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Cairns or Palm Cove?

Updated Thu 01 Dec 2022

Two people watching the sunrise at Ellis Beach, Cairns

Are you tossing up between a tropical trip to Palm Cove or Cairns? Simply can’t decide between the two? Making decisions about holidays can be hard, but it shouldn’t be. We’ve got your back!

Whilst they’re equal in natural beauty and good times, each destination lends itself to different paces of holidays. And that’s what we’re here for, to iron out the nitty gritty on where to swim, drink and eat so you don’t have to!


Palm Cove

Two women strolling along the palm-lined Palm Cove beach front

First things first, let’s talk about beaches. They’re the pinnacle of any great tropical getaway, and your accessibility to a good swim and a tan on the beach can make or break your trip. Palm Cove takes the cake on proximity to beaches out of these two, with its very own golden sands stretching out and slipping into the rolling waves, as well as several neighbouring beaches. Simply enjoy what’s on offer at Palm or take a short stroll or drive just south to Clifton, Kewarra or Trinity beaches.


People swimming and relaxing at Cairns Lagoon

A beach is just about the only thing Cairns doesn’t have — no, we’re not counting the Esplanade’s manmade lagoon. Luckily, there’s a cluster of northern beaches just a stone’s throw away. Machans is closest, however, its shore is lined with rocks so it's more suited to seaside picnics and strolls than lazing on the sand. However, Holloways is only 15 minutes north of Cairns and is absolutely dreamy for patrolled swimming and all-day tanning sessions. And if you’re greedy for more beaches (who isn’t), there’s also Yorkeys Knob just north of Holloways — perfect for kitesurfing enthusiasts!


Palm Cove

Two women waiting for coffee, coffee sign in front of Cafe

Whilst it might not have as much going on as Cairns, the quality of the cafes and restaurants around here are of high calibre and won’t leave you longing. The best thing about the cafes in Palm Cove is that they each come with stunning views of the sand and sea. Who doesn’t like a side of waterfront living with their coffee? Our list of the top five cafes in Palm Cove should get you sorted for brekkie, and for dinner we recommend Nu Nu for Australian, Kushi Yakitori for Japanese and El Greko for Greek. Eat your heart out!


Breakfast and coffee at Guyala Cafe, Cairns Guyala Cafe, Cairns.

As the unofficial capital of the North, Cairns is absolutely teeming with eateries for all tastebuds. From the surplus of great brekkie spots and even greater coffee shops to the street food at Cairns Night Markets and the bougie waterfront restaurants, there’s something to satisfy grumbly tummies at any time of the day. If you’re looking for specific recommendations, The Chambers is incredibly Insta-worthy and Guyala boasts an impressive Indigenous-inspired menu!


Palm Cove

Three fruity cocktails in front of the Coral Sea

Palm Cove is a little sleepier than Cairns in the nightlife department. If you’re looking to party hard, your best bet is Cairns. But if a nice cold beer or cocktail at a casual bar with some live music is more your scene, Palm Cove is perfect. The bars and venues around here are definitely more suited to a romantic getaway or a family vacation, and the Surf Club and Palm Cove Tavern are our picks for sure.


Two people having a drink by the pool at Gilligan'sGilligan's, Cairns.

Cairns is a backpacker’s paradise. Not only because of its excessive natural beauty and access to adventure but because of its pumping nightlife. From raging nightclubs to laidback breweries and sexy cocktail bars, there’s a party for everyone in Cairns. For the backpackers after an absolute rager with their mates, there’s The Woolshed, XS and Gilligan’s. For those looking for something of a more relaxing pace, there’s Flamingo’s Tiki Bar, Three Wolves and Salt House. And if all you really want is a good old-fashioned drink at the pub, you can always hit up Dunwoody’s or Cock and Bull.

Reef Access

Palm Cove

Blue reef fish amongst colourful corals on the Great Barrier Reef

Cairns may be the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but most tours are just as willing to pick you up from Palm Cove as they are to Cairns. Reef accessibility won’t be an issue from Palm Cove.


Green Island, CairnsFitzroy Island, Great Barrier Reef.

Well, as we said above, Cairns really is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and you can’t go wrong with pitching your tent here (so to speak) for a week of fun on the reef. Be it a snorkel and scuba adventure, a sailing getaway or a day trip to Fitzroy Island, Cairns is a great jumping-off point for a day on the reef. 

Cairns or Palm Cove Summary

Women strolling along the Cairns foreshore

So, where does all that leave us? Drawing conclusions from the lists above, the serenity and slower pace of Palm Cove lends itself to intimate romantic getaways, rest and relaxation, and families — there’s still enough going on around here to keep the kids busy. If you’re looking for time with your family and loved ones, or simply ‘me time’ away from the crowds, Palm Cove is for you.

But if what you’re looking for is something a little more uptempo book yourself a ticket to Cairns. From the hustle and bustle of the CBD to the throbbing nightlife, the unbeatable access to reef adventures to the endless eateries, there will never be a dull moment. As such, Cairns is great for backpackers, families with big to-do lists, adventurers, and people who just can’t sit still!

And after all that, if you still can’t decide you just might have to try both. They’re only a 30-minute drive apart and a little road trip to one from the other is a great way to spend the day.

For more help deciding between Cairns or Palm Cove live chat or call (07) 4082 7470 to speak with our friendly travel experts!

Since you’ll be on the doorstep of the greatest dive sites in the world, you might as well check out some introductory dive lessons while you’re at it!

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