With the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef on its doorstep, bustling streets in its center and enough bars and restaurants to eat something different every day of the week, it’s no surprise Cairns has become a popular holiday destination in Queensland.

I've been to tropical North Queensland many times and have stayed in both Cairns numerous times as well as in Port Douglas and will guide you through the best areas and accommodation options to suit you. After all, the city is not very big and rather a town with a handful or areas you will actually consider for your next stay.

Where to Stay in Cairns – The Best Neighborhoods to Consider

When it comes to choosing the best place to stay in Cairns, you’ll want to think carefully about which area suits you best.

Let’s take a quick look at what the different areas in town has to offer:

Cairns Esplanade – Right in the center of the action, Cairns' Esplanade is just moments away from the happening CBD and enjoys views across the waterfront. You’ll have no problem walking to all of the top sights and attractions in town or jumping onboard a boat to explore the Great Barrier Reef and its islands.

Cairns CBD – If you enjoy being in the heart of the action, just a hop, skip and a jump away from the city’s bars and restaurants, the CBD is where you’ll want to be. Drawing in a slightly younger and more energetic crowd, we’d recommend this area for backpackers rather than couples and families. 

Holloways/Trinity Beach – Just a 15-minute drive from Cairns airport and 20 minutes north of the city itself, Trinity Beach offers up something Cairns city doesn’t have: sandy beaches and cool sea waters. You’ll need to rent a car if you’re staying here, but it’s worth it if you’re the kind of person who loves to escape the crowds.

Cairns North/Edge Hill – Cairns North and Edge Hill sit just north of Cairns and surround the city’s botanical gardens. It’s seen as a quieter, hipper part of town with trendy coffee shops and boutique hotels galore on every corner. It’s also home to a popular night market, selling homemade goods and epic street food.

Outside of Town – If you’d rather stay clear of the busy city, you’ll find accommodation scattered around the rainforest and tablelands that surround Cairns. Enjoy a retreat tucked away in the rainforest or a resort in the Atherton Tablelands for easy access to Cairns's famous waterfall circuit. 

1. Where to Stay in Cairns for First-Time Travelers: Along Cairns Esplanade

For first-time travelers to Cairns, staying along Cairns Esplanade is a fantastic choice. When I come to Cairns, I usually stay around the Cairns Esplanade.

This waterfront area offers a scenic atmosphere with easy access to the city's main attractions, including the Reef Fleet Terminal for Great Barrier Reef tours, the Cairns Lagoon for swimming and relaxation, and the lively Cairns Night Markets for shopping and dining.

Best Hotels Along the Cairns Esplanade

Crystalbrook Riley

Crystalbrook Riley Cairns
Crystalbrook Cairns Esplanade

Cairns luxury accommodation doesn’t come much better than the Crystalbrook Riley, home to the city’s highest rooftop bar. Couple this with three onsite restaurants and bars, a lagoon pool, a luxury spa and a private beach, and it’s a hotel that’s hard to top if you’re searching for that five-star experience. 

  • Location: Cairns Esplanade
  • Price from: A$275
  • Sleeps: 2-6 people
  • What makes it unique? In a city without beaches, Crystalbrook Riley’s private beach is a highly desirable feature. 

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Hilton Cairns

Hilton Hotel Cairns
Hilton Cairns

If you’re choosing where to stay in Cairns, the Hilton is always a safe choice. A brand synonymous with luxury, the Hilton in Cairns offers rooms overlooking the waterfront and is just a five-minute walk from the vibrant CBD. If you’re hoping to take advantage of some of that tropical sunshine, the outdoor lagoon-style pool will suit you well.

  • Location: Cairns Esplanade
  • Price from: from A$229
  • Sleeps: 2-3 people
  • What makes it unique? The Reef Terminal, where the majority of tours to the Great Barrier Reef depart from, sits just a two-minute walk from the hotel.

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Cairns Plaza Hotel

Cairns Plaza Hotel

Wondering where to stay in Cairns for easy access to the Great Barrier Reef? The Cairns Plaza Hotel has an on-site tour desk that can deal with all of your scuba and snorkeling needs, with tours that pick you up right from your door. Back inside the hotel, spacious double rooms give way to awesome ocean and mountain views from private balconies.

  • Location: Cairns Esplanade
  • Price from: from A$235
  • Sleeps: 2-4 people
  • What makes it unique? The Plaza offers spacious family rooms and children’s activities to keep the little ones entertained, making it one of the best options for family accommodation in Cairns.

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Mantra Trilogy

Mantra Trilogy Cairns
Mantra Trilogy Hotel in Cairns

Mantra Trilogy has a lot of the same facilities as other accommodations in Cairns, but its prices are nearly half of those on the Esplanade. But, you wouldn’t guess! Mantra Trilogy treats all of its guests to spacious balcony suites, access to a fitness center and an outdoor swimming pool with ocean views. Not bad, hey?

  • Location: Cairns Esplanade
  • Price from: A$229
  • Sleeps: 2-7 people
  • What makes it unique? Despite its desirable location on the Esplanade, Mantra Trilogy is one of the more affordable places to stay in Cairns.

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DoubleTree by Hilton Cairns

DoubleTree by Hilton Cairns

Combining the best of the city and its luscious rainforest surroundings, DoubleTree by Hilton exudes luxurious affordability. Built around the hotel’s man-made rainforest atrium, you can take advantage of the onsite fitness center, modern Australian restaurant and upmarket cocktails. 

  • Location: Cairns Esplanade
  • Price from: A$212
  • Sleeps: 2-3 people
  • What makes it unique? Floor-to-ceiling windows in each room provide awesome views over the mountains, city or the Coral Sea. 

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Oaks Cairns Hotel

Oaks Cairns Hotel

Oaks Cairns Hotel is home to some of the most modern places to stay in Cairns. Decked out with trendy yet comfortable furniture, you won’t only feel relaxed after your stay but will have plenty of fab snaps for Instagram. There’s no pool on site, but you’re just moments away from the city’s lagoon and a boat ride away from the Great Barrier Reef. 

  • Location: Cairns Esplanade
  • Price from: A$179
  • Sleeps: 1-4 people
  • What makes it unique? Don’t fancy leaving the hotel? Head to the rooftop bar and restaurant for seascape views. 

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Botanic Retreat Lily Pad Inn

Botanic Retreat Cairns

Airbnbs in Cairns are in plentiful supply, and one of the best you’ll find is this Botanic Retreat. Made up of a master bedroom, a luxury bathroom with a huge rain shower and your own secluded courtyard, this makes for the perfect couple’s getaway.

Its location near Cairns Esplanade means you’ll never be short of things to do, while its gardens full of tropical plants and native animals make you feel like you’re the only person for miles.

  • Location: Cairns Esplanade
  • Price from: A$269
  • Sleeps: 2 people
  • What makes it unique? Put your culinary skills to the test in the outdoor kitchen, including a hob, microwave and small fridge.

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2. Where to Stay in Cairns for Nightlife & Shopping: Cairns CBD

If you're looking to experience a bit of Cairns' backpacker nightlife and do some shopping, the Cairns Central Business District (CBD) is the perfect place to stay.

You'll find many bars, a few clubs, and live music venues as well as a variety of shops, from boutiques to major retail outlets, offering everything from souvenirs to fashion items. Staying in the CBD ensures you're within walking distance of all the action, including the Cairns Esplanade.

Best Hotels in the Cairns CBD

Pullman Reef Hotel Casino

Pullman Reef Hotel Casino Cairns

With a fantastic reputation across Australia for offering five-star facilities, the Pullman Reef Hotel is arguably one of the best hotels in Cairns.

Just on the edge of the CBD, you can venture out on foot to explore the city, Esplanade and markets and retreat back to the hotel for a bit of peace and quiet; watch the ships sail through Chinaman Creek or head to the luxury rooftop pools for views to die for. 

  • Location: CBD
  • Price from: A$257
  • Sleeps: 2 people
  • What makes it unique? Home to one of Cairn’s best casinos, you can don your best outfit, head downstairs and hope lady luck is on your side.

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Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort

Novotel Cairns

If you’re the kind of holidaymaker who loves to be in the thick of the action, the Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort is the kind of place you’ll love.

Despite being nestled into the heart of the CBD, this oasis of calm is the ideal place to sit back and relax after a busy day exploring the city. Chill out with a book in your spacious double room, grab a drink and watch the sunset from your balcony or head downstairs to Moku Bar and Grill for date night.

  • Location: CBD
  • Price from: A$265
  • Sleeps: 2-4 people
  • What makes it unique? Enjoy a refreshing beer at this hotel’s swim-up bar.

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Shangri-La The Marina

Shangri-La The Marina Cairns

If you’re on the hunt for 5-star hotels in Cairns, stop right here; the Shangri La is enveloped by tropical gardens and offers stunning views over the marina. And, the luxury doesn’t stop there; every room features its own private balcony overlooking the gardens or Trinity Bay, and at the communal swimming pool, pool-side bar service makes relaxing that little bit easier. 

  • Location: CBD
  • Price from: A$315
  • Sleeps: 2-3 people
  • What makes it unique? Who can go past a 5-star hotel? Staying in Cairns doesn't get better than this!

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Gilligan's Hotel & Resort Cairns

Gilligans Backpackers

Traveling on a budget? Gilligan’s is one of the best options for cheap accommodation in Cairns. It may be a backpackers, but this is no ordinary hostel. Its selection of dorms and private rooms surround the lagoon-style pool, alfresco bar and flat-screen TVs, so you won’t miss any major sporting event while you’re away. 

  • Location: CBD
  • Price from: from A$42 in a shared dorm room
  • Sleeps: 1 (or 2 in private rooms)
  • What makes it unique? If you’re visiting Cairns on a shoestring, grab some ingredients from the local market and use Gilligan’s communal kitchen to cook up a storm.

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3. Where to Stay Outside of Cairns

If you're traveling to Cairns and want a more nature-focused stay, the areas outside of Cairns are worth considering.

Kuranda, a town nestled in the lush rainforest hinterland, offers a sleepy alternative to Cairns with markets, wildlife and the scenic railway.

Holloways Beach and Trinity Beach, located north of Cairns, are two other coastal areas ideal for relaxation and water activities like swimming and snorkeling.

Lastly, I also really like the neighborhood of Edge Hill, a leafy suburb near Cairns, with the botanical gardens close by, some lovely local cafes, and still within proximity to Cairns' main attractions.

Best Hotels Outside of Cairns

Cairns Beach Resort

Cairns Beach Resort

Apartment accommodation in Cairns offers the best of both worlds: a private sanctuary to come back to after a busy day exploring and the option to cook for yourself when you want to.

Choose a one-bedroom apartment that overlooks the complex’s tropical gardens, communal pool or the turquoise coral seas and get ready to enjoy this 4-star accommodation.

  • Location: Holloways Beach
  • Price from: A$297
  • Sleeps: 2-4 people
  • What makes it unique? Previous guests rave about the host’s hospitality, so get ready for a warm welcome!

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Tranquil Rainforest Studio Kuranda

Kuranda Rainforest Retreat

If getting out and about in the great outdoors is the idea of a perfect holiday for you, look no further than this Rainforest Studio located in Kuranda.

Tucked away in the rainforest of tropical Queensland, relax and unwind in your very own wooden bungalow accommodation, and enjoy a complimentary breakfast each morning, full of local produce and only the freshest Aussie coffee.

  • Location: Outside of Cairns in Kuranda
  • Price from: A$149
  • Sleeps: 2 people
  • What makes it unique? Sitting on the outskirts of the town of Kuranda, the sea might not be close by, but you’ll have the sounds of the rainforest to fall asleep to.

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Beach Dome

Beach Dome Cairns

If you’re in the mood for something a little more lowkey, this Airbnb outside of Cairns might do the trick: a luxury dome complete with a fully equipped kitchen, air-con, swimming pool and Wi-Fi. 

  • Location: Trinity Beach 
  • Price from: A$140
  • Sleeps: Up to 5 guests
  • What makes it unique? Set back from Trinity Beach, you’ll have all the luxuries of the usual apartment accommodation in Cairns, with the added luxury of the sand and sea being just meters away.

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Where to Stay in Cairns – Frequently Asked Questions

⭐ Is it worth staying in Cairns?

Located in the tropical far north of Queensland, on the east coast on the intriguing Cape York Peninsula, Cairns offers up day-tripping opportunities as well as local delights to discover.

Here are some things that shouldn’t be missed:

  • Jump on a boat to the Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an opportunity to explore Australia’s underwater world.
  • Wander through Cairns Botanical Gardens, full of unusual tropical plants and home to plenty of unique bird species.
  • Take a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which was built 120 years ago and offers visitors a two-hour one-way trip through the rainforest. Drive to one of Queensland’s beautiful beaches. Whether it be Palm Cove, Trinity Beach or Green Island, relax on sparkling white sand and take a dip in turquoise waters.
  • Join a tour of the Daintree Rainforest, one of the oldest rainforests in the world, perfect for exploring Australia’s untouched flora and fauna.
  • Go whale watching. Between July and September, thousands of humpback whales migrate to Cairns to give birth to their young. Watch out for blowholes on the sea’s surface!
  • Sample tropical delights at Rusty’s Market, a local institution that sells tropic fruits and vegetables from local producers.
  • Drive the waterfall circuit in the Atherton Tablelands to visit Millaa Milla Falls, the waterfall made famous by Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl music video.

❓ Would it be better to stay in Port Douglas or Cairns?

Port Douglas offers a more relaxed and upscale atmosphere with access to the Great Barrier Reef. I would choose Port Douglas for a romantic couples' getaway as well as for families looking for a bigger resort with kids' facilities. On the other hand, Cairns provides a more bustling city vibe with a wide range of activities and easy access to the Great Barrier Reef as well. It's backpacker-friendly and has a solid nightlife.

📅 How many days should I stay in Cairns?

Spending at least 3-4 days in Cairns is probably enough to fully experience the city's attractions including a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest, and Kuranda in the hinterland. Add some extra days if you also want to relax by the lagoon.

Where to Stay in Cairns – Final Words

Choosing where to stay in Cairns isn’t always easy; there’s the location to think about, the hotel’s facilities and, of course, your budget to keep in mind too.

I hope my guide to the best areas and accommodation options in Cairns helps you with planning your next holidays.

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