Located just to the north of Cairns in beautiful tropical North Queensland, Port Douglas town is a tiny holiday hotspot in Australia with a big heart. For such a small village, there are a surprising number of incredible things to do in Port Douglas for locals and overseas visitors alike. And the locals are some of the friendliest people in the world!
This beautiful Australian beach town often doesn’t make it onto the radar of many international visitors, who tend to opt for more popular tourist hotspots like Noosa, Byron Bay, Hamilton Island, The Whitsundays, or The Great Ocean Road. But I think Port Douglas is seriously underrated and somewhat of a hidden gem!
With stunning natural scenery, world-class restaurants, great weather, and a relaxed beach town-kinda vibe – this exetnsive Port Douglas travel guide has all the information you need to start planning your own luxe holiday itinerary!
We recommend you spend at least 3 days in Port Douglas (but ideally a week) to experience everything this little holiday town has to offer!
Left to right from the top: Pool Cabanas at the Sheraton Mirage Resort; A palm tree-lined beach at Palm Cove; The view from Four Mile Beach Viewpoint.
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Port Douglas At A Glance
Where is Port Douglas?
First things first, if you’ve never heard of Port Douglas, it’s a quaint, uniquely Australian beach holiday town located in a remote part of tropical North Queensland, Australia – about an hour and a half drive north of Cairns. It’s also one of the more well-known tourist gateways to the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation.
The Best Time to Visit Port Douglas
Due to its location near the Tropic of Capricorn, Port Douglas experiences a warm tropical climate for the majority of the year. There are two main seasons in Port Douglas – the wet and the dry season.
The best time to visit Port Douglas is undoubtedly the dry season (April through October), but it’s also the most popular time of year for tourism. The temperature during the dry season is mild, the water is still warm enough to swim, there are fewer stingers around, and the visibility out on the reef is at its best.
We actually visited in January, during the wet season (November through March) and the weather wasn’t too bad. We experienced a few afternoon showers and the odd evening downpour, but it passed quickly. The weather during the day was beautiful and humid and mostly sunny. We loved that the hotel prices were much cheaper during this time and there were far fewer tourists around.
However, in saying that, the weather during the wet season can be unpredictable. There’s always a risk of a tropical monsoon passing through. We had some friends visit a month after us and they experienced an entire week of rain. There is also a lot of stingers around during these months, so you’ll have to wear stinger suits if you plan to go swimming in the ocean. Most boat tour companies will lend you a stinger suit to use during the tour.
Both seasons have their pros and cons. Hopefully, this information helps you decide when is the best time to go to Port Douglas depending on your budget and what you plan to do while you’re there.
How Much Time Do You Need in Port Douglas?
I recommend at least 3 days in Port Douglas, but ideally for 5 days. Three days is enough time to experience all the best things to do in Port Douglas town, plus add a day trip from Port Douglas to the Daintree Rainforest or the Great Barrier Reef. If you’re planning on staying for a week (or more), you can still use this guide to plan your Port Douglas itinerary and add on one or two additional day trips to Cairns, or Cape Tribulation.
Left to right from the top: Unique rock formations found along the Cairns to Port Douglas drive; Watching the sunset on Palm Cove Beach; A waterfall at Sheraton Port Douglas Resort.
Getting to Port Douglas
First things first – how to get to Port Douglas! Due to its remoteness, getting to Port Douglas is only possible via Cairns in the south or from Cook Town in the North. However, Cook Town is even more remote than Port Douglas, so it’s most likely you’ll be arriving from Cairns.
There are no direct flights to Port Douglas, the closest domestic airport is Cairns Airport, which offers daily flights from all the major capital cities in Australia (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne) serviced by Virgin Australia, Qantas and Jetstar.
Alternatively, if you’re planning to do a bigger road trip around Australia or Queensland (lucky you!), it would be easy to add a 2 or 3 day side trip from Cairns to Port Douglas.
How to Get to Port Douglas from Cairns
To get from Cairns to Port Douglas, you can either rent a car and drive, or take a bus, or if you have the cash to splash, you could take a helicopter!
To rent a car, pre-book through Rentalcars.com to get the best rate and arrange collection at Cairns airport.
The Cairns to Port Douglas drive takes just over an hour, depending on traffic. The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas hugs the coastline almost the entire way and offers some spectacular scenery. I would recommend arriving in Cairns early so you can do the drive during the day.
There are a few shuttle bus companies offering transfers from Cairns to Port Douglas. Some companies offer fixed departure times, while others offer transfers on request. You can expect to pay between $36 to 50 AUD one-way for an adult It’s usually cheaper if you book a return transfer. Check out these shuttle bus companies:
- BTS Port Douglas
- Cairns Airport Shuttle
- Krystal Transport offers a regular shuttle, as well as private transfer services between Cairns and Port Douglas.
To book a Cairns to Port Douglas transfer by helicopter, check out GBR Helicopters. They can fly you from Cairns Airport, landing at the Sheraton Mirage Resort (our favourite Port Douglas resort, located right on the beach!)
Left to right from the top: View from the poolside cabanas at the Sheraton Mirage Resort; Entry to the Sheraton Mirage Resort along the 18-hole golf course; Stunning saltwater lagoon pool at the Sheraton Mirage Resort.
Best Places to Stay in Port Douglas
Sheraton Port Douglas – This is our top pick for the best place to stay in Port Douglas! The Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort has a world-class 18-hole golf course, 295 rooms, over 2 hectares of man-made saltwater lagoons and is the prime beachfront accommodation option in town! It has recently been completed revamped, and the food was absolutely fabulous!
Silky Oaks Lodge – Although not theoretically located in Port Douglas town, Silky Oaks Lodge is actually situated in the middle of the Daintree Rainforest and is a tranquil retreat for those wanting some peace. Part of the Luxury Lodges of Australia group, a stay at Silky Oaks Lodge is a once in a lifetime bucket list experience!
Pullman Port Douglas – Also known as the Sea Temple Resort and Spa, this is one of the most well-known (and affordable) luxury hotels in Port Douglas. The Pullman is located just outside of town on Four-Mile Beach, with a stunning lagoon pool, 18-hole golf course, fitness centre, and day spa.
Affordable Luxury Hotels
Peppers Port Douglas – One of the best hotels in Port Douglas that offer self-catered style accommodation and a large lagoon pool.
Oaks Lagoon Port Douglas – The perfect affordable luxe option for families with kids. Surrounded in lush tropical gardens and a lagoon pool with swim-up bar, and a games room.
Mandalay Port Douglas – There actually aren’t many resorts on the beach in Port Douglas, but the Mandalay is one of only a handful. So, if you have your heart set on staying in absolute beachfront accommodation, be sure to check this one out!
Apartments & Holiday Rentals
NOMAD – One of the most Insta-worthy luxe apartment rentals you’ll find in town. Perfect for a couple wanting to be in the centre of town, within walking distances to all the restaurants, bars, shopping boutiques and Port Douglas markets!
Retro Port Douglas – Apartment-style accommodation with retro-themed interiors and all the mod-cons, from a Bose Sound System, to Netflix, free WiFi, espresso machine and more!
The Bahama House – If you’ve got up to eight people in your party and cash to splash on the ultimate in luxury accommodation, be sure to check out The Bahama House. It’s won several awards for the best accommodation in Port Douglas!
Pineapple Petes Beach House – Funny name, great place to stay. A luxury holiday home with retro beach house vibes, that sleeps up to 8 people, just steps from Four Mile Beach.
Left to right: Enjoying my morning ritual at Sparrow Coffee; The Sunset Deck at the Court House Hotel.
Best Places to Eat in Port Douglas
There are many varied places to eat in Port Douglas – from top coffee spots to casual bites and fancy fine-dining food experiences. For such a tiny town, the Port Douglas restaurants scene is seriously top-notch! Here is our pick of the best Port Douglas restaurants, cafes, and bars to check out during your visit.
Breakfast & Coffee
Sparrow Coffee – Hands-down the best coffee in town. These guys originally hailed from Byron Bay but have now set up shop in Port Douglas. Open from 6 am to 12 noon.
The Little Larder – One of the best places for breakfast in town, and always full of happy diners!
Café Fresq – Acai bowls, corn fritters, smashed avo on toast, bacon and eggs – these guys do all the breakfast basics, and they do it well!
Salsa Bar & Grill – Great cocktails, quintessentially Queenslander-style alfresco dining, friendly staff and a great vibe in the heart of town. What more could you ask for?
Seabean Tapas – Contemporary Spanish tapas and Sangria, need we say more. Famous for their Crema Catalana!
Sassi La Cucina – The best Italian food in Port Douglas, run by a local Italian family. Sassi has won several awards and is always full – be sure to book early!
The Mexican – Practically an institution in Port. Come for the sunset Margheritas and stay for the brilliant fish (or kangaroo) tacos!
Melaleuca Restaurant – Recently opened and possibly my favourite dining experience during our stay! A modern Australian-style restaurant with an Asian twist and great wine menu!
Nautilus – A tropical garden oasis featuring fine-dining with Modern Australian flavours and impeccably paired wines. The entrance is like stepping into another world!
The Watergate – This one was closed during our trip, but everyone in town recommended it, so it must be good!
Where to Grab a Drink
The Court House Hotel – The oldest Pub in Port Douglas has had a retro Bahamas-style facelift. Set in an old-Queenslander with beautiful breezy verandas. Perfect for an afternoon drink and a casual Pub-meal.
Zinc – Another institution in the Port Douglas restaurant scene, Zinc Restaurant and Bar has a great cocktail menu. Located right in the heart of town.
The Tin Shed – The best place for sundowners in Port Douglas!
Top Things to Do in Port Douglas
#1 | Shopping on Macrossan Street
Left to right: Dress shopping at Tamar Boutique; Swimwear shopping at Tahitian Lime on Macrossan Street.
Along the main street (Macrossan Street), you’ll find quaint little boutique shops, local handicrafts, and aboriginal art galleries. My favourite shop was Tamar, a boutique store that stocks some iconic Aussie fashion labels. There’s also Shinta – another clothing boutique – and Tahitian Lime for swimwear lovers!
#2 | Port Douglas Markets
If you time your visit just right, you’ll catch the well-known Port Douglas markets held at Anzac Park every Sunday morning from 8 am.
This is one of the most authentic markets I’ve found in Australia! Stall-owners are strictly locals selling their handicrafts – from jams, to ceramics, hand-crafted timber bowls, pearl jewellery, and a range of other trinkets.
For a delicious breakfast treat, be sure to pay a visit to the coconut man. For $8-10 you’ll get an ice-cold coconut to drink for the first course. Bring the empty coconut back and he’ll split it in half and serve the second course with coconut meat, banana and honey.
The Port Douglas markets is an absolute must-do on your list, so I recommend timing your visit to include a Sunday!
#3 | Farm-to-Table Cooking Experience
Oaks Kitchen and Garden is a unique farm-to-table dining experience started by two passionate foodies, Ben Wallace (the Chef) and Rachael Boon (the Gardener). Featuring an outdoor kitchen and dining space, surrounded by an extensive garden brimming with South-East Asian fruits, vegetables, and herbs, Oaks Kitchen and Garden offers Asian-style cooking classes and a Chef’s Table dining experience.
#4 | Helicopter Ride Over the Great Barrier Reef
Left to right: Spectacular scenes of the Great Barrier Reef from a helicopter; Enjoying the view from the front seat.
For the luxury traveller, one of the absolute best things to do during your visit to Port Douglas is to see the Great Barrier Reef from the air, on a scenic helicopter flight. GBR Helicopters offers 30 to 60-minute scenic tours over the reef leaving from the Sheraton Mirage Resort. Hands down, this is one of the best bucket list experiences I’ve ever done!
#5 | Explore Mossman Gorge
Left to right: A moment of tranquility in the Daintree Rainforest; Suspension bridge over Mossman Gorge.
Only 20 minutes’ drive away, the spectacular Mossman Gorge boasts Australia’s cleanest water. Head to the Mossman Gorge Tourist Centre and board a bus for the trip into the rainforest. From here you can walk through the rainforest canopy over a purpose-built platform and down onto the riverbank where you can take a cool, refreshing dip in the Mossman River. The bus trip costs approximately $12 AUD per adult round trip.
#6 | Flames of the Forest
An evening of locally foraged food and spectacular performances will leave you feeling in awe of Australia’s indigenous culture. At Flames of the Forest you’ll be whisked away from your hotel and down a candle-lit path in the forest. At the other end, you’ll be served canapés followed by a spectacular banquet-style dinner while enjoying didgeridoo performances and Dreamtime storytelling by two local indigenous brothers. This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience!
#7 | Check Out the Best Viewpoints in Town
Left to right from the top: Enjoying the view over Four Mile Beach Viewpoint; Flagstaff Sky Deck; Pathway to Trinity Bay Lookout.
For such a small place, there is a number of great viewing points around town. Walk down Macrossan Street towards Four Mile Beach, turn left at the end of the road and take the footpath up the hill to the Four Mile Beach viewpoint. Continue along the same walking path and you come to Flagstaff Sky Deck, which offers great views over the Coral Sea. A little further along the same path and up the stairs will bring you to the top lookout. Complete the circuit and end up at Rex Smeal Park at the other end of town.
#8 | See Australian Native Animals up Close
A visit to Wildlife Habitat offers the opportunity to get up close and personal with some Australian wildlife that a native to the Daintree region of Australia. See the crocodiles, cassowaries and jabiru, hand-feed the kangaroos, or cuddle a cute koala.
Entry to Wildlife Habitat will set you back around $37 AUD for adult and $18.50 AUD for children. Opening hours are 8 am to 5 pm daily.
#9 | Sunset Picnic at Rex Smeal Park
Left to right: Sunsets at Sugar Wharf Beach; Palm tree-lined Rex Smeal Park.
The absolute best spot in town to catch the sunset. Bring a picnic blanket (or lightweight Turkish towel), a bottle of bubbly, some cheese and crackers and drink in the beautiful Port Douglas sunsets over the beautiful mountain ranges. From Rex Smeal Park, you can also take a walk around to Sugar Wharf to see the sailboats arriving back from the reef.
#10 | Visit the Daintree & Cape Tribulation
The Daintree Rainforest is one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world. It’s remote location has made sure it remains as pristine and unspoilt as possible.
There are many great tours available from Port Douglas to Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. Alternatively, hire a car or camper and plan out your own Port Douglas to Daintree road trip itinerary.
#11 | Bike Ride Along Four Mile Beach
Four Mile Beach stretches from Port Douglas town in the north to Oak Beach in the South, and as the name suggests, its approximately four miles from one end to the other. Hire a bike from one of the many bike rental outlets around town (or from your hotel) and plan an early morning ride along the beach to catch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.
Best Day Trips from Port Douglas
Due to its great location, there are many diverse day trips on offer from Port Douglas, from rainforest experiences, to reef visits. And while the town itself is very beautiful, most of the best things to do in Port Douglas are actually outside of the town.
Here is our pick of the best day trips that you can experience from Port Douglas:
- Visit the Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation
- Great Barrier Reef Cruise with Snorkel & Diving
- Sailing and Snorkelling at Low Isles on a Luxury Catamaran
- Sunset Sailing Cruise on a Luxury Catamaran
- River Drifting through the Daintree Rainforest
- Aboriginal Culture Day Tour in the Daintree Rainforest
Pro Tip: If you plan to spend 3 days in Port Douglas as we did, I would recommend choosing one- or two-day trips and spend the extra time you have exploring the other things to do around Port Douglas town (see above). If you plan to spend 5 days (or more) – even better – this should be plenty of time to do all three of these day trips – depending on how much time you want to spend relaxing around the pool of course!
Left to right from the top: View of mountain ranges around Cairns Airport; Palm tree-lined beaches along Palm Cove; St. Mary’s by the sea church in Port Douglas; Tropical flowers at Sheraton Mirage Resort.
Port Douglas Wrap Up
Port Douglas truly is a hidden gem in tropical North Queensland! With beautiful scenery, world-class restaurants, and a relaxed laid-back Aussie-kinda vibe, I would love to spend more time there, if only it were more accessible! Whether you’re planning to spend 3 days in Port Douglas or perhaps a week-long holiday with the family – we hope this article has helped you to plan your own Port Douglas itinerary!
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Planning a trip soon? Here is a list of the websites and resources we use for booking everything from flights, to accommodation, tours, and more:
- Skyscanner for booking the best flight deals
- Booking.com | Agoda | Hotels.com for the best rates on hotels
- Airbnb | HomeAway to find the best apartment and home rentals
- Rentalcars.com for quick and easy car rentals
- Luxury Escapes for luxury package holiday deals and tours
- Get Your Guide for a great range of day tours
- Tourradar | Intrepid for multi-day experiential and adventure tours
- Priority Pass for airport lounge access in hundreds of locations around the world
- Skyroam to stay connected to WiFi everywhere I go
- iVisa to apply for entry visas for most countries in the world
- World Nomads for the most comprehensive worldwide travel insurance
About the Author:
Amanda Twine is the founder and creator of Fly Stay Luxe – a luxury travel blog sharing informative travel guides, food guides, hotel reviews, itineraries and tips about how to make luxury travel more affordable.