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If you’re thinking of moving to Australia and trying to decide where to live, Brisbane is a city well worth considering. I spent a year living in Brisbane as a foreign exchange student back in 2001-2002, and loved the blue skies, warm climate and laid-back attitude.
When I revisited Brisbane in 2016, I discovered a much more cosmopolitan city than I remembered; stylish cafes and eateries had popped up everywhere, along with a multitude of modern apartment blocks.
Brisbane seems to have shaken off its reputation as a slightly behind-the-times big country town, and turned into a bustling, multicultural contemporary city.
To help decide if living in Brisbane could be for you, this blog post will give you an overview of the Brisbane lifestyle and hopefully answer any questions you may have about Australia’s river city!
You can also check out my YouTube video below, comparing living in Brisbane to living in Sydney, or read my Sydney vs Brisbane blog post.
Where is Brisbane in Australia?
In a country as enormous and sparsely populated as Australia, it’s crucial to consider the location of any city you may choose to live in – not something I gave much thought to as a young exchange student with no travelling experience!
Brisbane sits almost halfway up the east coast of Australia, in the southeast corner of Queensland. Since the east coast is well developed and highly travelled, Brisbane is not particularly isolated in Australian terms.
The nearest state capital to Brisbane is Sydney, although even that’s a good ten-hour drive away! There are plenty of smaller towns and cities in between though, and to the north on the way up to Cairns.
How Big is Brisbane?
Brisbane is the capital of Queensland, and its population of 2.5 million makes it the third-most-populated city in Australia (after Sydney and Melbourne). It’s also one of the country’s major business hubs.
The city has a fairly compact centre (called the Central Business District, or CBD in Australia) with a mixture of modern skyscrapers and heritage buildings dating back to the early 19th century.
There’s been a huge amount of development and construction in Brisbane since my student days, with new high-rises popping up all over the place! See if you can spot the differences in the skyline in the pictures above. (It was total chance that I took a picture from the same spot when I revisited!)
Living in Brisbane: Weather & Seasons
Another crucial aspect to consider is the temperature in Brisbane. Remember Australia lies in the southern hemisphere, meaning the cities to the south are generally cooler (and since the country is so huge, the difference can be vast).
Brisbane is hotter than all the other state capitals except Darwin, and has less variation between seasons. Great if you want an all-year-round summer. Not so great if you enjoy a distinctly cooler winter.
The humid subtropical climate in Brisbane means mild, dry winters and hot, rainy summers with frequent storms. I’ll never forget the first steamy, summer downpour during my exchange year, when all the Aussies grabbed their body boards and rushed out onto the sports pitch to scoot around on their stomachs!
The average maximum temperature in Brisbane is 29.4 degrees in the hottest month (January), and 20.4 degrees in the coldest month (July). Overnight, the average minimum in January is 20.7 degrees, and in July, 9.5 degrees.
Per year, Brisbane has an average of 113 sunny days, and 76 rainy days (>1mm). In summary, it’s pretty bloomin’ hot, there’s a lot of sunshine, and it rains a lot during the summer.
Daylight Hours in Brisbane
This may seem a strange topic to cover, but many of you moving to Australia won’t be aware that Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory do not have daylight saving.
This means that in the height of summer in Brisbane, the sun goes down around 6:50pm, about an hour and 20 minutes earlier than in Sydney. The sun doesn’t set in Melbourne and Adelaide until just after 8:30pm.
In midwinter the sun sets about 5pm in Brisbane, as it does in the other capitals. In comparison to colder countries like the UK, Australia has more daylight hours during the winter, but doesn’t have those long, light summer evenings.
Brisbane Beaches (or Lack of!)
Due to its location on the coastline, it’s natural to assume that Brisbane has a multitude of beaches like the other major cities. Unfortunately that’s not the case!
Brisbane CBD lies about 15 km inland, on a peninsula of the Brisbane River. Its eastern suburbs lie along the shores of Moreton Bay, which have mud flats and mangroves rather than powdery white sand.
The nearest beach is at Redcliffe, which is about a 40-minute drive north of the city centre. You do have beautiful beaches around an hour away at the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast though, as well as nearby Stradbroke Island, Bribie Island and Moreton Island. We regularly hopped on the train to Surfers Paradise at the Gold Coast on a Saturday as students.
Although it’s not quite the same as the real thing, there is a very cool man-made beach and lagoon at South Bank in the city. It gives a whole different vibe to the CBD when you can cross the river and relax on the sand or swim!
Living in Brisbane: Things to Do
Despite the lack of beaches, there are still plenty of things to do in Brisbane. Most attractions are centred around the river, and the CBD itself has a more modern, shiny look than Sydney and Melbourne, but with green spaces too.
As I mentioned, there are now plenty of cafes and restaurants in Brisbane, as well as bars and nightclubs in the city and nearby Fortitude Valley if that’s your thing.
South Bank Parklands, across the water from the CBD, is a relaxing place to spend the day, with the beach and lagoon, gardens, food options and nearby art galleries.
Other Brisbane highlights include the City Botanic Gardens, cliffs at Kangaroo Point, and stunning views from Mt Coot-tha. Hopping on the City Cat ferry to eat at Eagle Street Pier is also fun! For more ideas, check out this blog post:
Trips from Brisbane: Holiday Destinations
Even though Brisbane isn’t a beach city, it lies smack-bang in the middle of the well-trodden backpacker route up the east coast. The city is ideally located to reach some of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations.
Off the coast of Brisbane itself lies tropical Moreton Island and Stradbroke Island amongst others.
To the south, there’s the busy Gold Coast, bohemian Byron Bay, and then a string of beautiful holiday towns along the Brisbane to Sydney coastal route.
Heading north, you can visit the picturesque Sunshine Coast, Fraser Island, and a host of tropical Queensland destinations such as the Whitsunday Islands at the Great Barrier Reef, where temperatures will be warm even in winter.
Brisbane Insects & Wildlife
I know that a huge worry for many of you is Australia’s range of hairy, scary and possibly lethal creatures. It’s actually extremely rare to die from a spider bite in Australia; there’s only been one recorded death in over 40 years.
I’ve travelled the majority of the Australian coastline, including camping in rural areas, and I’ve lived in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. The worst I’ve had is a very painful sting from a bull ant. I’ve rarely seen snakes – only ever in national parks, and mostly in Tasmania.
What you’re more likely to face is annoyances like cockroaches and mosquitoes. You will also definitely see some big and/or unusual insects that are most probably harmless. I remember seeing quite a few Christmas beetles in Brisbane, which look like shiny Christmas tree baubles zooming around!
To read about more unusual things I found in Brisbane during my exchange year, have a read of my blog post on university in Australia vs UK.
You’ll also see lots of lizards; my friend at uni in Brisbane had a resident gecko living in her room! Wild turkeys wander around too; birds are big, colourful and often noisy; possums are a common sight; and if you head somewhere rural, you’ll most likely see a multitude of kangaroos.
Brisbane has seen a huge amount of development over recent years, with lots of high-rise apartments being built in the CBD and along the riverfront. This is apparently to cater for high demand from young, multicultural residents who want to enjoy city life by the water.
There are also lots of larger, family homes out in the suburbs. The iconic Queenslander houses with large verandahs and high ceilings are a common sight in Brisbane. I lived in one when I returned to Brisbane during my working holiday.
Property prices in Brisbane are considerably lower than in Sydney and Melbourne, which could be a deciding factor for those of you hoping to buy a home.
According to this report in October 2018, the median house price in Brisbane was $524k, only 5.3 times higher than the median family income. In comparison, the price to income ratio in Sydney was 10.8.
There has been a lot of reports lately (2018-19) on falling property prices in Australia, so that’s something you should research before buying. Although Sydney and Melbourne have seen bigger drops than Brisbane.
I hope this overview on living in Brisbane has helped with your big decision! I think the Brisbane lifestyle is pretty great, and would suit both young professionals and families alike. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there back in my student days!
To read similar information about the lifestyle in Australia’s other major cities, have a read of the following blog posts: