How to Get From Cairns Airport to City

I just spent way too long researching how to get from Cairns Airport to city, so I’m sure there are other people out there trying to work out the same thing. Here is everything I have learned about Cairns Airport transfers.

The distance from Cairns Airport to the city centre isn’t very far, in fact, it’s only about 6km. But Cairns Airport also serves as the airport for other popular tourist areas, such as Port Douglas and Palm Cove.

So not only did I find options for transfers to the city, but from Cairns airport to Port Douglas and Palm Cove too.

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Public Bus from Cairns Airport to the City

I’m a budget traveller at heart, and I also like to use mass transit if it’s available to help with those carbon emissions (the irony of this after just getting off a plane does not escape me!). So I started to research my options.

I quickly discovered that while there is a bus that runs along the highway past the airport, it’s mostly impractical for the average traveller.

Using the Translink Journey Planner, I could see the trip into town would take around forty minutes – and that’s assuming I arrived at the bus station just as the bus arrived. With only one bus an hour, that is unlikely.

Getting to the bus stop takes up half of that trip – it’s 1.3km from the domestic terminal. Not a walk that sounds very appealing with luggage.

The upside is that if you are travelling light, you’re happy to walk to the bus stop and the schedule works for you, then it only costs $2.40 to get the bus into the city.

If you want to use Cairns public transport to help you get around during your visit, the map can be found here.

Cairns Airport Shuttle

The ticket desk for Examplar Transfers in Cairns Airport
The Exemplar ticket desk is on the left as you walk into the baggage hall (domestic airport)

So if there’s not a public bus, is there a Cairns Airport shuttle bus?

There seems to still be a lot of pre-covid information floating around on the internet, and things have changed a lot since then. I have come across one shuttle company that offers shared transfers from Cairns airport and seems to be the most reliable.

Exemplar will have a uniformed man waiting for you near the baggage carousel (at the domestic terminal) or as you exit the arrivals hall (at International) with your name on a sign, making it very easy for you. You will then be taken right to the door of your accommodation.

The shuttles run from 6 am until 10 pm and cost $19.30 (July 2023) per person each way. You can book in advance here, with free cancellation up until 24 hours beforehand.

If you don’t want to book in advance (although I suggest you do to be sure of your seat) then you can go to the Exemplar counter in the domestic terminal. It can be found just on the left as you enter the baggage hall.

Cairns Airport Private Transfer

Do you want to have a person waiting for you with your name on a sign to whisk you off to a luxury vehicle where you can sink into leather seats, and enjoy the cool air and calming music? Sounds like the perfect way to start a relaxing holiday.

It is only ten minutes into the city centre, but, especially after a long international flight to a new place, sometimes an easy transfer is worth it.

For a budget transfer of up to seven people (with booster seats available if needed), this looks like the best option. For a little more luxury try this transfer, or to really arrive in style, book your transfer in this Maserati Quattroporte Limousine.

Looking for a transfer in the opposite direction, from Cairns City to the airport? Here’s one for you. Or book this one if you want to book your round trip all at once.

Taxi From Cairns Airport to City

Three white taxis lined up at a taxi rank outside Cairns Airport
The taxis are right outside the doors, go a little to the left to get to the front of the line.

Walking straight out of the airport and jumping into a taxi is probably one of the easiest ways to get to Cairns from the airport. But I know, from personal experience, when visiting a new place, taxis can be somewhat…. scary? unreliable? downright dodgy?

Thankfully in Australia, our taxis are fairly well-regulated, so you can take one and feel assured it’s all okay. But still, occasionally there is a driver who drives the long way or who isn’t keen to pick up that short fare.

Always take a taxi from the taxi rank outside. If there is someone in the arrivals hall soliciting for rides, ignore them because they are almost certainly not legitimate. (I personally have only seen this happening once in Australia, but it does happen.)

To work out how much your taxi fare should be, there is a rather complicated set of rules and tariffs which you can read about on the Cairns Taxis website. My estimate from this information is that a taxi ride into the centre of Cairns during the day will cost something like $20-$25AUD (I paid $21 in June 2023 to a location just before the city centre)

Note that there is a levy of $2.50 each way for the domestic terminal and $5 for arrivals from the international terminal that will be added on top of the metered fare at the end of your ride.

Taxis in Australia accept credit cards, so you do not need to ensure you have cash to use them. You also do not need to tip in taxis in Australia – but if you want to leave something extra for good service, just round up to the nearest $5, it will always be appreciated.

Rideshare From Cairns Airport to City

A sign hanging from the ceiling pointing the way to pick up zones for taxis and car rentals
Look out for the signs to the pick up zones

Uber is the most popular rideshare found all over Australia, including here in Cairns. It tends to be slightly cheaper than taxis, but since the city centre is so close, it will only be a couple of dollars cheaper.

I had planned to catch an Uber from Cairns Airport, but the taxis were right there so we did that instead. We did, however, get an Uber back to the airport, and the return trip cost us about $17. Not a significant difference for such a short ride.

If you do order an Uber (or other rideshares) exit the airport towards the taxi area, turn left and follow the signs pointing you in the direction of the Rideshare Pickup Location. It is a little way away, across the road and around a corner, but it is well-signed. Look out for another sheltered area a little like a bus stop.

Hiring a Car at Cairns Airport

A row oof car hire desks at an airport
The car hire desks are on the right as you walk into the baggage hall (in the domestic terminal)

Like all airports, there is plenty of car hire available right here at the airport. I absolutely recommend booking in advance because cars are limited and do get quite pricy as the numbers deplete.

I had a look just a few days before my trip in peak tourist time (July school holidays) and there were only a few options left and they started from around $100/day.

A good way to compare a lot of car companies is to use RentalCars.com so that you can see all the prices in one search.

Another company I like to also check that isn’t on RentalCars is Jucy. They are best known for campervans and RVs, but they also do cars. Many people don’t realise this though, so they often have availability when the big names don’t.

Cairns Airport to Port Douglas Transfers

Many people who arrive into Cairns are looking for transfers from Cairns Airport to Port Douglas, and there are lots of options available.

Port Douglas is around 65km north of Cairns Airport, and you should allow at least an hour for the drive. Taxis and carshare will do the trip, but organising a transfer or rental car in advance is probably a better option.

Here are a few of the options:

Cairns Airport to Palm Cove Transfers

Another popular holiday destination outside of Cairns is Palm Cove, which is around 25km north of the city along the beach.

Again, taxi, rideshare or car hire are all possible options, but if you want to book a transfer from Cairns Airport to Palm Cove in advance, here are some recommendations

Now that your transfer is sorted, you can start enjoying your holiday to North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef.

Read these next – great things to do during your Cairns visit.
Cairns Without a Car – 7 Must-do Tours
Great Barrier Reef Experience, Cairns
12 Adventure Activities in Cairns

TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS

Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs

Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.

Hire a rental carRentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.

Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.

Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.

Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.

Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.

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