With the money you’ve saved on cheap car rental in Cairns with DriveNow, you can afford to spend big on the best hotels and resorts the city has to offer. Being the most common departure point for tours out to the reef, staying in the city makes sense. However, if you’re after something a bit more upmarket, consider Port Douglas, a charming town about one hour’s drive north of Cairns. Quite a few boats also depart from this captivating seaside hamlet to popular diving and snorkelling spots on the Great Barrier Reef.
Cars are the most common form of transport in and around Cairns so expect plenty of on and off-street parking. Be mindful of time restrictions however, to avoid a fine. If you plan to leave your rental car in Cairns for a whole day or for several nights, it pays to park in council-operated or private car parks which offer spaces at very reasonable rates, especially when compared to bigger cities such as Brisbane or Sydney.
Our Favourite Hotels and Resorts in and around Cairns
Cairns’ relaxed vibe and vibrant nightlife is due in part to the many backpackers that set up base in the city. There are only a handful of premium accommodation options in Cairns, which is why we’ve recommended a few upscale places in the nearby town of Port Douglas as well.
Shangri La The Marina Cairns
The view from a Shangri La Horizon Club Room
Location is a big part of the appeal of this Cairns landmark. Overlooking the luxury yachts and tourist catamarans of the busy Marlin Marina, this waterfront hotel offers modern accommodation, all the trimmings you’d expect in a five-star establishment as well as signature Shangri-La service. With its sparkling pool and sumptuous breakfasts served with views of glistening Trinity Inlet, who could resist staying here?
Waters Edge Apartment Cairns
For space and flexibility, you can’t go past a self-catering apartment. Waters Edge Apartments is one of Cairns’ most contemporary residential-slash-holiday complexes with a prime position right on the Esplanade. If your plan is to base yourself in Cairns, this is the ideal option in our books. Apartments have gourmet kitchens for seafood cook-ups, spa tubs for indulgent soaks, and full laundry facilities for muddy outdoor gear. Best of all, they’re serviced daily - because let’s face it, who wants to make their bed on holiday? Splash out on the swim-out units if you have spare cash to flash - they’re amazing.
Coconut Grove Apartments
There are a plethora of self-catering options in Port Douglas but what makes the exclusive apartments of Coconut Grove stand out is their creator’s attention to detail. Crisp white bed linen, cool stone bench tops, free standing bath tubs, and large outdoor entertainment areas - this property embodies luxury living at its finest. What’s more, the boutiques and restaurants of lively Macrossan Street are just downstairs, while Four-Mile Beach is a short stroll away. The world’s rich and famous often come to Port Douglas to play so be sure to pack your trendiest resort wear because who knows who you might meet down by the pool?
QT Port Douglas
The most insta-worthy swimming pool in Queensland’s tropical north
This sprawling Port Douglas resort has all the hallmarks of the QT brand: colourful designer bedrooms with funky accents of Australiana, a fabulous day spa, plenty of chic lounge areas to knock back jewel-coloured cocktails, and a bustling market-style restaurant. Being smack dab in the tropics, there’s also a large freeform swimming pool with giant blow-up rubber ducks and a day bed in the middle where beautiful people hang out in the latest swimwear. Forgot your sun hat? Buy one from the boutique in the lobby, which stocks all the things you never knew you needed for the beach from quirky pool inflatables to waterproof radios. If you can be tempted to leave the premises, guests enjoy complimentary use of cute vintage bicycles throughout their stay.
Other Fantastic Destinations Farther Afield
If you’re after a ‘real’ beach, Cairn’s Northern Beaches are a fairly well-kept secret around half an hour’s from the city. Comprised of a handful of individual villages, this area boasts some 26 kilometres of sun-drenched sand fringed by lush shady trees. Local favourites include low-key Trinity Beach and Palm Cove, whose coastline is slowly starting to resemble classy Port Douglas further up the road. From around November to May is stinger season, so just be careful to swim only in stinger-resistant enclosures or stick to the pool.
If you don’t have much time but want a taste of the World Heritage Daintree Rainforest, look no further than Mossman Gorge. This stunning natural attraction is 1 hour and 15 minutes from Cairns or just 20 minutes from Port Douglas by road, and it provides a great introduction to the age-old ecosystem of Far North Queensland. As the gorge is located on the ancient grounds of the Kuku Yalanji, you’ll also have the opportunity to gain some insight into indigenous culture and history.
If you have a day or more to spare, go into the Daintree Rainforest proper where you can drive all the way to Cape Tribulation, where rainforest meets the ocean. As this wilderness area is around 3 hours’ drive from Cairns or 1.5 hours from Port Douglas, seclusion is almost guaranteed. To add to the adventurous nature of this outing, there’s a vehicle ferry - the only way to get across the Daintree River.
Of course, the other reason you’re here is to see the Great Barrier Reef. There are a variety of ways to experience this undersea wonder. Cairns marina is the main launching point for tours to the reef on all manner of marine vessels. Port Douglas also offers boat tours albeit with less departure options. If you’re not keen on water, you can see the reef from the air. Whichever way you choose to take it in, you’re guaranteed a head full of memories and a camera full of spectacular photos.
Take a dip in the idyllic Mossman River