Picture this: a single mum armed with an unstoppable 3-year-old tornado and a 4-year-old daydreamer on our latest adventure to Cairns in tropical north Queensland. Now, before you imagine me sipping cocktails on a fancy beach, let me set the record straight … our mission was to find free things to do with kids in Cairns. And we got very lucky!
With its lush jungles, laid-back vibes, and beachy goodness, Cairns is a family dream come true. But entertaining young kids while ensuring we were suitably fed and watered for five days doesn't come cheap. For this reason, finding free things to do was a priority to ensure our trip was fun-filled without the expensive price tag.
I hope this article helps you save money on your holiday while still having a fab time making memories with your little ones.
Further reading: How to bag yourself a cheap family holiday.
No doubt, this promenade would definitely be in Peter Pan and the Lost Boys’ itinerary — and it should be in your kids too.
Cairns Esplanade is like a joyful town, offering free kids activities in Cairns, with the most exquisite sunsets that you can watch with family while dipping in the lagoon.
During your visit, you can enjoy a picnic on the grassy range, eat ice cream at their beaming food park and watch sea creatures, which your moppets will love for sure, as mine did, at their spectacular aquarium.
All these, by the way, without costing you anything — even the locals take their kids here!
On the hunt for one-of-a-kind free kids activities in Cairns? Look no further than the Crystal Cascades; the hidden treasure of Cairns and North Queensland.
This luxuriant tropical rainforest unveils a series of swimming holes and waterfalls that flow straight into larger pools, wonderfully shrouded with granite boulders.
Even on hot summer days, your kids can splash around in the cool water, thanks to the hovering mountain trees.
After the water chute adventure, you can either go barbecuing or run around with your kids in the picnic area, as I did.
A day on the beach doesn’t have to be pricey.
Lined with coconut trees and boasting clear waters, there’s no better place for free kids activities in Cairns than here on this beach, where little ones can make sand castles and dance with ocean waves.
Then again, you don’t have to spend the entire day on the beach — there’s an all-ages Bluewater playground nearby, perfect for your land-loving munchkins.
Or you could take a scenic stroll at the popular Earl Hill with a picturesque view of the entire Trinity beach.
With these activities, for sure, you and your kids will never get bored!
Do your kids love to skate? If they do, then you should definitely take them to one of the country’s biggest skateparks.
You can have fun with your little ones while also teaching them balance, coordination and how to be social, here at Cairns Skate Plaza.
No worries, it’s completely safe— your little balls of energy can skate through easy gaps and ledges, and learn proper skate etiquette from other friendly visitors.
And, if the roller skates don’t work out, in my experience, just bring out the scooter. You can watch them play while you busy yourself with the picnic table on the side.
Humming and bustling with locals and traveller's alike — the night market is a great place to teach your kids how to be adventurous and experience the life Cairns-style.
There are street performers and live music, adding flair and excitement, as you go shop for local handicraft souvenirs and clothing.
While the hub of activities is plenty, the food was definitely the highlight for me and my kids.
There are tasty street foods you can’t find elsewhere, which are an explosion of Mediterranean, Asian and Australian flavours.
So, I suggest you go for as many bites as you can!
Unlike your typical playground, Muddy’s is a hybrid of a playground and a parkland, a completely safe, state-of-the-art facility that offers free kids activities in Cairns.
Aesthetically, the play “park-ground” is a splash of the ocean, themed as “Life in the Trinity Bay.” They've got plenty of educational fun for your kids to indulge in — and I mean, plenty.
You’ve got the water play areas, sound chime, rope bridge, mouse wheels, playhouses, trick track, seesaw, slides, flying fox, puzzle games and storytelling areas.
It's a child’s dream haven — you’d barely catch your breath the same way I had, running after my kids who were sampling every play equipment there is.
Smithfield is pretty iconic — not only is it the oldest bike park in the country, but it’s also home to Australia's first world championship, almost 20 years ago.
So, taking your kids there is like a history lesson with a fun twist.
Smithfield is a winding trail of spectacular landscape with flowing streams and jagged ridges, right in the vine-encrusted jungle.
And in the lower reaches of the park, there are green trails with easy challenges that your little riders can participate in to hone their beginners’ skills and just have fun.
Thinking about free kids' activities in Cairns? Well, Babinda Boulders is just right on the corner.
Wrapped in tropical rainforests and cascading streams, the entire vicinity feels like taking a piece of Amazon with you (as my kids pointed out).
Now, the boulders are completely safe for children. The place has a selection of refreshing pools of mountain water for the little ones to catch some rays and take a dip. Adjacent to the swimming area, there’s a cool spot to picnic and play frisbee.
It’s great to take the whole family there, just to bond and breathe fresh air.
Whatever recreational activities you have in mind, I’m sure Stoney Creek can deliver. It’s legit a nature’s paradise where you can swim and play.
Apart from dipping in the cool waters, you can throw in the inflatables and float around the swimming holes, just chillaxing. Even better, the kids can get their paddle boards and try kayaking for the first time.
But if they don’t want to get wet, there’s the shaded grassy spot for picnics or the beautiful forest tracks where my kids and I were mesmerised listening to the high-pitched wail of whipbirds.
In this digital age, outdoor fun is a must-have experience for your kids to get some sunshine and inculcate the love for nature.
Instil in your kids the love for art, so they can grow a strong appreciation for it.
You can kick start that journey by visiting Cairns Regional Gallery — they open even on a Saturday.
People of all ages come to pay homage to the unique culture and history of Northern Queensland. The gallery has profound programs and exhibitions that showcase Cairn's heritage in distinct ways.
Even my young kids couldn’t help but bombard me with questions about their enormous high-priced collection. To them, it was interesting to see the world from a different period, and I was in the same haze.
At Centenary Lakes, there’s a truckload of fun … and fitness flexes to be had.
When my kids and I visited the lake, well, we were just expecting to see still water surrounded by land - and it was there. But beyond the fantastic backdrop of the lake, there are waterfalls, rainforests, and native wildlife that got my animal-lubber younglings overly ecstatic.
Just around the corner, there are also picnic shelters and a vast grassy area for dads to barbecue, moms to do yoga and kids to drive their scooters.
Everyone gets to do their own thing while soaking in the sunshine vitamin!
Machans Beach is just a 10-minute travel from North of Cairns. But you’re not heading there for a swim, because the place is a rock wall and has no beach to begin with - not even a spot to lay down your towel to sunbake. So, what are you there for?
Well, you can experience the golden quiet of this relaxing suburb and the little interesting cafes that lined the area. My kids, however, brought in their fishing rods and enjoyed fishing with dad.
They even hung out with the local children and tried catching yabbies for bait, but to no avail, because it wasn’t low tide - bummer!
I was dragged by my son on one Sunday morning, because he wanted to see, per his description, “the birdies paradise.” That paradise was actually a mining quarry turned nature conservation park called “Cattana Wetlands” - a place I’d never been before until that very morn.
Well, the birdie utopia didn’t disappoint.
Lucky us, we got to see what it feels like a hundred bird species somersaulting overhead. Bird watching was a site to behold, my little tornado was completely mesmerized.
But it wasn’t just the birds, there were the palm forest and saltwater lakes, inhabited by turtles that would shyly pop up their heads out of the water.
Now, me and my kids are planning our next trip!
Finally, the place where I call my family’s top track of choice, the “Red Arrow Walk.”
Whenever I want to take my kids for some fitness exercise, we take on the 250 menacing steps of the Red Arrow lap. We’ve had tons of practice by now, so my kids were skipping through the steps like nothing.
Now, the hike atop takes about 40 minutes or more to finish. But no worries, this is manageable, even my low-level fitness kids did it!
Up there is the real prize though, the panoramic view of the Coral Sea and the beautiful Cairns City was enough to take our heavy breathing away
Final words: Free things to do with kids in and around Cairns
Cairns has proven to be a paradise for budget-conscious families seeking memorable adventures.
From the lively Esplanade to the serene Wetlands, from artistic exploration to thrilling bike trails, Cairns offers a wealth of cost-free activities that will leave your children brimming with joy and you with treasured moments.
So, as you plan your next family getaway, remember that Cairns is not just a tropical paradise; it's a haven for unforgettable, wallet-friendly experiences.
Pack your bags, gather your little explorers, and embark on a Cairns journey that will forever hold a special place in your family's heart.
Cairns, thank you for being a dream come true, and we eagerly anticipate our next visit to create more cherished memories.