Home to over two million residents, Brisbane is the capital of Queensland in Australia's north-eastern corner. Known as the Sunshine State, Queensland is a popular destination thanks to natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.
Despite (or perhaps because of) its isolation from the southern capitals of Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane is diverse and vibrant, with a fast-growing dining scene and a wealth of cultural institutions. Read on for our complete guide to the best things to do in Brisbane.
Cruise the Brisbane River
Tucked into a river bend, Brisbane is the kind of city where you're never far from the water. If you're short on time, a river cruise is a great way to take it all in, especially at sunset. RiverCity Cruises runs daily tours of the inner city, while Mirimar offers transfers to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. For a special lunch, afternoon tea, or dinner, try Kookaburra Showboat Cruises. The city also runs a free ferry service called the CityHopper, which winds its way between North Quay and New Farm and back every half hour, seven days a week.
Cool Off at Streets Beach
Perfect for a quick dip after a day of sightseeing, Streets Beach is a man-made lagoon in the South Bank precinct. The clear blue lagoon is surrounded by white sand and palm trees, with views across the river to the Central Business District and even free Wi-Fi. There are two other pools nearby, the Boat Pool, which is a more traditional swimming pool, and Aquativity, a water park for children.
Meet the Locals at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
This 50-acre park is one of Brisbane's top attractions. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary opened in 1927, as one of the first conservation refuges of its kind in Australia during a time when koalas were heavily hunted for their fur. Even today, koalas are under threat due to habitat loss and disease, so sanctuaries like Lone Pine play an important role in education and conservation.
Koalas sleep up to 20 hours a day and spend the rest of their time eating leaves, so you'll be able to catch sight of them resting throughout the park. You can also feed kangaroos and watch the daily snake, dingo, sheep dog, and lorikeet shows.
Relax at Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens
At Mount Coot-tha you'll find the state's top botanic garden, including the largest collection of Australian rainforest trees in the world. Other sections include a fragrant garden, bamboo grove, arid zone, greenhouse, Japanese gardens, and water features.
The garden is a popular spot for picnics, and you can watch the sunset (or sunrise) from the nearby Mount Coot-tha Summit Lookout. The Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium is located inside the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens and there is a cafe on site. The City Botanic Gardens down by the river are also well worth a visit.
Check Out the Art at QAGOMA
The Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art, located either side of the State Library, are collectively known as QAGOMA and hold the state's most significant art collection. In summer, these extensive galleries offer a welcome respite from the famous Queensland heat.
Current exhibitions highlight the significance of Indigenous cultural objects, Indigenous Australian video art, and youth environmental activism. There are also plenty of activities for kids. Both galleries are open daily and entry is free, with the exception of some special exhibitions.
Shop for Local Fashion at Brisbane Arcade
With its iconic early-1920s architecture, Brisbane Arcade is an ideal destination for browsing and window shopping. The arcade's stores are mostly local designers, with some international boutiques mixed in. We love Tengdahl and Pia Du Pradal for fashion, as well as Brisbane Hatters. Don't miss the traditional afternoon tea at Keri Craig Emporium, with petit fours, sandwiches, and scones (last orders at 3:30 p.m.). You'll also find global brands like Zara and Uniqlo on the pedestrian-only Queen Street Mall, just outside the arcade however, many stores are closed Sunday.
Sample Street Food at FudoDori
In 2019, Elizabeth Arcade in the Brisbane city center was revitalized with the opening of Asian dining precinct FudoDori. The laneway now hosts ten different restaurants and cafes where you can sample a variety of cuisines with ease. Top recommendations include matcha-obsessed Koto Sanpo, Chinese-Korean fusion Meican, modern Chinese kitchen and bar Lucha, and Japanese BBQ joint Yakiniku Hachi. Most are open for lunch and dinner daily.
Climb the Clocktower at Brisbane City Hall
Brisbane City Hall is the city's most recognizable landmark, built in the 1920s and restored from 2010-2013. It is home to the Museum of Brisbane on the third floor and is open to the public seven days a week, with free tours available.
The Clock Tower tour departs every 15 minutes starting at 10:15 a.m., taking visitors up in one of Brisbane’s oldest working cage lifts to the observation platform. A general City Hall tour is also available, leaving at 10:30 a.m, 11:30 a.m., and 1:30 p.m. Tours can be booked on the Museum of Brisbane website.
Tour the XXXX Brewery
XXXX (pronounced four-X) is Queensland's most beloved beer, a popular choice for a long lunch or a day at the beach. The beer is made at the Castlemaine Perkins brewery, not far west of the city center, which has been in operation since 1878.
The Alehouse Bar and Restaurant serves up wood-fired pizza and burgers inside the brewery, and every Friday and Saturday you can try XXXX straight out of the traditional wooden barrel. Beer connoisseurs will also enjoy the 90-minute guided tour of the brewery, ending with a tasting and a pouring demonstration.
Brush Up on Brisbane History at Commissariat Store Museum
The Commissariat Store Museum holds Brisbane's most gruesome historical artifact, the jar of "convict fingers." (These were allegedly cut off by the convicts themselves to avoid being forced into hard labor.) It is also the state's most significant heritage building, constructed by convicts in the late 1820s. The rest of the museum focuses on Brisbane's early history, with exhibitions covering the post office, aviation, shipwrecks, and World War I.
Escape to an Island Paradise
If you're looking for a day trip from Brisbane, there are a couple of beautiful islands easily reachable from the city. North Stradbroke Island (Straddie to the locals) is just off the coast and is known for its dolphins, whales, kangaroos, and koalas.
The Quandamooka people are the Traditional Owners of this island, which is packed with hiking trails, beaches, and campgrounds where you can connect with nature. The ferry takes around 50 minutes, with multiple departures daily.
The sandy Moreton Island offers a more remote experience. Most visitors book a 4WD tour, take their own car and camp in the national park, or stay at Tangalooma Resort as there is no public transport available on the island. Further north, Bribie Island is the only Moreton Bay island you can drive to, with a large national park and plenty of restaurant and accommodation options in town.
Eat Fish and Chips by the Sandgate Waterfront
While the best beaches are found further on the nearby islands, the coastal suburb of Sandgate offers a quaint seaside experience. The Sandgate Fishmonger is known for its calamari and gluten-free batter, or if you've strolled along the waterfront to Shorncliffe, the Shelley Inn is a local favorite with great views.
The bay is also popular for windsurfing, kitesurfing, and stand-up paddle-boarding, and the historic Shorncliffe Pier was refurbished in 2016. It takes 30 minutes to drive from Brisbane city center to Sandgate or around an hour on the bus.
Explore the State Library of Queensland
The State Library of Queensland is located in the South Bank cultural precinct and offers reading rooms, exhibition spaces, a bookstore, and a cafe that looks out over the river. Highlights include the Australian Library of Art showcase and the Asia Pacific Design Library. You will also find exhibitions exploring the art, culture, and languages of local Aboriginal communities, the city's musical history, and the Library's collection of photography.
In the city center, ANZAC Square and Memorial Galleries are also administrated by the State Library, recognizing and documenting the sacrifice Queenslanders have made in Australia's armed forces from WWI until today. The Library is open daily and is free to enter, but the Memorial Galleries are closed on Saturdays.
Browse the Local Markets
Despite its size, Brisbane retains a tight-knit community atmosphere, and nowhere is that more apparent than at the markets each week. In the city center, you can taste fresh local produce and offerings from popular food trucks every Wednesday and Thursday at the Brisbane City Markets.
On Sundays, visitors are spoiled for choice with vintage treasures at the Sunday Discovery Market; food, fashion, and homewares at the Milton Markets; and local art and design at the Manly Creative Markets.
Eat Carbonara for Breakfast at Morning After
Brisbane's inner-city cafes are known for their excellent coffee, but Morning After goes above and beyond when it comes to creativity. With a menu that takes inspiration from Italy, Thailand, the Middle East, and the U.S., this iconic spot will satisfy your cravings with a fresh twist.
The mother-and-son team behind Morning After pride themselves on the locally sourced ingredients and the welcoming atmosphere. Alongside the breakfast carbonara (with mushrooms and smoked pancetta), we recommend the MaMuffin and the blue swimmer crab omelet.