The capital of Queensland sits next to Brisbane River. One of Australia’s most underrated cities is the Bougainville-sprinkled Brisbane. Unpretentious, calm and lush. The country’s third largest city with just over two million residents is an Australian underdog. Sure, Melbourne has its artistic cafes and Sydney has its surf-friendly beaches. But Brisbane has the climate everyone wants. One can’t deny that the tropical heat and the abundance of sunlight do something with the city and its surroundings. As the winter approaches, it is Queensland that the Australians travel to. With an average temperature of 25 degrees Celsius and above and a clear blue sky, it is easy to envy the locals who can stroll around in short sleeves most of the year. More and more choose to move to Brisbane and the city is one of the fastest growing in the country.
Brisbane is located around twenty or so kilometres from the coast. This is usually emphasized as the city’s main shortcoming. Brisbane may lack a beach, but instead it has an artificial lagoon built in the South Bank area. Take Victoria Bridge over to the lagoon which is open all year round. The lagoon has a sandy beach and is surrounded by tall palm trees where ibis birds sleep at night. The area around South Bank is full of activities. The city’s art scene lives and thrives. Several galleries and museums are concentrated mainly on the south side of the river. There is a myriad of cafés, restaurants and small shops. Buskers is a common sight along these streets. And further afield in the old power plant, gigs, exhibitions and festivals are often organized.
The city centre is small and can be discovered on foot. Brisbane is a patchwork of exciting neighbourhoods and suburbs. The river divides the north side from the city’s south. Ferries operate on the river, and this is the cosiest way to travel to get an overview of the city. This is also a convenient mode of transport since the network is well developed and the ferries run up every ten minutes. Brisbane is a sophisticated metropolis with a depth. Once you leave the centre, the cityscape changes quickly. Skyscrapers and high-towering blocks are thinned out to finally disappear. Instead, the buildings are characterized by so-called Queenslander houses. Sumptuous one- or two-story villas with wide verandas and Victorian decoration. The houses create a homely feeling even though you are in a big city. Brisbane has many parks and green areas for walking. Don’t be surprised if you see turkeys, iguanas and possums strolling in the middle of the city.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
Greater Brisbane is large but with a small city centre. The city centre is located north of the river and is built like a grid. Shopping malls and small shops can be found along the main street, Queen Street Mall. In the central’s far south lies the botanical garden (wotif.com/discover/australia/queensland/brisbane/brisbane-central-business-district/brisbane-botanic-gardens.d6061055).
Walk northeast from Queen Street to reach Fortitude Valley which is the city’s entertainment district and where Chinatown is located. Follow the Victoria Bridge over the river and you will reach the southern part of Brisbane including South Bank area. Here you will find an artificial lagoon where you can swim, and the area has lush parks with benches to rest your legs on. There is also a good selection of restaurants and you can visit art galleries, the library, cinemas and museums. Continue southwest and you will reach the hip district West End. If you like walking, you can join a tour on foot to be guided through Brisbane’s many attractions (wotif.com/things-to-do/city-essentials-walking-tour.a411652.activity-details).
Brisbane River Walk is a walking and cycling track that follows the river between New Farm and Howard Smith Wharf. Nearby is the Wilson Outlook Reserve which offers a view of the bridge and the city. It is possible to continue the journey along the boardwalk all the way towards Edward Street, leading into the city centre. This stretch gives a beautiful view of the city and the river but there are few places to escape the sun, so avoid it when the sun is at its highest. North of New Farm and east of Fortitude Valley lies Teneriffe. This district is one of the oldest in Brisbane. Here you will find many historic buildings, including the iconic Queenslander house with ornate verandas. There are also two microbreweries to visit here. Straight south from Fortitude Valley lies Kangaroo Point in southern Brisbane. The neighbourhoods are linked together with Story Bridge. Just like in Sydney, you can climb the bridge (wotif.com/things-to-do/story-bridgeAdventure-climbing-experience. a255670. Activity-Details). Although it is not as spectacular as in Sydney, the price is a bit kinder on the budget.
Art and culture
There are countless galleries to visit around the city. One that stands out from the others is the Edwina Corlette Gallery (edwinacorlette.com), located on the central Brunswick Street. Explore various types of exhibitions here. If you are looking for major exhibitions of international artists, you can visit the Institute of Modern Arts (ima.org.au) in Fortitude Valley or the two buildings belonging to the QAGOMA (qagoma.qld.gov.au) in South Brisbane. The city’s old power plant has been converted into an arena for art. The red-bricked building has an extension in polished glass and steel. One event after another happens here; music events, festivals and exhibitions. You will find Brisbane Powerhouse (brisbanepowerhouse.org) eastwards in New Farm. It is easy to get there by ferry (translink.com.au), just hop off at New Farm Park. Close by is an outdoor cinema (moonlight.com.au/brisbane/program) showing movies during the summer months. If you are visiting during spring, you can see the jacaranda trees in New Farm Park sprinkle the world purple.
Sports, entertainment and events
Rugby league is an appreciated sport in Brisbane. The local team is called Brisbane Broncos and plays at Suncorp Stadium (suncorpstadium.com.au) in the district Milton. The annual Brisbane Festival (brisbanefestival.com.au) is organized in September and is a major international festival with a focus on art. The whole thing usually culminates with a gigantic firework display down by the river. Riverstage (brisbane.qld.gov.au/facilities-recreation/arts-culture/riverstage) is a larger outdoor facility located within the botanical garden right by the river. Both national and international acts usually appear here.
The Queen Street Mall in central Brisbane has a wide range of shops. There are both well-known brands and smaller shops. The shops are scattered out along the street. Some more personal or alternative shops can be found in the West End district. Go bargain-hunting for vintage, second-hand clothes and knickknacks here. Examples of shops are the Nook (nookbrisbane.com) at 19 Browning Street and SWOP Clothing Exchange (swop.net.au) at 161 Boundary Street. There are also some exciting gadgets to go bargain-hunting for in Fortitude Valley at the shop Sunday Social (sundaysocialstore.com) at 5D Winn Street. And check out the stores on Ann Street and Bakery Lane.
An outdoor market is held at Stanley Street Plaza in South Bank every weekend (collectivemarkets.com.au/southbank). Discover crafts, taste new dishes and listen to music. Jan Powers Farmers Market is organising delightful food markets in Brisbane Powerhouse, City, Manly and Mitchelton. Visit the home page to find out when the market is held (janpowersfarmersmarkets.com.au).
The largest selection of restaurants, bars and cafés can be found in Fortitude Valley. In daytime, there are lots of cheap nooks and lunch restaurants open. Later in the evening, the area is transformed, and the bars and nightclubs open their doors to fill the district with music. This is where backpackers and residents head for a night filled with party and dance. The more sophisticated traveller can head to the celebrated Brisbane Jazz Club (brisbanejazzclub.com.au) to experience swinging jazz along with a nice drink. The jazz club is located right on the waterfront along 1 Anne Street in Kangaroo Point. The centrally located backpacker-bar Down Under Bar & Grill at 308 Edward Street continues to maintain its status among those who are looking for good company but also cheap food and drink. More suggestions for recommended restaurants in Brisbane can be found under wotif’s website (wotif.com/discover/australia/queensland/brisbane.d179993/brisbane-restaurants).
The two universities, University of Queensland (uq.edu.au) and Queensland University of Technology (qut.edu.au) are located in central parts of the city. But there are also several colleges and universities with campuses around Brisbane.
Good to know
There is a centrally located Visitors Information Centre at 167 Queen Street Mall and another at Stanley Street Plaza in South Bank Parklands. Both are open daily, and they can help you with bookings and tips for your stay. You will also find a variety of attractions and travel packages on wotif’s website (wotif.com/things-to-do/search?location=Brisbane%2C+Queensland).
Brisbane has a subtropical climate which means that the days are warm, and the air is basically humid all year round. During the summer months, the temperature is between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius, but the humidity means that the temperature is perceived to be higher. Tropical storms are frequent, and rain can lead to flooding. Lightning storms often occur in the evenings and light up the sky with its white bands. During autumn, spring and winter, the temperature is lower, and the days are sunny.
If you arrive in Brisbane by bus or train you will probably arrive at Roma Street Station on Roma Street. From there it is 500 meters to walk into the city centre. The airport is located 16 kilometres northeast of the city (wotif.com/Flights). From there, it is easiest to take the Airtrain (airtrain.com.au). Local traffic is operated by TransLink. Invest in a Go Card (translink.com.au/tickets-and-fares/go-card) if you plan to travel a lot. For a short visit, a seeQ card (translink.com.au/tickets-and-fares/ticket-types/visitors-and-tourists/seeq-card) suits better. You can choose between a three-day card (79 dollars) or a five-day card (129 dollars). The price includes one return trip with Airtrain. A tips is to use TransLinks online journey planner (jp.translink.com.au/plan-your-journey/journey-planner). In the city you can also get around with the help of the ferries CityCat and CityHopper (brisbane.qld.gov.au/traffic-transport/public-transport/citycat-ferry-services). The ferries run seven days a week and the CityHopper is free. Timetables can be found on the TransLinks website (translink.com.au). Or if you prefer, rent a car from the airport or in Melbourne (wotif.com/Car-Hire).
Finding accommodation is no problem when you are in Brisbane but depending on how and where in the city you want to live, some alternatives are better than others. If you want to camp more centrally, Newmarket Gardens Caravan Park is the best choice. The resort is only four kilometres from the city centre. If you are willing to travel a bit further there are plenty of more choices. If you are travelling with a family, Brisbane Holiday Village (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Brisbane_Holiday_Village.htm) is a good alternative. They have cottages, spots for motorhomes and camping places. The address is 10 Holmead Road in Eight Mile Plains, 15 kilometres south of the city.
Brisbane Backpackers Resort (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Brisbane_Backpackers_Resort.htm) is located only a few kilometres from the city centre at 110 Vulture Street in West End, within walking distance from South Bank Parkland’s lagoon. If you rather stay in the heart of the city, Base Brisbane (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Base_Brisbane_Uptown.htm) might be something for you. The hostel is located just behind Queen Street Mall. It is a couple of dollars more expensive than Brisbane Backpackers Resort but still one of the cheapest accommodation options in Brisbane.
A budget option is the Metropolitan Motor Inn (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Metropolitan_Motor_Inn.htm) at 1076 Leichhardt Street in Spring Hill, not far from Fortitude Valley. This is where you get your hands on a room from 89 dollars a night. The motel was recently renovated. If you don’t mind paying a bit more, you will find your money well spent if choosing right. One of the options that stands out from others is Emporium Hotel which has won several awards for best luxury hotel and best boutique hotel. The Emporium is located along Wickham Street which is only a short walk from Fortitude Valley, where there are trains and buses can take you to the city centre. They also have a sister hotel in South Bank (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Emporium_Hotel_South_Bank.htm).
A day in Brisbane
07:30 – Morning with a view
Get up early and challenge yourself before having breakfast. Let the day start with an adrenaline kick. Book a morning climbing with Story Bridge Adventure Climb (wotif.com/things-to-do/story-bridge-adventure-climbing-experience.a255670.activity-details). After reaching the top you will be guided to centre of the bridge where it is time to enjoy the view of the city as it wakes up. Two hours after the start you are back on the ground again.
10:00 – Brunch in an historic district
Stroll along the Brisbane River Walk towards New Farm or take the Sydney Street ferry and hop off on the other side of the river. Continue until you get to Bitter Suite (bittersuite.com.au) located at 2/75 Welsby Street. Finally, it is time for the day’s most important meal. The brunch is enjoyed outdoors in the shade of the trees. Breakfast is served to 11:30, so take your time. Then stroll around the area. Head down to New Farm Park and visit Brisbane Powerhouse to see if there is any art exhibition to explore. If it is late spring, the jacaranda trees might be flowering in the park.
13:00 – Ferry ride and city lagoon
When you feel satisfied, start heading west. Take the ferry from New Farm and hop off at South Bank. The journey takes almost half an hour so find a seat and enjoy the trip on the water. Once in South Bank, you can walk through the long arch covered with colourful bougainvillea. Then cool the body down in the city’s very own lagoon. Rest under the palm trees or try out the market on Stanley Street Plaza.
15:00 – Hipster café
Enjoy the air conditioning inside one of QAGOMA’s two buildings. The Gallery of Modern Art is located at the northern tip of South Bank. Admission is free and you can enjoy art from around the world. Wander among exhibitions and admire some artist’s wacky creations. If you have energy left for more, take a walk southwest to West End, the city’s hipster mecca. Fifteen minutes later, you should have arrived at Three Monkeys Coffee & Tea House. Take a well-deserved coffee break here.
18:00 – Back to the city centre
Leave South Brisbane and travel towards the city centre. If you are struggling to walk by now, take the bus number 196 or 199 and hop off at Adelaide Street. Then it is only a short walk to Miel Container at 96 Mary Street. In the red container, mouth-watering gourmet burgers are cooked to perfection.
20:00 – Cheers at the end of the day
Tired in both legs and feet, you are ready to order a tasty drink. Get to nearby Stock Exchange Hotel and make a visit to their rooftop terrace. Or dress up and take a taxi for a visit to Eleven Rooftop Bar (elevenrooftopbar.com.au) at 757 Ann Street in the entertainment district of Fortitude Valley, with a fantastic view of the city.