Cairns Neighborhood Guide
As the gateway to Queensland’s tropical north, most visitors use Cairns as a springboard for exploring the region’s two UNESCO-listed sites—the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest. However, there’s plenty to see and do in the city; Cairns’ neighborhoods offer miles of sandy beaches, forested hinterlands, and tranquil suburbs. Here’s what not to miss.
Brimming with shops, restaurants, bars, and nightlife, downtown Cairns—known locally as the CBD or Central Business District—is where most travelers choose to stay. There’s no beach in the city center but the place to be is Cairns Esplanade, where you can swim in the lagoon, sample seafood at an ocean view restaurant, and browse night markets. Crowds gather along the Esplanade on summer evenings to enjoy free live music and entertainment.
Stretching north of the city along the coast of Trinity Bay, Cairns’ Northern Beaches offer a quiet alternative to the city center. Each beach resort has its own unique character—Yorkeys Knob is a favorite for sailors and kitesurfers; Trinity Beach is popular with families; and Holloways Beach is favoured for its easy access to central Cairns, which is only 10 minutes away by bus.
As the northernmost of the Northern Beaches, Palm Cove is one of Cairns’ most affluent suburban towns. Well-heeled travelers can find a host of 5-star resorts and chic restaurants to choose from. This is also the starting point for boat cruises and kayaking excursions to Double Island, an exclusive resort located on the southern fringe of the Great Barrier Reef.
Surrounded by lush rainforest, the mountain village of Kuranda is best known as the starting point of the Kuranda Scenic Railway, a popular day trip option from Cairns. There are plenty of good reasons to stick around after riding the railway—the lively town has daily handicrafts markets, a thriving arts scene, and plenty of cafés and restaurants. Additional attractions include the Kuranda Koala Gardens, Birdworld, and the Butterfly Sanctuary.
South of Cairns, the tiny town of Babinda is the ideal place for nature lovers to relax and unwind; accommodation is limited so advance booking is essential during high season. While in town, visit the natural pools of the Babinda Boulders, take a paddleboarding excursion along Babinda Creek, or hike through the rainforest to Josephine Falls.
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