Winter has well and truly arrived in the south east, and surprise, surprise—us Brisbanites are not handling it well. For most of the year, we live in a land of perpetual summer, but those darned polar blasts have brought the winter chill to our doorstep. If you just can’t face another few months of cold winter mornings, chapped lips, and 5pm sunsets, don’t stress—we’re here to help. We’ve found the perfect place to enjoy a tropical getaway, even when the rest of the state is shivering through sweater weather. But it gets even better—we’ve planned out every aspect of your trip, from where to stay, what to do, and most importantly, where to eat. Pack your bags and chase the sun north, here’s all the best things to do in Cairns.
Where To Stay In Cairns
For exceptional views, modern interiors, and 5-star location, look no further than Crystalbrook Flynn. This luxury hotel is just steps from the Esplanade boardwalk, a picturesque 2.5 km stretch of foreshore in the heart of Cairns. Its laid back, minimalist style lets stunning seaside views take centre stage. Take a dip in the sprawling indoor pool, surrounded by gently swaying palm trees and towering marble pillars—the perfect backdrop for the ultimate tropical getaway.
If you can’t go past a stunning lagoon pool and private beach, Crystalbrook Riley is the hotel for you. The five-star accom is located at the northern end of the iconic Cairns Esplanade, and is home to Paper Crane Restaurant—the best in modern dining. The property also features the city’s highest rooftop bar, complemented by 24-hour in-room dining. Oh, and don’t forget the free Wi-Fi, so you can stream Netflix to your heart’s content.
Any artists in the building? Those with an eye for the abstract are sure to fall in love with Crystalbrook Bailey. Like its sister Flynn, Bailey offers guests next-level luxury Cairns accomodation, but trades in a seaside locale for sweeping city views, and the latest innovations in sustainable living. Just minutes away from the Cairns Aquarium and Regional Gallery, it’s the perfect place to explore the city’s cultural side, and make some fishy friends in the process.
Best Cafes And Restaurants In Cairns
There’s no question about it: Flynn’s Italian is easily one of the best restaurants in Cairns. Promising fun, family-style food served in a beautiful, communal dining experience, Flynn's is sure to be a hit with all ages. Open for both breakfast and dinner, be sure to book a table so you can indulge on Flynn’s quintessential Italian spread—and be sure to order the tiramisu for dessert.
Smith Street Cafe
Having recently come under new ownership, the Smith Street Cafe is a local favourite known for their drool-worthy bacon and egg panini special. Of course, the menu features plenty of other delicious eats, including fresh salads, peanut butter bliss balls, and cabinets full of baked goods. Swing by from 6am for a morning pick-me-up in the form of a warm cup of ‘jo and a homemade muffin.
Perched in a priceless location overlooking the Marina, Salt House takes luxury dining to the next level. Sit back and relax on their outdoor daybeds, perfect for enjoying bit-size tapas beside flowing ponds and fire features. For something more formal, book a table inside, and enjoy fresh, local and seasonal produce cooked over a custom-built Argentinian wood fired grill. Trust us—a meal at Salt House is one night you won’t forget.
Known by locals as one of Cairns’ best cafes, The Chambers is our go-to for a fresh and filling brekky in the heart of the CBD. The cafe’s seasonally inspired menu shows off the region’s local flavours, whilst also offering freshly-baked sweet and savoury goodies. Treat yourself to a morning mimosa and salmon bagel, followed by a custard-filled fruit flan for a cheeky midday dessert. Count. Us. In.
Even on vacay, there’s no getting anywhere without your morning cup of coffee. Thankfully, Caffiend has your back, with a range of freshly brewed coffee drinks and teas to get you up and going. For something a little more filling, order a dish from their all day menu. The miso-infused scrambled eggs are a total gamechanger.
By far Cairns’ most highly awarded restaurant, dinner at Ochre is the perfect way to end your stay. With an ever changing menu that showcases the latest and greatest Australian produce, the chefs at Ochre claim to have created a whole new cuisine, unique in its use of native foods and knowledge. Our current dish of choice? It’s neck and neck between the tempura gulf bugs, and salt and pepper leaf crocodile and prawns. But no matter what’s on your plate, Ochre promises a truly legendary dining experience, guaranteed to leave you wanting more.
Best Bars In Cairns
Offerint 270 degree panoramic views of Cairns and the Coral Sea, Rocco is the city’s highest rooftop bar and restaurant. Sitting atop Crystalbrook Riley, it’s perfectly positioned for travellers staying at the luxury 5-star hotel. The Mediterranean-inspired menu is packed with plenty of sophisticated cocktails, not to mention a stellar champagne menu best enjoyed in the gentle glow of sunset.
Discover the best in fresh local beer whilst overlooking the water at Hemingway’s Brewery. Perched on the shores of the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina, the bar serves a plethora of award-winning craft beers produced in Far North Queensland. Not sure which brew is right for you? Check out their online brew selector to find a beer guaranteed to knock your socks off.
Wolf Lane Distillery & Bar
Looking for something a little...stronger? Wolf Lane’s got you covered, with an impressive range of award-winning gin and coffee liqueur. Try something new with a tropical take on the botanical concoction, or dare to take on the distillery’s navy strength varieties. Order at the bar or book a tasting so you can sample it all.
The Fox Small Bar
A small speakeasy establishment with fine wines, spirits and craft beers, The Fox is one of our top picks for the best bars in Cairns. Their extensive cocktail list is beaten only by their vast range of reds, whites and roses—not to mention their mouthwatering dessert wines. Located right by the airport in the suburb of Stratford, The Fox is the perfect place to get a feel for the city, or to round off your stay with a final glass of wine.
Hidden down a red brick laneway in the heart of the Cairns CBD, Three Wolves is a favourite traveller’s retreat. Their menu features a range of speciality whiskey, spirits, cocktails, wine and beer, not to mention a ton of delectable eats to compliment your choice of beverage. Our personal fave? There’s no going past the Candy Shop cocktail—a divine sweet treat consisting of pink gin, moscato, hibiscus syrup, lemon and soda.
Things To Do In Cairns
Embark on an Underwater Adventure on Fitzroy Island
Home to some of the best beaches in Australia (if not the world), a day trip to Fitzroy Island is an absolute must when adventuring up north. Book yourself in for a day tour and enjoy a gentle cruise out to the island, where you can enjoy plenty of activities in the crystal clear shallow waters of the Great Barrier Reef. We’re talking glass bottom boat tours, snorkelling, rainforest walks, secret beaches—you name it. Trust us, a trip to Fitzroy Island truly is a day in paradise.
Adventure Amongst the Treetops with the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Take yourself on an unforgettable journey above Australia's World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforests with a trip on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. This award-winning 7.5 kilometre tourist experience offers breathtaking views of Queensland’s Wet Tropics all the way up to Kuranda, in the Atherton Tablelands. On the way home, opt to take the scenic railway and journey through some of the oldest and grandest rainforests the world has to offer.
Take a Road Trip Down to the Babinda Boulders
Book yourself a hire car and load up a podcast for the hour-long drive to the Babinda Boulders. Nestled amongst the lush wet tropical rainforests of Far North Queensland, the granite boulders can be found peppered throughout the bubbling Bandina Creek, making for a popular tourist attraction. Once you’ve taken in the sights, stop in at the popular Babinda Bakery for some mouthwatering baked goods before heading to nearby Josephine Falls for a quick dip before you make your way home.
Enjoy Night Bites in Paradise
Take a late afternoon stroll along the iconic Cairns Esplanade and treat yourself to a stop at the Night Markets. Open from 4.30pm everyday of the week, the markets feature plenty of local treasure troves, plus the best street eats the city has to offer. With over 70 vendors to explore, don’t be surprised if the night gets away from you.
Looking for more local escapes? Grab your mates and rent this entire private island in the Whitsundays.Image credit: Tourism & Events Queensland, Wolf Lane, Crystalbrook, The Chambers