Brisbane is the capital of Queensland, the third largest city in Australia and one of the more forgotten capital cities. I say forgotten, but underrated might be a more apt term. Often cited as the lesser triplet of the Sydney and Melbourne triangle, and time and again relegated to a mere sideshow to the more well known Gold Coast or the Great Barrier Reef, Brisbane is a staggeringly good city in its own right.
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Things to do in Brisbane – sights and activities
Settled peacefully by the Brisbane River, in the past decade it’s started to burst at the seams with things to do and sights to see, becoming a must-go destination for international travellers.
Just quickly, don’t be put off by the heat – a few days in Brisbane and you’ll realise just how the locals have not only survived, but also thrived in the sun. Take a walk through the city and you’ll notice the lingering smell of coconut sunscreen as tanned people enjoy the heat by Kayaking down the river, biking, running, walking, kicking footballs or doing yoga. Then they retire to a rooftop bar or an outdoor eatery for a chilled drink as the sun goes down.
Getting around in Brisbane
Getting to and from the airport is easy, with the Brisbane Airtrain running every half hour from early till late, and taking you straight into the city in about thirty minutes.
Brisbane’s public transport system is one of the oddest you’re likely to encounter. While it does have a rail and ferry system, its real magnum opus is its Busway system, which is essentially interconnected dedicated bus highways that run across the city in record time. They are by far the best way to get around Brisbane, especially if you’re travelling into the CBD. In nearly every case, catching a bus would be much quicker than driving. There’s also a free city loop bus, which is extremely handy during off-peak times.
You can pick up a TransLink Go Card from practically everywhere, or buy paper tickets on the buses.
Get cultured at South Bank
Up until a few years ago, it was highly unlikely that if somebody were to mention Brisbane, it would have been to champion their culture. But over the past decade, Brisbane has absolutely turned it on. The overhaul of South Bank was a massive part of this gentrification. Located on the river, but on the opposite side to the CBD, and easily accessible from a multitude of bridges, South Bank is Brisbane’s best lifestyle and cultural destination and comprises of some of the city’s must-see attractions. The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) is a sensational gallery and helped put Brisbane on the map.
In its tenth year, the GOMA has a fantastic collection of contemporary Australian, Asian and Pacific art, along with some of the most unusual and cultural relevant special international exhibitions you’ll find. I saw a Warhol exhibition here and it’s been by far the best one’s I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Best of all, basic entry into GOMA is free!
Also along South Bank, the Queensland Museum and Science Centre are the State’s premier venues for cultural, scientific and human endeavours. With constantly updated exhibitions, every time I go back I see something new. South Bank is also home to the Maritime Museum, the Queensland Cultural Centre, the Queensland Conservatorium, the Queensland Theatre Company and some of the cheapest and best cinemas in town…in fact this entire article could be spend explaining how exciting is, but I should get onto other things…
Live your best life outdoors
As you can imagine, when it’s glorious sunshine year round, locals are likely to want to spend a large proportion of it outdoors. That could explain the large amount of greenery dotted about the suburbs and the city. It’s completely common to see workers sprawled out in the grass eating sushi or else dotted along the river, cooling their feet in a fountain. They’re also a proudly sporting city. While rugby league is the dominant football code, they also benefit from having teams in all the highest levels of AFL, rugby union and soccer. Cricket is also hugely popular in Brisbane, and if you get a chance, check out a game of 20/20 at the Gabba – the central sporting stadium – which is great family fun and has become more spectacle than sport.
Food, Glorious Food…
Melbourne and Sydney always seem to be battling it out for the accolade of best food capital, but those in the know will always throw in Brisbane as a wildcard. The ten-year surge of Brisbane had it gaining in both reputation and popularity. Whether it’s seafood caught fresh less than an hour away and eaten right on the river at Stokehouse, or prime steak from Australia’s worst vegetarian restaurant – the Norman Hotel – or some of the best dumplings you’ll likely to find in Chinatown in Fortitude Valley, there is no longer any doubt that Brisbane can hold its culinary own. There’s also been a huge influx in fine dining restaurants as famous chefs retire to the sunshine and open up fresh offerings, including Matt Moran’s, ARIA, and Massimo Speroni’s Bacchus.
…and wash it down with some delish drinks
As well as food, Brisbane’s nightlife and bar scene has also seen a rallying. No longer will you have to be content with drinking XXXX Bitter on tap at the local RSL, there are now dozens of amazing pubs and fine cocktail bars dotted all over the suburbs, and the CBD. Super Whatnot and Embassy bar, both in the city, and Archive Beer Boutique in South Bank, have a huge selection of craft beers and are leading the charge to overturn beer stigma in the capital.
It’s not only alcohol that’s been revived; Brisbane’s coffee scene is also burgeoning. Coffee shops that would feel right at home in Melbourne have found their place in Brisbane. Death Before Decaf is my favourite, and I highly recommend, especially if you’re into punk, heavy metal and skateboarding. However for a more hipster feel, find your way to Strauss or Gramercy in the CBD, or the Little Prince and Wooloongabba Social Club south of the river in Woolloongabba.
Koalas, views and butterfly houses
One of my favourite things to do when I’m in Brisbane is visit Mount Coot-ha. Boasting Brisbane’s best view, Mouth Coot-ha sits just outside Toowong, about 35 minutes from Brisbane, and has a sweeping lookout over the capital. It is also situated walking distance from the Brisbane Botanical Gardens (not to be confused with the City Botanical Gardens in the CBD), which is home to over 50 hectares of Australia’s best subtropical plants and one heck of a butterfly house – which is a sub-tropic, moist experience that’ll make you feel like a jungle explorer. If you’re heading up that way, you should also check out Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which, despite its name, has more than just cute koalas. You can feed a variety of other animals, including kangaroos, wallabies and even lorikeets. The sounds and the smells of all of these attractions are remarkable, and its close proximity to Brisbane means it’s the perfect excuse to get out of the city for the day.
Feeling hot, hot, hot!
The weather in Brisbane is one of the most eclectic in Australia. The hottest months are between December – February, where it frequently reaches temperatures in the mid-30’s, and has been known to often hit over 40. While this in itself can be draining, it’s a tropic heat, which I find relaxing and perfect for lazy beer nights. And if you’ve never experienced it before is completely different to a dry heat, such as Sydney or Melbourne. Perhaps that’s why locals have a slower and lazier drawl and take things easier than their lower capital brothers.
If you’d rather escape the heat and travel during the cooler months, you’ll be treated to fewer crowds at the beaches, and a slightly cooler’s night sleep. However, ironically, because the iconic Queenslander houses are built of wood and are set high to help medicate heat, it can get a little nippy at night.
Brisbane is also home to some spectacular storms. The entire city seems to know it’s coming, and there’s an electricity as the black clouds roll in. While you might not think thunderous rain on your holiday is ideal, if you’re lucky enough to be in Brisbane when a storm hits, it’s a visual feast as the forks of lightning crack over the skyscrapers and the rain crashes onto the tin roofs.
Get outta town!
Brisbane itself doesn’t have its own beach – unless you count South Bank’s manmade beach – but it is a stone’s throw to some world famous spots. A couple of hours north and you’ll hit the Sunshine Coast, which has slightly warmer water temperatures and slightly less touristy beaches, such as Coolum. King’s Beach, Noosa and Mooloolaba are also north, though they tend to be slightly more family orientated and can get absolutely rammed during the summer. Head south from Brisbane and you’ll hit the beaches a lot sooner, thanks wholly to the 8-lane super highway that runs all the way to the Gold Coast.
Runaway Bay is one of the first port of calls, but a little down the road and you’ll find Southport, and then Surfers Paradise – which lives up to its name as one of the most world renowned surf spots. On route to the Gold Coast, you’ll also find Dreamworld, Movie World and Wet ‘n’ Wild which are all world-class theme parks made all the better if you manage to hit them when school’s in session – October, November or February, March. Check the exact dates, because they change year to year.
This is a very brief overview of things to do in Brisbane. It’s never been more exciting than it is now. With the population on the grow, and being a cheaper getaway than Sydney and Melbourne, there’s never been a better time to make Australia’s third largest city, your number one priority.
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