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Guide to Cairns & Port Douglas - Tropical North Queensland

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

I absolutely love Queensland. My favorite long weekend or weeklong trips have been to the Cairns area in the last two years. I'll share some of my favorite spots around Cairns and Port Douglas in this blog. I've you've got one week to spend in Queensland do not miss this!

Things To Do in Cairns

I love Cairns in 'Tropical North Queensland.' It's the main for tourists to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Last year Rasmus and I snorkeled there for the first time and fell in love. The city itself has lovely restaurants, pools, Airbnbs and is surrounded by beautiful mountainscapes.

We mainly love it for accessing the Great Barrier Reef or Fitzroy Island (our favorite tiny island on the reef). There are no good beaches right in town. The CBD itself looks out over mangroves and mudflats. But not to fear, incredible beaches are right up the freeway.

Visit the Great Barrier Reef

If you're here, you cannot miss the Great Barrier Reef! The Great Barrier Reef is unbelievable and about a 40-minute boat trip off the coast. Treat yourself to a day of snorkeling or scuba diving. Even the most novice swimmers can snorkel on a guided tour. You'll leave Cairns with stories of turtles, fish, sharks, and colorful reefs you'll never forget.

If you're not into getting wet, you could also visit the Cairns Aquarium or book a catamaran out for a sunset tour.

Shop, Eat, Stay

We enjoyed shopping in and around Cairns. My girlfriend, Kaitlyn, loves a cute dress shop called the Tree of Life in Cairns Central Mall. But there are tons of bathing suits surfer-type shops on every corner. You'll walk away with a new hat or some tourist trap memorabilia.

Downtown Cairns has tons to offer any foodie. We discovered Hemingway Brewery in the downtown area and fell in love with the craft brews and island backdrops. We also took a particular liking to a Greek spot called Yayas, with unreal Souvlaki. There are a few fun smoothies and poke bowl spots around. If fine dining is your jam, Cairns won't fall short.

I've stayed in a few places in Cairns: The Novotel Oasis, the Carins Pullman, and the Mantra Trilogy. My favorite was the Novotel Oasis, for the pool and bar downstairs.

If you've got any extra time at all, I would recommend a trip north to the beautiful town of Port Douglas. Port Douglas is my favorite place in Australia, hands down.

My trip with Kaitlyn:

The Drive Between Cairns and Port Douglas

The drive north to Port Douglas from Cairns is iconic. While on Captain Hook Highway, off to the right, you'll enjoy killer ocean views, and on the left, you'll be up against the tropical foliage. If you aren't familiar with driving on the left side of the road - it would be worth getting acquainted! Drive slow; you'll be okay.

There are few places worth stopping off at because the drive itself is such a treat. We loved Palm Cove, where you can enjoy the Palm Cover Tavern for lunch, or L'unico, which overlooks Trinity Beach. Trinity Beach itself is divine. You'll find Rex lookout a bit further up, which is stunning.

Lastly, do not miss Hartley's Crocodile Adventures. We saw a sign and decided to turn off randomly, and the Australian wildlife was one of the highlights of our whole trip. We got to hold koalas, watch crocodile feeds, and hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies.

Queensland is notorious for saltwater crocs, so be careful when entering the water anywhere!

Things To Do in Port Douglas

Port Douglas is just a snuggly, sleepy little beach town that I find lovely. If I had three weeks a year to lay in the sun here, I would. It's a tiny little town with a lot of art, beer, and seascapes.

Rent an Airbnb with a pushbike, and enjoy cruising around the tiny town and its iconic "Four Mile Beach." I love the boho shops here on Macrossan Street. I think it's quite an exclusive place to vacation, which I enjoy. I fell in love with a few shops: Tahitian Lime, Sea Studio Gallery, Nothing Over $22, the Maker Store, and Origin Espresso! I always leave Port Douglas with a few extra things.

When it comes to food, Port Douglas covers all your bases. For breakfast, I'd recommend Grant Street Kitchen or Cafe Fresq (next to each other). We also loved the Barbados cocktail bar on the pier or Hemingway's Brewery for dinner. Other great stops are the Iron Bar, Paddy's, The Court House, and the Rattle'N'Hum.

Port Douglas is the other main port to the Great Barrier Reef. You can snorkel, scuba, or catamaran off the pier there. Be sure to book ahead. These attractions are highly sought after. My sister did a day trip scuba dive to Agincourt Reef and Outer Reef.

If you're lucky enough to be in Port Douglas on a Sunday, you'll get a special treat: the Port Douglas Market. This market is overflowing with coffee, fresh fruit, baked good, leather (crocodile), and art galore! My sister bought me a stunning piece from here.

We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb close to downtown, which we loved because we could walk everywhere. And on a different trip, we stayed at the Silkari, which fabulously had a swim out pool. Both are good options.

Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Forest

North of Port Douglas is the jarring Cape Tribulation "where the rainforest meets the reef," which we enjoyed. Just north of Port Douglas is the Mossman Gorge, where you can walk around the Daintree Rainforest a bit and get a taste. It's fun to learn about the aboriginal culture, for which many of the landmarks are named.

You can drive almost 2 - 3 hours north to Cape Tribulation through the Daintree National Park if you're feeling more adventurous. This landscape is something out of Jurassic Park. Even the wild birds, especially the Cassowary, look ancient. Drive slow to avoid hitting one of the beautiful creatures!

On your way up, places worth stopping off are the Alexandra Lookout and the Daintree Ice Cream Farm, which makes ice cream from exotic fruit. The road winds for hours, but you'll be under the sparkling rainforest and feel like you're a part of nature. You'll even have to cross a large river by boat, with your car, to access the Cape.

We did a few lovely walks, including the Jindalba, Dubuji boardwalk, and Kulki boardwalk, which have fantastic views. The myall beach is the main beach south of the cape. It's stunning, but don't touch the water! There are tons of toxic jellyfish and salties (saltwater crocodiles).

My trip with Rachel:

All in All

I absolutely love this part of the world. If you ever come to Australia, this should be your first, and if you're short on time, your only stop!


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