A while back, we had a five night stay in Cairns in Tropical North Queensland. It was the first time in Cairns for both Danielle and I and we really enjoyed our time there.
While we were in the area we spent plenty of time visiting the Great Barrier Reef, including the outer reef, Green Island and Fitzroy Island but in this post we’ll focus on our time in and around Cairns.
We deliberately didn’t rent a car as this was a holiday and we wanted to relax and take in the city. This meant we didn’t really get to experience some of the surrounding area like Port Douglas and the Daintree so we will have to save those for another trip.
We had a holiday package through My Queensland which included 5 nights at the Park Regis City Quays. I have to admit, when we arrived, it was a little underwhelming. It’s a small lobby, with two small elevators and the paintwork in the lobby and communal areas could do with some attention. Once we made it to our room though (which was pretty early in the day) I was pretty impressed.
No ocean view (just a car park) but we could see the surrounding mountains and the bed was really comfy. The room was spacious and though the bathroom was dated, everything else was pretty great! We had after all, scored a pretty good deal, and when you plan to be out and about you don’t necessarily need the most fancy hotel room. It was also walking distance to many of the attractions in down town Cairns.
Once we were settled in it was time to head out and explore.
We made our way down to the waterfront and followed the boardwalk down to the marina. There were plenty of restaurants we passed along the way. We certainly weren’t going to be starved for dining options.
Dining in Cairns
We love to eat when we travel, and Cairns has so many options, we’ll just cover off on a few of our highlights…
Boat shed on the Esplinade
Not far from the marina we found the Boat Shed and it was coming up on lunchtime so we got their $35 lunch deal and shared it. This included… croquettes
- Creme brûlée
- Sparkling wine
- Delicious mock tail
We thought it was great value for money to kick off our first day…and with a view of the water too!
With our hotel package we got a Privileges card which gave us discounts at a number of places around Cairns. This Included a free meal at Ollies – a steak and itialian restaurant down on the esplanade, so we headed back there on our first night for dinner.
Danielle went for the pizza, while I couldn’t resist the steak.
The steak was delicious and came with two sauces – a red wine jus and a chimchurri as well as some creamy mash potato. The steak was melt in your mouth delicious. The pizza was so authentic that tasted like it was straight out of the Mediterranean.
Piato Greek Restaurant
The following night we decided to head to the Mediterranean and try Plato Greek Restaurant. We went for the banquet, which included seafood for Danielle, and a meat plate for me. Another delicious meal!
Another restaurant on the water front. Ochre was a part of our dining package which allowed us to choose from their package menu, but Danielle paid for an upgrade so she could get the Moreton Bay Bug.
For the entree, I had the Morganbury beef carpaccio with native peppers – this is a beef dish with the meat very thinly sliced and rare – but delicious if you are a carnivore like myself.
For the main, I enjoyed the chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto pocketed with bocconcini, smoked tomato and avacado.
We also got the dessert, I can’t remember what it was called but it was delicious!
The meals at Ochre were a wonderful mix of native flavours, and very colourful. I’d definitely like to come back here!
We received a local recommendation to visit Noa near the botanic gardens. We walked from our accommodation which was pretty ambitious in the Cairns heat so we were definitely ready for a refreshment when we arrived. Noa has a mouth watering selection of mocktails and beverages to quench our thirst. They also had a loaf with a selection of spreads and we tried their bao buns. We ended up taking an Uber back to town afterward.
Dundees At The Aquarium
On our last day before we headed to the airport, we booked in to enjoy a meal at Dundees after we were told it was a prime location. It’s important to note there are two Dundees in town. We dined at the one by the Aquarium. The restaurant, like so many in Cairns, has an outdoors feel but the main focal point is the Aquarium wall which consumes the attention of the young and old alike while they dine.
We enjoyed some of their delicious salad and tacos, which were beautiful colourful and equally delicious.
Other Attractions in Cairns
While we definitely spent a lot of our time eating, there is definitely a lot more you can see and do around Cairns.
Our visit to Cairns coincided with the Cairns Festival so there was plenty of art and entertainment to enjoy. We enjoyed meandering along the foreshore of an evening down past the man made beach / pool area. They had a range of neon sea creatures which looked magnificent of an evening.
While we didn’t go swimming at the Esplanade Lagoon, it is really a centrepiece for the city and a key attraction for young families. This stunning artificial swimming pool, nestled along the picturesque Cairns waterfront, offers a safe and refreshing oasis for locals and tourists alike. With its inviting turquoise waters, surrounded by lush tropical gardens and swaying palm trees, the Esplanade Lagoon exudes a relaxed and tropical ambiance. You generally can’t swim in the waters around Cairns due to crocodiles, bull sharks and stingers, so the lagoon provides a much needed place to cool down.
The lagoon is meticulously maintained, making it an ideal spot for families to enjoy a leisurely day outdoors. The spacious grassy areas provide ample space for picnics and sunbathing, while the gentle sloping edges of the lagoon create a gradual entry point, perfect for kids to wade into the water. Beyond its crystal-clear waters, the Esplanade Lagoon also boasts BBQ facilities, shaded picnic tables, and nearby amenities, making it a hub for social gatherings and a symbol of Cairns’ vibrant outdoor lifestyle. Whether you’re seeking a refreshing dip, a tranquil sun-soaked afternoon, or a place to connect with the local community, the Esplanade Lagoon is a must-visit destination in Cairns.
During the day there were plenty of galleries and museums to enjoy. We visited the Cairns Courthouse and Aboriginal textile exhibition and art gallery which featured some beautiful Australian artwork.
We visited Rusty’s Markets, which had fresh produce and other stalls that showcased the vibrant culinary and artistic scene of Cairns. Located in the heart of the city, Rusty’s Markets is a bustling hub of activity on weekends. As we strolled through the maze of stalls, the air was filled with the enticing aromas of exotic fruits, fragrant spices, and mouthwatering street food.
From tropical fruits like mangoes and lychees to handmade crafts and unique gifts, Rusty’s Markets offered a delightful blend of flavors and cultures. It’s not just a place to shop; it’s an immersive experience that gives you a taste of the rich diversity and creativity that defines Cairns’ community spirit. There were so many interesting and vibrant fruits, and we managed to find some Bao Buns to keep our hunger at bay.
The Botanic Gardens and Tank Gallery
If you’ve been following us for a while then you’ll know that Danielle and I are partial to a good botanical gardens (Like the awesome one we visited in Naples, FL). So naturally we had to see what Cains had to offer.
On our way out to the Cairns Botanic Gardens we came across a series of very large concrete tanks. Inside the aptly named Tanks Arts Centre, the space has been set up as galleries, featuring some very interesting and thought provoking art exhibits. It was also a cool place to escape the heat!
The Botanic Gardens themselves are also a tropical paradise to explore some of the beautiful flora that calls Northern Queensland home. There is also a butterfly garden and plenty of tranquil places to soak in the peaceful surrounds. My only tip would be that it is a bit of a trek out of town so if you are car less, maybe consider an Uber if it’s hot.
Cairns is an incredible place to visit. There is plenty to do, and so many options for food. While there is plenty to see by boat or if you have a car, you can also definitely enjoy this beautiful tropical city without a rental car.
We will have more posts about our trip to the islands and the Great Barrier Reef soon. What was your experience visiting Cairns? Let us know in the comments.