Riley a Crystalbrook Collection Resort

Cairns hotels guide: From backpacker hostels to romantic rendezvous

Consider Cairns a 1691.4km2 sized springboard to World Heritage-listed adventure.

It’s all Great Barrier Reef in the front, Wet Tropics wonderland out the back – and what’s in between promises a damn good time, especially if you know where to spend the night.

With an accommodation offering big enough to cater for two million visitors each year, it’s no surprise that choosing a place to stay can be a little overwhelming.

To make your holiday planning a little easier, we’ve rounded up the best Cairns hotels to base your adventure from.

For the traveller seeking a little extra: Riley, a Crystalbrook Collection Resort

Playful yet sophisticated is a wonderful combination for nearly anything in life and a hotel is unsurprisingly no exception.

Riley, part of the Crystalbrook Collection portfolio (keep an eye out for Bailey opening late 2019 and Flynn opening early 2020) marries the two perfectly thanks to their unrelenting focus on finer details, especially those revolving around environmental responsibility.

At the heart of ‘playful’ is their 1,000+ square metre swimming lagoon with its own man-made beach and poolside service and the attention-stealing Rocco – Cairns’ highest rooftop bar and restaurant perched in the hotel’s Tower (trust us, you won’t miss the Tower).

It’s hard to pass anything on Rocco’s Mediterranean menu (ditto for Paper Crane) but the sous vide Crystalbrook Signature beef brisket with mustard, caramelised onion and garlic bread is the standout.

Farmed from their own 5,000 acre Crystalbrook Station three hours inland of Cairns (talk about paddock to plate) ensures the restaurant plates locally sourced beef that maintains the highest levels of animal welfare.

And what about those finer details? For a start the room key cards are made from 100% recycled wood; there’s no plastic water bottles, straws, disposable bags or containers; they’re a Founding Citizen and ongoing partner of the Citizens of Great Barrier Reef and they work with OZHarvest to collect unused food and distribute to segments of the community where it is most needed. No stone has been left un-turned.

For a romantic bonanza: Pullman Cairns International

Staying comfortable in Cairns never looked so good as the Pullman Cairns International. What you can expect from this five-star hotel is a stay that more closely resembles an apartment than the normal hotel shoebox.

The rooms are as you would expect, wonderfully appointed, the facilities offer all you need and then a little more and for the final tick of approval, the on-site restaurant, Cocos, plate dishes such as locally sourced sashimi and Tableland Black Angus steak frites. Sold.

For something truly tropical: Bay Village Tropical Retreat

Bay Village Tropical Retreat | Cairns hotels guide

Things take a Balinese turn at Bay Village Tropical Retreat, and not just with the Indonesian restaurant, Bayleaf, cooking up the likes of braised duck curry with green papaya and twice-cooked crispy whole chicken with yellow rice.

Head Chef, Made Upadana, was trained in the famous Bumbu Bali Restaurant (in Bali) and serves food so tasty you’ll be hard-pressed to pick a favourite from the menu.

In the accommodation stakes, you’ll find everything from studio rooms to three-bedroom apartments, each with tiled floors, tropical furnishings and locally-made rattan furniture.

Aside from the usual perks like daily housekeeping, you’ll have ample onsite parking to launch into these day trips if you’re travelling with your own wheels.

For the business traveller – Hilton Cairns

Hilton Cairns_best accommodation in Cairns

Expect all of the usual Hilton charms with a tropical twist in Cairns.

You’ll find Hilton Cairns right on the marina – 10 minutes’ drive from the airport, 10 minutes’ walk to the Cairns Convention Centre and about 10 steps from all the waterfront dining options, scoring it a perfect 10 in any business traveller’s eyes.

What makes it the real-deal for corporate travellers is the fact there are seven meeting rooms, 24-hour business centre and a print room to rival any home office. 

We promise it won’t be all work and no play with Six Degrees Bar and Lounge on your doorstep. The Hilton’s own lounge bar serves views of Trinity Inlet alongside its cocktail list (take note, their signature spirit is vodka!). 

For large families: Mantra Trilogy

Mantra Trilogy | Cairns hotels guide

Move over Lord of the Rings and your Two Towers, Cairns raises the bar with Mantra Trilogy with its three towers.

You’ll find them in the middle of The Esplanade – walking distance to the Cairns Lagoon, Reef Casino and the best of Cairns’ dining scene.

Every type of sleeping arrangement, bedroom size and bed combination is configurable from the 230 rooms in its inventory – perfect for large family requirements. Add fully-equipped laundry and kitchen facilities to each apartment and you can see why this accommodation is so popular among families travelling to north Queensland.

Between the BBQ facilities and a lagoon style swimming pool, you’ll find little reason to leave. That is until your kids get wind of these things to do.

For big kids: Waters Edge Apartments Cairns

Water's Edge Apartments_best accommodation in Cairns

Slip into something more comfortable – and by that we mean the lagoon-style swimming pool which wraps around Waters Edge Apartments.

Everything about this hotel has been designed for convenience. That’s why the ground floor apartments have their own private pool entrance – perfect for families who intend to spend their Cairns vacay poolside.

Expect apartment-style living, fully self-contained kitchens and other perks like TVs in every room, free WiFi and media rooms, which will appeal to families who know screen time equals a good time (read: mum and dad time).

If you do pull yourself away from the pool, you’ll also find Instagram-worthy panoramas of Trinity Bay from apartments on higher floors. 

For backpackers: YHA Cairns Central

Cairns Central YHA | Cairns hotels guide

If you’re looking to stay somewhere that’s budget friendly and highly decorated with tourism awards, look no further than the Cairns Central YHA opposite Cairns Central Shopping Centre. Here, you’ll find 59 rooms with a mix of dorms, twin, double and even family rooms.

To counter Cairns’ warm temperatures, all YHA rooms have air-conditioning – a rare treat for a hostel that charges less than the price of avocado toast to stay the night. 

Speaking of breakfast, take note, there are free pancakes served daily and they’re the perfect sustenance to fuel these free things to do.

For young families (or young-at-heart families): Cairns Coconut Resort

Cairns Coconut Grove_best accommodation in Cairns

The recipe for family fun at Cairns Coconut Resort holiday park reads a little like a cocktail list.

It’s one-part caravan park, one-part water park, and one-part theme park, poured within 28 acres of lush tropical bushland.

It’s the kind of place you can get drunk on family fun, which is why you’ll want to stay onsite in their camping, caravanning, condo or spa villa options.

The words, ‘Mum, I’m bored’ will become obsolete as kids run themselves ragged between the sun lagoon pool, SPLASH water park and giant jumping pillows. Oh, and that’s before they’ve had a chance to play the 18-hole mini golf course, interactive play hub or stay up late for the outdoor cinema on site here.

Of course, if you do decide to leave this hive of activity, it’s just a 15-minute drive into the city-centre or stone’s throw to the Bruce Highway, which connects these things to do with kids in Tropical North Queensland.

What’s your favourite Cairns accommodation? Tell us in the comments below.