This article aims to break down the major differences between Airlie Beach and Port Douglas, making your holiday destination choice a little bit easier.

Getting There

Airlie Beach is 1000 km closer to most airports in Australia than Port Douglas, which is accessed via Cairns.  If flying into Airlie Beach, you will need to fly to Proserpine then catch a 20-minute bus into town.

If flying into Port Douglas you will need to fly to Cairns then catch a one hour bus up the very tight twisty road.  This road is an absolute dream to drive in a nice car, but it’s quite horrible in a bus.  Motion sickness is very common on these busses.

Target Market

Perhaps the most important difference is the target market that the two towns are catering for.  Airlie Beach was built on backpackers and young travellers, which means everything is a little less classy but reasonably priced.

Port Douglas was built as a resort escape town for the rich and famous.  Port Douglas is more ‘fancy’ than Airlie Beach.

Accommodation Prices

Airlie Beach is significantly cheaper than Port Douglas on a normal day due to the ‘backpacker’ style of the town.  There are cheap rooms everywhere and that includes Air BNB.  

Port Douglas is almost exclusively high-end resorts that will cost a pretty penny for a night or two.

If you are staying in Port Douglas, we highly recommend the Sheraton Grand Mirage as it has direct access to the amazing Four Mile Beach.  Airlie Beach does not have any resorts with direct access to beaches.

Beaches

Port Douglas wins this battle by a long shot.  While Airlie Beach has a few nice beaches, Port Douglas is set on Four Mile Beach, which is one of the most underrated beaches in Australia.

Both towns are affected by the usual north Queensland jellyfish, so swimming is only advised in the netted areas.  Port Douglas also has giant reptiles that are frequently spotted swimming along Four Mile Beach.

Dog Friendliness

Airlie Beach has strict on-leash rules for basically the entire town for your pet dogs, so it’s not really that dog friendly.

Port Douglas has many beaches that are off-leash dog playgrounds.  Walk your dog off-leash at your own risk though as there have been many dogs playing in the shallow waters that have been taken by crocodiles.

Great Barrier Reef Tours

Port Douglas has only a couple of options with the best one being Quicksilver Cruises.  Departing from Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina, you can get to the outer reef for around $200 per person.

The tours from Port Douglas only go to the reef though, there will be no beach visits and you will be stuck on something floating all day long.

The lack of shelter more often than not means that the sea will be rough on your way to and from the reef, so it’s not ideal for people who get seasick.

Port Douglas boats are mostly high passenger number boats with over 100 passengers per boat.  Airlie Beach tours are much more personal with numbers normally around 30.

Tours from Airlie Beach are far nicer for people who do suffer sea sickness due to the protection from the Whitsunday Islands.

Average Single Day Reef Tour Price

  • Port Douglas – $215
  • Airlie Beach – $190

Airlie Beach tours are basically the same price as Port Douglas reef tours, but tours from Airlie Beach have the added advantage of stopping at the worlds number one rated beach, Whitehaven Beach.

The biggest difference you will notice in the tours is that the staff in Airlie Beach really love what they do and the Port Douglas crew who express passion, are few and far between.  As a result of this, the Airlie Beach tours are much more fun and feel a lot less commercial.

Red Cat Adventures crew are the best of the best in The Whitsundays, who usually prove themselves working for another company before being offered the chance to train with us.  Expert knowledge and a fun personality are pre-requisites for all of our Red Cat family.

Food and Drinks

Port Douglas wins the battle for food and Airlie Beach wins the battle for drinks.  Port Douglas has lots of exquisite restaurants that cater to the fine dining market.  Due to the pressure to compete in the town, all of the restaurants offer incredible dining experiences. 

Airlie Beach is up and coming with its food selection but is not quite on the Port Douglas level yet, we are hoping that changes very soon.  Drinks in Airlie Beach are much better than Port Douglas as we have many more pubs that all compete with each other.  

>>>> Airlie Beach Nightlife Guide

This brings drink prices down and experiences like live music up.  

Safety and Security

Both towns are considered to be quite safe by Australian standards with very little crime.  As long as you avoid walking around alone in the early hours of the morning, then you will be fine in both of these towns.

Summary

Obviously, we like Airlie Beach more than Port Douglas, but everyone is different.  If you are looking for a higher-end experience then Port Douglas is probably for you.  If you are looking to have more fun, then choose Airlie Beach.

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