To us, Cairns is the gateway to some of Australia’s most wild and incredible experiences. In this guide we’ll cover Cairns itself, as well as some of the surrounding areas which are full of bucket list experiences.
From Cairns you can see the Great Barrier Reef, the oldest rainforest in the world, endangered animals unique to this area and tropical beaches that are crowd free and stretch for miles. We highly recommend starting in Cairns, but staying in some areas such as the Atherton Tablelands, Daintree and Mosman to make the most of your itinerary and trip to the Tropical North of Queensland.
Some of these hotels are so incredible that the stay in itself is an experience. We paid full price for all the hotels we mention that we have stayed in, others that we’ve added to give options in different price brackets have been done so after lots of research and review reading!
Where to stay in Cairns - In the city
Whilst Cairns is the entry for most people visiting the region, it is a relatively mundane town. The primary reason you stay in the town itself is to visit nearby islands like Fitzroy, the Crystal Cascades and to take the cheapest trips to the Great Barrier Reef - which are all great things to do.
The benefit of staying in Cairns though is that it has some really good hotel options at reasonable (for Australia) prices in all price brackets. If you’re travelling on a budget, then Cairns and Cape Tribulation (which we’ll cover later) are your best options.
Our Pick - Jack & Newells Apartment
This was the place we picked on our first visit to Cairns and it is superb for many reasons. It is within walking distance of the centre, meaning you can eat out, hop on a ferry to Fitzroy Island or get to the Esplanade within minutes.
The rooms here are stylish and you’ll have a balcony, full kitchen and living room - perfect if you don’t fancy eating out all the time (and Cairns is most definitely not a culinary destination!). We visited with family and it was great to be able to hire an apartment with two bedrooms, meaning we could be together all the time.
A great choice for a group or anyone who wants to be able to make their own food.
Resorts & luxury hotels in Cairns
Cairns: Shangri-La Marina
You can’t go wrong with a Shangri-La and this one has those little luxurious touches with a central location and epic sea views. From this hotel you can walk to anywhere you want - the Esplanade, the marina and the main dining areas in the city.
Add to this stylish, modern rooms and Shangri-La hospitality and you’re onto a winner.
Cheap Accommodation Cairns
You don’t get much better value in town than the Cairns Plaza. This is where we stayed on our second visit to the city when we were just looking for a clean and comfortable place to crash. It is really central and has simple, but modern rooms that are immaculately clean, large and comfortable. Some of the rooms have views out to sea.
Cairns City Palms
Another great value hotel, the Cairns City Palms is only a short walk away from everywhere in the city. Whilst the outside may look like a motel, the interiors have been styled like a modern hotel. The rooms look large and have everything you need, except maybe a tropical view.
However, if you want to save money, but get a little comfort, the Cairns City Palms is a good choice.
Hostels in Cairns
We’re not sure if we’ve ever seen a hostel that gets the rave reviews that Travellers Oasis has! This place looks perfect if you’re on a budget but actually want some peace & quiet (aka a rare non-party hostel!). As well as having really nice rooms and dorms, the staff here are said to be fantastic. Add in a central location, a pool & hammocks and you have our kind of hostel.
You can’t go wrong with Bounce Hostels, this is the same brand that we stayed in when we first arrived in Sydney and it was fab. The one in Cairns has a great location, clean dorms & rooms and the opportunity to meet other backpackers making this place a great choice.
Resorts near Cairns: Palm Cove
Palm Cove is 30 minutes north of Cairns and has a more resort/luxury feel to it. It has more luxury options than the centre of Cairns as well as nicer beaches, space and some superb photography spots. If you don’t have to be in the centre of Cairns, we’d recommend picking a place like Palm Cove to stay instead.
Palm Cove: The Reef House - MGallery by Sofitel
M Gallery bring 5 star luxury with boutique style and the the Reef House in Palm Cove is no exception. This Reef House is just beautiful and has hints of that jungle, tropical coast vibe that is iconic to this part of Queensland, with stunning decor, furnishings and peace and quiet.
The rooms are amazing and the sort where you’ll struggle to drag yourself away and explore!
Palm Cove: Alamanda by Lancemore
If you’re looking for luxury on the beach, then the Alamanda is the place for you. This is the only place in Palm Cove with unrestricted access to the beautiful, tropical beach, meaning you’re only ever steps away from the sea.
The whole resort is beautiful and whilst the rooms don’t look quite as stylish as the M Gallery, the Alamanda still looks like the perfect place to relax and listen to the sound of the waves.
Where to stay in the Atherton Tablelands
The Atherton Tablelands are home to some of Australia’s best waterfalls and a break from the humidity down in Cairns. Up here you can also visit a tea plantation with its own family of Tree Kangaroos (yep, they are exactly as they sound and incredibly rare).
Atherton Tablelands is somewhere we can’t wait to get back to one day.
The icing on the cake and somewhere we never stop talking about is the Canopy Treehouses. We rarely say that a hotel is a reason to go anywhere, but this place is truly special and a destination in itself.
Bucket list - Canopy Treehouses
If you want a truly unique experience, then book yourself into Canopy Treehouses and wait for some of the most up close and incredible experiences with endangered wildlife you’ll probably get anywhere in the world.
Set in a very small patch of rainforest (the early pioneers cleared most of the original forest for agriculture), this hotel has wild tree kangaroos, pademelons, cassowaries, platypus, parrots and birds of paradise, all of which you can see from your balcony.
We had to pinch ourselves when Cassowaries (a highly endangered Emu like bird) walked under our balcony to check us out. Beautiful and colourful birds will land at the feeder by your room and you can spend hours just taking in this incredible area.
The cabins here are also beautiful with a jacuzzi bath, full kitchen and wood fire to keep you warm if the temperature drops. Of course being treehouses they come with epic canopy views. My parents visited with us and they also too talk about when they can come back and that’s flying all the way from the UK!
We have so many stories of our stay at Canopy Treehouses, but my favourite is about my Dad who is a wildlife enthusiast. In the hope of seeing a platypus, he got up before sunrise and began walking down to the creek. Within a minute, Rex - the local pademelon and quite a character - started hopping alongside him as though they were going for a walk. Rex had an illness so was taken in by the property to administer medicine.
Pademelons are a species of kangaroo and often shy, but Rex was happy to follow my Dad to the creek, wait with him to see the platypus and hop all the way back. He was so desperate to stay with my Dad that Rex clung onto his leg when he tried to go back into his room!
I can honestly say, we’ve never stayed anywhere quite like it.
Where to stay in Mosman
Mosman is home to the famous Mosman Gorge, a beautiful river which you can swim in without the fear of crocs, a real treat in Tropical North Queensland! It is one of the most beautiful spots in Australia and is also much less humid than Cairns.
5 star luxury - Silky Oaks Lodge
Silky Oaks is one of the Luxury Lodges of Australia and a place that is worth splurging on. We’d ummed and ahhed over the cost but as soon as we arrived we knew we’d made the right choice.
Set within a beautiful rainforest, it is a true forest oasis as well as being just down the road from Mosman Gorge. The restaurant also has truly special views as well as amazing food.
The rooms here are stunning and each are separate cabins so they feel very private. With luxurious interiors and beautiful balconies complete with obligatory hammock looking out to the jungle.
It also has one of the best spas we’ve ever been to as all treatments are done to the sounds of the rainforest. Bliss!
If you love hiking there are also a couple of onsite trails, one of which leads to an amazing set of cascades which we had all to ourselves!
Silky Oaks is one of those places which is difficult to leave and you definitely won’t regret you stay.
Where to stay in Daintree
The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest in the world and simply getting there feels like an adventure. You’ll take a car ferry over a crocodile infested river and as soon as you arrive you’ll be surrounded by dense jungle with only a few roads going through it.
It is also the only place in the world where two natural Unesco World Heritage sites meet: the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.
Daintree is home to the aptly named Cape Tribulation where Captain Cook got into some trouble, running aground in the reef. Nowadays the place still feels wild with a beautiful beach fringed by jungle. This isn’t a place to swim though, the crocs will get you….
Top-End: Daintree Eco-Lodge
Sustainable luxury in the heart of the oldest rainforest in the world? Yes please! This hotel is full of character and blends seamlessly into this stunning rainforest. It’s the perfect place to unwind to the sounds of the rainforest and is the first place we’ll book when we head back to the Daintree.
Mid-range: Daintree Peaks ECO Stays
With a score of 9.5 on Booking.com, this place gets rave reviews for its setting, eco-friendly policies and ambience.
Set on a huge plot of land in the heart of the rainforest, Daintree Peaks offers peace and quiet in the heart of this incredible UNESCO World Heritage site. As the name suggests, this is an eco-resort and reliant primarily on solar power, meaning you aren’t damaging the environment with your stay, whilst not compromising on comfort and style.
Budget: Thornton Beach Bungalows
If you’re looking for a very affordable place to stay near the Daintree this could be right up your street. We stayed here before heading up to Cape Tribulation and the location is gorgeous, just a minutes walk from the beach (no swimming - crocs!). The bungalows are small and basic but clean and comfy for a very low cost. From memory our phones didn’t work here so consider it fairly off the grid!
Where to stay Port Douglas
If you want to see the Great Barrier Reef in a classier town than Cairns, then head up to Port Douglas. Here you’ll leave the city behind and enjoy the kind of towns unique to the Aussie coast - cafes, shops and restaurants without the traffic and a laid back vibe.
Port Douglas has a few different options for visiting the reef and you can also base yourself here for trips to Mosman and Daintree as they aren’t too far away. We also found the food was better than in Cairns too.
Where to stay in Port Douglas
Our pick: Coconut Grove Apartments
The Coconut Grove Apartments combine stunning luxury, and the ability to cater for yourself with some pretty beautiful views. You are only a few minutes walk from the famous Four Mile Beach, making it a great location as well. Add in a fully kitted out apartment and outdoor terrace and you have a real gem.
Luxury: Pullman Port Douglas Sea Temple
Every Pullman Hotel we’ve ever stayed in has delivered luxury and comfort at a decent price and the Sea Temple in Port Douglas looks no different. As well as having beautiful, comfortable rooms, you’ll be on Four Mile Beach, meaning you won’t have to go far for those beautiful tropical sunrises.
Budget: Lazy Lizard Motor Inn
Lazy Lizard offers simple but modern rooms that look huge! If you love your space and are on a budget, then this is the place to go. Add in the low-price, a pool and good location and you have a great option if you want to stay in Port Douglas but don’t want to break the bank.
Hostel: Port Douglas backpackers
Port Douglas Backpackers goes the extra mile for a hostel with some really nice touches (such as a free bike hire and a poolside cinema) and useful services such as free pick-up from Cairns with a booking of three nights or more. We’re yet to decide if lending out a free guitar in a hostel is a good thing or a bad thing yet though!
You don’t have to stay in dorms here either as you can book private rooms for a decent rate. The place is clean and close to Four Mile Beach, putting you in the centre of the action.
Where to stay in Mission Beach
Mission Beach is a few hours south of Cairns and has a huge, beautiful beach that is fringed by palm trees and looks out to the islands of the Great Barrier Reef nearby. Sunrise here is magical and you’ll never have to worry about space at any time of day - this place is huge and rarely busy.
You can also spot wild cassowaries on the beaches or forests around the area (it’s called the Cassowary Coast for a reason) or simply unwind next to the sounds of the waves.
Top Pick - Castaways Resort & Spa
Looking straight out to Mission Beach, you can’t beat the views from Castaways. You can choose from either the beachside or the rainforest for your room, which isn’t luxury, but is still clean, comfortable and a nice space. It’s in front of this hotel that you’ll find those highly photogenic palm trees which are famous on Instagram.
Mid-range - Mission Beach Reef Resort
If you fancy saving a bit of money, but not cutting back on the comfort, then the Mission Beach Reef Resort looks a great choice. You’ll compromise on the location (yes, it’s a 5 minute walk to the beach rather than 30 seconds), but the rooms are as good as any in town and without the hefty price tag.
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Are you planning a trip to Cairns? What is the best hotel you’ve ever stayed in? Let us know in the comments below!