When you think of Australian cities, Sydney or Melbourne immediately come to mind, but there are many more interesting cities to discover. Today we are going to tell you all about the city of Brisbane, the third largest city in Australia, after the aforementioned cities. A very popular destination for tourists, as it is the gateway to the Gold Coast. Discover the 30 essential things to see in Brisbane and be amazed by this beautiful city.
Why visit Brisbane city?
Brisbane – the capital of the state of Queensland known as the Sunshine State. This city, which knows no winter, revolves around sunny days and outdoor activities. Although not heavily promoted in terms of tourism, Brisbane is one of the most popular destinations for Australians to live. It is also home to thousands of students who attend its famous university. The pleasant climate, the calm atmosphere, despite being a huge city, and its proximity to the beach make Brisbane a unique place.
Another attraction of Brisbane is its convenient location between two fantastic stretches of coastline: the Sunshine Coast to the north and the Gold Coast to the south. But that’s not all, because it is also surrounded by mountains, such as Lamington National Park, Glass House Mountains or Tambourine Mountain. It is also surrounded by picturesque villages such as Maleny, Montville and Stanthorpe and islands to explore. Thanks to this unique location, Brisbane’s residents have plenty of options for weekend getaways.
Brisbane’s city centre contains some of the city’s oldest buildings as well as an interesting commercial life. Its grand colonial-era buildings house museums, shopping centres and offices lost among the skyscrapers. On the other side of the river, you’ll find South Bank, home to important cultural institutions, restaurants, entertainment venues and a beautiful man-made beach.
30 things to do and see in Brisbane
As you can see, Brisbane has many attractions and interesting things to do. If you are travelling in Australia, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Brisbane city. This guide will help you get to know the city in depth and find out where to go, what to see, where to eat and much more. Are you ready? Let’s get started.
1. Take a ferry ride
Brisbane’s river is an icon of the city, so you can’t miss the chance to get on board and cross from one point to another, crossing the river. The boats run from 6am to midnight and take locals and tourists to some of the city’s main sites, such as the South Bank.
2. Lazing on the South Bank
What could be better than having a beach in front of the office? South Bank would be the next best thing. This attractive neighbourhood has a large park and outdoor entertainment centre located on the waterfront opposite the financial centre and its towers.
There you will find water games for adults and children, an open-air theatre, gardens with tropical plants and much more. The perfect place to relax after a hard day’s work.
Streets Beach has sand brought from the Gold Coast and is located in front of the river and the city’s skyscrapers, which gives it a very special touch – the mere fact of finding a beach in the middle of the city is striking!
3. Having your photo taken on the Brisbane sign
Who doesn’t like to have their picture taken on the big billboards with the names of cities on them? In the case of Brisbane, the letters are on the South Bank, on the banks of the river.
4. Taking a photo with the elephant upside down
After taking a photo with the Brisbane letters, you can approach one of the most curious works of the city: the upside down elephant. For this rare sculpture, the city paid a price of Au$1,000,000, so the least you can do is have your picture taken with it. It is installed at the back of the QaGoma Museum, next to the bank of the Brisbane River.
5. Visit the QAGOMA Museum
- Map: Gallery of Modern Art, South Brisbane QLD 4101
- Open: 10 am – 5 pm
The South Bank area has many museums to visit. One of them is the largest modern and contemporary art museum in Australia. We are talking about the QAGOMA Museum, which is the union of the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) and the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). Both galleries house an important collection of contemporary artworks from Australia, Asia and the Pacific. As well as being huge and super interesting, the museum is free. The best plan for a rainy day.
6. Appreciate the Queensland Museum’s collection
- Map: Grey Street &, Melbourne St, South Brisbane QLD 4101
- Open: 9.30 am – 5 pm
Very close to the QAGOMA Museum is the Queensland Museum, which is also free. Its walls hold an interesting collection that shows the past, present and future of this region of Australia. It also has free exhibitions on the biodiversity of Queensland, which has many species that are unique in the world.
7. Ride Brisbane’s Giant Ferris Wheel
This is another emblem of the city, also located in the South Bank. Similar to the London Eye, the Brisbane Ferris wheel rises 60 metres above the ground and is one of the city’s main attractions. It is open daily from 9am to 10pm and is priced at an estimated $21 adults and $14.5 children.
8. Visit the Nepali Pagoda (Nepalese Peace Pagoda)
Another thing you can do in South Bank is to visit the Nepalese Pagoda, one of the 8 Peace Pagodas scattered around the world. This building is the only one that still remains from the 1988 World Expo that was held in Brisbane city. The pagoda was built for the event and involved 160 sculptors from Kathmandu, who worked hard for 2 years. The work required 80 tonnes of indigenous Nepalese timber.
After the expo, the pagoda generated so much charm that the city decided to preserve it and today it has become a piece of great importance.
9. Take a stroll through Epicuious Garden
This is another of the things to see in South Bank. This sustainable community garden is a space where you will find exotic plants, aromatic herbs, fruits and vegetables. The most interesting thing is that it is maintained and cultivated by volunteers. If you want to be part of this community or take vegetables for free you can come by from Tuesday to Thursday from 7 am to 2 pm. It really is a very interesting initiative.
10. Rainforest Walk
Located in the heart of South Banck, Rainforest Walk is an attractive trail that runs through a man-made rainforest. It’s a good opportunity to feel lost in the middle of the forest, surrounded by tropical and sub-tropical plants, strolling along the wooden walkways or just sit back and relax your mind.
11. Take a stroll through The Arbour
This is another unique place in Brisbane. In this case, it’s a 1km long walkway made up of 443 steel poles lined with magenta bougainvillea flowers. This beautiful work has received multiple awards for its architecture and is another must-see in the city.
12. Discover Roma Street Parkland
This huge park of 16 hectares is located in the centre of Brisbane. It’s the perfect place to get in touch with nature, have a typical Aussie barbecue and even work outdoors. The city’s Wi-Fi service works perfectly and you’ll have no trouble working from the park.
Roma Steet Parkland is the perfect choice for a day of picnicking. It also has artificial waterfalls, a beautiful lake and a multitude of flowers of different colours and textures scattered throughout the park. All these features make the park a must-see in Brisbane.
To get to the park you must take the train to Roma Street Station, cross the street and go up the escalators that lead to the park.
13. Visit the Brisbane Botanical Gardens
This is another nice activity to enjoy a bit of greenery and a change of scenery. The Brisbane Botanic Gardens, founded in 1970, has 56 hectares of garden where you can take a nice walk. Plus, admission is free, so there’s no excuse.
Inside the garden you can visit attractions such as the Bamboo Grove, which displays a collection of 23 species of Bamboo, several ornamental ponds or the weeping fig avenue.
14. Climb the Brisbane City Hall Tower
The centre of Brisbane shows a perfect contrast between the old and the modern. Amongst the city’s huge skyscrapers, you’ll find the City Hall building, built between 1920 and 1930. For 30 years it was the tallest building in the city, today it is a heritage site and the venue for many cultural, social and civic events.
It is worth climbing to the top of its tower and enjoying the views of the city, as well as walking around the square that accompanies it.
On the third floor of the building is the Museum of Brisbane, which has many free exhibitions worth seeing.
15. Cycle around the city
The city of Brisbane has 150 bike stations that offer the possibility of taking a stroll and cycling through the streets. The service is very economical and has an App where you can hire a bike, find out about the stations and more.
16. Enjoy the views at Kangaroo Point Cliffs
The Kangaroo Point Cliffs are a popular destination for abseilers and adrenaline junkies. These peninsulas that meander along the Brisbane River are an area full of life and parks, barbecues, camping areas and more. The best thing to do is to approach the place at sunset and enjoy the beautiful views it offers.
17. Take a stroll along The City Reach Broadwalk
This pleasant walk runs along the river pavement starting from Admiralty tower II park. It is a very busy part of the city, where people gather to have a drink in one of the bars in the area or do some sport.
18. Visit the oldest building in Brisbane
The Old Windmill is a windmill located in Wickham Park. It dates back to 1820 and is not only the oldest building in the city, but also the oldest windmill in Australia.
19. Shopping in the city’s flea markets
For Brisbane locals it is very common to buy fresh produce at the weekend markets. If you’re visiting the city as a tourist, you shouldn’t miss this opportunity either. Grab a canvas bag and start browsing the stalls, buying produce at a bargain price. Some of the markets you can visit are The Rocklea Markets, Carseldine Farmers and Artisan Markets, Cleveland Market, Northey Street Organic Markets, Milton Markets, among others.
20. Walk across the Story Bridge
The Story Bridge is Australia’s largest cantilever bridge and links the suburbs of Fortitude Valley and Kangaroo Point, i.e. the north and south of Brisbane. It’s worth crossing both during the day and at night, when the views of the illuminated city are spectacular. One of the best places to see it is from Admiralty Tower II Park, where you can take some great photographs.
21. Taste Brisbane’s distinctive flavours at Fonzie Abbot
If you’re a lover of elaborate food and fermented products, be sure to visit Fonzie Abbot, located in the northern suburb of Albion. This famous place has the unique distinction of being a coffee roastery, brewery and distillery, so you can visit in the morning or afternoon.
22. Have a cocktail at a bar
You’d expect that in a city as big as Brisbane there are hundreds of bars to visit. Electric Avenue is an old-style pub decorated with quirky old furniture. But, if you want to experience something unique go up the old staircase, turn left at the landing and go up another flight of stairs. You will find an antique wardrobe. Open its doors, put away your clothes and enter Mrs T Rabbit, a speakeasy with a great cocktail menu, an extensive whisky menu and a wide variety of wines.
Fortitude Valley (known to locals as The Valley) is Brisbane’s most vibrant nightlife district. Its main street, Brunswick Mall, has a wide variety of clubs, pubs and pedestrian-only bars. Nightlife is thriving and the atmosphere is always lively. This area is the epicentre of Brisbane’s live music scene, thanks to venues such as Fortitude Music Hall.
Within Fortitude Valley is Brisbane Chinatown Mall, a place that attracts hundreds of tourists everyday. Its gates guarded by stone statues of guardian lions usher in a feast for the senses. Gastronomy, art, culture, architecture and many colours await you to complete your tour of the city.
23. Listen to an underground opera
You may not be an opera fan, but this experience is highly recommended. It takes place in the Spring Hill Reservoirs, built in the 19th century, which once held the city’s water supply. These large underground spaces host numerous theatrical performances that take advantage of the site’s special acoustics. Theatre, opera and Broadway musicals are part of this unusual offer.
24. Visit the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
This is another different activity you can do in Brisbane, especially if you’re travelling with children. The Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium is located within the grounds of the city’s botanical gardens. Its main attractions include the Cosmic Skydome, a huge projection dome, an observatory, a Galaxy gift shop and the sundial courtyard.
25. Stroll the Public Art Trails
Brisbane has five public art trails that focus on different themes: the river, the city’s contemporary art, architecture and Brisbane’s cultural heritage. For example, from King George Square to St Stephen’s Cathedral there is a trail that offers a combination of historic and contemporary artworks and monuments that have shaped Brisbane’s history. You can also enjoy a 2.4 kilometre art trail that meanders along the riverfront, starting at the Maritime Museum and ending at the Thornton Street Ferry Terminal.
26. Discover the Birrunga Gallery
Its main attraction lies in the fact that it is Brisbane’s only arts and culture mall owned and operated by indigenous people. Strolling through this gallery will allow you to discover (and buy if you wish) original artwork created by local First Nations artists. You’ll see the work of the gallery’s founder and lead artist, Birrunga Wiradyuri, which, along with the works of other artists, tell the stories of his people’s past and present.
27. Shopping at Queen Street Mall
Queen Street Mall is the main shopping precinct, located in the heart of Brisbane. Its open-air pedestrian mall is filled with more than 700 clothing and accessory shops, some of which are world-renowned brands. But it’s not just fashion you’ll find here. Queen Street Mall is also home to art galleries, parks and terrace bars. Every year more than 1000 events of all kinds are held in this area of the city, so if you’re lucky, you might be able to find one.
28. Stroll through another of Brisbane’s iconic neighbourhoods: New Farm
This riverside suburb is one of Brisbane’s most admired areas, so be sure to wander the streets lined with restaurants and boutiques. It’s also home to one of Brisbane’s oldest and largest parks, New Farm Park, which attracts more than 18,000 visitors from around the world each week. This park is a popular meeting place for families and friends to gather for a barbecue, picnic or just a chat under the shady trees.
Next to the park is an amazing old building that has been converted into an arts centre: Brisbane Powerhouse. It offers live music, comedy, theatre, weekend farmers’ markets and moonlight cinema.
Another attraction in the area is the Riverwalk, a promenade that connects the suburb to the city centre via pedestrian and cycle paths along the river.
29. Visit Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
One of Brisbane’s most adorable attractions is Australia’s largest koala sanctuary, located a 15-minute drive from the city. This site is home to more than 130 koalas and a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with them. You’ll even get to hold one in your arms while your guide tells you all about Australia’s most treasured animals.
30. Go on a trip to Moreton Island
If you want to see sea and beach, then you can take a trip to Moreton Island, located 40km from Brisbane. This island, made entirely of sand, has beautiful white sandy beaches, ideal for swimming, surfing and fishing. Towards the westernmost side of the island you’ll find a sheltered, much more relaxed area.
Getting around Brisbane
Brisbane is not only densely populated, it is also a very large city, geographically speaking. This means that getting from one place to another can take a bit of planning. To get around the city, you have a Go Card, which works with TransLink, an integrated system of buses, trains and ferries. The card is valid throughout the Brisbane metropolitan area and in the neighbouring regions of Ipswich, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. Just insert the card into the TransLink reader of the TransLink service you are going to use and you’re ready to go.
You can top up your card at any of the 1,500 shops in the city that act as charging stations or via the website.
Brisbane’s rail network is a good way to get around the city’s attractions as well as the outlying suburbs. Some lines run daily from early morning until late evening. Main stations in the city include Central Station and Roma Street Station, from where you can catch a train to attractions such as South Bank and Fortitude Valley.
Fun fact: to get off the train you have to press a button, as if you were travelling by bus. If you don’t do this you risk missing your stop.
Popular places to eat and drink
Brisbane has an interesting range of food and drink: bars, restaurants, cafes, breweries and much more. One popular spot is Alfred and Constance in Fortitude Valley, which offers a tasty morning menu to start the day with plenty of energy. Muesli with blueberry compote to a full breakfast with Cumberland sausage, leek croquette and corn and avocado are just some of the many options you’ll find there.
Fortitude Valley is home to Gerard’s Bistro, named Queensland’s best restaurant. Its extensive international menu will take you on a journey from Africa to Europe. One of their most popular dishes is quail wrapped in grape leaves.
In the Albion suburb you’ll find Vaquero, an elegant Spanish-inspired restaurant, perfect for lunch or dinner.
If you’re looking for quality beer, you’ll find it at The Fox, a popular terrace bar in the city. The food on offer is average, but the festive atmosphere invites you to have a beer while listening to good music. At Archive Beer Boutique, located in the West End, you can sample 400 different types of beer, many of them brewed in Australia.
Did you expect to be able to do so much in Brisbane? You’ve probably been amazed at all this city has to offer. We hope you enjoyed your trip and that you will include Brisbane in your tour of Australia.