Welcome to my Brisbane city guide, which will tell you all you need to know to plan a perfect weekend city break or a more extended stay in Brisbane, Australia.
The Queensland capital of Brisbane is known for its relaxed lifestyle and visitors love the combination of modern architecture with outdoors eating and drinking in a climate that is warm for most of the year.
Brisbane’s origins are also as a British penal colony but the rich natural resources of the surrounding country ensured that it was opened up for settlement in 1838. Since the 19th century Brisbane has grown exponentially and it is now a fine city, set on the serpentine Brisbane River.
Brisbane travel information
The Airtrain is the easiest way to get from Brisbane Airport into the city and also out to the Gold Coast.
Buy an electronic GoCard for travel on buses, trains and CityCat ferries. Another money-saving option is the SEEQ card, which has a range of discounts at 80 attractions around Brisbane and includes public transport.
Tourist information about Brisbane can be found at visitbrisbane.com.au and the Brisbane Visitor Information Centre is in the Queen Street Mall, between Edward and Albert streets.
Pick up a TransLink go card from stations and selected retailers for travel on all TransLink bus, ferry and rail services both in Brisbane and the south-east of Queensland. It’s the perfect travel companion.
In Brisbane there are two free city bus services: the City Loop and the Spring Hill Loop. These run every 10 minutes on weekdays and are a great way to get around in the central business district of Brisbane and the Spring Hill precinct.
Another option is to rent a car in Brisbane, making it really easy to visit all the wonderful attractions in Brisbane. A single cab ride can cost over $50 while a car hire costs from just $22 per day and Alpha Car Hire has a depot located near the airport.
Things to do in Brisbane
The quickest and most enjoyable way to get a taste of Brisbane is in fact on a river cruise. From the decks of the regular CityCat ferries you can see how the shiny skyscrapers dwarf the remaining colonial-era structures. The winding river passes under the might Storey Bridge near the glass and steel office towers of the business district.
If you have a head for heights and want to see the best views of Brisbane go to the Story Bridge Adventure Climb (office at 170 Main Street, Kangaroo Point). Twilight climbs are the best and the whole experience lasts about two-and-a-half hours.
Another highlight of Brisbane is the South Bank Parklands, a beautiful example of urban landscaping that really works for residents and visitors alike. A stroll through the Parklands takes you past flowering trees, playgrounds and fountains, even a Japanese garden. There are also a number of markets for buying delicious street food and souvenirs. Of course there are plenty of pubs, cafes and restaurants.
The South Bank Beach is just that, a sandy beach, right in the heart of central Brisbane. Golden sand and blue water surrounded by tropical plants make this the perfect place to spend a hot Queensland afternoon in Brisbane.
For art lovers, the Gallery of Modern Art at the Queensland Cultural Centre has seen massive investment in recent years thanks to the mining boom and the collection here has many outstanding examples of contemporary art. There are also beautiful indigenous art collections at the Queensland Art Gallery next door where admission is free.
There is a pleasant Bohemian feel to parts of Brisbane, with its many neighbourhood markets. The Northey Street Market (and city farm) is a great example of this and if you’re in Brisbane on a Sunday morning you can enjoy excellent coffee, delicious breakfasts and organic produce, as well as browsing the wares of local craftspeople. This is a great idea for visiting families as there is a play space and even kids’ craft activities.
Hotels in Brisbane
The Mantra Terrace Hotel offers modern boutique accommodation in a good location that is budget friendly. Another good value central city option is the George Williams Hotel (317-325 George St) with some good room configurations for small groups or families on a budget.
The Novotel Brisbane is a good option with nearly 300 modern rooms in a good location that are excellent value. It is a particularly good choice for families (200 Creek Street).
The Harbourside B&B is in a colonial-era house on the Redcliffe Peninsula with pleasant rooms and wide verandahs. This is a personal and well-located mid-range option (21 Thurecht Parade, Scarborough).
The bijoux Spicers Balfour Hotel has only nine rooms and is very chic indeed. There is also a small day spa attached (37 Balfour St, New Farm). The Stamford Plaza offers river views and spaciously plush rooms (39 Edward Street).
Where to eat and drink in Brisbane
Head to the Jellyfish Restaurant & Bar, where speciality dishes complement the Brisbane river boardwalk views. The fish menu is highly recommended (Boardwalk Level, Riverside Centre, 123 Eagle Street).
Another restaurant with an excellent location is Watt. This eatery is on the riverfront near New Farm Park and the Brisbane Powerhouse arts centre at Eagle Point. It is great for a weekend brunch or dinner before a show, and they put an emphasis on sourcing local food (119 Lamington Street, New Farm).
The Powerhouse is an attractive hub for going out in the evening, with regular free live entertainment and plenty of eateries with terraces overlooking the river for a sundowner.
Another recommended night time watering hole is Friday’s at the Riverside Centre, (123 Eagle Street) with lovely views over the boardwalk.
Moda (12 Edward Street) is a courtyard restaurant where quality local produce is the inspiration for an innovative menu created by chef Javier Codina.
Popolo Italian Kitchen and Bar is perfect for a lunchtime pizza stop (Shop 3, River Quay, Sidon Street).
In the trendy inner city neighbourhood of Paddington the Kettle & Tin has great indoor-outdoor flow with its white-picket-fence-bordered verandah. This café has a homely atmosphere and is perfect for both brunch or a later meal as the varied menu serves up both Asian-fusion delicacies and modern Australian fare. The share plates are popular in the evening (215 Given Terrace, Paddington).
E’cco bistro (100 Boundary Street) is a real treat, with a six-course tasting menu at sunken, window tables the highlight.
Day trips from Brisbane
A popular day trip from Brisbane is to take a cruise to Lone Pine Sanctuary on the MV Mirimar (which takes around 75 minutes and departs from the Queensland Cultural Centre). View Australia’s unique wildlife up close and you may even get to cuddle a koala.
There are many beaches along the coast to the north and south of Brisbane, most of which are quiet and clean. The best beaches are on the small islands just off the coast (reached by short ferry rides) such as Stradbroke Island, Bribie Island and Moreton Island.
Inland from the city, the Glass House Mountains is a popular day trip. This unusual geographical formation of eleven hills that rise suddenly from the forest-covered plans is very beautiful. There are picturesque villages and boutique eateries just waiting to be discovered here.
When to visit Brisbane
Brisbane has a tropical climate so is generally warm all year round. While it has very pleasant temperatures in winter, the height of summer (December to February) can have very high humidity levels. Spring and Autumn are the loveliest seasons and October is a great time to visit, when the Jacaranda trees add a delightful flush of purple colour to the streets as they bloom and perfume the warm air.
By Natasha von Geldern
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