09 Feb 2022

13 things to do in Brisbane to experience it like a local

Australia’s third-largest city makes its own waves. In exciting Brisbane, you’ll find Australia’s largest public gallery of contemporary art, some of its most inspired chefs and musicians, and spectacular cycling trails right in the heart of the city.

So whether you’re a first-time visitor or a happily returning convert, these are the 13 best things to do in Brisbane.

Start the weekend at a farmers market

Crates of fragrant mangoes, stalls piled high with fresh pastries, neighbors discussing weekend plans over takeaway almond lattes: to really luxuriate in Brisbane’s subtropical lifestyle, spend a morning at a farmers market. Saturday favorites include the Jan Powers Farmers Market in New Farm and the West End Markets. Shaded by giant figs, the latter has an especially bohemian vibe, complete with a caravan coffee cart and stalls selling everything from sustainable cork handbags to summery frocks. 

If it’s Sunday morning, catch the train to suburban Woodridge for Global Food Markets, where sizzling woks and stalls piled high with tamarind, taro, mangosteens, jackfruit and heady spices channel steamy Southeast Asia. Whichever market you choose, get there early.

Cool down at South Bank Parklands

Squint hard enough, and you could be in the Whitsundays. Yet you’re in the heart of Brisbane, at Streets Beach. This large artificial swimming lagoon comes complete with sandy shores, azure water and swaying palms. Free and popular with families, it’s the centerpiece of the 17-hectare (42-acre) South Bank Parklands, a fabulous riverfront park within walking distance of major museums and galleries. 

There are showers and changing rooms on site, so bring a change of clothes to continue your explorations in nearby Little Stanley St, where the Collective Markets peddle locally designed clothing, art and gifts on Friday nights and the weekend.

Catch an exhibition by the river

A short walk north of South Bank Parklands lie Queensland’s foremost public art museums: the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) and the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). While the former houses important works by both past and present Australian artists, the latter is the nation’s largest contemporary art gallery. 

GOMA’s focus is the Asia-Pacific region; its Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (currently on view, through April 2022) is one of Australia’s blockbuster art events. Dedicate an entire morning or afternoon to exploring either venue, both of which offer free general admission. If you have little culture vultures in tow, check what’s on at GOMA’s dedicated Children’s Art Centre.

Hear a few Brisbane stories at City Hall

Though the walls at Brisbane City Hall don’t talk, the tour guides thankfully do. Free, 45-minute tours of Australia’s largest city hall reveal some fascinating anecdotes, including the building’s connection to both Michelangelo and the Rolling Stones. Shorter, 15-minute tours of the soaring, panoramic Clock Tower are also free, reached via a vintage elevator. 

Combine either tour with an hour or more exploring City Hall’s free, family-friendly Museum of Brisbane, where exhibitions explore the city’s rich tapestry through themes as diverse as contemporary art, fashion and music. Book guided tours of the building and clocktower via the museum website.

Scale Story Bridge

The wow factor provided by Story Bridge – Australia’s longest cantilevered bridge – lies in the view: a high-impact, Manhattan-esque sweep of skyscrapers towering over the Brisbane River. You can safely walk or cycle its 282m (925ft) span, though nothing beats scaling the beast. From the top of the bridge, 80m (262ft) above muddy river waters, the 360-degree panorama is simply superb. 

Story Bridge Adventure Climb runs numerous bridge-climbing experiences for people aged six and up, from standard climbs to abseiling and daredevil lean-outs. If possible, book the Twilight Climb to watch the city slip into its glittering evening cloak.

Pedal along the waterfront

One of the most relaxing (and sustainable) ways to explore Brisbane’s beautiful riverfront is on a bike. Dedicated cycling and pedestrian trails flank large tracts of the city’s eponymous waterway, leading through parkland and past chic warehouse conversions and affording commanding skyline views. The ideal time to hit the pedal is in the morning, before the heat and humidity really kick in. 

In Kangaroo Point, Riverlife rents out good-value adult and kids’ bikes. From here, consider cycling north over Story Bridge, then southwest around the perimeter of the CBD, crossing the river to South Bank and following the river back to Riverlife. Alternatively, cross Story Bridge and head southeast along the river to reach the Brisbane Riverwalk, an 870m (2854ft) trailway built directly over the water. An official map of the city’s cycling trails is an essential resource.

Taste the world at Eat Street Northshore

Upcycling gets an epicurean twist at riverfront Eat Street Northshore, a street-food village made up of 180 repurposed shipping containers. Come ravenous (and ideally with company) for a global food crawl, leaping from freshly shucked oysters to Japanese yakisoba, Chinese bao and Greek loukoumades

More than just a place to eat, this is a place to spend an afternoon or evening, with bars, musicians and a handful of shops adding to the all-ages carnival vibe. To really make it special, sail in on the CityCat ferry, playing “Which waterfront property would I buy if I won the lottery?” en route.

Find art and cocktails in a laneway

Good things come in small packages, including vibrant alleyways Burnett Lane and Fish Lane. In the Central Business District (CBD), Burnett Lane is Brisbane’s oldest laneway, and is packed with quirky details and exceptional eateries and bars. Be sure to seek out guerrilla artist Mace Robertson’s tiny red door and Blu Art Ninja’s duck in a top hat. 

Next, reward yourself with brunch at perennially cool cafe Felix for Goodness, tapas at Alba, or an impeccable cocktail at Death and Taxes. Across the river in South Brisbane, Fish Lane and its surrounds are speckled with sculptures and murals by Brisbane creatives like Kuuki and Fintan Magee. Explore the latter mid-afternoon, just in time to score a coveted bar seat at pocket-sized Maker.

See and be seen on James Street 

A verdant strip of boutiques and sophisticated bars, Fortitude Valley’s James Street is the perfect spot to show off that new outfit (or hunt down your next new favorite look). The street boasts boutiques from a number of high-end Australian designers, including celeb-approved Sass & Bide and Camilla. It also claims some of the Valley’s most lauded eating and drinking spots. 

If possible, shop the strip in the afternoon before an aperitif at Gerard’s Bar and dinner at Thai-Australian standout Same Same. The best seats at the latter are at the counter (and should be reserved online in advance).

Catch a show at the Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse has had numerous incarnations: 20th-century power station, derelict homeless shelter, graffiti magnet. These days, it’s a hulking culture hub, pumping out a year-round program of top-notch theater, music, cabaret, stand-up comedy, kids’ shows and exhibitions. Even if you don’t catch a show, the ground-floor cafe-bar is a great spot for a riverside coffee or beer. Flanking the center  is urban oasis New Farm Park, home to a fantastic children’s adventure playground and skyline views, with old figs and jacarandas beckoning with shade.

Sail to a lesser-known cultural asset

The University of Queensland Art Museum is one of Brisbane’s best-kept secrets, home to a highly regarded art collection. Exhibitions are engaging, timely and thought-provoking, showcasing innovative Australian and international artists exploring themes as diverse as technology, colonialism and cultural identity. 

The most scenic way to get here is on the CityCat, which terminates at the university’s lush, sprawling grounds. While here, look out for the university’s Great Court, a sweeping quadrangle flanked by beautiful heritage buildings in multi-hued Helidon sandstone.

Tap into the live-music scene

Mallrat, Ball Park Music, Hatchie, Jaguar Jonze: Queensland’s capital claims some of Australia’s top indie music acts and catching a gig at notable venues like the ZooTivoliTriffid and Bearded Lady is as Brisbane as an afternoon summer storm. An especially good time to visit is in September, when emerging talent takes over Fortitude Valley for the Bigsound festival, Australia’s biggest and most important showcase for new music. 

Whatever the time of year, music lovers should drop by Jet Black Cat Music in West End. Not so much a sharply curated record store as a local institution, its staff will happily direct you towards your new favorite “Brissie muso” (musician).

Escape to Mt Coot-tha

Mt Coot-tha offers more than the lofty view from its summit lookout (one that extends as far as the Sunshine Coast hinterland on a clear day). Some 6km (4 miles) west of central Brisbane, the city’s tallest peak is just as good for a tranquil, wildlife-spotting bushwalk. Gentle trails trace its wooded slopes, ranging from easy wanders to more-challenging treks. 

At the base lie the beautiful Brisbane Botanic Gardens and the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium, both serviced by bus route 471, which reaches the summit. If you’re not driving, be mindful that the last city-bound bus leaves just after 4pm (5pm on weekends). If you do have your own wheels, stay for the sunset.

SOURCE: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/top-things-to-do-in-brisbane

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