Brisbane is a fun, laid-back city with a ton of atmosphere, a vibrant events scene, great food and fantastic nightlife. Many tourists skip Brisbane and head straight to the glitzy Gold Coast, but the city has so much to offer tourists in its own right: whether you’re checking out a live band in Fortitude Valley, kayaking the Brisbane River or checking out the talented fire-twirlers at the monthly West End Fire Festival, you’ll find that Brisbane is a unique city that’s full of character, friendly locals and plenty to see and do.
You’ll certainly be able to understand why both Lonely Planet and GQ Magazine have called Brisbane “Australia’s hippest city”!
Lets explore the best things to do in Brisbane:
1. Visit the West End
The West End is a hub of alternative culture, as well as a great place to enjoy cuisine from all over the world, or a fun night on the town.
You’ll definitely be able to see how Brisbane got its “hippest city” moniker after a visit to the West End.
The Lychee Lounge is particularly worth checking out; it’s exotic craft cocktails are delicious and unique.
Good Time Bar is also great for its quirky record-store atmosphere and the interesting crowd it attracts.
The West End is renowned for its lively music scene, its healthy and delicious food options, gorgeous street art, and its vintage and alternative boutique shopping.
The Davies Park Market is also a lot of fun, with everything from pre-loved clothes to gorgeous flowers and organic produce.
Orleigh Park is a popular spot for a stroll, and since it’s right on the river, the views are stunning.
2. Catch the West End Fire Festival
As well as its gorgeous river views, Orleigh Park is also known for its legendary fire festival, which has taken place on the night of each full moon since 2006. The fire twirling and spinning is truly a sight worth seeing and an experience to remember.
The festival attracts a crowd, but it’s not too crowded: just the right number of people to have a fun atmosphere and meet some interesting people.
The festival takes place from 7pm to 10pm at Orleigh Park, and is hosted by the Firetricks community, who are a group of dedicated circus performers and fire-twirlers; however, beginners are most welcome to try their hand at fire-twirling too!
3. Check out the city centre
There’s something for everyone in Brisbane: plenty of heritage architecture, great shopping and food.
Wandering around the city center for a few hours will give you a feel of what Brisbane is about.
To start with, you could visit King George Square, Brisbane’s premier public space where something is almost always happening: events, festivals and markets.
It’s also right next to Brisbane City Hall, a gorgeous building inaugurated in 1930. 45-minute guided tours take place four times a day, and you can even go to the top of the clock tower! Next, check out the Museum of Brisbane, the stunning Treasury Building (dating back to 1889, now being used as a casino), the Customs House (beautiful architecture and delicious dining) and the ANZAC War Memorial, enjoy the atmosphere (or a spot of shopping!) at Queen Street Mall, or take a relaxing stroll in the City Botanic Gardens or along the Eagle Street Pier.
4. Visit the Cultural Precinct
Brisbane is the cultural hub of Queensland, and you’ll find some of the best the city has to offer at the Cultural Precinct; you’ll probably want to spend the better part of a day here.
The Precinct is easily accessible from the CBD – just walk across the Kurilpa or Victoria Bridge.
The GOMA art gallery boasts an excellent collection of modern Australian and Asian art, and world-class exhibits, including a Marvel Comics exhibition at the time of writing; they’ve previously having hosted an exhibit of the works of famed Chinese contemporary artist-activist Ai Weiwei.
You’ll also find the GOMA Restaurant to be an unexpected treasure: a meal here is a must! The grounds and surrounds of the gallery are also lovely, and notably include a bodhi tree directly descended from the tree under which it is traditionally said that the Buddha gained enlightenment.
The gallery store is also a great place for art aficionados to pick up some excellent art books.
Adjacent to GOMA, you’ll find the State Library of Queensland: again, their excellent bookstore is a delight for any reader, and their exhibits and collections are both fascinating.
Next, you’ll find the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre, which provides a fascinating insight into the history of Brisbane and the state of Queensland, including its indigenous history; the Sciencentre is a series of interactive science-related exhibits that is fun for children and adults alike.
The museum also hosts night events for 18+ visitors, as well as many other interesting events, so check their website before visiting for the latest details.
5. Stroll through the South Bank Parklands
The vibrant, gorgeous South Bank Parklands are a Brisbane icon, and a must-see for any visitor to the city, attracting an impressive 11 million tourists every year.
It’s almost a second city centre: tons of delicious restaurants, a great atmosphere and always plenty of things to do and see.
The parklands have a diverse range of natural beauty: there’s a dedicated rainforest-walk area, a riverfront promenade, and perhaps the most famous sight in the parklands: the South Bank Grand Arbour, which is covered in stunning bouganvilleas that flower year-round.
Since central Brisbane is on a river, it doesn’t have any beaches, making the artificial Streets Beach in South Bank a popular spot for locals and tourists to relax and catch some sun-rays.
You can also meet some local creatives and pick up some gorgeous artisanal treasures at the South Bank Collective Market, an extremely popular arts, craft and clothes fair.
There’s also the Nepal Peace Pagoda, designed by a German architect on behalf of the Kingdom of Nepal and built by Nepalese families, and Australian workers under Nepalese supervision, to celebrate the 1988 Brisbane World Expo.
This tranquil, serene pagoda is a beloved meditation spot, and a close replica of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu.
While you’re in the area, don’t forget to check out the nearby Little Stanley Street, just outside the South Bank Grand Arbour area; it’s considered to be one of Brisbane’s best dining streets.
6. Experience what the Brisbane River has to offer
There are professional cruises down the Brisbane River, which is certainly an excellent option, but the ferry is actually a very enjoyable and affordable way to see the sights of Brisbane.
Since the city is divided in two by the river, and connected by a series of bridges (which can experience heavy traffic at certain times), it’s often more convenient for locals and visitors alike to take the ferries, as well as being a truly calming and beautiful way to travel.
There are 25 ferry terminals in total on the Brisbane River, including the free CityHopper service which visits 6 terminals (every half an hour, seven days a week between 6am and midnight); the other terminals will take you further afield, and they’re quite reasonably priced, so it’s worthwhile starting from the beginning and riding to the end of the journey.
You can see some videos of ferry journeys on the Brisbane City Council website.
If you’re brave, you can also take a kayak tour of the Brisbane River! The water is of dangerously low quality, though, so if you do capsize, make sure you take a shower and change your clothes as soon as possible.
Also, sharks are occasionally spotted; injurious incidents have been rare, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
7. Experience a blast from the nautical past at the Maritime Museum
The Maritime Museum boasts an extraordinarily interesting collection of exhibits and collections, and it’s a truly fascinating attraction: even if you’re not usually particularly interested in maritime history, you’ll have a great time here learning about the important role that sea travel has played in Australia’s past, from transporting the first European settlers, its convict history, and the role of maritime warfare in WW2. A complimentary audio tour will help you to get the most out of your experience here, and you’ll have a great time exploring the many historic vessels on-site, such as the warship Diamantina (the world’s last River Class WW2 frigate, and one of two remaining ships in the world to have hosted a surrender ceremony).
The dry dock is a particularly significant site: it was opened in 1881, and 5005 ships were repaired here during its functional lifetime.
The comprehensive information provided about the dock will give you an insight into Queensland life in the 1880s, and how different it was from today.
8. Visit Fortitude Valley
Fortitude Valley, or just “the Valley”, is an inner-city suburb of Brisbane, and is famous for its nightlife, alternative culture and fantastic shopping.
There’s also some gorgeous heritage buildings around, such as the McWhirters building.
You’ll also find plenty of festivals going on – the Valley is renowned for its live music scene, day or night! The Valley is also home to Brisbane’s Chinatown, where you’ll find excellent food and shopping, and a great international flavor.
A word of warning: Fortitude Valley can be somewhat dangerous at night, particularly on weekends: it might be better for solo travelers to enjoy what this spot has to offer during the day.
If you’re checking out the nightlife, don’t wander around dark laneways, and be vigilant, especially around Brunswick Street Station.
9. Catch an opera underground
Brisbane Underground Opera Company offers world-class opera in quirky, unique locations; as they put it, they “steer [audiences] away from sterile theatres, and into stunning venues”. They’ve performed in abandoned mines, tunnels, caves, castles, reservoirs, and much more! Check out their website to see what performances they’ve got planned during the time that you’re visiting Brisbane; it’s a truly unique experience that acquaints you with a very different side of the city from anything you’ve seen before.
10. Take a Brisbane Greeter tour
The Brisbane Greeter service is a completely free service that connects any interested member of the public (tourists, recent immigrants, etc.) with passionate locals who love sharing their knowledge of the city and meeting new people.
It’s a great way to make a new friend, and to get to know the Brisbane that your greeter knows and loves; if there’s particular sites you’re interested in seeing, you can let them know that as well, and there’s also particular itineraries such as the Brisbane Aboriginal street art tour.
11. Travel through Brisbane on a historic steam train
Steam Train Sunday takes place once a month, and it’s your chance to ride a gorgeous historic steam train through Brisbane city.
The steam train departs from and returns to Roma Street station, and it’s a charming experience for the whole family, especially train buffs.
12. Take a pretty stroll through the Roma Street Parkland
This 16-hectare oasis of greenery and flora just outside the city centre is very well-maintained, with lots of lovely backdrops for your travel photos.
You’ll also see quite a few lizards wandering around and enjoying a stroll themselves: they’re used to people being around, and they’re quite harmless.
It’s a great spot to get some exercise while enjoying the beauty of nature, or to relax and rejuvenate after a hard day’s shopping and sightseeing.
13. Climb Story Bridge
Opened in 1940, Story Bridge is a heritage-listed bridge that spans the Brisbane River, connecting Kangaroo Point to Fortitude Valley.
The iconic bridge is notable for being the longest cantilever bridge in Australia.
During the Brisbane Festival, fireworks are set off along the bridge, which is a truly gorgeous sight.
It’s also illuminated at night, so it’s fun even just to walk around the area; but unlike most bridges around the world, this one can actually be climbed! You’ll walk with a group of other climbers in a safety harness, and enjoy gorgeous panoramic views of the river.
It’s extremely scenic, and a lot of fun.
14. Drink a rainbow latte or a carrot beer
Brisbane is an eclectic city, and you can certainly get some foods and drinks that you likely haven’t seen at home! The carrot beer Wabbit Saison is brewed just outside of Brisbane, and is available at select bars in the city.
You’ll find rainbow lattes at Piggyback Café in Jindalee, a suburb of Brisbane, where barista Emily Coumbis makes adorably colorful coffee art that has catapulted her to social media stardom: she has a huge following on Instagram, as well her fascinating Rainbow Coffee Channel on Youtube that teaches budding rainbow coffee baristas how to make her gorgeous designs in their own cafes or at home.
15. Delight your taste buds at the Eat Street Markets
The Eat Street Markets are a multicultural melting pot of delicious food, where your taste buds can travel around the world.
Open from 4pm to 10pm every Friday and Saturday, you’ll find a huge array of exotic and international culinary delights, often at very reasonable prices.
You’ll find Jamaican jerk chicken, Japanese pizzas, Peruvian curries, and so much more.
There’s also plenty of live music to enjoy, so make a night of it!