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Cairns, Australia: Great Barrier Reef Access & Backpackers Party Town

I won’t lie when I first arrived in Cairns I can’t say I was taken away by its local beauty and charm.  After living here for a week, getting to know the people, surroundings, and the night life- I was hooked.  Cairns is very tropical and doesn’t have a cold winter, which is one reason why it’s a top destination in the Australian winter months.  I would not recommend visiting in the summer as it is their rainy season and it becomes very muggy and miserable.  The fact that there isn’t a beach in town was quite a downer, but I dealt with it by cooling off at the lagoon aka a large pool and taking numerous day trips out of town.

The lovely lagoon in Cairns

My Experience

I lived and worked in Cairns for about a year and felt completely at home.  One if the reasons I loved this city is due to the small proximity of everything.  Most bars, restaurants, and the lagoon are all walking distance which is a nice change from a big city like Sydney and their horrible public transport.  Also I found Cairns to be the cheapest city in Australia including rent, meal deals, and drinks.  While in Cairns I worked at a bar/restaurant called Rattle ‘N’ Hum and absolutely love it.  The job was very laid back and I loved the local crowd and all the new lingo I learned while serving them.  My co-workers consisted of mostly backpackers from all over the world and were pretty much all characters who loved to party.  I have to say my experience managing a bar in Cairns was a lot different than the more uptight scene in Sydney and I absolutely loved working here! 😉

Rattle n Hum employees

Enjoying some beverages with my Rattle N Hum co-workers!

Where to Stay

There are options for both the classy upscale traveler and the more common backpacker trying to save some money.  For those on a budget Cairns is home to heaps of hostels of all living conditions.  Important things to look at is the proximity to the actual town as many hostels are about a 15 minute walking distance away and also the hostel reviews.  There are a lot of very dodgy hostels and hotels up there- so beware.  The place I found to be the nicest and cleanest hostel in Cairns is The Northern Greenhouse and will run you about $26 a night for a 6 share dorm with an ensuite.  For you Americans- ensuite means a bathroom that is attached to the room- and yes this is key!  Gilligan’s is very well known and is definitely a party hostel with a huge bar/club downstairs.  For those of you not on a budget there are a few nice hotels in town including a Novatel, The Shangri-La Hotel, and The Reef Hotel and Casino that are all in town.


Although Cairns is small the city is not lacking in the party department.  There are tons of bars and clubs in such a small area that is walkable and there is somewhere for all types to enjoy.  The most popular place in Cairns has to be The Woolshed and it really is somewhere you will inevitably end up and have to experience.  Upstairs you can enjoy dancing on tables and going wild to all the hottest music and classics, while downstairs The Lounge provides you with some amazing house Dj’s and you can dance you ass off or chill on one of the many couches.  Gilligan’s is another favorite for backpackers and is an absolutely huge bar and club.  On the weekends some classier options are Society Bar and Nightspot, The Attic, and a few clubs at the Reef Casino.  A great area to enjoy some drinks on a nice day or start your night out at is The Pier Complex at the Marina which includes Pier Bar, The Shangri-La Bá8 Lounge Bar, and Bella Vista.   PJ O’Briens and where I used to work Rattle ‘N’ Hum are also great places to grab a drink or some food and have daily happy hour from 5-7, which is amazing.

Woolshed Cairns

Just dancing on tables at The Woolshed!

What to See Around Cairns

Most people venture up to Cairns to see the numerous sites close to the city.  The most popular obviously being The Great Barrier Reef.  There are tons of companies that take you to the reef to snorkel, scuba dive, or sail and take in the scenery. You can choose from day trips or 3-5 night trips that enable you to get your scuba certification.  Also close to Cairns via a quick ferry ride are Green Island and Fitzroy Island, which can be a great place to snorkel, scuba, or just relax on the beach.  By car both Palm Cove and Port Douglas are close and cute little tourist towns with great restaurants and beaches as well.  And lastly if it’s the tropical rain forest you’re after you can take a trip up to the Mossman Gorge, The Daintree National Park, or take the Skyrail Rainforest Cabelway up to Kuranda.

Palm Cove, Queensland

Enjoying the views in Palm Cove- Just north of Cairns

Port Douglas

View from the lookout @ the top of Port Douglas!

Fitzroy Island

Enjoying the all coral beach on Fitzroy Island

I hope this blog was helpful to those of you looking to make the trek up to Cairns.  I can definitely say it’s a town to experience and you can’t beat the versatile attractions that are also close by.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions or further advice about my experience in Cairns!

1 Comment

  1. On October 9, 2011 @ 6:25 pm Australia's East Coast Itinerary Recommendations | World Travel Insider said

    […] Cairns, Australia: Great Barrier Reef Access & Backpackers Party Town […]

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