48 Hours In Cairns: Things To Do

CAIRNS | Cairns, Australia is the gateway to tropical Far North Queensland. It’s a small city, and almost everything you might want to see is accessible by walking from your accommodation, no matter where in town you’re staying.

Many use Cairns as a stop off point before heading further north. However, if you choose to base yourself in the city, there’s a lot to do – be it a few days of relaxation in town, or short half day and full day trips further out.

I highly recommend spending more than just one night in Cairns, but if time is not on your side and you only have 48 hours or so in town, here’s some suggestions on things to do in Cairns, that will ensure you have a great experience.

See The Great Barrier Reef

It’s one of the natural wonders of the world, one of those things that’s somehow more spectacular than you imagine, when you see it in person. Visiting the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns is easy. Several operators run half day and full day tours, offering boat and helicopter rides to and from the reef. When there, you can partake in a variety of experiences from diving, snorkelling, chilling on a beach, and more.

Visit The Daintree Rainforest

The World Heritage Listed Daintree Rainforest is massive, and something that you could spend a whole lot of time exploring in its own right. If you’re on limited time, however, you can hire a car in Cairns and drive up the scenic Captain Cook Highway to Mossman Gorge. Mossman Gorge is a 56,000 hectare area within the Daintree National Park and is just a 77km drive up from Cairns.

Once you’ve explored, there are several stop offs on the drive back to Cairns that you can check out. The resort town of Port Douglas is worth visiting – while there make sure you check out Four Mile Beach. For a great meal, check out the highly regarded Nu Nu Restaurant, in Palm Cove.

Walk The Esplanade

Cairns Esplanade extends along the waterfront and was recently renovated and upgraded. It’s a great place to go for a stroll, especially in the evening as the sun goes down and the direct heat of the sun fades away.

There’s a lagoon that you can swim in, free recreational facilities, public art, barbecues, memorials, and informative signs that tell you all about the city, its history, and the traditional land owners.

Taste Fresh Tropical Fruits

Rusty’s Markets is one of my favourite places to visit in Cairns. The market was founded in 1975 with six stalls, and has since grown to 180 stalls featuring, amongst other things, a wide assortment of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables. Visit to enjoy things like lychees, mangosteens, jackfruit, dragonfruit, and varieties of mango and banana that you’ve likely never seen before.

See Contemporary Indigenous & Local Art

Cairns Art Gallery is one of Australia’s leading regional public galleries, recognised for the excellence of it’s programs and collections relating to the unique heritage and living culture of North Queensland. It showcases traditional Indigenous artworks to contemporary styles, with a focus on local artists.

Go On A Self Guided Street Art Tour

There are a number of excellent murals dotted around Cairns. A big part of it relates to the Sea Walls Australia exhibit of 2018. It saw 21 murals created by 21 artists in the city which aimed to raise awareness of the pressure of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef. See if you can find them all – the Sea Walls website has a guide on where they all are.

Enjoy Delicious Food, Local and Global

There’s a wealth of quality food in Cairns, with Asian and Pacific islander cuisines particularly well represented. Rusty’s Market is home to a number of street food vendors selling all kinds of global delights. Other options worth checking out are Japanese restaurant Hungry Wombat, Thai restaurant Imm Thai, Korean and Japanese dessert spot Ah-Room and Vietnamese pho masters, Pho Viet. For the freshest prawns around, Prawn Star, housed across several boats on the waterfront, is a must.

If it’s breakfast you’re after, visit Guyala Cafe, which focuses on tasty breakfast and lunch dishes which showcase native ingredients and local producers. The Chambers is another great option. For excellent coffee, visit the Chamber Room, Tattooed Sailor Coffee Roasters, and Vietnamese coffee specialists Annee’s Caphê Sua Da.

Sample Local Beer and Spirits

There are a lot of quality producers of alcoholic drinks in Far North Queensland. In Cairns, you can easily try the best that the region has to offer. Hemingway’s Brewery, located on the waterfront in huge, impressive space, brew beers on site and offer not just their beers, but tasting paddles and cocktails made using local spirits.

Beer lovers should also check out local brewers Coral Sea, and Sydney’s Sauce, who have a brewery and taproom in Cairns. Both also offer local spirits. If cocktails are more your thing, check out Wolf Lane Distillery’s cellar door, and small laneway bar, Three Wolves.

Visit The Night Market

Cairns Night Markets was established in 1991, when owners Hayden Redfern and Elise Warring noticed the increasing demand from tourists to purchase locally made goods. Today, the markets are home to over 131 vendors, offering all kinds of arts, crafts, clothing, jewellery, and more. There are also several food vendors.



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