How Many Days In Cairns Is Enough?

The stunning tropical city of Cairns is located in North Queensland.

It is considered the gateway to some of the most popular natural attractions in Australia, including the world’s oldest rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

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An area rich in culture, it offers visitors everything from sun-drenched sandy beaches and snorkeling to lively markets and waterfront bars.

If you are visiting this beautiful city for the first time, you might be wondering how many days in Cairns you will need to see the best of its attractions.

To answer this question, think about the type of break you are looking for.

If your perfect vacation is packed with activities and you’re happy to be on the go from dawn until dusk, you could see quite a few of Cairns’ attractions in 2 days.

But if you’re hoping for a less demanding schedule with plenty of time to soak up the sun, then plan to spend 3 or even 4 days in Cairns instead.

Cairns, Australia

How To Decide How Long To Stay In Cairns

To help you decide how many days in Cairns is enough, we’ve created this simple guide to visiting the city and what to consider when planning your stay.

We’ve also included some of the very best things to see and do and suggested how much time you’ll need for each activity.

Time Of Arrival, Hotel Check-In Time, And Time Of Departure

When deciding how many days for Cairns you’ll need, think first about the times at which you arrive and depart from the city.

If you arrive late on your first day, you won’t have a lot of time for sightseeing.

The same might apply on your final day if your departure time is particularly early. Think about adding an extra night to your stay if this is the case.

You’ll also need to think about the times at which you will be checking into and out of your hotel.

If they don’t match your arrival and departure times, then you might be stuck with your luggage.

It’s important to make arrangements in advance for where you will store it so that your sightseeing isn’t limited by dragging your bags around with you!

The best option is to check with your accommodation provider. Most hotels will be happy to store your bags for you, but some might charge a fee.

If your hotel can’t help, then there are plenty of other options. Cairns Airport has three different-sized self-service lockers and there is a baggage storage room for larger items.

Alternatively, there are heaps of companies through which you can arrange luggage storage online.

These are usually connected to a network of hotels, shops, restaurants, etc that are happy to look after your bags for a fee.

This is probably the easiest option as you can plan in advance and make sure a spot for your bags is available.

Activities In Cairns

Probably the most important consideration when deciding how many days for Cairns you’ll need is making sure you get to see the best of the sights.

There are a lot to choose from, so it’s important to plan your itinerary in advance.

Our suggested times for each activity (below) will help. But don’t forget to allow extra time for traveling from one to the other. Also, remember that there might be queues.

This is especially likely in peak season, which runs from June to August.

Pace Of Activities

The pace at which you want to see the sights is an important factor in deciding how many days in Cairns you’ll need.

If you want to relax into the laid-back vibe of the city and see only the main attractions at a leisurely pace, then you’ll definitely need at least 3 days and ideally 4.

But if you are happy squeezing as much as possible into each day, then 2 days in Cairns will be enough to get a good overview of its highlights.

Transportation

It’s a good idea to plan how you’ll be getting around during your stay in Cairns, as this will affect how much time you’ll need.

Fortunately, much of the city is very walkable so you might want to do some of your sightseeing on foot.

Another option is to consider taking tours. These can be very convenient as the tour operator will usually arrange to collect you from your hotel.

You may also want to consider using public transport, which is very affordable and efficient. It’s easy to get buses to most beaches and shopping areas.

You can buy daily tickets to keep costs down, which you can use on any Cairns bus route.

Or you might like to take advantage of Cairns’ relatively flat terrain and hire a bike. This makes it easy to explore the city at your leisure.

Alternatively – for complete independence during your stay – hire a car, either from the airport or from one of the major companies. We advise booking your vehicle ahead of time, particularly if you want a 4 x 4.

What To Do In Cairns

Here are some of the best things to see and do in Cairns, with suggestions for how much time you should plan to spend at each.

Snorkel The Great Barrier Reef

At the top of everyone’s to-do list, snorkeling the beautiful waters surrounding the world’s largest coral reef system is an unforgettable experience.

You can visit independently or jump on a tour, which is a good way to learn more about everything you’ll see.

This tour, for example, takes you to two different locations on the outer reef and is suitable for everyone from complete beginners to certified divers.

You’ll even get a lesson on how to put on and use a snorkel if you’ve never done so before.

Suggested time: 8 hours

Snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Australia



Visit The Cairns Esplanade

This 2.5 km long waterfront boardwalk is a favorite amongst tourists and locals. It has something for everyone, with scenic views, children’s playgrounds, and all sorts of activities from tennis to skating.

The chief attraction, though, is the Esplanade Lagoon.

Completely free to visit, this 4,800 square-meter pool provides a safe swimming spot for the whole family.

Featuring its own sandy beach, it is patrolled by lifeguards throughout the day and has great facilities, including 12 public barbecue areas, toilets, lockers, and showers.

Suggested time: 3 hours+

Cairns Esplanade, Cairns, Australia

See The Unique Flora At Cairns Botanic Gardens

Covering 38 hectares, these lush gardens are located just a few kilometers from the heart of the city.

There are plants here that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, including a tropical flower that can weigh up to 70 kg! You can also see carnivorous plants that lure in insects and then trap them inside.

The colors are beautiful and you’ll have countless photo opportunities, with babbling brooks, scenic bridges, and lush grassy lawns at every turn.

Best of all the gardens are free to enter (although donations are welcome).

Suggested time: 2 to 3 hours

Cairns Botanic Gardens, Cairns, Australia

Meet The Wildlife At Cairns Aquarium

The newest and most spectacular aquarium in the country, Cairns Aquarium is a treat for the whole family.

Here you can interact with some of the region’s most amazing animals and learn more about its ecosystems.

You can buy your ticket in advance or – for something a little different – book a guided twilight tour. This gives you the opportunity to learn how animals from various environments change their behavior as the sun goes down.

Suggested time: 2 to 3 hours

Cairns Aquarium, Cairns, Australia

Tour The Unique Landscape Of The Atherton Tablelands

A visit to the Atherton Tablelands is a must when spending 2 days in Cairns. Here you’ll find some of the best waterfalls, national parks, and hikes in Far North Queensland.

You can reach the region by car in under 1.5 hours or visit with a tour group.

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This tour, for example, includes a visit to Wooroonooran National Park followed by a swim at Josephine Falls.

You’ll also see the 18-meter-high Millaa Millaa Falls, explore the rainforest at Mount Hypipamee, and spot the platypuses at Yungaburra!

Suggested time: 10 hours

Atherton Tablelands, Cairns, Australia

Get A Glimpse Of The Past At The Cairns Museum

If you want to escape the heat for a few hours, head to the air-conditioned Cairns Museum to learn all there is to know about the region.

You’ll hear stories about its people and its changing environment, with lots of interactive exhibits and games to keep even the youngest family members entertained.

Suggested time: 1 to 2 hours

Cairns Waterfront, Cairns, Australia

Soak Up The Atmosphere At Rusty’s Market

There’s nothing quite like visiting a city’s market to get a real feel for its people and culture! Rusty’s Market – open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays – is no exception.

Vibrant, colorful, and occasionally featuring live music, it sells everything from amazing fresh produce and baked goods to local crafts and jewelry.

Suggested time: 1 to 2 hours

Final Thoughts On Cairns Getaways

So how many days do you need in Cairns to see its main highlights at a pace you’ll enjoy?

We hope this guide has helped you decide and that you enjoy a fun-packed visit to this warm and welcoming Australian city.

We recommend renting a car during your time in Cairns, as this gives you a lot more independence and flexibility to explore the city and its surrounding areas.

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