Where to Stay in Cairns (2020 • COOLEST Areas!)

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Planning your Cairns vacation? Not sure where to stay in Cairns? This guide breaks down the best areas in Cairns FOR ALL BUDGETS!

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G’day from tropical north Queensland. It’s the end of the line for the great Australian east coast road trip, and Cairns is the hub of it all. Oh, and it’s also the main access point to the Great Barrier Reef, if you’re interested!

It can be tricky, in a city dedicated to one main thing, to work out where the best place is for you and yours to stay. That’s where our crew comes in! They’ve created this insider guide – based on interest and travel style – on where to stay in Cairns, so you can choose the neighbourhood that best suits you!

Working out where to stay should be the least of your worries. You’ve got a snorkeling trip to plan, after all!
So let’s get to it, and before you know it you’ll be living like a local, knowing exactly where to stay in Cairns!

 

Quick Tips – Where to stay in Cairns

 

In a hurry? Here’s my top neighborhood for first timers:

Esplanade
Esplanade is the area running alongside Cairns North and the CBD, on the waterfront. It’s right in the centre of all the action, with the coffee shops, bars and market of town all within easy reach.
Places to Visit:
  • Check out a free fitness class in the park.
  • Go for a swim in the lagoon.
  • Walk alongside the waterfront in the sunshine.

 

Where to Stay in Cairns

Not worried about where you’ll be and just looking for a fit for you? Check out our top picks for Cairns in general!

 

Best Hostel in Cairns – Travellers Oasis

Travellers Oasis is a chilled-out haven in Queensland’s tropical north. In between trips to the Great Barrier Reef or Daintree Rainforest, you can take it easy in the inviting outdoor swimming pool surrounded by sun loungers, hammocks and palm trees.

If you love hostels, you should check out our list of the coolest hostels in Cairns!

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Best Airbnb in Cairns – Studio with the best view

This Airbnb is perfect for anyone that visits Cairns for the first time due to its amazing location. It’s a 6th-floor apartment, right in front of the Cairns esplanade and offers an amazing view of the area around and the sea. The studio fits 4 people so you can even bring some friends but keep in mind that the kitchen is basic, without an actual cooking opportunity.

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Best Hotel in Cairns – City Terraces Cairns

Boasting a saltwater swimming pool, City Terraces Cairns offers unique accommodation. It is conveniently located in the city centre. The hotel offers a garden to relax in, as well as free private parking on site. Wireless internet is also available. 

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Cairns’s Neighbourhood Guide

Quick Summary: The Best Places to Stay in Cairns

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Esplanade

  • Esplanade is the area running alongside Cairns North and the CBD, on the waterfront. It’s right in the centre of all the action, with the coffee shops, bars and market of town all within easy reach.
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Parramatta Park

  • Just west of the city centre is Parramatta Park. And when we say ‘just west’ we mean it’s about 500m from the edge of Parramatta Park to the waterfront on the other side of the CBD. So, very close.
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The City Centre

  • The CBD is a bustling part of town that sits on the waterfront and right on the ferry port. Due to Cairns’s status as the endpoint for many backpackers’ road-tripping adventures, this town is a hub for travelers from all over the globe.
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Cairns North

  • With Cairns being rated the second most hipster city in Australia, based on a calculation around coffee shops, tattoo stores and vegan restaurants, anywhere you stay is bound to be pretty cool.
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Trinity Beach

  • This suburb is a short 15-minute drive from Cairns International Airport. It’s not right in the smaller township of Cairns but is still within the city limits.
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Cairns is located in Far North Queensland. Like, far Far North Queensland. Way up in that spiky bit sticking out at the top of Australia!

Originally a gold-mining town, the gold it’s more known for these days is that big ball in the sky. It’s known as the tropical north for a reason!

Cairns is also the main gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, where you can snorkel, dive or cruise to your heart’s content, comfortable in the knowledge that the water temperature will never drop below 24°C (75°F), year round!

Animal lovers – it’s the place for you too. There are parks where you can get up close and personal with koalas, butterflies, crocodiles (not too close, thanks), and others. I’d suggest steering clear of the Cassowary though. These birds are one of the reasons Australian animals have such a vicious reputation!

In terms of neighbourhoods, the greater city area stretches right out along the coastline, so we’d recommend hiring a car so you can get the most out of your trip (and Port Douglas isn’t too far away).

There’s Palm Cove, with its picture-perfect lagoon with the trees shading the sands. Then Kuranda with the SkyRail – an awesome family day out. Edge Hill will have you in the midst of nature, while Yorkeys Knob just has a great name, as well as its prime spot by the golf course. 

So get your sunscreen sorted: and let’s help you find a neighbourhood right for you!

Ready to really dive into x and learn more about this place? Refer to our backpacking Cairns guide to get a head start before starting your trip!

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Read our full review!

 

Cairns’s Five Best Neighbourhoods to Stay in…

With so many adventures to be had, you want to make sure you’ve got the right base. So here are five of the greatest!

 

#1 Esplanade – Where to Stay in Cairns First Time

Esplanade is the area running alongside Cairns North and the CBD, on the waterfront. It’s right in the centre of all the action, with the coffee shops, bars and market of town all within easy reach. 

It’s the best place to stay in Cairns your first time, as you won’t miss a beat, being based here.

There’s easy access to the Reef too, with the port just beyond the southern end of the Esplanade road. 

The whole pathway is lined with green spaces and in summer, at least, there are free fitness classes offered in the park daily. That’s if exercising while on holiday appeals to you, of course!

And the big drawcard, and somewhere you’ll want to while away a day, is the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. This man-made lagoon cuts out all those pesky Queensland swimming risks like jellyfish and provides an area ideal for all kinds of travellers. 

You can kick back with friends on the lawns, or get a BBQ cranking to channel your inner Australian. You can bring the family here for a swim supervised by lifeguards or get some more exercise in at the outdoor parks. Or just wallow in the warm waters, enjoying the views of the ocean out to the east and the mountains to the west!

Esplanade, Cairns

source: Balou46 (Wikicommons)

 

Things to See and Do in Esplanade:

 – Check out a free fitness class in the park. 

 – Go for a swim in the lagoon.

 – Get a BBQ going and ‘put another shrimp on’!

 – Walk alongside the waterfront in the sunshine.

 – Use your close proximity to *literally everything* to plan a day in the city.

 

Best Hostel in Esplanade – Mad Monkey Backpackers Waterfront

Set right on the Esplanade, guests of this upmarket hostel get to enjoy its prime location, which is within arms reach of all the popular attractions, best bars & restaurants; and of course the famous Lagoon is just across the road. 

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Best Airbnb in Esplanade – Studio with the best view

This Airbnb is perfect for anyone that visits Cairns for the first time due to its amazing location. It’s a 6th-floor apartment, right in front of the Cairns esplanade and offers an amazing view of the area around and the sea. The studio fits 4 people so you can even bring some friends but keep in mind that the kitchen is basic, without an actual cooking opportunity.

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Best Hotel in Esplanade – 181 The Esplanade

This award-winning property provides modern accommodation in Cairns. It also features a Jacuzzi, a sauna and an outdoor pool. There are a variety of facilities available to those staying at 181 The Esplanade, including rooftop terrace, beauty centre and car hire. 

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Best Hotel in Esplanade – Waters Edge Apartments Cairns

Conveniently located, Waters Edge Apartments allows for easy access to Cairns’s best hot spots. Popular features include free wired internet and a swimming pool, and it provides views of Esplanade Lagoon.

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#2 Parramatta Park – Where to Stay in Cairns on a Budget

Just west of the city centre is Parramatta Park. And when we say ‘just west’ we mean it’s about 500m from the edge of Parramatta Park to the waterfront on the other side of the CBD. So, very close.

As always, when you head away from the centre of town, you find the prices for a night’s stay will come down dramatically. That, and its proximity to all of the action are why we’ve picked Parramatta Park as the best neighbourhood to stay in Cairns on a budget. 

You can walk to all the main attractions of the waterfront in under ten minutes, and access the ferry port in five. 

There’s a bunch of green spaces here too, for a runaround with a footy, or just to relax on the grass.

On the eastern edge of the suburb is the Cairns railway station, where the trains from further south (Brisbane, Sydney) come in. You can also grab a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway from here too; an absolutely breathtaking journey through heritage-listed rain forests.

Cairns Showgrounds is in Parramatta Park too, so keep an eye on the events list and you might find something local to attend!

Parramatta Park, Cairns

source: TravellerQLD (Wikicommons)

 

Things to See and Do in Parramatta Park:

 – Catch a train to take you along the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

 – Run around and have a kick on Parramatta Park.

 – Check out the Cairns Central Shopping Centre.

 – Cheer on a team at the Cairns Convention Centre.

 – Attend an event at the Cairns Showgrounds. If there’s none on, they do good coffee here too!

 

Best Hostel in Parramatta Park – Tropic Days Backpackers

Home Sweet Home… Tropic Days is a charming little Guest house set amongst tropical landscaped gardens and a relaxed environment. Offer free including : 24h unlimited Fast WiFi, light Breakfast of Breads and Spreads , tea and coffee, linen and towels.

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Best Airbnb in Parramatta Park – Very cute private room

If you don’t want your wallet to suffer when visiting Cairns, you should check out this Airbnb. The private room is on the second floor of the house and is very affordable. The host and her husband live downstairs where you can also find the living area and kitchen, which you are free to use. Breakfast is included, which can save you a couple of dollars as well.

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Best Hotel in Parramatta Park – Dreamtime Travellers Rest

Dreamtime Travellers Rest provides a free shuttle service, an outdoor pool and an express check-in and check-out feature. This relaxed hostel offers a tour desk, a games room and luggage storage. Those staying at the property are able to unwind with a book in the library. 

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Best Hotel in Parramatta Park – Ryan’s Rest Boutique Accommodation

Featuring a restaurant, bar and outdoor pool, Ryan’s Rest Boutique Accommodation is just a five-minute stroll from Cairns Railway Station. There are a range of amenities on offer to guests of the guest house, such as luggage storage, a BBQ/picnic area and a tour desk. 

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#3 The City Centre – Best Area to Stay in Cairns for Nightlife

The CBD is a bustling part of town that sits on the waterfront and right on the ferry port. 

Due to Cairns’s status as the endpoint for many backpackers’ road-tripping adventures, this town is a hub for travelers from all over the globe. The ensuing nightlife is, of course, something to behold!

Pub crawls from hostels, travel buddies’ last nights out together, reunions of friends made on the road: you’ve got it all here.

And there’s the classier side of things as well, with a huge number of restaurants, bars and pubs crammed into the area.

Whatever your evening style, you’ll find your happy place here in the centre!

Luckily, there’s a tonne of accommodation available as well, being where the hotels and hostels cluster in greatest number. We’ve whittled them down to the best, to save you the hassle.

Oh, and it’s also where the greatest concentration of coffee shops is, so you can chase away the memory of last night’s shots with a double shot of a different kind.

The city centre is an ideal jumping off point for the Great Barrier Reef, Kuranda Scenic Railway, or the Esplanade lagoon as well, so you’re truly spoiled for choice!

The City Centre, Cairns

source: gg-foto (shutterstock)

 

Things to See and Do in the City Centre:

 – Start off with a refreshing swim along with your refreshing beverage at Gilligans.

 – Then keep it classy with some crafted cocktails at The Conservatory.

 – Round it off by dancing on the tables at The Woolshed. It’s encouraged!

 – Revive yourself with something caffeinated from Blackbird Laneway, the 5-star rated coffee shop.

 – Grab a boat out to the Reef (for a change of pace).

 

Best Hostel in the City Centre – Bounce Cairns

Bounce Cairns is a resort style hostel, newly renovated in 2018 featuring free breakfast, free ultra-fast WiFi and free airport shuttle from the airport to the hostel. You are guaranteed to get the most out of your stay and get a great night’s sleep.

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Best Airbnb in the City Centre – Stylish luxury apartment

Nothing can be more annoying than coming home from a great night out and having to worry about not disturbing your flatmates. That’s why we chose this Airbnb – perfect for nightlife enthusiasts. The luxurious apartment is close to the city, casino, as well as bars and clubs – you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. The neighbourhood is calm, so a good night sleep is guaranteed.

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Best Hotel in the City Centre – Il Palazzo Boutique Hotel

The stylish air-conditioned rooms of this 4-star hotel are equipped with plasma TVs and free wireless internet access. There are a range of amenities on offer to those staying at the hotel, such as a beauty centre, an outdoor pool and a sun deck. 

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Best Hotel in the City Centre – Pullman Reef Hotel Casino

This 5-star hotel features an on-site casino along with a rooftop pool. It also offers outdoor tennis courts, a rooftop terrace and a Jacuzzi. There are a range of facilities on offer to guests of Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, including a coffee bar, 24-hour room service and a sauna.

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#4 Cairns North – Coolest place to stay in Cairns

With Cairns being rated the second most hipster city in Australia, based on a calculation around coffee shops, tattoo stores and vegan restaurants, anywhere you stay is bound to be pretty cool.

Our choice for the coolest place to stay in Cairns isn’t because of that though, and is more for the atmosphere you’ll be staying among while here.

Cairns North is just north of the city centre (as you may have guessed) and is a calmer and quieter residential neighbourhood than some of our other choices.

It’s bordered by the Esplanade running along the waterfront, though it can claim the land up to the water as its own as well, with all that has to offer. 

In the boundaries of Cairns North are the Botanic Gardens (there are two, kind of amalgamated as one) where you can picnic in the sun, or simply wander through, checking out the array of tropical rain forest plants cultivated here. There’s always some event or another on here too so check the program for something that suits your tastes.

And though it’s not technically in your suburb, it’s really not far to the covered night market where you can get your fill from any number of great food outlets, before heading into the CBD for the night outlined above!

Cairns North, Cairns

 

Things to See and Do in Cairns North:

 – Spend an afternoon exploring the Botanic Gardens.

 – Get down to the waterfront on the other side of the Esplanade.

 – Grab brunch and a coffee at the highly recommended Smith Street Cafe.

 – Visit the Cairns Aquarium, just near the centre. 

 – Head to the Night Market, for something tasty!

 

Best Hostel in Cairns North – Bohemia Resort Cairns

Set on half a hectare of landscaped tropical gardens in the heart of Cairns, the Bohemia Resort offers stunning accommodation. Choose from an ensuite, a share facility, or a hostel style room with 4/6 beds, all air-conditioned and some with private balconies. 

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Best Airbnb in Cairns North – Unique botanic apartment

If you’re thinking about staying in North Cairns, you might as well do that in style. This Airbnb is more than cool. The guest suite is styled with a very tropical flair. The outside area is a botanic garden, with a fish pond and turtles. You might be right in the heart of the city, but when you walk out of your room, it’ll feel like you’re surrounded by nature.

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Best Hotel in Cairns North – Cairns Sheridan Hotel

Sheridan Hotel is within walking distance of Cairns Esplanade and provides an outdoor pool. It is also a short car trip from Cairns Central and the Flecker Botanic Gardens. Cairns Sheridan Hotel provides a 24-hour reception, as well as a tour desk and 24-hour room service.

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Best Hotel in Cairns North – City Plaza Apartments

City Plaza Apartments Cairns offers a traditional setting while in Cairns. It also provides wireless internet access in public areas, an outdoor pool and an express check-in and check-out feature. City Plaza offers a garden to relax in, as well as free private parking on site. 

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#5 Trinity Beach – Best Neighborhood in Cairns for Families

This suburb is a short 15-minute drive from Cairns International Airport. It’s not right in the smaller township of Cairns but is still within the city limits.

As mentioned earlier, a car is a great asset in a location like this. In this case, you’ll be able to drive back into the city to access the ferry port or the Esplanade lagoon, as well as head out to Kuranda for the wildlife park or SkyRail.
Trinity Beach itself is ideal for families to stay and play though. It’s residential, with many of those living here young families. 

The beach here is a favourite among locals, both from within the neighbourhood and further afield. It’s a beautiful stretch of sand with palm trees lining the shore: straight out of a storybook!

There’s plenty of restaurants and cafes here, to fuel you all up after a day on the beach. And a laidback local style nightlife – still heaps to do, but a little less hectic than the CBD. If that hustle and bustle does appeal though, and you can suss a sitter, there’s the Sun Bus that goes to and from the city right up until the wee hours.

Trinity Beach has its own esplanade too, with stunning walking trails weaving alongside the seafront. 

TrinityBeach, Cairns

source: Rehali2001 (Wikicommons)

 

Things to See and Do in Trinity Beach:

 – Spend the day relaxing and playing on the gorgeous beach. Make sure you’ve got your sun protection sorted though – it’s fierce up here!

 – Head to the esplanade to take advantage of the walking trails and children’s playgrounds dotted along it. 

 – Have a family meal at the well known Trinity Beach Tavern and enjoy the views out over the Great Barrier Reef.

 – Get a takeaway coffee from Tranquility Cafe then let the kids run riot on Coastwatchers Park, right next door.

 – Take the car out to Kuranda for the day – there’s heaps of family-oriented activities there to entertain everyone and create awesome memories. 

 

Best Hotel in Trinity Beach – Trinity Beach Club

Trinity Beach Club is within a 20-minute drive of Cairns Airport and offers an outdoor pool. The various amenities this modern hotel has to offer include luggage storage, babysitting/child services and a ticket service. Those staying at the property can relax with a book in the library. 

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Best Airbnb in Trinity Beach – Cool Beach-Dome-Home

Surprise your family with this cool Airbnb for your holiday. The accommodation is a dome, which can fit up to 5 people. It’s very stylish and has a very calm and relaxing vibe. You and your family can enjoy the pool and a great patio. This home is located right on the beach, which a great place to spend the day since there are lifeguards on patrol throughout the day.

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Best Hotel in Trinity Beach – Marlin Cove Holiday Resort

Marlin Cove Holiday Resort is an easy drive from Kuranda Scenic Railway and provides free public parking on site. It offers a swimming pool and a lap pool. There are a range of amenities available to guests of the resort, such as a Jacuzzi, a sauna and outdoor tennis courts.

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Best Hotel in Trinity Beach – Coral Sands Beachfront Resort

Coral Sands provides a garden to unwind in, as well as free private parking on site. Airport transfers, a dry cleaning service and babysitting/child services are available on enquiry. The rooms are air-conditioned and offer a coffee maker and a private terrace. 

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Final Thoughts on Where to Stay in Cairns

Cairns is an absolute hub of activity and adventure of all kinds, from water to rain forest to mountain to city-based. You’ll want to have a game-plan in place to ensure you do it justice!

With a few nights (or more) at our overall best hotel, City Terraces Cairns, you’ll be in the middle of all that’s going on, and with a stunning saltwater pool to cool off in each day!

If you come across a great neighbourhood we haven’t clocked yet, or a must-do activity not on our lists, let us know. We’re always keen to add to our ever-expanding knowledge base!

So there you have it, our team’s thoughts and recommendations on what to do and where to stay in Cairns. Don’t forget your sunnies! 

Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers – check it out here, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.

 

Do you own an awesome hostel, hotel or apartment? Want to be featured in our list? Email [email protected] to find out how.

Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through the site, The Broke Backpacker will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support helps me keep the site going.


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Planning your Cairns vacation? Not sure where to stay in Cairns? This guide breaks down the best areas in Cairns FOR ALL BUDGETS!

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