This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure
There’s no better place to spend a week than Cairns in Tropical North Queensland. Cairns is the perfect destination to explore some of Australia’s best natural wonders – from the Great Barrier Reef to the Daintree Rainforest all on your doorstep, and so much more. We share our ultimate guide to planning an epic 1 week Cairns itinerary.
This itinerary is meant as a guide to help you plan your own perfect Cairns itinerary. You may prefer to skip one or more of the days detailed in this travel itinerary, for a shorter stay in Cairns, or to swap some of the activities for other things that interest you more.
You can easily spend much longer than a week in Cairns and still not run out of places to see and things to do.
We recommend you decide what attractions and places you most want to visit in order or preference, so you can ensure you have time to fit those into your stay. Then you can work in the lesser important activities around them.
Our 7 Day Cairns Itinerary
We actually spent 8 days in Cairns, however one of those days was spent by the resort pool and enjoying a fancy meal on the Marina, celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary so we have tweaked this itinerary to fit into a single week.
If you have extra days to spare, you can easily fill them with the many attractions in Cairns or exploring beyond the city. Or do as we did and enjoy a day of lazing around by the pool or beach!
While a car is not essential for your stay, to follow this itinerary, it will make it much easier (and usually cheaper) to have your own transport for the week. We hired a car which gave us the flexibility to visit all of these places easily, for much less than the cost of tours and public transport.
Here is a summary of the 7 day Cairns itinerary:
Day 1- Arrive in Cairns
Day 2 – Daintree Rainforest, Mossman Gorge, Port Douglas, Palm Cove
Day 3 – Kuranda, Baron Falls
Day 4 – Outer Great Barrier Reef Pontoon
Day 5 – Paronella Park, Josephine Falls, Babinda Boulders
Day 6- Green Island
Day 7 – Fly home
Day 1 – Arrive In Cairns
Arrive in Cairns and get ready for some exploring. Depending on what time of day you arrive, you may be able to fit in a lot or a little on this day.
Check into your Cairns accommodation. If you want somewhere central, Shangri-La Hotel, The Marina, Cairns is a great choice. It is less than a minute walk to the Cairns Cruise Terminal and just a few minutes from the Esplanade and Lagoon.
Alternatively, check out these top Cairns Airbnbs for a unique place to stay.
Spend your first afternoon taking a stroll along the Cairns Esplanade and the Marlin Marina.
Head to Hemingway’s Brewery towards the end of the Cairns Wharf for a great selection of eats and their speciality beers. They often have live entertainment on if you want to make it a lazy afternoon or evening.
Finish your day with a relaxing walk along the marina seeing some of the massive boats that are docked and enjoying the warm evening air.
Day 2 – Daintree Rainforest & Mossman Gorge
On day 2, head off on your first day-trip to visit the world-famous Daintree Rainforest. This is an incredible day trip but it’s also a big one depending on how far north you want to go.
The Daintree is approximately 2.5 hours drive from Cairns and there are plenty of places to stop along the way so we suggest heading off very early.
If you want to visit Cape Tribulation while in the Daintree, you will need longer as you will need to cross the Daintree River by ferry to reach the point where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef.
A guided day tour can be a great way to fit all the must-see locations into your Daintree visit while sitting back in an air-conditioned coach. But you can do a self-drive visit as well. Check out our guide on how to get to the Daintree Rainforest for more tips.
Take a Daintree River wildlife cruise and you might see a crocodile in the wild! If not, you will spot lots of other wildlife as you float along the rainforest-lined river.
Afterwards, if you have time, head to the Daintree Discovery Centre for a walk through the forest canopy, with suspended walkways and guided nature tours.
As you make your way back south, stop off at Mossman Gorge where you can enjoy lunch at the Mossman Gorge Centre, before catching the shuttle bus up to the Gorge. They run continuously throughout the day and are $12.50 per person.
At Mossman Gorge, it’s a short rainforest walk to the water hole and suspension bridge. Take a swim or get your walking shoes on and do the nature walk around the Gorge. This takes around an hour and requires moderate fitness levels. It is a beautiful walk!
In the afternoon, head to Port Douglas for a stroll (or a swim) at Four Mile Beach. This is a great option for dinner, or head to Palm Cove, which is only around 20 minutes outside of Cairns for more restaurant options by the beach.
On day 3, catch the Kuranda Scenic Railway train up to Kuranda, the rainforest village in the mountains. Or take the Kuranda Skyrail Cablecar instead, for treetop views. We recommend doing both – one on the way up and one on the way down.
Alternatively, you can drive to Kuranda. It only takes around half an hour to drive up the Kuranda range. This is a good option if you only want to spend a couple of hours exploring the village.
There are several things to do in Kuranda for all ages. Kuranda is well known for its markets, which run from midweek until the weekend. This is the best time to visit Kuranda. This is the perfect place to grab lunch, with delicious local produce and lots of different cafes and restaurants to try.
On day 4, go on a Great Barrier Reef cruise to an Outer Reef pontoon, where you can enjoy snorkelling the reef. If you’re lucky, you might even get to swim alongside sea turtles as we did.
There are several pontoon experiences from Cairns, each offering different onboard activities. Each includes snorkelling equipment and instruction, with lifeguards on duty, lunch and a range of optional activities as well, such as scuba diving.
This is an incredible experience and one we highly recommend. You can do this day trip with children, however, it would be more enjoyable with older children who are confident swimmers, so you can all make the most of the experience.
Lifejackets are provided, along with full-body stinger suits for sun and stinger protection.
For dinner, head down to the Marlin Marina for dinner at Dundee’s Restaurant, as the sun sets over the harbour.
Day 5 – Paronella Park, Josephine Falls & Babinda Boulders
On day 5, head south of Cairns and visit one of Queensland’s most popular attractions -Paronella Park.
The Spanish castle in the Queensland rainforest has been one of the most visited attractions for many years. It is located approximately 2 hours south of Cairns near Innisfail.
While it has suffered a lot of structural damage over the years it is still an incredible place to visit and it was one of our favourite day trips in far North Queensland.
Take the guided tour and hear the history of Paronella Park and the visionary that created it. Afterwards, explore at your own pace. There are loads of rainforest walkways to discover and you can easily spend a few hours wandering around the park grounds.
You are also provided fish and turtle food to feed the local wildlife in Mena Creek.
There is a cafe here where you can enjoy lunch.
Afterwards, make your way back towards Cairns, stopping at Josephine Falls. Follow the rainforest walk approximately 15 minutes to the waterfalls and watering hole where you can have a swim. Families love visiting here for the natural rock slides.
Then, the last stop of the day, Babinda Boulders. Here you can also take a swim in the waterhole. There are picnic and BBQ facilities, a playground for the kids and roaming peackocks.
Don’t miss the Devils Pool walk where you can get great views over the incredible rock formations that have been carved out by water over the years.
Start your final morning in Cairns with a waterfront breakfast at one of the many restaurants along the Marlin Marina, such as The Backyard Cairns, at the Shangri-La Hotel.
If you are flying out (or driving) later in the day, you can use the morning to fit in a visit to Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome for an adrenaline-fuelled zip line over wildlife enclosures, or just to enjoy the Aussie wildlife.
Travel Insurance: Make sure you don’t leave home without travel insurance. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to skip, especially when travelling with kids. We recommend World Nomads.
Staying Longer In Cairns?
If you have more time to spend in Cairns, there are so many more attractions and day trips you can experience while enjoying Tropical North Queensland.
Here are some more ideas that you might want to incorporate into a longer Cairns itinerary:
Book your tours & attractions – Our favourite attraction and tour booking services are Get Your Guide and Viator. Booking ahead will mean you don’t miss out on popular tours!
Find the best Cairns Airbnb private rentals for your stay – perfect for families and larger groups! You could even stay in a treehouse in the rainforest!
Ready to plan your own 1 week Cairns Itinerary? Or a longer stay perhaps. Cairns is one of the most family-friendly destinations in Australia and a perfect place to spend a relaxing break or an adventure-filled week like ours.