Should I Stay in Cairns, Palm Cove, or Port Douglas?

By Josh •  Updated: 08/03/23 •  7 min read

Choosing the best destination to stay in for your tropical holiday is quite time-consuming.

If you are planning for a tropical holiday and you are wondering “Should I stay in Cairns or Palm Cove or Port Douglas?” then this article might help you out.

The best destination to stay for a tropical holiday in Port Douglas. However, for a backpacking trip Cairns should be the preference, and for a family trip to the tropical Port Douglas is the best destination. Overall, for experiencing a tropical adventure of a lifetime Port Douglas is always the best destination to stay.

However, choosing a destination that best fits your needs, budget, and purpose of your trip needs consideration of many aspects.

Therefore, this article includes the necessary aspects you need to know before deciding on your next travel destination.

So, I urge you to keep on reading till the end for a deeper understanding of these locations. 

Aerial view of Cairns Queensland Australia

Which Place Should You Choose to Stay?

Spending time in the area will allow you to do different things depending on your interests, this means understanding more about what you want to do with your time. So, is it better to stay in Cairns or Port Douglas?

The answer to this solely depends on you. If you are a person with preferences that you cannot compromise with then what is best for others might not be the best for you.

Whether you should choose Cairns, Port Douglas or Palm Cove depends on multiple factors.

  • Your personality
  • Your budget
  • Nature of your trip

We will dig into each of these to help you better understand each and hopefully it will allow you to look at your trip ideas and how they match up.

Your Personality

If you are a backpacker then Cairns should be your preference. Because in cairns there are many hostels for backpackers, unlike the other two cities.

Also, it is the biggest among the 3 cities, so for your wandering soul, it is the best destination to stay.

If you are a nature lover and want to explore nature at its best away from city vibes then Port Douglas is the best choice.

Cairns and Palm Cove do not offer vast natural attractions to explore. Because Cairns’ surroundings give off a city vibe and Palm Cove is a little bit smaller to offer many natural attractions.

If you love shopping at any tourist destination then Cairns should be your preference to stay.

Because among the three 3 cities Cairns offers the best variety of shopping centers like Cairns Central, The Pier Cairns, and Stockland Cairns for you to shop.

At Cairns, you can shop for your groceries, handmade jewelry, clothes, homewares, and everything you need.

Not everyone longs for a quiet ambiance when they visit Northern Queensland. If you love to party especially at night then you should visit Cairns.

Cairns’ nightlife features neighborhood pubs, clubs, laid back bars with live music to dance the night away.

Your Budget

Not everyone has breathing room in their budget when they choose to go out on a holiday.

So, if you are on a low budget and want to save some money then Cairns and Palm Cove are comparatively cheaper than Port Douglas for you to stay.

Choose Cairns if you do not want to spend much money on your accommodation and meals.

However, if you are with your family then choose Palm Cove as the accommodation cost starts here from $81 per night.

At Port Douglas, it starts from $143 per night. Cairns also features hostels, especially for backpackers on low budgets, unlike the other two cities. 

While shopping if you want to save money then Cairns can be your savior. Because at Cairns there are a variety of things to shop at a lower budget, unlike Port Douglas which only sells uptown products mainly targeted towards British affluent tourists. 

Nature of your Trip

If you are planning an individual backpack trip then Palm Cove or Cairns should be your preference. Because Port Douglas is not much suitable for individual backpackers on a low-budget trip.

When you plan a trip with your family, you might often get confused between Cairns and Port Douglas.

As two of these cities are bigger and suitable for family accommodation you often think, is it better to stay in Cairns or Port Douglas?

The answer to your doubt is Port Douglas because if Cairns is a haven for backpackers then Port Douglas is best for family trips.

What is the Best Place to Stay Among the 3 Destinations and Why?

For a tropical holiday stay, Port Douglas is the best option to choose among Cairns, Palm Cove, and Port Douglas. 

Port Douglas is labeled as one of the most expensive destinations to visit in Northern Queensland.

It is true that it is expensive but only Port Douglas can make your Northern tropical Queensland visit worthwhile.

The features that make Port Douglas the best to visit and stay in are:

  • Proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest
  • Better Atmosphere
  • Safer

Proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest

Port Douglas is close in proximity to two of the world’s top heritage wonders- Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.

Staying at Port Douglas makes it easier for you to access and explore these beauties.

Agincourt reef is the closest reef to Port Douglas and you can explore its scenic beauty by snorkeling, diving, or taking a cruise, or helicopter flight.

As you can access the reef within a short time from Port Douglas you get much time to snorkel, dive and explore the reef.

Port Douglas makes a great base for you to access and explore the Daintree rainforest.

If you want to dive deep into the tropical world of flora and fauna with much time in your hand then Port Douglas is the best choice to stay.

Because if you depart from Port Douglas it saves your time and energy to explore the rainforest properly.

Better Atmosphere

For a tropical holiday, most tourists prefer a serene atmosphere. And Port Douglas is ahead of Cairns and Palm Cove in terms of serene atmosphere.

The resorts in this place are not much tall in height so you can enjoy a beautiful view from your resort stretching as much as you can see.

If you are exhausted from your city life and you wonder “is it better to stay in Cairns, Port Douglas, or Palm Cove?” for a holiday then Port Douglas is the best option.

Port Douglas also provides the best atmosphere for your family, especially for kids. Port Douglas offers many free activities for your kids in its four engaging kids’ parks to keep your kids active and away from boredom. 


Port Douglas is comparatively safer for you to stay in because the crime rate here is relatively lower.

The vehicles are also registered here so it is safer here to ride on taxi and Uber to explore the city. 

Beaches at Port Douglas are safer to swim at because the lifeguards have marked the safer places to swim at.

But often on Palm Cove beaches, the warning signs are not present which makes Palm Cove less safe than Port Douglas.

During stinger season you can swim at the Port Douglas beaches that are patrolled by lifeguards so that you are safe from the stingers.

If you want a better and safer swimming experience then Port Douglas is the safer option among the three. 


The best tropical destination to stay is Port Douglas amongst these three cities to explore tropical beauty at its best.

If you are a backpacker or you do not have much breathing room in your budget then Cairns is the next best option.

I hope this answers your question “Should I stay in Cairns or Palm Cove or Port Douglas?” Thanks for reading. Wishing you a safe and exciting trip.


Josh is a loving dad and husband, writer, business owner, and someone who loves to explore the world. He last travelled to Australia to visit Sydney, Brisbane, and Cairns and am looking to head back soon to see more! He is a huge fan of hiking, drawing, and so much more!

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