A lovely blend of laidback charm and urban energy, Brisbane is one of the top destinations in Australia. Host city of the 2032 Olympics it is best to visit this gem now before it gets on everybody's radar. We have created the Brisbane Travel guide for you.
Whether you're a foodie, a nature lover, a history buff, or an adventure-seeking digital nomad, you're guaranteed to find something to love about this fascinating city, from its glamorous galleries and flourishing food scene to its subtropical beaches and stunning architecture.
Brisbane, sprawled on the banks of the Brisbane River, is the capital of Queensland and the third-most populous city in Australia. It has been the traditional home of the Jagera, Giabal and Jarowair people for millennia. On the city's eastern edge is Moreton Bay, dotted with sandy isles lapped by brilliant blue waves.
But there's more to Brisbane than beaches and heritage buildings. Here's our Brisbane travel guide to help you discover the top fun and fabulous things to see and do in the city.
1. See Koalas Up-close at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
The 18-hectare Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary lies 12 kilometers south of the city center. Created to shelter sick, injured and orphaned koalas, it is the world's oldest and biggest sanctuary of this kind.
When the sanctuary opened in 1927, it started with only two koalas named Jack and Jill. Today, it houses over 130 koalas. There are also some wombats, possums, kangaroos and native birds.
For $29, you can get close to a koala and have a professional photographer snap a picture of you hugging one. Or, if you only want to touch and take a selfie with a koala, be ready to shell out $15. All donations go to the conservation of the animals.
2. Cruise On the Brisbane River
The history of Brisbane, established in 1824 as a riverport, is intricately tangled with the body of water that gave it its name. Even today, the Brisbane River remains an integral part of the city's economy and lifestyle. But more than that, it is a fabulous place to travel, sightsee, and party.
A cruise on the Brisbane River allows you to enjoy spectacular sights. Marvel at the city skyline full of gleaming skyscrapers, iconic historical landmarks such as the Story Bridge, and the lavish homes of some of Australia's rich and famous.
If you love sunsets, consider hopping aboard a twilight cruise to witness the sky turn into surreal shades of pink, purple, orange, and gold. Some cruises offer dining options. You can enjoy exceptional food and wine while sailing down the stunning river.
3. Visit the Queensland Cultural Center
Regarded as the core of Brisbane's creative scene, the Queensland Cultural Center is home to the city's leading arts and cultural institutions. These include the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre, the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, the Queensland Art Gallery, the Queensland Performing Arts Center, and the State Library of Queensland.
The Cultural Center stretches along the south bank of the Brisbane River. Subtropical gardens dotted with sculptures, fountains and outdoor sitting spaces surround the complex. There are also plenty of restaurants, shops, and cafés where you can sit and watch the river.
Be sure to drop by the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre for its displays on natural history, cultural heritage and modern technology. Or, if you fancy watching a show, check out what's playing at the Queensland Performing Arts Center.
4. See the Collections at the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art
Set 150 meters apart from one another at the Queensland Cultural Center, the riverside galleries boast an impressive collection of classical, historical, modern, and avant-garde art that will surprise and inspire you.
Founded in 1895, the Queensland Art Gallery has had many locations before settling down at the Cultural Center in 1982. In 2006, the Gallery of Modern Art joined it. Nowadays, the galleries are home to outstanding exhibits from Australia, Asia, and the Pacific.
Surrounded by landscaped plazas and gardens teeming with sculptures and fountains, the three-story Queensland Art Gallery mainly houses works from big names such as Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman, and founding indigenous artist Albert Namatjira. It also has popular international pieces, including La Belle Hollandaise by Pablo Picasso and Under the Jacaranda by R. Godfrey Rivers.
The awe-inspiring Gallery of Modern Art occupies an award-winning contemporary two-level riverside pavilion. Its exhibits focus on immersive experiences using various media, such as sculpture, painting, video, photography, and film. Apart from the massive exhibition space, the building has two cinemas, a restaurant, a boardwalk café and several educational facilities.
5. Ride the Wheel of Brisbane
Soaring 60 meters above ground, the Wheel of Brisbane, also known as the Brisbane Eye, is a terrific place to enjoy 360-degree panoramas of the city and its surroundings. Relax in an enclosed, air-conditioned gondola, which sits up to eight people, and listen to an absorbing audio tour of the Brisbane cityscape. Each ride lasts for 12 to 15 minutes.
But what's the best time to get on this Ferris wheel? You have three options.
If you want to start your day by witnessing the city drenched in sunshine, go there in the morning. For something more romantic, check out the sunset tour. Or, if you like to see Brisbane sparkle under thousands of city lights, an evening ride will suit you.
6. Stroll Around the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-Tha
Want to take a break from the urban hustle and bustle? Escape to Mount Coot-Tha, Brisbane's tallest peak, roughly six kilometers west of the city center. At the base of the mountain lie the stunning Brisbane Botanic Gardens, the perfect place for a relaxing stroll.
Covering 56 hectares, it features a lagoon and bamboo grove, a Japanese Garden, a fragrant plant and herb garden, waterfalls, an arid zone, and a bonsai house. The tropical display dome, a climate-controlled structure, has tropical plants, including water lilies, calathea, caladiums, palms, air plants, Indian arrowroot, cocoa, pepper, vanilla, and nutmeg.
The botanic gardens offer free admission. Next to it is the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium, which runs over 1,000 regular shows a year in the Cosmic Skydome.
7. Enjoy Breathtaking Views from the Mount Coot-Tha Summit Lookout
The spacious Mt. Coot-Tha summit lookout offers jaw-dropping views of the city skyline, the greater metro area, and even the Moreton Bay islands on a clear day. The site has been a well-known destination among locals since the late 19th century.
The lookout is 287 meters above sea level and has been a part of the Queensland Heritage Register since 1995. On the summit are a one-story timber kiosk, a café, a bar and a restaurant, where you can get a bite and a drink. Sunsets look extra breathtaking here, and if you have time to spare, stay on for a dreamy mountaintop dinner.
On the hillsides of Mount Coot-Tha are biking and walking paths, including the Mahogany Trail, which leads from the scenic JC Slaughter Falls to the summit lookout.
8. Shop at Queen Street Mall
Regarded as Brisbane's most iconic shopping spot, Queen Street Mall is the place to be for some serious retail therapy. With over 700 retailers, including big fashion names, home-grown talents, and international labels, this 500-meter strip is undoubtedly a shopper's paradise. It's also a fabulous place to explore old architecture, as many small boutiques are in heritage-listed arcades.
But the mall is not only for shopping. Within its premises are restaurants, bars, cafés, cinemas, and salons. You will also find day spas, a grand casino, and 5-star hotels in the complex. A short walk from the buzzing street are galleries, museums, parks, and the riverside boardwalk.
9. Learn History at the Museum of Brisbane
The Museum of Brisbane isn't your typical museum. Progressive and forward-thinking, it delves into the city's history and contemporary culture with fresh and bold insights. At the end of a tour, you get a deeper, more vibrant and more complex snapshot of Brisbane.
A social history museum and art gallery, it explores themes such as Brisbane's fashion, music, architecture, art, and its people. Founded in 2003, it holds more than 9,000 works by local artists, historical objects, and a massive textile collection from homegrown designers.
The museum is on the third floor of the City Hall. It has a shop that sells locally-made jewelry, ceramics, books, glassware, postcards, and unique Brisbane-themed souvenirs.
10. Explore the Customs House
Despite being hidden between soaring skyscrapers, the 19th-century Customs House never fails to earn admiring looks with its elaborate Corinthian columns, iron-cast balustrades, and distinctive copper dome.
Built between 1886 to 1889, the Customs House originally functioned as a collection agency of customs duty on imported products. Today, it hosts lectures, dinners, wedding receptions, and other events. The University of Queensland maintains the building as a cultural, educational and heritage center.
You can explore the building's vast ballroom, check the vintage old port photos in the hallway, dine at the chic restaurant, or sit on the outdoor terrace overlooking the river.
11. Chill at the South Bank Parklands
Want to lounge lazily on a sandy beach beneath swaying palm trees? How about meandering through a lush rainforest? Or would you rather watch a spectacular performance at an outdoor amphitheater? Brisbane's iconic 17.5-hectare park allows you to do all these and more.
Stroll down the gorgeous riverfront promenade, then sample international and local cuisine at Little Stanley Street. If you want to beat the heat, take a dip in the artificial, lagoon-style beach with gleaming white sand and rocky creeks. Don't forget to drop by the majestic Nepalese Peace Pagoda and admire its exotic architecture and handcrafted decorations.
You can also join various free events that range from yoga sessions to fitness classes to film showings. On Friday evenings and weekends, the park hosts Collective Markets, where you can hunt for handmade jewelry, edgy garments, and home décor.
12. Eat your Heart Out at Eat Street Northshore
Experience an epic gastronomic adventure at Brisbane's most popular night food market. Located on an abandoned dock, Eat Street is a village of over a hundred repurposed shipping containers turned into food stalls.
You can find virtually everything you crave – from fresh oysters and hearty barbeques to spicy yakisoba and Sicilian pizzas to snails in garlic and vegan tacos. There's also a vast selection of cocktails, wines, craft beer, fresh juices, and loads of coffee.
Apart from the food, the live music and engaging entertainment draw in the crowd. You can relax to jazz music, watch up-and-coming local artists, dance to DJ-curated beats, or enjoy a movie at an outdoor cinema.
13. Go on a Day Trip to Moreton Island
A piece of tropical paradise, Moreton Island amazes every beach lover with its sparkly dunes, mysterious shipwrecks, inviting surfs, and loads of sunshine. Surrounding the island are marine-rich waters with rainbow-colored fish, wild dolphins, whales, and turtles.
Ninety-five percent of the island consists of the Moreton National Park, teeming with secluded beaches, colorful wildflowers, and crystal-clear creeks. One of its highlights is the freshwater Blue Lagoon, known for its calm turquoise water that is perfect for swimming or kayaking.
If you're up for a challenge, scale the 285-meter Mount Tempest, regarded as the world's tallest vegetated coastal sand dune. The 2.5-kilometer return trip takes around two hours to complete. From the summit lookout, you can enjoy dazzling views of the coastline that stretches as far as Brisbane.