Next to being the gateway to two of Australia's most visited World Heritage Sites the Great Barrier Reef, and the Daintree Rainforest, Cairns is also the starting point for a road trip to the Atherton Tablelands.
Despite being a touristy place, Cairns has managed to maintain its natural environment while offering a wealth of activities to suit any type of traveller and travel style.
With a population of nearly 170 thousand and a growth forecast to 220 thousand in the next years, Cairns has beautifully developed to one of the most attractive travel destinations in Australia.
Top fun things to do in Cairns for free
Although travellers often think of Cairns as a place for a break from snorkeling tours to the great barrier reef you will be surprised of the variety of things to do in Cairns and many of them are free. I first visited Cairns on my trip in 2004, meanwhile I have been there three times. Every time I have discovered a little bit more of this fascinating Australian city. On this blog post I show you how to plan your trip on a budget and what to do in Cairns.
The Swimming Lagoon on the Esplanade
Probably the biggest attraction among all Cairns activities, the Swimming Lagoon is where you can enjoy the relax of a real city beach, straight out of your hotel door. The best Cairns beaches are out of town, in north Cairns and you will need a car to visit them. So the swimming lagoon is Cairns city beach!
The 4800 sq meters swimming lagoon is filled with filtered saltwater and is divided into three main areas. On one side the shallow water and sandy edges create a save playground for kids. On the other side water reach 2 mt depth for expert swimmers and offers a recreational area with timber decks, benches and great BBQ facilities under palm trees, where you can cook, enjoy a meal and chill out.
Among the fun things to do in Cairns, are the Active Living Free Fitness such as yoga, aqua gym and classes that are offered for free. Moreover there are Beach Volley courts, a Bouldering Park and a Skate Park, all available to travellers and locals for free.
The Cottage Industry Market
The Cottage Industry Market is a funky market that takes place on the Plaza, next to the Swimming Lagoon on Saturdays from 8am to 4pm. This is a great place to browse through the many colourful stalls, learn about the atisan produce and purchase artworks from local artists. Futhermore on weekends there is free live music from local bands too.
The Esplanade boardwalk
The esplanade boardwalk stretches along 2,5 km and encompasses all of the above if you fancy walking and soaking up the laid-back atmosphere and enjoy the sunset colours on the ocean. If you enjoy walking you can start your walk along the Esplanade Boardwalk, follow the beach promenade till the end for about 5 km. When you have reached the end of the promenade cross the road and follow the signage for the Botanic Gardens. The entire walk will probably take 1-1,5 hour.
The Botanic Gardens Walk
The botanic Gardens are located 5km, north of town, close to Cairns Airport. They offer an insight of all native plants and flowers you can see in Queensland tropical region as well as featuring imported plants and flowers. You can acess the Botanic Gardens in Cairns for free.
Mount Whitfield Lookout – The Red and Blue Walking Trails
These are the two walking trails that you can do in combination with the Botanic Gardens. Start the walk a the base, at Collins Avenue. The red trail is an easy walk, 1,5 km long that takes you up to Mount Whitfield Lookout, right above Cairns International Airport for a great view of the city; with clear sky you may see Green Island too. The blue arrow trail is 4,5km and a way more demanding walk with 300 mt elevation. Both walking trails take you through rainforest, grassland and eucalypt forest.
The Centenary Lakes and the Rainforest Boardwalk
If you plan to visit the Botanic Gardens, then just across the road there is the entrance to 500 mt Rainforest Boardwalk with two lakes, where you can see pelicans and many more native birds along the edges. A very relaxing place for a walk in the forest with a picture-perfect scenery for photography lovers.
Cairns Historical Museum
For an authentic museum experience check out Cairns Historical Society Museum on Corner Lake and Shields Street, this is a hidden gem that showcases the history of Cairns and its surrounding areas.
Kickarts Contemporary Arts
The Kickarts Contemporary arts center is all about real authentic Aboriginal art produced in Northern Australia. Next to the art on display, the center has a lovely museum gift shops.
The Rusty’s Markets
If you love food the rusty's Markets is the place to be, a top-notch fruit and veggies market not to miss out. Held on Grafton Street on Fridays-Saturdays-Sundays, this is a paradise for fruits and veggies lovers, offering the finest local products along with organic produce. A must-do free thing to do in Cairns on weekends. For more info visit: www.rustysmarkets.com.au
Panorama View of Cairns from Campbells Lookout
This is very much a hidden secret among all Cairns attractions. You must hire a car and drive to Campbells lookout. (on the Lake Morris Road). It's about a 25 minutes drive from town. This is a popular spot for the locals. In fact I learnt about it from my Airbnb hosts, who took me there to show me the panoramic view of Cairns by night. This was one of the perks for staying in Cairns with a local 😉
A quick guide to get your trip to Cairns organized
If you are travelling to Cairns within Australia make sure you get a cheap flight. Here below the links to the travel websites I use to book my travels in Australia. Note: these are affiliate links which means I will earn a small commission if you book through these links at no extra cost to you. This will help supporting Rocky Travel! Thank you!
Now over to you! Have you been to Cairns? Can you share the best fun thing you did there for free? Please share it with us by leaving your comment here below.
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