August 17, 2020

City Guide: Top 10 Must-See Attractions Around Cairns

If you’ve never been to Cairns, then, you’re missing out on a lot of adventure and fun as this city is modern and vibrant and brimming with activities that every tropical oasis-lover will ever want. The city is often advertised as tropical and touristy, which is true especially as it is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef! Yep, the world’s largest and most beautiful coral reef system with 900 islands and 2,900 individual reefs can be visited from Cairns, and that is no joke! Every day, there are trips departing from Cairns that take visitors of all levels of experience to the Great Barrier Reef. But aside from the Great Barrier Reef, you can also visit Daintree Rainforest and Port Douglas from Cairns.

The city also boasts lush rainforests and the cloud-covered plateau of the Atherton Tableland. It’s got palm-lined streets that give you an air of amazing tropical adventure. The locals love to relax and unwind in the many cafes, water-themed attractions, parks, and playgrounds, as well as in the Cairns Esplanade. This place is a scenic promenade of about 2.5 kilometres featuring BBQ areas, a children’s water park, waterfront boardwalks, and a swimming lagoon. The central hub is located at the southern end of the Cairns Esplanade where the marina, Red Fleet Terminal, lagoon, and over 100 restaurants are located. But if you want some peace and quiet, the northern end of the esplanade is where you should go.

The Great Barrier Reef

Cairns: a bird's eye view of the Great Barrier Reef

There are so many fascinating things about the Great Barrier Reef, which is one of the most remarkable gifts of nature to Australia. Aside from the islands and individual reefs that can be found here, it is also home to beautiful and sun-soaked beaches. Anyone who comes here can go scuba diving, snorkelling, and swimming or simply enjoy the scenery and ambiance.

It is very interesting to know that the Great Barrier Reef is larger than the Great Wall of China, stretching for more than 2,300 kilometres, and is the only living thing that can be seen from space! It’s one of the world’s richest ecosystems with diverse hard and soft corals, sharks, turtles, dolphins, molluscs, and countless species of fish.

There are numerous other activities to do here, including exploring the stunning Whitsunday Islands and trekking the lush Daintree Rainforest. However you want to spend a day in the Great Barrier Reef, just being able to come here is already a great adventure.

It’s every foodie’s haven

Cairns: a delicious and fresh plate of seafood

One of the most interesting aspects of any city is its food scene, and yes, Cairns does not disappoint in this area! In fact, anyone who has come here can attest to its being every foodie’s haven. Its café scene is especially thriving, with many trendy cafes dotted along Spence and Grafton streets. You can’t go wrong with breakfast at Caffiend, a cosy laneway café that serves your favourite French toast and chilli eggs paired with some cold drip coffee and coconut lattes. In other parts, there are also cafes that specialise in vegan treats and coffee. And as you go around the city, you will notice how they have Nutella ice coffee everywhere.

Before you even book that flight to Cairns, it’s a must to know the most important and can’t-miss places to see in the city. Here are our 10 attractions to see in Cairns.

1. Cairns Esplanade

The clear waters and fish-like structure in the Cairns Esplanade

This is without a doubt the most popular spot in Cairns—the perfect place for a sunrise or sunset stroll and for imbibing the unique atmosphere of the city. It beautifully stretches along the seafront and features lush tropical parks, a foreshore promenade, playgrounds, and a swimming lagoon. You can let time pass in its bouldering park or enjoy a game or two at the beach volleyball courts. Of course, it’s a good place for exercising with its bike lanes, skate park, and exercise equipment.

2. Cairns Botanic Garden

One of the quiet and cool pathways of the Cairns Botanic Garden

It seems like every major city in Australia has its own version of a botanic garden. Of course, Cairns has its own too that was originally laid out in 1886. More than 4,000 different species of plants can be found in various kaleidoscope gardens, including the Flecker Garden, Rainforest Boardwalk, and the Centenary Lakes. There are also a bamboo collection and a fern garden, in addition to the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden.

3. Kuranda

Cairns: the scenic Kuranda railway

What makes Cairns an especially great place to visit is the fact that its beauty isn’t limited to only what you can see in the city. Kuranda, situated in the lush rainforest of the Atherton Tableland, is one of the must-sees outside the city. You can enjoy gliding over lush rainforests aboard the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway that lets you look over the Barron River and gorge. Also, the Kuranda Scenic Railway is a great experience that lets you pass through cool cascades and plunging ravines.

Adding to the attractions here is the Kuranda Markets, composed of the Original Markets and the Heritage Markets, which is open daily. From handmade crafts, aboriginal artefacts, and souvenirs to jewellery and tropical culinary treats, this place certainly won’t disappoint.

4. Barron Gorge National Park

Cairns: A distant view of the Barron Gorge with the waterfall flowing

You really haven’t been to Cairns if you’ve never been to the Barron Gorge National Park. It’s part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area filled with dense rainforests and magnificent waterfalls. As mentioned above, you can take a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway to get the best views of the area or through the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. You shouldn’t miss seeing the striking Barron Falls that drops at a height of 260 metres, making it a fabulous sight especially during the wet season.

5. Green Island

Cairns: Blue waters and the Green Island

Cairns is also blessed with other islands and beaches. Take, for one, the magnificent Green Island. With just a short boat ride from Cairns, you can already enjoy swimming, snorkelling, and scuba diving on the island. There are also well-maintained boardwalks where you can wind through to enjoy the scenery and lush greenery. Interestingly, you can find the Michaelmas Cay here, which is the nesting place of thousands of seabirds.

6. Fitzroy Island

A sunny day in the clean beach of Cairn's Fitzroy Island

Get your dose of sun, sea, and sand on Fitzroy Island, which is a mere 45-minute journey from Cairns. Aside from its clear, turquoise blue waters, it also has walking trails leading to a lighthouse and a lookout on the island’s peak. On Fitzroy Island itself, you can join any of the half-day kayak tours being offered that let you explore the colourful soft corals in nearby Little Fitzroy Island.

7. Cairns Aquarium

A colourful fish swimming in an aquarium in Cairns

If you don’t see yourself getting on a catamaran to see the beautiful Great Barrier Reef, then, a visit to the Cairns Aquarium is a good option. In fact, it’s perfect for visitors with children because it’s a safe and amazing place from where to learn about Australia’s marine ecosystems and the Great Barrier Reef’s creatures. Opened in 2017, Cairns Aquarium is home to more than 15,000 animals living in 10 ecosystems within the aquarium. There are 70 habitats that include mangroves, river systems, tropical rainforests, the Coral Sea, and the Great Barrier Reef.

8. Rusty’s Market and other night markets

A bunch of rambutan fruits

The city’s fun isn’t limited to just its parks because you can find in Cairns some of the most interesting night markets. In fact, Cairns’ night markets are open 365 days a year, offering both locals and visitors with an experience like no other. Shops open from 5 PM to 11 PM, while the food court opens from 10 AM to 11 PM. You’ll literally get lost in an ocean of vast offerings that include food stalls, souvenirs, and works of designers and artists.

One of the famous markets is Rusty’s Market, which opens at 5 AM on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. You’ll be amazed to see the place that’s been the foodie hub of Cairns for many generations.

9. Lyquid Nightlife

white couches in an al fresco restaurant

Of course, Cairns offers an exciting nightlife, especially for the young backpacker tourists it consistently welcomes. And among the many nightlife spots that are scattered all over the city, one of the most famous is Lyquid Nightlife. It isn’t cheap with its interior design as its entrance features a gorgeous water swirl theme. Its luxe interior is something you won’t ever forget.

10. Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

An aboriginal show where the cast is blowing smoke

The indigenous culture of Australia is really interesting. Visit the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park and meet the original custodians of the land who would be more than happy to share their creation myth using a combination of high-tech holograms and actors.

Cairns may not be the most popular city in Australia, but it definitely boasts attractions that can leave you in awe!

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