Dizzying choices for adventure and culinary attractions command attention in the capital of Queensland
Boasting an average of 283 days of sunshine every year, Brisbane has a deep appreciation for the outdoors and a climate that sets it apart from its southern Australian sister cities. With hundreds of walks, parks and beaches, visitors to Brisbane will find it difficult to resist stepping outside.
Making the most of a mild climate, Brisbane embraces an alfresco lifestyle, but a laid-back vibe doesn’t mean it lacks sophistication. South Bank is the cultural and recreational hub of the city. Originally the site for the 1988 World Expo, South Bank was converted into a public space with 17 hectares of parklands, restaurants and buildings designed for arts and culture by local Brisbane architect Robin Gibson.
The perfect places to discover Brisbane’s edgy art scene are the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) and Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). Both buildings adjacent to the Brisbane River are a short stroll from the central business district (CBD) over the Victoria Bridge. Opened in December 2006, GOMA exhibits artwork from Australia and overseas, with a focus on the contemporary. Meanwhile, walking below the nearby Queensland Museum’s suspended life-sized humpback whale gives perspective to the size of these marine mammals and other interesting exhibits including a dinosaur.
Musicals or symphony concerts are performed at the nearby Queensland Performing Art Complex (QPAC). South Bank is famous for Australia’s only beach in the middle of the city, Streets Beach. Patrolled by lifeguards, the beach offers a safe, unique aquatic experience minutes from the CBD.
Brisbane’s compact layout and six pedestrian bridges connecting to inner-city precincts make light work of exploring the river city without the need to travel far to experience adventure. The heart of the city is the Brisbane River. Bending and winding its way for 15 kilometres, the river feeds into the ocean at Moreton Bay; the vibrant business district is built on the river’s brown watery banks.
Being on the river itself can be an adventure. The CityCats (Brisbane City Council ferries) glide effortlessly along and are an effective means of transport up and down the river. Linger longer on the Kookaburra Showboat Cruise, for an afternoon tea, lunch or dinner cruise on a paddle wheeler. For the more adventurous, kayaking on the Brisbane River provides spectacular views of Brisbane’s popular locales, including South Bank, the Kangaroo Point Cliffs and the underbelly of the Story Bridge.
The Kangaroo Point cliffs form a dramatic backdrop from the CBD side. These 20-metre cliffs were formed from a volcanic eruption some 230 million years ago. Throughout the 1800s, the area was used as a quarry, where volcanic rock was extracted. These rocks form the exterior of a few of Brisbane’s heritage-listed buildings, including St Mary’s Anglican Church at Kangaroo Point and St Stephens Cathedral in the city. Today the cliffs are a recreational area popular with abseilers scaling its surface. The top of the cliffs provides fabulous views of the river, city and mountains, including Mt Coo-tha, seven kilometres away.
Mt Coo-tha, at 287 metres above sea level, is the highest peak within the city’s urban perimeter. The Lookout provides a panoramic view of the snaking Brisbane River, wrapping its watery body around the sparkling cluster of skyscrapers before journeying under the Story Bridge and out to Moreton Bay.
Climbing the Story Bridge, the largest steel bridge constructed in Australia, is possible with Story Bridge Adventure climb. A two-hour climb to the top span on the cantilevered bridge delivers 360-degree views of Moreton Bay, the Glass House Mountains and Mt Coo-tha.
Beyond the city limits, inviting destinations ranging from white sandy beaches and pristine coastal retreats to rainforest paradises are within easy reach for a day trip or an overnight stay. For serenity, visit the Enoggera Reservoir in the D’aguilar National Park, only 10 kilometres northwest of the city centre. Originally built as a dam in 1866, the man-made lake is the perfect place to swim or launch a canoe or kayak.
As the second largest sand island in Australia, Moreton Island, a 75-minute ferry ride from the Port of Brisbane, is a tropical paradise. It has pristine white beaches and world-class snorkelling around the Tangalooma shipwrecks. Each evening around sunset, wild bottlenose dolphins visit the island for night feeding. Guests staying at the Tangalooma Island resort and selected day cruise passengers can experience feeding a fish to a dolphin, under strict supervision by the Dolphin Care Team.
A stretch of long white beaches called the Sunshine Coast begins with Caloundra, a 90-minute drive north of Brisbane. Forty minutes up the road from Caloundra is the popular Noosa, with the north-facing Noosa Beach, the best place to find calm surf. Running parallel to the beach is the main thoroughfare, Hastings Street, boasting eclectic cafés and boutique shops. Close neighbour Noosa National Park is filled with trails for bushwalking.
For something less beachy, the sunshine coast’s rural hinterland harbours small towns brimming with individual charm and unique attractions. Montville is a rustic town with quaint shops and cafés, just over an hour’s drive from the Brisbane CBD. Before taking the exit into Montville, Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve offers incredible views of the volcanic peaks of the Glass House Mountains.
Cooler temperatures are found in the World Heritage-listed Springbrook and Tamborine National Parks in the Gold Coast Hinterland, filled with natural wonders, including stunning waterfalls and vegetation. Discover native wildlife, including glow-worms, found only in rainforest areas of southeast Queensland, an hour’s drive south of Brisbane’s CBD.
Brisbane’s cosmopolitan eating scene makes the most of its sun-soaked lifestyle. South Bank’s Stokehouse Q embodies all elements of relaxed Brisbane dining, its menu inspired by the Mediterranean and Europe. For a different menu incorporating local flora and fauna, Little Big House sits in a typical Queensland architectural building.
Located in the heart of the city with the finest views of the Brisbane River and Story Bridge, Il Centro is a restaurant that’s been serving Italian fare with a distinctive Queensland twist for over 26 years, using fresh local ingredients. The signature dish is the sand crab lasagne.
Beyond the city to the North of Brisbane are the Eat Street Markets. Over 150 shipping containers have been transformed into cafés, bars and stalls selling craft and assorted items. Food is the main attraction; with almost every country’s cuisine covered, from dumplings to curries, Turkish to Danish, even the fussiest of foodies should be satisfied.
The inner-city village of West End, less than a 15-minute walk from South Bank, is a culinary smorgasbord. This quirky neighbourhood began as the place where ethnic migrants of the 1960s and 70s – the Greeks, Italians, Russians, Chinese – chose to settle. The dining scene is as diverse as the community.
The Gun Shop Café is not selling firearms (although it did from 1954 to 1997) but is all about Canadian brioche, French toast with caramelised bananas, and other delectable creations. Billy Kart has a seasonal menu focusing on local produce, bistro-style. Its ricotta pancakes are very much like the rest of Brisbane, difficult to resist.
Best time to travel
Spring from September to November sees temperatures ranging around a pleasant 15-25°C. Warm, sunny days are tempered by cool sea breezes.
Protection from sunburn
Visitors to Brisbane should look out for the UV index in local weather reports, which describes the daily solar UV radiation intensity. Use SPF30+ sunscreen and wear sun-smart clothing, including a hat and sunglasses.
Getting around Brisbane is easy via public transport. A Translink Gocard allows travel on all Translink bus, train and ferry services. Gocards can be purchased from any Queensland Rail stations, online, over the phone or at selected retailers.
A free inner-city bus called the City Loop and Spring Hill Loop circles the city every 10 minutes and stops at destinations in the CBD and Spring Hill precincts between 7 am to 6 pm weekdays.
What to wear
As Brisbane is a cosmopolitan city, casual attire is generally accepted. Most locals dress according to the weather, which for nine months of the year is mild.