Brisbane. ‘BrisVegas’. ‘Brissy’. I’d heard mixed reviews on the ‘River City’, but I surprised myself with just how much I liked being there! After spending 6 weeks in beach towns on the East Coast, you’re either going to be desperately longing for the sight of skyscrapers or you’re going to be so accustomed to the beach life that you never want to leave! For me, it was a bit of both. I was sad to leave Byron Bay behind but I embraced going to Brisbane.
Part of the reason I was excited to go was because I had done zero research and I knew absolutely nothing about the city. I think it’s quite commonly overshadowed by the larger likes of Sydney and Melbourne, but if I’m being totally honest I probably preferred my time in Brisbane out of the 3 cities together. Why? Because it’s refreshing to walk the streets of a city that aren’t over-flowing with tourists. Of course there is a focus on tourism (after all it’s a short drive from the Gold Coast and much closer to the Great Barrier Reef), it’s just quieter and more subtle than it’s bigger sibling cities.
If you’re visiting Brisbane for a few days and are in need of some inspiration, here’s some of what I believe to be the best things you can do in the city…
Roma Street Parklands
Once you’ve tracked it down, the walk through Roma Street Parklands rapidly transports you from the city to the midst of a tropical rainforest. There are beautiful paths and boardwalks leading you through rainforest routes to colourful, pristine gardens with waterfalls and fountains. There’s so much to see, there’s even guided walks but take your time strolling through and follow the signs to the city. Before you know it, you’ll be approaching City Hall and Queen Street Mall.
Queen Street Mall
Ahhh I loved the afternoons I spent walking through Queen Street Mall. It is a shopping precinct, nearly all pedestrianised, lined with stores of all kinds – souvenirs to high street fashion to designer boutiques and department stores. There is a Myer here with a great food hall, look out for an amazing bakery called Breadtop (a brand I recognised from Singapore) and Mrs Fields for the softest cookies, including 5 mini cookies for $3.99 – is that a good deal? Who cares! They taste amazing.
Possibly my favourite side to this city is the Southbank Parklands. Maybe it’s because it reminded me ever so slightly of London’s Southbank. Maybe it’s because it includes a rainforest walk, a beach and a Nepalese Pagoda?! Nevertheless it’s great for strolling, taking a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane, perusing museums and art galleries, and even taking a swim at Street Beach, Brisbane’s man-made beach and lagoon. Perfect on a hot day. Behind the Parklands is Little Stanley Street, great restaurants and atmosphere in the evening. I tried Zeus, a fast-foody restaurant with some good Greek grub (say that 5 times really fast).
Now, I’m not a museum gal but I forced myself to be in Brisbane and enjoyed pondering the displays in Queensland Museum, including a large collection of Anzac memories, which is very moving to witness. If you are a museum person, or an art person then you’ll love Brisbane for it’s selection of museums and galleries.
As if Roma Street Parklands and Southbank Parklands weren’t enough to make you feel like you’re not in the middle of a huge city, there’s also the massive Botanic Gardens where you can walk, cycle, scoot or sit to watch the world of tourists and city workers go by. From Southbank, you can cross the Goodwill Bridge to reach the Gardens or from the city, simply stay on George Street the whole way.
Brisbane is famous for being a river city. It has public boats (CityCat) transporting locals and tourists up and down the river on a very regular basis, if you’re lucky you can even spot dolphins in Brisbane River! However there is also a free tourist boat, CityHopper which operates across 8 different stops. It’s smaller and more cramped than the CityCat but a nice route to follow if you’re new to the city/a free option for transport!
I can’t recommend this food market enough. I LOVE a food market and this is one of, if not the best I’ve been to. You’ll be spoilt for choice with global cuisines and ‘Kombi Alley’ is every sweet tooth’s dream. It’s situated in a large cluster of shipping containers, a 5 minute walk from the Northshore Hamilton ferry stop and over an hour from the city on the CityCat but I promise it’s worth the journey! Just take cash with you and be prepared to spend at least $10 on anything you buy (and you’ll probably want dinner AND dessert!) There’s also live bands here and it runs in the evenings, Friday to Sunday so makes a good night out!
Kangaroo Point Lookout
So, I expected to find kangaroo’s here but in reality, it is a lookout point of the city in front of the Kangaroo Point Cliffs. The CityHopper stops at the Maritime Museum and from there, it’s about a 20 minute walk to Kangaroo Point. It is actually an enjoyable walk along the river with some great city views and plenty of lizards to look out for. But sadly, no kangaroos.
If you have the patience to wait for a moment when the Brisbane sign isn’t crowded with people OR if you simply don’t care to have strangers in your photos, then be sure to get a snap of these large letters along the Southbank (the museum end). After the sun sets, they glow colourfully against the backdrop of the dark night sky… but are still crowded.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
A 40 minute bus journey from Brisbane (buses from Queen Street Mall) is Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. You can purchase discounted tickets from one of the agents in the city (PeterPans, HappyTravels, STA etc.) and get quick access to the sanctuary where you can wander around plenty of koala exhibits, as well as bats, birds, crocs, dingoes, Tasmanian devils, platypuses, reptiles and kangaroos in a large accessible grassy area so you can buy kangaroo food and pet them. There’s also a chance to hold a koala here (for the price of $25) and have your photo professionally taken, plus more taken on your own device. The queues for photos get very long! Koala photo or not, it’s a lovely sanctuary to visit and it’s not too big so you’ll see everything in half a day and be on your way back to the city!
There’s even more to Brisbane that I didn’t manage to squeeze in whilst I was there, including Mount Coot-Tha and a trip to Moreton Island or North Stradbroke Island. However these sights should keep you busy if visiting the city for 2 days, or 3 days if you’re planning a trip to Lone Pine.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, check out my 3 month itinerary on the rest of the best spots on Australia’s East Coast.