Things to do in Cairns & the Tropical North

Itineraries for Your Trip to Cairns & the Tropical North

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2 Days in Cairns & the Tropical North for First Timers

Curated by Karen GardinerKaren is a Scottish freelance travel and culture writer based in the US. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, National Geographic, BBC, and Condé Nast Traveler.

With two days in Cairns, you have time to thoroughly explore the city and its surroundings—by water, land, and air—as well as venture deeper into the Great Barrier Reef or Kuranda Rainforest. Here is how to spend two days in the gateway to the tropical north.

Day 1: Morning

Get your first look at the Great Barrier Reef aboard a scenic flight. Fixed-wing airplanes usually feature all window seating for unobstructed views. Flights typically take 30 to 60 minutes and soar over Green Island, Upolu Cay, and Michaelmas Reef, as well as Cape Grafton, False Cape, Double Island, and Cairns’ Northern Beaches.

Day 1: Afternoon

In the afternoon, embark on a half-day sightseeing tour of Cairns and its surroundings. Guided tours typically visit city attractions such as the Flecker Botanical Gardens and St. Monica's Cathedral. A quicker alternative is to zip around the city on a tour by Segway Ninebot, or you can explore independently by taking a self-guided audio tour.

Day 1: Night

Conclude your evening with a sunset cruise along the Trinity Inlet. Aboard a comfortable catamaran, you can soak up the city and harbor views and enjoy a drink and appetizers. Some cruises offer the option of adding on dinner at one of the city’s top restaurants.

Day 2: Morning

Get a look at the Great Barrier Reef;s marine life on a diving or snorkeling cruise, which typically leave in the morning, return in late afternoon, and include lunch, although half-day tours may be available. An alternative is to go to Kuranda Rainforest on a full-day tour—you’ll likely take the Kuranda Scenic Railway to Kuranda and visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary before returning to Cairns on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Some tours also include lunch and Aboriginal cultural experiences.

Day 2: Afternoon

If you didn't opt for a full-day tour, take the afternoon to see more of the nature surrounding Cairns. Land-loving adventurous types may want to take an afternoon ATV tour, which offers adventure in the rain forest and gets you places a typical tour won't. Or take the afternoon to visit the Rainforestation Nature Park.

Day 2: Night

Learn about Aboriginal culture with dinner at Flames of the Forest, an open-air site that features storytelling and live performances. Most tours offer round-trip hotel transfers.

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