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Things For Backpackers To Do In Cairns

Updated Fri 09 Sep 2022

Three females in swimwear wearing snorkelling gear on their heads laughing with blue ocean in the backdrop

Cairns is located in Far North Queensland and is known as the gateway to Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef. The city is teeming with activities from relaxing by the Cairns lagoon under palm trees to scuba diving on the fringing reefs with green sea turtles. It’s also heavily populated with backpackers, eager to learn more about Australian culture and experience all that Cairns has to offer. 

One thing we do know about backpackers in Cairns is that they’re generally on a tight budget - but are down for adventure. Affordable activities include visiting the Great Barrier Reef, indulging in local cuisine, or going on a thrilling crocodile tour! Some of the free activities to do include exploring waterfalls, wandering through markets and discovering the hikes and walks around Cairns. Below, we're gathered the best things to do for backpackers in Cairns. Check it out!


Explore the Great Barrier Reef

An underwater photo of a small reef shark

Being one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, the Great Barrier Reef has plenty to offer. Scuba diving, boating, snorkelling and swimming are among the many activities you can immerse yourself in on the reef. Discover the underwater world filled with thousands of fish species, turtles, sharks and rays. If you’re lucky enough you might even spot a whale or two! If you’re not thrilled about breaking the budget, check out some of our affordable tours and find out the cheapest way to see the Great Barrier Reef!


Visit Kuranda Village

Two girls hanging off the side of a train

Kuranda is a mountain village located 25km northwest of the city of Cairns. The charming town is surrounded by dense tropical rainforest and truly feels as though magic is in the air. Perfect for a day trip as there are plenty of activities to do. Spend your time wandering through the Kuranda Village Markets, visiting the Butterfly Sanctuary, Koala Gardens, Birdworld or Barron Falls. If you want to add flair to your Kuranda experience, board the Scenic Railway from Cairns and wind through the rainforest or catch the Skyrail and soar above it!


Experience Cairns’ Party Culture

A photo of a green cocktail in a short glass with a lime on the side


Now if you’re a backpacker, there’s no doubt that partying is on your radar. Lucky for you, Cairns has a larger-than-life nightlife! If you’re wanting to dance into the early hours of the morning, Gilligans, Woolshed or The Cotton Club has your name written all over it. However, if you’re chasing a more ‘chill’ vibe, visit Three Wolves, Flamingos Tiki Bar or PJ O'Brien's Irish Pub for a drink or two. Who knows… you might just find yourself in Gilligans after all! Check out our guide to the best clubs, bars and nightlife in Cairns!


Explore the Waterfalls around Cairns

A girl in a brown hat standing in front of a waterfall


Surrounding Cairns are what seem like an abundance of natural waterfalls. Spend a day chasing waterfalls on one of our waterfall day tours. If you want to go at your own pace, hire a car (if you don’t have one) and zip from fall to fall. Check out our Atherton Tablelands waterfall circuit for a guide on how to get to and from each location. Some of the mesmerising waterfalls include Millaa Milla, Stoney Creek, Crystal Cascades, Fairy Falls and Josephine Falls. A great perk is that most of the waterfalls are free to visit!


Visit the Cairns Lagoon

Two girls in white bikinis in a large swimming pool splashing water in the air


If you’ve been travelling up the coast of North Queensland, then it's likely you've come across lagoons in some of the towns and cities before. The Cairns Lagoon is located along the esplanade and is a 4800 square metre salt water pool. The popular spot is teeming with fellow backpackers and local families, keen to cool off in the humid heat. The lagoon is patrolled, open year round and was designed as a safe place to cool off in the heat when you can't swim in the ocean due to jellyfish and crocodiles. Grab a book, a picnic, some friends and head to the lagoon for a day of relaxation. 


Cairns Markets

A woman standing in front of fresh fruit


Cairns has two major markets that are open each week. Unlike traditional markets that only run on a Saturday or Sunday, these markets are stationary which means you won't miss out! Rusty’s Markets in Cairns is a local fruit and vegetable market that also sells affordable gifts, jewellery and clothing. You can purchase freshly made smoothies, hot coffee and homemade pastries that are to-die-for! The Cairns Night Markets are another go-to stop if you’re wanting to experience more of the local area. From souvenir shops to chilli tasting stalls, ice creameries to coffee outlets, the night markets have it all. They’re the perfect place to visit to walk off your dinner or if you need that last-minute gift for someone back home before you leave Cairns. 


Get to know the wildlife in Cairns

A koala sitting in a tree


Cairns is bursting with unique native Australian animals, insects and reptiles. Lucky for you there are plenty of places you can visit to experience the wildlife. The Cairns Wildlife Dome is located above the casino and is home to free-flying native birds, crocodiles, koalas and more. You can even zip line over the animals too which would make for a memorable experience. As mentioned earlier, Kuranda Village is another place full of native wildlife both in the wild or in sanctuaries. Search for cassowaries in the wild (but carefully) or cuddle a koala at the Kuranda Koala Gardens. Crocodiles are the most popular wildlife attraction in Cairns and if you’re dying to see one in the wild, Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures is exactly where you can do that. Send a selfie to your friends back home of you with a wild crocodile in the background - see if it makes them jealous or terrified!


Discover what there is to eat in Cairns 

Two girls in a hat with cocktails and food


One of the best things about Cairns is the food. Spoilt for choice with trendy cafes and restaurants from world-class venues to backpacker-friendly places that won’t hurt your budget. Grab authentic Italian pizza and sit by the lagoon, visit Howlin’ Jays by the marina for some spicy chicken wings, visit a fish and chip shop for some fresh seafood or enjoy a gelato from one of the many ice creameries along the esplanade! If you’re undecided, simply wander through the city and you’ll quickly be flooded with delicious and affordable options.


Hiking trails around Cairns

A girl looking out at the view of Cairns


Cairns is surrounded by national parks and rainforests riddled with bush or hiking trails to explore. Hiking is the ultimate way to see the landscape of a new place. If you’re an outdoor lover or want to get your sweat on, Cairns has numerous tracks to explore that aren’t too far away from the main hub that take a few hours or a few days (depending on your fitness level). Hikes you can do in a day include Mt Bartle Frere, Glacier Rock, Lambs Head, and Walshs Pyramid. Multi-day hikes include Thorsborne Trail, Mt Bartle Frere and the Goldfield Trail. Let's get out there!


For further information on what to do in Cairns if you're backpacking, have a chat to our helpful team of travel experts via our live chat or call (07) 4082 7470.

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