Australia’s third-largest city, Brisbane’s long, hot summers, large green spaces and, curving river make it the relaxed, easy-going sibling of Australia’s other capital cities. Leisure time is spent keeping cool in major museums and art galleries, getting involved in riverside sporting activities or enjoying fresh local produce in world-class restaurants and bars. For travellers with some time to explore, Brisbane is also just an hour’s drive South to the theme parks of the Gold Coast and the wildlife attractions of Australia Zoo to the North.
Brisbane River winds snake-like through the city towards the ocean, and keeping track of what side you’re on can be tricky. Much of the city’s nightlife, shopping and dining take place in the inner-city suburbs around the river, including Fortitude Valley (or ‘the Valley’), New Farm, Spring Hill and Teneriffe to the north, and South Bank and West End to the south. Only seven kilometres west of the city, Mount Coot-tha is home to Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium and the sprawling Brisbane Botanic Gardens. Here you’ll also find the Brisbane Lookout, which provides spectacular 360-degree views of the city.
Most of Brisbane’s major arts-based attractions are located in South Bank’s cultural precinct. Queensland Museum, Sciencentre and Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) are all contained in this one-block radius.
A quick walk across the river brings you to King George Square in the city centre, where you can take a guided tour of Brisbane City Hall, home to the Museum of Brisbane. Travel a bit further afield to witness stunning views atop Mount Coot-tha, or hold a koala at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – one of the few places in the world where this is possible.
● Dinner at Gerard’s Bar on Fortitude Valley’s upmarket James Street, followed by a short walk to the bars and clubs of Brunswick and Ann Streets.
● Catching a CityCat ferry all the way along the river for a tour of Brisbane’s stately ‘Queenslander’ houses, impressively engineered bridges and dramatic natural cliffs.
● A picnic under a centuries-old fig tree in the City Botanic Gardens, where you can enjoy the ornamental ponds or bamboo garden.
● Visiting GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art), Brisbane’s world-class modern art gallery. Stay for a meal at the GOMA restaurant to try fine-dining inspired by native Australian ingredients.
Between the CBD and Fortitude Valley, for both work and play, some of the best hotels in Brisbane are found in Spring Hill. There’s more Brisbane accommodation in the CBD and South Bank for those all-important river views, as well as leafy New Farm.
Spring Hill is an historic area of Brisbane, lined with early 20th-century terrace houses, many of them heritage listed. It’s well-connected to public transport, with regular buses running through Boundary Street, and just a few minutes’ walk from the thriving dining and entertainment hub of the Valley.
The Eagle Street area of the CBD affords visitors proximity to buses and river transport services CityCat, CityFerries and the free CityHoppers. Here, you’ll also find upmarket restaurants and department store shopping. Families may enjoy staying in New Farm, a relaxed but central base close to public transport, or South Bank for its riverside activities and famous man-made beach.
Brisbane is quickly gaining ground in Australia’s restaurant scene, with chefs making the most of fresh local produce and the varied immigrant cuisines that have influenced Australia’s passion for eating well. Brisbanites love to dine outside – whether it’s avocado on toast in a sunny café courtyard, seafood pasta and a bottle of wine at a busy footpath table, bar snacks on a rooftop or a quick burrito outside a local Mexican joint.
If you’re up for an adventure, Brisbane’s night markets are a foodie oasis, with the Eat Street markets at Hamilton being the most popular. On the go, a sandwich or sweet from a local deli is a must, thanks to the city’s large European population. Spring Hill Deli and New Farm Deli are particularly beloved. A generous bowl of noodles or curry from one of the good-value Asian restaurants in Chinatown, Fortitude Valley, is the perfect way to start a night out.
● A true Australian fine-dining experience at Urbane, renowned for its vegetarian and omnivorous degustation menus.
● Food you won’t get anywhere else at Tukka, a restaurant specialising in native Australian ingredients. Let the waiters, and the food itself, teach you a bit about Indigenous Australian history and culture.
● A diner-style meal at the Bleachers. This burger bar is open late and often features unique soft-serve flavours like pomegranate and vanilla or honey and apricot.
● A giant bowl of pho at the Vietnamese Restaurant, a hub for locals from every walk of life.
● A long, leisurely Middle Eastern-style brunch at Shouk.
Brisbane’s shopping and fashion culture is as relaxed as the rest of the Brisbane lifestyle. Open-air markets and boutique shops are favoured over malls and chain stores, making it easy to find a unique, locally made souvenir or gift.
The Eagle Street Pier Markets are a must for any visitor, with a wide range of local art, crafts and practical gifts. Davies Park Markets in West End are the place to pick up any local produce you might want to take home, such as honey, jams or chocolate.
The grungy Fortitude Valley Markets are for vintage fashion, books and oddities. The huge South Bank Markets have the most exciting atmosphere – especially on Friday nights, when they transform into a late-night bazaar, complete with live music.
At the CBD’s Queen Street Mall, you’ll find department stores, a cinema, a farmers market and more than 700 retailers.
● Don’t miss two of Australia’s most successful fashion labels, Gorman and Zimmermann. Stores for both these labels can be found on Adelaide Street in the CBD or James Street in the Valley.
● A local preserve, like tomato relish, mango chutney, smokey BBQ sauce or rosella jam, will remind you of Brisbane long after you’ve left.
● Opals, Australia’s national gem, make for eye-catching jewellery. You’ll find stalls selling opal jewellery at many of Brisbane’s markets, but for guaranteed quality you can’t go past the Rock Shop on Adelaide Street in the CBD.
Only a 20-minute bus or train ride from the art galleries, museums and theatres of South Bank’s cultural precinct, Brisbane nightlife centres on Fortitude Valley, where you’ll find everything from craft beer bars to live music hubs and multi-storey night clubs.
In the CBD, a smattering of wine bars cater to a largely professional crowd, while in Petrie Terrace, Caxton Street is home to a few large pubs and hip bars.
South Bank has the city’s largest cinema, the Southbank Cineplex on Grey Street. For a boutique cinema experience, try the Palace Cinemas chain in Petrie Terrace and the Valley.
Also in South Bank, QPAC (Queensland Performing Arts Centre) has a packed schedule of theatre, ballet, opera and classical music all year round. For lovers of experimental theatre, Brisbane Arts Theatre in Petrie Terrace and the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in the Valley deliver unique entertainment, with left-of-centre circus, music and dance.
● A 100-year-old art deco building, the Tivoli is a Brisbane icon that hosts international alternative bands.
● For a more relaxed night out, the Triffid in Newstead plays host to a variety of local and national bands. Its large beer garden provides the perfect backdrop for acoustic music.
● Brisbane Powerhouse is a heritage-listed power station converted into a cool, graffiti-covered performing arts space. It features free music and comedy every Sunday afternoon.
● The Foundry is one of Brisbane’s younger music venues, and the one that’s most likely to cause a headache the next day. Be brave and check out the best and loudest of Brisbane’s thriving local music scene.
Brisbane is a lively outdoor city, with most activities centring around its vast, central park and riverside spaces. A day out in the city can involve anything from adventure sports to a peaceful, sunlit walk.
You won’t regret kayaking up the river or abseiling down the cliffs beside it, guided by the experts at Riverlife Centre. Spring (September - November) is the perfect time for a stroll through the rose garden in New Farm Park, while your kids enjoy the huge playground.
A wander along the floating Riverwalk at dusk is something even locals never tire of. Thrill-seekers could also try climbing a Brisbane landmark, with Story Bridge Adventure Climb.
● If you’re travelling with kids, the Sciencentre is a must, with multiple levels of interactive, educational fun.
● Visiting South Bank for a day of swimming at man-made Streets Beach.
● An al fresco dinner of fresh-caught seafood in South Bank, followed by a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane.
● A sunset drink on the balcony of Bar Alto in the Brisbane Powerhouse.
● A bike ride along the Riverwalk and CBD boardwalk – an almost completely flat stretch, suitable for most fitness levels.