Brisbane, the capital of the Australian Sunshine State, is without a doubt my favorite Australian city and my home away from home! If you are wondering why I love the city so much, just check out this list with my favorite things to do in Brisbane!
You might know this information already from my article about Where to stay in Brisbane, but I lived there for two years and it is pretty much my home when I am not in Spain; moreover, my boyfriend is a Brisbanite! So, get ready, because you are about to see Brisbane from the eyes of an (almost) local!
With an astonishing 283 days of sunshine a year, Brisbane is a wonderful place to live in and of course, to travel to. It is surrounded by the most beautiful places on the Australian East Coast and it makes a perfect base for day trips to the surrounding areas.
If you have decided to visit Brisbane, keep reading! And if you are still unsure whether it is worth a visit or not, keep reading as well!
Brisbane, also known as Brissy or Brisvegas, is one of the oldest cities in Australia and the third biggest city after Sydney and Melbourne! You’ll realize, once you get there, that Australian cities are quite spread out!
Let’s do this! This is my list of the 10 best things to do in Brisbane:
- 1. Chill around South Bank
- 2. Admire the view from the top of Story Bridge
- 3. Check out Roma Street Parkland
- 4. Go shopping at Brisbane’s CBD
- 5. Admire the Australian flora and fauna at Brisbane City Botanic Gardens
- 6. Hike Mount Coot-tha
- 7. Stargaze at the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
- 8. Go rock climbing at Kangaroo Point Cliffs
- 9. Go on a River Dinner Cruise
- 10. Laugh out loud at the Brisbane Powerhouse
- 11. Check out Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
- BONUS 1 – Free things to do in Brisbane
- BONUS 2 – Things to do in Brisbane at night
- BONUS 3 – Day Trips from Brisbane
- Brisbane Tourism – Practical information about the city
1. Chill around South Bank
You must know by now that when I say chill, I mean chill, walk, eat, swim, etc. This is because South Bank is such a versatile place that there are an infinite number of things to do there!
Whether you are the type that likes lying on the grass or having a meal in one of the dozens of international restaurants, Southbank is your place to be!
It also has a little botanical garden called Epicurious Garden, where you can literally handpick your own herbs for free, extra useful when you want to save a few bucks! And it even has a free man-made beach that’s open throughout the summer, a favorite for those looking for things to do in Brisbane with kids!
Once you are in South Bank, there’s no way you can miss out on the Wheel of Brisbane, their very own 60 Brisbane Eye! It is a splendid place to see a panoramic view of the city and its surroundings!
PRO TIP: Keep an eye out for shows in Brisbane being held at South Bank on their website. There is always something going on as this is one of the places that hosts most of the Brisbane events!
HOW TO GET THERE: Just follow Adelaide St. towards the river. South Bank is just a 5 min walk from the city.
2. Admire the view from the top of Story Bridge
You may have already seen it in pictures, but let me tell you that one of the most famous Brisbane attractions is the heritage-listed and iconic Story Bridge.
This is probably one of the most prominent landmarks in the city!
Are you feeling adventurous? Then why not climb the Story Bridge? Yes, you read that right! This 2-hour adventure tour takes you climbing up the bridge! During the tour you will get a 360º view of the city and get to learn about this iconic bridge’s history! Not recommended for those scared of heights (such as myself!)
NOTE: If you’re in Brisbane by the end of September, make sure you check out the Riverfire Festival! The most amazing pyrotechnic show I have ever seen, and with the Story Bridge at the front, it makes for an unbelievable sight!
PRICE: Free, $129 AUD if you want to take the adventure tour
HOW TO GET THERE: Just across from Kangaroo Point, you can get the ferry (price differs depending on where you get on and off, but around $3.20 AUD) and get off at Holman Street Ferry Terminal.
3. Check out Roma Street Parkland
Roma Street Parkland is Brisbane’s own little lung, an astonishing 16 hectares of nature in the middle of the city center, its very own Central Park if I may say so myself! it’s the biggest sub-tropical city park in the Southern Hemisphere; you can definitely go to this park several times and still not have seen it all. But isn’t that the most exciting part?
With plenty of opportunities to check out the local flora and fauna, this is definitely one of my favorite places to visit in Brisbane! Last time I was there, a possum chilled right next to me! Don’t try to touch them, though, they can bite when disturbed.
Roma Street Parkland hosts many free events throughout the year so make sure you check their facebook page for more information. Did I mention most of the events are free! You can also have a barbecue with your friends there!
HOW TO GET THERE: The Roma Street Train Station and Transit Centre is located directly beside the Parkland (access is via Platform 10).
4. Go shopping at Brisbane’s CBD
Brisbane’s CBD (Central Business District) is where the action is! Even though Brisbane has lots of different neighborhoods with very unique characters and vibes to them, the CBD is the one that is always lit!
If you like shopping, this is one of the best things to do in Brisbane City!
PRO TIP: If you head there around midday on a weekday, there will be a live music performance making your shopping experience even more delightful.
While you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to check out:
- Queen Street, The Myer Centre or Wintergarden for the best shopping!
- Treasury Casino and Hotel
- Brisbane City Hall in order to check out the Museum of Brisbane that’s located inside (free entry)
- Brisbane Arcade – a heritage-listed shopping arcade that was built in the early 20s and it gives you all those art deco feelings!
5. Admire the Australian flora and fauna at Brisbane City Botanic Gardens
If this is your first visit to Australia, and even better, if Brisbane is your first stop, you HAVE TO check out the Botanical Gardens!
This is one of the most gorgeous places to go in Brisbane! One of the most surprising things you will notice once you get to Australia is their awesome wildlife, and because Brisbane is the “Tropical Capital”, you’re bound to see some cool stuff!
Apart from this, visiting the Botanical Gardens is one of the most relaxing things to do in Brisbane!
PRO TIP: You might want to think twice about having lunch next to the lake because you’ll end up surrounded by several lizards fighting amongst themselves for the right to have even the tiniest bit of cheese. On the bright side, they are not aggressive towards humans, but if you don’t want to test it, maybe eat your sandwich somewhere else; I know because I learned the hard way!
During your visit, you will be able to spot the beautiful Ibis birds (the Australian version of pigeons, but still lovely nonetheless), bush turkeys, very weird ducks and if it’s close to night time, keep an eye out for possums, the Aussie version of squirrels!
OPENING HOURS: 24/7
HOW TO GET THERE: From the city, follow Albert Street towards the river and QUT (Queensland University of Technology) and on the way you will find the Botanical Gardens.
6. Hike Mount Coot-tha
If you are going to visit Brisbane, you have to check out Mount Coot-tha! What used to be the home of the Yugarapul Aboriginal people is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Brisbane. Mount Coot-tha, or “Honey Mountain” consists of a 287m mountain with stunning views of the city.
Once you’re there, you can hike the bush trails, practice yoga at sunrise, or check out the Mount Coot-tha botanic gardens and greenhouse, which has a picture-perfect geometric dome!
If you’re the sporty type, there’s no better way to see Mount Coot-tha than on this 10km running tour, during which they’ll take you through the best running paths and on top of that, they’ll make a detour and take you to the Mount Coot-tha summit!
PRICE: Free, $80 AUD for the running tour
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the bus 471 from the city to Mount Coot-tha lookout station.
7. Stargaze at the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
Once in Mount Coot-tha, why not go to the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium? With shows for every age, this planetarium is not your average museum.
This is actually the biggest planetarium in Queensland, where you will be able to attend star shows, stargaze at night and inspect the oldest asteroid fragments.
OPENING HOURS: Open everyday except Monday. You can check out the specific hours here.
PRICE: General admission is free. The Cosmic Skydome shows are $16.40 AUD per adult.
HOW TO GET THERE: From the city, you can take bus number 471 or buses 598 or 599 from various suburbs, get down at Mount Coot-Tha Viewpoint.
8. Go rock climbing at Kangaroo Point Cliffs
Once you cross the Botanical Gardens you will find the Brisbane river in front of you. The Brisbane River or “Brown Snake”, as the locals like to call it (Australians are great when it comes to nicknaming things!) crosses the city and ends in Moreton Bay.
I believe this is a good time to say that even though Brisbane is at the coast, it doesn’t have beaches per se, but it does have a bay!
If you walk along the river to the left, you will be able to admire the beautiful sailing boats that have anchored at the Brisbane River which are, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful things to see in Brisbane! You will also see Kangaroo Point, a set of cliffs within the city where Brisbanites love to go climbing or have picnics – also a great spot to check out the Brisbane city skyline.
You will understand once you are there that Brisbane at night is one of the most magical cities ever!
If you’d love to try your hand rock climbing in a natural setting without even leaving the city, why not try this thrilling rock climbing tour at Kangaroo Point Cliffs? You’ll spend 2 hours climbing in a natural setting with the best climbing instructors! Available for all levels of climbers!
NOTE: By the way, swimming in the river is not allowed, a bit because of the pollution and a lot because of the number of bull sharks that inhabit the river (welcome to Australia! 😉 ).
PRO TIP: Keep reading to find out about an awesome place to swim and spend the hot summer days in Brisbane’s city center!
PRICE: Free, $59 AUD for the climbing tour
HOW TO GET THERE: Right next to the Story Bridge, 15 min walk from the city!
9. Go on a River Dinner Cruise
If you’d like to check out the Brisbane skyline while having a world class dinner, you can book this Brisbane River Dinner Cruise!
Why not take your partner on a date? Enjoy the best live entertainment and Australian contemporary buffet menu on an elegant river cruise that travels through the Brisbane River, departing at 7 pm from Eagle Street Pier.
PRICE: $79 AUD
HOW TO GET THERE: Eagle Street Pier, just a 5 min walk from the city center.
10. Laugh out loud at the Brisbane Powerhouse
Were you thinking about doing something special but you couldn’t find that one thing? I found it for you!
Brisbane Powerhouse is a new Brisbane venue that holds shows, events and parties in a wonderful former power station with beautiful views of the river.
On Fridays, Brisbane Powerhouse holds a free stand up comedy show called “Knock Off” that lasts for an hour and it makes for the best evening plan!
OPENING HOURS: Mon 9am–5pm and Tue–Sun 9am-9pm. The comedy show is held on Fridays at 7pm
PRICE: The comedy show is free, to find out the prices of the other shows click here.
HOW TO GET THERE: From the city, take the ferry to New Farm Park. Once there, you are walking distance from Brisbane Powerhouse.
11. Check out Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
If you’d like to see Australian fauna up close you can head to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary!
This is one of the most popular attractions when heading to Brisbane. If you can’t head to Stradbroke Island to see them in the wild (more about this day trip below), you can check this place out!
CAUTION: Be very wary when approaching wildlife, and think twice about if you’d like to hug a koala or take a selfie with a kangaroo. They are not show animals, but rescued animals!
OPENING HOURS: open 7 days a week, 9am-5pm
PRICE: $42 AUD, pre purchase them online to get 10% off.
BONUS 1 – Free things to do in Brisbane
Money can be a concern when traveling to places like Australia. But fear not, Brisbane is a city with endless free events and places to visit that will thankfully help you enjoy the city and have the best experience possible without spending too much!
So, without further ado, what can you do in Brisbane for free?
Here are my recommendations:
1. Take a Free Walking tour
And the best way to get to know the city of Brisbane? Take a Free Walking tour! Check out this walking tour that departs everyday at 10:30 from the Brisbane City Information Centre and takes you sightseeing for 1.5h!
Alternatively, if that sounds like too little time, you can go ahead and book this 3-hour walking tour! You’ll be able to check out the most iconic Brisbane landmarks in just a morning! Otherwise, have you ever tried segways? You can do this 1.5-hour segway tour and explore the city center in a super fun way!
2. Hop on the Free River Cruise
There are endless things to see and places to go in Brisbane! So, once you get to the Story Bridge, why not hop on the Cityhopper for a free ride along the river?
This is a service that helps make the car traffic smoother by connecting people from one side of the river to the other.
PRO TIP: Watch out if you want to take it very early in the morning as it might be full of commuters.
The river cruise runs between 6 AM and midnight, every day of the week. My advice is to take the Cityhopper that goes towards the city and get off at Southbank! 😉
IMPORTANT: Wearing a hat and sunscreen is a must if you’d like to enjoy the views from the deck! The hole in the Ozone layer is located on top of Australia, so make sure you take the sun protection seriously and apply this tip throughout the whole trip!
HOW TO GET THERE: These services run from Holman Street, Eagle Street Pier and Thornton Street every 10 to 15 minutes. Just a 5 min walk from Myer Centre.
3. Wander around the Gallery of Modern Art
The Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) is an inexpensive way to spend a hot summer day and discover a bit more about Australian Modern Art. Although the galleries are mostly free, sometimes the exhibitions have an entrance fee, so make sure you check it on their website to know for sure. I have seen the most fascinating exhibitions from Yayoi Kusama and aboriginal activism art there!
OPENING HOURS: Open daily from 10am – 5pm. You can check the updated schedule here.
PRICE: Free, except for some exhibitions, check them here
HOW TO GET THERE: QAGOMA is located next to the Cultural Centre Busway station and a short walk from “South Brisbane” train station.
4. Discover the Aboriginal Culture at Queensland Museum
Unfortunately, the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Islander Culture is greatly overlooked by tourists and even some locals alike. It is not a surprise, because in the city it is easily missed as it is pretty much gone!
The Queensland Museum and Science Centre is a fantastic place in Brisbane to learn about the original owners of the land that you are travelling through! The oldest culture in the world has some pretty cool stories to tell and unbelievable things to show you.
Moreover, it’s got a very similar vibe to the British Museum, so if you love animals and dinosaurs this is your museum! I found it very educational and it makes for the perfect place to bring your kids.
PRO TIP: If you are not traveling to Brisbane with your kids, maybe try to avoid going there during weekends, as there are plenty of activities for kids so it can get full of families!
OPENING HOURS: Open daily from 9.30am – 5pm
PRICE: Free, except for some exhibitions, check them here
HOW TO GET THERE: The museum is located next to the Cultural Centre Busway station and a short walk from “South Brisbane” train station.
5. Explore the Farmer’s Market in West End
Looking for some more fun things to do in Brisbane? The neighborhood of West End is a great choice!
This is the trendiest neighborhood in Brisbane for a reason! Finding a place to live there is not only very desirable amongst Brisbanites, but also quite difficult. And don’t get me wrong, the price tag is not the problem, the demand is!
West End is the place where all Brisbane’s quirkiest characters gather and the ideal spot to go for farmer’s markets, hipster coffee shops, quirky vintage and second hand shops and vegan food markets. Even though it does sound like a hipster’s paradise, it is definitely not pretentious and it’s got more of a hippie vibe to it. It is not the safest of places at night but extremely fun nonetheless!
NOTE: Do attend the West End Fire Festival if you get the chance! It’s a free night show, where you’ll be amazed by the most gorgeous circus shows and you can try your hand at hula hooping, poi or if that’s not your thing, just have a bite to eat at one of the food trucks!
OPENING HOURS: Saturday from 6am to 2pm
HOW TO GET THERE: West End is a neighborhood right next to Southbank so you can walk from the city towards the Cultural Centre and West End would be right in front of you!
BONUS 2 – Things to do in Brisbane at night
Have I mentioned that the weather in Brisbane is amazing? Probably dozens of times already, but this is why Brisbane is a city that invites you to go out for dinner, a drink, a run or a walk, even at night.
Honestly, the Brisbane skyline at night is one of my favorite things and strolling along the river with your partner is one of the most romantic things to do in Brisbane!
That’s why I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about my favorite thing to do in Brisbane at night:
1. Eat your way through the Eat Street Market
You might not know this before you get to Australia, but it is quite a multicultural country. The European, Asian and American communities have been growing since the first immigrants arrived from the First World War.
And while Australian food is more than kangaroo or crocodile meat, their international cuisine is also admirable! You’ll see it with your own eyes if you visit one of the most famous Brisbane tourist attractions, the Eat Street Market!
With more than 70 food stalls selling food from all over the world, they cater to every dietary requirement. The only prerequisites are that you bring an empty stomach and a partner with good decision-making skills!
Alternatively, you can book this brewery and tapas tour, where you’ll get to taste the best draft beer and tapas, Australian style.
OPENING HOURS: Friday and Saturday from 4pm to 10pm, Sunday from 12PM to 8PM
PRICE: Entry fee $3 AUD per person, children (12 y/o and less) can enter for free
HOW TO GET THERE: Walking distance from the Northshore Hamilton Ferry Terminal
2. Party hard around Fortitude Valley
Brisbane’s party district does not even disappoint the most experienced party goers with its iconic nightclubs where people from all walks of life meet up to dance the night away. It is not unusual to bump into the ever-growing Latin nights where you can dance salsa until the sun comes up!
My favorite nightclubs are the following:
- Press Club – a sophisticated but affordable cocktail bar!
- The MET – a super fun dance club with guest djs!
- Prohibition – a dance club for the younger crowd!
3. Dine under the Story Bridge
Howard Smith Wharve’s is a venue located right under the Story Bridge where Brisbanites gather to fashionably wine and dine under the city’s most famous landmark. It is especially beautiful at night when the color of the sky and the water starts changing at sunset and the bridge starts lighting up.
You’ll find several different restaurants and bars within the venue, each one of them catering to different budgets and clientele, so there’s a place for everyone!
4. Get spooked at a Haunted Brisbane Ghost Tour
I have to admit that I am a sucker for ghost stories and horror films! That’s why the Haunted Brisbane Ghost Tour is one of my favorite things to do, where you get to visit some of the most well-known Brisbane points of interest that are supposed to be haunted and in the meantime you get to do an alternative Brisbane city tour!
Some of the people that have attended these tours swear that they have seen something out of the ordinary so it is not for the faint hearted. With so much history regarding its mobs and former inmate population, Brisbane is bound to give you the chills!
5. Have a couple of affordable drinks at CBD!
Brisbane can be quite costly, I hear you. But don’t worry, I got you covered! There’s a place in the city center that combines everything you’ll want: Bottle shop + Korean Restaurant.
Charmy’s is right in the middle of Brisbane’s CBD and it’s definitely at the top of my list of cheap things to do in Brisbane. Charmy’s is a favorite spot among locals from all walks of life, from students to executives, to drink for just a few dollars.
Once you get past the (sometimes) unfriendly bouncers, you can buy all types of alcohol at their bottle shop and drink it at one of their tables. If you get hungry you can order any type of Korean food or even just some chips. After you have had a couple of Sojus you are ready to dance until the sun comes up!
HOW TO GET THERE: Right on Albert Street, just a couple of minutes away from the Myer Centre.
BONUS 3 – Day Trips from Brisbane
One of the biggest perks for Brisbane is that it is perfectly located for those travelers that want to do day trips and trust me, there are plenty of options of things to do near Brisbane! Bear in mind that distances in Australia are a bit different than distances in, let’s say, Holland. However, once you’re there you get the hang of it!
Here are my recommendations for places to visit around Brisbane in case you have some more time on your hands:
1. Byron Bay
You have probably already heard of Byron Bay, the hippie oasis where most of the Australian celebrities have a home!
If you want to bump into Chris Hemsworth in the supermarket, this is the place to go!
And no wonder everyone loves it so much! It’s the perfect place to go for great waves, chill vibes and live music – it is basically the epitome of Australian paradise!
Byron Bay is located a couple hours’ drive from Brisbane. A great way to see the outskirts of Brisbane is by renting a car. (Click this link to check the best rates for your dates).
Once in Byron Bay, a good idea would be to take this 3 hour snorkelling tour! People mention you can see turtles, rays and all type of colorful fish! Really worth it!
2. Gold Coast
A 1-hour train ride from Brisbane will take you to the Gold Coast. Kind of like the Miami Beach of Queensland, it’s more of a skyscraper meets endless beaches and is another surfing and partying mecca!
3. Lamington National Park
If you are into hiking, why not check out Lamington National Park? With its beautiful rainforest, lovely birds and waterfalls, it will not disappoint you! If you decide to spend the night and camp in a campsite, make sure you wake up early enough to see the wallabies and their joeys rummaging around your tent! 🙂
For those who prefer to have a tour guide guiding them through the rainforest, you can book this 8.5h Lamington National Park Tour from the Gold Coast. You’ll be hiking through the best trails in the park and seeing the best views and waterfalls with a former ranger! Please note that they pick you up from the Gold Coast.
4. Springbrook National Park
A favorite amongst the locals, Springbrook National Park is the place to go if you love swimming and water holes, and also jumping off rocks! Just like in Lamington, you can hike through the rainforest and spot the Twin Falls.
If you want to visit this place with a tour, you can check out this 8.5 hour Springbrook National Park Tour. They will pick you up from Brisbane and take you exploring the rainforest, admiring an aboriginal art gallery and checking out the glow worm cave that you can find in this national park!
5. Fraser Island
One of the biggest sand islands in the world, Fraser Island is a sight not to be missed!
The island is full of dingoes (Australian wild dogs) and you’re not allowed to swim on its shores as it is surrounded by protected waters full of sea life. However, you can chill in the crystalline waters of Lake Mackenzie and stroll around the sand roads of the islands in your rented Jeep or 4×4, which is so much fun!
And, on your way to Fraser Island, why not stop at Hervey Bay to do some humpback whale watching from the shore? It is much better than visiting SeaWorld and seeing sea life in captivity just for entertainment purposes!
You can also book this 5 hour cruise of Fraser Island that picks you up from Hervey Bay and takes you kayaking, fishing, barbecuing and exploring this wonderful area!
6. Moreton Island
A snorkeler’s paradise, Moreton Island’s shipwreck is one of the most photogenic spots on the East Coast. It is worth mentioning that sliding down the dunes is pretty much the local sport there.
You can check out this 7-hour Moreton Island tour, during which they organize everything for you! You will get full access to the Tangalooma Island resort and you can choose to participate in sand tobogganing as well!
7. Stradbroke Island
This is an island where wild koalas and kangaroos can be found in the urban areas so you won’t need to visit any other place to see these animals in captivity! The fact that it’s got the cutest little cafes and the most beautiful beaches is an added bonus!
This Stradbroke Island day tour is amazing! It lasts 9 hours and they pick you up and drop you off in Brisbane. They take you on a cruise and on a walk around the island! They take care of every little detail and leave all the fun for you!
8. The Glass House Mountains
The Glass House Mountains are a mountain range in between Brisbane and Byron Bay that make for the perfect getaway. The three most notable mountains are Mount Beerburrum (278m), Mount Beerwah (556m) and Mount Coochin (235m).
This is located less than an hour ride south from Brisbane. Make sure you put on your hiking boots as it offers walking trails ranging from easy to very challenging with many leading through open forests to lookouts opening to panoramic views!
NOTE: If you visit the Glass House Mountains, make sure you do it respectfully, acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, the Gubbi Gubbi people, as this is a place of extreme spiritual importance to them.
Brisbane Tourism – Practical information about the city
But how will you be able to enjoy all these sights if you don’t have all the essentials sorted out first? That’s why I have added some practical information to this post. Keep reading to find out where the best place to stay is, what food you should try and how to get from the airport to the city or vice versa!
Where to stay in Brisbane
Brisbane is a growing city and it has a wide variety of hotels for all budgets. However, make sure you book your accommodation in advance to get the best deal possible – the best hotels always get sold out fast!
I have chosen a few of my favorite hotels for your Brisbane stay, all of them with outstanding reviews and categorized by price for your convenience:
Luxury ($220 AUD and up) – If you’re looking for a luxurious stay why not choose the Emporium Hotel South Bank? We all know I’ve got a thing for infinity pools and this hotel has one with an amazing view of the city skyline! Another choice could be staying at Rydges South Bank Brisbane, also in the very convenient Southbank area, it offers large luxurious rooms at a very reasonable price.
Middle-priced (between $80 and $220 AUD) – Meriton Suites Herschel Street is a great middle-priced option right in the city center. It’s a beautiful space set in one of the highest Brisbane skyscrapers, with a great swimming pool to cool off after a day of wandering around the city! In the same price category you’ll find the Arise Ivy & Eve Apartments, an astonishing skyscraper with little apartments, a great