10 Free or Cheap things to do in Cairns

Running out of cash when traveling around the world is a problem many backpackers have, 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 and the surrounding area.

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

Free or Cheap Things to Do in Cairns

1. 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).

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!

2. Free Fitness Classes on the Esplanade

Okay, so this free activity is not for everyone… but one of the things I missed most about travelling was having the money to afford a gym pass. Every day of the week there are free fitness classes on the Cairns esplanade waterfront, including Yoga, Boxing, Aqua Zumba in the Lagoon, Beach Volleyball, Pilates and Bouldering. You can see the class timetables here.

3. 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. One of the most popular is the Cairns Regional Gallery in the town centre. View current exhibitions here.

4. Check out the rainforest!

If you want to check out our beautiful rainforest there are some excellent options. You can visit the Cairns Botanical Gardens which has many walking trails. 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. The Blue Arrow is a slightly similar but harder and longer track that is 5.4km long with a few steep ascents.

5. 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. Most Sundays the Lagoon also plays host to live and local music on a pop up stage – a perfect way to overcome an inevitable Woolshed hangover. If the tropical heat hasn’t knocked you out completely, you can also enjoy a scenic stroll along the Esplanade boardwalk that begins at the Lagoon.


Free or Cheap Things to Do Near Cairns

6. Hike to the top of Walsh’s Pyramid

Just a short drive from Cairns, you will find the world’s tallest natural pyramid. The hike to the top of the mountain and back should take you around 4 to 6 hours depending on how long you take. From the top you will be rewarded with 360 degree views of Cairns and the surrounding rainforest.

7. Explore the Waterfalls 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. Crystal Cascades is a local hot spot near Cairns and is just a short 20 minute drive from town (you can actually ride a bike there if you are fit)! There are loads of natural swimming holes nestled within the Rainforest – a perfect way to escape the heat! Stoney Creek Falls are also a popular local hot spot. The Falls are located around 8km from Cairns (just past the airport) and there are loads of rock jumping spots and fresh water swimming holes. A drive to Atherton Tablelands to see Millaa Millaa Falls is also a must (where Peter Andre filmed his hit song Mysterious Girl).

8. Aqua Park

Imagine a gigantic, inflatable, bouncy water park for adults in the middle of tropical Australia. Aqua Park is just a short drive from Cairns and you can buy a 50 minute session for just $15, or 2 X 50 minute sessions for $20 (as of July 2016). Find out more here.

9. Explore the Beaches around Cairns

Cairns Northern Beaches are absolute paradise – Palm Cove and Trinity Beach are my favourite. If you don’t fancy hiring a car then get the bus to Palm Cove, which is 45 minutes away, the bus costs $9.70 return (as of July 2016). You can view the Sunbus timetable here.

10. 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 even 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 150AUD (that’s 113USD or 102 Euro as of 29th July ’15). 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! Or check out more jobs in Cairns here.


Well there’s my personal top 10 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 and if you have a bit of cash then check out this list of must do things in Cairns too!

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.