Travelling up Australia’s east coast with cruise providers like Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises or Cunard allows you to discover cosmopolitan cities like Sydney and Brisbane, relax by harbours including Newcastle and explore the famous Great Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach. A popular stop on some of these cruises is the subtropical city of Cairns. Small enough to explore in a day or two, Cairns has a laidback atmosphere, 300 days of sunshine a year, and heaps of things to keep you and the family entertained.

Kuranda Scenic Railway

You can’t go to Cairns without experiencing North Queensland’s lush, World-Heritage listed rainforest and taking a trip on the Kuranda Scenic Railway is the best way to do exactly that. Departing from Cairns train station, you’ll embark on a 2-hour journey through tropical rainforest and stunning waterfalls before arriving in the small village of Kuranda.

Activities in Kuranda range from Aboriginal Cultural experiences to getting closer to nature at one of the wildlife parks. Or, if you just want to relax, you can explore one of the Heritage markets, visit an art gallery, or just take a walk around the village.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

If train travel isn’t your thing but you still want to explore the rainforest, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is a great alternative. Sitting inside a gondola, you’ll be taken on a journey spanning just over 7km at a maximum height of 133ft, starting just metres above the canopy of the rainforest before dipping down beneath the treetops to get a real taste of the tropical environment.

You’ll end your journey at either Smithfield or Kuranda station, the latter of which can be used in conjunction with the scenic railway for the ultimate rainforest experience.

Shopping at Cairns Central

Once you arrive back in Cairns, take a stroll next door and do a spot of shopping at Cairns Central Shopping Centre. Set over two floors, Cairns Central is home to over 180 stores where you can shop for clothes, shoes, electrical goods and more. And, for those suffering in the tropical heat, the shopping centre is also fully air conditioned!

Cairns Night Markets

For a dining experience with a difference, Cairns Night Markets is a must. Every evening, from 5pm – 11pm Cairns Night Markets offers not only a huge array of locally produced clothing, jewellery, arts, and crafts, but also cuisine from around the world including Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Thai. A brilliant place to grab a quick bite to eat and buy those all-important presents to take back home.

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Probably one of Cairns’ most famous tourist attractions, the Esplanade Lagoon is a 4,800sqm salt water swimming facility in the centre of Cairns, which locals and tourists can use completely free of charge. In some seasons, due to the large numbers of jellyfish and crocodiles residing in the water, North Queensland isn’t a safe place to go swimming in the sea, meaning the lagoon is a popular place for families. The water is completely safe, the area is patrolled daily by lifeguards and the depth ranges from 32 inches to 5 feet meaning splashing around in the shallows is a breeze.

The lagoon is open every day from 6am – 9pm, except for Wednesday when it’s closed until midday for maintenance.

Cairns Esplanade Boardwalk

The Promenade, which runs approximately 3km along Cairns Esplanade, is a hive of activity in the afternoon with joggers running along the seafront, children taking advantage of the various playgrounds, and families out for an afternoon walk. Along the way you’ll find benches to stop off and people watch from, as well as displays showing the history and traditions of Cairns and the surrounding areas.

Cairns Tropical Zoo

For those who have always wanted to feed kangaroos or cuddle koalas, a trip to Cairns Tropical Zoo is a must. Fantastic for families, the zoo is located on 6 hectares of tropical gardens and is home to reptiles (including snakes, lizards, and crocodiles), birds (including cassowaries, emus, and parrots) and mammals like wombats, lemurs, dingoes, koalas, and kangaroos.

The zoo is located in Palm Cove, a 20 minute drive north of Cairns, but there are many public transport options available to get you there. The Sunbus runs a frequent bus service to Palm Cove from Cairns Central and you can find the timetable for this here.

Cairns Botanical Gardens

If you’re looking for something free and relaxing to do in Cairns, the Botanical Gardens should definitely be on your list. This tropical paradise, located just north of the centre of Cairns, has a rainforest and mangrove boardwalk, a freshwater lake, a bamboo collection, and a garden specifically dedicated to the kinds of plants used by groups of Aboriginals who lived in the area. There is also the option to go on a guided tour of the some of the gardens and these can be booked at the visitor centre where you can also relax in the café after a few hours exploring.

Beverley Reineman is the blogger behind Pack Your Passport who left her marketing job in 2010 to spend three years living as an expat and travelling in Australia and New Zealand. She now balances her life in London as a freelance writer and online marketing consultant with her love of travel. Find her on Twitter @PckYourPassport

Images by DeRass Photography, Nicky Jurd and Neil Willsey used under Creative Commons license.  

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