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How To Do Cairns On A Budget

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Gabby Boucher
Updated Mon 29 Apr 2024

The best tips for exploring Cairns on a budget are to choose mainly free or cheap activities, stay in hostels, and find the most affordable tours! Because Cairns is a popular tourist hub in Tropical North Queensland, there are lots of tours and attractions geared towards backpackers and travelers on a budget. You can still have an epic time hiking in the rainforest, snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, and touring waterfalls without spending a fortune. Here is your ultimate guide to enjoying Cairns on a budget!

girl snorkeling

How To Do Cairns On A Budget

From free attractions and cheap activities, to affordable day tours and cheap hostels, you can easily see Cairns on a budget. You just have to prioritize the more affordable activities and save your money for the incredible tours that spark your interest the most! 

Tours in Cairns are a must-do, as they are the best way to see unique natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Knowledgeable local guides will help you make the most of your time in these special locations. When you’re not going on tours, you can stay in cheap hostels and fill your free time with attractions that cost little to no money! Following these tips, you will have no problem exploring Cairns on a budget

people standing on top of a mountain

Things To Do In Cairns For Free

If you want to experience Cairns on a budget, make time for these free activities! There are plenty of fun things to do in Cairns for free so you can have the time of your life without emptying your wallet. 

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

This man-made swimming hole right in the center of town is one of the best free attractions in Cairns. Because you can’t swim in the ocean around Cairns during Stinger Season, this beautiful public swimming pool is the perfect place to cool off on a hot day. Sunbathe on the stretches of soft sand, take your kids to the shallow sections of the pool, listen to live music, and make use of the public barbeques at Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Head to a Lookout

Visiting a panoramic lookout spot is a beautiful free activity to add to any Cairns itinerary. Right outside the Cairns CBD, you can find Campbell’s Lookout and McArthur Lookout. Both provide stunning views of the city below. Rex Lookout, Glacier Rock Lookout, and White Rock Lookout are other lookouts within a 30-minute drive of Cairns where you can capture some gorgeous views of mountains and coastline. 

girls at a lookout

Cairns Botanic Gardens

Another one of the best things to do in Cairns for free is visit the Botanic Gardens. Home to stunning landscaped gardens, rainforest walks, and fascinating plant collections, you can learn so much here about the diverse plant life of the Australian tropics. The Cairns Botanic Gardens also have a cool microclimate so you can explore the gardens without working up a sweat!

Cairns Botanic Gardens

Visit the Waterfalls

As part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site, Cairns is surrounded by lush rainforests and tumbling waterfalls. Heading out to a nearby waterfall is one of the best free things to do in Cairns on a budget! Most waterfalls have public access and no entry fee. Pack your bathing suit so you can go for a swim in places like Josephine Falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls, and more!

Zillie Falls

Hit the Beach

Having a beach day is a great way to enjoy Cairns on a budget. Along the coastline from Cairns up to Port Douglas, there are lots of stunning sandy beaches where you can set up camp for the day. Trinity Beach, Ellis Beach, and Palm Cove Beach are a few local favorites. Just be sure to only swim within the safety of the stinger nets from November to May because it’s stinger season in Cairns!

aerial view of beach

Go Hiking

Hiking enthusiasts will have a blast in Cairns! There are many incredible free hiking trails around the city where you can embark on an outdoor adventure and get some exercise. From Walsh’s Pyramid, to the Earl Hill Summit Track, to Crystal Cascades, Mossman Gorge, and more, there are lots of beautiful places where you can get outside in nature and not spend any money. 

aerial view of a mountain peak

Cheap Things To Do In Cairns

After trying all the free activities, you can continue to enjoy Cairns on a budget by making time for cheap activities. Many things in this world cost money, and it’s worth spending a little on some of these fun adventures. Here are more fun things to do in Cairns that cost a small amount of money and are still budget-friendly. 

Rusty’s Market

This massive covered marketplace in downtown Cairns is a must-visit in the city! Everywhere you look there are stalls overflowing with colorful, exotic fruits and vegetables. Chat with the friendly local vendors and indulge in a few treats! You can actually visit Rusty’s Market for free, but chances are you won’t be able to resist buying a few rambutans, dragonfruits, or mangosteens to fuel you up for exploring. 

girls holding fruit

Rainforest Tubing

For adventure lovers looking to explore Cairns on a budget, rainforest tubing is a fun and affordable way to get outside! Head to a secluded river outside Cairns and float down the water in a sturdy inner tube, keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife along the way. 

people floating in inner tubes

Eat Fresh Seafood

Cairns has some world-class seafood, and it would be a shame to leave without treating yourself to at least one or two nice meals in the city. Visit one of the best seafood restaurants in Cairns to taste some of the local catch and maybe pair it with a cocktail or two!

spread of food at a restaurant

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

For a small entry fee, you can spend a day at Hartley’s Wildlife Park and get up close to some iconic Aussie animals! The park is home to crocodiles, cassowaries, koalas, snakes, tortoises, and so many more unique local creatures. This is a great Cairns budget activity for families with kids, or for any animal lovers!

Hartley's Crocodile Adventures

Paronella Park

Located just south of Cairns, Paronella Park is an interesting attraction to visit. This park is full of gardens, landmarks, and wildlife. Stroll around for a few hours, go on a guided tour, learn about the history, and spot some turtles, butterflies, and maybe even a cassowary!

Paronella Park

Tours and Day Trips In Cairns On A Budget

To make the most of your time in Cairns on a budget, book an affordable tour! You simply can’t visit Cairns without making a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling or scuba diving. And you’re sure to have an amazing experience on a day trip to a nearby tropical island as well. You can also optimize your time by going on a guided waterfall or rainforest tour so you can pack lots of sights and attractions into one amazing day with a local guide! Here are the best tours to do in Cairns on a budget. 


Located in the mountains just outside Cairns, Kuranda is a gorgeous, colorful town that makes for an excellent day trip. With art galleries, outdoor markets, a Butterfly Sanctuary, and the impressive Baron Falls, there is so much to see and do in Kuranda on a day trip from Cairns. Ride the Scenic Train or the Skyrail to Kuranda for the best views of the rainforest!

girl holding a butterfly


Though you can visit most waterfalls around Cairns for free, it may be easier to book an affordable waterfall tour so all your transport is covered. You’ll have to rent a car from Cairns to access the waterfalls as they are in remote locations without public transport. On a Waterfall Wanderers Tour or a Northern Experience Eco Tour, your guide will bring you to majestic spots such as Babinda Boulders, Millaa Millaa Falls, Lake Eacham, Josephine Falls, and more!

Millaa Millaa falls cairns

Great Barrier Reef

Cairns is often called the “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef”, and it’s here in Cairns that most travelers begin a trip to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whether you want to snorkel among coral reefs, scuba dive deep in the underwater world, fly over the Great Barrier Reef for an aerial view, or spend the day aboard a reef pontoon, there are so many fun ways to experience the reef from Cairns on a budget!

girl snorkeling


Take your exploration of the reef and the sea to the next level by taking a day trip to various islands around Cairns! There are lots of gorgeous offshore islands where you can hike in the rainforest, snorkel in the reef, and soak in the tropical scenery. Green Island and Fitzroy Island are two of the most popular and affordable islands to visit from Cairns!

Fitzroy Island

Daintree Rainforest

The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world and it is located right outside Cairns! Take a day trip up to Cape Tribulation, a remote corner of the rainforest where you can hike, swim, zip line, bird-watch, and go on crocodile cruises! On a day trip up north, you’ll pass highlights such as Mossman Gorge, Cooper Creek, and Daintree Ice Cream Company. 

Daintree Ice Cream Company

Accommodation in Cairns On A Budget

The best way to stay in Cairns on a budget is to stay in hostels! There are lots of top-rated hostels in Cairns that are ideal for travelers trying to save money. Rent a dorm bed for a night in a centrally-located spot and take advantage of all the amenities and social activities offered in your hostel. 

If you’re a family visiting Cairns, you can find some amazing budget hotels in the area as well. Because Cairns is such a popular tourist spot, there is no shortage of cheap places to stay for those traveling on a budget. 

backpacker hostel cairns

How To Do Cairns On A Budget

To summarize, you can enjoy Cairns on a budget by picking free or cheap activities, booking affordable tours, and staying in budget accommodations. You can find all of these things in abundance around Cairns, as this tourist town caters to travelers in Australia who may be looking to save money. Take advantage of the highly-rated, affordable tours in Cairns so you can see all the highlights in an efficient, budget-friendly manner during your visit!

girls drinking coconuts

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