As the biggest city for miles around, Cairns has a buzzing after-dark scene, especially during the peak tourist months. It's a popular stop on Australia's east coast backpacker trail, as well as a luxury resort destination nestled in between the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.
Whether you're looking for a chic cocktail bar or an all-night party spot, Cairns has got you covered. You won't find any flashy nightclubs here, but the fun atmosphere and welcoming locals will help you feel right at home.
Nightlife in Cairns is relaxed and unpretentious, mostly featuring laid-back bars and neighborhood pubs. Clubs are legally permitted to serve alcohol until 3 a.m., but smaller places generally close around midnight. Many of Cairns' favorite venues combine dining, drinking, and live music, designed for lazy afternoons and evenings rather than late-night bar hopping.
- Rocco: Cairns' first rooftop bar sits on top of the Riley resort, with 270-degree views of the sparkling aquamarine water. The food is Mediterranean and complemented by an extensive cocktail list.
- Three Wolves: Tucked down a laneway in the city center, this cozy restaurant and bar has a focus on whiskey, gin, and craft beer.
- The Chambers: An upmarket cocktail bar in the garden of a historic 1920s bank building.
- Kerwarra Beach Shack: Watch the sunset over the Coral Sea with a beer and a wood-fire pizza at this resort north of Cairns. Bookings advised.
- The Pier Bar: This spacious bar by the water is known for its Monday night DJs, Taco Tuesdays, and Thursday night live Latin music, with pizza, burgers and fish and chips on the menu.
- The Conservatory: A comfortable and quirky spot for a glass of wine, open Thursday to Saturday.
- Salt House: This bar and restaurant at the marina is popular with locals, with DJs or live music most nights of the week.
Pubs (also known as hotels, due to the fact they often offer accommodation upstairs) are an essential part of Australian nightlife, especially in regional areas. In Cairns, you can join the locals at the pub for a traditional Sunday lunch, live music, or a beer or two.
- Hemingway's: On the Cairns Wharf, the team behind this industrial venue brews the city's best craft beer.
- Cock & Bull: This iconic local tavern has two bars and a shady beer garden and serves generous pub meals (including kangaroo steak and crocodile schnitzel).
- The Jack: This backpackers hostel has a lively pub and beer garden that's open until 2 a.m. every night.
- P.J. O’Brien's: A traditional Irish pub with live bands every weekend, plus quizzes, games, and a full lunch and dinner menu.
During the dry season (April to November), you can find a place to party in Cairns almost every night of the week. The dress code usually requires closed shoes and covered shoulders for men but is reasonably flexible for women. You can expect to pay a small cover charge at some of the larger venues on Fridays and Saturdays.
- The Wool Shed: Cairns' top party spot for over 25 years, with a bar and restaurant downstairs and a dance floor upstairs.
- Gilligan's: Another popular backpacker hub, Gilligan's has a nightclub, three bars, and a restaurant under one roof.
Along with the pubs and backpacker bars mentioned above, Cairns has a solid selection of dedicated spots to catch local bands. Most events are free, although some do sell tickets at the door.
- Elixir Music Bar: An alternative music venue that also hosts comedy, bingo and slam poetry.
- Bar 36: Live music six nights a week at the Reef Hotel and Casino.
- The Esplanade: Free live music performances take place by the Lagoon every weekend, weather permitting.
Due to its geographical isolation, Cairns doesn't have many large events on its calendar. However, there are a couple of excellent festivals to keep in mind during your visit.
- Cairns Festival: An annual arts and culture festival at the end of August, culminating in a grand parade and fireworks.
- The Grass is Greener: A music festival in October featuring local and international acts.
- ReefBeat: A music, arts, and culture festival that takes place in early September, with a focus on environmental conservation.
Tips for Going Out in Cairns
- Late-night buses operate between midnight at 4 a.m. Check Translink for more details.
- Taxis and Uber are both available in Cairns, but can get pricey for longer trips. Unless you are staying in a resort in the northern suburbs, most bars and pubs will be within walking distance.
- Last call is at 3 a.m. at clubs and often earlier at smaller bars and pubs.
- Tipping is appreciated but not expected in Australia, as hospitality workers earn a relatively high minimum wage.
- Cover charges are only applied on Friday and Saturday nights and are usually less than AU$20.
- Drinking alcohol in a public place is not allowed in Queensland, with the exception of signposted 'wet areas.'
- Late-night venues in Cairns are required to scan the ID of all patrons when they enter, so make sure to carry your passport or driver's license. The ID must display your name, photo, and date of birth.
- Shots and doubles cannot be served after midnight in Cairns.