Top 10 Things To Do in Cairns for Backpackers

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Cairns is a laid-back, yet vibrant city and is considered the gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. From wandering along the esplanade and swimming in the lagoon, to sailing out to the islands and snorkelling with turtles, there is something to do in Cairns for everyone - especially backpackers. Whether you're starting your trip, half-way through or you're at the end, Cairns has plenty of fun things to do that are backpacker friendly. Our experienced, local team has developed a guide to the top 10 things to do in Cairns for backpackers!


1. Visit the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reefs as well as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. The reef is one of Australia’s largest tourist attractions - and very popular with backpackers. From learning to scuba dive to hopping aboard a glass bottom boat, there are so many ways in which you can explore the Great Barrier Reef and discover the exotic array of tropical sea life. Day tours out to the reef leave daily from the Cairns Marlin Marina. 

Great Barrier Reef snorkelling


2. Jump on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Experience the rainforest from an entirely new perspective on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. It runs above the Barron Gorge National Park from Cairns to the Kuranda Village and is one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests. You can comfortably relax in the spacious cabin which fits six people as you soar over the ancient scenery and take in the breathtaking views. The journey takes 1.5 hours all up and is said to be one of Australia’s most beautiful eco rainforest experiences. Definitely an unforgettable activity!

Skyrail in Cairns Australia


3. Get your party on

As Cairns is a backpacking hotspot, it means that there is some pretty epic nightlife in the town, aimed towards those amped travellers wanting to mingle and boogie. Cairns has options for all sorts of ‘nights out’. If you’re chasing a more ‘tame’ night out where you can kick back with a beer or cocktail, try Three Wolves, Flamingos Tiki Bar, or PJ O’Briens Irish Pub. But, if you’re keen to dance into the early hours of the morning, visit The Cotton Club, Gilligans, or Woolshed. You can even stumble out of the clubs into one of the kebab shops that are open until late too!

A group of people in swimwear sitting on the edge of a pool


4. Visit a waterfall

Cairns is known for being surrounded by beautiful waterfalls. What better way to make your friends back home jealous than by taking 'gram worthy' photos of you in front of one of the many breathtaking waterfalls? Take your pick out of Stoney Creek, Josephine Falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls, Millstream Falls National Park, Emerald Creek or Millstream Falls National Park. With so many waterfalls to visit, you’ll want to stay in Cairns for weeks on end! Check out our free Atherton Tablelands self-drive waterfall circuit to spot the most majestic cascades! 

A man and a woman sitting in front of a tropical waterfall


5. Get your adrenaline fix

Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie who loves a thrill or you’re a first-timer, keen to tackle those fears and step out of your comfort zone, Cairns has got something suitable for everyone. From skydiving over the Great Barrier Reef, white water rafting through the pristine World Heritage rainforest, bungee jumping above a clear lagoon in the middle of dense rainforest, to ziplining over crocodiles, your thrill-seeking dreams can be fulfilled. What better way to make your Australian adventure as memorable as possible!

Skydiving in Cairns


6. Relax by the lagoon

The Cairns Lagoon is one of the most popular spots in town, filled with locals and backpackers alike. The patrolled lagoon is open every day of the year and is the ideal swimming location to stay safe from stingers and crocodiles. Have a barbeque with friends old or new, curl up under a palm tree with a book, admire the public artwork displayed around, or even join a free aqua aerobics class. It is the perfect place to visit to cool yourself down in the hot Cairns heat.

The lagoon in Cairns


 7. Spend a day in a mountain village

Just 25km northwest of Cairns is where you can find this picturesque village of Kuranda. The fascinating mountain retreat is surrounded by tropical, dense rainforest and is full of wonderful surprises. You can find this hidden gem by car or you could be a little more adventurous and take the Skyrail OR the Kuranda Scenic Railway to really get the full experience. Enjoy wandering through the village, stopping by the markets, chatting to locals and admiring some of the wildlife attractions!

Mountain village in Cairns


8. Check out the night markets

When travelling, markets are one of the best ways to get to know what the local area has to offer. The Cairns Night Markets and Food Court has all types of stalls. From clothing, souvenirs, opals, silver, essential oils to artwork, there is something for everyone. The food court includes various cuisines, fully licensed restaurants, ice creameries, coffee outlets and more. Open from 4:30 pm until 11 pm every night of the week, it is a great place to stop in before you leave (and you can grab that last-minute souvenir to remember your awesome time in Cairns)!

Night markets in Cairns Australia
Photo: Thrillophilia


9. Learn about the local wildlife 

Cairns is home to a unique range of native Australian wildlife from kangaroos to cockatoos! Admire the free-flying native birds at the Cairns Wildlife Dome, get up close and personal with crocodiles at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure Park, interact with over 1500 species of butterflies at the Butterfly Sanctuary or meet a koala at the Kuranda Koala Gardens. As a tourist in Australia, learning about Australian animals is fascinating - and you’ll discover that not ALL animals here will eat you… despite what you’ve heard!

Bird sanctuary in Cairns


10. Explore the art culture

From traditional Indigenous artwork to more contemporary art, the Cairns Art Gallery has it all. The gallery is located in the heart of the town and is home to a wide variety of local, national and international artworks. With an ever-evolving display of exhibits, there will certainly be something worth checking out while you’re in Cairns. Conveniently located next door is the Court House Gallery which includes both visual and performing arts in the town’s refurbished old courthouse. Another place to check out is the Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre where you can gain an authentic understanding of Indigenous art. The centre has visual art in all forms; paint, pots, textiles and traditional objects.

Art exhibit in Cairns AustraliaPhoto: Cairns Art Gallery


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