Tropical North Queensland is one of the most enchanting regions in Australia, and Port Douglas is one of our favourite coastal towns in Australia. We just love it up there!
“Port” is hip, it’s happening, it’s chilled out but also a little upmarket and a great place to holiday as a family with a nice balance of relaxation and adventure.
Just a little way offshore you have the world’s biggest reef system – the Great Barrier Reef and then hugging the coastline is its very good friend, the oldest rainforest in the world – the 140 million-year-old Daintree Rainforest.
Port Douglas is just an hour’s drive north of Cairns, and after jumping off our flight we picked up our rental car to drive the newly named and spectacular Great Barrier Reef Drive with the Coral Sea on one side and the forest on the other.
It’s a windy road but offers plenty of opportunities to pull over and admire the numerous beaches and stunning views.
First stop was Ellis Beach for breakfast. The Ellis Beach Bar & Grill sits right across from the beach (5 mins North of Palm Cove) and offers a cool and casual vibe serving up good food and coffee – we recommend the Brekky Burger (bacon, egg, roast tomato, avocado, rocket & hollandaise).
With full tummies and our coffee fix done, a gentle stroll along picturesque Ellis Beach was in order.
A little further along the drive, we stopped off at a little cove filled with hand built rock towers – apparently they are called cairns! Look out for them on the right-hand side and maybe your kids will enjoy building their own tower.
Before no time we arrived in Port Douglas to spend a few days exploring the local area, to enjoy sunset views, palm trees and to eat great food.
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Best Things to do in Port Douglas with kids
1. Visit the Great Barrier Reef
Port Douglas is a great base for getting out and exploring the magic of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s natural wonders.
Consisting of 900 islands and 2,900 individual reefs, it’s the world’s largest coral reef and the largest living structure on the planet.
If this is your first time visiting the Reef, consider going to the Outer Reef because that’s where the best snorkelling and diving can be had. You might only visit the Reef once, you will want to see it at it’s best!
We chose a tour with Quicksilver Cruises that took us to the renowned Agincourt Reef, a jewel-like ribbon reef on the very edge of the Great Barrier Reef.
To get to Agincourt Reef from the marina in Port Douglas takes about 80-minutes by high-speed catamaran. This tour moors at a large pontoon which means you get off the catamaran and spend your time based on a spacious activity platform which we found most practical for us with young kids.
The pontoon gives you room to move around without being confined to a boat, and from the pontoon you can choose to snorkel, dive, watch the fish feeding from the underwater viewing platform and underwater observatory, ride in the semi-submersible or even take a helicopter flight over the reef.
It was Savannah’s first time snorkelling, and what’s great about the pontoon is the easy access to the water from the submerged platform.
The stairs that lead down from the main deck to the snorkel platform allow you to sit down and put on your mask and fins, making it easy to slide into the water.
Plus, Quicksilver have snorkelling safety officers (lifeguards) who keep watch and assist you with your gear and offer tips to fully enjoy the experience.
We loved Agincourt Reef. We saw plenty of beautiful coral and fish and the kids felt safe snorkelling in the designated roped off section next to the pontoon.
2. Play at Four Mile Beach
Looking for that classic palm fringed tropical beach to relax on, or perhaps take a walk or run?
You’ll see locals and visitors alike enjoying beautiful Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas. There are several access points at the end of main street (Macrossan Street) or at various intervals at the other end – at Four Mile!
If you happen to visit in stinger season, near the surf club a stinger net is placed for those who enjoy a swim.
And if you’re an early riser, how about a sunrise walk or do what I did and go down for a sunrise photo – it was a little overcast whilst we were in Port Douglas but still a site worth crawling out of bed for!
3. Experience Sunset and sunrise at Rex Smeal Park
Rex Smeal Park is the place to be for sunset in Port Douglas for the classic palm tree shot. It’s a popular place to be with the locals and tourists to watch the sun go down with a large grass area and a nearby playground for the kids.
Grab a picnic or just a glass of wine and get amongst the chilled vibe of others playing drums, throwing frisbees or kicking back in their chairs.
Whilst most popular at sunset, if you come down for some early morning light like Caz did you’ll almost have the place to yourself – and the lighting is beautiful.
4. Appreciate the views at Flagstaff Hill Lookout
Four a sweeping view overlooking Four Mile Beach, head up to Flagstaff Hill Lookout. It’s an easy drive from the centre of town or you can walk up the hill.
Probably best viewed at sunrise, it was still a little overcast on the morning Caz took a drive there but definitely worth the time.
5. Shop and eat on Macrossan Street
Cosmopolitan and vibrant Macrossan Street is the main street in Port Douglas and oozes that tropical holiday vibe and atmosphere.
Lined with cafes, bars, trendy shopping and palm trees, once the day gets going it’s a hive of activity and offers ample opportunities to grab breakfast lunch or dinner, or just a coffee and a cold drink, or perhaps a new designer outfit.
We enjoyed a bite to eat at several spots along Macrossan (keep reading).
6. Soak up the serenity at Port Douglas Marina
The iconic Marina in Port Douglas is Queensland’s northernmost marina and one of Australia’s premier nautical destinations.
Positioned on Dickson Inlet and flanked by the mountain ranges of the Atherton Tablelands and Daintree Rainforest, it’s definitely one of the most scenic marinas we have visited in Australia.
The Marina is undertaking a major redevelopment and where you’ll find al fresco waterfront dining with spectacular views over the Coral Sea, numerous entertainment and shopping options, and a place to enjoy a craft brew, coffee or wine right on the water and watch the Port Douglas life sail on by.
7. Go Ancient Mossman Gorge
Just a 20-minute drive from Port Douglas brings you to Mossman Gorge at the southern most end of the Daintree Rainforest. If you don’t have time to visit the Daintree Rainforest north of the Daintree River, and we recommend at least a full day, beautiful Mossman Gorge is a great alternative.
It’s ancient, pristine and full of high vibrational energy. Mossman Gorge is free to enter but you do have to purchase a pass to catch the shuttle bus into the main walking area. Or you can walk the 2km yourself.
A boardwalk takes you to the Mossman River and a beautiful swimming area. The river can be dangerous after heavy rain, which is why it was recommended we not swim when we visited.
The Mossman River water is said to be the second most purest in the world.
8. Smile at the Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
Our kids love wildlife experiences and 25 minutes south of Port Douglas is Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures.
Hartley’s is a place to not only get up close with big crocs (and a great place to get educated about them) but where you can view and learn about other Australian animals.
They have over 2,100 metres of timber boardwalks and pathways that lead you on a journey of discovery through woodlands and rainforest where you can see an array of wildlife.
We jumped on Hartley’s Mammal Magic tour where one of the Mammal Keepers took us on a behind the scenes interactive tour that allowed us to feed and hold some of our most gorgeous and adorable Australian mammals.
How cute are these young alligators we got to feed?!
For more cuteness overload, Kalyra got personal with a squirrel glider and little refus betong, not to mention everyone’s favourite, the koalas.
Oh, and the not so cute 15kg Burmese python
Watch our video of the top 10 things to do in Port Douglas & Daintree:
Places to eat in Port Douglas with kids
Port Douglas is well known for its excellent restaurants, cafes, and bars. Below are places we enjoyed a bite to eat at or a drink and are just a sample of what’s on offer in Port.
9. The Little Larder
When in Port Douglas have breakfast at The Little Larder cafe at 40 Macrossan Street. They’re well known for their yummy breakfasts and we can now confirm that.
We grabbed a table on the footpath to enjoy the pleasant temperature and to watch the world go by on Macrossan Street whilst the kids enjoyed their waffles and we tucked into our Spanish beans and eggs with trout. And the coffee was oh so GOOD.
10. Fish Restaurant
We love our seafood and so does 2 Fish Restaurant, located in the Coconut Grove Complex on Macrossan Street.
They’re an award winning seafood restaurant and where you can enjoy a mouth-watering array of succulent seafood prepared fresh each day accompanied by the best Australian and international wines. You can dine on the terrace or in air-conditioned comfort.
Our recommendations; natural oysters, queen olives stuffed with anchovies (gluten free), pan seared sea scallops, crispy skinned barramundi and the BBQ Moreton Bay Bugs.
11. The Beach Shack
About 10 minutes drive south of Port Douglas is the Beach Shack – a groovy and tropical dining experience and a locals favourite.
With sand on the floor and a chill out bar, it’s laid back, casual and kid friendly. You have a choice between a restaurant menu or a more relaxed pizza bar menu.
12. Hemingways Brewery
We’re always up for a craft brew and the newly opened Hemingways Brewery is a top spot to sample a local brew right on the water at the marina.
A microbrewery, bar and restaurant, it’s sure to become a locals favourite, and why not, with live acoustic music playing and a stunning location I know we didn’t want to leave.
13. Betty’s Bohemian Beach Café
For a colourful and vibrant setting head to Betty’s Bohemian Beach Café on Macrossan Street and choose from a range of healthy, vegetarian and gluten-free options, plus good coffee and smoothies.
14. Courthouse Hotel
After a big day out on the reef snorkelling, we were looking for a cold beer, a glass of chardonnay and a view and the Courthouse Hotel didn’t disappoint.
It’s the oldest pub in Port Douglas and we loved the character and vibe, and family friendliness! We went upstairs to the balcony which offers nice views out over the park and when it’s not overcast we were told it’s a top spot for sunset.
15. Surf Club Bar & Bistro
Every time we visit Port Douglas we find ourselves at the Surf Club Bar & Bistro.
Another local’s favourite for lunch, dinner, coffee, or a cold drink and we like the casual setting and location right across the road from Four Mile Beach. They serve up tasty food at reasonable prices and there’s a kids playground – win,win!
16. Flames of the Forest
One of the most unique things to do in Port Douglas is dinner at the Flames of the Forest – Australia’s only rainforest dining experience.
You can choose from two unique dining experiences amongst the rainforest – the Aboriginal Cultural Experience or the Rainforest Dining Experience whilst enjoying an award winning menu and inspirational entertainment.
We haven’t personally dined here yet, but we have visited the property for a pre-dinner drink and the setting and atmosphere is amazing and can only imagine what the full experience would be like.
Watch our video for a visual feast of the best restaurants in Port Douglas:
Accommodation in Port Douglas
Coconut Grove Apartments
Our first two nights we stayed at the stylish and modern Coconut Grove Port Douglas which is perfectly located in the heart of town on Macrossan Street and an easy 140-metre walk to Four Mile Beach.
We love staying in apartments as a family as they offer more space and a homely feel, and are a pleasure to return to after a big day exploring.
And at Coconut Grove you could be excused for never wanting to leave – consisting of 33 glamorous holiday apartments that come complete with their own outdoor entertaining terrace, huge living area, and an onsite pool, you have everything you need to be fully self-contained.
But the very best of Port is merely a stroll away and if you’re looking to be centrally located in luxury, these apartments would be hard to beat – especially if you opt for a rooftop or level one apartment that incorporates its very own swimming pool, spa and outdoor entertaining facilities.
QT Port Douglas
On our last night, we stayed at the uber funky QT Port Douglas in a 2-bedroom villa with a pool view.
We love the QT properties, having stayed at the one on the Gold Coast several times and they’re just so vibrant, hip and a fun place to stay.
At their Port Douglas property, you have an open-spaced setting with a contemporary yet quirky tropical feel. The pool and swim up bar is a hit – we couldn’t get the kids out of the pool – which was fine as we had cocktails to keep us company, and we tag teamed for some extra indulgence and kid free time at the QT spa.
Our room came with kitchen facilities, lounge room with balcony and daily service, and again was perfect for us as a family.
And if you’ve never dined at their onsite Bazaar Restaurant, it’s a buffet with a difference or what they cal an ‘interactive marketplace’ – their dessert bar alone will put a smile on your face!
Consider jumping on the Bally Hooley, the historic little steam train that takes you into the marina and back. There’s a station right outside the QT.
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Do you have any tips on things to do in Port Douglas? Share in the comments.