Insiders Guide – What to Do in Brisbane, Australia


Looking for tips on what to do in Brisbane?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Annabel Candy who lives in Noosa just a two hour drive north of Brisbane. Annabel shares with us her insider Brisbane travel tips and knowledge on what to do in Brisbane for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.

What to Do in Brisbane?

Despite many people skipping Brisbane on their visits to Australia because Sydney seems to steal all the attention there’s lots to see and do in Brisbane.

It’s worth spending some time here and enjoying it rather than just using Brisbane as a stopping point on the way to the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, Noosa or Byron Bay.

My favourite things to see and do in Brisbane:

  • Go to the lookout at the top of Mount Coot-tha. There are regular buses to the summit or to the planetarium at the base if you’d like to walk to the top through the botanical gardens. Go at sunset for fantastic 360-degree views over Brisbane to the coast. There’s a restaurant and a cafe at the summit, both of which are over-priced for the food they serve, but are still a good place to hang out for a drink with top views.
  • Take a ferry on the Brisbane River. There are plenty of boat tours of Brisbane and CityCat ferries to help you get around but my tip is the free Cityhopper. It just launched on 1 July and links various Brisbane hot spots, including Eagle Street and the South Bank, along the inner city stretch of the Brisbane River and runs from 6am until midnight.
  • Promenade along the Southbank. Brisbane has long river walks on both sides of the river but the Southbank is particularly vibrant. There are free pools for the summer months. You’ll also enjoy playgrounds for the kids, markets, and street performers to entertain you. The sparkling Brisbane River sets everything off beautifully and there’s a huge range of cafes and restaurants.
  • Hang out in Fortitude Valley with the hip young people, boutique shops and myriad restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
  • If you’re into seeing and cuddling Australian animals and can’t make it to Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast then Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary will deliver the goods.
  • South Bank Museums – Do visit the Queensland Muesum, Brisbane’s (free) State Museum where you can learn about Queensland’s history, geography, and native people from the hands on displays and beautiful exhibits.
  • The Sciencenter next door to Queensland Museum is great if you have kids. There’s a charge for entry but it’s worth it so allow plenty of time as the kids will want to stay and play all day.
  • The Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) across the street will give you great insights into life in Queesland including works by Queensland-born or Queensland-based artists and a colourful collection of indigenous art.
  • Next door to GOMA the State Library of Queensland is a relaxing place to hang out, research your travel options and tap into the free wifi.
brisbane wheel
Brisbane’s Southbank and Museum District

Best Neighborhoods to Explore in Brisbane

  • Fortitude Valley, known to locals as the Valley, is one of the most fun areas to hang out in within central Brisbane and is home to Brisbane’s Chinatown.
  • New Farm is one of Brisbane’s most cosmopolitan suburbs, and contains many of the cities trendiest bars and restaurants. Thanks to its proximity to the city and riverside location, it is also becoming one of Brisbane’s most prestigious suburbs.
  • Brisbane CBD and Queen Street Mall to stock up on essentials before you head off to rural Australia.
  • The Southbank, with its lovely location by the Brisbane River, has something for everyone, from endless dining options to free swimming in the man-made lagoons
  • Kangaroo Point is a green area with spectacular views of Brisbane city centre and impressive structures including Story Bridge and natural sandstone cliffs, both of which you can climb on tours.
Story Bridge which adventurers can climb on a guided tour
Story Bridge which adventurers can climb on a guided tour

Where to Eat in Brisbane

Brisbane’s foodie scene is taking off with endless great cafes and restaurants to choose from.

For the best assortment of international restaurants, including a dizzying array of Asian restaurants in Chinatown, head to the Fortitude Valley area and try:

  • Wagaya – Set on a first floor over Brunswick Street this huge, busy Japanese restaurant has several booths as well as private rooms and traditional Japanese style rooms. With touchscreen ordering and a vast choice of dishes this is a cheap and cheerful place to eat that’s got something for everyone.
  • Ortiga – With a street level tapas bar and a stylish ground floor dining room Ortiga brings the best Spanish cuisine to the Brisbane dining scene. It’s not cheap but it is a great choice for a splurge meal or special occasion.
  • Freestyletout – Located on Ann Street, this is the spot to go if you’re searching for great desserts. They serve meals too but they’re best known for their sweet treats.
  • Shlix – For delicious homemade Italian ice-cream at a price that won’t break the bank. Order a cone or cup, grab a seat on the street and watch the world go by.
  • Grill’d – For gourmet burgers including beef, chicken and lamb along with three rather fine vegetarian options.
brisbane wagaya
The Candy family hit Wagaya Restaurant in Fortitude Valley and the kids loved the touchscreen ordering.

Where to Drink in Brisbane

For a quiet drink and an extensive wine list including wines from the nearby Granite Belt head to Bar Barossa on Queen Street just a block back from the river.

Best Nightlife in Brisbane

There are bars and night clubs galore in Fortitude Valley. Sadly my bar hopping days are over but a little bird told me that these are the hip and happening spots you should check out.

  • Sky Room on Wickham Street for cocktails.
  • Alhambra Lounge on McLachlan St where you can shake your booty to the live music.
  • Emporium at the Emporium Hotel on Ann Street if you want to go upmarket and get dressed up.
  • Cloudland which is THE place to see and be seen in Brisbane.

Where to Stay in Brisbane

Wellington has plenty of great hotels and hostels for the budget traveler including Chill Backpackers and Banana Benders Backpackers.

For luxury check out the Sofitel in the CBD or the Treasury Hotel and Casino.

If you’re traveling with friends or family booking an apartment at Mantra on the Quay is a great deal. Many of the apartments have spectacular river views and they’re all right on the river and within easy walking distance of Fortitude Valley.

For more places to stay in Brisbane choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner You get free cancellation on most rooms, and in most cases you only pay when you stay.

Markets and Shopping in Brisbane

Queen Street Mall is Brisbane’s most popular shopping area with boutiques, chain stores and department stores to suit every budget. The Southbank markets on Friday evenings and weekends are fun. The Powerhouse Farmers Markets in New Farm are open on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month

brisbane southbank market
Brisbane’s Southbank Market

Finding Wifi Friendly places in Brisbane

I always find Australia a bit slow when it comes to free wifi but you can usually sniff it out somewhere. Free wifi is offered at all McDonalds locations and many cafes as well as at the South Bank Museums and the library.

Events & Festivals in Brisbane

The big one is the Brisbane River festival in September when you can catch a flotilla of boats crusing down the river as well as a fireworks display. There are plenty of other events including film festivals, arts festivals, and fashion events throughout the year. Just look out for the free local press which you can usually find in your hostel or hotel.

Getting Around Brisbane

Walks along the river make it fun to walk around. If the distances are too far or you’re in a hurry there are buses and river ferries as well as services like Greyhound buses to get you out of the city to your next destination.

Favorite Side Trip from Brisbane

Well, I’m a bit biased towards Noosa and the Sunshine Coast where I live. If you head up there you’ll find miles of beautiful white sand beaches with ocean swimming possible all year round. For beach lovers who want to stay closer to Brisbane try Moreton Bay and Bribie Island. The Granite Belt is a well known wine growing area with heaps of vineyards and wine tastings as well as Girraween National Park which is gorgeous.

Best Time of Year to Visit Brisbane

Anytime except the summer school holidays in January when it’s super hot and the entire Southbank is crawling with people.

Getting There and Away?

Qantas has international flights from the big transport hubs like Auckland, Los Angeles, Singapore and there are plenty of domestic flights to other big cities round Australia. You can also get here by train or bus and driving round the city is quite easy too if you have your own wheels.

Best insiders tip for travel to Brisbane

Make sure you get out on the river, either on a paid cruise or on the free Cityhopper.

I love Brisbane because …

It’s got a fabulous sub-tropical climate so it never gets that cold, plus it’s got all the glitz and glamour of a big city yet it’s easy to get around and the people are friendly.

what to do in brisbane
Brisbane River

Plan Your Trip to Brisbane

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Accommodation in Brisbane

  • has over 250 properties in Brisbane including hotels, apartments, and hostels. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.

Flights to Brisbane

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Tours in Brisbane

Car Rental in Brisbane

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BIO – Annabel Candy is a freelance writer and web designer. Born in England, she’s traveled to over 40 countries, lived in eight of them and has both British and Kiwi passports. But don’t hold that against her. Annabel now lives in Noosa, Australia where she writes her travel blog, shares blogging tips and spends far too much time on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Do you have any tips on what to do in Brisbane? Please share in the comments.


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