Cairns is one of the most popular places in Australia for both backpacker and natives alike. Few other Australian destinations can compete with the sheer amount of adventure that Cairns offers!
Sandwiched between the idyllic Atherton Tablelands, rugged Daintree, and otherworldly Great Barrier Reef, there’s something to do in every direction.
Go waterfall hunting in Atherton; hunt for the exotic cassowary in the Daintree; go skydiving over the Great Barrier Reef! All of this and much more is possible if you go backpacking in Cairns.
As an Australian city, Cairns isn’t a cheap destination. If you go out every night, spend money on tours without checking prices/shopping around, and eat out every day, you’ll run through your budget faster than you can say kangaroo.
If you’re going to be backpacking around Cairns, you’re going to have to be a smart broke backpacker, equipped with the right sort of tools…
But never fear: Cairns can be affordable! We have written this budget travel guide for Cairns, so that you can save a buck or two.
In addition to itineraries, nightlife suggestions, transportation advice, and more, everything you need to know about traveling in Cairns is covered in this guide; read on, and you’ll be more than prepared to go backpacking in Cairns affordably.
Heading Off-Grid? • Download This Guide as a PDF!
Sign up to The Broke Backpacker’s EXCLUSIVE VIP AREA below and download our top backpacking guides as PDFs – go offline with peace of mind!
If there’s one thing that Queensland, Australia has going for it, it’s that it is affordable! No more $10 beers and ridiculously overpriced hostel beds. Cairns can be very cheap, perhaps the cheapest place you can visit while backpacking Australia!
The average daily budget for Cairns will be about $45-$60 per day. This will get you a dorm bed, grocery money, a bit of wine, and extra spending money for activities. With the right spending habits, the cost of travel in Cairns can be even less, though you’ll have to be a dedicated Broke Backpacker to do this.
Accommodation is notably inexpensive in Cairns; even apartments and AirBnBs will be affordable for shoestring backpackers. Food prices are manageable, so long as you cook at home much more frequently than eat at restaurants. The cheapest accommodation options are (and will always be) Cairns hostels. They’re affordable but still offer quite a lot of bang for your buck.
Since there are so many travelers in Cairns, there are many, many backpacker bars that offer special deals. As such, Cairns will be one of the cheapest places to party in Australia!
The greatest expenses in Cairns will be the organized activities e.g. the Great Barrier Reef and skydiving. Pick and choose which activities you must do. To save money, shop around and find the best deal. Some companies, specifically those that go to the Reef, offer discounted rates at the last second to fill up surplus seats.
Below is a breakdown of the average costs of travel in Cairns.
Cairns Daily Budget Breakdown
Hostel Dormitory: $15-$20
Basic room for two: $100
AirBnB/temp apartment: $80
Average cost of public transport: $3
City-Airport transfer: $15-$30
Beer at a bar: $5-$8
Bottle of wine from the market: $2-$8
Dinner for two: $35-$45
Cairns Budget Backpacking Tips
There are plenty of ways to save cash while traveling! With the proper spending habits, Cairns can be cheap; just follow the tips in this travel guide!
Below is a list of tips for backpacking in Cairns on a budget. Follow these words of advice and you’ll find that your dollar goes much further.
- Always pre-fade before going out: Buying full-priced drinks at the bar is a great way to waste your money. Instead, buy booze at the store and drink with your friends at the hostel/their house/the park/anywhere besides the actual bar. Drink lots of store-bought wine; it’s freakin’ cheaper than water sometimes!
- Cook at home as often as possible: One of the most proven ways to save money; buying your own groceries and cooking at home will save you heaps of cash.
- Eat/drink during happy hour: Many bars and cafes offer drink and meal specials during the quieter hours of the day (4pm-6pm). Some of these deals can be quite affordable; even the locals use them!
- Get a job: Whether or not you have a working holiday visa there are plenty of opportunities to find backpack jobs in Cairns. Many hostels will give you a free bed in exchange for a few hours of labor.
- Do free shit: There are a ton of attractions in Cairns that don’t charge you any sort of entrance fee! None of these are dull or boring either. Check out any of these free things to do in Cairns while visiting.
Why You Should Travel to Cairns with a Water Bottle
Plastic washes up on even the most pristine beaches… so do your part and keep the Big Blue beautiful
You aren’t going to save the world overnight, but you might as well be part of the solution and not the problem. When you travel to some of the world’s most remote places, you come to realise the full extent of the plastic problem. And I hope you become more inspired to continue being a responsible traveller.
Plus, now you won’t be buying overpriced bottles of water from the supermarkets either! Travel with a filtered water bottle instead and never waste a cent nor a turtle’s life again.
Drink water from ANYWHERE. The Grayl Geopress is the worlds leading filtered water bottle protecting you from all manner of waterborne nasties.
Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle. Save money and the environment!
We’ve tested the Geopress rigorously from the icy heights of Pakistan to the tropical jungles of Bali, and can confirm: it’s the best water bottle you’ll ever buy!View on REI Read the Review
This town is practically run by backpackers looking to stay near the Great Barrier Reef and there are heaps of hostels in Cairns! In the alleys, on top of the bars, between the cafes, everywhere you look there is a backpacker lodge.
The hostels in Cairns can be dirt cheap but they can also be very mangy, practically third world at times. Be aware of how much you are willing to pay for and what you’re getting yourself into. Depending on where you’re staying in Cairns, the prices of accommodations can vary slightly too
Many hostels offer discounts to long-term inhabitants. These deals usually cater backpackers with a working holiday visa. Staying at a hostel for a long period of time could be an awesome experience as everyone really gets to know each other, and the camaraderie is really fantastic.
Other working holidayers opt to stay in an apartment. Since Cairns is so much cheaper than most Australian cities, many backpackers can actually afford their own room or even a flat with their paycheck.
Check the local classifieds, like Gumtree, or check your hostel’s bulletin board – many backpackers start in a hostel and end up moving into their own place.
To save the most money, you can, of course, reach out to potential hosts via couchsurfing. Australians are an extremely hospitable bunch and love to host unsuspecting visitors. Be sure to follow all the usual courtesies and rules of staying with a stranger though.
Overall Best Hostel in Cairns – Traveller’s Oasis
This hostel was voted the best hostel in Australia in 2018 by Hostelwrold! This backpacker hostel in Cairns seemingly has it all: a swimming pool, spotless facilities, a great kitchen, and excellent staff.
There’s really not much to say about this place except that it’s amazing and we wouldn’t want it any other way. Did we mention you can park your car or camper here for free as well?!
Best Hostel for Solo Travellers in Cairns – Globetrotters International
Globetrotters is the best hostel in Cairns for backpackers to meet other backpackers, thanks to the hostel’s friendly setting and well-organized social events.
The lodge hosts two communal BBQs each week, which is a godsend for solo backpackers looking to meet other travelers. Nothing creates lasting friendships like fire and sizzling meats. The rest of the hostel is well kept, and there’s little here that should irk travelers.
Globetrotters International is one of our favourites in Cairns but they’re not taking guests right now. We’re not sure if they’re closed for good but we hope they’ll come back soon.
Best Party Hostel in Cairns – Calypso Inn
The Calypso is the best party hostel in Cairns for one reason: the Zanzibar. This onsite shitshow pumps out tunes and goodtimes like clockwork, and consistently puts backpackers into their early graves, in a good way of course.
The parties here can be wild and for those looking for a party will find the Calypso Inn is irresistible. There’s a swimming pool and pool table as well that make for great hangover kick it spots.
Calypso Inn is one of our favourites in Cairns but they’re not taking guests right now. We’re not sure if they’re closed for good but we hope they’ll come back soon.
1. Dive at the Great Barrier Reef
One of the greatest sights in the entire world; the Great Barrier Reef is must-do while backpacking in Cairns! You can take an outer Great Barrier Reef day tour with qualified PADI professionals to give you an introduction to scuba diving and snorkelling. More experienced divers are also welcomed and allowed to go further and deeper into the reef. A fully licensed bar and buffet-style lunch awaits both experienced and inexperienced divers onboard too!
2. Chase waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands
Queensland’s own Arcadia! Go looking for paradisiacal waterfalls and then chill at local winery afterwards.
3. Go skydiving
Cairns has some of the cheapest skydiving rates in Australia! For the curious, this is no better time to try out this thrilling activity. Plus, you’ll get unbeatable views of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest with one of Australia’s most well-known skydive centres.
4. Have a wild night at the bars in Cairns
The nightlife in Cairns can get pretty crazy sometimes. Join the thirsty travelers and set aside a night for debauchery!
5. Visit the Daintree Rainforest
The oldest rainforest in the world deserves your attention. Go for a walk in the woods and look out for local wildlife.
6. Roadtrip to Cape Tribulation
After you’ve seen the Daintree, keep heading north to see some of the best beaches in Australia!
7. Go bungee jumping in the jungle
Bungee jumping is another relatively affordable activity in Cairns that is very popular with backpackers. The drops are some of the most impressive in Australia as well.
8. Catch the Kuranda Express
Ride the train for a relaxing afternoon and a chance to stare at impressive landscapes and engineering.
9. Chill at the Esplanade and grill
If you’re feeling crook from the night out before, just lounge by the artificial lagoon by the esplanade. There are plenty of grills around for a communal BBQ as well.
10. Explore Fitzroy Island
Fitzroy is a gem of an island not to far away from Cairns. Catch the ferry and wandering around here!
Looking for a little inspiration? Well here’s a sample itinerary for spending 4 days in Cairns! Give it a look and use it for yourself if you like.
Day 1 in Cairns: The Town
Day 1 in Cairns is a pretty easy day – just go for a walk about and relax wherever you see fit. If you’re feeling hungry, check out one of the many respectable restaurants around town. Thirsty maybe? There are plenty of watering holes to wet your whistle.
There are only a couple of attractions worthy of visiting in Cairns proper. The Esplanade Markets are nice both day and night. North you’ll find the City Botanic Gardens and Mt Whitfield, which are both lovely. Even farther north are Cairn’s only proper beaches at Palm Cove, Clifton, Holloways, Trinity, and Kewara.
One of my favorite things to do in Cairns is walk to the artificial Lagoon and kick back. Lots of people hang out here and the energy is awesome. Get a BBQ going and shoot the shit with whoever you meet.
This is also a good day to go on a tour that is not already mentioned in the following itineraries. Some activities might include skydiving, bungee jumping, a tour to Fitzroy Island, and the Kuranda Express.
Day 2 in Cairns: The Tablelands
Fun fact: Herbal Essence shot several commercials at the Atherton Tablelands. Why you might ask? Because it’s a paradise on Earth! With dozens of waterfalls, lush forests, and picturesque mountains, the Atherton Tablelands is one of the best places to visit in Cairns’ region.
Many tour companies offer organized day trips to the Atherton Tablelands, though the best way to experience this region is with a private car. There is a lot to see and do, and you’ll really appreciate the freedom of exploration that comes with your own vehicle!
The waterfalls are Atherton Tablelands’ biggest draw. These are among the most beautiful natural attractions in not only Cairns but all of Queensland.
Some of the most picturesque falls are Millanda, Zillie, Nandroya, Tchupala, and Millstream, among many, many others. Of great fame is Millaa Millaa Falls, which where herbal essence shot those commercials.
One of the best things to do in Atherton Tablelands is to go shopping for local produce and craft products. The Atherton Tablelands is a rich agricultural area and there are lots of little businesses around offering farm-to-table goods.
Wineries, chocolateries, and dairy farms are among a few of the places you can visit. Be sure to check out the famous Curtain Fig Tree while you’re driving around as well.
Day 3 in Cairns: The Daintree
The Daintree is the oldest known forest on the planet. This jungle is a really rad looking place and totally worth a day trip if not for the forest itself than for the amazing beaches and mountains that it hides.
Like the Atherton Tablelands, you can book an organized tour to see the Daintree but again I highly recommend owning your own vehicle. If you’re self-driving, note that some of the roads in the Daintree are unsealed and that you’ll need a 4×4 for these. Washouts and road closures are also very common in the Daintree.
On the drive to The Daintree from Cairns, you’ll pass by Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge. Port Douglas is a resort village (with a beach!) that is a great alternative to Cairns if you find the latter to be too hectic. I stayed in Port Douglas at Dougie’s Backpackers and really enjoyed my stay.
Mossman Gorge is an ecotourism destination that is popular for its swimming holes and canopies walks.
To get to The Daintree proper, you’ll have to cross the Daintree River via a ferry. Outside of flooding season, this river isn’t too large or swift and the trip is short.
Upon crossing the river, head straight to the Daintree Discovery Center. Around the center there are some great walks that offer glimpses of the jungle. Many of these walks give you the opportunity to see the elusive cassowary in its natural habitat. Honestly, these fuckers hang by the road more than the woods – I saw four of them while driving my car.
While exploring The Daintree, try and make it to Cape Tribulation. This cape has one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Queensland, and it is a personal favorite of mine. The Cape is also the end of the road for most passenger vehicles.
Day 4 in Cairns: The Great Barrier Reef
For many, the Great Barrier Reef is the reason to visit Cairns in the first place. As one of the largest, grandest, and most impressive ecological habitats in the world, the Great Barrier Reef alone is worth the trip to Cairns. A sensitive environment as well, the Great Barrier Reef could disappear within our lifetime, thanks to climate change…
In order to visit the Great Barrier Reef, you will definitely have to go through a local tourism agency. Between Townsville, Cairns, Port Douglas, and every town in between, there are dozens of operators who offer tours to the reef.
Some offer specialized tours but most use similar itineraries. Tours range between 1 and 4 days in length, though more time could possibly be arranged.
BACKPACKER TIP: Book a tour at the last second! Many companies will sell open seats at the last second for a fraction of the price. Tours to the Great Barrier Reef are already very expensive, so getting discount could save you heaps of money.
Day tours are the most popular way to see the Great Barrier Reef. Itineraries usually begin early in the morning and involve a transfer to the local docks whereupon you sail between 2 to 4 hours depending which city you depart from – generally the further north you depart from the less time you’re sailing.
Upon arriving at the reef you will be offered snorkeling equipment or dive gear depending on what you booked as well as beverages and a small lunch.
Note that each company has different rights to where they can visit at the Reef. You may end up sharing a site with another tour but the reef is so big that you’ll barely notice the increased traffic.
The Great Barrier Reef is something to behold. A kaleidoscope of colors and menagerie of marine life, the Reef is one of the majestic places on Earth. One visit to this place and you’ll see why so many people are fighting to save it.
Off the Beaten Path in Cairns
Being Australia and all, the Outback is never too far away! With a rental car or van, those backpacking in Cairns could easily head out into the desert on what could be an epic roadtrip.
There’s even a long-distance train called the Savannahlander that goes all the way to Forsayth, deep in the Outback from Cairns. This 4-day train runs once per week and is one of the great experiences in Australia.
Heading west along Highway 1, the first town you’ll hit is Mareeba. Along this short 1-hour drive, you’ll see lots of scenery like Barron Gorge and Barron Falls. Those riding the Kuranda Express train will have the chance to see Stoney Falls up close as well as travel through some pretty intricate man-made passageways.
Mareeba is still a very green place – it produces much of Australia’s local coffee – but things soon dry up as you continue on your road trip.
From Mareeba, you can either continue on the 1, which swings south and eventually heads west again, or you can take a detour on the 27 or 81. The 81 will take you to the frontier-like Cooktown on the coast and then further to the northernmost tip of Queensland.
The 27 and Highway 1 will both take you into the red-as-the-devil’s-dick Outback and will eventually converge at Normanton, which is over 700 km away. Expect all the usual Outback attractions on either of these routes: kangaroos, one-pub towns, eccentric locals, and just general fuck-all.
The 1, or the Savannah Way, will take you all the way to the Northern Territory, specifically Borroloola. From here, you can head many directions and see some of Australia’s best sites like Kakadu and the Katherine Gorge. Even further is Broome or Uluru, but both of these are still days away.
Best Walks around Cairns
Since you’ll be walking around Cairns quite a bit, I doubt that you’ll want to stay in the city for another hike. Best to get out of the city a bit and go for a bushwalk. Some of these bushwalks are among the best things to do in Cairns for free as well!
The best walks (outside but still) near Cairns:
Barron Falls (16 km round trip) – Easy access to a really epic waterfall.
Crystal Falls (2 km round trip) – Very easy hike to a popular local swimming hole.
Behana Gorge (6 km return) – A less-trafficked and more hidden version of Crystal Falls.
Fitzroy Island – A gorgeous resort island that has no roads so all you can do is walk! Requires short half-hour ferry from Cairns.
Mount Bartle Frere (6-8 hour climb) – Hike to the tops of Queensland’s highest peak! Requires an early start as the weather becomes foul in the afternoon.
Below are my best Cairns travel tips, including how to travel around Cairns, a guide to the food and drink culture, and the best time of year to visit Cairns.
Best Time of Year to Visit Cairns
Being a part of Northern Australia, Cairns is subject to typical tropical climate. There are only two distinct seasons in Cairns: a cooler, drier winter season and a wetter, hotter summer season. The locals like to refer to these seasons as the Big Dry and the Big Wet, respectively.
The summer season (December-April) in Cairns may not be an ideal time to visit. Temperatures soar to above 100 Fahrenheit regularly, which can feel even hotter with high humidity. Rain comes in torrential downpours and sometimes washes out dirt roads, thus making travel in and around the Daintree very difficult.
Most dangerous, this is also jelly season – the diabolical Box Jellyfish usually migrate towards the beaches during this time, effectively terminating any chance of swimming in the ocean.
The summer season has its benefits though. There are fewer tourists around, which means prices will be lower during this time. The rainforest, though inaccessible at times, will be very lush and beautiful in a very wild kind of way.
The dry winter season (May-November) is generally considered the best season to visit Cairns. Temperatures are pleasant, weather is reliable, and the beaches are generally free of stingers. Prices will consequently be higher during this time so be sure to keep that in mind.
Note: the Great Barrier Reef can be visited year-round. The summer months can be touch-and-go because of cyclones but these weather patterns are predictable. If your tour is postponed then just grab a beer and wait for the storm to pass. Box jellyfish do not hang out around the reef.
Get in and out of Cairns
Cairns is well connected to several major Australian cities and destinations. Those who wish to travel to Cairns have many options by land and air.
Cairns has an International Airport that offers flights to and from many Asian destinations, including but not limited to Tokyo, Singapore, Bali, and Auckland. Several domestic airlines offer flights between Cairns and every other major Australian city.
Queensland has an extensive public transportation system and there are several bus companies offering commuter rides. The grand majority of mainliner buses are very large and comfortable, and may offer services like dining and/or WiFi.
Bus Queensland is the largest company, but I personally like Greyhound Australia – the buses are frequent, modern, and there are usually special deals. You can buy special passes with Greyhound, like a Hop-on Hop-off Pass or a “Whimit Pass,” which can be convenient if you’re visiting a lot of places in Australia or Queensland.
The roads are very well maintained in Australia and are appropriate for any type of car. Regardless to whether you’re driving a semi-truck or a tuna can, your trip is going to be a smooth one.
The Bruce Highway is the major artery on the East Coast of Australia. Be careful of speed cameras while driving in Australia as they’re numerous and the tickets are expensive.
If you’re backpacking in Australia (and not just Cairns), consider hiring/buying a campervan! This method of travel in Australia is one of the most popular around, and for good reason – campervans can go most places, offer shelter, and are just plain rad.
Read the having a Campervan section of our backpacking Australia guide for more Aussie specific details.
When you’re ready to travel to Cairns, forgo buying tickets at the station and book them online instead! You can now book transport in advance for most of Asia using 12Go and doing so can really save you some stress (and maybe money, too).
Visiting Cairns? Don’t risk having to sit on the floor or change your itinerary because you missed the last ticket at the station! Find the best transport, best time and the best fare with 12Go. And why not use what you’ve saved to treat yourself to something nice upon arrival?
It only takes 2 minutes! Book your transport on 12Go now and guarantee your seat easily.
How to get around Cairns
Cairns has a modern and efficient intercity public transport service, called Sunbus, which connects the city with the outer suburbs. Tickets are available either as single trips, or daily or weekly passes that range between $2-$55 depending on what zones you’re traveling in. Services usually end around 10pm at night depending on the route.
Really though the best way to get around Cairns is to just walk. The “CBD,” if it can be called that, is very small and you can easily traverse the entire boardwalk in an hour or two. There are safe bike lanes as well. Buses really only pay off when you want to make day trips outside of the city.
If you’re trying to get to the outskirts of the city and there is no public bus, then you’ll have to rely upon on your own form of transportation. If you’re going to a fairly popular place, many local tour companies offer private shuttles. At the end of the day, having your own car, be it rented or owned, is always the best option.
Consider hitchhiking around Cairns too, which is totally acceptable in Australia and a great way to save cash!
Safety in Cairns
Aside from the rare petty robbery here and there, very little goes awry in this city. Cairns one of the safest cities in the safest countries in the world. Those backpacking in Cairns should worry very little about their personal belongings or being accosted by a fellow homosapien.
Backpackers do rob each other from time to time in hostels. Most of the time it’s because everyone is just wasted and doesn’t know any better. Sometimes there’s a real shithead backpacker who thinks they can do whatever they want; don’t be this person. Lock your shit up in a locker to be on the safe side.
Outside of the hostel, be somewhat wary of walking at night. Just be sure to practice all the usual safety measures of traveling.
What you should really worried about is the local wildlife. Australia is famous for its killer critters and many of them reside in Queensland.
Be very mindful while swimming in the waters around Queensland. Several venomous animals reside in the shallows including stonefish, box jellyfish, and the blue-ring octopus. Many of these are considered the most poisonous marine animals in the world and should be treated with great severity. A sting from any of these will be excruciatingly painful and perhaps fatal.
Also be mindful of crocodiles, which like to hang out in shallow rivers and estuaries. These beasts have been known to eat humans and legends have sprung up around their appetites. Also be wary of several species of snakes, in particular, the death adder and taipan.
Travel Insurance for Cairns
Traveling without insurance would be risky so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure.
I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.
If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads.
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.
Cairns Accommodation Travel Hacks
Let’s face it, sometimes we all need to stay in a hostel. Hostels are great for meeting fellow travelers and just having space where you can do your thing at your own pace. Paying for a bed day in and day out though can add up, so stay at a hostel for a night or two and consider your other options for backpacking Cairns on a budget:
Couchsurf!: If you manage to land a Couchsurfing spot in Cairns, you will have successfully eliminated your biggest cost: accommodation. I’ll be honest with you. Couchsurfing is more popular than ever before.
Tap into your backpacker network: If you have done any sort of backpacking before, odds are you know someone who knows someone from Cairns. Australians love to go backpacking! Before you begin your Cairns backpacking trip, I suggest you put your feelers out there and ask your network of friends if they know of someone whom you can crash with for a night or two.
Where to Eat in Cairns
As one of the most popular destinations in Queensland, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants in Cairns that offer both the usual fare as well as something different. You’ll find the usual Aussie suspects here – steaks, parmies, chips, pies, etc – as well as fresh seafood, excellent produce, and a great selection of Asian foods. Cairns doesn’t disappoint foodies.
Below is a list of the best cafes and restaurants in Cairns. Note that many dinner joints in Cairns are not open for breakfast – unless otherwise indicated – and they usually offer “early bird” specials.
Early bird implies that if you get to the restaurant before the rush, which is usually around 7pm, you’ll get a discount. Inquire with a restaurant to see if they offer this.
Best Restaurants in Cairns:
Caffiend – Popular breakfast and brunch joint with some of the best coffee in Cairns.
Fusion Art Bar & Tapas – New cafe with an industrial design and relaxed vibes.
Bayleaf Balinese Restaurant – A very authentic Indonesian restaurant attached to a hotel.
C’est Bon – Fine French dining. Set three-course meals.
Salt House – Excellent views and food but more expensive.
Ochre – Real Australian, as in indigenous Aboriginal, food. One of a kind and an amazing experience.
Ganbaranba – The best ramen in Cairns!
Where to Drink in Cairns
Most of the nightlife in Cairns is centered around the main drag of Abbot Street and the Esplanade. Establishments range in style from classy to dive but, regardless, everyone is hopping at night. The backpacker bars in Cairns get particularly roudier than the rest as well!
Below is a list of some of the best backpacker bars in Cairns. To drink in Cairns on the cheap, keep an eye out for the special happy hour and backpacker deals. Sometimes you’ll see specials like “buy one get one free” or “pizza and beer combo.” Take advantage of these.
Best Bars in Cairns
The Woolshed – Bar catered specifically to backpackers. Lots of organized parties that last a very long time. Bit of a marathon this one is. Has a hostel on-site.
The Conservatory – One of the first small-scale craft bars in Cairns. Trendsetter.
Salt House – A very chique bar located right on the ocean. Great place to relax. Come here during drink specials or be ready to pay a lot.
The Jack – Another backpacker bar/hostel. More music oriented with several live performances every week.
The Pier Bar – Similar to the Salt House. More calm and relaxed than other backpacker bars.
Gilligan’s – One the largest and most notorious bars in the city. Popular among locals and travelers alike.
Three Wolves – One of the newest craft bars in Cairns. Very small and with a very large spirit selection.
Books to Read While Traveling in Cairns
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many books that deal specifically with Cairns, the city. For those who go backpacking in Cairns though, I suggest reading one of the many awesome books about Australia as a whole.
Here are some of my favorite travel reads and books set in Australia, which you should consider picking up before you begin your backpacking adventure…
- Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence – Aboriginal siblings stolen from their families run away from their captors and begin a journey almost a thousand miles long back home. A leading account of the Stolen Generation.
- In a Sunburned Country – A quick-witted and very informative piece of travel writing from Bill Bryson. Written over the course of several trips to the Land Down Under.
- Tree of Man – A man and his wife try to make something out of nothing, as they cultivate a little patch of land in the bush.
- My Brilliant Career – The first of one of Australia’s greatest epics. Tells the tale of a young woman yearning for life and adventure in the Outback. Written by Miles Franklin when she was 16 and, at the time, considered “culturally inappropriate” by the state.
- Lonely Planet Australia – It’s sometimes worth traveling with a guidebook. Despite Lonely Planet’s history of selling out and writing about places they haven’t been to, they’ve done a good job with Australia.
Make Money Online while Backpacking Cairns
Traveling in Cairns or Australia long-term? Keen to make some cash when you are not exploring the city? It’s no secret that you can get a holiday visa to work in Australia, which is a great way to make money and support your travels, but if you are looking for a way to make money online then consider teaching English!
Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills!
It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.
In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online, TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Be a Responsible Backpacker in Cairns
Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.
Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.
Don’t pick up single use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.
Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.
Need more guidance? – Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!