For those coming from overseas or interstate, Brisbane is now officially more than just a pit-stop on the way to the Gold Coast. People don’t talk about “Expo 88” anymore, they talk about the exhibitions at GoMA. We have great barbecue spots, sure, but there are also some great high-end, fine dining experiences too. With an incredible climate (although slip, slop, slap please, I implore you) and a great set of river walkways and public transport connections, it’s also easier than ever to get around. Whether it’s a family adventure, a romantic weekend or a spare 24 hours on the end of a business trip – here’s our pick of the best attractions in Brisbane.
10 things to do in Brisbane at least once in your life
Climbing to the top of the Story Bridge has to be first on your to-do list. It’s definitely not for the faint-of-heart though it’s arguably one of the best ways to see the city. Punters get an information session on the history of the bridge before starting a climb just in time for dawn or dusk. At the peak you’ll be 80 meters above sea level and on one of only three climbable bridges in the world. Good news is climbs go ahead in all weather conditions.
Pro tip: the Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha aren’t as busy as the main Brisbane city Botanic Gardens, and there are tours and information sessions all the time if you’re in the mood to learn. For those wanting to stretch their legs, the walk to the summit of Mt Coot-tha brings a panoramic reward. Start in the early hours to catch the sunrise and enjoy it with a picnic spread if you’re in the mood. Alternatively you can drive up in the early evening and enjoy a twinkling view over dinner at the Summit Restaurant and Bar. If you’re car free and want to fit in lots of sites at once, there are tour-groups that pit-stop at the summit too.
The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) complex spans two buildings in South Brisbane and continuously delivers world-class art to the city. There are always free works on display in each centre, as well as special ticketed exhibitions at different times of year. QAGOMA is easy to get to by bus or train and has cafes and lovely, grassy areas for lunch breaks nearby. They often have special, interactive exhibits which they claim are “for kids”, but everyone knows that also means “kids at heart”. Check out their website for a themed cinématèque program too.
A walk around Fortitude Valley will get you to Jan Murphy, Philip Bacon, REDSEA, and Edwina Corlette Galleries, as well as the Institute of Modern Art. If you’re after some art that’s a little less indoors, the area is also full of great street art. The huge brick wall on the side of Bloodhound Bar, on Brunswick Street, is a great start, then work your way towards Ann Street and the centre of the valley. Look out for stickers and posters down alleyways too.
Brisbane River is colloquially known as the “brown snake” because it twists and turns so much. Fortunately at night time you can’t see just how brown it is with a trip along the river on the CityHopper. The CityHopper ferry is widely agreed upon as a delightful (and often romantic) way to spend an evening. The lights of the city sparkle against the water and it’s the perfect way to take advantage of the warm climate. Hop on at any of the six different terminals around the CBD, follow it round the bend and under the Story Bridge and get off at Sydney Street near The Powerhouse where a show and a drink will be waiting for you. Best of all – the CityHopper is completely free and runs every 30 minutes from 6am to midnight.
If you only hit one area on your visit, make it South Bank. There are fantastic lagoons and playgrounds for kids, fine dining restaurants along the river (Aquitaine Brasserie for some fancy French and Popolo for relaxed-but-delicious Italian), markets on the weekends and some free live music too. There’s also boutique shopping, a huge cinema, and long list of great bars like French Martini and Malt Traders. There’s so much going on that it’s easy to plan an entire day of family activities on the cheap or even a romantic night out that finishes with a walk along the river.
Davies Park Markets in West End sell great fresh produce so it make for a really lovely Saturday morning outing. The fruit and veg comes straight from the farmers so it’s recommended you get there at 6am if you want to get your hands on the best stuff. A stroll around the stalls for brunch won’t disappoint either; there’s fresh lemonade, Dutch pancakes, German sausages, coffee carts, and healthy options too.
There are a dozen different companies offering climbing and abseiling along the Kangaroo Point cliffs, and there’s no guessing why it’s so popular. Best in the early morning or evening out of the harsh, Queensland sun, you’ll be able to look along a beautiful stretch of the Brisbane River from the top. There are picnic and barbecue facilities all along the river, so once you’ve done the hard work you don’t need to go far for a cold drink and a snag.
Lone Pine has way more than just koalas, but it also has a lot of koalas – over 130 apparently – ready and waiting to be cuddled and photographed with you. For something a little more spine-tingling, opt for a photo with a raptor or a snake. On the other end of the Australian wildlife spectrum, you can also hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies or be sure to check out a sheep dog show, a platypus keeper talk or a big lorikeet-feeding session. You can get to Lone Pine by car or bus, and compared to other theme parks and zoos, it really doesn’t take too long to reach from the city.
New Farm park is not only objectively beautiful, it’s also one of the few public places in Brisbane where you’re allowed to consume alcohol. With shady spots and sunny spots, areas with rose beds and playgrounds, and a pagoda – it’s a picnicker’s dream. There are a couple of barbecues, but get in quick and claim your spot on the weekend because they fill up fast. Better to pack an esky of pre-made snacks and leave more room for the rosé.