Don’t tell the other cities, but Brisbane is the young and fun capital of Australia… Really setting the tone for the rest of Queensland.
Paired with its year-round good weather and a bustling outdoor dining and rooftop bar scene, the river city of Brisvegas, as it’s known colloquially, is a lot more relaxed and casual compared to bigger Australian cities to the south, Sydney and Melbourne.
That might be something to do with the fact is has half the population of those two cities, but it is still the third-largest in the country.
As a tourist destination, Brisbane might not have the raw appeal of the action-packed tourist hubs of the neighbouring Gold Coast (about an hour’s drive south) and Sunshine Coast (about an hour’s drive to the north). But it does offer its own unique mix of unique attractions with the mix of convenience and nightlife that you would expect from any big city.
The Best Things To Do In Brisbane
South Bank Parklands
South Bank Parklands sit on the southern bank of the Brisbane River, which is actually, technically, west of Brisbane’s CBD. But we won’t get caught up on that.
Initially built for the World Expo in 1988, this reclaimed section of the Brisbane River has been continually redeveloped ever since into a public park and event space that both visitors and locals flock to year-round.
The star attraction of the 17 hectares of riverfront parkland is the artificial Streets Beach. This self-contained beach, the size of five Olympic-sized pools, caters to both tourists and families alike.
Tanning seems to be the state sport of Queenslanders, so you’ll often find locals taking to the artificial beach during the day to enjoy the sun. But on the weekends and school holidays, you will find that the place is chock full of families making the most of a day out.
South Bank Parklands is also home to the Wheel of Brisbane, a much smaller, yet no less impressive, version of the London Eye. Built back in August 2008 to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the World Expo the wheel is another popular attraction offering great views of the city skyline and over the greater Brisbane area.
Depending on when you are in Brisbane, you might stumble upon any number of events that are taking place in South Bank as well. The most popular (and busy) being the Brisbane Festival in September, which culminates in the famous Riverfire celebration.
In addition, South Bank Parklands also offers a wide array of other facilities from an amphitheatre, to picnic areas and even a Nepal Peace Pagoda (from the 1988 World Expo) all interlinked with walkways and bike paths.
On the weekends you might also find markets, but it’s the restaurants and bars in and around the precinct that always seem to draw a crowd.
Alongside South Bank Parklands is the Queensland Cultural Centre which is home to a number of Brisbane’s other key attractions, including the Queensland Museum.
The state museum of Queensland has a long history, having operated since 1862, although in that time it has moved around the city until it found its current home in South Brisbane back in 1986.
Over that time, the Queensland Museum has built up an extensive collection dedicated to natural history, cultural heritage, science and human achievement.
Many of these artifacts are on display in the large themed galleries of the museum, most of which are free to access!. The most impressive of which, at least in my opinion is its Lost Creatures collection, because, well… Dinosaurs (Obviously!). Especially its Muttaburrasaurus.
The Anzac Legacy Gallery and Wild State galleries are also worth exploring, while the SparkLab is great if you have kids, but it does have an entrance fee attached to it.
A number of large temporary exhibits also regularly frequent the Queensland Museum, so keep an eye on their website to find out what is in town while you are.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Originally opened in 1927, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the oldest and largest koala sanctuary in the world as recognised by the Guinness World Records.
What started out as a simple sanctuary with only two koalas has grown into a stunning showcase of Australian wildlife including kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, wombats and echidnas.
Beyond the animal exhibits, the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is also home to a large eucalyptus plantation, the main food source for koalas. While the Brisbane Koala Science Institute was also recently (2018) opened at the sanctuary and is open to visitors during the day.
If you have any interest in knowing more about this unique Australian marsupial, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the place to visit.
Mount Coot-tha Lookout
Want to see all of Brisbane at the same time? Mount Coot-tha offers one of the best vantage points to get those stunning views out over the city.
Southwest of the city, not only is the lookout at the top of Mount Coot-tha worth a visit, but the precinct is also home to a number of Brisbane’s other key attractions, but we’ll get to all of those shortly.
The highest point within the Greater Brisbane area, the lookout provides uninterrupted views out over the city skyline, as well as Moreton Bay (to the east), from a couple of key vantage points including a cafe/restaurant.
Equally spectacular during the day and at night, Mount Coot-tha is actually well worth two visits if you have the time. The lookout offers a fantastic perspective on the state capital that not many other cities around Australia can boast.
For a different perspective of the city, Mount Gravatt offers an alternative viewpoint south of the city.
Roma Street Parkland
A popular attraction for locals and tourists alike, Roma Street Parkland is a public park created by the Queensland Government to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s 2002 visit to Brisbane.
The parkland is located in the heart of Brisbane city, right near the transport hub of Roma Street Station and covers an area of approximately six hectares.
Roma Street Parkland is home to an artificial pond with a fountain, a range of mature trees and landscaping, sculptures, playgrounds, barbecues and picnic areas.
It’s also a convenient access point while walking around the city with two major pedestrian walkways that run through the parkland. One from Roma Street to Edward Street (via Wickham Terrace) and one from Edward Street to Adelaide Street (via Creek Street).
Would it be an Australian city, without recommending a casino?
Located in the heart of Brisbane CBD right alongside the river, Treasury Casino is more than just a gambling venue.
Brisbane’s Treasury Casino is an entire entertainment complex located within two heritage-listed buildings featuring a five-star heritage hotel as well as ten restaurants and bars. Making it the go-to destination for an upscale night out in the city.
However, if none of that interests you, it’s still well worth walking by the casino to check out the historic Treasury Building (from which the casino draws its name) and Land Administration Building that have been repurposed to house it.
It’s also worth noting that the Treasury Casino will close in the not too distant future with a newer larger casino and entertainment precinct to be known as Queens Wharf currently under construction alongside it on the Brisbane River.
Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art
Another major attraction of the Queensland Cultural Centre as part of the Southbank area of Brisbane is the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. Also known as QAGOMA.
The QAGOMA is one of the most significant art galleries in Australia having been formed out of two significant art Brisbane collections. The Queensland Art Gallery was originally established in 1895 and moved to its current Southbank location in 1982. It was then joined by the Gallery of Modern Art in 2006 to become what it is today.
QAGOMA is now home to a large collection of both historic and contemporary Australian art with its collection including works by some of the most famous Australian artists, like Sidney Nolan, Brett Whiteley, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker and a must-do for any art aficionado.
Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium is another fascinating feature located in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha.
The star attraction (pun intended) is the Cosmic Skydome which hosts a number of different shows (some specific for kids and others more catered to adults) on a rotating roster that provides a truly insightful and interactive way to learn about the night skies.
Beyond the Cosmic Skydome, the Planetarium is also home to a number of other space exploration and astronomy exhibitions. A collection from the Apollo 11 landings is particularly noteworthy, as is the Skylore exhibit which showcases Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Astronomy.
In addition, there is the observatory if you’d like to get a much better look at the Moon, planets and star clusters for yourself, but I believe you need to book sessions at the observatory.
Eat Street Northshore
What do you get when you combine a disused historic wharf and hundreds of repurposed shipping containers? Brisbane’s must do international food destination, that’s what.
Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, Eat Street Northshore is a popular destination for a fun night out in Brisbane with numerous food vendors, musical acts, themed bars and market-style stalls.
If you want to travel the world with your tastebuds while enjoying views out over the Brisbane River, then Eat Street is the place to go if your travels to Brisbane have you there on the weekend.
Kangaroo Point Lookout/Cliffs
Kangaroo Point is a great place to go if you are looking for a different scenic view of Brisbane.
The lookout offers breathtaking views of the city and is one of the best places to view the Brisbane skyline during sunset.
While the views are stunning the site also has some unique history. The cliffs were actually formed after the stone was quarried from the site by convicts and used in the construction of a number of local structures including some of the historic buildings in the Moreton Bay penal settlement.
The quarry was closed in the 1970s and turned into a public park that offers equally impressive views from the lookouts at the top cliffs as it does from the river level.
Did you know that Kangaroo Point Cliffs are also a popular rock climbing destination? If you are feeling properly adventurous, there are a number of operators who run organised rock climbing sessions.
Museum of Brisbane
Located within Brisbane City Hall, the Museum of Brisbane is distinctly different from the larger Queensland Museum over at Southbank.
With a more specific focus on the history and growth of the city, the Museum of Brisbane is a great place to get a better understanding of the Queensland capital.
Take the opportunity to browse through the free exhibits and enjoy both the historic artifacts and photos as well as the more contemporary art pieces, to get better insight into the growth of Brisbane.
Brisbane Riverwalk is another unique way to take in the sights of the city and along the river. This dedicated walkway and cycle path along the river stretches for the Brisbane CBD to New Farm in the city’s east.
Offering views of the iconic Story Bridge, city skyline and the Kangaroo Point Cliffs, the walk is a nice and relaxing way to take in some of the city’s key attractions.
If you are just after a gentle stroll to take in the sights as well as enjoy Brisbane’s typically fantastic weather then start the walk from either Riverview Ct in New Farm or the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. Once you’ve completed the walk one way, you can catch the free CityHopper ferry service back to where you started.
For those a little more active, the Riverwalk cycleway links up with Bicentennial Bikeway for a scenic way to get the heart pumping along the river.
Queen Street Mall
Queen Street Mall is a popular shopping destination in Brisbane. Located in the heart of the city, it’s the key place to go for shops and restaurants within the CBD.
Brisbane doesn’t have the same shopping prestige as cities like Melbourne or Sydney, but the open-air pedestrian mall that occupies Queen Street and the surrounding precinct is loaded up with hundreds of shops from leading brand name stores to much smaller local boutiques and touristy trinket stores.
If shopping isn’t your thing, don’t worry it’s not mine either, it’s also the central location if you are looking for a decent feed while in the city with everything from fast food through to bars and fancy restaurants. Just take a stroll through the mall until you find something to suit your tastes.
Story Bridge Adventure Climb
The Story Bridge Adventure Climb is a must-do activity for anyone visiting Brisbane. It is a slightly challenging climb up the iconic bridge, but it is worth it for the views and the sense of accomplishment.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there are only six (maybe seven) major bridges around the world that you can actually climb? Three of them are in Australia!
The Story Bridge is one of those and a different way to take in the sights of the city and a much easier (and cheaper) experience than doing the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb in the southern state.
Where To Stay In Brisbane
Brisbane is one of the fastest-growing cities in Australia and it has been ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world.
That said, it’s not short of shorter stay options as well. There are many hotels to choose from when you are visiting Brisbane; it’s just a matter of finding something to suit your needs and budget.
Staying within the CBD is probably the most convenient way to make the most of your time in Brisbane.
Obviously, there are a tonne of accommodation options, but I wanted to try and narrow it down for you based on my own experience.
If you are planning a lengthy stay, more than just a couple of nights, then one of the serviced apartment options will probably suit you best. I would recommend the Oaks Brisbane Aurora Suites for the most full-featured option with a gym, pool and stunning views out over the river and Story Bridge. While the Park Regis North Quay is a slightly cheaper option but still offerings
Should your travels only see you in Brisbane for a couple of nights, but you are looking for the most comfortable and convenient place to stay, then I would suggest either the Four Points by Sheraton Brisbane or the Brisbane Marriott Hotel.
For something on the cheaper side, I would recommend Soho Brisbane. Only a very short walk from Roma Street Station, you won’t get the views but you’ll have easy access to the city.
If your goal while in Brisbane is to enjoy the city’s nightlife, then staying in the heart of all the action, Fortitude Valley, is your best option. It’s also where you’ll find some of the most unique and fascinating places to stay while in Brisbane.
South Bank is a great alternative for those people who would like to be close to the city, but don’t need to be in the thick of the action all the time. A little quieter than staying in the city; most of the hotels on the South Bank side of the river offer great views of the Brisbane skyline and are often newer than those on the other side of the river.
Near Brisbane Airport
If your trip to Brisbane is a quick one and you need easy access to the airport, then I would recommend staying in the suburb of Hamilton. Equally a short drive from both the city and the airport, this is the ideal spot for a very short stay.
There are a number of restaurants within a very short walk as part of a reasonably recent riverside development in the area. While if you happen to be staying over the weekend, the extremely popular Eat Street Northshore is only a couple of minutes’ walk further along the river.
While staying within the city is extremely convenient, it’s also the most expensive option. If you’ve already got your own transport and not planning on spending all of your time in the city centre, there you can very easily save by staying in one of the many surrounding suburbs.
Some of my favourites from outside of the city that I’ve stayed at in the past:
- Brisbane Holiday Village – Ideal for families, this holiday park is just a 15-minute drive outside of the city.
- Comfort Inn North Brisbane – Perfect for short stays, this motel is very comfortable, although 20 minutes outside of the city.
- Logan City Motor Inn – A bit further outside of the city, this motel has the convenience of being near the motorway and the Hyperdome shopping centre making it perfect for overnight stays while in transit.
How To Get Around Brisbane
Brisbane is a great place to explore, and in my opinion, the best way to get around the city is by foot or by using its public transport options. Especially when you are staying within the CBD and Southbank area.
Brisbane is a very walkable city with plenty of footpaths and pedestrian-friendly streets especially within the CBD and along the river. In fact, there is an extensive boardwalk known as the Riverwalk (as mentioned above) along much of the northern bank of the Brisbane River that makes for an extremely convenient way to explore sections of the city.
While almost all the bridges have footpath sections allowing you to get across the river reasonably easy.
The public transport system in Brisbane makes getting around within the city and out to the suburbs extremely easy.
All of the transport options, Bus, Train and Ferry services, are all interlinked and can be accessed with Translink’s electronic ticket system known as “Go Card”. Making it a seamless experience jumping from one service to the next while you explore the city.
In fact, Translink runs much of Queensland’s public transport system, meaning you can use the same Go Card system while down on the Gold Coast, or in some of the more regional cities like Cairns and Townsville.
Translink does offer special tourist-focused Go Cards, however, I’ve found that unless you are doing a lot of across the city routes every day, it works out a lot more cost-effective just to get a regular one from a local service station etc.
For more information about the transport routes across Brisbane (and the rest of Queensland) and timetables for the services that Translink offers, check out their website.
Driving around Brisbane is another good option if you have your own car, or need to rent one as part of the rest of your travels.
It is important to keep in mind that parking can be expensive within the city, so it might be best to find parking just outside of Brisbane and take one go the public transport options into town. There are also restrictions on where you can park your car during certain times of day and days of the week, so be aware of these restrictions before you head out!
When I do drive into the city I tend to park at Southbank. I find it a little easier than trying to navigate through a city that I don’t drive through regularly. That said though, it is a very popular option and does fill up very quickly. Particularly on weekends.
That all said, driving around Brisbane is relatively straightforward, with motorways interconnecting much of the city so you can avoid clumsy navigation through much of the suburban area if you don’t feel confident with that.
Just keep in mind that most of these motorways do have tolls electronic toll systems. So while you won’t see any toll booths you will need to pay, being proactive in paying online the day you use them (if you don’t already have an e-tag) will save you money.
Much like most Australian cities, Brisbane is well serviced by local Taxis as well as several ride-sharing services like Uber. These can be expensive, but really handy for shorter trips.
Getting To and From Brisbane Airport
In terms of capital cities around Australia, Brisbane enjoys the privilege of having its airport closest to the city.
As such, transport between Brisbane Airport and the city is the easiest and cheapest of any major city in Australia.
Located at the northern end of the Brisbane suburb of Eagle Farm. The airport is only 15 kilometres from the city centre and an easy 15-20 minute drive. That said, there are a number of easy and convenient ways to get to and from Brisbane Airport.
The Airtrain is the fastest way to get in and out of Brisbane Airport with the train service interlinking the Domestic and International Terminals as well as both Brisbane city and the Gold Coast.
If you are staying within the CBD and plan to utilise the rest of cities public transport while you are in the city, then the Airtrain easily makes the most sense.
Brisbane Airport is also well serviced by all of the usual rental car companies. While Taxis and Uber also operate out of both of the airport terminals.
Where To Find Food/What To Do In The Evenings?
Throughout this post, I’ve already included a handful of popular options of exciting places to visit to eat, but as a bustling young city, Brisbane has plenty more to offer.
However, in case you skimmed to this point and missed them, make sure you check out the Eat Street Northshore, Queen Street Mall and Treasury Casino listed above.
I should also mention at this point, the restaurant that offers the best view of the city – Ciao Papi. It’s right on the river looking out towards the Story Bridge with a sensational Italian menu.
Beyond those, there are numerous bars and restaurants scattered around the city. That said if you are looking for a good night out, you have two key places to head – South Bank and Fortitude Valley.
South Bank is the place to go if you are looking for a more relaxed night out with great views out over the city.
You’ll find a good number of casual dining options throughout the South Bank Parklands, but for something a little more upscale checkout either OTTO Ristorante right by the river or Embers located within The Charming Squire (also known as the James Squire Brewhouse).
Once you’re done with dinner, the South Bank Parklands and the views across the river are stunning at night.
If you are looking for something a little more up-tempo, Fortitude Valley is the place to go.
From dive bars through to the most deluxe offerings in Brisbane, The Valley as it’s referred to by locals has it all.
Brunswick Street is the heart of the action with several live music venues, notably The Fortitude Music Hall and The Sound Garden. It’s also where you’ll find the biggest and most popular nightclubs, The Met being the biggest and where the masses tend to congregate as the night kicks on.
Commercial Road and James Street also have a host of good options if you are willing to take a short stroll. While Chinatown is also only two blocks away.
With so many options, the best way to find what you are looking for during a night out in the Fortitude Valley is just to walk around. The precinct definitely has something for everyone.
If you are looking for things to do beyond the heart of the city, the Gold Coast is a bit over an hour (or so depending on traffic) drive south of Brisbane.
A couple of other great day trip options include:
Moreton Island is a great place to visit for a day trip away from Brisbane.
Most famously known for the Tangalooma Wrecks, Moreton Island is just a 75-minute ferry ride from Brisbane making it an ideal day trip destination while staying in the city.
The sand island is predominantly a National Park so it’s relatively untouched, with stunning beaches, sand dunes, and the famous blue lagoon. While the wrecks, a collection of 15 ships that were deliberately scuttled to make an artificial reef is an extremely popular snorkelling destination.
A little over an hour’s drive south, towards the Gold Coast, Tamborine Mountain offers a very different experience while still getting in touch with nature.
The rainforest and waterfalls stand out from the typical beaches associated with a trip to the Queensland capital. You can read more about my suggestions of what to do there in my Gold Coast guide.
Stradbroke Island, also known as Straddie, is another iconic island just off the coast of Brisbane. Not far from Moreton Island actually.
As the second-largest sand island in the world, it’s actually two islands, designated North and South, split by a fast-moving tidal channel that carved its way through the island in 1896.
If you’d like to get some more information to help in planning your trip to and around Australia… I’ve got a whole series of blog posts with all sorts of tips and advice for you.
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