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 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 a dynamic arts scene, to a fast evolving laneway culture, slick and sophisticated hotels and eateries, vibrant nightlife and world-class shopping, the options for things to see and do are endless.
Brisbane also offers easy access to some of South East Queensland’s most beautiful landscapes. Popular day trip destinations include the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Moreton Bay, the Gold Coast Hinterland and Scenic Rim region.
This Brisbane travel guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.
Watch our video of ten amazing things to do in Brisbane:
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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.
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.
Habitation of the greater Brisbane region by the First People 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.
Back in town, the Museum of Brisbane at City Hall is a must-visit. Located on the imposing Neoclassical building’s roof and offering tours of the soaring clocktower in one of Brisbane’s oldest operating cage lifts, the museum showcases the city’s past, present and possible future through art and artefacts.
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.
The city’s swag of smart new hotels are setting the standard for restaurant dining. For possibly the best Greek food in town (along with a luxe decor and superb service), head to Hellenika at The Calile Hotel. Also check out Za Za Ta — Brisbane’s first Israeli restaurant — at the Ovolo Hotel on Ann Street. Over at the Emporium Hotel in South Bank, Signature offers an uber-chic night out and plenty of impressive culinary moments.
For something a tad more casual, cruise downriver on a City Cat to Eat Street Northshore in Hamilton. This ‘world village’ of street food vendors is housed in 130 repurposed shipping containers. Enjoy the live entertainment on offer as you graze.
Brisbane has plenty of classic pubs offering good value pub grub. Stroll over the Story Bridge (or take a ferry from the city) to the famous Story Bridge Hotel in Kangaroo Point. The Breakfast Creek Hotel at Albion is another fine watering hole. It dates back to 1889 and is renowned for its steak menu.
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.
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. A short bus ride west of the city, Paddington is another treasure trove of independent boutiques, vintage shops and antiques outlets.
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.
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 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.
Nature lovers will find their happy place by hiking in the Mount Coot-tha Forest. The newly opened 2.4-kilometre Spotted Gum Trail starts at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha and leads all the way up to the Summit Lookout. Enjoy sweeping views of the city and surrounding region, and relax over a light meal, coffee, ice cream, or glass of wine at the Summit Restaurant and Kiosk.
Cruising the mighty Brisbane River is another option for some quality 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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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
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 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.