Last Updated 05/11/2021.
We already published our guide to things to do in Cairns, now let’s look at kid-friendly things to do in Cairns. What can you do in Cairns with kids through to teenagers, on the weekend, on a rainy day, or on vacation. We also include “things to do near me” in attractions and activities very close to Cairns, there’s a lot to do nearby. We live just up the road in Port Douglas, Cairns is our home turf, so you can bet our content is up-to-date and written by a mum who gets your family needs. This is what we do with our kids, as a family, in Cairns. Including new attractions and activities and long-time family favourites. Some attractions have closed since or during 2020 and Covid 19. We include those, just to mention they’re no longer available. We do everything we can to keep this post up to date but please be sure to double-check all information for yourself, it’s pretty crazy up here since lockdown!
Things to do in Cairns with kids
The Cairns Lagoon
There is no beach or safe swimming spot in central Cairns, but, not to worry, they built a beach for you. Kids and adults can now swim in Cairns safely without having to make the trip toward The Northern Beaches.
The Cairns Lagoon pool (pictured above) is truly spectacular, is gently shallow enough, and has a sandy beach area for little ones to play. There are showers, changing rooms, and public BBQ facilities nearby. Best of all, it’s free. See what’s on at the lagoon, and check for opening and events on the Cairns lagoon pool website.
The Esplanade is a lovely place to run, walk, cycle, rollerblade, or do anything else you like to do!So long as it’s not against the law – better check that first!
The Esplanade runs the full distance of the Cairns shoreline and you should be able to spot some cool wildlife along the foreshore. We’ve seen pelicans, spoonbills, and once a small crocodile. It’s dotted with play and exercise equipment and is a great place for a family walk with a buggy or stroller.
Cairns Zoom is right in the heart of Cairns city so should be easy for you to access. We haven’t been here for quite a few years now so I can’t give you an up-to-date review, but we’ve been a few times. They have a nice little native animal zoo up there, a large crocodile and some terrifying-looking ropes activities for dare-devils.
Muddy’s is such a lovely playground for kids of just about any age. This was a regular feature of our lives when we had younger kids. There is water play to cool off on hot days and separate areas for toddlers and older kids.
They have all the usual facilities on-site and a small restaurant. This one is right on The Esplanade a little north of Cairns City Centre.
Figtree is much smaller than Muddy’s but it’s a nice playground come treehouse. It’s on the estuary walkway and makes a good spot to break up your walk with kids. Head south and up the river from the lagoon or from the marina
Cairns Escape Rooms
Cairns is no slouch in catching up on the global proliferation of escape rooms, in fact, there are a handful in Cairns perfect for a family rainy-day thing to do. Try one of the following venues.
- Cairns Escape Rooms, Lasertag and Cart Hire
- Cairns Riddle Rooms
- Cairns Escape Academy
There is trampolining in Cairns. We haven’t tested it out yet. You need to head to the Jump Mania Trampoline Park, and the good news is, it’s out of the sun and has air-con. However, we’ve had a look at the reviews and they’re not so great, so maybe do a little investigating first.
Wakeboarding is possible just north of Cairns, near Smithfield, at Cairns Wakeboarding and Cairns Cable Ski. This always looks so much fun when we drive past but we’ve not tried this one either. Check the Cairns Wakepark Website for details.
You’ll see the go-kart track on the opposite side of the road near the wakeboarding centre. You’ll be needing the Cairns Karthire website for admission costs and opening hours. This venue also hosts laser tag and escape room activities.
We love a good aquarium and Cairns has one. It’s not the biggest in the world but it’s new and modern and gloriously air-conditioned. We’ve visited most of the best aquariums worldwide and the Cairns aquarium did not disappoint at all. Check the Cairns Aquarium website for opening times and prices. The aquarium even offers behind-the-scenes tours. They say they are open every day of the year.
Indoor play facilities come and go in Cairns and they are very welcome indeed in the heat and humidity of the wet season. My kids grew up going to Geckos at Smithfield, now long gone. Today there is Inflatable Kingdom Indoor Sports in Cairns, perfect for parties.
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
I’m going to mention Tjapukai, because it used to be awesome. But, sadly, it’s now closed. This is where my kids learned to throw spears and boomerangs and their grandfather got up on stage to do an Aboriginal leg wobble dance. It used to be great, I don’t know if it will ever open again.
Australian Armoury and Artillery Museum
This is almost next-door to Tjapukai and the departure point of the rainforest cableway. You should be able to see military vehicles on the roadside. I have to admit, we’ve never been, it’s just not our cup of tea but kids like tanks and such like usually.
There is an admission fee, and, maybe surprisingly, this museum houses the largest collection of armoured vehicles and artillery in the southern hemisphere. Expect to pay just under $30 for adults, child price at the time of writing was $16.50, under 5s free, but double-check prices and admissions at the museum website.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
The railway connects Kuranda and Cairns and it is indeed quite scenic. If you’re thinking of taking your kids on this train ride be prepared for a very sedate (dare I say boring?) journey. My kids went to sleep. This could be great if you have little ones who need a nap. Kuranda train station is really pretty and you do get a good view of Barron falls again.
It’s usual for people to go up to Kuranda on the cablecar and return to Cairns on the train. The train returns to the station at Freshwater. Incidentally, there is a nice swimming hole and garden center at Freshwater.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
My kids enjoyed the rainforest cableway, they visited for the first time as teens and tweens. Younger children could possibly be scared, I’m not too fond of heights myself. The ride is quite relaxing and we spotted a few kangaroos as we glided over the canopy.
The cableway is actually in two sections. At the midpoint, you can get off and take a rainforest tour on boardwalks with a ranger. We really enjoyed that part. The next leg of the journey takes in spectacular views of the falls which, in the wet season, are pretty immense. Your journey terminates in Kuranda.
Barron River Falls
In the wet season the Barron River Falls are really impressive to see. There’s a glass lookout at the top of the cableway or you can see the falls from the lookout in Kuranda.
The little town of Kuranda is a destination in itself. It’s on top of the mountain, above Cairns, making it a touch cooler. It’s a village in the rainforest and it’s been developed with tourism in mind.
There are a number of wildlife attractions, listed below, along with more than one market, cafes, galleries, and shops aimed at tourists.
You can drive to Kuranda or take the cable car / train combo. Alternatively, it features on many tours from Cairns. There are various paid wildlife attractions in Kuranda, check out the following.
- Birdworld Kuranda
- The Australian Venom Zoo at Kuranda
- Kuranda Koala Gardens
- Australian Butterfly Sanctuary at Kuranda
Rainforestation Wildlife Park
It’s been a few years since we visited Rainforestation, but when the kids were little we held locals’ season passes. There are quite a few attractions like this, with local wildlife and Aboriginal displays, this is a good one.
The army duck tours were always a big attraction here. A rainforest tour on an amphibious World War II army vehicle. It’s a great tour, the kids always had fun. The Rainforestation Nature Park website is here.
See Wild Platypus
The Tablelands, behind Cairns, are a great part of Australia to see will platypus and we’ve seen quite a few. They’re really small, but there seem to be a lot of them if you go to the right places.
Visit a Chocolate Factory
This is an absolute winner with kids because they get to eat as much chocolate as they can possibly cram into their mouths! The kids think it’s “free” but of course, mum and dad have paid for it with their admission cost.
There is also a small chocolate and coffee museum on-site and a rather nice gift shop. Take a look at the CoffeeWorks website. CoffeeWorks is near Mareeba, approximately 60 Km from Cairns, a 1-hour drive depending on conditions. If you’re doing a tasting tour of the Tablelands, you could also visit the cheese and chocolate facility at Gallo Dairyland, and Mt Uncle Distillery Both had animals to entertain the kids last time we visited.
Swim in a Waterfall at Millaa Millaa
The waterfalls ( there are actually several nearby) at Millaa Milla are your chance to swim out to and under a natural rainforest waterfall. It’s a really pretty spot. You can take tours to Millaa Milla from Cairns, or self-drive.
Milla Milla Falls are about 98 Km from Cairns and the drive should take you roughly 1 hour 45 mins. There’s quite a lot to see nearby if you’re planning a daytrip. You’re not far from Ravenshoe at Millaa Millaa which is another nice spot.
Swim in a Waterfall Near Port Douglas
You don’t have to go all the way to Millaa Milla to chase waterfalls, there are quite a few in this part of the world. Hartley’s Creek Falls is between Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures and Port Douglas. It’s a pleasant walk to the falls and there are popular swimming holes here.
You’ll need to park on the road and walk, whereas at Millaa Milla the car park is very close to the waterfall and swimming spot. The walk is about 7 km, 4.5 miles and makes a nice bushwalk. We’ve done this hike a few times, it’s pleasant when it’s not so hot and we’ve had the trails to ourselves in the early mornings. It’s a good place to run near Cairns too, The Bump Track is another good one.
Visit The Great Barrier Reef from Cairns
This is why most people visit Cairns, to see the Great Barrier Reef. You can also visit the reef from Port Douglas of course, but this post is on things to do in Cairns with kids, so we won’t complicate things by mentioning all the Port Douglas options.
Yes you can snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef with kids. My kids have been going out there from the age of about 3 with no issues at all, it’s a great family-friendly day out and works for kids of most ages. My teenagers still enjoy a day out on the reef.
There are plenty of options from Cairns, including various islands (Green Island), pontoons, and boats. You can take glass-bottomed boat tours and sea walking is possible with some operators.
Scuba Diving With Kids
Young teens can learn to scuba dive and become PADI-qualified divers. My son learned to dive in Cairns when he was 14 and took his first open-water dive on the Great Barrier Reef. This process takes a few days, but it’s well worth considering if you are bringing your teens to Cairns.
We have all the information on learning to scuba dive, for kids, in Cairns, here. After completing his PADI course we were able to take him out on a three-night live-aboard dive trip from Cairns which the whole family loved. My younger son was snorkelling, he was too young to scuba dive, he enjoyed this trip too, particularly sharks-in-the-dark. You need to see the post and watch the video!
The Cattana Wetlands Environmental Park is a reclaimed cane farm and quarry, today existing as 80 hectares of nature reserve. This park-land is open daily from about 6am and has a few basic facilities like WCs and picnic tables. There is a 420 m boardwalk through the wetland palm forest and various hides for bird lovers.
The park is named after the Cattana family and we took a ranger-guided walk here which was very informative. I wouldn’t come here in the noon sun in the summer months, try to pick a cooler time.
If you want to walk in a rainforest and discover a crystal clear, freezing, rainforest stream, head to Mossman Gorge. It’s a beautiful spot where you can stroll under the rainforest canopy on (fairly) newly constructed boardwalks. You should be OK here with a buggy or stroller. As you can see from the photo we used to take our kids swimming here all the time, but there have been accidents. There are now “no swimming” signs at the gorge. So you probably shouldn’t swim.
Mossman Gorge is accessed from Mossman, which is a small town about 12 Km north of Port Douglas. To drive here from Cairns should take you just over an hour. You can drive along the coast, or head up to Kuranda from Cairns and drive along the range before dropping back down to the coast between Port Douglas and Mossman.
If you don’t have your own vehicle, book a tour. Tour guides really are the way to get the most out of all of our natural attractions up here. You will see, and learn, so much more with a guide. However, with small children, you might not want this option.
Take a Crocodile Spotting Cruise
You can take a croc-spotting cruise from Port Douglas superyacht marina, or from Daintree Village. Both are good, we prefer the Port Douglas option because the Lady Douglas is such a beautiful boat. But do try to visit Daintree Village too. We have plenty of crocodiles in and around Port Douglas, you may be able to see crocodiles in the wild without even taking a tour.
To see the Daintree rainforest itself you’ll need to cross the Daintree river, you can’t see it from Daintree Village, which is on the south side of the river.
If you don’t want to see crocodiles in the wild you can visit Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. They put on some entertaining crocodile feeding shows. This place is actually a crocodile farm, this could be your chance to taste a crocodile pie.
Visit Port Douglas from Cairns
Port Douglas is about an hour north of Cairns by road. It’s where we live, so, yes, we recommend it! If you can, visit Port Douglas on Sunday morning for the market. Port Douglas markets is great for buying jewellery, crafts, and trinkets under shady palm trees, with stunning views of the sugar wharf and inlet. Maybe get a bite to eat at one of the food vans there before heading to Four Mile Beach.
I won’t list all the things to do in Port Douglas here, you can take a look at our content for that separately. You can do most of these things whether you choose to stay in Port Douglas or Cairns.
The Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas is currently building a new crocodile exhibit, when that opens we’ll be first in line! They’re planning something similar to the crocodile tank in Darwin, which we visited while touring some of the best places in the Northern Territory. We’re super excited that this is coming to Port Douglas! You can take a crocodile spotting tour from Port Douglas marina, or from Daintree village.
You can visit the Outer Reef from Port Douglas and it’s closer to Port than from Cairns. The Outer Reef is spectacular but, if you have time, I would also suggest seeing the fringing reef on Low Isles. Low Isles are just off the coast of Port Douglas and you can take a half-day snorkelling trip there. and visit the sandy island. It’s interesting to compare the outer reef and the reef at Low Isles, both are good, in different ways. We have a full post on visiting the Great Barrier Reef (and Low Isles) from Port Douglas. Low Isles also offers glass-bottom boat tours. It’s a great place to see young sharks.
In Stinger Season there is a stinger net at Four Mile Beach outside the lifeguard station. There are several beaches with stinger nets between Cairns and Port Douglas.
Visit Daintree Village From Cairns
Daintree Village is home to one of Australia’s famous “big things”. In Daintree Village you will find the “big barra” a fairly large silver barramundi ideal for a photo stop.
Daintree Village is otherwise a scenic spot with a handful of small shops and cafes, it’s not a must-see, but it’s a pleasant place. There are quite a few crocodile spotting boat trips that depart from here along the Daintree River.
Your best chance of seeing crocodiles is at low tide during hotter times of the year, when it’s cool the crocs tend to stay in the water more. We used to bring the kids here for a picnic and a run around on the grass.
Visit the Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree Rainforest lies on the other side of the Daintree river and to get there you have to take an old-school cable ferry. If you have your own car, no problem, you can drive to the Daintree. If not, consider booking a guided tour, this is a much more fun way to see the Daintree.
There are beaches to explore and walkways to take. Also, be sure to check out the tropical ice cream. Cow Bay is a nice beach for a walk, as is Thornton Beach. There’s a cafe at Thornton Beach, with toilets. The Daintree Discovery Centre is great for kids, with plenty of interactive educational displays and a canopy viewing tower, it also has a small cafe.
Cairns, The Northern Beaches, Palm Cove and Port Douglas
Cairns International Airport is to the north of Cairns city. you’ll need to travel south by road to Cairns itself. Port Douglas is about an hour to the north and in between, there are a string of beaches, with Palm Cove being quite a major holiday accommodation spot.
If you’d like to stay more-or-less on a beach, pick Palm Cove. There are plenty of restaurants and coffee shops in Palm Cove too, and a few small shops. The jetty at Palm Cove is popular for fishing.
Port Douglas is a separate, stand-alone resort town, it’s more up-market than Cairns. Cairns is a big city. Port Douglas has more of a village feel with a few shops, mostly for tourists, a small Coles, and an IGA. The pandemic is still affecting us in Port Douglas, some shops closed and without our usual travellers, nobody can get staff. Quite a few businesses are running shorter hours because of a lack of tourists and lack of staff. You will likely have to book to get into a restaurant.
That said, the reef boats are running, but not every day, the hotels are open, but occupancy is reduced. We’re all looking forward to borders opening again.
Shopping in Cairns
Cairns has a reasonable-sized shopping mall within walking distance of the centre of town. If you need anything for your kids, such as swimwear or pool toys, you’ll likely find what you need at Cairns Central. There are branches of the usual Australian shops here. You’ll also find a cinema and food court along with some child-friendly amusements. Cairns city centre also has an abundance of smaller shops, mostly aimed at tourists. If you’re self-catering there are several supermarkets and convenience stores, if you can, try to get to Rusty’s Market for fresh tropical produce.
Where to Stay in Cairns with Kids?
If you’re going to stay in Cairns itself, find somewhere central. If you’re not close to the town centre, esplanade and boats, you may find yourself spending a lot of time and money on taxis. Alternatively, stay a little further north at Palm Cove. This small beach area has a lovely relaxed vibe and, a beach.
Central Cairns is on an estuary, there’s no beach as such near the CBD. However, central Cairns does have that wonderful lagoon pool and many excellent playgrounds for some kid-friendly family fun. Muddies playground even has water play to cool your little ones off in the tropical heat.
There are several beaches to the north of Cairns (The Northern Beaches), through to Port Douglas, and you can visit one of the islands off Cairns for sandy fun. You can even stay overnight on Green Island if you like.
Dangers of Visiting Cairns
You need to be aware that in the tropical north we have things that try to kill you. I’ve never seen a redback, funnel web, or a taipan, but we have marine stingers at certain times of year, crocodiles, and stinging tree. We see tree snakes and pythons fairly often, they’re pretty harmless although pythons can bite.
We also have cyclones in the wet season and sharks out at sea. We love sharks! The sun is fierce too, with extreme UV levels. Bring a hat. That said, my kids have made it out alive, I’m pretty sure yours will too.
Getting Around Cairns
If you’re arriving by air at Cairns International Airport, you’ll most likely hire a car, grab a taxi, or find a shuttle bus. All are good options. Car hire has gone up in price significantly since the pandemic, prices are astronomical and many car hire businesses have ceased trading. Those that still exist have a monopoly and demand outstrips supply. They can name their price.
We would suggest, the many private shuttle buses and tours as a better option than hiring a car. There is public transport in Cairns (not in Port Douglas so much) but it’s not very convenient. We find that for four people a taxi is cheaper, but for three or less, a shuttle bus with per-person pricing works out more economical. We have a post on travelling between Cairns and Port Douglas.
This region of Far North Queensland is working hard on becoming cycle-friendly, new cycle paths are being built to connect Cairns, the Northern Beaches, Port Douglas, and Mossman. We don’t own a car, we use bicycles, but cycling in Port Douglas is very different to cycling in Cairns or on the highway. When the bike paths are completed it will be a great adventure to cycle that route.
Costs in Cairns
Cairns is not cheap., but Australia as a whole is not cheap. If you live in Australia, I’m sure you’ll find prices fairly normal. For international visitors, we think prices are fairly comparable with Singapore, the most expensive (we think) country we’ve ever visited. Cairns is probably a little cheaper than Port Douglas, but not significantly so.
The problem with taking a family vacation in Cairns is that most of the attractions and activities we mention in this post have hefty price tags. We pay in the region of $800 – $1000 for a day snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, for instance.
For many this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so people don’t flinch at the price tag. Bear in mind that the reef is quite a long way off the coast and marine fuel, insurance, boat maintenance and so on, does cost a lot.
As locals we normally get a small discount on these big-ticket attractions. Your accommodation will also be expensive, sorry about that. Time of year will affect the price, of course, avoid Christmas and school holidays to save money on your Queensland holiday.
Enjoy Cairns With Your Family!
Cairns makes a great holiday destination for families and it was actually where we chose to live in Australia after touring the country as young backpackers over 20 years ago. Chance and employment saw us settling in Port Douglas, where we lived with kids from babies to teens.
It’s always pretty warm up here and it’s possible to visit all year round. We do have some very heavy rain in the wet season but you could be lucky and not see more than an afternoon downpour. In winter the weather (the summer months of the northern hemisphere) is just lovely, with things cooling down from about May. Living in the tropics has its pros and cons, super curly hair could be either depending on your point of view!
As far as family-friendly and “with kids” destinations go, Cairns is a winner, there are hundreds of things to do and see that kids will love. I probably haven’t managed to list half of them. My biggest tip for travel with kids (which we did, full-time, for 7 years) is to make time to do the things they enjoy. So if that means hanging out in a playground or watching a movie, do that. Some of the big days out in Cairns are very full-on for little ones, so try to fit in a well-timed nap in a stroller or pram. Hopefully, you’ve found things to do with your kids in Cairns. We strongly suggest you book these tours and activities in advance. You can see a full list of booking options here, this is the site we use ourselves and trust to book all over the world.