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Brisbane travel guide, tours & things to do

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos.
Brisbane travel guide
Brisbane travel guide

Brisbane basks in glorious sunshine for most of the year.

However, it’s not just the great weather that makes the Queensland capital such a fabulous place to visit. From an amazing arts and cultural scene, to a fast evolving laneway culture, slick and sophisticated hotels and eateries, vibrant nightlife and world-class shopping — the River City has so much to offer, and has become one of Australia’s most dynamic travel destinations.

Enjoy this Brisbane travel guide.

Brisbane travel guide
Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. Image courtesy of Visit Brisbane

Need to know

  • Capital of: Queensland
  • Base yourself: City, Spring Hill, New Farm
  • Average hotel price per room/per night: AUD $170
  • Best breakfasts: South Brisbane, New Farm, Balmoral
  • Great coffee: Paddington, Bulimba, West End
  • Top spots for a beverage: New Farm, Breakfast Creek, Fortitude Valley

Best times to visit Brisbane

Southeast Queensland’s blissfully balmy weather is always inviting, but autumn and winter strike the perfect balance for getting out and about without the crowds or the humidity. In Autumn you’ll enjoy mild, sunny days; for the mostly sunny days of winter, temperatures remain mild in the mid to high teens. During spring, temperatures reach the mid 20s, relieved by refreshing breezes in the evening. In summer, expect temperatures of 30+.

Brisbane travel guide
Brisbane travel guide: Hit the beach in South Bank. Image: Bigstock

Top ten things to do in Brisbane

Top cultural experiences in Brisbane

West End has always been the city’s bohemian enclave, and despite all the development in recent years, it has retained its edgy vibe.

This is a great spot to start your cultural foray. Head for the Boundary Street Markets on the weekend and feast on delicious global cuisines, shop for vintage clothes or rock out to great local bands at The Bearded Lady.

Brisbane travel guide
Image courtesy of Boundary Street Markets

Serious culture vultures should make a bee-line for South Bank — the city’s undisputed cultural epicentre with its world-class theatre, arts and educational institutions. Peruse the collection of 17,000-plus works of art at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), spend an evening at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) taking in a stage show, or visit the Queensland Museum and learn about the region’s natural and human history.

Across town at New Farm, you’ll find the Brisbane Powerhouse. It’s been at the forefront of the city’s contemporary cultural scene for almost two decades.

Brisbane travel guide
Brisbane travel guide. Image courtesy of Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane for history lovers

Habitation of the greater Brisbane region by the First Peoples dates back over 40,000 years.

To learn more about white settlement and how it affected the local Indigenous population, pay a visit to kuril-dhagun at the State Library of Queensland. It’s a space where all Australians and visitors can engage with Aboriginal history, culture and ideas.

To experience the city’s colonial history, join a day tour to historic St Helena Island in Moreton Bay. The island was the site of a maximum-security men’s prison for 60 years from 1867. It’s now a national park. The cruise to the island departs from the bayside suburb of Manly, which is home to a plethora of bustling cafes, restaurants and boutiques. Get there early and enjoy a stroll before you board.

Brisbane travel guide
Brisbane travel guide: Step back in time on St Helena Island. Image: Bigstock

The Museum of Brisbane at Town Hall is worth checking out too. Here you can delve into the city’s past, present and possible future.

Great places to eat in Brisbane

Culinary confidence is at an all-time high in Brisbane.

Revitalised precincts such as the Howard Smith Wharves have injected renewed interest into the riverside social scene, with establishments like Mr Percival’s and Felons Brewing Co proving popular with tourists and locals alike.

Brisbane travel guide
Brisbane travel guide: Howard Smith Wharves. Image courtesy of Visit Brisbane

Many of the city’s swag of smart new hotels are setting the standard for restaurant dining. For possibly the best Greek food in town, head to Hellenika at The Calile Hotel. It’s a culinary experience to savour — thanks to the diverse menu, luxe decor and on-point service. ZA ZA TA, the first ever Israeli restaurant in the city, is a must-try too. You’ll find it at Ovolo Fortitude Valley on Ann Street. Over at the Emporium Hotel at South Bank, Signature provides for a sophisticated night out. The menu focus is on dishes that showcase the finest Australian produce.

For something more casual, Eat Street Northshore is the place to be. It’s located by the river at Hamilton, and you can choose from a selection of street-style food served up from funky repurposed shipping containers. Take the CityCat ferry from the CBD.

Brisbane travel guide
Eat Street Northshore. Image courtesy of Visit Brisbane

Stroll over the Story Bridge at some point during your stay in the city and grab some classic Aussie pub grub at the famous Story Bridge Hotel in Kangaroo Point. If you want to check out another of Brisbane’s finest historic watering holes, pay a visit to the Breakfast Creek Hotel. The building dates back to 1889.

Brisbane travel guide
Brisbane travel guide: Breakfast Creek Hotel. Image courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland

Beautiful Mount Tamborine, conveniently located half-way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, has lots of delicious surprises in store for visitors — including gourmet food producers and an array of picturesque wineries and cellar doors. A wine tour takes away the hassle of driving.

Where to shop in Brisbane

With more than 700 stores, Queen Street Mall is the centre of now when it comes to shopping in Brissy.

Here you’ll find all the big-name fashion brands, to suit every budget.

For upscale and up-and-coming designer labels, James Street in Fortitude Valley is lined with clothing and homeware stores that will impress seasoned shoppers. Paddington is another treasure trove of independent boutiques, vintage shops and antiques outlets.

Brisbane travel guide
Brisbane travel guide: Shop up a storm in James Street. Image courtesy of Visit Brisbane

Market shoppers will love The Collective Markets, held in Stanley Street Plaza in South Bank from Friday evening through to Sunday afternoon. The market has everything from original art to photography, trending and vintage clothing, and food and live music. Also try Suitcase Rummage. From pre-loved retro jackets to crocheted cactuses, everything is sold out of open suitcases. Check their website for dates and locations.

Ways to relax in Brisbane

Brisbane offers plenty of things to do that will leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

Two of Australia’s most famous beach destinations — the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast — are only an hour’s drive away, but you don’t even have to go that far. Get some rays at Streets Beach in South Bank. It’s not often that you can laze in the sand right in the heart of a bustling city!

Afterwards, enjoy a tranquil stroll through the Epicurious Garden and admire its fragrant herbs and tropical plants. Then hop on the Wheel of Brisbane and soak up the sensational river and city views, or take the kids to one (or more!) of the precinct’s three fabulous playgrounds.

Brisbane travel guide
Ride The Wheel of Brisbane. Image: Bigstock

There are plenty of laneway cafes and bars within the South Bank precinct too. The Terrace on level 21 of the Emporium Hotel is the only rooftop bar in the area and provides guests with incredible city vistas.

Nature lovers will find their happy place in the Mt Coot-tha Forest. The Summit Track will get you up to the mountain top, where you can enjoy a meal and a coffee or a glass of wine.

Cruising the mighty Brisbane River is another option for some R&R. The famous Koala Cruise from the city centre to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary has been popular for decades, while the Kookaburra Queen paddle wheelers offer lunch, dinner and high tea cruises.

Brisbane travel guide
Cruise the Brisbane River and meet the locals at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

The tranquil waters of beautiful Moreton Bay are also tantalisingly close to the city. Do a day trip to North Stradbroke Island and see the bay at its best.

Where to stay in Brisbane

Gambaro Hotel

The name Gambaro has been synonymous with Brisbane dining for decades. The family opened a humble fish and chip shop on Caxton Street back in 1953, and today Gambaro Restaurant reigns as one of the city’s top seafood eateries. The family’s pursuit of excellence carries through to the sublime Gambaro Hotel, located next door. It offers luxury boutique accommodation and easy access to everything the Caxton Street entertainment precinct is famous for. Suncorp Stadium is a just a two-minute walk from the hotel.

Take a tour of Gambaro Hotel:

Take a look around Brisbane’s luxury Gambaro Hotel – The Big Bus

We were thrilled recently to take a look around the fabulous Gambaro Hotel in Brisbane, and to put together this video preview. If you are looking for somewhere special to stay in Brisbane, this boutique luxury accommodation option on Caxton Street in Paddington offers stylish rooms and suites, and superb amenities.

Gambaro Hotel offers 68 rooms over four levels and exudes a sense of refined sophistication. Rooms feature plush furnishings and striking artworks. Many have balconies overlooking the suburb of Paddington. Guests have access to the MG Bar, Black Hide Steakhouse, and of course — Gambaro Restaurant.

The Calile Hotel

Add a tropical resort-style vibe to your Brisbane stay by checking into The Calile Hotel in Fortitude Valley. Holding court in James Street, this boutique beauty has a touch of 1950s Miami about it, and plenty of pizzazz!

Brisbane travel guide
The Calile Hotel. Image courtesy of Visit Brisbane

The airy design, white brick archways, pastel colour palette and swaying palm trees give the hotel an easy and relaxed elegance. Choose from luxurious accommodation across 175 rooms. There’s an award-winning restaurant, an outdoor pool and lounge area, a day spa, and a handful of fashion boutiques. Many of Brisbane’s best cafes and restaurants are located nearby.

Do you have any tips to add to our Brisbane travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Jennifer Morton

About the writer

Melinda Healy is an Australian-made journalist who enjoys roaming the globe and writing about it. She’s just returned to Australia after four years working in the media in Abu Dhabi, most recently as section editor of a weekly lifestyle newspaper supplement. Mel is a destination expert for Telegraph Travel and Culture Trip and has had bylines in The Times, The Independent, Etihad Airways’ Atlas online, Ultratravel Middle East, Conde Nast Traveller Middle East and The Upsider.

 

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.

 

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