Going on a Cairns trip and want to know all the best things to do in Cairns with kids? We have you covered! Below you will find our guide to exactly what to do in Cairns with kids to plan your ultimate trip.
Cairns in Far North Queensland is the place to head for a fun, family holiday in the tropics. It’s beautiful and there are a range of huge attractions including both World Heritage listed rainforest and reefs, with the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics which include the Daintree and Mossman Gorge, plus there’s no shortage of family friendly accommodation.
With hot and humid weather year round, it’s our favourite place to head for a winter escape especially as during this time, the dry season, it’s a bit less hot and humid. In fact, it’s just perfect weather to get out there and explore.
This area really is perfect for a family trip with so many Cairns family activities whether you are an adventurous family or like to take it easy. You’ll love the Cairns attractions for families which range from lying on beautiful beaches to taking a cable car up into the rainforests of Kuranda to learning more about local Aboriginal culture, to going on a crocodile hunting cruise to zooming over Cairns.
It’s also great for all ages and we’ve been visiting since our kids were babies. We love it!
Below, you will find our Cairns travel blog with everything you need to know about the best things to do Cairns kids and toddlers will surely enjoy, the top kids activities Cairns offers as well as the best things to see in Cairns City for your ultimate holiday. There is also a handy map of all the top things you must do in Cairns with kids for that great family getaway!!
Top 23 Best Things To Do In Cairns With Kids
Here are the best things to do around Cairns, Australia. Read through and select the ones that fit your interests and timeframe.
Note: Many of these types of guides to Cairns include Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Unfortunately, this centre had shut indefinitely at time of publishing this guide. We have been to it in the past and if it reopens, I highly recommend you add it to your list of 10 top things to do in Cairns.
Cool Down In Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
If you are looking for cheap things to do in Cairns Australia, well they don’t come much cheaper than this… The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is totally free to enjoy – a 4,800 sqm salt water lagoon that offers safe (especially for younger kids) swimming, and ranges from just 80 centimetres to 1.5 metres at the deepest end.
There’s no crocs or stingers here either, thanks to a concrete wall that separates the Lagoon from the nearby inlet. So if you’re looking for a perfect way to soak up some sun and enjoy safe family swimming, this is the ideal spot!
Set at the foreshore of Trinity Harbour, there’s wonderful ocean views of the Trinity Inlet and out across to the mountains on the horizon. The Lagoon is filled with salt water from the Inlet that is first filtered through a state-of-the-art filtration system, ensuring you enjoy a healthy swim.
Keeping a beady eye on everyone are the lifeguards – so you can relax and enjoy a great swim or paddle with all the family, whatever the age. One of the best things to do in Cairns with toddlers for sure! Just remember no inflatables are allowed and bathing attire must be worn at all times.
As mentioned, the best thing is that the fun is all free, making this our pick of the best free things to do in Cairns with kids! There are also great facilities with toilets and showers, plus paid lockers in the amenities block right beside the lagoon.
You’ll find fun fountains, plus sandy edges to the lagoon where kids can build sand castles, and you can make a day of it by using the BBQ facilities right by the lagoon or dining at one of the nearby restaurants or coffee shops.
Closed for weekly cleaning on Wednesday mornings, the rest of the week the crystal-clear lagoon waters and the surrounding grassy knolls are a favourite spot for tourists, backpackers and locals to hang out, so expect a buzzing atmosphere from dawn to dusk at this city beach-experience! And don’t forget, it’s top of the list of things to do in Cairns for free!
Stroll Along Cairns Esplanade
Another of the top free things to do in Cairns Australia and one of the top 10 places to visit in Cairns is strolling the 2.5 km Cairns Esplanade along the foreshore of the city. Landscaped parklands, playgrounds, barbecues, recreational facilities, lush lawns, all fringed by palm trees… This is Australia at its best!
A focal point for locals and visitors to Cairns City, there’s so much to enjoy here for families. Join early morning exercise classes, roller-blading or jogging. Let your youngsters try their hand at the world-famous skateboard ramp, play games or picnic on the grassy banks. Enjoy ice cream or treats from the cafes, or swim at the Lagoon. This is basically the epitome of Cairns things to do, kids of all ages having an absolute blast!
And there’s splendid, colourful and crazy playgrounds that will keep all youngsters entertained!
- Muddy’s Playground (a wonderful splash-style playground for kids 1-10 yrs old)
- The Fun Ship Playground (right next to the Fun Ship Parkland and BBQ Sandpiper with picnic tables)
- The Healing Garden Playground (opposite Cairns Hospital, a more relaxing area with toilets and close to the Beach Volleyball Courts).
For your older children there’s the Skate Plaza – great for boarders, riders or simply spectating at what is nicknamed ‘one of the seven wonders of the skate park world’, due to the innovative design of the ramps, featured in many magazines. Plus, it’s the largest skatepark in Australia, so you can easily hang out here for an hour or more watching some astounding skills.
Next up is Bouldering Park which offers rock climbing adventures at a low height, suitable for most ages. You’ll also find a petanque court near the intersection with McKenzie Street and excellent Fitness Stations at various spots along the Esplanade which are open all day, every day, for free casual use.
If cycling’s your thing, check out this great family ride – the 10.2km Cairns Esplanade dedicated cycle path that runs to Lily Creek and back (view the map here). Or slow things down and stroll the Esplanade Heritage Walk.
There are plenty of free activities happening too, with the Esplanade Markets every Saturday 8am-4pm, plus a busy weekend entertainment schedule of live music, fitness classes and more. Check here for the latest info.
Having undergone a dramatic 44 million dollar redevelopment and beautification project in recent years, you’ll be seeing the Cairns Esplanade at it’s best! Running along the coastline in central Cairns, this is a spot that you’ll return to again and again during your Cairns vacation, especially if you get stuck wondering what to do in Cairns for kids towards the end of your stay.
If you don’t fancy taking a picnic or grilling a bbq, there are ample restaurants and cafe choices to suit even the fussiest of eaters – some with awesome views of the Lagoon and beyond. In fact, dining here with the family is one of the fun things to do in Cairns at night time, when you can enjoy the twinkly lights and cool sea breeze.
Visit The Cairns Wharf Area
While you are strolling around the Cairns Esplanade area, keep strolling a bit further to the Cairns Wharf area. Both the kids and mum and dad will love the best things to do in Cairns city centre here!
First of all, it’s a pretty spot with water views of Chinaman Creek and lots of greenery on the other side. In fact, it’s very cool to be on the edge of Cairns city and look across to hilly greenery without a sign of human life.
Next up is a fantastic playground built straight into a big tree. The kids will love exploring and playing here.
Then there are some great eating options including where we ate (and taste tested!), Hemingway’s Brewery. There are plenty of tables inside and outside as well as all the brewing gear.
We enjoyed eating here and getting a tasting paddle to try the local beers. There are kids meals but note that both kid and adult servings are on the small side.
Take A Look Under The Sea At Cairns Aquarium
Holding a mind-blowing 71 tanks, Australia’s newest and most spectacular aquarium is a massive facility that is ideal for a rainy day (number 1 of things to do in Cairns in the rain) or, more likely, to escape for a few hours from the heat of the day. This new splendid attraction rockets into lists of things to do at Cairns with kids!
Spread out across 10 recreated habitats, the tanks showcase the wonders of the underwater world, with a look at the rich diversity of aquatic creatures that mother nature has given us. More than 16,000 animals, fish, plants and organisms are displayed from both the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest environments.
Many are unique to the Cairns region, some are endangered, whilst others are rare or – to my youngest’s delight – deadly lethal!
Always a thrill for any age, aquariums are a wonderful place for children that are too young to dive or snorkel. Their awe at the massive tanks filled with colourful marine life or at the touch-and-talk exhibitions (we’re talking fat sea cucumbers and bright blue starfish that curl delightfully when touched) is great to see, and everyone admires the large sharks and predators in the Oceanarium. If you have the time, consider spending a night here with the sharks!
Don’t forget to take lunch at ‘Dundee’s at the Cairns Aquarium’. Seated in an ‘Under The Pier’ themed exhibit you’re surrounded by live salt-and freshwater marine life making for a super fun dining experience.
If travelling with older children, there are many behind-the-scenes and hand-feeding experiences to purchase – such as feeding Cownose Rays or spending time with the animals being cared for at the onsite Cairns Turtle Hospital.
Try an after-dark experience (a guided night tour focused on nocturnal animals and follow that with dinner for one of the more unusual and romantic things to do in Cairns) or your fearless teenager can get close to the sharks by scuba diving in the tanks.
Located in the heart of Cairns, only one block from The Esplanade, you can buy tickets online here.
Open daily, a visit to the Aquarium is a must-do when in Cairns and it ticks so many boxes: one of the most fun things to do in Cairns CBD, an excellent choice of things to do in Cairns in winter or things to do in Cairns when it rains.
Fly Over A Crocodile At Cairns Zoom
Cairns Zoom is an unlikely combination of zoo and adventure activity perched atop of The Reef Casino complex. Built under a large dome complex on the roof of the building, there’s a small mock rainforest where the animals live and the action occurs. This is a great item to add to your list of things to do Cairns City for active families.
The zoo is small as zoos go but has a number of enclosures and areas specialising in birds and reptiles native to far north Queensland. There’s reptile shows and animal feeding sessions throughout the day.
The adventure activity part is formed by three tree-top like high-wire circuits: the dome climb, the mid zoom and the high zoom. The dome climb allows you to wander around the outside of the dome – attached firmly to the guide wire – for views into the dome and stunning views of Cairns from one of its highest buildings.
The mid-zoom is a tree-top like high-wire obstacle course, allowing you to pass over the tops of the animal enclosures and even zipline over the crocodile pen. The high zoom is an even higher version of the mid zoom – up to 12m above the zoo floor – with even more complex obstacles on the path. Both require you to be at least 120cm if accompanied or 140cm to go unaccompanied by anyone taller/older. To do the high zoom you have to do the mid zoom first.
We tried the mid zoom, which proved a bit intimidating for our nine year old but I enjoyed it. The only downside was that it was all over pretty fast. The high zoom appeared to be substantially bigger, though.
The zoo was enjoyable but felt a bit small. Some of the exhibits and areas were closed temporarily, which made it worse. There’s a good range of animals for the small size but unless you’re taking your time you’ll get through it pretty quick.
Admittedly, we were trying to squeeze in the reptile show before our scheduled mid zoom timeslot but we got through most of the zoo in 30 minutes and the rest after our mid zoom in not much more time.
Even taking your time only the littlest of kids would need an hour.
That said, it’s a great zoo for younger kids; there’s a good range to see without as much walking as normal and you get great views of the animals in each exhibit.
My main criticism of Cairns Zoom is the price. For one adult and one kid we paid over $70 (roughly half zoo entry and half mid zoom fee) and it kept us occupied for about 90 minutes. However, if you’re staying in Cairns you currently get re-entry for up to four days after your initial visit (including the activities) which makes it great value. Cost aside, we enjoyed our visit and it’s also a great choice of the things to do in Cairns when it’s raining.
Have Fun And Splash At Muddy’s Playground
An absolute must-do Cairns visit with children, Muddy’s Playground is a fabulous water play park on the Esplanade. Immense in size, there are areas to suit all ages and growth stages of children, and best of all it’s a highlight of things to do in Cairns free of charge!
Grab your cossies and towels as you’ll be getting wet… And sunscreen and hats too. Open every day of the year from 9am to 7pm, Muddy’s can be your destination for an afternoon or somewhere to hang for just an hour or so.
Modern, fun and safe, you’ll enjoy a splash playground that adds in active, passive, interactive and educational challenges for your youngsters. Themed as “Life in Trinity Bay”, the playground includes water play areas plus a flying fox, sound chimes, track ride, rope bridge, climbing ropes, slides, mouse wheels, play house, story-telling areas, see-saw, trick track and puzzle games. So if you’re looking for cool things to do in Cairns and things to do in Cairns on a budget, I think you’ve found the spot!
Colourful beyond imagination, with rainbow sails covering most attractions to give shade from the tropical sun, and set against a backdrop of the ocean, this is a lovely place to hang. Whimsical designs cover the floor, mixed with power jets of refreshing water that are fun for any age group. It’s one of the best cheap fun things to do in Cairns for kids!
You’ll be needing some food to sustain your kids through all of that, so set up at one of the adjacent picnic tables, dine at the local Muddy’s Cafe, or you can grill up a bbq (free to use). There’s two toilet locations, one at the north next to the cafe and one at the south end.
Free things to do in Cairns City and things to do in Cairns Qld don’t come much better than this for kids!
Snorkel The Great Barrier Reef
A visit to the tropical paradise port of Cairns is incomplete without a trip to the majestic Great Barrier Reef, top of the best things to do near Cairns, Australia. Surely a must-see for anyone travelling to this part of Australia, there are many ways to reach and enjoy the famous reef – visible from space and one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Colourful corals, vibrant tropical fish (more than 1500 species!), and marine animals await your discovery, all visible simply by snorkelling. Cairns is an ideal gateway to the reef with many operators offering day tours, overnight stays or live-aboard options for longer experiences.
However you get to see the reef, you’re in for a snorkel experience of a lifetime.
Various sized boats – yachts, motorized-catamarans, glass-bottom and more (some with aircon) – will take you out the short hop to the reef, usually stopping at two or three spots. After a short briefing at each reef site you’ll be escorted by a lifeguard-snorkel-guide to explore the underwater coral gardens.
Cruises come with breakfast, afternoon tea or full day with hot/cold buffet lunches. Some crafts have special top-deck lounges for that ultimate VIP experience, and many operators offer pick-up/drop-off service from your accommodation to help make the day easier to arrange with your kids in tow.
There’s more than just snorkelling to enjoy, with floating pontoons (with upper decks, undercover seating, changing facilities, tables for lunch dining, and beanbags), underwater observatories, semi-submersible boat tours and even oceanwalker helmet experiences to be enjoyed!
Other tours combine a morning beach stop with lunch and an afternoon at the reef, looking to spot sea turtles and colourful clams. So check out the options carefully to select the ideal day for your family, pulling in all the best bits!
This is not just a fun family Cairns activity, but a chance to learn together with your children, to raise conversations about climate change and coral bleaching, and other threats our oceans currently face.
If you have younger children we suggest choosing a tour to a pontoon which makes for a more relaxing/easy snorkelling experience, and the majority resemble mini-theme parks with waterslides into the ocean! Your boat will moor next to the pontoon which has platforms for easy access into the sea, plus large roped-off areas for lifeguard-assisted snorkelling. You should be able to buy or rent underwater cameras too.
If your kids can’t swim or are nervous of being in the ocean, pontoons have Semi-Subs – giving a Great Barrier Reef out-of-water experience. There are also pontoons with an aquarium-like observatory, giving up-close fish experiences (especially great at fish-feeding times).
If your kids are older or stronger swimmers, search out operators that visit lots of reef sites as they can usually plan out a more personalised trip with the focus being on serious snorkelling adventures rather than fun pontoons.
Almost all boats that head to the reef allow fold-up prams, have baby-changing areas and the staff will assist with heating baby food. In fact, the operators pride themselves on catering to families regardless of how young your kids are – and you’ll often find deals such as 2nd-child travels free.
Snorkel equipment is always provided, that suits all sizes and are well disinfected, plus you’re provided with snorkel vests (life jackets) for kids and adults. If you’re visiting in jellyfish season you’ll find full body stinger suits for rent too.
Tours usually depart from the Cairns Harbour area, with check-in counters at the Fleet Terminal building. The trip to the outer reef takes around 1.5-2hrs – depending on sea conditions and your selected mode of transport. You might wish to pop sea-sickness tablets as the conditions are often wavy. Alternatively, if you have the budget, there’s a helicopter service out to the pontoons, landing on a floating platform that makes for a truly epic day!
Whether you’re a beginner or a competent snorkeller, there are many spots to be enjoyed thanks to the wide selection of tours. Without any doubt, this takes the number one spot in the 10 best things to do in Cairns vicinity. You’re in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Hop On A Catamaran To Green Island
Green Island is just a short 45-minutes catamaran ride from Cairns, making this an ideal day-trip location and is yet another thing to tick off on the top ten things to do in Cairns, Australia list!
Right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, this small island is hugely popular – one of the main places of interest in Cairns – thanks to the beauty of it’s white sandy beaches and rainforest interior, plus awesome coral reefs that surround the island.
The only coral cay island to have a rainforest, this gives an added adventure to your island day tour, but it’s fair to say that most visitors are more interested in the exotic marine life and colourful reefs.
Welcoming many day visitors, the island can get extremely busy, so if you’re looking for a quiet getaway this is perhaps not for you. However, it’s popular for a reason – stunning coral gardens, over 120 native plants, plus abundant bird life. There’s lots of fun on offer with helmet diving, scuba diving, parasailing and helicopter flights.
One of the top picks of family things to do at Green Island is to take a ride in a glass bottom boat or visit the underwater observatory, a fabulous choice for things to do in Cairns with a toddler as it brings them up close to the colourful fish.
There’s a small zoo (Marineland Melanesia – home to saltwater crocs, turtles and reef-fish), shops, cafes, restaurants and bars, plus a swimming pool and dive centre. Or you can just paddle in the island’s shallow sapphire blue waters – ideal for young kids who need nothing more than a day-at-the-beach!
There’s no camping allowed here, so by 4pm the island empties out as everyone returns to Cairns, unless you’ve booked a night at the island’s sole luxury hotel – Green Island Resort. This is the only way to experience the peace and tranquility of Green Island, with the resort offering sunset drinks, star gazing, fish feeding, and night island rainforest guided walks. All great add-ons to your Cairns vacation.
To reach the island you can ride a ferry from Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal, with around 3-4 transfers per day. Alternatively, you can arrange a full day trip that combines a few hours at Green Island with an afternoon at the Outer Reef for a Great Barrier Reef snorkel experience.
You can buy transfer tickets here to get you to and from Green Island or buy tour tickets here which you give the transfer tickets plus either snorkelling or the glass bottom tour coming up next.
Go On A Glass Bottom Boat Tour
For young and old, glass bottom boat tours are a thrill. And for younger kids scared to throw themselves into the ocean or any non-swimmers in your family, this is without doubt the best way to see the Great Barrier Reef and it’s exotic marine life.
There are many places to enjoy this, whether at the larger pontoons at the Outer Reef (such as Reef Magic, Sunlover Cruises, Quicksilver Cruises and Great Adventures) or at the nearby islands of Fitzroy, Frankland, Green, or Low Isles.
On your 20-30 minutes cruise you’ll see colourful corals – purples and pinks, blues and yellows – and delicate fan corals, brain corals and table corals. And of course, an almost endless array of marine life that will astound you. Plus, if you’re really lucky a curious turtle might pass by!
Enjoy this enchanting ride across crystal clear waters, often with an expert marine biologist onboard to help identify what you’re seeing. Look out for special deals to the islands where the glass-bottom boat ride is included in your ticket price.
To spice things up, there’s even after-dark glass-bottom boat tours too. Special ultraviolet lights let you see what’s happening after the sun has set, when the coral polyps become active – pretty unique!
Check Out The Australian Armour And Artillery Museum
There’s something cool about being up close to big military hardware. If you disagree then the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum is not for you. However, if you like looking over tanks, APCs, armoured cars and artillery then the museum is one of the best unusual things to do in Cairns.
I’m a bit of a military geek and our 9 year old son is a fan too. Most of the people at the museum when we visited were military history fans or the families of them. The kids didn’t seem to mind and I think the museum is perhaps one of the unsung best things to do in Cairns Queensland with kids.
The museum is home to over 100 military vehicles and artillery pieces under cover. They run the gamut from WWI artillery pieces to all sorts of WWII era pieces through to mid/late cold war tanks. There are some rare vehicles here, like a replica Tiger Mark 1 (used in the movie Fury) and a host of WWII German tanks and vehicles.
Most of the collection is from WWII, so there’s the famous Sherman, Lee, Churchills, a T-34, Pathers and even a Japanese tank (still under restoration).
There’s also a good collection of Soviet bloc vehicles. I don’t know if they’re all in working order but many look restored to good condition and its clear there’s been a lot of work put into building and maintaining a collection.
Each exhibit had a display board full of facts about it so I could have spent hours there. My son had his fill in about an hour though. There are only so many tanks he wanted to learn about.
However, there’s more than just non-moving vehicles. Twice at day (at 11 and 2 currently) you can pay extra for a ride in a modified M113 APC (it’s had its rear sides and back changed for better visibility). The rides are short (ours was 5ish minutes) which involves a couple of laps around their track. It’s good fun. I think it was the favourite part of the experience of all the kids in attendance.
There is also a firing range where you can fire a selection of WW2 era rifles (again at an extra cost). You need to be 12 years old to do this.
Additionally, there’s a small play area and playground for the littlest kids and a coffee van with a limited menu to keep you going while you’re wandering around. APC ride aside, it’s nice and flat – easy to get a wheelchair or pram around.
So if you’re looking for something different from amongst the list of top things to see and do in Cairns Queensland then we can recommend the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum. We easily spent a couple of hours (including the ride) and I could have spent more.
Ride On The Kuranda Scenic Railway
How about this for a fabulous family trip and it comes in our top 5 things to do in Cairns region! A totally unique Aussie railway experience that will bring you through world heritage-listed rainforest (the Wet Tropics) that’s literally millions of years old. And what’s more, there’s a backdrop of mountains and waterfalls too, making this a magical trip for your kids.
This wonderful tourist rail ride departs from Cairns Railway station and takes around 2 hours, which includes a stop at the dramatic Barron Falls – one of the region’s most stunning waterfalls. As the train goes along there’s interesting commentary about how the track was constructed more than a century ago.
Our kids enjoyed the 15 tunnels along the way and the amazing views, especially down the vertigo-inducing ravines as you cross 37 bridges through, across and around the Macalister Range.
Carriages are timeless, specially designed to be rustic and in line with the original trains that once worked the rails carrying paying passengers. You can easily imagine you’ve stepped back in time, which only adds to the fun for the kids.
There’s a couple of class options, with standard Heritage Class using original timber carriages and perhaps giving the most authentic ride, whilst Gold Class carriages are decked out in handcrafted Victorian-inspired decor and offer an all-inclusive appetisers and beverages selection.
And there’s two stations you can spend time at – Freshwater Railway Station which has a lovely cafe operating from inside of an old train carriage. Plus Kuranda Railway Station, supposedly one of the most photographed stations in the world thanks to its exotic tropical gardens. Make sure you include time to take photos here, one of the best things to do, Cairns or in Kuranda.
Remember to wear comfortable walking shoes, take along a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses (really vital for sightseeing at Barron Falls), plus insect repellent if you’ll be taking rainforest walks in Kuranda. And of course, a camera!
Operating every day of the year except for Christmas Day (check out the timetable here), bookings are highly recommended. And don’t forget you can combine your journey aboard Kuranda Scenic Railway with the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway experience.
Admire Nature From The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
There’s no doubt that the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is a delight for children. Running around 9 kms, the cable car links Smithfield (north of Cairns) with Kuranda (full of amazing things to do for families and youngsters).
Running across some of the most beautiful landscape in the region – including the epic Barron River Valley and Barron Falls – the gondolas hold a maximum of six people but keep to four if you’re hoping for a comfortable ride!
There are two stops along the route between Smithfield and Kuranda with the first at Red Rocks. You’ll need to change gondolas here, so you can stretch your legs and enjoy the scenic views from the boardwalk that hugs the outside of the station.
The second stop is at Barron Falls, just before you reach Kuranda. You don’t have to alight, but it’s highly recommended as it is just a short walk to Barron Falls Lookout which is nothing short of spectacular. If you’re in a hurry or the kids are tired, you can still view the Falls from the gondola but it doesn’t hold quite the drama of seeing them up close.
The whole ride – doing it without lengthy stopovers – takes around 40 minutes, or 90 minutes with the stops. Bear in mind that heading up from Smithfield to Kuranda is a popular day trip, thus you can often experience a delay in boarding (travelling early is the best option).
Pair this with a one-way journey on the Kuranda Scenic Railway and your kids will be thanking you for days for all the wonderful experiences!
Shop And Play In Kuranda Town
Keep at minimum a day free to explore eclectic Kuranda Town, another of the free things to do Cairns. Set amongst the lushness of the rainforest, Kuranda first came into existence in the magical 1960’s as an alternative-lifestyle destination. Over the decades the army of buskers, fortune-tellers and artists has grown and developed into what today is a unique, colourful and fun town.
Reachable by the Kuranda Scenic Railway, Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or by road, Kuranda is most famous for its markets. Not usually high on lists of things to do with children, the Original Market of Kuranda is set within winding pathways in the rainforest, giving a sense of enchantment that beguiles all age groups and makes for one of the more magical things to do Cairns with kids.
A hoshposh of fun and experiences can be had, with loud buskers, rainbow coloured market stalls hidden amongst trees, pancake shops, a mini-golf course, exotic bird encounters, and an endless array of weird and wonderful things for sale.
When you get tired, drop by Frogs for a snack or a well-deserved glass of wine/beer. Then it’s on again to the Heritage Markets – directly opposite – where kids will beg you to let them have their portrait painted, or try their hand at making dreamcatchers, and you can search out handcrafted Aboriginal gifts to take home.
Aside from the markets, Kuranda is chock-full of things to do with kids! Totally touristic but set in such an adorable rainforest setting, it beats a day at a theme park, especially if you arrive on the Scenic Railway and depart by the Skyrail. Things to do in Kuranda Cairns include:
- dine at terrific restaurants – with bratwursts to burgers, homemade ice-creams and more
- stroll the town to see artists at work, amazing photographic prints or to try a didgeridoo
- wander rainforest paths to discover hidden streams
- join a 45-minute Kuranda Riverboat cruise in search of crocs and cassowaries (more details here)
- explore the rainforest by quad bikes
- try an amphibious World War II Army Duck ride
- cuddle a Koala (more details here)
- feed colourful birds and get up close to a kangaroo at Kuranda’s wildlife attractions (more details here)
- feed cattle on a fun hayride
- immerse yourself in hundreds of butterflies (more details here)
and lots, lots more! The best of which are detailed below.
Definitely one of our family’s favourite spots near Cairns, you can either visit Kuranda for the day or make an overnight stay (making it a highlight of things to do at night in Cairns or the vicinity). Awesome scenery, a plethora of things to do with the kids, Kuranda was one of the highlights of our Cairns itinerary.
Learn Aboriginal Culture And Ride In An Army Duck At Rainforestation Nature Park
We recommend this as the #1 place to head to once you reach Kuranda. Your kids will be talking about it for days to come!
A little outside of town, there’s a free shuttle bus that runs regularly from the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary (another great spot – more below). But if you’re driving up, look out for Rainforestation just before Kuranda on the road from Cairns.
Definitely check-out their website before arriving, as there’s so much to do here at the Rainforestation Nature Park and you’ll pay on entry depending on your selections. In a nutshell there are three themes to the attraction…
Number one, this was our firm favourite – the chance to ride around the rainforest on a World War II Army Duck! Awesome vehicles and an awesome experience – you’ll drive around the rainforest on dry land before plunging into the nearby lake for a tour by water. Taking around 45-minutes (it should be shorter but the driver stops a little too often to talk about the rainforest), this trip is ideal for young kids and teenagers but might be a little too drawn out for toddlers.
Second on the list is a variety of Aboriginal experiences which again are great fun for all the family. You can choose to watch a traditional dance performance (joining in on stage and learning the moves). And there’s spear and didgeridoo presentations (with animal noises!), plus you can learn how to throw a boomerang. All fun and interesting shows; your kids will be fully engaged throughout.
Last up, there’s a koala and wildlife park where you can find dingoes, crocodiles, Tasmanian devils and more. And your kids will love the hand-feeding sessions with the wallabies and kangaroos.
A highly educational and fun place to visit, this is a great opportunity to learn about local culture, animals and the rainforest. Without a doubt one to add to any Kuranda-with-children itinerary!
Check Out The Australia Butterfly Sanctuary
The largest “light aviary and exhibits’’ area in all of the country, this is yet again something special in Kuranda! Home to over 1500 tropical butterflies, this is another great spot to visit during your Kuranda day trip and an ideal choice of things to do in Cairns when it’s raining.
Firstly, plan ahead and wear something bright – white, red or pink – and watch how the butterflies zoom in on you, landing on your shoulders, head and open hands with the colours attracting them. Our kids loved this, totally enthralled at how almost tame they seemed – even landing on our noses!
After the fun of the aviary there’s an educational slant too with a behind the scenes look at the breeding laboratory. Holding over 4000 caterpillars in all stages – hanging upside down from twigs, spinning cocoons and slowly metamorphosing – this is an up-close look at the development of butterflies that is sure to enthrall your younger children.
A short, fun and educational undercover Kuranda nature experience, the venue is especially great if the weather isn’t playing ball!
See Exotic Birds In Birdworld Kuranda
After enjoying the Butterfly Sanctuary, why not drop by Birdworld Kuranda for a similar experience.
Home to over 60 species of tame and friendly birds, you start the fun by standing on a large platform where you’re suddenly engulfed by birds. Our kids loved how the birds swooped down on their heads, shoulders and arms, momentarily perched before flitting away again!
A small bird aviary, it’s very well presented with landscaped gardens, waterfalls and ponds… with the stars of the show (of course) being all the birds.
A quick (possibly ten minutes) walk through the aviary is all that’s needed – something to add on to all the other adventures to be enjoyed in Kuranda. Bear in mind that it’s recommended not to wear earrings, sunglasses or anything a pesky bird could grasp in its beak or claws!
Meet Rock Wallabies At Mareeba
If you’re looking for day trip options, definitely consider Mareeba in the Tablelands region!
About an hour from Cairns or half an hour from Kuranda, this is a fabulous choice of the top 10 things to do in Cairns with kids that all our family just loved.
First of all, Mareeba is an interesting place to visit in its own right. It’s quite a contrast to Cairns and Kuranda as the rainforest disappears and nature surrounds, still green but thinned out with more scrub. There’s a range of attractions, but the ones that will get A+++ ratings for your kids when looking for things to do in Cairns for families is a trip to Granite Gorge Nature Park to meet some rock wallabies.
This privately owned park is a campground but also caters to (paid) day visits with some great walking trails including food for the rock wallabies.
There are two walking trails, a quicker and longer option scrambling over many rocks. It’s definitely only for the able bodied but our just turned 5 year old had no problems. It’s a good workout, but easy enough, for the rest of us. It’s very picturesque and a great length for families.
The highlight is definitely meeting the rock wallabies at the beginning. They are well accustomed to people and are very friendly. It was easy to meet some and feed them. They are small compared to normal wallabies so great for smaller kids, but any age will love these gorgeous creatures.
There’s also swimming holes and other landmarks along the walking trail. It’s great! You’ll really feel like you have left Cairns far behind.
Enjoy Hot Air Ballooning Above The Atherton Tablelands
Travel an hour west of Cairns and you’ll pass through Mareeba and on to the Atherton Tablelands. Covering a whopping 20,000 sq km, the region is filled with sweeping savannah lands and vast outback desert, and rises from 600 metres to 1100 metres.
What better way to see this than from above, viewing the picturesque landscape at dawn in an exciting 40-minutes hot air balloon ride.
Operators offer an early morning accommodation pick-up service, taking you to the launch site where you’ll watch the massive (it truly is!) hot air balloon come to life, inflated slowly until it flies above you. Then it’s into the basket before rising up gradually through the crisp Queensland early morning, admiring the magnificent 360-degree sights of the Atherton Tablelands.
You’ll spot native wildlife, rainforest, mountains, waterfalls, rivers and creeks as old king sun slowly arrives to waken the world.
The operator we used had a minimum age of three years but I wouldn’t be happy with my younger children joining this trip. Probably from around 7 or 8 years old would work best but that’s of course your personal choice. You also need to consider that you have to stand for the duration of the flight, which could become tedious for those of a younger age.
The wind is the boss, carrying you in the vaguely planned direction. To enjoy the trip, don’t forget to wear comfortable enclosed shoes, casual clothing as you might get dirty (don’t wear white), a hat and sunglasses and some light sunscreen as it warms up quickly.
The whole trip included pick-up and return transfers to Cairns, a safety briefing and a nice commemorative certificate. There was a minimum of 16 passengers allowed with 20 passengers maximum. The entire trip door-to-door took around 5-6 hours so don’t plan anything more until after lunch as you’ll have some tired sprogs!
Obviously, this is not one of the things to do in Cairns when raining, so pay attention to the weather forecasts and plan carefully to ensure a magical sunrise.
Swim At Palm Cove Beach
One of the top picks for free family things to do in Cairns has to be Palm Cove beach.
This beautiful beach about 30 minutes north of Cairns is a top pick with a great foreshore area as well with a walking path and some restaurants facing the beach. The rainforest never feels far away either and you’ll always be looking at it.
Even better is if you time your visit for the Palm Cove Markets which are held monthly around the first Sunday of the month (check here for the latest dates). This one of the top things to do Cairns offers has a great vibe and some great handicrafts on offer. Prices are reasonable, and the location along the beach is just superb.
Kids will love the treats on offer and splashing at the beach afterwards.
Meet Crocodiles Up Close At Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
If you are looking for educational and fun things to do in Cairns with kids, look no further than the well set up Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures.
Located about 40 minutes north of Cairns, this place is full of family activities related primarily to crocodiles but also other animals, particularly of the scaly variety.
Hartley’s is an actual crocodile farm as well as a tourist attraction and crocodile shows have taken place under this banner since 1934!
Today, the site is located in a great spot surrounded by World Heritage listed national park and it does feel like you are out in nature. We visited during the school holidays and while there were crowds at times, at other times, we felt like we were alone with the animals.
Hartley’s is best known for its crocodile shows and you can see crocodile feeding shows as well as a crocodile attack show. Entry also gives you access to a cruise through their crocodile infested lagoon which includes commentary as well as the chance to see crocodiles jumping out of the water. It’s quite a sight.
There’s also the opportunity to see a part of their crocodile farm and learn how that operation works. The crocodiles are farmed mostly for their skins but their meat and other parts are also used.
There’s a café on site which provides the perfect chance to taste some crocodile. We bought their tasting plate which was two delicious crocodile kebabs with plum sauce. I highly recommend it! We also enjoyed some crocodile jerky from their gift shop.
In addition to the crocodile shows, there are snake and koala shows as well as cassowary feeding. We particularly enjoyed the entertaining snake show.
It’s also set up like a wildlife park and in between shows, you can walk around and view some of the animals. There are some really big crocs as well as a reptile house, bird aviaries, kangaroos and more.
This one of the things for kids to do in Cairns is mostly about the shows though and you should plan your visit around the show times. The times are set so you could see most of them by attending for the whole morning or afternoon as well as being some variety during the day. A half day is enough to see all the sights and main shows though.
If you visit at a busy time, I recommend getting to the shows early. We showed up a few minutes before the crocodile feeding show and it was too full of people for us to see anything. Otherwise, we had no problems though.
I recommend taking some snacks for kids – we waited a long time for some food at the café even mid morning when it wasn’t busy which led to some grumpy kids!
All in all, however, we very much enjoyed our time here. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it actually, and I highly recommend this thing to do in Cairns.
Take A Hike At Mossman Gorge
A scenic drive outside of Cairns, approximately 77km north of the city, you’ll find the tiny township of Mossman. 2km further is Mossman Gorge with parking available at the Mossman Gorge Centre.
Self-drive or join a tour from Cairns and enjoy one of the most famous drives in the Southern Hemisphere along the Captain Cook Highway (part of the Great Tropical Drive). It should take you just over an hour, winding through stunning scenery along the coast of the tropical seaside rainforest.
From the Mossman Gorge Centre, it’s mandatory to join the every-15-minutes shuttle bus service that runs to the heart of the Gorge.
This 180-million year old landscape is as close to reality as we can get – lands that dinosaurs truly used to roam. Located within the World Heritage Listed Daintree Rainforest (noted as the oldest surviving rainforest on earth), it is thought to be the “evolutionary cradle” for much of Australia’s plant and wildlife species. Renowned for its biodiversity, this emerald wonderland of towering rainforest is another awesome thing on the list of things to do near Cairns.
Home to around 3,000 plant species, 12 of the world’s 19 families of primitive flowering plants grow here and many are only found within the tropics, rarely seen anywhere else. The plant life sprawls everywhere, from the forest floor and upwards, creating an amazing rainforest that makes a walk here yet another of the must-do things in Cairns!
Mossman Gorge is also the home of the Kuku Yalanji people, the indigenous inhabitants of the land dating back over 50,000 years – some of the first Australians. Living in complete harmony with the rainforest environment, there exists around 3000 people population today.
So what to do in this awesome setting? Firstly, an almost must-do when visiting Mossman Gorge is to join a guided Dreamtime Walk. Conducted by local Indigenous people, here’s a chance to listen to stories and legends from years gone by, watch a traditional smoking ceremony to ward off bad spirits, learn about traditional plant uses and the Kuku Yalanji culture, plus try ochre face painting.
Following a gentle track, this is a meandering stroll ideal for families that takes around 1.5 hours. Departing at various times throughout the day, the track though easy can be wet or slippery, so wear sensible shoes, take along insect repellent and wear lightweight cotton clothing.
Back at the Mossman Gorge Centre you’ll find a cafe and restaurant for a well-earned lunch or snack, showers, toilets and an Indigenous Art Gallery to explore. So you can choose to visit for a few hours or spend the entire day lost in gorgeous nature.
If you decide to follow the self-guided trails, bear in mind that having the kids along will most likely take longer than the advertised trekking times as there are lots of small paths that meander away from the main trails. You won’t want to rush your time here.
You might see people swimming in the Mossman River but it’s supposedly inadvisable, with the Centre explaining how dangerous the water can be with a combination of hidden currents, cold deep water and lots of submerged rocks and floating logs. Needless to say, we didn’t try!
Walking through the Gorge is fairly easy with raised boardwalks, paths and a thrilling suspension bridge. Even toddlers can enjoy this one, and older kids will love the sense of freedom, the awesome rainforest, and invigorating fresh air.
The only problem can be that this attraction can get busy and some of the ambience is lost if you are sharing the path with others.
Go Crocodile Spotting In The Daintree
Here’s something a little more thrilling, exploring the Daintree Rainforest for saltwater crocodiles, a highlight of things to do in Cairns area.
Home to a plethora of animal life, the Daintree Rainforest has around 70 adult salties, happily snug in the Daintree River. Easy to spot thanks to their ever-increasing numbers and impressive sizes (males grow up to around 5 metres), don’t miss this chance to view these gorgeous snappers in the wild.
Comfortable with the whirr of the boats on the water, you have a great chance to get up close to observe the crocs – said by the Aborigines to have been banished to the saltwater as punishment due to having bad spirits.
Breeding in the summer months – the wet season – the crocs lay up to 50 eggs in a mound that incubate for 3 months. Hatchlings emerge, around 20cm in length and remain with their mothers for a few weeks. Unfortunately, only 1% of the nest survive through to adulthood yet that’s sufficient to sustain the population.
You’ll find a handful of operators offering similar experiences from March to January, with usually 1-1.5 hour wildlife cruises mainly focused on spotting the crocs. But you can also hope to see tree snakes and abundant birdlife from the handy binoculars provided on the cruise. Guides keep you entertained and help point out the wildlife which is easy to miss in the lush rainforest and mangrove-filled banks of the river.
Join a group tour or look for a private charter if you fancy taking things at your pace. Research before heading out as some of the tour companies offer 20% discounts for online bookings, family tickets and 0-4 years usually join for free.
Fearsome but fascinating, salties have endured for some 65 million years – outlasting dinosaurs! Let the kids marvel at these awesome creatures, getting within 10-15 metres of them. And if you’re wondering what things to do in Cairns this weekend, why not make a whole day of it by combining a croc cruise with a trek at Mossman Gorge.
Relax And Swim At Babinda Boulders And Devil’s Pool
One hour south of Cairns you’ll find the popular local swimming spot known simply as “the Boulders”. Adjacent to the epic Wooroonooran National Park, the Boulders Scenic Reserve is a half day fun destination that’s ideal for a splash and a picnic and is one of the more non-touristy things to do in Cairns.
Nestled in the foothills of the Bartle Frere (Queensland’s highest mountain), the spot is named after huge granite boulders found dotted along the creek, all set snug in the middle of rainforest vegetation.
Away from the calm swimming holes you’ll find the Babinda Creek almost thunders along, so do keep an eye on where the kids get to, especially if it’s during the rainy season. However the clear, refreshing mountain water is invigorating to swim in and your kids will play for hours! The highlight of things to do South of Cairns.
Cairns Things To Do With Kids Map
Best Place To Stay In Cairns
When it comes to where to stay in Cairns, you don’t have to worry. There’s a great range of options. No matter what your budget, your holiday style or who you are travelling with, you’ll easily find a great place to stay.
The bigger question with a Cairns trip is which area to stay in as there are a few solid options!
Cairns itself consists of a city centre and then there are a string of beach areas stretching north from the city. Note that Cairns city itself does not have beaches. Palm Cove, about 30 minutes from the centre of Cairns, is the best area to stay for beaches around the Cairns area.
The other option is Port Douglas. Before I travelled to Cairns the first time, I thought Port Douglas was a suburb of Cairns, but it’s actually its own town about an hour north of Cairns. Port Douglas has a fancy, resort town feel and has prices to go with that.
Think about what things to do in Cairns with family you want to do and consider that when choosing a location. If most Cairns kids activities you want to do are around Cairns city then staying in Port Douglas will get painful. Conversely, Port Douglas is closer to the Daintree, Mossman Gorge and the Great Barrier Reef so those things to do in and around Cairns Australia are best reached from there.
We personally love staying in Palm Cove or splitting up our stay between there and Cairns. Palm Cove is in the middle of the two and feels close to basically everything. It’s also a beautiful spot in its own right with a great beach and restaurants. We do love Cairns just to be closer to the hustle and bustle, but otherwise Palm Cove wins!
Below I’ve listed a few different places to consider depending on which location you pick.
CAIRNS BEST – Rydges Esplanade Resort Review
For family friendly accommodation right by the water and Esplanade in Cairns, head to Rydges Esplanade.
This big hotel has both a hotel room tower and apartments next door offering many choices for families. There are some great (new) family rooms with a bunk for kids as well as an xbox.
Even more family friendly are the apartments next door. We stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment which had three queen beds, working well for our family of five. These apartments are fully self-contained with their own kitchen and two bathrooms. Note that it’s actually two connecting room types and the doors can’t be kept open between which was somewhat annoying.
When you aren’t in your room, there are great facilities here including two swimming pools. One is very big with lots of areas. There’s also a restaurant, plenty of vending machines, a bar, gym and tennis court.
My only complaint is that the windows weren’t soundproofed and if you are a light sleeper like me, you may wake a few times. However, the rest of my family slept soundly and this is an easy place to stay.
CAIRNS SURROUNDS – Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort Review
“Kids paradise” is their marketing line… and who are we to disagree! BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Cairns Coconut is an award winning 11-hectare landscaped tropical oasis, an attraction all by itself!
A family friendly water park (with 2 large swimming pools with slides), you’ll also find tennis courts and mini golf are just some of the fun activities right at your doorstep. There’s free activities such as volleyball, badminton, basketball and a massive children’s adventure playground with jumping pillows. There’s also a games room, fitness centre, pedal cars, table tennis and pool table, plus a daily activities programme. Basically almost everything you can think of!
Accommodation comes in various sizes and shapes, such as cabins, caravan sites and camping grounds.
Relax in deluxe cabins, condos, villas and standard units. There’s a Coconut Condo 3 bedroom, luxury 2-bedroom Villas, 1 bedroom Spa Villa, Sun Lagoon Condo with 3 bedrooms and on and on… with around 96 options in all! The accommodation is basic yet modern, and the larger ones truly offer a home-away-from-home feel. Or choose to get that back-to-nature feeling by camping.
It’s all very well thought out, with the accommodation being set slightly away but near enough to all the park’s amenities. There’s free WiFi throughout, plus paid services that include a laundry service and airport shuttle.
You’ll find a fully stocked onsite mini-market, a coffee house, and a bar and restaurant. Reception offers an express check-in and check-out with friendly staff available 24 hours a day to help arrange tours and tickets.
Location wise, you’re just a 7-minutes drive from Cairns city centre and there’s a daily free shuttle to take and return you. Plus, the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Cairns Airport are only 20-minutes away.
A massively popular holiday park, always book ahead!
PALM COVE – The Villas Palm Cove Review
This is our favourite place to stay in the greater Cairns area and we have been here a few times. This is because there are fantastic, self contained villas just perfect for families. Even better is that all villas have their own private pool.
Palm Cove is a beautiful area and this is a great place to base yourself. Just off the main highway, it’s easy to reach and the resort itself has a bigger pool and BBQ area. However, I’m betting you will struggle to leave your villa to use these facilities!
The villas are all well equipped, self contained, have garages and come with washing machines and dryers. The exact interior varies per villas but we have found them very comfortable.
On our latest trip, we stayed in a three bedroom, double storey villa as big as any house. There were two bathrooms and we had a big dining area as well as a very decent sized pool. We spent a lot of time out there and it was perfect.
If you love a base where you can have a lot of fun, stay at The Villas Palm Cove.
PORT DOUGLAS – Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort Review
Spice things up with a stay at this luxury resort, one hour from Cairns and located on an almost endless palm-fringed stretch of sand – the Four Mile Beach. Set between the Great Barrier Reef (it’s the closest land point to the famous reef) and the Daintree Rainforest, the resort offers so much of the natural beauty that the region is noted for, and is one of the top accommodation picks across all of Far North Queensland.
Rooms boast views of the lush gardens, the sparkling lagoon or the Pacific Ocean. Regardless of category each has the signature Sheraton Sleep Experience bedding, an iPod dock and 55-inch flat-screen TV. And you can expect either a bathtub or walk-in rainforest shower in the large marble bathrooms that all come with Le Grand Bain amenities.
There’s an exhausting list of room types that span from a basic Guest Room, to Deluxe Guest Room, to 1 Bedroom, 2 Bedroom, 3 Bedroom or even 4 Bedroom Villas. And the hotel can arrange connecting rooms to create family-size accommodation.
Rollaway beds and cribs can also be provided for additional costs and villas have spacious outdoor patios, a fully self-contained kitchen, laundry and living areas that give a tropical home-from-home luxury feel.
Stretching an impressive 147 hectares, the resort has over two hectares of sparkling swimmable, saltwater lagoon pools – keeping kids more than happy! The swim-up bar is great for a sundowner. There’s use of the Spa & Fitness Centre adjacent to the resort, free WiFi and free parking, plus golf at the opposite Mirage Country Club.
Dining can be enjoyed at Terraces Restaurant, specialising in fresh local seafood served buffet-style. An evening tipple can be enjoyed at Pearls Bar, with gorgeous views of the tropical gardens and the ocean beyond.
A stay here is more than just somewhere to sleep, in fact you might find it hard to pull yourself away to explore Cairns and Kuranda!
How To Get To Cairns
It’s easy to get to Cairns by plane or car. Cairns is a long way from most of Australia so you are probably going to fly here.
Click here for the latest flight prices.
Hiring your own car is the best way to enjoy all the family activities in Cairns. I highly recommend a car for Cairns as the things to do and see in Cairns Australia are spread out.
You can also hire a car to get you there by clicking here.
We love visiting Cairns and enjoying all the things to do in Cairns with children. Cairns is the perfect place for a family vacation at any time of year but especially if you are escaping the southern winter.
We love staying in our pool villa at The Villas Palm Cove (click here for prices), exploring all the things to do in Cairns and surrounds and getting out in nature both on land in the rainforests and on the sea with Great Barrier Reef and great attractions like Green Island.
It’s a great destination for kids of all ages. If you are looking for things to do in Cairns with a baby, really most places will be great. Most attractions are well presented with good walking paths.
I hope you enjoyed the guide to the fun Cairns activities for kids. Read more Queensland travel guides here and find our guide to nearby Kuranda here, Palm Cove here and Innisfail here. I also recommend you consider visiting Undara Lava Tubes while you are in Cairns. Our kids loved it! Find our guide to this attraction here.