Hello guys! It’s me again, this time with another post that I am actually quite excited about! “Why?”, you ask. If you know me then you know that I am basically obsessed with Australia. I LOVE Australia, I want to live in Australia one day and pretty much my goal in life is to become Australian (not like that is ever going to happen).
Anyway, I haven’t seen all of Australia but from the places that I have visited when I was there on a Working Holiday Visa, my favourite place was definitely Cairns! Maybe not to live, but from a backpacker’s perspective Cairns was the perfect place to be. And that is how the idea evolved of writing a backpacker guide to Cairns.
You know the funny thing was that I never actually worked in Cairns and still managed to spent around 3 months in total in this beautiful little city. Not all at once. I tried to leave multiple times but I somehow always returned in the end. Went to Melbourne. Too cold. Booked a flight back to Cairns. Finished my farm work and had to go to a new place. Easy decision, back to Cairns! Went to Bali, where to next? You guessed it, I went back to Cairns. I really miss Cairns if I might say so.
Where is Cairns?
Now first of all, where even is Cairns. If you ever looked at Australia on a map then you know that Australia is freaking huge, like massive! It can take you hours and hours to get from one place to the next, so do not assume that you can easily hop over to Cairns from Melbourne or Sydney.
Cairns is located in the state of Queensland, the sunshine state and second largest state in Australia. Cairns is all the way up in the far North of the state and the country. With a population of around 150.000 people, Cairns is the 14th largest city in Australia. In driving hours, Cairns is around 21 hours away from Brisbane which is located in the bottom part of Queensland. Sydney and Cairns are even 32 hours of driving apart from each other. Like I said, Australia is huge!
Where to stay in Cairns?
Since this is a backpacker guide to Cairns and not a luxury travel guide, it means traveling on a budget. And traveling on a budget definitely means staying in Hostels but there are a lot of Hotels around as well. Anyway, Australia is expensive so you can save a bunch of money by staying in Hostels. Here are my favourites:
Gilligan’s Backpacker Hotel & Resort Cairns
I believe that is how it is called right now. I don’t know why it says Hotel even though it is a Hostel, but it’s an awesome place and has also been named as one of the best party hostels in the world, according to several websites that I read online. This hostel is massive, with a nightclub on site. The dorms are huge, with balconies and kitchens on each floor. There is a pool, too and it’s a great place to relax. However, it is a party hostel and if you rather want to sleep early, then this is not the place. It can get really loud every night, you have been warned.
This was my favourite place when I was in Cairns. I did like Gilligan’s but later moved to Global’s. Mostly because most people I knew were staying there but also because I liked the hostel vibe more at this hostel. The hostel is also huge with a lot of people and rooms and a balcony area outside where it is really easy to meet people. The hostel is located right in the city, but then again Cairns is so small, nothing is really out-of-the-way here.
What I loved about the hostel though is that it was a lot more social than Gilligan’s and there was a party vibe but since there was no club or bar, it was still quiet at night after everyone went out. You could also bring your own alcohol so there was a lot of Goon involved when staying here. I miss that place.
Mad Monkey’s Cairns
Now I didn’t actually stay here, I don’t even know if they already existed when I was in Cairns. However, the reviews sound great and you probably heard of Mad Monkey’s before, especially if you have been traveling through South-East-Asia. I’ve stayed at a Mad Monkey Hostel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and I really liked my stay there. So if you want to stick with a well-known Hostel chain, then maybe this is the place for you in Cairns.
Where to eat in Cairns?
P.J. O’Brien’s: This is the Irish Pub where you will also find great food deals. I hope this is still the case, when I was there, they always handed out coupons at hostels for cheaper meal deals that included a drink and that we probably made use of every single day.
Pie Face: Believe it or not but I never had pie before coming to Cairns, which is where I discovered Pie Face. Who needs McDonald’s or Domino’s when you could live off stacked chicken curry pies.
Esplanade: There are a bunch of small restaurant along the Esplanade. Most of them will probably be out of your backpacker budget but then again that’s the case for most things in Australia.
Where to go on a night out?
Yes, this is the same place as the hostel. Like I said there is a huge club downstairs and you do not have to be actually staying at the hostel to enter the club. They offer themed parties, ladies nights and often if you come early enough there will be less or no entry fee.
You can not only eat there but also party at the Irish pub, with awesome drink specials and loads of ladies’ nights a week. They also have live music some times or beer pong contests or whatever else you need on a night out. Would recommend starting the night at PJ’s and then heading to the Woolshed a little later, which is the next one on this list.
The best place in Cairns on a night out and there is a great party every night. It’s basically just across the street from P.J.’s. If you keep an eye out for people handing out wrist bands for free and enter before midnight you can usually get in for free.
There is a fun pub crawl in Cairns called “PartyinCairns” which you should join at least once while being in Cairns. This pub crawl runs 3-4 nights a week and will take you to several locations across Cairns for an awesome night out. If you are looking for tickets just walk along the main street and one of the people working for the pub crawl will probably approach you anyway.
Best Things to do in Cairns
There are a lot of great things to do in and around Cairns. From taking a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef to discovering the best waterfalls near Cairns.
Skydiving in Cairns
Now this was my favourite thing I did in Cairns. I only did it once because it was freaking expensive and it wasn’t even in Cairns exactly. But who cares, I jumped out of a plane! The company I went with was called Tandem Cairns but it was actually in Innisfail which is about an hour south of Cairns. And it’s also a famous place for people to do their farm work. So if you ever wanted to jump out of a plane then this is the time.
Great Barrier Reef
You can’t go to Cairns and miss out on the largest coral reef in the world, can you? At the various travel agencies in town you can book trips to the reef and either snorkel or dive around the reef. Or both. I did my first ever scuba introduction dive at the Great Barrier Reef and actually I thought it was terrifying at first but then four months later I decided to get my Open Water Certificate. But if you don’t want to try out scuba diving you can also see a bunch of cool fish and corals while snorkelling.
Now I haven’t done that because I was broke and scared. But loads of people did bungee jumping close to Cairns and their videos looked amazing. So if you are brave enough, then bungee jumping might be your thing.
Book a tour to the Daintree Rainforest at one of the numerous travel agencies in Cairns. Walk around the rain forest, go on a crocodile safari and get some awesome travel pictures.
Trip to Port Douglas
Port Douglas is a town that is around 70 km North of Cairns and there are also a lot of things to do and see in Port Douglas. So it’s a great place for a day trip. It is also right next to the rainforest and close to the Great Barrier reef as well.
Relax at the Esplanade
The Esplanade is right next to the ocean, with a lagoon you can swim in, outdoor gyms and a couple of free BBQ places. Have a BBQ with all your new friends, swim for a little in the pool and work on your tan. (You can’t actually go into the ocean in Cairns because of crocodiles and jellyfish, so there is no actual beach).
Cairns Central Shopping Centre
There is a cool shopping centre in Cairns with all the stores you need: Coles, CottonOn, Factorie, Supré, Foot Locker, Hungry Jack’s, JB Hi-fi, Kmart, Priceline Pharmacy, Typo etc.
There are several market in Cairns, such as Rusty’s Market next to Gilligan’s where you can buy all sorts of fruits and vegetables for a lot cheaper than at the supermarket. Also there is a night market every night which sells cool souvenirs and a market at the esplanade every Saturday.
Why is Cairns my favourite place?
A lot cheaper than other places in Australia
I think that was the main reason why I started staying in Cairns in first place because Sydney was getting crazy expensive. Accommodation prices in Cairns are a lot cheaper than they are in Sydney or Melbourne. Just in general I was able to spend a lot less money in the North of Australia than in the bigger cities. Also because everything is so close by in Cairns you also save money on transportation costs.
Easy to meet people
I don’t know Cairns just really has such a relaxed vibe going on. Every time you go outside you seem to run into people who you have met at the hostel or during your travels. People eat at the same places, party at the same places or shop at the same places, it’s pretty cool.
Everything is close by
You can pretty much reach every part of the city in a couple of minutes by foot. I’ve never actually taken a bus or cab when I was in Cairns. It’s nice to not worry about bus schedules or distance for once. In a few minutes you are at the esplanade, the mall, the club, every hostel etc.
The weather is nice all year around
It’s always nice and warm and I am a huge fan of tropical climate. Then there is rain season but I was there during rain season it didn’t really bother me at all. It’s also less crowded during rain season and it is not like it rains all day but rather a lot in a short period of time and then it is nice again.
And that was my backpacker guide to Cairns, Australia. Have you been? Are you planning on going at some point?
Talk to you soon x
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