Nestled in the heart of Tropical North Queensland, Cairns is an enchanting destination that wows visitors with its stunning natural beauty, vibrant marine life, and wealth of once-in-a-lifetime adventure activities.
Whether you’re exploring the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, swimming in rainforest water holes under thundering cascades, or basking in the sun on serene, picture-perfect beaches, a Cairns family holiday has something to offer every member of your family.
In this article, we’ve curated a list of 15 fun things to do with kids on a Cairns family holiday, ensuring that your trip is full of adventure, discovery, and, most importantly, smiles that will light up the exotic landscape. So please keep reading until the end to make your visit to Cairns with kids the best possible.
Best Time to Visit Cairns
Cairns is a beautiful destination for a family holiday year-round, so the timing of your visit will depend on your availability, budget, preferences for weather and what kind of activities you want to do.
The city has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. Here’s what you need to know about each one:
Dry Season (May to October): This is generally the best time to visit Cairns for a family holiday. The weather is pleasant, warm and less humid, making it perfect for outdoor activities such as exploring the Great Barrier Reef, snorkelling, diving and hiking in the rainforests. It’s also a popular time for family vacations as Australian school holidays fall during this period, so it’s best to plan and book accommodations and activities well in advance.
Wet Season (November to April): Cairns experiences heavy rainfall and higher humidity during these months, but it’s a terrific time to visit lush rainforests and waterfalls and embark on river adventures. While the rougher seas make reef excursions less ideal, the region’s vibrant greenery peaks during this season.
Shoulder Seasons: The transitional months of April and November are a great compromise if you want to avoid the peak tourist crowds of the dry season while still enjoying decent weather. You may also find lower prices for accommodations and tours during these times.
Remember, the city can be busy during Australian school holidays (around Easter, July, and September/October), so it’s advisable to book accommodations and activities for your family trip to Cairns well ahead of your visit during these periods.
Getting Around in Cairns
You’ll find it easy to get around during your Cairns family holiday. The city offers a variety of transportation options to suit the different needs of those without a car.
Cairns has a relatively efficient public transportation system, which includes buses operated by Sunbus. While the bus network covers most of the city and surrounding areas, it may not be as frequent or extensive outside the larger urban centres. However, they are a cost-effective way to get around if you plan to stay within the city limits.
Alternatively, taxis and rideshare services like Uber are readily available in Cairns. They can be a convenient way to travel short distances or if you want more flexibility in your schedule. That said, taxi fares can add up quickly, so be mindful of that when using them frequently.
If you would like to tour further afield than the esplanade and downtown area, renting a car is one of the best things for families to do in Cairns. It can offer more freedom and convenience, especially if you plan to explore the surrounding areas or have a lot of luggage.
With children in tow, a car provides greater flexibility in getting to various attractions and allows you to explore at your own pace. However, you should consider car rental costs, parking fees and the need to navigate traffic before doing so.
Should you decide to hire a car, you will find most of the major car rental companies operate offices at Cairns airport and the downtown area. Some have desks stationed at major hotels, too.
Where to Stay in Cairns With Kids
You will need a place to stay during your family trip to Cairns. Thankfully, the city offers a range of family-friendly accommodation options in various suburbs, each with its unique charm and advantages.
Here are some recommended suburbs and specific hotels for those visiting Cairns with kids to consider.
Cairns City is the bustling heart of the region, making it a fantastic choice for families looking for convenience and accessibility.
The city offers plenty of family-friendly activities, restaurants and shops, all within easy reach. From here, you can embark on Great Barrier Reef adventures and explore nearby attractions.
Recommended Hotel: Riley, a Crystalbrook Collection Resort
Riley is a premier family-friendly resort on Cairns’ Esplanade, offering spacious and modern rooms and suites.
The resort’s standout feature is its stunning lagoon pool with a man-made beach, perfect for kids to splash and play. The kids’ club provides entertaining activities, allowing parents to enjoy some downtime.
On-site dining options cater to various tastes, and the central location ensures easy access to the Cairns Aquarium, the Esplanade Lagoon, and other family attractions.
Palm Cove – about 25-30 minutes to the north of Cairns – provides a more tranquil and upscale escape for families who want to be by the beach.
The suburb boasts a picturesque beachfront lined with palm trees and a charming esplanade featuring restaurants and boutiques.
Recommended Hotel: Peppers Beach Club & Spa
Peppers Beach Club & Spa is an excellent choice for families seeking a beachfront experience. This resort offers spacious apartments with kitchenettes, ideal for families.
The multiple pools, including a lagoon-style pool, provide a fun aquatic experience. Parents can treat themselves to the spa while kids enjoy supervised activities at the kids’ club.
At the same time, the resort’s location also grants easy access to Palm Cove’s dining and shopping options.
Located a short drive from Cairns, Trinity Beach is a laid-back and family-friendly suburb known for its beautiful palm-fringed beach and relaxed atmosphere.
It is smaller than Palm Cove but possesses an excellent selection of cafes and shops.
Recommended Hotel: Blue Lagoon Resort
Blue Lagoon Resort is a popular choice for families. The resort offers self-contained apartments with kitchen facilities, allowing you to prepare meals for picky eaters.
It also has several lagoon-style pools with waterslides, a spa and a games room, catering to the whole family’s leisure needs.
Additionally, you can easily reach the beach within a couple of minutes’ walk.
Several options are available if you prefer a camping or caravan experience in Cairns.
One is the Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort, a family-friendly caravan park offering powered and unpowered sites for caravans and tents. The resort’s extensive facilities include water slides, a splash park, mini-golf, and a petting zoo, making it an ideal choice for families.
Another is the Big4 Ingenia Holidays Cairns Coconut. Located just a short drive from Cairns, this caravan park offers many family-friendly amenities. Facilities include a water park, multiple swimming pools, tennis courts and a playground. Overall, it is an excellent choice for families seeking a peaceful yet convenient base for exploring Cairns and the surrounding areas.
When choosing where to stay on your Cairns family holiday, consider your family’s preferences and needs, such as room size, amenities and proximity to attractions. That said, whether you opt for a city stay, a beachfront retreat, or a camping adventure, Cairns offers something for every family’s holiday style.
Best Things to Do in Cairns For Families
There are plenty of family things to do in Cairns, which is why it is such a terrific place to visit.
If you are heading to this part of Tropical North Queensland, here are 15 sites, attractions and activities to add to your itinerary.
Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling
Snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef is one of the best things for families to do in Cairns. It is an extraordinary underwater adventure that immerses you in one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders.
Located off the coast of Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef is the most extensive coral reef system on the planet – known for its remarkable biodiversity and vibrant marine life. Snorkelling there allows you to explore the reef’s colourful coral formations and encounter various marine species, including tropical fish, sea turtles, rays and even sharks.
Floating on the surface of the warm, crystal-clear waters, you’ll be mesmerised by the kaleidoscope of colours and the serene underwater world. Overall, it’s an opportunity to connect with nature, witness the beauty of the ocean and create lasting memories of an adventure that few places on Earth can rival.
The Cairns Aquarium is one of the most popular kids’ activities in Cairns. It offers visitors an immersive journey into the diverse marine ecosystems of the region.
The aquarium showcases an incredible collection of marine life, including colourful corals, exotic fish and unique creatures from the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding rainforests of Far North Queensland. With informative exhibits and interactive displays, it provides a deeper understanding of the fragile aquatic ecosystems and the importance of their conservation.
Cairns Aquarium also features touch tanks, where visitors can get close to some fascinating marine species. Ultimately, it’s a fantastic, family-friendly destination combining entertainment and environmental awareness.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and Kuranda Scenic Railway
The Kuranda Scenic Railway is a historic train ride that winds its way through the World Heritage-listed Barron Gorge National Park. Passengers are treated to stunning vistas of dense rainforest, cascading waterfalls, and dramatic cliffs as the train ascends to the charming village of Kuranda. Along the route are opportunities to learn about the region’s history and biodiversity.
The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway offers a different perspective on the rainforest. It’s a gondola ride that soars above the treetops, providing breathtaking panoramic views. With two mid-stations, visitors can disembark and explore the rainforest on boardwalks and at scenic viewpoints.
Both attractions offer educational experiences and the chance to appreciate the natural beauty and biodiversity of the tropical rainforest, making them must-visit destinations for families who love nature.
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Why not take the opportunity to immerse your family in the rich culture and traditions of the Aboriginal people at Tjapukai?
Whilst there you can witness traditional dance performances, try your hand at boomerang throwing and learn about Indigenous art and history through interactive exhibits.
Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas
Located just north of Cairns, this wildlife sanctuary provides a unique opportunity to encounter Australia’s native animals.
You can walk through rainforest environments and interact with kangaroos, koalas and wallabies. Overall, it’s a fun and educational experience kids will love.
Barron Gorge National Park
Barron Gorge National Park is a pristine natural wonderland not far from Cairns.
This tropical rainforest sanctuary is renowned for its breathtaking landscapes and lush biodiversity. The park encompasses Barron Gorge, a dramatic and verdant canyon carved by the Barron River.
Here, you can explore a network of hiking trails, discovering crystal-clear streams, secluded waterfalls and a diverse range of plant and animal species, including rare and endemic creatures.
One of the park’s highlights is the Barron Falls, a majestic waterfall that cascades down rugged cliffs. It is an incredible sight with phenomenal power that will leave you mesmerised.
One of the most popular kids’ activities in Cairns is Muddy’s Playground.
It is located on Cairns’ Esplanade and comprises water play areas, climbing structures, and shady picnic spots.
Overall, it’s an excellent place for kids to burn off excess energy and cool down on a hot day.
Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome
Thrill-seeking families with tweens and teens will love the Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome.
They can experience zip lines, high ropes courses and wildlife encounters high above the city.
For those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, the Dome showcases a variety of Australian animals, including crocodiles and koalas.
(They closed doors in October 2023 for what we though was maintenance works but sounds like they may now be permanently closed)
The Daintree Rainforest is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed wonder you must visit during your Cairns family holiday.
As one of the oldest rainforests on Earth, it boasts an ancient and diverse ecosystem. This lush tropical paradise spans 1,200 square kilometres and is home to an incredible array of plant and animal species, including unique and endangered flora and fauna.
The Daintree allows visitors to explore its pristine beauty through well-marked trails, river cruises, and wildlife encounters. Some of its major highlights include the stunning Mossman Gorge, the ethereal Cape Tribulation beach, and the opportunity to spot rare animals like the elusive cassowary.
For something a little different, why not step back in time at Paronella Park – a romantic and historic attraction set within lush gardens?
During your visit there, you can learn about the fascinating history of this Spanish-style castle and its gardens.
Kids will enjoy exploring the castle’s secret tunnels and you can take some excellent photos of its picturesque surroundings.
Cairns Botanic Gardens
For when you need a change of pace, the Cairns Botanic Gardens offer a peaceful escape from the city.
Take the time to stroll through the various gardens showcasing tropical and subtropical plants. The Gondwanan Heritage Garden is a particular highlight – teaching visitors about the ancient plant species of Australia.
Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
Just a short drive from Cairns, Hartley’s is a crocodile and wildlife park that tends to fascinate children.
During your time there you can witness crocodile feeding shows, hold baby crocs, and encounter other Australian wildlife – including cassowaries, snakes and wallabies.
If you do hire a car, be sure to venture to the Atherton Tablelands – a picturesque plateau with a cooler climate and diverse landscapes.
You will be able to visit natural wonders like Millaa Millaa Falls and the Curtain Fig Tree. You can also check out charming towns like Mareeba and Atherton to get a taste of life in this beautiful area.
Cairns Kart Hire Racing Track
Cairns Kart Hire Racing Track is an adrenaline-pumping destination for families with older children and teens. It offers exciting go-kart racing experiences on a well-designed track.
Families can enjoy thrilling races, compete against each other and experience the buzz of karting in a safe and controlled environment.
It’s an excellent choice for families seeking a dose of excitement and friendly competition during their Cairns vacation.
Beaches and Water Play
One of the best family things to do in Cairns is to visit the beach.
Within a 30-minute drive of the city, you will find several wonderful, beautiful beaches you can head to.
Trinity Beach, with its calm waters and shaded picnic areas, is perfect for families with young children. Likewise, Palm Cove boasts a stunning palm-fringed coastline ideal for relaxing, swimming, and water sports.
Nearby, the picturesque Ellis Beach is renowned for its unspoiled beauty and uncrowded shores. Meanwhile, those wanting to remain in the city centre can enjoy splashing around at the Esplanade Lagoon.
More Tips For Visiting Cairns
- Cairns can experience high humidity. Make sure you drink plenty of water during your time there and limit exposure to direct hear of the day.
- Take heed of local warnings on swim conditions in the ocean and all waterways; they are not put there to inconvenience your trip but are often a matter of life or death.
Where to Next? Road Tripping From Cairns
Cairns makes the perfect place to base yourself in the far north with plentiful opportunities to expand your trip around Australia by road. Why not try next:
- We have a great selection of ideas for places you could visit as a family day trip from Cairns, for many, hopping behind the wheel is going to be your quickest and easiest way to get there.
- If Cairns isn’t quite far enough north for you, how about driving all the way to Cooktown at the tip of Tropical North Queensland? It is located about 1030 km north of the city of Cairns (just be mindful whether rental cars are permitted that far north!) A shorter journey that will still see you well into the tropics is the drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation.
- You can explore the entire Queensland coast in our Cairns to Brisbane road trip itinerary
© Family Road Trip