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How Long Should You Go To Cairns For?

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Gabby Boucher
Updated Tue 24 Jan 2023

You should go to Cairns for at least 3 days, though 5 days or longer is even better! Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, so you need to dedicate at least one full day to exploring this spectacular natural wonder. The city of Cairns itself is packed with fun things to do as well! So 3 days is the minimum amount of time you should spend in Cairns. 

However, 5 days in Cairns makes for an excellent holiday! You can spend at least 1 full day in the Great Barrier Reef, plus 1 or 2 days exploring the city. That leaves 1 or 2 free days to venture out to the other gems around Cairns, such as Kuranda, the Atherton Tablelands, or even the Daintree Rainforest. This article will explore the question, “how long should you go to Cairns for?”, and provide recommendations for the best things to do while you’re there!

people in the ocean

How Long Should You Go To Cairns For?

3 days is the absolute minimum amount of time you should spend in Cairns, but 5 days is better! In 3 days, you can check out downtown Cairns and experience the fun local culture and nightlife of this bustling city. You can also take a day trip to the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, which is a must when visiting Cairns! 

But if you have 5 days in Cairns, you can do all of that and more! Cairns is surrounded by so much natural beauty, and there are lots of incredible day trips you can take. Find waterfalls, rainforests, gorges, natural swimming holes, hiking trails, traditional cultural centers, and more. 5 days in Cairns allows you to fully experience the city center while allowing ample time to take day trips to the Great Barrier Reef and the stunning landscapes of Tropical North Queensland. 

downtown Cairns

What Is There To Do In Cairns?

From exploring downtown, to taking day trips to the reef and the rainforest, there is so much to do in Cairns! When getting acquainted with the city, be sure to shop for fresh fruit at Rusty’s Market and go for a dip in the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. Cairns also has a thriving nightlife, with lots of bars, clubs, and restaurants to check out. If you’re visiting Cairns with kids, the Aquarium and the Zoom & Wildlife Dome are fun activities for young ones. 

Though Cairns is an awesome city, the real magic lies in the wilderness outside Cairns. The Atherton Tablelands are home to countless stunning waterfalls, swimming holes, and hiking trails. Kuranda is a colorful village up in the mountains that makes an enlightening day trip. Further north, you can explore highlights of the Daintree Rainforest like Cape Tribulation or Mossman Gorge. And of course, the islands, coral reefs, and marine creatures of the Great Barrier Reef are a highlight of the area. 

turtle in the reef

How To Spend 3 Days in Cairns

If you’re wondering “how long should you go to Cairns for?” but you don’t have a lot of time to spare, 3 days in Cairns is a good place to start. During your 3 days in Cairns, spend at least one day exploring the city and one day snorkeling or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. There are so many incredible reef tours from Cairns to choose from!

On your third day, either spend more time relaxing in Cairns or take another day trip! If you love snorkeling and soaking in those tropical island vibes, spend more time on the reef with a day trip to Green Island or Fitzroy Island. Or you can head to the nearby town of Kuranda to see Barron Falls, visit the Butterfly Sanctuary, and shop at the vibrant local art markets. 3 days in Cairns is short, but it’s still enough time to get a feel for this lively and beautiful corner of Australia!

Butterfly Sanctuary in Kuranda

How To Spend 5 Days in Cairns

An even better amount of time to spend in Cairns is 5 days. How you spend your 5 days depends on your travel style, but you will have lots of options for day trips! Definitely spend one day enjoying the hustle and bustle of Cairns, and one day snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. After that, the world is your oyster!

An incredible day trip idea is visiting the Atherton Tablelands. See majestic cascades like Josphine Falls and Millaa Millaa Falls, or visit the famous Curtain Fig Tree. Or you can head north to the oldest rainforest on the planet, the Daintree! The beauty of having 5 days in Cairns is that you have time for some overnight tours! You can book 2-day rainforest and waterfall tours, or you can even book an overnight trip to the Great Barrier Reef. 

Whatever you choose to do during your 5 days in Cairns, you are sure to fall in love with the untouched wilderness, the ancient culture, the fascinating marine world, and the overall warm, welcoming energy of Australia’s tropical north! 

Millaa Millaa Falls

So How Long Should You Go To Cairns For?

Honestly, you can never spend enough time in Cairns! 3-5 days is perfect for an introduction to the area, but you could easily spend 1 week, 1 month, or years and years uncovering all the natural wonders of Cairns. From the Great Barrier Reef, to the Daintree Rainforest, to the waterfalls, hikes, islands, gorges, wild animals, villages, markets, cultural locations, and everything else in between, there is an endless list of things to see and do in Cairns. But even if you only have a few days to spare, a short time in Cairns is better than no time in Cairns!

people snorkeling

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