Things to do in Cairns, Esplanade lagoon

Running out of cash when traveling around the world is a problem many backpackers come across, so with Cairns in Northern Queensland, Australia being such a huge drawcard for backpackers I thought I'd give you a few ideas on free or cheap things to do in Cairns.

There are lots more things we could add, but here are some of my favourite ways to spend time (and not much money) in Cairns!

1. The Great Barrier Reef

No visit to Australia is complete without a visit to the world famous and world heritage site of The Great Barrier Reef and Cairns is an excellent place to be to get on a boat and see it for yourself. But how on earth can a visit to The Great Barrier Reef out of Cairns be considered a free or cheap thing to do in Cairns?

The first option depends on what your definition of cheap is, but you can book yourself on a day trip to The Great Barrier Reef from as little as 99AUD (that's 80USD or 60 Euro as of 10th Sept '13). However it is also possible to visit the spectacular Coral Reef for absolutely nothing. To do this requires a bit of cunning and / or a bit of luck but it is possible.

Cairns, Australias backpackers Capital, has lots of bars catering to the backpacker market; this means heaps of nightly activities where for a temporary loss of your dignity you could find yourself the proud winner of a trip to The Great Barrier Reef on one of the many boats that departs Cairns on a daily basis. Alternatively you could become a "hostie" on one of those boats meaning that in exchange for a bit of work you could be out on the reef for free. Get a fun job on your working holiday and become a hostie! (read more for further details on a job as a hostie).

2. Swimming in The Lagoon

The heat in Cairns can sometimes become unbearable so what better way to cool off than in a huge, well-maintained outdoor swimming pool? Located on The Esplanade in central Cairns is 'The Lagoon' and it really is a nice place to relax and wile away the day and at the same time you can also indulge in Free or Cheap things to do in Cairns numbers 3 and 4.

Cairns Esplanade people watching
3. People Watching

Okay, so people-watching is a pastime that you can do anywhere in the world, but people-watching at the lagoon in Cairns tops my own personal list of good places. Just imagine watching all those beautiful tanned (and sometimes not so beautiful and very red english bodies) all wandering around thinking they look cool until they make eye contact with the monster they ended up pashing in one of Cairns backpacker bars.

4. Read a good book

I know, I know... This is another one that can be done anywhere and at any time, but Cairns is a great place to swap your dog-eared novel with someone elses purely because there are so many backpackers around and nearly all of them also have a book they want to swap with someone else.

A book is also a good thing to hide behind when you're giggling at people at the lagoon, or when you're trying to hide from people you might have embarrassed yourself in front of at The Woolshed the night before.

cairns milla milla falls
5. Explore the waterfalls or beaches around Cairns

Get a bunch of friends together and hire a car for the day! We're really lucky that there are some beautiful waterfalls very close to us. For example Barron Falls and the Crystal Cascades (don't forget to bring towels) are both very nearby. If you don't fancy hiring a car then get the bus to Palm Cove, which is 45 minutes away, the bus costs $9.40 return (as of November 2013) and Palm Cove is one of the most beautiful beaches in Cairns.

6. Watch a cheap movie

All over Australia is the wonderful cheap night at the movies - Tight Arse Tuesday. For around 9AUD you can see that blockbuster everyones been talking about. A great thing to do when it rains in Cairns or even when you're just bored of sitting in your hostel every night watching Neighbours in the communal lounge.

7. Visit Cairns Museum

Why not try and learn something about Cairns and the surrounding area of Northern Queensland? For around 5AUD you can visit Cairns Museum and inject a bit of culture into your daily backpacking life.

cairns art galleries
8. Cairns Art Galleries

Cairns has a surprising number of art galleries. Well, I was surprised because when you're thinking of Cairns it's not the towns art and culture that first pops into your mind. The Art Galleries are free to get in because they want you to buy something and you'll see some spectacular images of Cairns, The Great Barrier Reef and also images of some of the places you'll have visited during your time in Australia. Because there are quite a few art galleries, ranging from indigenous art to contemporary art there's pretty much something to suit everyones tastes.

Cairns is a great place to invest in a good coffee table book for your Mum so that she can see what a wonderful country you're visiting.

cairns markets
9. Visit the Markets

Like many towns in Australia, there are some great markets in Cairns, my favourite being the night markets. So instead of wasting all of your money on beer why not buy a few reasonably priced souvenirs for yourself or your family back home. When I was there you could choose an oyster which they would open up for you so you could see what kind of pearl was inside. This is a great gift and my Mum made a nice necklace out of the pearl I sent her (although I probably shouldn't have sent the oyster shell too because it was a bit stinky when it arrived in the UK). My traveling companion at the time was lucky enough to choose an oyster that had twin pearls inside. You can also find some very tasty and cheap food at the night markets!

For cheap fruit and veg make sure you visit Rustys Markets - it's cheap, smells amazing and there's enough fruit samples to easily provide a healthy and free breakfast!

cairns rainforest walk
10. Check out the rainforest!

If you want to check out our beautiful rainforest there are some excellent options. You can visit the Botanical Gardens for the quick and easy version or even better, near to the Botanical Gardens is the entry to the 'Red Arrow', which is a small nature walk (there are other arrow walks you can do too).

The Red Arrow walk takes only about 30 minutes to complete and will take you through the gorgeous rainforest to a spectacular lookout at the top, make sure to take your camera. A good thing to know; the entry is free.

Well now I've pretty much run out of free or cheap things to do in Cairns to tell you about, this doesn't mean that this is the end of the list though because there are many more activities to do in this tropical Australian city.

For up to date information on special offers, discounts and loads of other things, you'll find that the staff at your backpacker hostel will have a comprehensive list of everything you need to know about Cairns and the surrounding area.

Your hostel staff are a good resource for ideas on cheap things to do and the hostel itself is also a good place to find free things to do as most provide some daytime and night-time activities!


Get 10 nights or more to spend at any of our hostels with the Bed Hopper Accommodation Pass