13 free things to do in Cairns, Australia

Written From… the bedroom of my new apartment, Melbourne

It all started 6 months ago. Boarding a Cathay Pacific flight, backpacks filled to the brim, teary eyes and hearts filled with love and a hunger to explore. We were off. This was the start of our (first) big adventure. After making a far-too-short stop in Hong Kong we eventually touched down in Cairns, Australia. The first stop on our adventure, where we were eager to find what to do.

Australia, the land of sun, sea and relaxation. Well that’s what we had in mind for a year. When we first sat down to plan our year of adventure we decided to start up North, in Cairns, in January and work our way down – wanting to live in Melbourne for a while at the end of the year. It seemed sensible.

Now anyone who knows about the seasons in Australia and, particularly, Queensland will probably be able to guess what we were greeted with. Torrential downpours, flood warnings, seas we couldn’t swim safely in, and humidity so intense that I gave up body lotion for a while… Welcome to the wet season in beautiful tropical Queensland.

OK – so we admit now that research on climate had gone a little amiss on this one. All we really knew was that Australia’s summer and winter times were a reversal of ours in the UK, and that we wanted to end the big road trip in Melbourne. I mean, that’s all we really needed to know, right?

With our view of sunny Australia crashing down around us, literally, we had to pick ourselves and our spirits up, and make the most of a soggy situation.

Cairns is one of the smaller cities in Australia, no high rises, no Starbucks, and no safe beach! Despite the size of the city, we found plenty of interesting and free things to do in Cairns.  

Botanical gardens

Just north of the city, the Botanical Gardens are easily accessible by public transport, with the bus dropping you right at the entrance. There’s so much to explore and learn about. You can visit the Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory and count the butterflies flying overhead, learn about the history of plant evolution by walking the Rainforest Boardwalk, or learn how Aboriginals used the various native plants.  

Live music

Spend your weekends relaxing in Cairns to the sounds of different artists performing live music. Each weekend a new artist showcases their talents on the green by the Lagoon.  

The lagoon

Whilst Cairns doesn’t have a beach that you can relax on, they have more than made up for it with the local lagoon. Boasting water features, a man-made beach area, cafe and clean showers, it’s the ideal place to cool off. With the heat and humidity we were ecstatic to find the lagoon located at the end of the esplanade.  

Mangroves boardwalk

If you can’t get enough of walking through the Mangrove trees, feeling like you’re in a jungle, then you can visit the Mangroves Boardwalk on the way to Cairns Airport.

The esplanade

The esplanade starts to come to life in the evenings. Take a lazy stroll along the esplanade ending at the lagoon and soak in your surroundings. Sit with a drink and listen to the chitter chatter of others around you.

I would recommend taking a walk along the esplanade in the day as well. By the children’s playground there are information boards explaining the history of Cairns, from its aboriginal past to present day.

Art museum

Visit the Cairns Art Museum. The walls are filled with history and culture; there’s artwork from the aboriginal communities telling stories of the creation and of traditions. And on the top floor you’ll discover diary entries and the botany artworks of Vera Scarth-Johnson. She spent her time with aboriginal communities learning about the native flora and documenting them. 

Fitness classes

The council of Cairns have put together a programme called “The Active Living Programming”, aimed at getting people moving! You can attend any of the free fitness classes held along the Esplanade 6 days a week.  

Night markets

Cairns city centre is home to their night markets that run 365 days a year. You can take a wonder around the many colourful stalls from 5PM-11PM and even grab yourself a bite to eat.  

Volleyball game

Australia is a country where outdoor living is highly encouraged, and for that reason you’ll find a number of outdoor gyms, skate parks and volleyball game courts, all along the water’s edge. When you’re done, you can make use of the communal BBQ areas around the lagoon and the harbour.

Weekend market

The weekend market at the lagoon isn’t as large as the Night Markets but it’s worth a visit to see what local designers and creators are making. It is held every Saturday 8PM-4PM beside the lagoon.  

Cairns harbour

A little further on from the Lagoon you will bump into Cairns Harbour. I personally love harbours and docks, as they always seem so peaceful. It’s a little slice of quiet away from the activities happening by the lagoon. The harbour also has a number of restaurants to check out.  

Hiking up Mt Whitfield

Right by the Botanical Gardens you can take up the challenge of the walking trails that go through Mount Whitfield Conservation Park.  

Indigenous art gallery

I am a strong believer that you can’t visit a country without at least learning a little about its past and culture. In Australia, Aboriginal culture is sometimes lost in the bigger cities and almost forgotten about.

As a tourist you could easily visit Sydney and not learn anything, which is why if you are in Cairns, you should take the time to learn. As well as the numerous information boards around you should also head into the Indigenous Art Gallery where you will learn about traditional Aboriginal tales through art.


Picture of Megan Jessica
Megan Jessica
Megan is the Co-founder of Written From Travel. Her love of travel stems from a childhood dream to experience life abroad, of discovering something new outside of her well known territory, London. Megan enjoys snapping pictures, drinking copious amounts of tea, keeping active, and having a good weekend Netflix binge.
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