Queensland’s state capital Brisbane is one of Australia’s sunniest and most laidback cities, making it a popular choice for people moving to Australia. Situated on the banks of the Brisbane River, Australia’s third largest city (after Sydney and Melbourne) is packed with all the hotels and entertainment expected of a 21st Century city, while also being a great base for onward travel, boasting the excitement of the Gold Coast, the adventure of Moreton Island and much more on its doorstep.
Things to do in Brisbane
As a holiday destination, Brisbane’s main attraction is as a gateway to all the natural wonders surrounding it. But that said, there’s still plenty to keep you occupied for two or three days.
In a city lacking obvious landmarks, the Story Bridge is Brisbane’s most iconic sight. Like its Sydney counterpart, you can clip yourself in and take a climbing tour over the bridge itself, to enjoy unrivalled views of the city. Try to spot your hotel from the top.
Those keen on adrenalin sports can try abseiling at Kangaroo Point, while if you’re more into culture, then South Bank is the place to be, thanks to plenty of museums, art galleries and theatres. South Bank is also where you’ll find Brisbane’s inner-city manmade beach and lagoon, perfect for a mid-sightseeing cool down.
Brisbane is also home to one of Australia’s most famous beers – Castlemaine XXXX. You can tour the brewery and sample the amber nectar at the end. However, while Queenslanders are fiercely loyal about their XXXX, there’s a good reason why not many people drink it outside the state!
For shopping, all the usual stores can be found along the Queen Street Mall, while suburbs like Fortitude Valley, New Farm, Paddington and Rosalie are a better bet for independent, boutique shops.
Sports fans should take a tour of the Gabba, Brisbane’s historic cricket stadium.
A real highlight of Brisbane is to travel on a river cruise down to the Lone Pine Koala Santuary, 11km south-west of the city. Australia’s oldest wildlife sanctuary, Lone Pine is the ideal place to capture that must-have photo of you cuddling a koala (Queensland is the one of the few states in Australia where you’re legally allowed to hold a koala).
Just 7km west of the city centre is the massive Mt Coot-tha Reserve, which is ideal for a walk and a picnic. There’s also a planetarium there.
Try to time your holiday to visit Brisbane in late August, when the Queensland capital plays host to the 10-day River Festival, when street performers and fireworks take over the city. If you do, however, make sure you book your accommodation well in advance.
Once jokingly derided with nicknames like Bris Vegas and Brisneyland, once sleepy Brisbane has really come of age in recent years and now enjoys an enviable nightlife scene, thanks in large part to designated entertainment quarter Fortitude Valley, in northern Brisbane. ‘The Valley’, right by Chinatown, is home to the majority of Brisbane’s bars and clubs, including some of Australia’s best live music venues. Neighbouring New Farm is also good for a night out. For a more relaxed and multicultural area of restaurants and cafes, go to West End, in southern Brisbane. The gay scene is largely centred around Fortitude Valley.
Getting to Brisbane
Brisbane’s international airport is 14km north-east of the city centre. Taxis, shuttle buses and the Airtrain all make travelling into central Brisbane easy. Visitors arriving by bus or train will find themselves at the Brisbane Transit Centre, in the heart of the city, where it is simple to arrange accommodation, tours or onward travel. Most hotels, even cheap hostels, will happily pick you up from the transit centre, but call ahead to check.
Stradbroke and Moreton Islands
Just off the Brisbane coast are Stradbroke and Moreton Islands, the world’s second and third biggest sand islands (with Fraser Island, just up the coast, being the largest). Stradbroke is relatively developed, and offers plenty of hotels, 4WD tours and scuba diving. Most people, however, travel to Stradbroke for the superb surf beaches, which offer some of Australia’s best surfing.
Moreton Island is much more adventurous, and is effectively a smaller, quieter version of Fraser Island. It’s well worth joining a 4WD tour to really explore the sand dunes and get your adrenalin hit with sand boarding. A highlight is at Tangalooma, where there’s also a resort. At Tangalooma you can snorkel or scuba dive around shallow ship wrecks, while it is also one of the best places in Australia for watching wild dolphins being fed up-close.
Fraser Island & North of Brisbane
Travel about 100km north of Brisbane and you reach the Sunshine Coast, which is packed full of great surf spots and beautiful beaches, with the chilled-out and classy Noosa being the most renowned. Beerwah is where you’ll find Australia Zoo, made famous by Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. Easily done as a daytrip tour from Brisbane, Irwin’s legacy has become just about the most commercialised zoo in Australia, but the number and size of crocodiles on display, plus the crocodile feeding shows, are genuinely impressive.
Travelling north from the Sunshine Coast you hit the Fraser Coast, home to World Heritage-listed Fraser Island. Officially the world’s biggest sand island, Fraser Island is one of Australia’s most popular travel destinations, and for good reason. To experience its endless white beaches, stunning freshwater lakes (like Lake McKenzie), wild dingoes and whale and shark watching opportunities, you need to travel on a 4WD tour or hire a 4WD vehicle yourself. Note that to rent a 4WD vehicle you will need to be at least 21. Tours depart from Hervey Bay and Rainbow Beach. Daytrips are available, but it’s highly recommended that you take a two or three day tour to really experience everything Fraser Island has to offer. There are a couple of hotels on Fraser Island, including an award-winning eco-lodge, but most of the accommodation is camping.
Hervey Bay is also the best place in Australia to get up close to acrobatic humpback whales, when they rest in the bay while migrating (July to November). Whale watching boat tours, and fishing charters, are easy to arrange in Hervey Bay, where there is also a wide selection of accommodation.
This part of Queensland also serves as the dividing line between surfing beaches to the south and the Great Barrier Reef and scuba diving to the north.