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Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise

The Big Bus offers a great range of Brisbane River cruises. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book with us, and if you find the same cruise elsewhere at a cheaper price, we will beat it by 10%. Some conditions apply*. Local writer Marianne Diaz checks in with a list of ten must-see sights to tick off along the mighty Brisbane River…
Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise
Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise. Image courtesy of Visit Brisbane

1. Story Bridge

The Story Bridge is the longest cantilever bridge in Australia. It spans the Brisbane River just to the east of the city and looks especially stunning at night when illuminated with hundreds of coloured lights. For maximum impact, visit in September to see the Story Bridge fireworks displays (part of the Riverfire Festival). Although spectacular from the water, the bridge can also be seen from the top — if you’re game enough to climb it!

Brisbane travel guide

Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise
Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise: Story Bridge

2. Howard Smith Wharves

Originally built in the 1930s to provide work during the depression, the recent restoration of the Howard Smith Wharves uncovered some historic gems in the form of WWII air raid shelters! Five in fact! Constructed at the wharves due to their protected position directly under the Story Bridge, today the shelters aren’t considered safe to enter, but they are an intriguing link with the past. The wharves themselves have come to life with a boutique hotel, enticing restaurants, a brewery and wine bars.

Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise
Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise: Howard Smith Wharves

3. Eagle Street Pier

A wharf has stood on the Eagle Street Pier site since 1858. The present wharf, constructed in 1989, also functions as a dining and entertainment precinct. Constantly buzzing during the day, Eagle Street Pier dazzles at night with its lights, music and revelry. It’s the launching point for the Kookaburra Showboat Cruises. Cruise the river on a traditional paddle steamer and enjoy lunch, dinner or high tea along the way.

Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise
Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise: Riverland, Eagle Street Pier

4. Customs House

Located just a stone’s throw from the pier, Brisbane’s Customs House stands proud despite being towered over by modern high-rises. Built in the late 1800s in Victorian Free Classical style, it is now leased by the University of Queensland and is used for cultural, community and business events.

5. Kangaroo Point Cliffs

Cruising along the river is by far the best way to see the Kangaroo Point Cliffs. Created by convicts mining for building rock, the cliffs are lit up at night and are almost always seen with adventurous abseilers speckled along the sheer faces.

6. City Botanic Gardens

Look to the other side of the river and take in the beautiful City Botanic Gardens. Now boasting the superb new Riverwalk (a two-way promenade with a separate lane for cyclists), the gardens were originally planted in 1828 to feed the convict population. A massive 49 acres, the gardens offer a green sanctuary in the heart of the city.

Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise
Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise: City Botanic Gardens

7. South Bank Parklands

As you cruise on beneath the Pacific Motorway Bridge and round the point of the CBD peninsula, possibly the last thing you would expect to see is a tropical beach. However, Streets Beach is just one of the surprises in store for you at the South Bank Parklands. The precinct, which occupies what was the site of World Expo 88, is packed with amenities, including lush rainforest gardens, award-winning restaurants and bars, and the high-flying Wheel of Brisbane.

Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise
Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise: The Wheel of Brisbane

8. William Jolly Bridge

Made up of three elegant Art Deco arches, the William Jolly Bridge is a heritage-listed steel frame bridge located just to the west of the CBD. Named the Grey Street Bridge when it opened (right in the middle of the Great Depression), it was renamed in 1955 to honour William Jolly — Greater Brisbane’s first lord mayor.

Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise
Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise: William Jolly Bridge. Image: Bigstock

9. Walter Taylor Bridge

If you continue on up river, passing through the affluent suburbs of St Lucia and tongue-twisting Indooroopilly, you’ll eventually pass under the Walter Taylor Bridge. In response to motorists’ frustration at having to be ferried across the river at Indooroopilly, the bridge opened on Valentine’s Day in 1936. It was built by local progressive Walter Taylor, and renamed in 1956 in his memory. It’s unique among Brisbane’s bridges for the habitable accommodation in the abutments (originally for the tollkeeper). That, and the fact that gold was discovered during its construction! A mining licence was quickly registered by Taylor to ensure no one would try and halt the building of the bridge.

Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise
Ten top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise: Meet the cuddly locals at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

10. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

It’s a little-told story and one that’s almost impossible to believe today, but in the 1920s koalas were killed in extraordinary numbers in South East Queensland for their pelts. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary on the Brisbane River at Fig Tree Pocket was established to home orphaned, sick and injured koalas. Today the sanctuary holds the Guinness Book of Records title as the oldest koala sanctuary in the world. As well as introducing visitors to these amazing animals, Lone Pine houses the Brisbane Koala Science Institute. Daily return cruises from the city to the sanctuary are operated by Mirimar Cruises.

Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of top things to see on a Brisbane River cruise? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

This list of key sights is provided as a guide only and is not covered in its entirety on every Brisbane river cruise offered by The Big Bus.

*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 Brisbane city 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.

About the writer

Marianne Diaz is a research scientist by day and a freelance travel writer by night! She has travelled to Sri Lanka to explore her children’s part-heritage, and enjoyed research trips to Japan, and Bloomington, Chicago and Boston in the USA. Marianne’s main travel goal is to get to the Italian Aeolian Islands to check out the other half of her children’s background. She also loves exploring history-laden Australian country towns.

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