Gold Coast or Cairns? Which Queensland Tourist Destination To Visit

Planning an escape to Queensland for a holiday, but not sure whether the Gold Coast or Cairns might be a better fit.

There is simply no shortage of holiday destinations along the Queensland coast, so it can be easy to get lost in the choices available.

Let’s delve into the two of the most popular, the Gold Coast and Cairns, and see which one might be better suited to your next Queensland holiday.

Let’s kick this off by breaking down the different appeals of both destinations. Despite being located in Queensland, the Gold Coast and Cairns are two distinctly different experiences.

Gold Coast or Cairns? Which Queensland Tourist Destination To Visit

Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is very much a tourism hub with a broad array of experiences, from its famous beaches and theme parks to its bustling nightlife. It’s one of the first destinations Australians think of when planning their holidays.

Another part of the appeal is the Gold Coast across the New South Wales/Queensland border, making it extremely popular for road trippers up from Sydney, be that young families or small groups of friends, being an easy drive single day drive each way.

Add in a temperate year-round climate to the diverse range of things to see and do, and it’s easy to see why the Gold Coast is almost the default destination for Australian travellers looking for a quick getaway.

If you would like more about all that the Gold Coast has to offer, check out this comprehensive post.

Cairns

By contrast, Cairns is a destination that offers very specific experiences. The natural wonders of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest are a big part of the drawcard to this region of Queensland.

In fact, it’s those drawcards that mean Cairns is often the first place international tourists think of when planning their trip to Australia.

But that is not to say that is all that Cairns has to offer; this tropical destination in the Far North of Queensland not only makes a fantastic winter getaway but has a number of unique experiences you can’t find elsewhere. To find out more, check out this post.

Does The Gold Coast Or Cairns Have Better Flight Options?

Both the Gold Coast and Cairns are well connected with their own international airports, although the range of services differs between the two destinations.

The major Australian airlines offer direct flights from most major cities; however, if you are flying to Cairns, you will find more flexibility in connecting through Brisbane. While the Gold Coast typically has more direct flight options.

What you will find in Cairns is regional airlines interlinking some more remote destinations, whereas the Gold Coast is only connected to the major cities.

Internationally, both Cairns and the Gold Coast are connected with direct flights from Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and Indonesia (Bali). Although, at the time of writing this, there are more flights connecting Asia with Cairns and more flights from New Zealand connecting to the Gold Coast.

The Gold Coast also has the added benefit of being closer to the majority of the Australian population, and as I mentioned earlier also tends to be a popular road trip destination. That’s not to say you can’t drive to Cairns.

Are The Accommodation Options Better On The Gold Coast Or Cairns?

Both the Gold Coast and Cairns have a good range of tourist-focused accommodation options. But what you will find is different concentrations of options.

With a lot more highrise buildings on the Coast Coast comes a significantly higher concentration of hotel and short-stay apartment-style accommodation – especially around Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach. Those options continue to grow with new high-rises being built.

And while Cairns does have these styles of options, the city tends to lean towards laid-back style accommodations. You will find a great choice of resorts, particularly between Cairns and Port Douglas, that makes this region stand out.

For more details on the accommodation options, I’ve gone into much greater detail in this post about the Gold Coast and this one about Cairns.

Does The Gold Coast Or Cairns Have More Things To See And Do?

In terms of things to see and do on the Gold Coast or Cairns, both have a wide range of options. But very different experiences.

If you are looking for an action-packed holiday full of different activities, especially theme parks, then the Gold Coast is the destination for you.

Cairns wins out if you are looking for something a little laid back or after unique natural experiences like the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest that the Gold Coast simply can’t match.

While both have stunning beaches, shopping and dining options that complement the rest of your holiday experience.

How Much Time In Either On The Gold Coast Or Cairns?

Palm Cove, Cairns

From my personal experience, you’ll find that a week isn’t enough to see and do everything at either destination. But two weeks might be too much. It depends on your style of travel and what you are looking to gain out of the experience.

By the time you’ve spent a day each at the theme parks, that’s three days gone already out of a trip to the Gold Coast. Let alone anything else you were hoping to do while you are there.

If you want to make sure you do everything that the Gold Coast has to offer in a single trip, then I recommend at least ten days. But in saying that, it’s the sort of destination that you could visit for a week every few years, not only to experience all it has to offer but there are always new things being added.

Whereas, while you are in Cairns, you could easily spend a day or two out of the Great Barrier Reef, another exploring the rainforest and waterfalls of the Atherton Tablelands, and one more up in Port Douglas, let alone the experiences within the city.

Once you’ve added a couple of days relaxing by the resort pool or on one of the region’s stunning beaches, you could pad out a two-week stay in Cairns quite comfortably and not feel like you’ve missed anything. However, if you are the type of traveller that likes to be on the go all the time, you might find this too long.

How About Visiting Both The Gold Coast And Cairns?

For domestic holidaymakers looking for a quick getaway, visiting both the Coast Coast and Cairns in the same trip might be a stretch as they are over 1700kms apart with little to no direct flights between the two.

However, if you are visiting as part of an extended road trip and looking to explore all of Australia or even just the Queensland coastline, then you could easily visit both destinations as part of the same trip. It all comes down to time and what you are hoping to see and do.

For a full road trip itinerary covering the east coast of Australia starting in Cairns, check out this blog post, or alternatively, these two posts (Cairns to Townsville and Townsville to Brisbane) directly cover the Bruce Highway route, which is most of the drive.

Gold Coast, Queensland

If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.

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About the author

Rhys Vandersyde

Traveller, Photographer, Content Creator - I've spent the last 20 years actively seeking out new destinations and new adventures. Find out more about me here: vandersyde.com.au

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