Epic 1 Week Cairns Itinerary: Rainforest To Reef Adventure

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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 for Cairns is designed to help you map out your own week-long adventure, giving you a guide to some of the best things to do in Cairns city and some awesome day trips from Cairns that you won’t want to miss.

Our recommendations for the best Cairns family accommodation

The cairns marlin marina with boats in dock.

How To Plan Your Cairns Visit

This itinerary for Cairns is meant as a guide to help you plan your own perfect Cairns 7-day itinerary… or for a longer stay.

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.

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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 explore 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 following 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 1 week in 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’s 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.

front entrance of Hemingways brewery  on the cairns wharf.

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.

Daintree rainforest with a woman standing on a wooden bridge.
Daintree Rainforest

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!

four mile beach in port douglas with a lifesaver flag for swimming safely.

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.

Recommended Day Tour: Cape Tribulation, Daintree & Mossman Gorge day trip

Day 3 – Kuranda

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.

kuranda skyrail over the river.

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.

You can also enjoy some unique wildlife encounters at Kuranda Birdworld, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and Kuranda Koala Gardens.

Afterwards, head back to Cairns for a relaxing afternoon at your hotel or head down to the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon for a swim instead.

For dinner, head to Cairns Night Markets where you can enjoy street food style international cuisine and yummy desserts, after a stroll through the markets.

Recommended Day Tour: Kuranda Scenic Rail & Skyrail Cablecar combo

Day 4 – Outer Great Barrier Reef Pontoon

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.

great barrier reef snorkeling tour pontoon in Moore reef in the outer great barrier reef.
Outer Reef Pontoon

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.

Recommended Day Tour: Outer Reef Great Barrier Reef Day Tour

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.

paronella park main structure ruins and fountains.

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 for approximately 15 minutes to the waterfalls and watering hole where you can have a swim.

Families love visiting here for the natural rock slides.

josephine falls swimming hole with people swimming in the water.
Josephine Falls

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 peacocks.

Don’t miss the Devil’s Pool walk where you can get great views over the incredible rock formations that have been carved out by water over the years.

Travel Tip: There are campgrounds at both Paronella Park and Babinda if you are visiting Cairns by campervan or caravan. There is also a night show. Check out photos of Paronella by night from my niece’s North Queensland road trip.

For dinner, head down to the Marina to Prawn Star where you can enjoy fresh seafood on a fishing trawler.

Recommended Day Trip: Paronella Park Entry Ticket

Day 6 – Green Island

On the final full day of your Cairns itinerary, head for a day trip to Green Island. This is one of the most popular day trips from Cairns.

The fast catamaran takes around 45 minutes to reach Green Island from the Cairns Cruise Terminal. Once you arrive, you have a full or half day to explore the beautiful Green Island National Park.

view of green island from jetty with still water and blue skies.

This is a perfect place to go snorkelling if visiting Cairns with kids since the reef is right alongside the beach and it is supervised by lifeguards.

There are many other things to do on Green Island, including glass-bottom boat tours, kayak hire, and nature walks.

Day trip guests have use of the Green Island Resort swimming pool and can enjoy lunch at one of the restaurants or cafes on the island.

There is even a crocodile park in the centre of the Island – Marineland Melanesia.

Head back in the afternoon to enjoy your final night in Cairns, and treat yourself to a meal at one of Cairns’ best restaurants. Prawn Star or Ochre Restaurant are our picks!

Recommended Day Tour: Green Island Catamaran Cruise

Day 7 – Fly Home

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.

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. Check out SafetyWing to make sure you’re covered!

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:

Discover more Cairns day trip or overnight stay ideas. And get help with planning epic road trips with our complete road trip guide and road trip meal planner.


How many days do you need in Cairns?

You need at least 1 week in Cairns to make the most of the many day trip opportunities in far North Queensland, or a minimum of 3 days if you plan to just explore the attractions in Cairns itself.

When is the best time to visit Cairns?

The best time to visit Cairns is during the dry season from May to September. The average temperature is milder, around mid-20 degrees Celcius.

When is the worst time to visit Cairns?

The worst time to visit Cairns is during Stinger season. Stinger season in Cairns is typically between November and May when there is a high risk of box jellyfish in the water before they migrate north.

Book Your Cairns Trip

  • Book your flights – We use WayAway or Skyscanner to research and book flights. You can set up a price alert for your travel dates, plus it compares most major airlines in one place.
  • Book your Accommodation – We use Booking.com or Hotels Combined to book most of our hotel accommodation when we travel.
  • Travel InsuranceWorld Nomads have insurance plans to suit all types of trips.
  • Book your rental car – Compare the best car hire prices for your trip.
  • 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.

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Cairns is also the perfect stop during a road trip from Brisbane, as you head north visiting incredible stops along the way such as Bundaberg, Mackay and Airlie Beach.

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