Our selection of the best shopping, sights, food & drink, and stays
If you’re after a taste of the tropics, Cairns is the place to go. It’s famous as the base for exploring the Great Barrier Reef, and for the beaches that scallop the nearby coast, but there’s much more to explore in and around this laid-back seaside town.
UNIQUE SHOPPING EXPERIENCES
The Art Deco exterior is lovely, but it’s what inside T Galleria by DFS that really counts. With almost 100 brands on display, including luxury labels such as Prada, Dior and Marc Jacobs, it’s a one-stop shop — and duty-free for tourists.
The most relaxed shopping experience in town unfolds every evening when the lively Cairns Night Markets take over The Esplanade. Whether you want to grab a quick bite, browse the stalls for handmade goodies, or even have a quick massage, it’s all on offer here right by the water.
Upcyclers and lovers of low-impact fashion should head to Oceana Walk Arcade, where a couple of little gems await. The racks at Vintage Seeker are filled with vintage finds, from dresses to denim, while Eggplant & Poppy has a range of homewares, tote bags, and jewelry, all of which is handmade or upcycled.
There are plenty of spectacular sights here that befit a tropical getaway and are perfect for generating a bit of Instagram envy. On a hot day, there are few better ways to cool off than in one of the area’s stunning waterfalls. Among the most popular is the picturesque Millaa Millaa Falls, which cascade into a waterhole ringed with lush tree ferns and gum trees. Want more? Follow The Waterfall Circuit to visit other sites such as Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls, where turtles and platypuses can sometimes be spotted.
Held every August, the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair is a joyous celebration of First Nations culture. There are live dance performances, workshops, fashion, live music, talks, and of course an extraordinary array of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island paintings, jewelry, ceramics, and woven pieces.
Ancient majesty and inviting waterholes aren’t the only things that make Mossman Gorge special. This part of the Daintree Rainforest is sacred to the KuKu Yalanji people; join the Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk to learn more about how they lived and thrived in the rainforest.
Would you drive an hour for a cup of coffee? When that coffee is served at Skybury Coffee Plantation, the answer should be yes. The family-run Skybury produces Arabica beans for both the Australian and international markets. Pay a visit to the farm to learn more about how coffee is grown and enjoy a super-fresh cup while drinking in the panoramic views.
Cairns celebrates its location with spectacular use of local ingredients and global influences. The best breakfast in town is served up at Caffiend on Grafton Street. Best bets for breakfast include miso-infused scrambled eggs, and pumpkin and goat’s cheese served on sourdough.
For a good lunch, head to the hip Edge Hill neighborhood, where NOA serves up international flavors — from Korean steamed buns to passionfruit- and gin-cured barramundi — alongside killer cocktails.
The waterfront Ochre Restaurant is all about native ingredients. Feast on kangaroo satays, beef carpaccio with native peppers and green ants, or crocodile and prawns with salt and native pepper leaf.
The most luxe dining experience in town is Tamarind, which serves up sophisticated regionally influenced cuisine in an elegant dining room where tables are topped with white cloths. Tamarind’s signature Penang duck curry is superb.
HOTELS IN THE HEART OF THE CITY
1. Crystalbrook Riley
Beautiful, chic and sustainably modern, Crystalbrook Riley is the ultimate escape to unwind and get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Located on the iconic Cairns Esplanade, this five-star luxury hotel boasts impressive facilities, including a 1,000+ sqm outdoor swimming pool, a man-made beach, spa treatments at Eléme Day Spa, the city’s highest rooftop bar Rocco with 270-degree panoramic views of the water, and Asian fusion restaurant Paper Crane with fresh and locally produced ingredients. Plus, know that the hotel has your health and mental wellbeing in mind with heightened hygiene measures like contactless check-ins, cash-free payments, and complimentary yoga classes.
2. Shangri-La The Marina, Cairns
Enjoy unparalleled marina views of a tropical city at Shangri-La The Marina, Cairns. Go for a refreshing dip at the hotel’s private pool with drinks from the poolside bar, and savor contemporary Australian fare at The Backyard Restaurant & Bar. Plan your adventure itinerary by taking advantage of Shangri-La’s location as a direct gateway to top attractions like local markets, the Great Barrier Reef, and World Heritage rainforests, waterfalls and other natural landmarks.
3. Hilton Cairns
Set amid tropical greenery on Cairns’ waterfront, the Hilton Cairns is a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, located just 400 meters away from The Reef Terminal. Other popular natural attractions such as the Crystal Cascades waterfall and Cairns Botanic Gardens are a mere 22 kilometers from the hotel. Have breakfast with a view of the Trinity Inlet at Café Sunrise, swim and dine at the lagoon-style outdoor pool and pool bar, indulge in a barbecue dinner at the award-winning al fresco Mondo on the Waterfront, and finally, end the day with the best gins and fine wines at Gin Social.
Cairns has its share of hotels, but if you’re looking for the ultimate in relaxation you might prefer a space of your own. Just 15 minutes from Cairns airport, Villa 501, set on a secluded beachfront estate, is the next best thing to having your own private resort. Surrounded by tropical vegetation, the five-bedroom villa offers enough room for everyone to find their own quiet space, including a decadent master suite that sprawls over 1200 square feet. The villa can be rented with staff, or you can self-cater if you prefer your privacy. There’s a golf driving range next to the pool house, and the beach is just a few steps away.
Expect some good-looking visitors dropping in when you book into the three-bedroom Treetops Retreat: magnificent Ulysses butterflies frequently flutter along the balconies of this beautiful villa tucked away in the rainforest. Cool off in the pool, drink in the escarpment view from the deck, laze in the hammock, or indulge in a spot of stargazing while sitting in the heated spa. Visits from a range of therapists — including massage and reiki — are also available.
The tree-fringed beach and the low-rise village environment make Palm Cove a favorite with visitors and locals alike, and the three-bedroom Palm Cove Executive Retreat, just a short stroll from the beach, is the perfect base. The sprawling open-plan living and dining area opens out to the pool and the thatched-roof cabana, while the open kitchen is decked out with everything you need to whip up tropical feasts — or you can stroll down to the local restaurants and let someone else do the hard work.
We recommend checking websites before visiting, as some venues are currently impacted by the Sydney lockdown; others are offering takeout, virtual experiences, and online shopping services or Click & Collect.