Brisbane is Australia’s third largest city, the capital of the sunny state of Queensland, and the fastest growing city in Australia.
However, a few years ago, people used to label Brisbane boring. But Brisbane (or Brissie as Australians like to call it) has come a long way in the last few years. It certainly isn’t the sleepy city that it used to be. In fact, Brisbane is now a fabulous city to visit as a tourist and even a fantastic city to live in. With Brisbane due to host the Olympics in 2032, there’s no doubt it will improve even more!
Recently, we spent seven months living in Brisbane and we loved our time there. We never had a moment of boredom (well apart from a few days in lockdown – thanks Covid!).
If you are planning a weekend away but you are not sure about Brisbane as a destination, then read on. Brisbane is full of exciting things to do, and you won’t regret a visit. In fact, you may end up wanting to extend your stay!
Here are the best things to do while in Brisbane:
Take a cruise on the river
The Brisbane River runs through the middle of the city. This makes it a wonderful city to explore from the water. The twists and turns of the river pass through several neighbourhoods that look amazing from the water.
There are many river cruises you can take, such as River City Cruises, Kookaburra River Queen or BrisVegas cruises. However, we recommend simply taking one of the City Hoppers or “Kitty Cats”. The Kitty Cats are free to hop on and they service most of the city’s main attractions. You’ll see the river just as well and will also get to meet the friendly locals who use it as a free means of transportation.
If you want to go further along the river, take a City Cat. They are bigger and have more stops than the Kitty Cats but they have a fee that is based on how long you remain on board. You will need a Go Card to ride the City Cats. These can be bought from any 7-Eleven, IGA, Friendly Grocers, Night Owl, or most newsagents.
Take a free walking tour with Brisbane Greeters
One of the best ways to get to know a city is through the eyes of a knowledgeable local. Managed by the Brisbane City Council, the Brisbane Greeters program offers free walking tours for locals and tourists alike. The Brisbane Greeters tours are run by proud and passionate volunteers who are keen to share Brisbane’s stories and eager to show you some of the best spots in the city.
Find out more about the Brisbane Greeters Program and/or book here.
Check out the view from Mount Coo-tha
The Mt Coot-tha Lookout is the highest point in Brisbane with stunning panoramic views over the city and as far away as Moreton Bay. It is one of Brisbane’s most popular tourist attractions and really is a must-see for any visitor to Brisbane. Enjoyable both by day and night, it is extremely popular at sunrise and sunset.
If you enjoy hiking, there are multiple hiking trails around the lookout which are very popular with locals and are good for spotting wildlife.
You can drive to Mt Coo-tha, catch a uber or take the 471 bus from the CBD.
Tip: Another lookout spot to get a great view of the city is Mount Gravatt Lookout, south of the city. There are also many hiking trails to and from the Mount Gravatt Lookout. During our hike up to Mount Gravatt Lookout, we even spotted a snoozing koala!
Visit the Roma Street Parklands
The Roma Street Parklands were my favourite Brisbane city gardens to explore. They are just so stunning.
Covering 16 hectares, they are right in the centre of Brisbane, a short 10-minute walk from Brisbane’s CBD. They are open 24 hours a day and entry is free. It’s a great place to admire the magnificent gardens, exotic trees and of course, the cheeky water dragons that call the gardens home.
Go to the Botanic Gardens
There are two Botanic Gardens in Brisbane. The smaller ones (called the City Botanic Gardens) are south of the CBD and easily accessible for anyone without a car who is staying in the city. They cover 17 hectares and were the original Botanic Gardens. Located by the riverside, they are an amazing place for a morning walk or a relaxing picnic.
The second Botanic Gardens are called the Brisbane Botanic Gardens and are in Mt Coot-tha. They are accessible by car if you have one or by bus (catch the 471 bus). Spanning over 56 hectares of gardens, they are an oasis for wildlife and feature plants and flowers from all over the world. They are another fabulous spot for a picnic and, being in Mount Coo-tha, there’s even a lookout with lovely views of the CBD skyline.
Both botanic gardens are free to enter.
Rock climb in Kangaroo Point
Challenge yourself on the Kangaroo Point Cliffs with a rock-climbing adventure. Kangaroo Point is Brisbane’s outdoor climbing gym. It is one of the most user-friendly crags around, with gigantic concrete bollards at the top of the 20m high cliff face for setting up anchors. If you are inexperienced or don’t have the gear to do it yourself, book your rock climbing tour with Riverlife; they will show you the ropes.
Go for a swim at the Streets Beach, Southbank
Streets Beach is a Brisbane icon and a must-visit on a hot and steamy Queensland day. Streets Beach is riverside man-made beach, boasting a sparkling blue lagoon surrounded by white, sandy beaches and sub-tropical plants. It’s an oasis in the middle of the city.
And the best part is that Streets Beach is free to use and is patrolled by qualified lifeguards all year round.
When you’ve spent enough time on the beach, don’t forget to explore the 17-hectare South Bank Parklands. Consider jumping aboard the Wheel of Brisbane for 360-degree panoramic views of the city.
Go shopping at Queen Street Mall
You can shop till you drop at the Queen Street Mall; it’s a shopper’s paradise!
Brisbane’s best-known pedestrian mall has more than 700 retailers including home-grown talent, designer stores and international labels. Big-name stores take up street frontage, while smaller retailers are tucked inside the seven shopping centres and heritage-listed arcades.
Feast in Street food at Eat Street Northshore
If you are visiting on a weekend, don’t miss Eat Street Northshore in Hamilton. Eat Street Northshore is located just 15 mins from Brisbane CBD, on a disused historic wharf over the Brisbane River. On weekend evenings, it comes alive with over 70 traders, including 5 themed bars, eclectic shops and micro restaurants offering delicious dishes and tasty treats from six of the world’s seven continents.
Eat Street Northshore is an endless fun-filled adventure for lovers of good food & entertainment, with food vendors operating from repurposed recycled shipping containers.
From the CBD, you can get there by City Cat (hop off at Northshore Hamilton), or if you drive, parking is free.
Children (under 12): Free
Climb the Story Bridge
The Story Bridge is Brisbane’s most iconic structure and the best way to see Brisbane is by climbing it! You will be treated to a unique perspective of the city and its surrounds. You’ll have views as far as the Glass House Mountains in the north, Moreton Bay in the east, the Scenic Rim Mountains in the south, and the best views of Brisbane. It’s 1136 steps up but it’s worth the climb!
Visit the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art
Both galleries are free, and they are located right next to each other in Southbank. They’re great to visit on a rainy day or if the hot summer heat is getting the best of you.
The Gallery of Modern Art has three floors full of cool exhibits, often interactive. The Queensland Art Gallery has an impressive exhibit of native Australian art. You could spend hours visiting them both if you want to see everything but since it’s free you can always go back for another look.
Have a night cap or dinner by the river
There is nothing like spending a night by the river and admiring the city lights. Seeing the Story Bridge all lit up with colour at night is a must. There are many restaurants by the river to choose from, whether it is at Riverside, Howard Smith Wharf or in Southbank. They can get busy and booking ahead might be necessary, especially if you want a table with “the view”.
Have a cold beer at Felons
You can’t spend time in Brisbane and not visit Felons. Felons Brewery is the place to go for a relaxing and fun afternoon. The brewery is huge and extremely popular, especially on weekends. Live music plays in the Barrel Hall most weekends. Just stop by, enjoy the sun, the cold brews, and the fabulous views.
Watch the sunset from Kangaroo Point
At the end of the day, be sure to take a moment to watch the sunset. The Kangaroo Point Cliffs offer one of the best views in Brisbane day and night. So, pack a picnic basket or snag one of the free barbecues for dinner and watch the sky turn into different shades of orange and pink while the city lights up.
Take a day trip to Moreton Island
Moreton Island is one of the best day trip destinations for Brisbanites and visitors. Jump on a 75-minute boat ride departing from Holt Street Wharf at Pikemba and discover pristine beaches, tall sand dunes, and crystal-clear waters. Bring your snorkels, dive down and explore Tangalooma’s thriving underwater paradise as you snorkel some of the fifteen iconic shipwrecks. When you’re done with the underwater activities why not try sandboarding, kayaking or simply relax on the beach!
Take a walk to King Island from Wellington Point
A unique experience to do in Brisbane is the sea walk between King Island and Wellington Point at low tide (be sure to check the tidal conditions first). King Island is about 1km offshore and the little 1 ha islet has been turned into a conservation park. The different species of seabirds, mangrove trees, thousands of sand crabs, along with the views, make the journey to the island so enjoyable.
You can get to Wellington Point by catching the blue (Cleveland and Shorncliffe) train line from Brisbane Central.
How to get around Brisbane?
Brisbane is an easy city to get around. The metropolitan area has a great range of options for public transport and walking.
Taking the ferries is my favourite way to get around the city. The free CityHopper ferry (Kittycat) operates between Sydney Street and North Quay terminals, and is an easy way to move between the city centre and South Bank. If you have a Go Card (which can be purchased from any IGA, 7eleven, Nightowl and most newsagents), you can also catch the CityCat ferry, which will take you to attractions such as Eat Street Northshore and the City Botanic Gardens.
Brisbane’s rail network is another easy way to visit attractions across the city but also good for reaching some of Brisbane’s surrounding suburbs. Trains run daily from early morning to late at night.
Brisbane’s bus network is efficient and a good way to hop around the city centre and its neighbourhoods.
If you enjoy walking, Brisbane is a great city for walking and has many beautiful walking paths. It can get hot in the summertime, however.
By Electric Scooters
Electric Scooters are super popular in Brisbane and you will find them everywhere! Currently available are the Beam (Purple) and Neuron (Orange) scooters. Just download the app, sign up and hop on. Make sure to respect the speed limit and the people walking around you.
How to get from the Airport to the city?
To get from the Airport (both domestic and international terminals) to the Brisbane CBD, you can catch the Airtrain from the airport to Central Station. Travel time from the airport to the city is around 20 minutes, with services running every 15-30 minutes. You can use a Go Card if you have one or purchase single tickets for travel. You will get a discount if you buy your ticket in advance online through the Airtrain website.
Where to stay?
W Brisbane is located on North Quay with views over the Brisbane River. Offering 312 spacious guest rooms, W Brisbane boasts three restaurants and bars, a spa and fitness centre. The 5-star hotel is within walking distance of South Bank and Brisbane’s public transport system. Click here for their prices.
The Crystalbrook Vincent has the perfect location right next to Howard Smith Wharves and its restaurants and brewery. Get a room with river views and be sure to take a dip in their rooftop pool for a swim with a view! Click here for their prices.
Ibis Styles Brisbane Elizabeth Street
Ibis Styles Brisbane Elizabeth Street is affordable and located right in the heart of the Brisbane CBD with easy access to the Queen Street mall, City Botanic Gardens and the Riverside’s restaurants and bars. Click here for their prices.
Adina Apartment Hotel Brisbane
If you prefer an apartment, Adina Apartment Hotel Brisbane, offers studio’s and both 1 and 2-bedroom apartments. It is located right in the CBD and a 2-minute walk from the Brisbane River. You can explore all the city has to offer and then return to the comfort of your hotel where there is a swimming pool, fitness centre, restaurant, and bar. Click here for their prices.
If none of those are suitable, use the search box below to search across all major accommodation websites to find a room.
Where to eat?
Greca – Howard Smith Wharf
Perfect for a long and lazy lunch by the river, Greca is a taverna-inspired eatery that pairs authentic Greek eats with winsome riverside views. The food is fresh and full of flavour, with much of the meat and seafood cooked over charcoal and wood-fired grills.
Joey’s – Kangaroo Point
Joey’s is perched on the Kangaroo Point cliffs and has a European summer-inspired décor, along with extensive Brisbane CBD skyline views. The menu is Mediterranean inspired, and it also has a great cocktail menu. Book ahead as with the views, it fills up fast. Open for Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
1889 – Enoteca – Woolloongabba
1889 Enoteca is part of the heritage listed Moreton Rubber Works building (circa 1889) located in the antique quarter of Woolloongabba. This restaurant/wine bar takes you straight to Italy without having to travel thousands of miles. It has traditional Roman fare and a huge wine selection made to be enjoyed in the relaxed but sophisticated setting. The menu showcases the freshest produce available, along with pasta and bread made daily on site.
Madame Wu – Eagle Pier
Madame Wu is an exciting restaurant and bar set in a first-class CBD location serving modern Asian fusion food, contemporary cocktails and the wines of the world overlooking Brisbane’s best vista.
Pawpaw Café – Woolloongabba
Pawpaw was our favourite spot for breaky. The food is always delicious and served promptly with a smile. They cater for vegetarians and vegans as well as gluten free diets. They also have a lovely Asian Fusion menu for dinner. Be sure to book ahead as they are always packed.