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How to Spend 3 Days in Cairns & the Tropical North

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How to Spend 3 Days in Cairns & the Tropical North
Most visitors who head to Cairn visit this city in Australia’s tropical north as a way to access the Great Barrier Reef, but the region offers a variety of activities. On a three day trip, you have plenty of time to visit the reef and also explore the city and the surrounding rainforest. Here are some ways to spend 72 hours in Cairns. 

Day 1: Experience the City by Land and Water
A great way to get your bearings is on a sightseeing tour of the city and its surroundings. Hop on a bus, bike, or Segway for a guided tours of city attractions like the Flecker Botanical Gardens and St. Monica's Cathedral, which boasts the largest themed stained glass windows in the world. Some bus tours give you the option of also taking a morning cruise to Green Island in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Alternatively, book an audio tour and explore the city at your own pace.

End your day with a sunset cruise through Trinity Inlet aboard a comfortable catamaran. Soak up views of  the city and the harbor while you enjoy drinks and appetizers; some cruises even offer dinner at one of the city’s best restaurants after the ride.

Day 2: Head Out Onto the Great Barrier Reef
The UNESCO-listed Great Barrier Reef is the main attraction in this part of the world, so make the most of your visit by spending a whole day exploring it. Join a diving and/or snorkeling cruise, and visit two different sites to see the vibrant marine life living below the reef’s clear waters. Cruises often cover Outer Great Barrier Reef highlights like Saxon Reef or Norman Reef in the morning, then head to Hastings Reef in the afternoon, and most include a hearty lunch as well as snacks. Some tours also offer a short helicopter flight over the reef to give you a different perspective on the world-famous site.

In the evening, get a taste of Aboriginal culture with dinner at Flames of the Forest, an open-air restaurant set under the trees in a rainforest that features upscale food along with live music and performances. 

Day 3: Explore the Kuranda Rainforest
Spend your last day in Cairns exploring another of the area’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the rainforest around the town of Kuranda. Take the Kuranda Scenic Railway, and visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary (largest flight aviary in the country), the Rainforestation Nature Park, and the Koala and Wildlife Park before returning to Cairns on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Some tours also include lunch and an Aboriginal cultural experiences; some have the added privilege of skip-the-line entrance and upgraded seating on the scenic railway.

To celebrate the end of your trip, get dressed up and finish the evening with an entertaining (and interactive) dinner theater show filled with music and comedy. From burlesque shows to murder mysteries, Cairns Dinner Theatre’s shows will keep you entertained and—with a three-course meal included with the ticket—satisfied.
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Cairns & the Tropical North Tours & Activities (9)
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Great Barrier Reef Luxury Snorkel and Dive Cruise from CairnsDay Cruises

Great Barrier Reef Luxury Snorkel and Dive Cruise from Cairns

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Spend a day on the Great Barrier Reef at two different snorkel and dive sites on this luxury catamaran cruise from Cairns. Travel in style aboard a comfortable catamaran to a mooring off of Upolu Cay. Take a glass-bottom boat to Upolu Cay, then have time to snorkel or scuba dive. Refuel with a buffet lunch on board the catamaran before heading to your next destination, for more water time, including a guided snorkeling tour.
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  • 9 hours
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  • 9 hours
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Great Barrier Reef Diving and Snorkeling Cruise from CairnsDay Cruises

Great Barrier Reef Diving and Snorkeling Cruise from Cairns

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If snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef is on your bucket list, don’t miss this day trip from Cairns. You’ll visit two different locations on the barrier reef for the chance to see tropical marine life in the clear waters. Lunch is included on board the boat, and you have the option to upgrade to include additional adventures such as introductory or certified scuba diving or a helicopter flight over this UNESCO World Heritage site. Both water sports enthusiasts and novices are welcome.
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  • 8 hours 30 minutes
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  • 8 hours 30 minutes
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Skip the Line: Kuranda Scenic Railway Gold Class and Skyrail Rainforest CablewayDay Trips

Skip the Line: Kuranda Scenic Railway Gold Class and Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

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Journey to the rain forest village of Kuranda via two unique transit options on this memorable full-day tour from Cairns or Port Douglas. Skip the line and enjoy Gold Class service aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway, winding through lush mountain passes and waterfall gorges along the way. In the opposite direction, glide above the treetops in a gondola and soak up spectacular views of the mountains and coastline on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. In Kuranda, enjoy leisure time to explore the heritage markets, learn about aboriginal culture or interact with native wildlife.
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  • 8 hours
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  • 8 hours
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Kuranda Scenic Railway Day Trip from CairnsDay Trips

Kuranda Scenic Railway Day Trip from Cairns

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Explore the lush beauty, amazing wildlife and rich heritage of Tropical North Queensland on this customizable full-day trip to Kuranda from Cairns. Travel to this enchanting rain forest village aboard the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway, and choose from a variety of activities including visits to the Tjupakai Aboriginal Cultural Park and Rainforestation Nature Park. Hang out with koalas and exotic birds, browse local markets and opt to include a delicious buffet lunch. At the end of the day, glide through the treetops back to Cairns on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
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  • 7 hours
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  • 7 hours
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Small-Group Cairns City Sights and Surrounds TourHalf-day Tours

Small-Group Cairns City Sights and Surrounds Tour

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First time in Cairns? Discover the gateway to Queensland’s tropical north on this 5.5-hour sightseeing tour. Visit city attractions like the Flecker Botanical Gardens and St Monica's Cathedral, and stroll along the scenic Cairns waterfront. Indulge in a delicious Devonshire afternoon tea (included) taking in the stunning views from the jetty at Palm Cove before taking a short hike through the Barron Gorge National Park. For the full experience, upgrade to include a 2-hour morning cruise to Green Island in the UNESCO-listed Great Barrier Reef marine park. This small-group tour is limited to 20 people.
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  • 5 hours 30 minutes
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  • 5 hours 30 minutes
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Cairns Ninebot Tour, The Next Generation SegwaySegway Tours

Cairns Ninebot Tour, The Next Generation Segway

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See the sights of Cairns during a 90-minute motorized tour that uses the Ninebot, the newest generation of Segway. Start with a Ninebot orientation from your expert guide, then head off along the Cairns Esplanade to begin your tour. Cruise over to Trinity Inlet and the Aboriginal community of Yarabah, followed by the Cairns Botanical Gardens and Centenary Lakes. Look for wildlife as you pass a salt water creek, mangrove swamps and wetlands, learning about local plants, animals and history along the way.
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  • 1 hour 30 minutes
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  • 1 hour 30 minutes
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Flames of the Forest Dining ExperienceDining Experiences

Flames of the Forest Dining Experience

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Experience an enchanting night at the Flames of the Forest dinner, held in the world's oldest rainforest. Dine by candlelight at an open-air site, feasting on a gourmet multi-course meal while enjoying live entertainment such as an Aboriginal cultural performance or live guitar music. Sip Australian wines and beer, and finish off with tantalizing desserts before your included transfer to your hotel in Cairns, the Northern Beaches or Port Douglas.
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  • 5 hours
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  • 5 hours
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Cairns City Morning Bike TourBike & Mountain Bike Tours

Cairns City Morning Bike Tour

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Get a deeper understanding of Cairns and cover more ground than possible on foot on this guided small-group bicycle tour. At a relaxed pace, pedal through the streets—along a network of bicycle paths through lesser-known parts of Cairns—as your guide shares insights into the wildlife, culture, and history of the city. Disembark for a few side excursions on foot, including an Aboriginal bush tucker walk and a visit a local cathedral which boasts the largest themed stained glass windows in the world.
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  • 3 hours
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  • 3 hours
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Cairns Self-Guided Audio TourAudio Guided Tours

Cairns Self-Guided Audio Tour

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Explore Cairns at your own pace and make your own schedule on this self-guided audio tour. Download the entertainingly narrated tour and begin whenever you like. Wander along the Esplanade Lagoon while listening to stories about the impact of war and the Gold Rush on the region. Admire indigenous artwork at the Jungara Gallery while listening to background information about the Aboriginal peoples and even visit a rooftop wildlife center.
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  • 1 to 3 hours
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  • 1 to 3 hours


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