Discover Cairns, Australia in 5 Days

Known as the tropical gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns boasts impressive museums, vibrant nightlife, delightful streets, variety of restaurants and cafes.  So, do not skip the city like what most tourists do, because it offers a wide range of attractions and activities. Our suggested itinerary is designed to show you the best the city has to offer and what are the things you can accomplish in 5 days. Depending on your interests and travel priorities, you can certainly mix and match destinations, activities, and attractions to create your own itinerary.

aerial Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Australia

Great Barrier Reef from above (ronnybas frimages / Shutterstock)

Things to know before traveling to Cairns, Australia: 

Language – English is the official language in Australia, although you will be surprised by many other different languages spoken across the country. Since the country has turned into a multi-cultural society, which is now clearly visible almost everywhere, you’ll often hear people on the street, shops and restaurants speaking just about anything from Japanese and Mandarin Chinese to Italian.

Currency exchange – The official currency of Australia is the Australian dollar. Australia is a well-developed country with a good banking and financial infrastructure. This means, exchanging money is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in the world. You may transact with banks, foreign exchange bureaus, international airports and hotels. You may also use debit cards and credit cards but watch out for ATM fees and foreign transaction fees, which can be very high per transaction. It is also good to know that there are plentiful of ATMs available throughout the country so you will surely have easy access to cash.

Australian dollar bills

Australian dollar bills (Robyn Mackenzie / Bigstrockphoto.com)

Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Australia. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Observe the same precautions with your personal safety and health as you would in any other country. For any type of emergencies, you may call 000 if you need a quick response from the fire service, police, ambulance or search and rescue.

Getting around – Getting around Australia, where major tourist attractions are thousands of miles apart, can be a bit daunting and time consuming so it is best to explore by region. Public transport in Brisbane is appealing to budget conscious travelers as it is served by the local buses called Sunbus. Biking is also an option because the town is mostly flat and has dedicated bike lanes.  If you are short on time or you prefer less time walking, renting a car and driving on your own is another great option, which will give you complete control of the trip.

Where to stay – There’s a great variety of accommodation in Cairns; from small guesthouses to five-star luxury hotels. In almost any town, there’s something for every level of comfort and budget. The central district is home to posh residences, parks and gardens, finest cafes and restaurants, among other things. Palm Cove, Trinity Beach and Clifton Beach are not in the center but are excellent choices if you want an actual beach escape.

Palm Cove, Cairns, Australia

Palm Cove one of the popular tourist towns in the area and it is located just north of Cairns (Darren Tierney / Shutterstock)

Hotels to consider in Cairns:

Ingenia Holidays Cairns Coconut

Pullman Reef Hotel Casino

Jack & Newell Cairns Holiday Apartments

Cairns City Palms

BreakFree Royal Harbour Resort

Day by day itinerary: Discover Cairns, Australia in 5 Days 

Day 1: Arrival in Cairns

Take an international flight to Cairns International Airport in Cairns, the tropical gateway to the Great Barrier Reef on the east coast of Queensland, Australia. It is best to get an early morning arrival so you could fight off your jet lag before you go exploring in the afternoon. Upon arrival, make sure to drop by the Cairns Tourist Information Center located on the Cairns Esplanade to get printed tourist maps, bus schedule and tour recommendations.

The Cairns Swimming Lagoon on the Esplanade is a magnet for backpackers and locals (fboudrias / Shutterstock)

Frequent travelers would agree that Cairns is a perfect walking city because the city center is mostly flat. Even without a rigid itinerary, you will definitely enjoy strolling in its delightful streets Located just two blocks from the esplanade, start your tour at the Cairns Museum and History, which is a great way to get acquainted with the city. During summer (December to February), it is the perfect time to explore Cairns Botanical Gardens famed as one of the best exhibitions of tropical plants in Australia.

Cairns Botanical Garden, Australia

Fresh water lake at Cairns Botanic Gardens (Gekko Gallery / Shutterstock)

Day 2 and 3: The Great Barrier Reef

On day 2 to 3, check off the next thing on your wanderlust wish list, which is to see the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system. You can either go on a snorkeling day excursion from Cairns or go on a multi-day scuba diving adventure, both of which will let you get up close and personal with this living masterpiece. There are plenty of dive shops in town, which offer a day or multi-day all-inclusive package to the reef. Alternatively, joining one of Liveaboard diving trips is an excellent choice if you don’t want to bother with trip research, accommodation and food.

Clown fish, Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Australia

Clown Fish in Anemone, Great Barrier Reef (reneefairhurst / Shutterstock)

Day 4: Kuranda

For scuba divers, they must spend at least 24 hours in Cairns before flying. If you just went snorkeling the prior day, then you would not be able to fly back to Brisbane or Sydney.

Kuranda Scenic Railway, Australia

Kuranda Scenic Railway (HIROSHI H / Shutterstock)

Another day or two in Cairns will give you an opportunity to board the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway, and explore the mountain village of Kuranda. It is an exciting two-hour journey past waterfalls and gorges through Barron Gorge National Park’s rugged mountains. In Kuranda, visit the markets and jump on the Skyrail for spectacular views over the rain-forest. Kuranda is one of the most scenic places in Australia and for sure, you will remember this forever.

Barron Falls in Barron Gorge National Park, Australia

Barron Falls in Barron Gorge National Park (Jason Patrick Ross / Shutterstock)

Day 5: Last day in Cairns

For your final day in Cairns, get a one last whirl through the city to take in any museums or other attractions that you might have missed. Do not miss to visit St. Monica’s Cathedral and admire its intricate stained-glass windows. For a wide range and reasonably priced locally made handicrafts including ceramics and leather goods, head to Cairns Night Markets. You can request the souvenirs to come with beautiful boxes so it can make wonderful presents for your loved ones back home.

Because the fun does not stop when the sun goes down in Cains, celebrate your last night in the city with a visit to the Pier Bar (1 Pier Point Rd). By 9 PM, this hot spot is packed with both young and old, sunburn tourists and stylish locals, all vying for great live music and friendly Aussie vibes.

Have you been to Cairns or anywhere else in Australia? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.

Featured image: People enjoy a hot day at Cairns Esplanade. The Cairns Esplanade is a public swimming lagoon in Cairns, Australia. (Filipe Frazao / Shutterstock)

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