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Brisbane, Australia: A traveller’s guide

By Localiiz Branded | 5 November 2021

Header image courtesy of Tourism Australia

Capital of Queensland and the third-largest city in the nation, Brisbane is most famous for being the sunshine city of Australia, boasting perfectly sunny weather nearly year-round. With its prime location offering access to the best of nature and man-made wonders, Brisbane draws in visitors who are eager to explore the wealth of Aboriginal experience, natural treasures, as well as bustling city life ripe with gorgeous cafés and spaces for the arts.

What to see & do

Explore Brisbane River

Earning Brisbane the nickname of “River City,” the iconic Brisbane River makes for a grand focal point, with many attractions and activities nearby. Weaving its way throughout the city, the incredible riverside spots run the gamut of cultural destinations and gourmet hubs.

Soak in the vibes along the river with a guided tour offered by Riverlife Brisbane, with options to make your way on a bike, roller skates, kayak, water bike, and more. After nightfall, a stroll along the suspended Brisbane River Walk will grant you vistas that are simply out of this world. No matter how you choose to explore this scenic waterway, you are bound to be blown away by the stunning views of the dazzling waters and beautiful cityscapes.

One of the most popular precincts along the river with a perfect view of the historical Story Bridge, take a ride down to Howard Smith Wharves for a line-up of atmospheric al fresco dining spots, like Greca Greek Tavern or the welcoming Gigi’s Homestyle Cooking. Keep it simple with Mr Percival’s, which serves up freshly chucked oysters amongst an array of delectable wood-fired pizzas, burgers, and more.

If gazing up at the gargantuan structure of interlocking nuts and bolts has your heart pumping extra, book an adventure climb that takes you up to heart-stopping heights atop the cantilevered bridge for breath-taking views of the city.

Get in touch with Aboriginal culture

Permeating throughout the city are the touches of Aboriginal culture that has been deeply intertwined with the land for tens of thousands of years before our inception of the modern world is formed. There are many chances to gain some perspective into the histories of indigenous living in Brisbane, to live and breath a heritage that flickers in the firelight with enthralling sparks.

Right at the city centre, Blackcard Cultural Tours hosts trips that reveal the stories and significance behind Southbank and the Parklands, learning directly from native guides descended from the Turrbal people. You can also take part in a theatrical reproduction of Aboriginal life at Spirits of the Red Sand, which will allow you to participate in their world through taking part in bush tucker tastings, boomerang painting, Dreamtime story sessions, and more.

Go deeper into the immersive experience by opting for a closely led tour. Forage for food under the advice of Luther Cora, who represents the Yugambeh Aboriginal tribe in teaching how to navigate the Terranora Lake mangroves to snatch fresh mudcrabs, stingrays, and fish, armed with only a bamboo spear, as part of Tweed Eco Tours. Join Quandamooka Coast between June to September to brush shoulders with whale species in the Moreton Island (Mulgumpin) and North Stadbroke Island (Minjerribah) areas as part of Australia’s one and only indigenous operated whale watching groups. Time your visit for August and you may even catch the annual Quaandamooka Coast Festival, which includes a range of live performances, cultural sharing sessions, music, and art workshops.

Island hop

As a coastal city, it comes as no surprise that Brisbane locals and visitors to the areas love to go island-hopping. Just Southern Moreton Bay’s Redlands Coast cluster already has you spoiled for choice, hosting the islands of Coochiemudlo, Russell, Macleay, Karragarra, and Lamb Island in a radius of less than 100 kilometres, with a plethora of activities and sights to uncover.

The fantastical allure of Moreton Island seems almost unreal. With glistening sand dunes fit for tobogganing, and waters full of sunken ships waiting to be explored, it is perfect for a day trip. Book a stay at the Tangalooma Island Resort before venturing into the out-of-this-world scenes around this wondrous pocket of land.

If the prospect of getting on a boat already has you feeling seasick, there is also the seriously beautiful Bribie Island, the only pocket of land on Moreton Bay that can be driven or shuttled to. Kayak along the dugongs, or discover the wealth of white-sand beaches and bunkers dotted all around.

Alternatively, you can also do a six-hour trip up north to K’Gari, otherwise known as Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. Marvel at the waters of Lake Mackenzie, or stay dry by opting for a stroll alongside the wild dingoes as well as other native species. Take it slow and make a full weekend out of it by making a pit stop at Kingfisher Bay Resort.

Cuddle a koala

One of the many faces of Australia’s wildlife, and easily the cutest one, koalas are Brisbane’s most beloved residents. Home to the country’s largest haven for these cuddly marsupials, head over to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary for a chance to get up close and cuddly. Join a keeper on the Working with Wildlife tour to get behind the scenes and see the heart and hard work required to keep more than 130 koalas happy. What’s more, you also have the rare opportunity to hold a koala in your arms while experts tell you all about them and other important species in the region.

Discover the arts and culture scene

Never short of spots that showcase the living, breathing culture of its people, Brisbane has a range of attractions that demonstrate the myriad of talents and works unique to the place. One of the most interesting and multifaceted pockets in Brisbane city, Fortitude Valley is a place where classy meets cutting edge. This inner suburb houses everything from an eclectic mix of high street and boutique shopping at James Street to gritty urban art murals scrawled all over town, as well as chic eateries and bars that line every street.

Further satiate your appetite for art by taking a trip to the must-see Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. Boasting an impressive collection of over 19,000 pieces from all over the world, its repertoire also includes cinematic works that are put on show at the on-site movie theatre, as well as a dedicated section for the little ones to immerse themselves in and learn through play. You’ll be hard-pressed to get bored amongst such a vast and incredibly diverse assemblage.

Another place that is well deserving of a visit is the Museum of Brisbane, which maps out the history of the city. Sitting atop the refurbished Brisbane City Hall, the view lends to a picture-perfect perspective of the legendary clock tower, which can be explored by way of the official tour. The exhibited works and pieces show the evolution of Brisbane through the ages, honouring past developments whilst celebrating modern day cultivations.

Aside from items that are a visual sensation to behold, there are also plenty of live performances around Brisbane waiting to be experienced. Held in the unique location that once operated as the Spring Hill Reservoirs, it is now frequented by the Underground Opera Company alongside several small groups of theatre talent as a performance space that is prized for its enhanced acoustics and intimate setting.

The Queensland Performing Arts Centre is another equally stunning venue that has been designed to include up to three theatres, two outdoor venues, one concert hall, in addition to an exclusive gallery. Home to performances that range from ballets and cabarets to free outdoor shows in the Melbourne Street Green, there is much to uncover.

Where to eat & drink

Restaurants

Nothing goes hand in hand like breakfast and coffee, and the thriving Australian café culture in Brisbane is a testament to that. Start your days by indulging in fresh fuel from the city’s prime morning hangouts by visiting Picnic Café, a neighbourhood favourite that combines everybody’s favourite thing about brunch. Offering an all-day breakfast menu, choose from a selection of classic fixtures like salads and hash skillet, or something as inventive as quinoa nasi goreng.

With pleasant weather nearly all the time and waterfront views all around, it is as if Brisbane was made to be a paradise fit for alfresco dining. Taking full advantage is Mary Mae’s, which rests on a prime location along the New Farm suburb waterside. This dog-friendly eatery is famed for complementing the gorgeous views with European classics that have been elevated with local Australian touches. Sample how they flip the script on a classic medallion steak using vegemite butter, paired with a Brisbane-brewed beer to wash it all down.

Merging the olden architecture of the heritage-listed Customs House with contemporary sharing plates, Patina on the river terrace is a spot that brings a fresh concept to a weathered site. Showcasing the flavours of local produce through their dishes, Patina keeps the choices local and provides a unique backdrop to Brisbane-style farm-to-table dining.

For something with a little bit of flair, head to the riverside Madame Wu. Passing through the bamboo entryway and interiors lined by lanterns, you will encounter a roster of Asian-inspired items, such as black bean snapper, that are ripe for sharing under the city lights and open-air dining space. Similarly, the delightful Southeast Asian flavours of Same Same await you in the inner city, with little bites like soft-shell crab bao rolls and bigger chomps like grilled duck in num tuk sauce.

Cafés

Though appearing onto the coffee scene a little bit later than contemporaries like Melbourne and Sydney, the café culture in Brisbane has quickly bloomed along the city walkways and brick laid neighbourhoods. From hole-in-the-wall coffee houses like Anytime, accessed by way of an obscured laneway from Mary Street, to the pretty-in-pink Superthing serving Padre coffee, there is bound to be a cup to suit everyone.

A wholly unique location that combines a roastery, brewery, and distillery into one, Fonzie Abbott has you covered from dawn till dusk. Have an extra special morning brew concocted from their aromatic signature blends or a single origin pour, then double back for an equally as delicious tipple once the sun begins to set.

Aside from industry practice favouring homemade roasts and independent sourcing, ethical growing and sustainability are several other concepts that have been gaining space in the limelight of the Australian coffee movement. Woollongabba-based bean purveyor-slash-café that does both, Black Sheep is a place where you can sample flavours from all over the world, prepped fresh in every cup. In the same vein, Grown is another café that revolves around sustainability, pouring out locally roasted coffee from Dramanti Artisan Roaster, and plating up plant-based food that ends up either eaten or composted.

Similarly, the Campos Coffee flagship is another spot that only utilises coffee that has been ethically produced, conducting trade directly with the farmers themselves. Part of their sales is redirected back to communities in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Rwanda, amongst other countries of suppliers. Featuring a collection of brews that change from time to time, do try to grab a bag to bring home if you find a flavour you really enjoy!

No roundup of coffee spots would be complete without paying dues to the city’s favourite brekkie and brunch spots. Hit up Morning After in the heart of West End for a bright and restorative space that lets you to pick between nourishment or a dish that’s on the naughtier side of the scale, as well as between familiar comforts like eggs on toast or something different like the Benedict with crispy pork belly.

Bars

Just the place to chase the sun, Brisbane’s bar scene is known for its various sky-high selections. On the top floor of the ever-so-stylish The Fox Hotel is Dandy’s, an oft photographed and much-loved spot that sparkles with colourful cocktails and kaleidoscopic surroundings. Equally as arresting on the senses is the tropics-inspired White Lightning Tiki Bar at Alfred and Constance, where you will find many other themed watering holes.

Heading downwards away from the skyline and backwards in time, look to Electric Avenue for a location evocative of a speakeasy ripped straight from the 1920s. Held in a genuine heritage-listed building, soak in the distinct atmosphere that mixes old world sensibilities with modern-day chill, as you sip on the artisanal cocktails at Mrs J. Rabbits upstairs.

Another spot full of bygone charm is John Mills Himself, which lies tucked beneath Archive Fine Books, stocking rare and second-hand collector’s prints. Serving up only the finest of Australian-produced spirits, beers, and wines, rest assured that everything you’re drinking is local, as there is a hardline rule that all drinks must be made with ingredients found no further than a 250-kilometre radius.

Street eats

Only a short ferry trip from the city, head to the Northshore Hamilton terminal, where you can admire picturesque views of the cityscape against the water and skyline. Greeting you on the other side, against the backdrop of a disused shipping container terminal, is Eat Street Market

This varied collection of market stalls, food booths, and live performances has earned a reputation as Brisbane’s top spots to visit, no matter who you’re travelling with. Presenting cuisines from all corners of the globe, from Japanese curry rice to traditional Peruvian bites, exploring the diverse flavours available is enough to keep you busy for quite some time—as long as your stomach doesn't get the better of you! Open every Friday and Saturday night, as well as Sunday lunchtimes during the winter, you can enter upon purchasing a pass.

For a street food adventure that takes you to the literal streets, all you have to do is look towards the city’s plethora of food trucks. Bright and colourful, wafting delectable aromas wherever they park, these mobile vendors bring an entire experience to the meal that adds a bit of excitement for each patron. Whether you are flagging down the bright blue Catch and Kiss Seafood bus for some Aussie-style fish and chips, indulging in firey devilled chicken and fried rice from the Sri Lankan-inspired Fire and Spice truck, or poring over a yoghurt soft serve from Yo Get It Queensland, the charming setting is sure to make your meal a memorable one.

Check out Brisbane’s food truck directory here, to see where vendors are scheduled to be stationed.

Where to stay

From luxuriously chic lodgings to eccentric spaces decked out in the coolest art and aesthetics, the unique imprint of the city guarantees that these are not just places to rest your head for the night.

Offering a two-in-one holiday by being an enclosed tropical oasis in itself, The Calile Hotel is a resort that brings out the tropical touches and balmy beats of Brisbane. Admire the effect of sunlight against the pink terracotta surfaces as swinging palm trees leave dancing shadows all over, before heading to the poolside award-winning Greek joint, Hellenika.

In W Brisbane, the highly Instagrammable WET® Deck pool pays homage to the ebb and flow of the Brisbane River through the use of geometric shapes and cut-out patterns. Prepared to be equally as wow-ed by their vibrant suites, and the glamourous yet wholesome eats at resident restaurant, Three Blue Ducks.

If living it up in the lap of the luxury is what you’re after, five-star Sofitel Brisbane Central is an answer. Right above the main train station, this beautifully-furbished mansion lies right in the heart of the city, serving as a premium stay replete with exclusive Club Lounge accommodation, world-class dining fixtures, high tea experiences, and a wondrous spa.

Add splashes of vibrance to your travels by picking a stay at one of the city’s art-centric digs. As part of the Art Series network of hotels, The Johnson is an option that showcases the works of revered Australian abstract artist Michael Johnson, in addition to a wonderfully curated art library, as well as an expansive swimming pool.

There is also the street-art inspired The Constance. Its façade is extremely visually arresting, which features a stunning portrait of a woman. Admire the work of Beastman, Numskull, and their like, whilst exploring the flavours provided by Chef Warren Turnbull, who helms the Chur eatery on the street level of the hotel.

To explore some more on what Darwin has to offer, check out this guide!

Tourism Australia

World-renowned for its vibrant natural beauty, Australia is brimming with unique experiences to be enjoyed amongst picturesque landscapes. Rich with multifaceted history and culture as well, there is plenty to soak up and become immersed in. Indulge in the best the nation has to offer, and take a trip down under that you will not forget.

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