Free things to do in Cairns
You don’t need to spend a thing to enjoy these fantastic places and free things to do in Cairns.
Plus they are all FREE and walking or public bus distance from Cairns city, no car required!
Make sure you also check out our Places to visit in Cairns page, for some stunning locations around Cairns to visit!
Walking and Fitness
Active Living Classes
Free classes are held daily at various locations along the waterfront.
Some of the classes include Body Strong Balance, Beach Volleyball, Zumba, Pilates, Boxing Fun, Yoga and Aqua Aerobics. There is also a weekly 5km fun run.
Don’t be shy about exercising in public, it’s not scary, just normal people having fun while keeping fit!
See a weekly timetable and locations.
Cycling and Mountain Biking
Cycling is a popular pastime in Cairns. You can hire skateboards and bikes from a lot of places around the town.
The Esplanade is such a beautiful and relaxing ride, it is a flat 2.5km ride along the coral sea, past public gym equipment, volleyball courts, skate park and manicured gardens If you have kids they will love to stop at Muddies Playground along the way.
Cairns has plenty of bike tracks and designated trails around the city. You can download a printable map.
About 20 minutes drive north of the city at Smithfield we have world class mountain bike tracks, great for beginners and experienced.
This elevated boardwalk gives you a rare access deep into the unusual and slightly eerie habitat of the mangroves.
There are two short walks to choose from and if you are not familiar with mangroves, it was be like nothing you have seen before (but be sure to take mosquito spray!)
It is located on the road to the airport, a 5km walk from Cairns north along the waterfront so if you’re not up for a walk, you can catch the bus from the Cairns Transit Centre in Lake Street. Buses 110, 111, 113, 120 all take you past the airport, just let the driver know you want to get off at Airport Drive. You will be on Sheridan Street but must turn right into Airport drive and walk about 500 meters towards the airport.
If you are feeling energetic consider combining this with a trip to the Botanic Gardens, it is a 2.2km walk from there. More information about Mangrove Boardwalk.
Red Arrow and Blue Arrow walking tracks
These walking tracks climb up Mt Whitfield so a bit of fitness is required and both contain steep steps.
The Red Arrow is a 1.5km circuit that takes you to a lookout overlooking the ocean. From here you can continue onto the Blue Arrow, which is a 6.6km circuit. A
llow four to five hours for the Blue arrow, make sure you take water and complete it before dark.
The entrance to the walking tracks is near the Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre. Same bus as for Cairns Botanic Gardens.
More information about Mount Whitfield.
Taking a jog, ride or take a stroll along along the waterfront boardwalk is a must-do!
It will take you along the coral sea, past public gym equipment, volleyball courts, skate park and manicured gardens.
If you have kids they will love to stop at Muddies Playground, the Pirate Ship Playground and the small rock-climbing wall along the way.
The walk stretches 2.5km north starting from the lagoon.
Esplanade Skate Park
Located on the Esplanade next to the volleyball courts.
Grab some friends and play on the sand courts overlooking the ocean. It is an approximately a 25 minute walk north along the Waterfront boardwalk from the lagoon. Free classes are held every Monday at 5.30pm.
Art and Culture
There are two galleries within walking distance to each other – the Cairns Regional Art Gallery (gold coin donation) is located on the corner of Abbott and Shields Street & features 3 levels of exhibitions from both local and International artists.
Kicks Contemporary Arts Center (free entry) is located at the Center for Contemporary Arts at 96 Abbott Street, it has a small gallery and various rooms for performances.
The Tank Arts Center is located next to the Botanic Gardens. The 3 tanks were used to store oil in world war 2 before being converted into art and performance spaces. One tank is used as an art gallery while the other 2 are used for concerts, workshops and events, some free. Markets are also regularly held there, a monthly calendar of events can be downloaded from the website.
If you are interested in Aboriginal Artwork, there are dedicated galleries in Cairns which sell genuine Aboriginal Art and supports local artists including – Doongal Aboriginal Art, 49 The Esplanade (near crn Spence) and Umi Arts, 335 Sheridan North Cairns
Bird watching Cairns
There are a wide range of bird watching locations in the Cairns area.
Those which are close by include Centenary Lakes at the Botanic Gardens, the Mangrove boardwalk at the airport, and the mangroves at the Northern end of the Esplanade (just past the pirate ship playground).
If you have your own transportation some other excellent spots are Cattana Wetlands and Mareeba Wetlands on the Tablelands (closed December – March, entry $8 per adult)
Cairns Botanic Gardens
Not to be missed!
Explore the beautiful Flecker formal gardens and marvel at the beautiful tropical plants and flowers.
Visit the Gondwanan heritage garden and learn about the evolution of plants.
Make sure you cross the road to the rainforest boardwalk which will also take you through swamp lands and the bamboo collection.
Beyond the boardwalk is a walking circuit around two beautiful freshwater and saltwater lakes called Centenary Lakes. It is a peaceful and relaxing spot, great for spotting birds and wildlife.
A person favourite of mine is the lily pond which features giant lily pads (up to 1 meter wide!) with beautiful pink and white flowers. No frog princes though (I’ve looked).
Two cafes located at the gardens serve breakfast, lunch and snacks, my personal favorite is the one inside the gardens, you are surrounded by lush vegetation.
Free daily guided tour of the gardens at 10am, meet at the Friends of Flecker gardens house.
It is only a 10 minute bus ride away, catch a bus from the terminal in Lake Street in the city.
City Self-guided Heritage Walks
Downloadable brochures so you can take a self-guided walks around the city.
Perfect for a relaxing stroll and a great way to explore the city.
The Cairns Heritage Walk is perfect for lovers of architecture and history.
The Cairns Esplanade Heritage Walk points out monorails you will find along the esplanade.
Beach & Lagoon
You’ll think you’re in paradise as you float around the lagoon overlooking the ocean. With varying depths it is suitable for children and adults and always has lifeguards on duty.
It has a large grassy area next to it, great for BBQs, picnics and sunbaking. It also has free WiFi.
Palm Cove and the Northern Beaches
Palm Cove is a lovely resort town, the largest of the Northern Beaches, with restaurants and cafes along the beach.
To get to the Northern Beaches, you will need to catch a public bus north.
The Sunbus’ leave from the Cairns Transit Mall in Lake Street in the city.
Other northern beaches include Machans, Kewarra and Clifton beach but these are mostly residential beaches.
Please note public transport will not take you to Port Douglas, the furthest north they will take you is Palm Cove.
Lifeguards are on duty at Palm Cove every day so bring your towel but remember to swim between the flags and within the nets in the stinger season (October to April).
There is good fishing off the jetty.
Getting there: bus route 110 and 111.
Mostly residential with a few cafes and restaurants including one located right on the beach. Lifeguards patrol this beach September-May. Getting there: bus route 120.
A sheltered beach with cafes and restaurants along the waterfront. Check out the tavern for great views. Lifeguards patrol the beach every day. Getting there: bus route 110 and 111.
A local beach close to Cairns city. Mostly residential but does have some nice eateries including the Yorkeys Knob Boat Club. A very nice swimming beach, lifeguards patrol September – May. Getting there: bus route 112 and 113.
Cairns is one of the best places in the world for fishing. Its tropical waters provide all sorts of fishing from Freshwater Barramundi to Catching 1000 pound Marlin in the Ocean off the Great Barrier Reef.
But you don’t need to go to the reef to catch fish, Cairns has some great land-based spots from which you can walk to and fish from. (Beware: Crocodiles do live in freshwater and saltwater, in particular estuaries, so take be careful and take heed of warning signs).
In the city, along the inlet in between the Reef Fleet Terminal and Cruise Liner Termina,l is a wharf dedicated to fishing. You can catch Cod and Bream and the occasional Barramundi or Trevally (prawn bait is good).
Other places to fish include the jetty at Palm Cove (approx 20kms north of Cairns), Barron River and Lake Tinaroo on the Atherton Tablelands, home to world record Barramundi.
Food and produce
Enjoy free use of the barbecues dotted all the way along the waterfront, including at the kids playgrounds.
Just a tip, there are multiple hotplates at each BBQ station, so jump right in, start cooking and make new friends while you’re at it!
Rusty’s Farmers Market
Open Friday and Saturday, 5am – 6pm and Sunday 5am – 3pm and located at 57 Grafton Street in the city. Selling a range of vegetables and tropical fruits all year round.
The summer fruits include rambutans, dragon fruits, lychees and mangoes while fruits like papaya, bananas and coconuts are available all year round.
Every Saturday 8am – 5pm near the Lagoon. Local art and craft, great for buying souvenirs. For a list of markets around Cairns, see our Top 10 things to do in Cairns on a rainy day page
The night markets are every night from 4pm, on the Esplanade opposite the Lagoon.
They are indoor so they operate every night of the week. A good place for souvenirs and cheap Chinese food and massage.
Try the crepes filled with fruit and cream and served like an ice-cream on the Lake street side of the markets, they are a local favourite!
For the kids
Pirate Ship Playground
A small playground located on the northern end of the Esplanade with free BBQa. See free BBQs in Cairns.
Kids love it! It’s a large adventure playground surrounded by tropical plants and overlooking the ocean. There’s a range of activities for kids of all ages including flying foxes, water activities and playhouses and a café for the parents.
The Treehouse playground
I bet you’ve never seen one of these before! The playground wraps around a giant fig tree.
To get there you need to keep following the Esplanade boardwalk south around the Marina. It is next to the water just before the cruise liner terminal.
Now you’ve read about free things to do in Cairns, it’s time to see what’s around the region. Visit our Places To Visit around Cairns page.
Make sure you check out Cairns Top 20 Tours – we have hand picked the best tours in Cairns, so you can rest assured they are quality tours!