free family activities in cairns

Blog Post

8 Free ideas for family fun in Cairns

Kate Richards

TNQ Writer

Outdoor loving families will have a tonne of fun in Tropical North Queensland and the best part about holidaying in the tropics is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy yourself. Here are our top 8 free things to do as a family in TNQ.

Visit a swimming hole

Crystal Cascades

Most families living in the Tropical North will rate this as their favourite family escape with the kids. There is a multitude of natural freshwater creeks (that are croc free) within a 10-15 minute drive of Cairns CBD.

The most popular swimming spots are located in and around Redlynch Valley and are easily accessible by car. Gomboorah Park and The Rocks suit families with young kids and Stoney Creek and Crystal Cascades are great for families whose kids are confident in the water and happy to walk a little.

If you desire to go a little further try Josephine Falls to the South, Lake Eacham or Davies Creek in the Atherton Tablelands. All these spots cost zero dollars to visit, but I do recommend purchasing a couple of cheap inflatables for some added excitement.

Picnic in the park

BBQ at Palm Cove

The Tropical North lends itself to outdoor dining, plus its cheaper and far less stress than trying to find a restaurant that caters for you all. The number one choice is to head to the nearest park and use one of the many free barbecues that are scattered throughout the region. Best spots for a family BBQ are anywhere along the Cairns Esplanade, up along Cairns’ northern beaches and at Rex Smeal Park in Port Douglas, where the views (and sunset) are to die for.

Head to the Northern Beaches

Palm Cove

If its winter in the Tropical North you’ll find most locals down at the beach. The sea temperatures are just right, the sun not too hot and the breezes (particularly in the morning) are spot on.

For families with really young children Kewarra Beach, Holloways and Ellis Beach seem to be the most popular. As the kids get older, Trinity Beach and Palm Cove are good choices as there is also the option of watersport hire here.

Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas is a must for families staying further north and if you’re heading south, Mission Beach is definitely worth a visit. In fact, if you don’t need to be near shops or a lifesaver then you can pretty much pull over anywhere along the coast and enjoy a beach all to yourself.

Enjoy a dip at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Cairns Lagoon

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, right in the heart of the CBD and situated on the picturesque esplanade, is a great option for families and once again, doesn’t cost a cent.

The lagoon is very family friendly, with lifeguards in attendance and plenty of shallow entry spots for the young ones. There’s also shade, a few fountains, a ‘beach’ and plenty of grass to throw your towel on – it’s a spot that keeps all age groups entertained.

Uncover the very best playgrounds

Goomboora Park playground

There’s nothing like taking the kids to a playground to burn off some of that limitless energy they always seem to have, and give yourself a bit of time out.

Best choices along the Cairns Esplanade are Muddies (great for all age groups) or the Treehouse, down by the Cairns Wharf. You’ll also find coffee and snacks available at both spots as well as plenty of free BBQs if you want to BYO.

Just north of Muddies is the skate park, which is a good alternative if your kids are a bit older and playgrounds are becoming a bit uncool (there’s even a small rock climbing wall nearby).

If you want to leave the city centre then head to Goomboora Park (10 minutes drive) and let the kids enjoy an adventure playground and flying fox. All along the Cairns Northern Beaches you’ll also find playgrounds to keep the young ones entertained.

Pound the pavement of the Cairns Esplanade

Cairns Esplanade

Another great thing to do as a family that costs nothing is to explore the Cairns Esplanade. It’s a 5 km round-trip with a cycle and walking path that runs the whole length.

Take the bikes, skates or scooter if the kids don’t want to walk the whole length. Or just stick to wandering along the wooden boardwalk between Muddies and the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. There is plenty of birdlife along the water’s edge and information stations recounting the history of Cairns (I know my kids love stopping and reading each one thoroughly).

Botanic boardwalks and walking adventures

Centenary Lakes in Edge Hill, Cairns

If walking is your thing then go further afield to the Cairns Botanic Gardens (a 5 minute drive from the CBD) and check out the Mangrove Boardwalk and Centenary Lakes, or join a guided walk through the gardens. The younger kids will love feeding the turtles and ducks down at the lake.

If you’re feeling energetic then head up the Red Arrow and check out the glimpses of Cairns and the views out towards the Northern Beaches. It’s worth stopping at the Mardja Boardwalk if you’re heading further north to the Daintree. Here you can spend some time exploring the unique rainforest and mangrove environment. Make sure you pack your insect repellent on these walks – there may be nasties that bite!

Follow the market trail

Rustys Markets

Nothing beats seeing how the local community ticks by visiting their local produce and craft markets. You may even get your children sampling a new variety of food whilst they’re in town.

Rusty’s is right in the centre of Cairns and a popular spot for buying fresh local produce on the weekends. Go here for tropical fruits and a real taste of local flavour. The Tanks (at the Botanic Gardens) hold monthly markets and often have face painting and other kid-friendly activities happening. Port Douglas markets on a Sunday is worth a visit not only for its local crafts and its souvenirs but also for its setting, nestled amongst huge raintrees along the town’s waterfront.

Remember though that visits to the markets aren’t always that cheap, it just depends on how generous your feeling on the day (and how deep your pockets are).

Related posts

Tropical North Queensland is a great place to holiday with your family.

Beach and sunrise
5 Family-friendly camping spots near Cairns

Whether it’s time spent outdoors, the excitement of exploring a new landscape or just sleeping under the stars, my time camping as a kid has meant a desire to share similar experiences with my own children.

Read more
child running along kewarra beach
Cairns & Northern Beaches
What to do in Cairns With Kids

Looking for what to do in Cairns with kids? This natural adventure playground is jam-packed with activities that are perfect for the whole family.

Read more
marine biologist on sunlover reef cruises
Cairns & Northern Beaches
Things to do near Cairns these school holidays

It’s that time of year again! School’s out and kids all over the country are begging to get out and explore. From wildlife to waterslides and everything in between, this is your ultimate guide to the school holidays near Cairns.

Read more
crocodile jump hartleys
Port Douglas
Things to do with little travellers at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

When you want to see Australian natives up close, it pays to visit an animal sanctuary who have perfected up close and personal experiences for more than eight decades, Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures.  

Read more
Great Barrier Reef
8 reasons to take the kids to the reef with Quicksilver

Riddle us this: what is the most complex natural system on earth, World Heritage-listed, and found in Tropical North Queensland?

Read more
ideas for rainy day activities in cairns
Cairns & Northern Beaches
Ideas for a rainy day in Cairns with kids

Kids restless and suffering cabin fever? Let them release that pent-up energy by ziplining over a crocodile, exploring underwater coral gardens or venturing through the Southern Hemisphere’s largest butterfly sanctuary.

Read more
Children play in Palm Cove
Palm Cove
Palm Cove: a family affair

Make beautiful memories with a stay at this chic, laidback village just north of Cairns. Here’s 10 reasons why kids and grown-ups love Palm Cove.

Read more
kids playing at ellis beach
Port Douglas
Why Port Douglas is the perfect spot for a family holiday

Port Douglas is the perfect getaway for kids and parents alike, with everything from adrenaline-filled rainforest adventures and awe-inspiring wildlife tours to top-end eateries and bustling local markets.

Read more
campervan driving through chillagoe
Cairns & Northern Beaches
Home is where you park it: 10 caravan parks to stay at

Have caravan, will travel. Say bye-bye to bricks and mortar accommodation and check out these incredible caravan parks in Tropical North Queensland.

Read more
cardwell spa pool family
Mission Beach & Cassowary Coast
Family friendly adventures in Mission Beach & the Cassowary Coast

Drive one hour south of Cairns and you’ll enter the region known as the Cassowary Coast. It’s an area that embodies all that people love about Tropical North Queensland…no crowds, no rush and definitely no stress!! Here’s adventures in Mission Beach & the Cassowary Coast that the whole family will enjoy.

Read more