Often when people think of Australian metropolises they conjure up images of the Opera House in Sydney, the arts and music scene in Melbourne and the Pacific Ocean views of Darwin. But what about Brisbane? There are no world renowned landmarks, distinct reputations or notorious historical events. So what exactly is there to see in this small city?
Brisbane is often a sleepover city for travelers headed north to the Great Barrier Reef, West to the Outback or South to the beaches. Because of its great central location, it sometimes gets overlooked as being a tourist attraction in itself. What travelers will miss is the culture and beauty of this clean, modern and vibrant city that other parts of Australia don’t always exhibit.
Streets Beach – Brisbane’s Man-made Riverside Beach
Lying alongside the river is one of the best creations that Brisbane has to offer, a man-made outdoor beach and pool area called Streets Beach. Although the Brisbane River is quite beautiful to look at, it’s certainly no place to swim as crocodiles have been spotted in it on more than one occasion. So, the ingenious city planners of Brisbane have created this free and delightful sand-swimming hole on the banks of the river with views of the skyscrapers just across the water.
In addition to the authentic sand-pool there are two other cement pools for those who simply want a swim and not the full experience of sand-in-your-bathing-suit beach fun. The beach is located along Grey St., one of the best strips in Brisbane for fine dining and shopping.
Queen St. Mall – Shopping Center
Probably the most tourist-populated area of Brisbane is the centrally located Queen St. Mall, an outdoor and underground shopping center located right in the middle of the central business district. Here you can find anything from old beat up records and second hand bookstores to top of the line electronics stores and designer boutiques. There are also numerous food courts and bars in the area. The mall gathers a collection of office workers, high school students, foreign travelers and young to middle-aged locals and is a great place for people watching.
Brisbane City Botanical Gardens
A few blocks from the Queen St. Mall are Brisbane’s beautiful Botanical Gardens, that are really more a public park than actual gardens. Located just off of the river, the gardens are a great place to relax, walk around or explore. You can also visit the City Garden’s Café that was the original curator’s house. The gardens lead to a pedestrian bridge called the Goodwill Bridge that takes you across the river and supplies breathtaking views of the sparkling city both by day and night.
Cultural Center – Museum and library complex
Just along the river banks is located the museum and library complex. Here, the public library offers complimentary internet access, while the small but entertaining museum boasts free entry to its historical exhibits. These include a sprawling taxidermist’s delight of some of Australia’s rarer animals and a massive collection of Aboriginal art and artifacts, for those looking for some cultural insight into Australian history.
Across from the museum is Brisbane’s biggest art gallery, the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) that also has free entry, (other than to special exhibitions) and art from all over the world including a permanent collection of Indigenous and Australian works. They also often have film festivals and cinema screenings throughout the year.
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Fortitude Valley – Indie shopping, nightlife and Chinatown
Another well-known area for evening affairs is Fortitude Valley, or as locals call it, “the Valley”. It houses the most clubs and bars in Brisbane and you’re sure to see the Australian youth having a night on the town if you make it out here after sundown. During the day, this district is known for its boutiques and vintage clothing stores and Brisbane’s own China Town.
West End – Hip, alternative neighborhood
As for shopping and dining, although the Queen St. Mall has it all, because it is such a large tourist attraction, it tends to be on the pricier side of things. Therefore, if you’re looking to avoid the sightseer crowds and get a more local taste of the city, your best bet is to venture to the hip and more off-beat suburb of West End. Not only is the food in this neighborhood delicious and cheap but its eclectic inhabitants provide a great atmosphere for dinner and afterwards, music and nightlife.
Eagle Street Pier – Upscale dining and views
For those with a bit more padding in their pocket, the Eagle Point Pier has some of the best food that Brisbane has to offer. Why the expensive prices? Not only are you paying for top of the line chefs but the views of the river and the magnificent Story Bridge could rack in the funds for this expensive real estate themselves.
If you don’t have the funds to cover the costs, this site is still worth a trip to walk around and take pictures, especially at night.
Mount Cootha Summit – Stunning drive and lookout point
When the city life gets you to start feeling a bit transcendental, a visit to Mount Cootha will be sure to bring you back to nature. The main attraction of the site is a summit with a lookout point over the city of Brisbane that provides the most stunning views of the main city, surrounding area and river. Next to the lookout is a gift shop, ice cream kiosk and award winning restaurant perfect for the traveler who values the view as much as the meal itself.
Mount Cootha Reserve – Natural park, gardens and planetarium
However, Mt. Cootha isn’t just a great place for photos. It’s a public natural reserve with waterfalls, secret lookouts, bush land and exotic wildlife that you could literally spend the whole day discovering. There are trails that bring you throughout the park but its always fun to stray off the trail and have a look around for yourself as well, as long as you’re careful!
At the foot of the mountain are the vaster and more impressive, albeit more out of the way, Botanical Gardens of Brisbane and the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium. The gardens are great to walk through and observe native Australian foliage, while the Planetarium is a fun activity for any stargazer to enjoy.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – Wildlife reserve
If Brisbane’s plants and stunning vegetation just aren’t enough to get you close to Mother Nature and you’re looking to bond with the wildlife, the best remedy is a trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Here you can actually hold and pet a koala, get your picture taken with one, hold snakes and other critters and pet and even feed kangaroos, emus and wallabies. Other exotic animals such as the Tasmanian devil echidna, wombat and the dingo are also housed at this site.
There is a river tour with Mirimar Boat Cruises that offers transportation to and from the sanctuary that includes historical commentary about the area and views of Brisbane and the surrounding area from the water. If you’re lucky, you can even get a sneak peek of a bat colony on Indooroopilly Island. But, if you’ve got other plans for transportation or just want to keep the trip a bit cheaper, the sanctuary is only 15 minutes from the city and is accessible by road. City buses do run back and forth to the site.
For those early risers, one of the best things to do on a Saturday or Sunday morning is head to one of Brisbane’s many outdoor markets. Some of the more popular ones include the Jan Power’s Farmers Market, the Rocklea Saturday Market and the West End Green Flea Market. If you’re looking for an authentic Australian experience, you can be sure to find it here.
Products range from local produce and delicious Brisbane foods and pastries to handmade apparel and art. The locals are friendly and great to talk to about other things to do in the city. If you go towards the end of the market day, you can often find discounts and sometimes even freebies from closing stands.
Transport – River taxi and Free bus
All of Brisbane is accessible by bus and, in some regions, by train. Brisbane also runs a Citycat, or water taxi, up and down the river for easier access to portside neighborhoods and a much more scenic route. There is also a Free Loop Bus in the central business district around Queen St. Mall and the Botanical Gardens that runs in both directions during operating hours.
Many tour companies run day trips outside of the city to nearby attractions such as Australia Zoo, the late Steve Irwin’s creation in Beerwah, the Glasshouse Mountains, Moreton Island, Noosa and Surfer’s Paradise. These sites are all within 1-2 hours of the city and are, with the exception of Moreton Island, all accessible by bus or train.