The city of Cairns is located on the east coast of Queensland and is one of the main port destinations for visitors planning to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, the Great Barrier Reef is the major attraction for most holiday goers visiting Cairns, but you might be surprised to hear about the other attractions and nearby destinations that you can also visit while in Cairns. The city is bordered by mountains and rainforests on the mainland sides, with the clear blue and turquoise waters of the Coral Sea to the east. The Cairns City Esplanade is on the northern side of the city. On this quieter 2.5 km stretch of city, you will find the swimming lagoon, waterfront boardwalk, picnicking and barbeque spots, and a children’s water park. The southern side of the city is the main hub where The Pier complex is located with restaurants and shopping, more swimming lagoons, Reef Fleet Terminal, and the marina.

Cairns - Great Barrier Reef

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Cairns - Google Maps

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Car Rental in Cairns & Getting Around Town

Cairns - Budget Map

The city of Cairns is situated just north of the Great Barrier Reef, so the city also serves as a pit stop for those visiting the far north of Queensland. There are two car rental locations in Cairns. If you come in to the Cairns Airport, you can hire a car there. Alternatively, there is also a car hire service location in Cairns City. Even though you wouldn’t use a car to get to the Great Barrier Reef, there are plenty of things to see and do in and around Cairns. You will want to have a car to get around and see all of the different sights in the city and the rainforests and national parks that are nearby.

Things to Do in Cairns and Surrounds

Many people visit Cairns and fail to look into things that you can do there other than visit the Great Barrier Reef. Take a look and explore with us 10 different destinations filled with things to do on the mainland in Cairns and surrounds.

  • Cairns Tropical Zoo and the Cairns Night Zoo

Cairns Zoo

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Visiting the zoo gives you a chance to get up close and personal with the animals and wildlife of Australia. Feed the kangaroos, koalas, wombats, cassowary birds, and even the crocodiles! Learn about the animals in their interactive and informative shows. The zoo also has a nighttime entrance package from 6pm to 10pm. This gives you a different glimpse of the zoo and includes dinner, drinks, entertainment and a chance to see the nocturnal animals you won’t see during the typical day time trip to the zoo.

  • Kuranda Rainforest

Kuranda Rainforest

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The Kuranda Rainforest is just 25 km northwest of Cairns and there is much to see and do in this magnificent and magical place. You can spend your entire holiday just exploring this Village in the Rainforest, or you can just take in the highlights. One thing is for sure, and that is you can leave Kuranda, but the experience will stay with you.

  • Kuranda Skyrail: Sail high above the World Heritage listed rainforest and enjoy views of the canopy and the mountains too.


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  • Kuranda Scenic Railway: This train ride is a journey filled with views you cannot see any other way. Travel through the dense rainforest, steep ravines, and majestic waterfalls. The railway also travels through Barron Gorge National Park.

Kuranda - Train

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  • Australian Butterfly Sanctuary: The largest butterfly aviary exhibit in the Southern Hemisphere.

Butterfly Sanctuary

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  • Bird World Kuranda: A unique wildlife experience where you enter their world and the birds fly freely about in this aviary.


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  • Kuranda Koala Gardens: This is a wildlife attraction located in the heart of the Kuranda Rainforest. You will have the opportunity to see and interact with many different animals, not just koalas!


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  • Waterfalls & Paronella Park: This Spanish castle was built early in the 20th century. The 5 hectare park includes gardens, a rainforest, water falls, and a romantic tunnel of love.

Paronella Park - Waterfall

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  • Tjapukai Cultural Park: Part of visiting this land really must include learning about the history and culture of the aborigines of Australia. Visiting Cairns Tjapukai Cultural Park is an experience that immerses you in the culture of the country’s indigenous population with song, dance, tours, food, and interactive theatres.


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  • White Water River Rafting: Some of the most exciting and best white water rafting is available in the rivers just outside of Cairns. Different levels of rafting are available from beginners to advanced in the Barron River, Johnstone River, and the Russell River.

White Water Rafting

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  • Adventure Sports: Tandem skydiving, bungee bumping, or hot air ballooning are all different adventure packages that you can look into once you are here in the area.

Cairns - Hot Air Ballooning

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  • Hartleys Creek Crocodile Adventure Park: Located between Palm Creek and Port Douglas just 40 km north of Cairns is an adventure park where you can safely witness the infamous crocodiles as well as other wildlife that is native to northern Queensland. Crocodile viewing cruises are also available and a great way to see the crocodiles and other animals in their native habitat while you safely relax on a river boat cruise.

Hartleys Creek - crocodile

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  • Chillagoe Caves: This amazing system of limestone Karst caves is just about a 3 hour drive away from Cairns. Day tours are available that take you to explore the caves and the outback terrain.

Chillagoe - caves

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  • Cairns Horseback Riding: The best way to see the variety of landscape outside of Cairns is on horseback. Horseback tours are fun for the whole family and can take you through bush, rainforest, mountains, or the beach.

Cairns - Horse Riding Tour

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  • Crystal Cascades and Lake Morris: Just 20 km outside of Cairns is the Crystal Cascades, a series of waterfalls and crocodile free pools. The area features walking trails. The waterfalls lead to Lake Morris and the Copperlode Dam.

Crystal Cascades

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Great Barrier Reef and Ocean Getaways from Cairns

Great Barrier Reef

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Even though our focus for this vacation getaway is all about things to do on the mainland near Cairns, we would be amiss to mention all of the trips, excursions, and getaways available to go and play in the amazing Coral Sea and witness the magnificent beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. Other than snorkeling and SCUBA diving, which are the top two attractions for exploring the reef, here are some other ideas:

  • Ocean Kayaking
  • Salt Water Fishing
  • Stay on Fitzroy Island
  • Island Day Trips
  • Overnight Live Onboard Boat Adventures
  • Yacht Charters