The surroundings are clustered with pretty villages, picturesque resort dwellings and towns.
There are so many things to do in Airlie Beach. If you love outdoors and adventures, you will be spoilt for choice! It’s also a great place to visit with kids or for a romantic holiday as a couple!
The town is believed to have been named after the parish of the Airlie, Scotland and was suggested by an influential councilman who was born in Scotland.
Airlie Beach is popular for the proximity and convenience it provides to visit the Great Barrier Reef. There are a high number of companies that operate tours from Airlie Beach to see this natural wonder.
In this article, you will discover the best Airlie Beach tours and attractions. Perfect to plan the perfect holiday in Airlie Beach!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost for you!
Where is Airlie Beach?
Airlie Beach is a small town located on Queensland’s Whitsunday Coast. It lies to the south of Bowen and to the north of Mackay.
How to get to Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach can be reached by flight or car. From Brisbane, it takes 1 hour and 40 minutes if you are flying. You will also find flights to Whitsunday Airport in Proserpine from any major Australian city.
The distance from Brisbane is 1135 km (about 12h drive). It’s a great place to stop if you are road tripping along the East Coast. If not, you don’t necessarily need to drive there. Most of the activities don’t require a car so having a vehicle can be more hassle than it’s worth.
Best Things to do in Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach is famous for being the gateway to the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef. Visiting these places is a must-do but there are also a lot Airlie Beach attractions to see and other sites on the Whitsunday Coasts.
In this section, you’ll discover the best things to do in Airlie Beach and around.
Chilling at Airlie Beach Lagoon
The top attraction and one of the best things to do in Airlie Beach is visiting Airlie Beach Lagoon.
Located in the centre, the lagoon is one of the coolest places to go if you want to enjoy a relaxing day. You can swim and sunbathe! It’s also a good place to visit with kids as they can play away safely!
You can even cook up your own barbecue there and just cool off in general as it is the main spot in the town. So grab a book and lay under the many palm trees!
Going to Whitehaven Beach & Hill Inlet
If you are wondering what to do near Airlie Beach, Whitehaven Beach should be on top of your list!
Whitehaven and Hill Inlet are located on Whitsunday Island which is about 90 minutes from Airlie Beach and are excellent destinations for a day trip.
Whitehaven Beach is Australia’s most famous beach. Made of 98% of silica, it’s pretty much as white and soft as it can get! But the most beautiful part is actually Hill Inlet.
When you get to Whitsunday Island, you can go on a bushwalk up to Hill Inlet Lookout.
That’s where the magic happens! This natural wonder where the sands swirl and meet the ocean waters creating bands of sandy beach scattered in the waters is absolutely stunning! You can even spot turtles frolicking!
This can be a romantic spot for couples too, as the views and the vibe is breathtaking but don’t forget basic beach prep before you go and apply sunscreen liberally.
If you are a bit short in time, you can opt for a day tour. You will jump on the Ocean Rafting tour, go on Hill Inlet walk and relax on Whitehaven Beach for a bit. Information and prices here.
If you have more time though, I highly recommend the Summertime cruise. Staying on a sailing boat overnight is a magical experience and you will get to see so much more of the Whitsundays. Click here for more information and prices.
Strolling along the Bicentennial Walkway
The Bicentennial Walkway is a 3km waterfront path in Airlie Beach. It’s a great place to go for a stroll if you are looking for an easy walk with scenic views.
If you are travelling with little ones, this will be an excellent thing to do in Airlie Beach with kids.
You will see the main landmarks in Airlie Beach from the path, including the lagoon and Cannonvale Promenade, as well breath-taking views of the Whitsundays.
For even more beautiful views, head there before the sunset.
Half way through the walk, you’ll reach Abel Point Marina. This is an excellent place to stop for a drink or a meal.
Visiting Conway National Park
Located just off Airlie Beach, Conway National Park is one of the most amazing things to do around Airlie Beach.
There are scenic lookouts, multiple walking trails winding through a blooming rainforest and seasonal waterfalls such as Cedar Creek Falls.
It only takes about 30 minutes to get there. Please note, it is best to be prepared for a bushwalk in this case, complete with mosquito repellant, sunscreen and camping equipment.
You can easily get there by car, it’s only 20 to 30 minutes drive. Alternatively, you can book a tour from Airlie Beach.
Soaking up the views from the Honeyeater Lookout
Honeyeater Lookout is a great place to go to if you want to enjoy beautiful views. It oversees Airlie Beach and Cannonvale. You can get to Honeyeater Lookout by an uphill hike which is approximately 8.2 km long. It is a leisurely walk of 3 hours.
Seeing the Great Barrier Reef and the Heart Reef
It would be impossible to visit Airlie Beach without going to the Great Barrier Reef! It’s the biggest living ecosystem on Earth and such a beautiful place!
You can experience the GBR in many other places in Queensland. Cairns and Mission Beach are pretty popular for that. However, if you do it in Airlie Beach you will get to see the world-famous Heart Reef!
This is one of the most romantic natural landmarks in Australia!
It is a protected reef which means you can’t go there with a boat. Even if you could, it wouldn’t be worth it anyway as you need to be higher up to get to see the heart shape.
The best way to see the heart reef is to go on a scenic flight from Airlie Beach. You will also get to see Hill Inlet, Whitehaven Beach and the Great Barrier Reef on this tour. The pilot will warn you in advance when you approach the heart reef so you can get the camera ready.
He will also go around so both side of the plane gets to see it from their own window.
Hiking the Conway Circuit / Great Whitsunday Trail
Hiking is a great option if you are looking for cheap things to do in Airlie beach.
If you are feeling up for a challenging hike, you can hit the Conway Circuit. It is a strenuous hike which can take 6 hours for very fit people. You can even split the trek into 3 days, but you are required to be fully self-dependent. You can take the Coastal walk too. The Coastal Fringe Circuit is a flat stroll of 1.2 km.
You might even get a chance to spot an endangered Proserpine rock wallaby.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to walk, you can also opt for the segway tour on the Conway Circuit. It’s so much fun! Click here to see the prices.
Taking the ferry to the Whitsunday Islands
From Airlie Beach, you can easily go and spend a day on one of the islands. The most popular ones are Hamilton Island, Daydream Island, Hayman Island and Hook Island.
If you don’t want to go on a tour and would rather exploring the islands on your own, you can do so by taking a ferry.
Make sure to take hiking shoes and snorkelling gear as you will want to go and explore! There are plenty of walks and beautiful beaches.
In order to do that, buy the island hopper ticket. This will let you go on the ferries to the main islands.
Skydiving in Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach is one of the best places in Australia for a skydive. It’s such a fantastic experience! If you are a thrill-seeker, this one is for you!
The skydive is operated from Proserpine Airport and can be booked online.
You will go on a 20 minutes scenic flight above the Whitsundays before jumping. You will enjoy about 60 seconds of freefall and hover over the islands. You can even steer the parachute if you’d like!
It’s definitely something you will remember for the rest of your life! The views over the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef are jaw-dropping!
Sailing in the Whitsundays
The Whitsundays are a paradise for sailors. This group of 74 islands has it all. White sandy beaches, snorkelling spots, hikes… No matter what, if there is only one thing you can do in Airlie Beach, that should be sailing in the Whitsunday Islands.
You can choose to go on a tour on a catamaran or sailing boat. I recommend the 2-day cruise on the Summertime. You will get to discover Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet, kayaking, snorkelling and see dolphins at sunrise!
I absolutely loved this cruise and just can’t stop talking about it. For more information and prices, click here.
Chartering in boat in Airlie Beach
The Whitsundays are one of the rare places in the world where you can hire a boat without a license.
Whether you have experience or not, it is possible!
If you have no experience with boats, you may want to get a boat with a skipper so you don’t need to think about the logistics and can just enjoy your time.
Regardless, charting a boat in Airlie Beach is the best way to have a personalised itinerary. As much as the tours are good, you will be with other people and will only visit touristy spots.
With a yacht charter, you get to go wherever you want!
Going on a scenic flight
I mentioned it previously in this article but I believe it deserves its own section! If you want to see stunning views of the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef, you must go on a scenic flight!
It lasts 60 minutes and starts at Proserpine airport. During the flight, the pilot will be your guide. S/he will tell you everything you need to know about the Whitsundays and the reef. He will also tell you where to look. Everything is so beautiful, you will want to look at everything so it’s good to have someone to point things out!
The aircraft is quite small and can only accommodate a handful of people. This is a great thing as you will be guaranteed to have a window seat!
If you want to know more about the scenic flight, you can check out my full review here.
Kayaking in Airlie Beach
One of the best activities in Airlie Beach is going sea-kayaking. Most people focus on snorkelling and diving but kayaking is just as much (if not more) enjoyable!
You will go around the islands, see turtles and stingrays swimming under your kayak! It’s pretty magical. You can also choose to stop on one of the islands and go for a hike!
If you go on the Summertime cruise, it will be included in your tour. Another option is to on a kayaking adventure. Salty Dog Sea kayaking offers different packages.
Discovering the hidden gems of the Whitsunday Coast
The Whitsunday Islands may be the main destinations but the Whitsunday Coast has a lot to offer as well!
If you like to stay away from the crowds, you should explore the coast. You’ll find loads of beautiful hidden gems near Airlie Beach.
Amongst the best ones, you’ll find Hydeaway Bay and Dingo Beach.
They are beautiful beaches where you can enjoy the views and a lot of tranquillity.
You can get there by car from Airlie. It takes about 45 minutes. You can also opt for a day tour from Airlie Beach.
Snorkelling and diving at the Outer Reef
Airlie Beach is a paradise for divers. There are thousands of species of fish and more corals than anywhere else in the world! You can easily go on a day trip to dive at the outer reef.
If you have your PADI, you can choose the certified dives. If not, don’t you worry, you can do an introduction! It’s pretty cool to do your first dive at the Great Barrier Reef but it’s true that it can be also a bit frustrating as you will want to see more! If you can get certified beforehand (or in Airlie itself) that would be better.
There are many diving cruises going out from Airlie port every day.
If you don’t want to dive and would rather snorkelling, it’s also possible! The best places to do so are the outer reef and hook island!
Sleeping on the Great Barrier Reef
This is something that you should add straight away to your travel bucket list! The reefsuites experience is one of the most unique things to do in Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays.
You will need two days for this one as it is important you sleep there to make the best of the experience.
You’ll be heading from Airlie Beach to the pontoon of Reefworld. Once there, you’ll be able to do various activities at the reef including snorkelling.
The restaurants serves meals on the pontoon which means you can look at the Great Barrier Reef and the sunset while enjoying a drink and a delicious meal.
But that’s not all! The true highlight of Reefsleep are the submarine rooms! You will be completed surrounded by the ocean and the reef which means you can look a the reef from your bed!
It truly is an experience of a lifetime!
Going on a glass bottom tour
This is the perfect Airlie Beach activities for families and people who don’t want to get wet.
Airlie Beach is very much of a water destination and if you don’t like the idea of swimming, it doesn’t leave you with many options but a glass bottom tour is one!
You’ll be starting in Airlie Beach and will go around the island. You can admire the views of the islands from the deck and see the beautiful corals and sealife at the bottom of the boat.
The tour lasts 70 minutes and is suitable for young children as well as seniors.
Taking a sunset cruise
The sunset in Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays is incredibly beautiful. The colours are vivid and the views unbeatable.
The best sunset spot is actually in the water. If you chose to go on an overnight cruise, you will get to see it.
Otherwise, you can opt for a sunset cruise from Airlie Beach. It lasts 2 hours and you will be given some food to nibble on as well as sparkling wine.
You can watch the sunset and see Airlie Beach illuminated from the sea.
Taking a helicopter flight
If you are looking for a fancier version of the scenic flight, you may want to consider taking a helicopter ride.
You’ll be leaving from Airlie Beach and will fly above the Whitsundays and Hill Inlet before landing on Whitehaven Beach.
This is definitely the most unique way to get to Whitehaven.
It’s also worth noting that the view is a bit better from a helicopter and the group is much smaller. Also, you’ll be able to get closer to the islands and the reef (something that is not possible on a normal plane).
The flight itself lasts 30 minutes but you’ll also be spending 1h30 on Whitehaven.
Going on a crocodile safari on the Proserpine River
When we think of crocodiles, we usually think of North Queensland or Kakadu but there are also some near Airlie Beach!
If you want to get away from the seaside for a bit, you may want to consider going on a cruise on the Proserpine river. Not only is it a beautiful place but you will also get to discover the lush nature and see crocodiles.
It’s a great thing to do with kids as well.
Fishing in Airlie Beach
Who says coastal town says delicious seafood! Airlie Beach is a great place to go fishing. Whether you are a fisher or just looking for something a bit different to do, this will be a good idea!
To do that, you can book a fishing half-day tour. The skipper will bring you to the best fishing spots in the area and you’ll have over 4 hours to catch your fish!
Trout, cod, mackerel… there is a bit of everything!
You don’t need any equipment as all gear is included. The guides will teach you different fishing techniques which is very interesting.
Snacks and hot drinks are also included.
Experiencing an acrobatic flight
Calling all thrill-seekers for this one! If skydiving wasn’t enough and you want to get a boost of adrenaline, you can go on an acrobatic flight.
Loops, roll, speed of 300km/h… this acrobatic flight will be heaps of fun!
It starts at the Whitsunday Airport in Airlie Beach. You will get to see the views over the coast however, you’ll probably won’t take much time to look at them as you’ll be enjoying the experience.
Please note that this is not for everyone. If you are scared of heights and adrenaline activities, skip it!
Going on a jet ski tour
If you are looking for a fun water activity in Airlie Beach, you should opt for a jet ski tour. You can easily rent a jet ski and go around the Whitsunday Islands with a local guide.
The tour lasts 2h30 during which you will discover beautiful bays, see sea turtles and more.
Driving a jet ski is a fun thing to do no matter where but in the Whitsundays, it’s even better!
The tour is for both beginners and experienced drivers so even if you’ve never driven a jet ski, you can go for it.
Enjoying the food and party scene
The food scene in the town is absolutely lit. The clubs and pubs in the town are quite fun and you will love enjoying the food and have a drink.
Airlie beach restaurants are famous for good food and great hospitality. Seafood restaurants, cafes and diners are buzzing with activity as much as the pubs and watering holes! If you are a foodie, you will love it here.
Shopping in Airlie Beach
There is a lot of scope to buy pretty souvenirs and beach themed gifts from the shops on the beach in Airlie Beach.
From low – priced stores for generic stuff to expensive and independent boutique stores there are pretty outlets from everyone. You can also buy shell handicrafts and home decor here.
Even if you don’t want to buy, roaming around town and looking at the shop is always a nice thing to do in Airlie.
There are beach markets on the waterfront every Saturday and it’s a bit like a flea market. It is one of the most authentic Airlie beach attractions.
Airlie Beach Tours
Since it is a beach town the most natural thing to do around the area is to go snorkelling, diving and sailing. Many tours operate in Airlie Beach. You will find all types of boat tours including the traditional Catamarans, swanky sailboats and cruise boats. There are glass boats too, for viewing the underwater wonders.
There are many sailing tours as well where you can learn to sail a full yacht or a sailboat. The tour operators have a lot of variety for you to pick from.
These are great Airlie beach activities for families and also backpackers! You will find loads of agencies in Airlie Beach and can book from there.
However, I recommend booking everything online beforehand. Things get booked quite quickly and if you want to make sure you can go on tours, you should book them online.
Restaurants in Airlie Beach
Eating in Airlie Beach can be a fun affair as there are multiple restaurants and a huge variety for all kinds of visitors. When you list out the top things to do in Airlie beach, eating can easily be one of them! I recommend the following for their great reviews and great service.
Café One 3
This café is located just off the main street on the Waterson Way, serving breakfast, lunch and brunch with good Café food and Australian cuisine.
The food is overall healthy, and they also serve vegetarian options, vegan options and have food for people with gluten intolerance.
Visitors have claimed that this café serves the best coffee in town. They cook with organic and locally sourced raw materials.
Cool LaLa Modern Chinese & Asian Cuisine and Bubble Tea
Located on the Shute Harbor Road, this Taiwanese restaurant is great for its amazing food and being just a 100-meter walk from the Airlie Beach Lagoon.
The food is not just Taiwanese but pan-Asian and to some extent, even fusion. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner. Food is authentic and service is great. The variety in dishes is also mind-boggling.
Fat Frog Café
This cool café is in the Cannonvale region on Airlie Beach. They serve breakfast and lunch. The food is good and there is also a small play area for kids in the café.
You can sit facing the beautiful sea-view and enjoy the meal. Diners have complimented the consistency of the food and the balanced ingredients. They serve modern Australian cuisine.
Accommodation in Airlie Beach
Places to stay in Airlie beach are varied and many. They are also way cheaper than on Hamilton Island.
The place where you choose to stay in Airlie Beach will depend on your budget and the level of convenience you want.
You can stay around the major tourism-heavy areas in Airlie Beach like Airlie Bay to enjoy everything around the place and not having to travel too much to see things.
Or you can go a little further and stay around the airport which will give you better access to the travel arrangement and cheaper options.
If you are travelling with a dog, you will also find loads of pet-friendly accommodation options in Airlie Beach here. Another option is to opt for one of these unique Airbnb in Airlie Beach. Here are my tips to choose where to stay in Airlie Beach:
Along the Airlie Bay
There are multiple options to stay around the bay and the range is exhaustive too. From backpackers to luxury, upmarket places, you will find a lot of variety of accommodation. This area is definitely the best place to stay in Airlie beach.
Recommended hotel: Airlie Beach Hotel is an all-time favourite! It has everything you need and is very well located. Info and prices here.
Near Cannonvale Beach
This is a quieter area, and still quite beautiful because of the greenery and the calm. The resorts and hotels here are moderately priced and still it is not too far off from the main tourist attractions so you can choose this area if you want a more peaceful, paced-out holiday.
Recommended resort: Mantra Club Croc is located only 5 minutes drive from the centre and is great value for money! Prices and availability here.
Near the Airlie Beach Airport
Not too many options to stay around the airport but you can go for the practical, business hotels in this area if you want to stay securely close to the airport and not hustle to catch your flight out of the city.
Recommended hotel: The Prince of Wales is a great hotel in Proserpine. The facilities are great and it’s very affordable. Great value for money! Prices and info here.
When is the best time to visit Airlie Beach?
According to the locals, you should plan your trip to Airlie Beach from June until October.
The subtropical climate of the region implies that there is a median type weather throughout the year.
Summer is a hot 32 degrees while in the winter, it can be balmy 23 – perfect for a peaceful holiday.
Winter is also the dry season which means that you have a better chance of getting nice weather. If it rains too much, most of the cruises and other activities will be cancelled which is quite annoying (I’ve been there!). Airlie Beach is one of the best places to visit in Australia.
The gateway to the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef never disappoints!
Glorious weather, good food and nice climate… everything you need to enjoy a lovely beachside holiday is in Airlie Beach. There is a great scope of adventure too, as out of the 74 islands in the Whitsundays, just a few are developed and waiting to be explored.
Experiencing the town itself is also perfect for people looking for an off-beat beach stay basking in the glorious sun and sands! No matter, I can promise you one thing: you are going to have so much fun in Airlie Beach! It’s one of the best places in the world!
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