Last month, I spent three glorious weeks relaxing in Cairns, in Queensland, Australia. Pronounced like “Cahns” by Aussies, (if you say the R they will probably make fun of you) this is not the Cannes where the film festival is, believe it or not. I incorrectly thought that until maybe two years ago, when I saw the word spelled out while researching the Great Barrier Reef.
Cairns City is known for sunny weather, warm winters, and for being the gateway to the tropics of Australia. The town itself is small, it’s easy to walk around the entire city in a day, or jump on a shuttle or bus to get around. While many people consider Cairns to be a bit trashy and overrun with tourists, I found a lot of charm in it. It was nice to go for a run and see the same people out for a walk on the Esplanade.
Accommodation in Cairns City
I stayed at Calypso Inn during my time in Cairns. It’s a great backpacker resort, just a 15-minute walk from the city center. While not in the beating heart of things, it was close enough to not miss any of the action, while being a bit quieter and more relaxed. The staff was super friendly, and I couldn’t argue with the free pancake breakfast every morning.
Things To Do in Cairns
Walking the Esplanade
The Esplanade runs from Calypso all the way to the city center. It’s a paved path with bike lanes and pedestrian walkways. It turns into a boardwalk, with various free activity provisions along the way, like volleyball nets and playgrounds for children. There are free barbecue stations, drinking fountains, and occasional markets and other events. The “beach” in Cairns isn’t a swimming beach, but rather a swimming pool called The Lagoon.
Opening every afternoon into the late evening, the Cairns Night Markets are the perfect place to stop if you need souvenirs. While it’s full of tacky knick-knacks and plenty of things that you don’t need, it’s a great stop for some jewelry, and other fun memorabilia to take home from your Australia trip – either as gifts or for yourself. From Boomerangs to keychains, opals to magnets, you can find something to buy here. There are also food stalls and bars where you can grab a drink – like frozen beers!
Day Trips from Cairns
Definitely make time for this if you want to get away to a quiet island paradise, and visit the stunning Nudey Beach, once voted the most beautiful beach in Australia. Just a warning – it’s not actually a nude beach, so keep your swimsuit on!
This was my favorite trip I did with Uncle Brian’s. You get to see some of the highlights of the Daintree Rainforest, cross the Daintree River, and go on a crocodile cruise in the wild. I loved visiting Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation too, it’s an excellent introduction to the beauty of tropical north Queensland. It’s a wicked way to spend a day, and you’ll meet other travelers, which is perfect for solo travelers and backpackers in Australia.
This was another epic adventure! An intense day trip to see a bunch of stunning waterfalls, including the famous Millaa-Milla falls where, allegedly, a Herbal Essences commercial was filmed years ago. The water is freezing, but it is refreshing if the sun is out. This tour was also jam-packed with fascinating information about animal and plant species of Queensland, including the deadly stinging trees and the terrifying snakes and spiders. Pack your swimsuit and a change of clothes, it’s a fun way to spend a day outside of Cairns City.
Best Restaurants and Nightlife in Cairns City
This was one of the best meals I had in Cairns. This place has delicious Southern food, like fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and burgers. You can even order your fried chicken burger WITH mac and cheese on it! Howlin Jays Restaurant is right on the pier, so it’s a lively and fun atmosphere. The staff is inviting, and you can even get a beer (“bogan water”) for just $4 a can – a real deal in Australia!
This Irish-style pub is fantastic not only for food but also as an option for a night out. They have a killer meal deal of an entree and a beer for $10 during the weeknights for dinner. I wasn’t expecting much out of it – I thought it would be a tiny version of a traditional entree of average bar food, but I was blown away by the chicken parmigiana and mashed potatoes. Hearty servings, with a salad and a beer. At night, they have a dance floor with DJs and live bands, so it’s an exciting place to go. There’s a large outdoor patio area too, so you’ll find a spot whether you want to dance or sit and talk with friends.
Beyond Gilligans, this is the most notable club in Cairns. Known for fun table dancing and all-night parties, the Woolshed is the perfect spot to end the night if you’re looking for a fun party.
For a day spent in the sun, sipping a local brew and enjoying being outside in the humidity, a trip to Hemingway Brewery is a must. It sits right off the marina in Cairns and is a wonderful stop for an afternoon of amazing brews, cocktails, and they have an extensive food menu. It would also be the perfect place to watch sports games. The beer was great and we tried cocktails with Four Pillars Shiraz Gin, which was delicious and refreshing in the Queensland heat.
No matter what you decide to do in Cairns, you can have an unforgettable few days in this city, whether it’s the start of your Australian east coast road trip, the end of it, or just a weekend getaway from a different city in Aus. Don’t skip Cairns if you’re traveling all the way to the continent, it’s a spot you don’t want to miss.