How to Spend 48 Hours in Cairns, Australia

Cairns sunset
Cairns sunset | © Ian Griffiths / Flickr
Photo of Hayley Simpson
Writer31 May 2018

Cairns is one of the most visited cities in Australia every year. With 48 hours in Cairns, visitors can explore two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, sample authentic Australian cuisine, and visit the city’s best neighbouring towns. Here’s our itinerary for the best two days in Cairns, from morning to evening.

Day One

Morning

The Lillipad Cafe

Cafe, Australian, Mexican, Turkish, $$$
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Eggs Benedict
Eggs Benedict | © Emma Boonstra

Start your morning in Cairns at The Lillipad Cafe, which has been serving Cairns locals and tourists since 2003. Known for its international flavours and big portions, Lillipad Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Its extensive breakfast menu includes dishes such as a breakfast burrito, shakshuka, a Turkish breakfast, eggs Benedict, omelettes, and French toast. There are also vegetarian items, cakes and treats baked daily, and a kids’ menu that includes breakfast meals.

After breakfast, head towards the waterfront in Cairns. Go for a walk by the seaside, swim in or relax beside the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, or do some shopping at The Pier Cairns. The city centre in Cairns is fortunately quite compact, so you can see most of the sights in one morning.

Afternoon

Salt House

Bar, Pizzeria, Restaurant, Australian, Seafood, $$$
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Brunch at Salt House
Brunch at Salt House | © Salt House

While on the waterfront, head to Salt House for lunch, with its mountain, ocean, and Trinity Inlet views. The ‘designer’s dream’ is a restaurant, bar, and pizzeria with an Argentinian wood-fired grill. Salt House’s restaurant has daily lunch specials, which include a choice of one of five dishes and a drink for $20. Items on the lunch menu include Atlantic salmon, kangaroo carpaccio, a seafood tasting plate, and kingfish ceviche. Its pizzeria serves tapas and a variety of pizzas for lunch as well.

Following lunch in Cairns, head out of the city for an afternoon of exploration. Mossman Gorge is located in the southernmost part of Daintree Rainforest, the world’s oldest continuously surviving rainforest. It’s only a 20-minute drive from Cairns, and visitors can choose between a self-guided or guided walk through the rainforest. The latter option is a Dreamtime Walk with a local indigenous guide, who will share stories about the Kuku Yalanji people’s culture and traditions.

An alternative afternoon trip from Cairns is to its northern suburb, Palm Cove. Located 30 minutes from the city, Palm Cove is known for its beautiful beach, luxury resorts, and boutique shopping strip. If that isn’t enough, another 30 minutes from Palm Cove is Port Douglas. A similar tropical town, Port Douglas is home to award-winning restaurants, excellent independent shopping on Macrossan Street, and Four Mile Beach.

Port Douglas | © Martin Valigursky / Shutterstock

Evening

In the evening, enjoy Cairns’ tropical climate on a sunset cruise. Big Cat Green Island’s sunset cruise includes a welcome drink and savoury nibbles on arrival. There’s also a combination ticket option, which includes dinner at Dundee’s Restaurant following the cruise. Otherwise, Spirit of Cairns does both sunset and dinner cruises. The dinner cruise includes entertainment and a three-course buffet menu, which features dishes made with the best regional produce.

Cairns sunset | © Ian Griffiths / Flickr

Another nighttime option in Cairns is to visit the Night Market, which is open 365 days a year. There are stalls selling souvenirs, handmade jewellery, clothing, and more. The Night Market is also home to massage and beauty services, and a large international food court. Here you can sample Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, French and Italian cuisine.

Day Two

Morning

JaffleHead

Cafe, Australian, $$$
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Try a jaffle at JaffleHead
Try a jaffle at JaffleHead | © Katherine Lim / Flickr

JaffleHead is the only speciality jaffle shop in Cairns. Jaffle is an Australian term for a toasted sandwich, which is cooked using a jaffle maker. Jaffle can be filled with an assortment of meats and vegetables, but cheese is mandatory. At JaffleHead, some of their classic jaffles that are perfect for breakfast include Good Morning (poached egg, bacon, spinach, cheese, and hollandaise), and Don Juan (poached egg, chorizo, mushrooms, cheese, and dijonnaise). Their basic jaffles include combinations like tinned spaghetti and cheese, and vegemite and cheese.

Following breakfast, it’s time for another Cairns day trip. Firstly, there are several ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns. There’s the option to do day trips to Green or Fitzroy Islands on the reef. Green Island is surrounded by fringing reef, perfect for snorkelling. Fitzroy Island is known for its beaches and azure water. Alternatively, check out Reef Experience, which do a comprehensive day tour to the Great Barrier Reef.

Beautiful Fitzroy Island | © CoolR / Shutterstock

If you’d rather stay on dry land, head on an adventurous day trip to Kuranda instead. Reach Kuranda via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, and return on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which is considered one of Australia’s most unique train journeys. While in Kuranda, visit attractions like the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld Kuranda, or Kuranda Koala Gardens.

Evening

Night Fire at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Museum, Park, Historical Landmark
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Traditional corroboree
Traditional corroboree | © Malcolm Williams / Flickr
Night Fire is held nightly at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. The evening begins with a didgeridoo welcome and introduction to the Bama, the local indigenous rainforest people, who offer traditional face painting. Then there’s a dance performance and a lakeside firemaking ceremony. A buffet dinner is served at Flame Tree Bar & Grill, which includes a salad bar, dessert, and the best Australian meats and seafood seasoned with indigenous flavours.