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Hidden hot spots of Cairns


Want to know the scoop on where to go and what to do while visiting paradise here in the tropics? Finding the super popular spots is as easy as a quick Google search, but what about those hidden spots traversed by locals and only spoken about by secret handshake? Well… you’ve come to the right corner of the internet. Here’s your list of the hidden hot spots of Cairns.


Whether you judge a coffee shop by its machine brand, single origin bean offering, or height of the barista’s man-bun, Cairns is widely known as the most northern suburb of Melbourne. Bad brew is hard to find. When it comes to good coffee, Cairns knows its stuff and keeps everyone safe in caffeinated, coffee-tampering hands.

Local favourites Caffiend are famous for their beautiful latte art. Sipping Duck is the barista’s choice for hot and cold brew, famous for being award-winning coffee roasters. Bang & Grind will have you weeping in caffeinated joy together with a slice of homemade cake, while local favourites Blackbird claim to fame with their fairtrade and organic brew.


Fact: Food is the corner stone of all good holidays. ‘I’m going on holiday, but I hope there’s nothing tasty’, said no one ever. Closer to South East Asia than to the rest of the country, and you can tell very clearly where the food influence in Cairns comes from. From marketplaces overflowing with tropical fruits, to an abundance or seafood, and hole-in-the-wall noodle bars, it’s best you pop on those stretchy pants (you’re gonna need them).

Ever eaten prawn straight off the back of a trawler? Well, now you can. Legendary floating boat-turned-bartop Prawn Star is a dining experience you won’t forget. Moored in Trinity Inlet in the city, Prawn Star is actually three boats (they’re that popular) where you can order seafood by the platter and wine by the bottle, pull up a pew on the deck and watch the sun go down. 

When stepping into Rusty’s Markets you’d be forgiven for losing your sense of location – this traditional Hawkers Market in the middle of the city is a cornucopia of deliciousness, fresh tropical fruit, vegetables, produce, and snacks as far as the eye can see. Traditional Vietnamese bahn mi? Yes please. Green papaya salad with enough fresh chilli to really liven those senses? Okay then. Freshly baked French pastries, sugar cane juice, cold brew coffee, pandan sweets, fresh green coconuts, and sky-high Buddha bowls? We may never leave.

Little Sister is the northern Thai spot. Hot tip – try the deep fried coral trout wings. When in Cairns, do as the locals do and eat ramen at Ganbaranba. You’ll spot its lineup to get in before its countertop, and once you’re in you’ll be rewarded with a hustling, wholesome joint that serves authentic ramen and gyoza made from locally sourced produce (and sip on bottomless iced tea) in a street-style setting. 


More than just the beer from up here, Cairns is a hotbed of small bars and hidden drinking dens. Wolf Lane was the one that kicked it all off – a bar-come-distillery right in the middle of the city. Wander down the hidden alleyway to find an homage to old-school bar service, classy cocktails, and a sultry setting. They make their own award-wining gin range, so make sure you keep time or a tipple or two.

We wouldn’t be in North Queensland without the right amount of due respect for sugar cane and that liquor of the gods, rum. Flamingos Tiki Bar, with just enough standing room to ruffle the feathers while standing on one leg, will have you sipping on the best rum cocktails faster than you can say ‘Dark & Stormy’. This crew know their brew – it’s one of the largest collection of boutique and specialty rums in Queensland. 

We could tell you all about the waterfront bars, but it’d be remiss if you missed Hemingways Brewery. Located right on the wharf overlooking the inlet as the boats roll in and out, this enormous industrial space is the home of a microbrewery that whips up more than a dozen of its own hoppy delights. There’s a full range of beers from IPA to pale to ales, cervesa to mid-strengths, all named after notable local folk who had a good story to tell.


Fairy Falls deserves its name.  A charming little waterfall found tucked away down a path and over some moss-covered logs in a lush rainforest nook nearby Crystal Cascades. Follow the track just to the left of Crystal Cascades car park for about 15 minutes. When the track forks, be sure to stick to the creek and don’t head uphill. You’ll soon come across a small clearing with a deep blue pool, and the water cascading in. While not the most impressive waterfall in terms of size and power, Fairy Falls certainly overdelivers in magic.

Ever wanted to swim in a volcano? Well now you can! Lake Eacham on the Atherton Tablelands is a short drive to cooler climes, and a stunning place to swim and explore. Pack a picnic, and don’t forget the paddleboard. If the salty air is more your speed, head to the Frankland Islands for an off-the-beaten-track reef adventure. Five uninhabited islands an hour south of Cairns, only 50 people allowed on the island at a time, a cornucopia of sea life and dry land exploration beckons.


Cairns culture is alive and kicking! From world-class music venues, to tiny bars where you never know who you’ll see on the keys, nationally touring exhibitions, and awe-inspiring street art installations, the Cairns art scene knows where it’s at! The Tanks Arts Centre, located in the Cairns Botanic Gardens precinct is an extraordinary spot worth spending the day. Made from three repurposed WW2 oil tankers, this 3-in-1 spot hosts an extraordinary lineup of local and touring music gigs, dance performance, art exhibitions, and workshops. Meanwhile, Elixr Bar’s blink-and-you-miss-it doorway is a late-night joint where musos like to gather after the gig – a tiny spot with a big soul, Elixr has had many a well-known troubadour take to the stage for a secret session.

As if Cairns wasn’t pretty enough, there’s a number of art spaces and street art installations that are determined to make it even more so with their artful masterpieces. Cairns Art Gallery is a sister gallery to the National Gallery of Australia, and has a program that reflects the modern and the traditional, while the Court House Gallery houses exhibitions matched with programmed live music session.

What’s your favourite spot to hang in Cairns?

*Images: Tourism Tropical North Queensland