring in the summer months. Recent notable cyclones that have affected the Cairns region include Cyclone Larry in 2006, and Cyclone Yasi in 2011.
It’s always a good idea to research the local weather conditions before visiting Cairns.
Cairns is a tropical destination that experiences a hot wet summer and a cool dry winter. The locals call these two distinct seasons the "wet" and the "dry".
The dry season starts around April and peaks in July. It is definitely best to visit Cairns during this time, as you can expect weeks on end of cloudless days and cool dry weather. Our long dry stretches truly are glorious. The sun rises over the ocean and it is common to see blazing sunrises from the Esplanade from around 6 in the morning.
Around November the days get longer and the weather heats up in what we call "the buildup" to the wet season. During the wet season proper, the hot humid days are broken by rain, which cools the city down nicely. In the buildup, however, there is not enough humidity yet to ensure regular rain and the days just get hotter and hotter...
Once the wet season kicks in we are treated to monsoonal downpours and some of the most lively storms in the region, as the humid air rises to meet the coastal mountain ranges and creates thick, dark clouds along the coast. The landscape bursts back into life as it all gets a good soaking, and birds and insects come out in force.
If you plan to visit our region, and you're not a fan of the heat, try to arrive between May and August in order to enjoy our beautiful dry season. If you're ok with the heat, and you want to experience a tropical downpour, make the trip in January-March for the best storms.
Cairns is over 1600 km away from its state capital of Queensland, Brisbane. So for some it could be a remote location, but it's not hard to find your way here.
Cairns International Airport
The Cairns International Airport is a major travel hub and is located just 6km from the Cairns CBD (Central Business District, aka Downtown). With both a domestic terminal and an international terminal, the Cairns Airport has connections to just about anywhere in Australia and the world, including direct flights to most major international airports. You can get more information from the Cairns Airport website here.
Once you have landed, you'll need to get to your accommodation. You have multiple options for getting to the Cairns CBD from the airport:
Both the international and domestic terminals have taxi ranks right outside the terminal. A taxi will usually cost between $25-30 to the CBD. Taxis will usually be available on arrival as they tend to wait in the rank when planes land, but they can be contacted on 131 008 in order to book direct.
There is a bookable shuttle service from the airport to Sheridan St, where you can connect to the local bus service. This is operated by Sun Palm Transport and they have a desk in the Arrivals area. link
Uber operates in Cairns and can pick you up from the airport if you book via their app. Uber is liable to surge pricing so you may find they can be cheaper or more expensive than a taxi, depending on demand.
Many hotels and hostels provide private transfers from the airport directly to your accommodation. Check with your hotel if they provide this service, and book directly with them. This is usually a free service, depending on the distance.
There are two passenger trains that visit and depart from Cairns, the Spirit of Queensland which operates between Brisbane and Cairns five times a week, and the Kuranda Scenic Railway, operating daily.
Traveling approximately 1600 km over a 24 hour period, the Spirit of Queensland takes you through beautiful locations such as the Whitsundays, the Great Barrier Reef, Townsville and surrounds, and the Cassowary Coast. Arrive in style & comfort in a RailBed, which folds down into a layflat bed for a good night's rest. The trains have in-seat entertainment and hot meal service, 240 V power points to charge your accessories, fully accessible bathrooms and showers, a 24/7 operated galley car for snacks, and up to two 20 kg pieces of luggage are allowed per passenger. To see more, go to queenslandrailtravel.com.au
The historic Kuranda Scenic Railway operates a very unique day trip to nearby Kuranda, via the spectacular Barron Gorge. There are two daily trips departing Cairns Central in the mornings and returning latest 5:30 pm. For more information please see the What to do, or visit queenslandrailtravel.com.au/Railexperiences
Cairns Train Station
The Cairns Train Station and Travel Centre is located on the Bunda St side of Cairns Central Shopping Centre, on the ground level of the carpark. ksr.com.au
Greyhound operates all over Australia and you can catch a bus from most major cities and towns. These buses are air-conditioned, have free wifi and USB charging, leather reclining seats, toilet facilities on board, chilled drinking water, and assigned seating. Why not choose one of Greyhound’s passes for unlimited travel in a certain time period. For example, a Hop On Hop Off pass for unlimited travel between Sydney and Cairns for up to 90 days is only $469
The Cairns CBD is quite small and easily explorable on foot, but there are other options for travelling around the city.
There are bike hire services in Cairns that will rent out bicycles hourly or daily. It is a legal requirement in Queensland to wear a bicycle helmet when riding a bike. Please be safe! Here are some bicycle hire shops that we recommend in Cairns:
Cairns Bicycle Hirecairnsbicyclehire.com.au
Cairns Bicycle Hire hire out push bikes, electric bicycles, scooters and motorbikes. Push bikes generally go for about $25 per day. They are a local family business and are happy to run you through the basics of riding a scooter if it's your first time. They will also give you tips on getting out to some of our beautiful waterfalls on your bike, it's a great way to get out with your own wheels.
Cairns Sharehouse has multiple sharehouses around Cairns. They hire bikes out at discounted rates to their guests, and a slightly higher rate for other visitors. They hire the bikes out weekly so are better for longer stays.
SunBus operates throughout Cairns, from Gordonvale to Palm Cove. Please see https://translink.com.au/cairns for Maps, Timetables, Fares and other information.
Taxi and Ridesharing Services
Cairns Taxis can be booked by calling 131 008 or by downloading their app, follow the link from their website. There are several taxi ranks in the Cairns CBD, with the main one located near Lake St and Aplin St, near the Cairns City Bus Station.
Uber was introduced to Cairns in 2017, and is readily available. Just download their app to see available drivers and fare estimates.
What To See
The Great Barrier Reef
Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef! The largest reef system in the world extending over 2900 km of coastline and with over two million visitors a year, the Great Barrier Reef is Australia's natural wonder that is an absolute must-see on your visit to Cairns. There are several different trips available that caters to all levels of experience. Visitors may be surprised just how easy and accessible it is to snorkel in a world-class destination. Why not try diving? Queensland has some of the strictest safety regulations in the world for diving, so rest assured you will be in safe hands. There are plenty of attractions available: family-friendly pontoons, scenic helicopter flights, semi-submersible and glass bottom boat tours, professional marine biologist presentations, unconventional diving such as helmet diving or SNUBA, personalized snorkel tours, and many more!
Islands on the Reef
There are several unique islands nearby that are accessible by day boats. From small shifting sand cays to mountainous continental islands, they are a great way to see the full environment of the Great Barrier Reef, complete with bird life, mammals, and the various flora and fauna.
There are two day trips via the Fitzroy Flyer - departing at 8:00 am and 11:00 am, and Raging Thunder - departing at 9:00 am and 11:00 am. You can also stay overnight at the resort, or use thecamping facilities. Note: no fires allowed unfortunately.
The island is home to the amazing Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre>. Working with five different species of turtles, these volunteers have saved the lives of those affected by conditions such as boat strikes, ingestion, unnatural buoyancy, and even shark attacks. Sign up for a daily educational tour of the facilities, starting at 1 pm. A small fee applies, but definitely
Another interesting project going on at Fitzroy Island is the Reef Restoration Project. Sponsored in conjunction with the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and the Cairns Dive Centre, this coral nursery project is at the forefront of reef rehabilitation. If you are a Rescue Diver you may be able to help volunteer with this project.
If relaxation is more up your alley, head to the famous Nudey Beach, a short walk from the main jetty. Please be aware of Queensland public bathing laws, and that this is not in fact a nude beach. You'll pass by Foxy's Bar, a great little lunch spot.
The only sand cay in the world that has a rainforest, Green Island is a unique little oasis on the Great Barrier Reef. First visited by local Aboriginal peoples for their seasonal hunting and fishing grounds, then surveyed by Captain James Cook himself, the island received its name after Cook's astronomer Charles Green. It was then notably used as a station for beche-de-mer fishermen in the late 1800s. It began to attract more tourists over the next hundred years as it was developed with the first resort built back in the 1930s. In fact, there are many milestones which were a world-first achievement! The first glass bottom boat was built and operated at Green Island in 1937. The first underwater observatory was built in 1953 out of an old navy dive chamber. The Monkmans, a married couple who were some of the first to truly explore underwater photography, built the first movie theatre on an island in 1961. There is a wealth of history to be explored on the island, and one good place to see it is at Marineland
Cairns Botanic Gardens
Upon arrival to Cairns you’ll be sure to notice the lush, colourful trees and plants everywhere! The Botanic Gardens, located in the heart of Cairns on Collins Ave in the suburb of Edge Hill, showcases the stunning flora in beautiful, highly-maintained grounds. This paradise is one of Australia's premier exhibitions of tropical plants. Free guided tours are available, just show up on a weekday morning at 10 am at the Friends of the Botanic Gardens house and tag along for 60 - 90 minutes. Other tours such as a Bird Watching Tour and History tour are available once a week. Why not take a self-guided tour? Follow the link to download available audio tracks.
Art Galleries and Museums
Cairns Art Gallery
Located inside one of the few remaining heritage buildings in Cairns, this beautiful public gallery is free to enjoy. Three levels in this historic building is complete with a terrazzo floor, local timber polished walls, and stained glass window. Enjoy the award-winning exhibitions in air conditioned comfort in the heart of the city. This gallery will be sure to pique the interest of those wanting to enrich their cultural understanding of North Queensland, and its unique spot in the world that has inspired artists for many thousands of years. To check out their current exhibitions, go here
Festivals and Events
Walking Trails, Waterfalls and Rivers
What to do
Cairns has endless day trips available:
Great Barrier Reef
Visitors may be surprised just how easy and accessible it is to snorkel in a world-class destination. Why not try diving? Queensland has some of the strictest safety regulations in the world for diving, so rest assured you will be in safe hands. There are plenty of attractions available: family-friendly pontoons, scenic helicopter flights, semi-submersible and glass bottom boat tours, professional marine biologist presentations, unconventional diving such as helmet diving or SNUBA, personalized snorkel tours, and many more!
Cairns is home to a wide range of people from a variety of ethnicities and cultures. As such, we are lucky to be able to sample cuisines from all over the world. Restaurants in Cairns go from cheap meals appropriate for shoestring travellers, to fine dining options, and everything in between. Since this site is focused on travel tips, we'll rattle off the good places to eat in Cairns that we can recommend, instead of trying to list every single place that serves a meal.
Travel gems and must-eat spots
Cairns is a travel town first, and a foodie town second. Luckily these two great pursuits are easily combined. Here are our top picks for spots to eat while you're visiting our beloved city.
Cairns Burger Cafeview on map
First off the rank, my favourite burger bar. Cairns Burger Cafe claims to have the best burgers in Cairns, and I wholeheartedly support that assertion. The burgers are delicious, the menu is massive, and the staff are great. Easily the best bang for buck in terms of taste and volume. Grab a burger from CBC, a short walk to the esplanade, and ground yourself in a true Cairns experience. CBC is a hidden gem, just on the edge of the city and always frequented by locals, yet to be discovered by the backpacker crowd. I cannot recommend this place enough.
Howlin Jaysview on map
Another great bar/restaurant with awesome vibes and great decor, Howlin Jays is a great option for hangover (or pre-hangover) food. Specializing in southern style fried food and spicy chicken bits and pieces, as well as a fully stocked bar and the cheapest tequilas in town. Their menu is simple and effective and they have plenty of room for big groups, as well as a great view from the deck and a central location. Surprise your travel buddies with a great spot to start the night, or a special way to up the ante. Seriously. $4 tequila shots. Get on it.
Prawn Starview on map
The Prawn Star is a tiny restaurant on a boat in the marina in Cairns. They serve fresh seasonal meals based on the catch of the day. There is limited space and they don't take reservations - it's first come first served. If you want to get in you'll likely be waiting for a seat for a while. Etiquette at the Prawn Star, due to it's tiny seating area, is to get in early, smash a feed and a couple of frosties, and get out quickly. There's not many seats and there are a lot of people waiting for this local legend so don't be one of "those guys"!
Shoestring traveller? There are ways to get by in Cairns on a tight budget. Here are our best tips for cheap food in Cairns.
Woolworths Lake Stview on map
Believe it or not, one of the best cheap restaurants in Cairns isn't even a restaurant. The Woolworths on Lake St is a supermarket, but it contains a food stall that has some of the cheapest, and largest, hot food around. There is a food stall operating inside the supermarket that sporadically serves different types of street food - anything that can be spooned into a container - at random times and for random prices. Once I saw them ladling paella into large takeaway containers for $9.50 per serve. Another time they had spicy goulash for $11 for what must have been a liter of slop. If you're a shoestring traveller this is one of the best tips I can give you: stop by the Lake St Woolies and see if the paella stand is cooking. You could very well get a decent feed for ten bucks if you're lucky.
Fat Seagullsview on map
Bringing the all-you-can-eat to the cheap meals table, Fat Seagulls is a great option for the hungry ones. It is located inside Gilligans backpackers, next to the bar, but is open to the public (as is the Gilligans bar, wink wink slurp slurp). They charge around $16 for lunch and $20 for dinner, and you can fill your plate as many times as you like which, for you bottomless pits, is a great guarantee that you'll get a belly full - I'd say for the right person you'll even make them regret that pricing. The food isn't anything to mention, but there's a whole lot of it and you can go as hard as you like so if you're looking to gorge yourself this may be the ticket.
Bagus Cafeview on map
Out on the northern fringes of the Esplanade, Bagus Cafe ("bagus" is Indonesian for "good") is an excellent spot to grab a cheap and authentic meal. They really nail the Indonesian cuisine. I recommend the chicken satay skewers, which come with rice and salad, and are a no-fuss food option for any meal. the place is quite small and the kitchen is often run by only one or two people so be prepared to wait if you rock up during regular meal times. There are a couple of backpackers around the area so it's often a good jumping off point if you have met some travel buddies in town.
If you're like me, you're not too impressed with tiny gourmet portions, no matter the taste. Here are my top picks for best large meals restaurant options in Cairns.
No seriously. I see red when I order a bowl of pasta and they bring out a thimble. It's pasta god dammit! Load me up!
Cock and Bullview on map
This spot is hands down the best place to grab a gigantic, sensibly priced meal. It's so big they have two kitchens. A local watering hole and a local landmark, Cock And Bull pride themselves on providing essential pub grub at 1980's prices. This is how a tavern is supposed to be. Their chicken parmigiana drapes over opposite sides of your plate, their steaks are as thick as your mattress and their side of chips is reminiscent of the side of a bus. For classic Aussie counter meals and a great place to get sloshed, stop by Cock and Bull. Bonus round: Liquor Land is just around the corner for backups if you are so inclined.
Cairns Burger Cafeview on map
Hats off to Cairns Burger Cafe, they really do deliver on all fronts. I know I harp on them but it's for good reason. The burgers really are large and most of them come with a decent serve of chips (most, not all - you should ask when you order if you're set on them chips). This is one of those spots where you go in hungry like Tom Hanks from Survivor, and come out regretting how much you ate because now you can't move and your blood is made of cheese and beef patty. What are you still doing here? Shut the hell up and go to CBC already it's calling your name!
BTW they don't pay me for these gleaming reviews, I just really love the place, it's weird.
That Thai place in Rustysview on map
There are a bunch of food trucks along the Sheridan St side of Rustys Markets in Cairns. Most of them are good bang for buck, but one place in particular really stacks the noodles as high as they go. If you're hard up for a massive meal and you don't care who sees you stuff your head, head to Lao Thai Cuisine and order the large Pad Thai. I'm a big dude. I like my food. I take pride in leaving no morsel. I struggled to finish this plate. Not only is it a great classic Thai meal, but it is a comically large portion. You have to play the balancing game just to get it to a spare table without dropping some of the goodness, and everyone elses eyes boggle when they see that pyramid of Pad Thai. That's my hottest helper for you hungry holidaymakers, and a tip you're unlikely to get anywhere else. Mic drop.
Quick overview, link to eat and drink
The main supermarket in Cairns City is the Woolworths that covers the block between Lake St and Abbot St. You can find all the regular stuff, although the prices can be higher in that shop than elsewhere in town. There is also a Coles in Cairns Central which you might find has better prices.
Cairns also has a few smaller independent grocers such as the IGA xpress in the middle of the esplanade, which is open 24 hours a day, making it a perfect drunk food spot, or great if you find yourself out of party poppers and half-pumpkins at 3am on a Sunday morning.
Australian accommodation providers almost unanimously provide laundry facilities, so if you need laundry you should definitely check with your accommodation. However, if for whatever reason that's not an option, we've got you covered. First, check out our map for public laundry in Cairns. Then, read on for a quick run down on the way laundromats work in Australia.
Laundromats operate in Australia like you would find in most any country in the world. You put your clothes in the machine, insert your coins, and hit go. Generally you will be charged in time increments, and these days laundries can be surprisingly pricey. You may find that many laundromats don't have a change machine on-site. If this is the case, most shops are usually fine with breaking small notes into coins. I wouldn't recommend trying to break anything bigger than a twenty dollar note, that is a hassle for shop owners. Side note - most ATMs in Cairns dispense cash in multiples of 20, so you should be able to withdraw a 20 dollar note from any ATM, and break that at a nearby shop.
Coffee shop locations and reccommendations, link to eat and drink tagged ‘coffee’, maybe map?