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Cairns 3 Day Itinerary

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Gabby Boucher
Updated Mon 30 Jan 2023

This ultimate Cairns 3 day itinerary will include all the best parts of Cairns: the Great Barrier Reef, the rainforest, and more! 3 days in Cairns is the perfect amount of time for dabbling in the natural beauty and local excitement of this fun city. And you can customize this itinerary so it suits your travel style! 

From exploring the marine life of the underwater world, to swimming in crystal clear waterfalls and swimming holes, to taking on adventure activities like river rafting or skydiving, Cairns is the perfect place for a holiday on your next 3 day weekend! 

three girls posing with snorkel gear

Is 3 Days Enough for Cairns?

3 days is absolutely enough time for a fun trip to Cairns! You have time to spend at least 1 day on the Great Barrier Reef, which is a must when heading this far north in Australia. You also have 1 day for a day trip to the rainforest, which is another highlight of the area. Explore waterfalls, hike through the dense forests, and really immerse yourself in the rich greenery of Cairns. Then you can have another free day to relax in downtown Cairns or try a fun adventure activity! 

Though 4 days in Cairns is better, 3 days is still a good starting point for a trip to this vibrant tropical city. Even with 1 week in Cairns, you will never be running out of things to do! Whether you’re on a family holiday, a backpacker trip, or a romantic getaway, Cairns has so many incredible attractions in store for you. 

river rafting in rainforest

Cairns 3 Day Itinerary

Day 1: Great Barrier Reef

The first day of your Cairns 3 day itinerary should be spent on the world-famous Great Barrier Reef! As the largest coral reef system on the planet, this natural wonder is an easy day trip from Cairns. The city is even called the “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef”. So slap on some reef-safe sunscreen, grab your camera, and head out to the reef on a boat tour!

There are lots of top-rated Great Barrier Reef boat tours from Cairns that include snorkeling, lunch, and plenty of stunning views. Pick a tour that includes a scenic flight if you’d like to see the colorful coral gardens from the sky. Or visit a gorgeous reef island for the day, such as Fitzroy Island or Green Island. Either way, your day on the Great Barrier Reef will surely be a fantastic one!

snorkeling in reef

Day 2: Waterfalls and Rainforests

In addition to the reef, Cairns is also known for its lush rainforests and waterfalls that surround the city. Nature lovers should dedicate 1 day of their Cairns 3 day itinerary to the mystical forests outside the city center! With a guided day trip, you won’t even have to worry about how to get to the majestic waterfalls and rainforest walks because all your transport is taken care of. 

Go on a waterfall day tour and visit tumbling cascades like Josephine Falls or Millaa Millaa Falls. Venture to other unique locations like Babinda Boulders or Paronella Park. Or head further north and go for a dip in the serene pools of Mossman Gorge

Or if you want to explore the other World Heritage Site near Cairns, the Daintree Rainforest, you can take a day trip up to this haven for wildlife and ancient culture. A great family-friendly option is a day trip to Kuranda, a charming rainforest town with local markets, wildlife parks, and a butterfly sanctuary. 

girl standing in front of waterfall

Day 3: Relax in Cairns OR Adventure Activity

On your 3rd and final day in Cairns, pick whatever activities suit your travel style! If you’re keen to just relax and hang around the city, there are lots of fun things to do in town. Swim or sunbathe at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, pick up some fresh fruits at Rusty’s Market, or grab a delicious seafood lunch. Visit the night markets, the local wildlife center, or just lounge by your hotel pool all day long. The world is your oyster!

If you’re more of an adventure-seeker and you want to keep the momentum going on your last day in Cairns, why not try something wild? Those who want a bit of adrenaline can go skydiving, bungy jumping, or jungle-swinging. On a hot day, consider river rafting or rainforest tubing so you can get wet! Or for a more relaxing but memorable experience, go on a stunning hot air balloon ride over Cairns. 

people in tubes on river

How To Get Around For 3 Days In Cairns

During your Cairns 3 day itinerary, getting around is very easy! Fly into Cairns Airport and take public transport or a taxi to your accommodation in the city center. If you plan on booking tours for your day trips, most of them include complimentary pick-up! Or if you want to rent a car, there are plenty of places to do that in Cairns. But Cairns is a very walkable city, so you should be able to get by without a car easily. 

Girls at fruit market

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