7 days in Cairns city and 11 amazing places to visit

Cairns Espanade

Cairns is a small, vibrant city in the middle of tropical north Queensland. It is a popular holiday destination for many international tourists and visitors from colder parts of Australia like New South Wales and Victoria. No doubt, it is a perfect place to escape colder months.

For us, Cairns is a special place that offers numerous tourist attractions and a great tropical atmosphere.

The first time we visited Cairns was during our trip around Australia. Now, we visit the town frequently usually in the winter months.

We have already posted a few articles about attractions around Cairns, but this year we decided to focus mainly on Cairns City and its surroundings.

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The best time to visit Cairns is Australian winter, generally, from May to September. In other months, temperatures get higher than 26 C and the rain and humidity make everyone crave a cool and dry aircon room.

Wintertime guarantees less rainy weather and more time to discover all the unique places in and around Cairns.

Is it possible to stay in Cairns City for 7 days and not get bored?

Let’s check it out.

#1 Cairns Lagoon

Cairns Lagoon is a mingling point for anyone visiting Cairns City and locals too. This free, public 4800 square meter swimming pool is open all year round between 6 am to 9 pm.

Considering there is always summer in Cairns lagoon waters are warm the whole year making the place so popular.

The lagoon itself has all amenities you want like public toilets and showers, lockers, BBQs and a public car park.

Cairns Lagoon
Cairns Lagoon

In the below table all the distances are calculated from Cairns Lagoon which is the centre point in Cairns City.

AttractionDistance from Cairns LagoonHow to get thereBest Time
Cairns EsplanadeStretches 2.4 km northwestWalkSunrise
Cairns Marlin Marina300 meters eastWalkAll-day
Cairns Aquarium550 meters northwestWalkOpen daily
10am – 3pm
Hemingway’s Brewery750 meters southeastWalkOpen daily
12pm – 9pm
Cairns Botanical Gardens4.5 km northwestWalk or UberAll-day
Mount Whitfield Hiking4.5 km northwestWalk or Uber to the base of the walkAll-day
Kuranda Railway and SkyrailKuranda Freshwater Station – 11 km
Sky Rail – 14 km
Cairns Northern BeachesPalm Cove – 27 km
Cliffton Beach – 24 km
Trinity Beach – 21 km
Uber and walk from Palm Cove to Trinity Beach (10 km) or do only part of the walkAll-day
Green Island27 km (direct line);
Boat from Marina – 300 meters east
(November to March sea waters are less choppy)
Fitzroy Island29 km;
Boat from Marina – 300 meters east
(November to March sea waters are less choppy)

#2 Cairns Esplanade

Cairns Esplanade is a gathering point for locals and visitors from around Australia and overseas since it was founded in the late 1800s. The esplanade is a recreational area with parks, playgrounds, walks, restaurants and a lagoon.

The Cairns Regional Council is responsible for managing the city’s public spaces and amenities, including the stunning Cairns Esplanade, which offers sweeping views of the ocean and the surrounding mountains.

The esplanade is also home to the Cairns Central Shopping Centre, which features a range of shops and eateries, as well as the Cairns Performing Arts Centre, which hosts a range of cultural events and performances throughout the year.

The centre of Cairns (CBD) is located along Spence Street, which is home to a range of businesses and attractions, including the Reef Hotel Casino and the popular night markets.

Visitors to Cairns can also explore the city’s rich artistic heritage at the Cairns Art Gallery, which is home to a collection of contemporary and traditional artworks from the region and beyond.

Cairns Esplanade
Cairns Esplanade

Here you will find many free fitness classes like Aqua Zumba, Beach volleyball, Bouldering, Pilates, Sahaja meditation, Senior fitness and Zumba.

Once you are done with your activities, you can find a place in one of many good restaurants on the esplanade like La Pizza, Ochre or Salt House.

Cairns Esplanade is active all year round with the busiest time around school holidays.

Expect live music and entertainment during these times.

#3 Cairns Marlin Marina

Considering Cairns is a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, this makes Cairns Marina your starting point for any sea trip.

The closest snorkelling trip from Cairns is to the Green Island cruise which we cover later.

The marina itself is a charming place with magnificent views of the city and surrounding hills. There are many bars and restaurants along the shore plus some even located on boats like Prawn Star seafood restaurant.

Apart from the barrier reef tours, you can also book a river cruise where the waters are calmer. A popular sunset cruise we enjoyed was Spirit of Cairns: Waterfront Dining Experience.

#4 Cairns Aquarium

Cairns Aquarium should be one of the reasons to visit Cairns City.

The aquarium is huge and has many tanks and exhibitions. Everything is organised into 9 sections that include creeks and streams, river systems, gulf savannah, swamps, rainforest, forest floor, mangroves, Great Barrier Reef, and the Coral Sea.

Cairns Aquarium
Cairns Aquarium

Here you can see animal presentations, guided habitat talks, a marine touch pool and daily shark and ray feeding.

It is a perfect place for kids to learn about the biodiversity of life on the Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest. For those more adventurous there is a Scuba Dive option for closer encounters with sharks.

Attached to the aquarium there is Dundee’s Restaurant with an amazing sea life backdrop.

#5 Hemingway’s Brewery

Located at the end of Cairns Esplanade. Hemingway’s Brewery is a must-stop visit for everyone fond of a good beer. The brewery got the AIBA award in 2021 – the largest annual beer competition in the world held annually in Melbourne.

Hemingways Brewery
Hemingway’s Brewery

Hemingway’s brewery has two venues, one in Port Douglas Marine, and one here in Cairns.

The venue in Cairns is located in the heritage Cairns Wharf shed at the Cruise Liner Terminal with views across Trinity Inlet.

There is a lot of space to seat and eat. At the weekend there is a live band.

#6 Botanical Gardens

Cairns Botanical Gardens are located a bit further from the previously listed Cairns City attractions (4.5 km from Cairns Lagoon), but these must not be missed if you are nearby.

What you notice when entering the gardens is lush and dense vegetation everywhere. Due to Cairns’s wet weather (it rains all year round) the plants can really thrive here making it a tropical paradise with the best exhibitions of the plants you could ever see anywhere.

Cairns Botanical Gardens
Cairns Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens are split into two main sections: the northern part with short walks across gardens and Tanks Art Centre and the southern part with longer walks along Freshwater Lake and Saltwater Lake.

You can spend a good half a day in the gardens making an occasional break for a coffee or lunch in the Visitor Centre. They serve really good food!

Once you admire the gardens come here the next day for a long walk in Mount Whitfield Conservation Park which starts right behind the Visitor Centre.

#7 Mount Whitfield Hiking

Mount Whitfield is the only hiking you can do in close proximity to Cairns City. For other hikes, you have to travel further to Atherton Tableland.

There are four trails in Mount Whitfield: Red, Yellow, Blue and Green.

Red Arrow (1.5 km) – starts and ends in Botanic Gardens. The trail does not require bushwalking experience but it has many steps on the way to the top where Blue Circuit starts. The path is concreted and free of obstacles.

Yellow Arrow (1.9 km) – starts from a lookout to Cairn Airport where the Blue Arrow trail loop starts. It is a very windy trail, but the path is wide and has no obstacles. No previous hiking experience is required.

Blue Arrow (6 km) – it is a proper hiking trail where some bushwalking experience is required. It has numerous steps and obstacles like rocks or roots. The path is narrow as it goes through the rainforest, but the signage is present so it is easy to navigate.

In the middle of the loop, you can turn a left exit to Lumley Hill to enjoy the views of Cairns Airport from the north side.

Green Arrow (3 km) – it is a continuation Blue Arrow trail that goes to the west and ends at Bel Air Drive.

Read more about Mount Whitfield Trails.

#8 Kuranda Railway and Skyrail

Kuranda Railway and Skyrail are two iconic Cairns attractions that all visitors long for. Even though these two attractions are not located in Cairns City, you can Uber easily to Cairns Freshwater Station where the train departs or Skyrail to get on the gondola.

What is the best way to enjoy Kuranda Railway and Skyrail

  1. Book a Kuranda Railway Train in the morning and depart from Cairns Freshwater Station. Hop off to see Barron Falls.
  2. Enjoy Kuranda! Go shopping, visit Kuranda Koala Gardens, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and Birdworld Kuranda. Grab some coffee or lunch.
  3. Get on the gondolas on the way back. Hop off at Red Peak and Barron Falls. Take part in complimentary ranger-guided tours.

#9 Go for a walk on northern beaches

Have you ever heard of Cairns’s northern beaches? They are a chain of relaxed seaside villages lying north of Cairns each with a relaxing tropical atmosphere and unique features.

Cairns beaches are home to many Queenslands and a location for tourists seeking a tropical paradise. Each beach is different and depending on what you are looking for you can find one that suits your lifestyle to leave here or be perfect as a holiday destination.

This is a quick summary of each of Cairns’ northern beaches.

Ellis Beach – a small narrow beach for a holiday destination with campsites and cabin accommodation.

Palm Cove – the most iconic beach north of Cairns. It is an idyllic seaside village with many resorts and other accommodation. Busy with tourists all year round. It features a jetty for those who like fishing.

Cliffton Beach – located between Palm Cove and Trinity Beach is a hideaway for locals and those visitors who prefer some peace. There is a big shopping centre when you enter the suburb but the beach is quiet with only a few resorts. The beach is not wide even on the high tide.

Cliffton Beach
Cliffton Beach

Kewarra Beach – this is where you find multimillion houses right on the beach. The suburb is relatively small with narrow access to the beach. The beach here widens and is much wider than one in Cliffton Beach. There is only one resort. Not very popular with tourists.

Trinity Beach – is a popular residential area with excellent waterfront restaurants, resorts, and walking tracks along the esplanade or to Earl Hill Lookout. The beach is popular with locals and tourists but not as much as Palm Cove.

Trinity Beach
Trinity Beach
Travel Spiced Life

If you love Thai food as we do, try Tuk Tuk by The Sea menu right on the Trinity Beach Esplanade!

Yorkers Knob – a residential area with a beautiful beach and dear houses on the top of Yorkers Knob. It has a big shopping centre with a cinema, dining and supermarkets. Not touristy.

Holloways Beach – the second closest to Cairns beach features a sleepy village with cafes and restaurants. It is perfect for a weekend escape. Not touristy.

Machans Beach – the closest beach to Cairns and one where you can’t sunbake. It features a rock walk right on the narrow beach. There are no hotels or resorts. Not touristy.

The best way to soak in the tropical atmosphere and local life of the beaches is to drive to one of the northern beaches and walk along.

We took Uber to Palm Cove and walked south via Cliffton Beach, and Kewarra Beach to arrive at Trinity Beach. It was a long walk with short coffee and lunch break and the end, but one that we remember for a long time.

#10 Green Island

Green Island is the most popular destination for those who don’t want to travel further to the reef and still go snorkelling or diving.

It is just 45 minutes trip from Cairns. The main activities on Green Island are snorkelling (you can hire snorkelling gear if you don’t have one), glass-bottom boat, scuba diving, helicopter scenic flights, parasailing, and Wunyami cultural tours.

You can spend the whole day on Green Island and if you want to come back the following days, there is an option to buy a 7 days pass.

Travel Spiced Life

Dry season (May-Sep) – more choppy waters but no stingers.
Wet season (Nov-Apr) – less choppy waters but stingers may be present.

#11 Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island is an option for those who want to have an all-in-one experience. Apart from ‘standard’ reef activities like snorkelling or diving tours Fitzroy Island due to its hilly landscape offers hiking trails with stunning island and reef views from the lookouts.

Also, there is a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre where you can learn about a journey to recovery for injured or sick turtles.

The big highlight of the island is the luxurious Fitzroy Island Resort where you can book accommodation, and stay on the island enjoying the resort facilities.

7 days in Cairns City – Summary

Usually, when you think about Cairns you have a few things in mind like Great Barrier Reef tours, Atherton Tableland or Daintree Rainforest.

What we found out is that Cairns City offers a lot by itself.

Things like renovated Cairns Merlin Marina, Hemingway’s Brewery or Botanical Gardens are just a few that we have not seen before, but there are other things in Cairns that make you stay for 7 days or even longer.

The biggest highlight for us was Cairns night live with music bands, alfresco restaurants and this amazing tropical atmosphere that you will not find in other cities.

We highly recommend it!

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