Your Ultimate Guide to Brisbane
1st August 2023
Brisbane in a nutshell
With approximately 300 days of sunshine per year, long summers, a winding river and lush green parks, Brisbane has it all. Blessed with incredible riverside walkways, alfresco bars and nearby coastal scenery that will blow your mind, this city in Australia’s Queensland is made for the lover of the outdoors. Plus, don’t forget that Brisbane’s nearby islands are also only a stone’s throw away, comprised of sand dunes, ancient shipwrecks and turquoise beaches. Trust us, there are plenty of things to do in Brisbane.
But as Australia’s third largest city, Brisbane (or Brissie) also offers the kind of sophisticated big-city vibes and attractions that you’d expect from somewhere like Melbourne or Sydney. Positioned on the Brisbane River, visitors to Brisbane will find the likes of South Bank cultural precinct, which incorporates Queensland Museum and Science Centre and Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. Indigenous art as well as cutting-edge contemporary creations can be found alongside works from European masters, all in this one spot.
Prior to European settlement, Brisbane was the home of the Turrbal people who were known best for their amazing fishing skills. Using the river as a resource for food, they caught fish, shellfish, crabs and shrimps for survival. The Turrbal Nation of Aboriginal people have inhabited the shores of the Brisbane River for up to 40,000 years.
Brisbane’s European history dates back to 1824 when New South Wales Governor Thomas Brisbane decided to send the worst convicts in the state elsewhere. The area they chose, was Brisbane. Since then, the city has undergone immense change and has become one of the largest cities in the world (in terms of the land it occupies).
Lesser-known before hosting the Commonwealth Games in 1982 and World Expo in 1988, Brisbane is now well placed on the world stage. Interestingly, it has become somewhat of a centre of innovation in recent years, and there’s certainly an air of contemporary creativity about it. Today, there’s a multicultural buzz in the air in this sun-soaked city and its many tourist attractions and lively events make it a perfect destination for a long weekend city break.
In this Ultimate Guide, we present you with a number of things to do in Brisbane, before ending with some suggestions when it comes to restaurants and cafes in Queensland’s capital.
Things to do in Brisbane
Visit Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary opened with just two koalas, Jack and Jill, in 1927. Today, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is an eco-certified nature tourism operator offering visitors to Brisbane incredible wildlife experiences only moments from the CBD. Drop into Lone Pine for the morning during your visit and hold a koala, enjoy a photo session with a dingo, or simply explore the sanctuary. The kids will love to see the animals here, which include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, as well as barn animals. Once you’ve enjoyed all that the sanctuary has to offer, drop into Riverside Cafe for a coffee overlooking the river.
Explore Brisbane’s best museums
One of the best things to do in Brisbane is to explore some of its diverse museums. Lose yourself in the city’s history, politics and architectural grandeurs with a visit to at least one of Brisbane’s cultural sites. Pop into the Museum of Brisbane at Brisbane City Hall and learn a little about the evolving life of the city with both a historic and contemporary lens.
Perhaps try a visit to Queensland’s first public and heritage listed building – Old Government House – which has lots more to say about the history of Queensland. Interested in cartography? Walk in the footsteps of Queensland’s surveyors and cartographers of the past at the ‘Museum of Lands‘. At Anzac Square and Memorial Gardens, discover the true stories of courage, resilience and duty with a deep dive into Queensland’s war history.
Enjoy a relaxing river cruise
The river which winds through Brisbane offers visitors to the city a great opportunity to see the city from a different perspective. In particular, capturing a view of the sunset from a river cruise is something not to be missed. From high tea and dinner cruises, to sightseeing journeys up the river, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the city from the water. Many of the cruises that drift down the Brisbane River include informative commentaries that provide insight into the history of the region, so you can learn a little about the city as you sit back and relax.
Visit D’Aguilar National Park
Escape into the untamed beauty of D’Aguilar National Park, a nature lover’s paradise just outside of Brisbane. This sprawling parkland encompasses lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and rugged mountains, offering endless opportunities for exploration. Hike through scenic trails, encounter diverse wildlife, and breathe in the fresh mountain air. Marvel at the panoramic views from Mount Nebo and Mount Glorious, or cool off in the refreshing rock pools. D’Aguilar National Park is a serene haven where tranquility and adventure collide, inviting you to immerse yourself in nature’s embrace.
Take the kids to Karawatha Forest Discovery Centre
Located within the expansive Karawatha Forest in Brisbane, the Karawatha Forest Discovery Centre is a gateway to the wonders of this unique urban wilderness. Immerse yourself in the natural beauty and rich biodiversity of the area through interactive exhibits, educational displays, and guided walks. Learn about the indigenous heritage and cultural significance of the land, and discover the diverse range of flora and fauna that call this forest home. With its engaging programs and informative resources, the Karawatha Forest Discovery Centre offers a captivating experience for nature enthusiasts of all ages, fostering a deeper appreciation for the environment and the importance of conservation.
Stroll through Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha
The beautiful Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha are luscious, green and perfect for a stroll when you fancy an escape from city life. Recognised as the state’s best subtropical botanic gardens, a visit here is one of the best things to do in Brisbane. Founded in 1970, this iconic green gem in the city is 56-hectares large and free to enter. A range of stunning environments here including a Japanese Garden and a Tropical Dome keep you entertained for hours on end. Plus, you might also be interested to know that the gardens here are home to the largest collection of Australian native rainforest trees in the world, as well as an abundance of natural wildlife. Upon arrival, pop into the Mt Coot-tha Visitor Centre and you can learn about how to navigate the area – you can opt for one of the self-guided walking trails, or join a free guided walk.
Visit a local craft brewery
Brisbane is a city where beer is abundant and never boring. Freshly brewed IPAs and all kinds of crafty brews come from all corners of the city here. Brisbane is indeed a beer-lover’s playground. Scottish brewery BrewDog, which is prevalent across the UK, has finally come to Australia. Spread across a fantastic piece of land by the river, BrewDog is the ultimate chill out brewery on a sunny day. A 485-square-metre riverside patio becomes the setting for your tastings and cold refreshments under the hot Brisbane sun.
Otherwise, you might like to try a visit to Stone & Wood. Located inside a heritage-listed building, this trendy brewery serves ‘one-off ‘ beers which are served only at the venue itself. Finally, opening in 2018, Felons is a riverside brewery where hoppy brews are served with stunning views. Tucked away in a heritage-listed shed with its name painted in giant lettering, you can’t miss it!
Explore South Bank find the Wheel of Brisbane
South Bank is really where the fun happens in Brisbane. Home to a number of great cultural sites, hectares of parklands, stunning restaurants, river views and more, there’s so much to do you could spend a whole day! Upon a visit here on a sunny day, you may want to start your visit with a simple swim and picnic in the sun. South Bank has been perfectly designed to cater to swimmers, with enough facilities to make your city-swim as comfortable as possible. Meanwhile, licensed picnic spots dotted round this area make your light lunch easy to arrange.
Next, a visit to South Bank should also involve some cycling or perhaps a stroll along some of the area’s well designed walking and cycling tracks which featur riverfront views and beautiful greenery. As you explore, don’t forget to look out for a handful of cultural sites including the beautiful Nepalese Pagoda.
Head to the Wheel of Brisbane for hard-to-match city views, then, end your day at South Bank with a visit to some of the city’s best art exhibitions or to the theatre for comedy, music, dance and much more!
Take a trip to Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
Interested in the space? Enter a world of celestial wonders at the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium. Located in Brisbane, this state-of-the-art facility offers an immersive and educational experience for astronomy enthusiasts of all ages. Explore the mysteries of the universe through captivating planetarium shows, interactive exhibits, and stargazing sessions. Learn about the planets, stars, and galaxies that adorn our night sky, and deepen your understanding of the cosmos. With its cutting-edge technology and knowledgeable staff, the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium is a must-visit destination for anyone curious about the vastness of space.
Admire the panorama from the Brisbane Lookout
A lookout and great view is always better when you have to work for it. Lace up your shoes and hike to the top of Mt Coot-tha, where you won’t want to miss a sunrise or sunset experience. As the closest elevation point to the centre of the city, you’ll spot not only CBD views here, but on clear days you can see out to Moreton Bay. Don’t forget your camera!
Walk the Brisbane City River Loop
Looking for an experience that will keep you active and on your toes? Look no further than the Brisbane City River Loop. There are a number of variations of this enjoyable route, but wherever you choose to start and end, you’re guaranteed a fantastic day (with plenty of photo opportunities along the way). Soak in the city views as you ride your bike or walk along the river. There’s no better place to enjoy a bike ride in Brisbane.
Take a beautiful trip to Stradbroke Island
One of the best things to do when visiting Brisbane, is to visit Stradbroke Island. Feel the soft sand between your toes as you stroll along pristine beaches that stretch for miles, with crystal-clear waters inviting you to take a refreshing dip. Explore the diverse ecosystems of this island paradise, from lush rainforests to expansive sand dunes. Immerse yourself in the rich Aboriginal culture and heritage that permeates the land. Encounter majestic marine life as you snorkel in the vibrant coral reefs or spot playful dolphins and majestic whales from the shores. Stradbroke Island is a haven of natural beauty and tranquility, beckoning you to unwind, reconnect with nature, and create unforgettable memories. Accessible by ferry, you can get here in under two hours – so don’t pass up the chance to visit!
Hit the shops at Queen Street Mall
Ready to hit the shops? Queen Street Mall is the spot you’re looking for. Located in the centre of Brisbane, Queen Street is a 500-metre stretch of shops which boasts around 700 retailers and six major shopping centres. Enjoy some shopping and drop into a cafe or two throughout the day to enjoy a lunch or coffee.
Learn about local Aboriginal history
Taste Brisbane at Eat Street Northshore
When you’re hungry, thirsty and ready for a good atmosphere, Eat Street Northshore is the perfect medicine. Only 15 minutes from the city, situated on a disused historic wharf over the Brisbane River, Eat Street is packed with fun and all the bests tastes in the world. 180 recycled shipping containers here host bars, eateries and micro restaurants. Meanwhile, live music and entertainment floods the air with ambiance. Visitors to Eat Street will find over 70 traders selling food from Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. It’s $5 to enter this vibrant location, and we promise you, you won’t want to leave.
Explore the Collective Markets
Get ready to embark on a thrilling shopping adventure in the vibrant collective markets of Brisbane! These bustling markets are a treasure trove of unique finds, delicious food, and a lively atmosphere that will leave you buzzing with excitement. From trendy fashion and handcrafted jewelry to quirky artworks and vintage collectibles, you’ll discover a plethora of one-of-a-kind items to suit every taste. Indulge your taste buds with mouthwatering street food, savor aromatic coffee, and groove to the rhythm of live music. The collective markets in Brisbane are not just a shopping experience, but a vibrant celebration of creativity, community, and pure fun!
Visit paradise for the day at Moreton Island
If you thought you were coming to a great city when you booked your trip to Brisbane, you’d be right. But we bet you didn’t know you’d also be on your way to paradise. A quick trip from the centre of Brisbane will get you to Moreton Island, where adventurous travellers meet their match. One of the best activities here is snorkelling. Packed with beautifully colourful fish and wild dolphins, the sea which surrounds Moreton National Park is pristine and turquoise. You’ll also find plenty of beaches here for lounging, calm waves for swimming and bigger ones for surfing! Those who like to scuba dive can also enjoy 15 shipwrecks nearby which make for fantastic bucket-list experiences.
Tour Customs House
The University of Queensland’s Customs House is a historic building home to exquisite boardrooms, a stunning ballroom, seminar rooms and a restaurant. Decorated with grand Corinthian columns and lots of grandeur, Customs House is a great place to admire a little of Brisbane’s historic architecture. Enjoy a walk through the parts of the building open to the public, or eat at the restaurant where heritage surroundings (or an outside terrace area) steal the show.
Learn a little at QAGOMA
Located inside two riverside buildings on the Brisbane River, the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art is a contemporary looking museum which hosts two galleries with their own distinct personalities. Sharing some of the state’s most exceptional art, QAGOMA hosts ever-changing exhibitions, programs and events which will certainly broaden your horizons and inspire you. Once you’ve explored the gallery, pop into the on-site gallery shop and take home a souvenir, or visit the outdoor cafe for artistic discussion over a coffee.
Cafes in Brisbane
It’s no secret that Brisbane is packed with trendy cafes. High-quality coffees, tasty brunches and delectable pastries are simply strewn across Queensland’s capital. Here are a few of our favourites:
From a distance, this quirky little cafe looks like a beachside shack. Upon closer inspection, you’ll find that it’s in fact a fabulous spot where speciality coffee is served alongside pastries and filled baguettes. On a Friday night, it’s all about wine, so don’t forget to drop in.
Bellissimo Coffee Bulimba
Mediterranean-style Bellissimo Coffee is a place where the all-day cafe scene meets craft beers and sharing plates. Known for its award winning coffees, it’s decorated in greenery and flooded with natural light, making it a great setting for a morning caffeine hit.
Coffee Anthology, located inside an 1890s-built heritage building is a contemporary cafe with a big personality. Enjoy some of the city’s best coffee here.
Restaurants in Brisbane
From dressed-down eateries to find-dining experiences, Brisbane has it all. Here are a few of our favourite restaurants in Brisbane:
Fika is a sophisticated eatery and well-known coffee roaster in the city, where tasty lunches, craft beers and tempting coffees can all be enjoyed alongside each other. Inspired by Asian flavours and decorated in a minimalist, white palette, this modern hideaway is simply irresistible.
Greek food is aways a winner. Widely regarded as one of the country’s best Greek restaurants, Hellenika serves fresh, tasty Greek food in a simple yet contemporary setting.
There’s no skipping past Otto during a trip to Brisbane. This elegant Italian restaurant is one of Brisbane’s bests. You’re in for some superlative drinking and dining if you book a table here.
Featuring a modern Australian tasting menu, Alchemy is where you go for upscale dining with beautiful riverside views. The sleek interiors here make it feel even more special.
Bars in Brisbane
Brisbane is home to a vibrant and eclectic bar scene that offers something for everyone. Many of the city’s bars focus on craft beer, offering an array of local and international brews. Whether you’re in the mood for a laid-back evening with friends or a more sophisticated night out, Brisbane’s bars have you covered.
Maker is a charming bar that exudes a Barcelona-esque vibe with its intimate ambience and hidden location on Fish Lane in South Brisbane. This bar in Brisbane maintains the same meticulous attention to detail and emphasis on local products, featuring a selection of Australian beers, spirits & wines, as well as exceptional international offerings.
The Gresham Bar
If you’re a whiskey enthusiast or simply appreciate a classic bar, make sure to visit The Gresham Bar, located down Gresham Lane off Queen Street in the heart of Brisbane CBD. The bar’s collection of bourbon, scotch and rum is unparalleled. The premium whiskeys on offer surpass the house whiskeys at your typical bottle-o, truly solidifying the bar’s reputation as a destination for whiskey lovers.
Death and Taxes
Tucked away in the Burnett Lane of Brisbane City, the Death & Taxes cocktail bar offers a stylish and sophisticated atmosphere that transports you from the bustling CBD to its cosy interior, complete with leather booths. With a focus on exceptional cocktail mixing, Death and Taxes is the ultimate destination for expertly crafted drinks. You can expect a selection of around 30 cocktails and 40 wines, showcasing their dedication to quality drinks—and no connection to wills and estates.