Over 500 miles north of Sydney, Brisbane has developed an after-dark culture all of its own. Home to specialty bars, craft breweries, night clubs, and everything in between, the city is a stopover on the East Coast backpackers trail as well as the gateway to the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland's tropical north.
Fortitude Valley (also known as the Valley), in Brisbane's north-east is the city's official nightlife/entertainment precinct, although the city center is also popular for after-work drinks and the West End-New Farm district is packed with local bars. Brisbane is known for its live music, too, with bands like the Saints, the Go-Betweens, Savage Garden, Powderfinger, Violent Soho, and Ball Park Music cutting their teeth in the city.
Read on for our complete guide to nightlife in Brisbane.
Many of the city's top bars have a distinctly vintage feel, inspired by 1920s-era speakeasies or '80s dive bars. The Gresham is one of the best, known for its unparalleled whiskey selection (as well as being the scene of the legendary Battle of Brisbane in 1942, when a brawl broke out between hundreds of American and Australian servicemen).
In the city center, head to Felons Brewing or Riverbar for views of the Brisbane River. Over in Fortitude Valley, Elixir and Eleven are known for their rooftop vistas, while Southbank Beer Garden is conveniently situated near the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) and Streets Beach.
If you've worked up an appetite after a day of sightseeing, Bloodhound features an ever-changing lineup of craft beer and tacos. Sixes and Sevens offers a laid-back gastropub atmosphere with plenty of outdoor seating, and The Osbourne is another great spot for beer and a bite to eat. The Wickham, meanwhile, is the Valley's self-proclaimed "rainbow oasis." For a traditional English pub atmosphere, try the Pig 'n' Whistle, which has six venues across the city.
With a population just over two million, Brisbane's night owls support a handful of excellent dance clubs. Most are clustered in Fortitude Valley, from the three-level electronica venue the Met to the popular all-rounder GPO.
Other options include Prohibition, which blasts house and electronic music in the main hall and pop and RnB in the garden, and The Beat, the city's top gay club. There's also Birdees; open seven days a week, it's popular with backpackers and students thanks to its three bars, rooftop, and beer garden.
As in most Australian cities, Brisbane has a selection of kebab shops and pizzerias open 'til the wee hours, but the majority of restaurants close before midnight. Luckily, the Pancake Manor is open 24 hours in the city center, as is local favorite Jimmy's on the Mall.
Greaser is your best bet for burgers until 3 a.m., Thursday to Saturday, inside the Prince Consort Hotel. If you're craving something a little more sophisticated, Beirne Lane is also open until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with a menu that blends Irish and Japanese influences. Catering to both party animals and early risers, Death Before Decaf serves espresso around the clock.
A visit to Brisbane isn't complete without catching a gig, whether an international headliner or a local up-and-comer. As a starting point, you can check the calendar at the Tivoli, the Triffid, Fortitude Music Hall, and the Zoo (all in Fortitude Valley) for well-known acts passing through town.
The Sound Garden also hosts local artists on Friday and Saturday nights, while Black Bear Lodge is known for being at the cutting edge of the Brisbane music scene. Crowbar is the place to be for punk, hardcore, and metal, while Ric's is an intimate spot where you'll always hear something interesting.
In the city center, the Flamin' Galah is a modern dive bar with live music Thursday to Saturday, while the Brooklyn Standard embraces a wide range of genres seven days a week. If you're in West End, check out the small Bearded Lady bar.
Outside of the Brisbane Comedy Festival in July and August, comedy shows are relatively few and far between in the Queensland capital. However, keen fans should check out the Paddo Tavern, a mainstay of the stand-up circuit, and the Big Fork Theatre, which hosts weekly sketch and improv shows.
Brisbane's consistently sunny climate means there are music and arts festivals happening in the city year-round. Even if you don't plan on attending one, we recommend booking accommodation a couple of weeks in advance if your visit to Brisbane coincides with one of the major events listed here.
- Woodford Folk Festival: This huge festival takes place just north of Brisbane over New Year.
- Wildlands Weekender: A popular music event in early March in the city.
- Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival: A three-day program of concerts in July on North Stradbroke Island.
- Big Sound: Australia's premier music industry gathering in Brisbane in October.
- Brisbane Festival: This huge, diverse event takes over the city for three weeks in September; it's the most popular festival for visitors.
- Listen Out: This national dance music festival rolls into town in October.
- Island Vibe Festival: A celebration of Island culture on North Stradbroke Island in October.
Tips for Going Out in Brisbane
- Most nightlife venues in Fortitude Valley are open Thursday to Saturday nights until 3 a.m. (2 a.m. in other parts of the city). Earlier in the week, the city quiets down around midnight.
- Entry to nightclubs is generally free, but you may encounter a cover charge around AU$10 on Fridays and Saturdays. Tipping is not expected.
- Dress standards for a night out are relaxed, but it is best to avoid beachwear, athletic clothes, and workwear.
- It is essential to carry identification, especially in Fortitude Valley. Most venues require a valid passport for international visitors, although driver's licenses are sometimes accepted if they are in English.
- Taxis and Ubers are readily available.
- With a few exceptions, you can't drink alcohol in public places in Queensland.
- NightLink bus services, which leave from Fortitude Valley and the city center, are in operation between midnight and 5 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Trains depart Fortitude Valley between 3:15 and 4 a.m. on the the Beenleigh, Caboolture, and Ipswich lines. More information is available on the Translink website.