What To Do In Cairns: Eating, Shopping, Relaxing & Viewing

Cairns is more than a coastal city that gateways the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a tropical micro-city that fuses cosmopolitan living with a unique ecology. Cairns’ size gives it a laid-back town vibe that’s big on water adventures, with promotions of Coral Sea snorkelling, diving and cruising from open-air shops on every block.

If you’re staying in Cairns, you’re probably staying around its waterfront centre. And whether you’re treating your visit as a relaxed holiday or backpacking adventure stop, here are my picks of the best things to eat, buy, enjoy and view in Cairns. P. S. you can thank me later that all of them are budget friendly.

Eating & Shopping

2 words, open 7 evenings a week: Night Market. Located in the heart of The Esplanade, Cairns Night Market has your late night hunger and entertainment covered. Vibrant and multicultural, here you can shop for boomerangs and didgereedos after a Chinese pressure point massage or fishy foot treatment. The market supports and promotes local businesses and creatives, giving it a community vibe of artists and business-minded people passionate about what they create and sell.

The Night Market’s food court attempts to transport you to a South-East Asian street market. Dominated by self-serve chinese food counters and Thai curry shops, hit the spot for your sticky rice craving with whatever stall you choose.


Cairns is famous for its lagoon, which mimics a white sand and crystal clear water beach – just in the centre of a city. It’s location means that it’s permanently abuzz with tourists and locals alike. The lagoon’s grassy knolls are the perfect place to sunbathe and chill, while the cold water is perfect for a hot day dip. There’s nothing quite like bringing a tropical beach setting to this city’s gentle hustle and bustle.


Cast your eyes upon the city’s weirdest and wonderfulest art at the local gallery. The Cairns Art Gallery describes itself as ‘an elegant fusion of contemporary and heritage, offering international museum standard lighting, security and climate controls’ – and it serves just that. The paintings downstairs were telling of cross cultural dialogues and rural Australian history, while upstairs, Patricia Piccinini’s ‘Life Clings Closest’ exhibition taps into ideas about evolution, environmemt, technology and relationships. Warning: Piccinini’s sculptures are both highly disturbing and highly fascinating – I haven’t stopped having nightmares since.

Staying the night? Here’s some options.

I stayed at Global Backpackers hostel, which is conveniently located opposite the lagoon and next to the Cairns Night Market. The facilities were modern and clean, and the staff super friendly. The hostel had a chill vibe, though, so if you’re feeling fun, Gilligans might be the place for you. A mixture of dorm and hotel accommodation, Gilligans is talk of the city due to its bouncing night club and party-promising outdoor pool.

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