48 Hours in Brisbane: The Ultimate Itinerary

Drone shot of Brisbane with freeway intersection in foreground and city skyline in background


Samuel Moore / Getty Images

Heading to the Great Barrier Reef and need to make a stopover? Brisbane is the ideal place to indulge in city comforts for a couple of days before you embark on your journey to Queensland's tropical north.

Whether you want to eat at some of Australia's best restaurants, explore the galleries and museums or dance the night away in Fortitude Valley, this state capital has got you covered. Read on for our ultimate itinerary for two days in Brisbane.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Aerial shot of pastries and cakes on blue tile table

 Courtesy of King Arthur Cafe

10 a.m.: Whether you're landing in Brisbane on an international flight or making the connection from Sydney or another Australian city, you'll find yourself at Brisbane Airport, a 20-minute drive from the city center. A taxi ride to your hotel will cost between AU$45 and $55, while the Airtrain costs AU$19.50 (discounts are available if you book online).

Most visitors choose to stay in the city center, the Fortitude Valley entertainment precinct or the South Bank cultural precinct, depending on the focus of their trip. The Stamford Plaza, Ovolo the Valley and the Emporium Hotel are particularly popular options.

11 a.m.: Once you've checked in or left your luggage at the hotel, it's time for Australia's favorite meal: brunch. (We recommend bringing a bag with a swimsuit and towel; you might want those later.) King Arthur in Fortitude Valley has a to-die-for apple pie croissant waffle, while Botero House is a great choice in the city. If you're already in South Bank, you can get your smashed avocado fix at Denim Co.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Streets Beach with river and skyscrapers in the background

 Courtesy of Visit South Bank

12 p.m.: Spend your first afternoon exploring South Bank's many galleries and museums. You can walk over Victoria Bridge or take the free CityHopper ferry, depending on where you're traveling from in the city.

Choose between the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Queensland Museum, the State Library of Queensland and the Queensland Maritime Museum, which all offer different perspectives on the city's culture and history.

2 p.m.: Stop by the GOMA restaurant for lunch to experience the city's most creative menu. You can order a bunch of small plates to share, featuring local produce like spanner crab or king prawns, or commit to a satisfying meal of wagyu or suckling lamb belly. The GOMA restaurant is open for lunch only Wednesday to Sunday and walk-ins are welcome.

If you're looking for something a little more family friendly, Julius Pizzeria is just across the road in Fish Lane, with delicious white and red pizzas and a great kids menu.

3 p.m.: Next, stroll through the South Bank parklands until you reach Streets Beach, a sandy, man-made lagoon shaded by tall palm trees. Streets Beach is free to use and is open until 5 p.m. There are also two other places to swim nearby, Boat Pool and the Aquativity water park for kids.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Table setting with a glass of red wine

Courtesy of Restaurant Dan Arnold 

6 p.m.: Settle in for a pre-dinner drink at South Bank Beer Garden, just next door to Streets Beach. As the sun sets, you can sip on a refreshing cocktail, glass of Australian wine, or craft beer.

If you're exhausted after a full day of travel and sightseeing, you can eat a classic Aussie pub meal here too, or save your appetite for the next stop on our itinerary.

8 p.m.: For dinner, we're heading back over the river to Fortitude Valley, Brisbane's nightlife hub. The train ride is only 20 minutes, or you can hail a cab and get there in 10. For fine dining, nothing beats Restaurant Dan Arnold, where the chef combines classical French techniques with local ingredients. For something a little more casual, we love Happy Boy's modern Chinese menu.

9 p.m.: Brisbane is known for its live music scene and Fortitude Valley is where the magic happens. The Tivolithe Triffid, Fortitude Music Hall, and the Zoo all host national and international bands, while the Sound Garden and Black Bear Lodge are known to showcase local up-and-comers. On Friday and Saturday nights, you'll be able to find bars and clubs open in the Valley until around 3 a.m.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

A boat on the Brisbane river

TripSavvy / Maria Ligaya

9 a.m.: Start your second day in Brisbane with delicate French pastries from Chouquette, before beginning your journey to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The sanctuary can be reached by bus or taxi, but for those that have the time we highly recommend the scenic river cruise which departs at 10 a.m. daily, arriving at Lone Pine at 11:15 a.m.

Established in 1927, Lone Pine is home to over 100 koalas, as well as platypus, kangaroos, and other native Australian animals. The daily sheepdog show is a crowd favorite, as is the walk-in enclosure where visitors can hand feed some friendly kangaroos.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Entrance to Bauhaus exhibition with green, blue and orange geometric shapes

 Courtesy of Museum of Brisbane

1 p.m.: For lunch, there are two cafes onsite, but you can also pack a picnic (check out the Standard Market Company in Fortitude Valley) or grab a sandwich from Pourboy before you board the cruise.

3:30 p.m.: Upon your arrival back in Brisbane, you'll still have time to check out the city's most recognizable landmark: City Hall. Free tours of the clock tower run every 15 minutes until 4:45 p.m., offering incredible views across the city and a peek behind Australia's largest analogue clock face. City Hall also houses the Museum of Brisbane, which is open until 5 p.m.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Aerial shot of three pasta issues and glass of rose

 Courtesy of Otto Ristorante Brisbane

7 p.m.: After freshening up at your hotel, treat yourself to an elegant Italian dinner at Otto or a more budget-friendly Malaysian feast at Roti Place. Otto Brisbane opened in Brisbane in 2016, taking after a hugely successful venture in Sydney by the same name. It is known for simple yet elegant southern Italian dishes and innovative wine list.

On the other hand, Roti Place is all about street food classics like roti canai, nasi lemak, and char kuey teow. With locations in both the city center and West End, this little restaurant has single-handedly fueled Brisbane's roti obsession for the past five years, making the delicious flakey flatbread fresh every day. Locally sourced seafood and a friendly atmosphere make Roti Place a quintessentially Brisbane experience.

9 p.m.: If you're craving more excitement, the iconic Wheel of Brisbane carries riders almost 200 feet up into the sky until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. The gondolas can hold up to six adults and are fully air conditioned, making for a pleasant journey that lasts between 10 and 15 minutes.

Finally, you can farewell the city with a visit to a cosy cocktail bar like the Gresham or Boom Boom Room for a nightcap. For rooftop views, nothing beats Sixteen Antlers on top of the Pullman Brisbane. If you're spending more than a couple of days in the area, you can check out our guide to the best day trips from Brisbane for more ideas.