Australia is a big country, and travellers rarely have time to visit all the places on their wish list. Is Cairns worth visiting? My friends often ask me the question when they realise Cairns is quite far away and they cannot go everywhere in Australia.
If you ask me if Sydney is worth visiting, I say a big yes immediately. But for other Australian cities, my answer is always a bit more complicated.
If you have time and money, yes, Cairns is worth visiting. But if you’re asking the question, I bet one or the other is a challenge.
So I’ll let you answer a few of the below questions yourself and use my experience to find out if Cairns is worth visiting during YOUR trip.
Still working on your Australian itinerary? Read this to find out if Brisbane is worth visiting.
1. How much time do you have to visit Cairns?
You don’t want to go all the way to Cairns for just one day. You’ll need at the very minimum two full days to make a trip to Cairns worth it. Four days is good to enjoy all the great activities in the Cairns region. And if you have more time, you won’t get bored.
If you can, consider spending time away from Cairns
You’ll find amazing accommodation options such as the ECO Certified Thala Beach Nature Reserve*, Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa*, Daintree Wilderness Lodge* and Silky Oaks Lodge*), and you will be able to join night tours to experience the rainforest differently.
And if you’re up there for snorkelling or scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, there are many liveaboard options to sleep on the reef rather than in town.
2. What’s your budget for your trip to Cairns?
If you don’t have the budget to book tours or hire a car, a trip to Cairns may not be worth visiting. The city itself isn’t that special and there aren’t many free things to do in Cairns that would make your trip worth it. So if your budget is very limited (if you don’t have approx. $100/day for activities), you might want to skip Cairns and use the flight cost to book a cool day trip from another Australian city that you’re already visiting.
If hiring a car or joining a tour is an option, then you’ll have a blast exploring the Cairns region. I’d recommend not going for the cheapest tours if you can. You’ll have a much better experience by joining a smaller group with an experienced guide, for example.
3. Why are you considering visiting Cairns?
If you’re thinking of laying down on a beautiful beach and have a dip when you’re too hot, then reconsider your choice of visiting Tropical North Queensland. With the crocodiles and the jellyfish, you’ll surely be disappointed.
But if you’re after a combo of all the activities I listed below, then Cairns is worth visiting without a doubt. But is it worth going to Cairns to do only one of these things? Sometimes, you may find other options in Australia that are not that far away. I’m not saying they’re better than in Cairns, but I find that being aware of the other options helps decided if it is worth planning a trip to Cairns.
Is Cairns worth visiting for the Great Barrier Reef?
Many travellers plan to go to Cairns to visit the Great Barrier Reef. And it makes sense: Cairns has many options to visit the Great Barrier Reef to please different types of travellers. But there are other places where you can enjoy the Great Barrier Reef that may work better with your itinerary in Australia.
Actually, my favourite trips to the Great Barrier Reef were not from Cairns: check out Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island, for example. For scuba divers, a liveaboard leaving from Townsville will also take you to the amazing Yongala wreck. For non-divers, a cruise from Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays can take you around the beautiful islands to a pontoon on the outer reef with a semi-submersible.
Is Cairns worth visiting for the rainforest?
The rainforest in tropical north Queensland is amazing. It’s the world’s oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest. A trip to Cairns will give you special ways to experience it and connect with nature. Skyrail rainforest cableway* will let you see it from above. And a day trip from Cairns (or longer if you can!) will take you Mossman Gorge* and Cape Tribulation* to visit the stunning Daintree National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or to the Atherton Tablelands* to chase stunning waterfalls.
However, there are other places in Australia where you can experience the rainforest. It won’t be as famous as the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Daintree forest and there are surely fewer tours to explore the rainforest, but the other spots are nonetheless beautiful. Near Brisbane and the Gold Coast, you can visit Springbrook National Park or Lamington National Park for example. If you’ve already decided to visit these regions, you’re likely to feel like you’ve ticked the rainforest off the bucket list.
Is Cairns worth visiting for the extreme water sports?
If you’re up for a wet adventure, you’ll find a lot of things to do in Cairns other than exploring the reef. A few of them will trigger an adrenaline rush. If you want to try white water rafting, bungy jumping or canyoning, you’ll find guided tours from Cairns to take you on an adventure:
There are other places where you can go canyoning in Australia. We went canyoning a few times in the Blue Mountains. It was fantastic and more spectacular, but a lot harder. It was also a lot less comfortable: the water and outside temperatures were much colder in the Blue Mountains. Plus, canyoning tours in Cairns are running all year round!
4. When are you planning to visit Australia?
There are two main seasons in Cairns: the wet season and the dry season. Cairns is nice to visit all year round and each season brings its perks.
The temperatures are nice during winter (June to August) – a lot warmer than in the rest of Australia – and the weather is more predictable. Some would argue that Cairns is worth visiting only during that season.
It’s true that if you’re travelling to Australia during summer (December – March) and cannot stand a hot and humid climate, then Cairns is not worth visiting. However, the wet season is great to see pouring waterfalls in the rainforest and enjoy warmer water. But with the risk of cyclones, don’t travel to Tropical North Queensland during summer without travel insurance. It’s unlikely that a cyclone will get in the way, but it has happened to people I know and it’s a lot less stressful to travel up there knowing you are covered.
Do you think Cairns is worth visiting? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is Cairns?
Cairns is in Tropical North Queensland, at the top of Australia’s East Coast. It is well connected with domestic flights from all major Australian cities and even Uluru, Alice Springs and Darwin. Cairns also has an international airport with direct flights from and to Singapore, Bali, Japan, China, New Zealand and PNG.