In recent decades Brisbane has been recast as a cosmopolitan capital of culture and cool, and offers no end of top notch travel experiences. Here are ten amazing ways to spend your time in the River City.
It may be the capital of the Sunshine State, but Brisbane isn’t content just to bask in the glow of an abundance of rays.
A second runway has recently opened at Brisbane Airport, enabling it to handle more flights per hour at full capacity than Hong Kong International Airport. Riverfront renewal projects like the Howard Smith Wharves are revolutionising how the city engages with its eponymous waterway, while the construction of Cross River Rail and Brisbane Metro will transport residents and visitors in and out of the city more efficiently. Brisbane is evolving — and fast becoming an epicentre for culture and creativity in the process.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Brisbane on a first visit.
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1. Get arty at QAGOMA
A ten-minute stroll over the Victoria Bridge from Brisbane’s CBD brings you to the fabulous Queensland Cultural Centre, which houses the joint Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). GOMA showcases contemporary Australian and international works, and has played a key role in boosting Queensland’s cultural vibrancy over the past decade. The two million+ visitors who file through the gallery each year can testify to that!
2. Ride high on the Wheel of Brisbane
Previously the site for World Expo 88, South Bank is Brisbane’s premier recreational precinct. The 17.5-hectare zone is filled with top-notch eateries, bars, stunning parks and Australia’s only inner-city beach. For a bird’s-eye view of the precinct, the Brisbane River and the CBD, hop on board the Wheel of Brisbane. The 60-metre-high observation wheel has 41 air-conditioned standard gondolas (and one VIP option). It’s the perfect spot to snap some Instagram-worthy pics, while listening to the audio on Brisbane’s key landmarks.
3. See a show
Directly behind the Wheel of Brisbane is the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. This impressive complex stages around 1,000 performances annually across its four theatres and outdoor performance spaces. From musicals, symphonies and ballet, to work devised by Indigenous artists, the annual programme is hugely varied.
4. Explore the city on two wheels
Sightseeing on two wheels is a great option in Brissy. The Brisbane City Council actively encourages cycling and to date has created 444 kilometres of bike paths. A popular option is the Kangaroo Point Bikeway. Starting at the Dockside Ferry terminal, the path hugs the Brisbane River and passes under the majestic Story Bridge. You’ll cycle by the soaring Kangaroo Point cliffs, before heading on to South Bank. This four-kilometre ride takes approximately 30 minutes, depending on how often you stop for photos.
5. Get to know the Brisbane River
There are twenty bridges crisscrossing the Brisbane River, but being on the water itself provides a unique perspective of the city. Riverlife at Kangaroo Point offers fun and adventurous kayaking tours. You’ll pass the Kangaroo Point Cliffs and view the underside of the Captain Cook Bridge. Waving at the passing City Cats is optional. These fast, silent ferries skim up and down the river, pulling in at terminals to drop off and pick up passengers. They’re an effective means of public transport, and an economical way to see more of the city from the water (all you’ll need is a Go Card).
As one of only three bridge climb experiences on offer across the entire planet, Brisbane’s Story Bridge Adventure Climb is a must-do. Climbing the cantilevered expanse delivers sweeping 360-degree views of the CBD, Moreton Bay, the Glass House Mountains and Mount Coot-tha. Book a night climb and reach for the stars.
7. Take in the panoramic vistas from Mount Coot-tha
Mount Coot-tha is the highest peak within the city’s urban perimeter. Head up to the Summit Lookout for breathtaking views of the Brisbane River wrapping around the ever-expanding cluster of CBD skyscrapers. The summit is easily reached by car or bus, but you can also hike up on one of the many trails through the Mount Coot-tha Forest. You’ll see plenty of native wildlife, including kookaburras, parrots and cockatoos. The Planetarium in the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens (located at the foot of the mountain) is well worth visiting while you’re in the area.
8. Cuddle a koala at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Speaking of wildlife, no stay in Brisbane would be complete without a visit to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. This 18-hectare park is home to around 130 of the iconic Australian natives, and you’ll get the rare opportunity to ‘cuddle’ (aka hold) a koala. There are other furry and feathered residents to meet, and the enclosure where you can feed kangaroos by hand is very popular with visitors. Consider making this a full day adventure by taking the famous Koala Cruise along the Brisbane River from the CBD to the Sanctuary.
9. Do a Mount Tamborine wine tour
An hour’s drive south of the Brisbane CBD is the World Heritage-listed Tamborine National Park. This unique subtropical rainforest is filled with natural wonders, including stunning waterfalls and species of vegetation dating back to when Australia was part of the great Gondwana continent. Located within the park, picturesque Mount Tamborine boasts several wineries. Cedar Creek Estate offers wine tastings, along with rainforest walks, a glow-worm cave and a restaurant. Witches Falls Winery is another popular option, while Mount Tamborine Vineyard and Winery’s offering includes a decadent high tea from Monday through to Saturday (bookings are required a week in advance). Book a wine tour from Brisbane and let someone else do the driving!
10. Enjoy some rooftop revelry
With an average of 283 days of good weather each year, Brisbane and its rooftop bar scene co-exist happily and harmoniously. At Sixteen Antlers (on the 16th floor of the Pullman Hotel’s Mercure Tower) it might be best to turn your back on the City Hall clock. No-one needs to be reminded of the time when they’re busy sampling craft beers or curated cocktails.
Over at South Brisbane, while not quite as high, Dandy’s Rooftop Bar at the Fox Hotel is fun and flighty. The Astro Turf and bright pops of colour creates a relaxed, casual vibe.
Limes Hotel in Fortitude Valley was ahead of the pack when it opened Brisbane’s first rooftop bar. Sip on a cocktail while relaxing in a comfortable beanbag, with the stunning Brisbane city-scape as your backdrop.
Jennifer Johnston is a Brisbane-based freelance writer and blogger inspired by travel, health and wellbeing. She juggles pursuing her passion for writing with raising three rowdy young men, a dog and a couple of goldfish. Jennifer has explored much of the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States (including Hawaii), Canada, New Zealand, Egypt, Israel, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan and Fiji. When she’s not writing, you may find Jennifer hiking in some distant part of the world.