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If you’re planning an east coast Australia road trip or looking for a city break somewhere different, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Brisbane. Situated up in Queensland, Australia’s ‘River City’ enjoys mild winters as well as a thriving cafe scene, plenty of arts and culture and activities for all ages.
I spent 12 months living in Brisbane as a foreign exchange student back in my twenties, and have since returned a couple of times to reminisce and see how things have changed. I’m pleased to say Brisbane is still as beautiful as ever, and a lot more cosmopolitan than in the early 2000s! So if you’re planning a visit, here are my top things to do in Brisbane, Australia!
Things to Do in Brisbane: Table of Contents
To skip down to one of my recommended Brisbane attractions, just click on the links below.
1. Chill Out at South Bank
For a more relaxed feel than in the city centre, cross the river via Victoria Bridge and explore family-friendly South Bank. With a manmade beach and lagoon, a wide choice of eateries, pretty parklands and a cultural precinct featuring art galleries and museums, there’s plenty to do once you’ve finished admiring the city skyline across the water.
2. Join a Free Walking Tour with Brisbane Greeters
What better way to get to know a city than to go on a personal tour with a local? The Brisbane Greeters scheme lets you and your family and friends book a slot with a local resident who can take you on a tour of Brisbane tailored to your own interests and area of choice. For free!
3. Appreciate Art at QAGOMA
Queensland Art Gallery (QA) and the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) are neighbouring galleries in the Cultural Precinct at South Bank that are free to enter and well worth a visit if you’re an art lover. For a more educational visit, this Brisbane art and design walking tour takes you to over 40 art works around the city centre followed by a tour of QUAGOMA.
4. Day Trip to Moreton Island
Beautiful Moreton Island is the third-largest sand island in the world and reachable from Brisbane in just over an hour by ferry. You can snorkel or kayak around the famous shipwrecks, take your 4-WD and go camping or enjoy the facilities at Tangalooma Resort. Here are a few Moreton Island activities you can choose from:
Brisbane to Moreton Island Return Ferry & Adventure Day Pass: enjoy 3 hours of kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding, free use of snorkel equipment to explore the shipwrecks and unlimited access to Tangalooma Resort’s swimming pools, cafes and facilities from $99 per person.
Moreton Island: Dolphin and Snorkel Cruise Adventure: this full-day cruise on a modern vessel featuring large viewing decks includes guided snorkelling around Tangalooma Wrecks, commentary on the Moreton Bay Islands and marine life, morning tea and lunch and beach time with free use of sporting equipment from $159 per person.
Moreton Island Shipwreck, Sand Dune & Kayak 1-Day Adventure: for an action-packed day out, join this full-day adventure that includes snorkelling, kayaking, tobogganning down sand dunes and 4-wheel driving across the beach and bushland from $149 per person (plus national park fees).
5. Discover Brisbane’s Laneways
It isn’t just Melbourne that tucks its late-night bars and coffee shops down hidden, hip little laneways. Get to know Brisbane’s cooler side at Burnett Lane, Eagle Lane, Gresham Lane and Albert Lane in the city, or Winn Lane, M&A Lane and Bakery Lane in Fortitude Valley.
6. Visit the Gold Coast
For a fun day by the sea, hop on the train or drive an hour south from Brisbane to explore the much-loved Gold Coast. Relax on the sand, hike around Burleigh Heads, hit the shops, join a sunset river cruise or admire the skyscrapers and ocean views from the SkyPoint Observation Deck at Surfers Paradise. Learn more in my recommended itinerary below.
7. Ride the CityCat
Why catch the bus when you can cruise along the water? A popular means of public transport in Australia’s river city is the CityCat ferry service, which stretches from The University of Queensland in St Lucia to Northshore Hamilton. There’s also the free CityHopper service which runs seven days week.
8. Spend the Day at the Sunshine Coast
Just a 90-minute drive north of Brisbane lies the stunning Sunshine Coast. Less built-up than the Gold Coast with a very relaxed vibe, the Sunshine Coast is perfect for a day trip or weekend getaway with a tropical holiday feel. To discover hikes, beaches and attractions in popular Noosa, check out my itinerary below.
For an organised tour, this Noosa and Sunshine Coast day trip from Brisbane includes a walk along Noosa Beach promenade, time at the shops on Hastings Street, a ferry cruise along Noosa River, a visit to arts and crafts village, Montaville, a short hike with views of the Glass House Mountains and on Wednesdays and Saturdays, a 40-minute visit to Eumundi Markets.
9. Head to Mt Coot-tha Summit
For a panoramic view of the city, drive up to Brisbane Lookout at the top of Mt Coot-tha, where you can not only see across the CBD to Moreton Bay, but eat and drink in style at Summit Restaurant & Bar.
10. Visit Roma Street Parkland
Conveniently located next to Roma St Station, Roma Street Parkland is an unexpectedly large and pretty area in the heart of Brisbane’s urban centre. With beautiful water features, lawns to laze on, a leafy cafe and plenty of paths to explore, this is a great detour on your day in the city.
11. Hit the Riverside Sunday Market at City Botanic Gardens
For a light lunch, coffee or shopping expedition, head to Brisbane’s Riverside Sunday Market in the city botanic gardens. Once you’re done shopping, you can explore the sculptures, ornamental ponds and gorgeous river views. To get there head down to Alice St at the bottom of George St and Edward St, just a 10-15-minute walk from the city centre.
12. Book a Free Tour of City Hall
Heritage-listed Brisbane City Hall, built between 1920-1930, is home to the Lord Mayor and hosts daily community and corporate events. To have a nosey around its grand interior with the aid of an official guide, book a free tour.
13. Explore Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha
It’s not all about the views at Mt Coot-tha! Around the base of the mountain you’ll find more stunning botanic gardens, where you can easily spend a good few hours exploring. There’s an on-site cafe, Brisbane Planetarium and a lovely lookout with views of Brisbane CBD.
14. Climb or Abseil the Cliffs at Kangaroo Point
To the south of the Brisbane River, just east of South Bank, lies the picturesque waterside suburb of Kangaroo Point. Here you can walk the Natural History Trail along the water’s edge, eat at the many restaurants, kayak down the river or, if you’re feeling brave, abseil Kangaroo Point cliffs.
15. Visit North Stradbroke Island
Just a 25-minute ferry ride from Cleveland, Pretty North Stradbroke Island can easily be explored using the island’s bus service. Head on up to Point Lookout to refuel at the local cafes and enjoy the amazing coastal views on North Gorge walk.
If you prefer not to go it alone, this North Stradbroke Island day trip includes return transport and ferry from Brisbane, guided commentary, a walk on Cylinder Beach, North Gorge walk, exploring Amity Point, a stop for lunch and a sunset ferry ride back to the city.
16. Cycle Brisbane City
With 150 stations available to pick up a bike from, CityCycle offers a convenient hire service for those who want to explore Brisbane by bike and take advantage of the waterside pathways.
17. Eat in Chinatown
For a change of culture visit lively Chinatown Mall on Duncan St in Fortitude Valley. With restaurants offering cuisine from a variety of Asian countries, Chinese shops to peruse and many festivals held throughout the year, Brisbane’s Chinatown precinct has plenty to keep you occupied.
18. Dine at Eagle St Pier
With a mixture of award-winning restaurants, bars and casual eateries, Eagle St Pier is known as Brisbane’s premier dining precinct. Whether you stop by for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks, you’ll get to enjoy fabulous views of the Brisbane River and Story Bridge.
19. Go Clubbing in Fortitude Valley
If it’s buzzing nightlife you’re after, head to Fortitude Valley, or “The Valley” as it’s know to locals. While this designated entertainment precinct boasts plenty of shops, cafes and art galleries to explore during the daytime, at night the action continues with a multitude of bars and nightclubs that stay open until the early hours.
20. Cruise to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Get your Aussie wildlife fix on this Brisbane river cruise to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the oldest and largest koala sanctuary in the world. The 5.5-hour trip has been running for over 60 years and includes admission to the sanctuary, where you’ll have three hours to see koalas, platypus and birds of prey, as well as a return cruise from the city with commentary.
21. Shop at Queen St Mall
With over 700 retailers, modern and heritage-listed arcades, a cinema and a casino, pedestrianised Queen St Mall in Brisbane’s city centre has enough to satisfy all your shopping and entertainment needs. From here it’s an easy walk to South Bank or the City Botanic Gardens to continue your explorations.
If you’re planning an east coast Australia road trip, make sure you check out my Sydney to Brisbane drive itinerary, which includes highlights, costs, distances and accommodation. Happy travels!