Located in the Tropical North Queensland, Cairns is known for its peaceful atmosphere and tropical climate. As the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, this city of 150,000 inhabitants offers various activities that will make your visit to Cairns unforgettable. Between the artificial lagoon, paradise islands, parachute jumping, diving among the corals, stroll through the city and beautiful botanical gardens; you can be sure that your stay will be memorable! Here is our selection of activities to do for 2 days in Cairns:
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Stroll through the city centre of Cairns (Day 1 – morning)
Start your first day by visiting Rusty’s Markets. Here, you will find a variety of fresh local produce at very attractive prices as well as small stalls selling fast food and sweet treats. It is the ideal place to discover tropical fruits and sample a few from the region. The best day to visit is Sunday, although traders sell their fruit and vegetables all week, Sundays offer the best deals!
After that, continue your morning stroll through Cairns shopping streets and the large shopping malls such as Cairns Central Shopping Center. The Cairns Museum is also a great stop for an hour or two.
To finish your morning, sit in one of the many terraced restaurants and enjoy the tropical climate while having lunch.
Visit the botanical garden (Day 1 – afternoon)
After lunch, visit the Cairns Botanic Garden – the perfect place to escape the sunshine of Queensland and enjoy the shade from the towering trees. This place is a real tropical paradise. There are more than 4000 species of flora from around the world with many birds and insects also populating the garden. Best of all, it is accessible to all and is totally free.
For hiking enthusiasts, Mount Whitfield right next to the Botanical Garden will be a great way to spend your afternoon. Several trails are available depending on your ability. Each trail provides a panoramic view of Cairns and its surroundings. The walks are mostly shaded and there is plenty of flora and fauna to be admired on route.
You can also spend your afternoon getting lost on the Rainforest Boardwalk, right in front of the Botanical Garden. This trail leads to a freshwater lake covered with lily pads in which several crocodiles live. You can also observe the surrounding mangrove and soak up the peaceful atmosphere.
Enjoy the artificial lagoon (Day 1 – afternoon)
What better way to end your day than a refreshing swim in the free artificial lagoon in the heart of Cairns? This must-see place was introduced by the city to help people fight against the tropical heat. It was also needed as bathing in the sea in Cairns is totally forbidden due to the abundance of crocodiles and jellyfish that populate these waters. To remedy this, the lagoon is the perfect place. The lagoon offers everything you need – a pleasant view of the sea, a sandy area to bask in the sun and many amenities such as toilets, BBQ & picnic areas.
The esplanade around the lagoon is also equipped with barbecues, benches, tables, showers and lockers for your belongings. You can end your day like a local, with a barbecue using the fresh products purchased from this morning’s market.
There is another popular way to end your day. The city of Cairns organizes free daily physical activities for everyone such as water aerobics, zumba or yoga. You can check out the timetable here.
Discovering the Great Barrier Reef (Day 2)
No trip to Cairns would be complete without a visit to the Great Barrier Reef – the largest coral reef system in the world. So big in fact, it’s larger than the UK! There are two ways to explore this world-famous landmark – by sea or by the sky. If you have time – do both! Definitely a must-do during your 2 days in Cairns.
Cairns is one of the world’s most coveted diving destinations, certifying the highest number of PADI Open Water divers in the world. Many companies offer daytime dive trips. Whether you are a beginner or fully qualified, there is an overwhelming choice of underwater spots to choose from. In case you do not want to dive, snorkelling is also a very rewarding alternative. It will also provide a magnificent glimpse of the colourful coral gardens and vibrant fish that call the Great Barrier Reef home.
There are a variety of organised tours available, whether you have time for just an afternoon boat trip or a full excursion to one of the many paradise islands that surround Cairns. Northern Queensland is teeming with deserted islands that should not be missed, especially Fitzroy Island and Frankland Islands which offer incredible snorkel and dive experiences.
Expect to find all the clichés of a paradise island: white sand, translucent water, palm trees, corals, lush jungle etc. Fitzroy Island offers many things to do such as hiking, kayaking, paddling, snorkelling and diving. If you have the chance to explore this beauty during your 2 days in Cairns.
Frankland Islands are also a little slice of paradise, however, offer a more rugged and untouched landscape. To date, only one company offers day trips to get there. The island has no infrastructure, only a few benches. It’s ideal for an escape away from the tourists and crowds. While exploring the surroundings, you are almost guaranteed to come across turtles, harmless sharks and also clownfish that are famous in the area. Stunning beaches, worth a visit during your 2 days in Cairns.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie what better way to admire the world’s largest ecosystem that jumping out of a plane over it? The parachute or tandem jump is very popular with tourists and different companies offer this service in Cairns. There is a substantial cost, but the view is breathtaking and worth every penny! Not to mention it is a once in a lifetime experience.
Another option to observe the Great Barrier Reef from the sky is the panoramic flight by plane or helicopter. Many companies offer flights from Cairns. They are sometimes combined with a sea excursion on the same day so you can enjoy the best of both worlds. Don’t forget to compare prices between companies to ensure you get the best deal!
Stroll in the Night Markets (Day 2 – evening)
After a day of adventures, enjoy your evening at the Night Markets – one of the most popular Cairns attractions. With more than 70 stands, there is something for everyone. Between souvenirs, clothes, local products, gadgets, massages and tattoos – you really can find everything. You can also grab something to eat at the neighbouring food court which offers dishes inspired by cuisine from all over the world.
These are just a few of the many activities that you can enjoy in Cairns during a two-day visit. Whether you’re interested in adventure, relaxation, or culture, there is something for everyone in this tropical paradise.
Best period to visit Cairns
The tropical climate in Cairns and its surroundings is ideal for 9 out of 12 months, from April to December. December to March are the rainiest months as it is the monsoon season. Rainfall can be frequent during this period.
The sea temperature is pleasant all year round, ranging from 23 to 30°C. The best season for swimming is from April to October, as from November, it is jellyfish season!
By Air: Cairns International Airport connects major cities in Australia and Southeast Asia. It is close to the city center and hostels sometimes offer a free shuttle service.
By Bus: Several bus companies connect Australia’s major cities, including Greyhound.
By train: The train station is located in the city center and is very easy to reach. Train journeys are often very long.
By Car: This is the solution that most travelers choose because the scenery along the Australian East Coast is simply unbelievable.
If you live in your converted vehicle, some hostels offer a charge per night. This is the case at JJ’s Backpackers, which offers accommodation with access to facilities (showers, toilets) and breakfast..
In terms of restaurants, Esplanade Street offers a wide choice. Choose the one that suits you best.