Travel Rankings & Advice


Cairns Photo info
Stephen B. Goodwin /Shutterstock
  • Type: Sightseeing, Neighborhood/Area
  • Time to Spend: Half Day to Full Day
Overall Rating: 4.5 (4.7)
Value: 5.0 (5.0)
Food Scene: 0.0 (N/A)
Atmosphere: 3.5 (3.5)
About these ratings

If you plan on exploring the far northern half of Queensland, Cairns (pronounced "Cahns") offers a convenient home base. About 1,500 miles north of Sydney, Cairns boasts the closest mainland access to the reef. One reason Cairns is such a popular entry point to the Great Barrier Reef is its airport. While there are a number of regional airports dotting the Queensland coast, Cairns hosts the only international airport in the north (Brisbane and Gold Coast welcome international passengers in the south). But while the city provides a favorable jumping-off point for reef explorations, it also touts its own attractions. And along with a variety of shops and restaurants, Cairns hosts plenty of lodging options, from luxurious five-star properties to budget-friendly hostels.

You may be here to discover the reef, but Cairns is worth exploring, too. You can learn more about the region's native plants and animals with Reef Teach, and then take to the seas with a snorkeling, scuba diving or sailing excursion. The Reef Fleet Terminal, located a little more than a mile east of downtown Cairns, is the primary departure point for reef excursions. If you'd prefer to stay on dry land, the nearly 15-acre Cairns Tropical Zoo — which hosts the largest wildlife display in Tropical North Queensland — sits just 15 miles north of downtown Cairns. But for sun-drenched relaxation, head to Palm Cove. About 16 miles north of Cairns, Palm Cove (named for the abundance of swaying palm trees shading the beach) is one of Cairns' best beaches. For more information on Cairns, consult the visitors bureau website.

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