An Expert’s City Guide to Brisbane, Australia

An Expert’s City Guide to Brisbane, Australia

Brisbane is a lively and eccentric city. Street performers, ferris wheels, Asian gardens, breweries and man-made lagoons surround the Brisbane river, reticulated only by landmark bridges and lesser-known freeways; there is much to do here!

Brisbane is also the gateway to some of Queensland’s greatest attractions. It’s only an hour away from the hedonistic Gold Coast, which is complete with long sandy beaches, pulsating night life and Australia’s best theme parks, and it’s a jump off point to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world!

From Brisbane, travelers can continue north to the Whitsunday Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, and finally to Cairns.

Brisbane River
Cruising along the Brisbane River.

Best Things to Do in Brisbane

The Brisbane River – First and foremost, a ride on the water taxi down the Brisbane River is one of the best things to do in Brisbane! Especially on a nice day, there’s no better way to enjoy the city!

South Bank Parklands – On the ground, South Bank should be everyone’s first stop. Just across the river from the city center is a large urban green space complete with an artificial beach! Here, walk through Asian architecture, explore the shops and vendors, go swimming, people watch, dine in quirky cafes and ride the Wheel of Brisbane (Australia’s answer to the London Eye) for a view over the whole city!

The Queen Street Mall is also worth exploring. Located on a walking street in the middle of the city, the Queen Street Mall is a vibrant part of town filled with restaurants, cafes, shops and malls, and it could easily retain you in its tentacles for an entire day!

Kangaroo Point Cliffs – Just across the Brisbane River from the CBD, the Kangaroo Point Cliffs are well worth exploring. Go walking along the trail by the cliffs, or rent some gear and climb them! There are beautiful views of the city and the Brisbane River from the park at the top.

Kangaroo Point Cliffs, Brisbane
Kangaroo Point Cliffs next to the Brisbane River.

Where to Eat in Brisbane

The alternative West End is a good place to start for those wanting a wide variety of food options, many of which are very reasonably priced. Also on the south side of the river, South Bank offers both fast food and fine dining in the Parklands area. It’s a wonderful place to take a picnic to enjoy great city views from the grassy areas and artificial beach.

One of our favorite restaurants in Southbank is a tapas place called Ole. There is a great Indian place here as well! Other great foodie areas include New Farm and Paddington.

If you’ve had a big night out in the city and want to grab some filling comfort food on your way home, check out The Pancake Manor on Charlotte Street in the city. It’s open 24 hours a day – the only 24 hour restaurant that I know of in the city!

South Bank, Brisbane
The view of the South Bank Parklands from across the river.

Best Places to Drink in Brisbane

Beer Bars – To join the after work crowd head to Eagle Street along the north side of the river. If craft beer and trendy cocktail bars are your thing, then head to West End. I particularly like the Archive Beer Boutique for a huge range of unique craft beers.

Cocktail Bars – My favorite place to grab a cocktail is a small bar named Canvas in Woolloongabba (a suburb not far from Southbank). There are only a few tables and couches to sit, meaning that it always has a quiet a cosy atmosphere. The cocktails are really inspired as well!

Nightlife in Brisbane – Or, if you want to have a massive night out then head to Fortitude Valley – this is party central! The Family Nightclub is great for dancing (Sunday nights are always the most interesting), along with The Met, or stop in at any one of the bars that line the streets in the center of the Valley.

Sunday Sessions – For your Sunday afternoon drinks, head to the Powerhouse. This arts and culture centre is located in an old power station next to New Farm Park. Sunday drinks are the thing to do, and there are often free art exhibitions in the building. Check the website as they also have free music and free comedy on Sundays as well.

There are a couple great bars in South Bank, too, which are a great place to stop off after a day of exploring the area.

Drinking a cider in South Bank
Drinking a cider in South Bank.

Where to Stay in Brisbane

Roma Street – The first large cluster of hostels is at Roma Street. Roma Street Transit Centre is the terminal for long distance buses, so this is a convenient place for people who are arriving by bus. This is also near to the restaurant district of Paddington. I stayed at The Yellow Submarine , which is a bit quieter than some of the other hostels in the area, and very clean and cheap.

West End – The very hip West End of Brisbane has a couple laid back hostels as well. These are good places for quiet, chill hostels, and for people staying longer term. One good hostel which I have stayed at is called Somewhere to Stay .

Fortitude Valley – There are also loads of hostels and hotels in Fortitude Valley. This is the party and nightlife district which means there is a TON to do, but don’t expect peace and quiet.

The Best Markets in Brisbane

Brisbane is home to quite a few excellent weekly markets. The best craft market is at the South Bank Parklands. Depending on the time of year, this market can run up to three times a week over the weekend. This is a great place to find unique souvenirs and gift ideas!

Wednesdays in the city, in the square at the end of Queen Street Mall, is a fun and very crowded food market. This is a great place to grab lunch if you are in the city. It gets pretty busy though, so grab a snack and head across the bridge to the South Bank.

Also, the West End Market is a trendy place to spend a Saturday morning. With live music, large crowds and local vendors, you can find fresh produce and all kinds of fun food stalls and pop up cafes!

West End Market
Cruising the West End Market in Brisbane.

Best Side Trips from Brisbane

  • Stradbroke Island – If you’re looking for a more legitimate beach experience, there is Stradbroke Island. It’s easy to reach the North Stradbroke Island Ferry Terminal using Brisbane public transport (Cleveland Train Station), and there is a hostel on the island as well as several campgrounds. The beaches here are much, much less crowded than on the Sunshine Coast, and you will feel miles away from the capital city.
  • Glasshouse Mountains – For those wanting more of a wilderness experience, there are the Glasshouse Mountains just north of the city. Here there are several hikes available to explore, ranging in all levels of difficulty.
Stradbroke Island
Sunset on Stradbroke Island.

Recommended Transportation

Public transportation is fairly good here, although a bit expensive. To save a bit of money grab a Go Card. The card costs $10, but you get this back when you return your card after your visit. The card gets you 30% off your transport, and works on a pay as you go basis. The Go Card works on both trains and busses.

How to Get to Brisbane

Brisbane is home to an international airport, so flying here is not an issue. For cheap flights make sure to check out Jetstar, Webjet and Tiger Airways (don’t forget to compare with Vayama, though!).

There are also frequent Greyhound buses coming to Brisbane from various cities all around.

What are your favorite things to do in Brisbane? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Hi there,

    Would love to know if you’ve ever taken an adventure with Riverlife? We offer rock climbing on the Kangaroo Point Cliffs, both day and night tours. We also offer kayak and stand-up paddleboard tours/hires that run on the Brisbane River as well. Both are great ways to see the city from a different perspective. When I read City Guides I love to know what outdoor activities I can do, places to eat, and local shops to check out.

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