An hour’s drive south of Brisbane on the M1, followed by 15 minutes on a winding mountain road will bring you to the picturesque hinterland region of Mount Tamborine. Choices here for the outdoor enthusiast are varied. There are a number of sections of Tamborine National Park to explore, including The Knoll, MacDonald Park, and Palm Grove, all of which offer a selection of short and long rainforest and bush walks. If you’d prefer a stroll above, rather than through the rainforest, do the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk.
Next, head to Gallery Walk in town for a great selection of cafes, galleries and gift shops. There are three sweet shops that sell mouth-watering fudge and other treats. St Bernards Hotel is another tourist drawcard. Built in 1989, the hotel offers stunning views across the Tamborine Valley towards Moreton Bay and the Gold Coast skyline. Stop in for lunch or a quick drink, and say hi to the St Bernard dogs.
Mount Tamborine is also home to a burgeoning winemaking industry and there are several cellar doors that open to the public.
The sublime Sunshine Coast — just 90 minutes’ drive north of the Brisbane CBD — stretches from the beach city of Caloundra all the way to the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park. The beaches are amazing, but there’s much more to the region. The rural hinterland harbours small towns with lots of individual charm and unique attractions. The rustic town of Montville is filled with quaint shops and cafes, and is just over an hour’s drive from the Brisbane CBD. Consider stopping at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve on the way for the stunning vistas towards the Glass House Mountains.
From Montville, you’ll pass rolling green hills and paddocks as you make your way to nearby Maleny. Maple Street — which runs through the centre of town — offers an eclectic selection of boutiques, shops and cafes, and has a relaxed, new-age vibe.
Combining a hinterland visit with an afternoon at the beach is doable, but it involves a fair amount of driving. It’s 81 kilometres from Maleny to cosmopolitan coastal enclave Noosa, through the towns of Mapleton, Nambour and Eumundi.
With so many activities in and around the world-famous Gold Coast, the challenge is choosing how to spend your time. The theme parks en route to the Gold Coast from Brisbane — Movie World, Dreamworld and Wet‘n’Wild — along with Sea World on the Southport Spit (just north of Surfers Paradise), provide plenty of fun for all ages.
Apart from the thrilling parks, the Gold Coast’s 57 kilometres of white sandy beaches are its biggest attraction. For a 360-degree view of the beaches, ocean and magnificent hinterland, visit the SkyPoint Observation Deck on level 77 of the Gold Coast’s tallest building — Q1. There’s a bar and bistro, and SkyPoint Climb takes the experience to another level!
Leave the high-rises behind and head south to Currumbin Beach, where you’ll discover a 750-metre expanse of white sand. It’s not quite Q1, but climb the steps up Elephant Rock for the lovely beach views. Nestled against the rocky outcrop is the Currumbin Surf Lifesaving Club. Founded in 1919, the club is the perfect place to enjoy a cold drink or a beachfront bite to eat. After lunch, head for the nearby Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
With its close proximity to Moreton Bay, Brisbane offers easy access to unspoilt islands that are packed with wild and marine life. North Stradbroke Island is the largest island, and is accessible by car-ferry or water taxi from the bayside suburb of Cleveland. Both drop passengers at Dunwich. For those visiting without a car, there’s a connecting bus that travels around ‘Straddie’.
One of the most popular spots on the island is Point Lookout. Complete the scenic 1.2-kilometre North Gorge Walk and you may spot humpback whales during their migration season (June to November), or pods of dolphins throughout the year. Cool down with a delicious scoop of gelato from the Oceanic Gelati & Coffee Bar. It’s the perfect post walk reward. There are often kangaroos grazing on the green grass opposite the shops and cafes.
Home Beach and Cylinder Beach — both patrolled by lifeguards — are an easy 15 minute stroll from Point Lookout.
Entering the World Heritage-listed Springbrook National Park, roughly an hour’s drive from the Brisbane CBD, is an otherworldly experience. The rainforest-covered Springbrook plateau is a remnant of the northern side of a huge shield volcano and dates back 23 million years. Beneath the tree canopy are myriad walking trails and plenty of wildlife. Many bird species, including the yellow-tailed black cockatoo, satin bowerbird, whipbird and the elusive Albert’s lyrebird, call this expansive green haven home.
Neighbouring Lamington National Park, covering 21,176 hectares, offers similar wildlife viewing experiences and bushwalking trails ranging from short walks (up to 3.4 kilometres) to full-day options (10 to 21.4 kilometres). Parts of Lamington and historic Binna Burra Lodge were devastated by bushfire in September 2019. The Binna Burra section of the park is temporarily closed until it can be declared safe. Check the Queensland Parks and Forests website for updates.
Although Springbrook and Lamington are located side by side, visiting each park on a separate day trip is recommended as there’s so much to see and do in both. Alternatively, choose to stay overnight in one of the many accommodation options on offer — including O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat.
Heritage-listed St Helena Island National Park is located 21 kilometres east of Brisbane in the Pumicestone Passage and has an infamous history as the site of the state’s first penal settlement (gaol), which operated from 1867 to 1932. The island is accessible by boat from the inner Brisbane suburb of New Farm or the bayside suburb of Manly. Tours offer historical commentary and short walks around the island’s stone ruins, including the old blacksmith shop, the gaol, and the punishment yard. There are also Aboriginal middens scattered around the island.
Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island — 35 kilometres northeast from Brisbane in the pristine waters of Moreton Bay — is a very popular day trip from the city. The world’s third largest sand island, Moreton’s 170-square-kilometre expanse is 98% national park and hosts amazing flora and fauna. However, it’s what lives offshore that attracts most visitors.
The water around the island teems with marine life, including turtles, rays, dugongs, whales (seasonal) and most famously, dolphins. Day visitors can time their return journey to include the sunset wild dolphin feeding experience. Under supervision of the marine eco rangers, you can hand feed one of the bottlenose dolphins that visit the island each evening, before hopping on board the last catamaran and heading back to the mainland.
An easy 65-kilometre drive north of Brisbane, Bribie Island is separated from the mainland by Pumicestone Passage and offers access to a variety of tranquil beaches. The white sand of Woorim Beach on the ocean side of the island is sheltered by neighbouring Moreton Island, while Bongaree Beach at the southern end of the island, and Banksia Beach and White Patch on the passage side, are also calm-water beaches. They’re all popular for swimming, fishing and boating, however, take care when entering the water as tidal currents can be deceiving. Obey all safety signs and directions.
If you’re interested in local arts and crafts, stop by the Bribie Island Community Arts Centre at Banksia Beach and browse the leadlighting, woodwork, paintings, pottery, glass work and jewellery on offer.
With its manicured parks and gardens brimming with colour, and well-preserved heritage architecture, the historic Darling Downs city of Toowoomba provides visitors with a taste of the rural Queensland of yesteryear. The city occupies a commanding position at the top of the Great Dividing Range — 700 metres above sea level. The cooler temperatures at this height allow for the growing of plants and trees normally associated with colder climates. It gives the city a very English feel.
The 25-hectare Queens Park and Botanic Gardens is the ideal place to stretch the legs after driving up the range, or enjoy a picnic. From autumn to winter (March to August) the impressive array of deciduous trees change colour from green to red to gold. The town celebrates the arrival of spring with the popular Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers.
A trove of historical artefacts awaits you at the Cobb and Co Museum — including an extensive display of horse-drawn vehicles.
For those looking to venture further afield, southern Queensland’s Granite Belt country — located near the border with New South Wales — may be the perfect option. Stanthorpe is the ‘heart’ of the region and the 233-kilometre drive south-west of Brisbane (via Warwick) is a picturesque journey.
Stanthorpe experiences four distinctly different seasons, and curling up in front of a log fire during winter, while not often associated with a stay in Queensland, is definitely on the cards here. Originally renowned for tin mining, today the town and surrounding region offer access to national parks and reserves, along with wineries, microbreweries, and farmgates stocked with apples, olives and stone fruit. Local providores capitalise on the abundance of fresh produce and you’ll pick up plenty of tasty treats, including cheese, chocolate, jam and olive oil. Winelovers — you’re also in for something special. As the highest altitude wine region in Australia (800+ metres above sea level), Granite Belt wines are unique and internationally recognised for their subtle characteristics.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best Brisbane day trips? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Visitors to any Queensland beach are reminded to stay safe and always swim between the red and yellow flags.
Additional images: Bigstock
The activities and attractions mentioned in this story are provided as a guide only and may not be included in the Brisbane day trips and tours offered by The Big Bus. Please check the itinerary notes for your preferred tour for a list of the included sights and stops.
*No credit card or booking fees are applied to bookings made directly on The Big Bus tour and travel guide website. Fees may be applied to bookings made via affiliate websites, including Viator. Our best price guarantee applies to tours available on The Big Bus tour and travel guide website and does not apply to tours offered via affiliate websites, including Viator. For terms and conditions or to make a claim, please click here.
Jennifer Johnston is a Brisbane-based freelance writer and blogger inspired by travel, health and wellbeing. She juggles pursuing her passion for writing with raising three rowdy young men, a dog and a couple of goldfish. Jennifer has explored much of the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States (including Hawaii), Canada, New Zealand, Egypt, Israel, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan and Fiji. When she’s not writing, you may find Jennifer hiking in some distant part of the world.