Brisbane is on the up – literally. The city is in a state of construction that will see dozens of sky-scraping towers erected in the coming years. However, its distinctive Queenslander architecture remains and the laidback lifestyle Brisbanites embody carries on apace. Locals are always outside jogging, picnicking and browsing the city’s many markets – and when the weather in the subtropical city is too hot, there are plenty of indoor occupations.
Queensland’s capital is the ideal place for a city break, with an ever-growing list of cultural drawcards such as the annual Brisbane Festival and the sprawling Queensland Cultural Centre at South Bank where the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), the Queensland Museum and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) reside.
The CBD, colloquially referred to as “the city”, lies in a curve of the bendy Brisbane river and within its triangular borders are parks, heritage buildings and the shopping mecca Queen Street Mall. Over the whole city looms its highest peak, Mount Coot-tha, where there are botanic gardens, the Planetarium and hiking trails to explore.
Not to cast aspersions on the hardworking employees of the Department of Transport and Main Roads, but it’s possible that present-day visitors to 477 Boundary Street in Spring Hill receive a slightly more pleasant reception than in the past. Once the address of the state’s apex road and transport authority, the building now houses The Johnson, the first iteration of the Art Series group of hotels in Brisbane. There’s little trace of the building’s previous life, though occasionally baffled motorists still turn up to renew their licences.
The $155 million redevelopment has created 97 self-contained suites and three penthouses, as well as residential apartments. In keeping with its fellow Art Series hotels, the space is named for and inspired by a famous Australian artist, in this case, Michael Johnson, whose abstract works are generously sprinkled throughout the hotel. Instead of cubicles and the paraphernalia of a bureaucratic government department, there’s a long, sleek foyer with workspaces for visiting businesspeople.
Suites are open-plan one- or two-bedroom affairs. Arrayed in calming pale wood and shades of grey, they’re brought alive with pops of deep blue and orange. They’re incredibly well equipped: each has a kitchenette complete with sink, microwave, kettle and Nespresso machine. There’s also a minibar with all the usual suspects: chips, popcorn, chocolate bars, wine and beer, with a fun painting kit nestled among the snacks. The bathrooms are small but perfectly formed. There are no bathtubs but the showers have rain-shower heads and the toiletries are EVO (Soap Dodger is body wash, FYI).
The size of the formerly state-owned building means this Art Series offers some pretty fantastic features such as a 50-metre swimming pool with sundeck designed by Michael Klim, a well-equipped gym and an art library. Like its Art Series brethren, The Johnson also offers a dedicated art TV channel as well as art tours by in-house experts.
Spring Hill borders the city to the north. It’s is a handy suburb for the weekend visitor: within walking distance of QPAC and GoMA, dotted with great cafés and restaurants, and it’s a five-minute walk to Fortitude Valley for those who love the nightlife. Cute Art Series Smart Cars are available for those who want to venture further afield and, in bike-friendly Brissie, the hotel’s free Lekker Bicycles can also come in handy.
477 Boundary Street, Spring Hill; (07) 3085 7200
The Art Series restaurant, Tumbling Stone, is named for a Johnson work and serves breakfast, lunch, cocktails and dinner. An espresso bar, Stepping Stone, serves takeaway coffee to passers-by. Breakfast in the open, breezy restaurant is a relaxed affair. The menu is a pleasing list of brunch classics such as eggs Benedict with apple-cider hollandaise and Champagne ham, and corn fritters with smoked salmon and poached eggs.
477 Boundary Street, Spring Hill; (07) 3085 7474
See also: Brisbane's Best Breakfasts
Boutiques and eateries line the fashionable James Street precinct in Fortitude Valley. Gerard’s Bistro set up shop in 2012 and quickly became a dining sensation. The menu is an enticing Mediterranean/Middle Eastern premise and largely features share plates, which is great as it means diners get to sample more from chef Ben Williamson who helms the kitchen. Laham Nayyeh is a moreish lamb tartare with preserved lime, pickled cucumber and egg yolk; the coal-grilled broccolini and kale are drizzled with shallot oil, lemon and roasted yeast; and a burghul cracker provides a textural contrast to delicious Paroo kangaroo with charcoal hummus and scampi caviar. Desserts are just as inventive – eggplant sorbet with tahini crumb is an example.
14/15 James Street, Fortitude Valley; (07) 3852 3822
A crop of tiny boutique breweries has emerged in the past few years in Brisbane. The trend for local craft beer has caught on in a major way and Green Beacon Brewing Co is one of the most popular purveyors. Arrive early on a Saturday evening to secure a table, or sit at the bar to do some people (and dog) watching. Various styles of beer are brewed on premises, from Indian pale ale and Cross Knot Kolsch to porter. To accompany your ice-cold drop of choice, there’s a revolving line-up of food trucks.26 Helen Street, Teneriffe; (07) 3252 8393
Bookings at Longtime are taken for the preschool-friendly hours of 5.30pm, 6pm and 6.30pm daily. After than its walk-ins only, so be prepared to wait – this Thai-street-food-inspired spot is popular. Walk past the tuk tuk at the entrance and inside it’s all friendly chatter, fairy lights and repurposed second-hand fixtures. The menu is designed to share, with snacks such as betel-leaf parcels of pork or okra, the obligatory bao (this one’s crab) and mini burgers. On a sticky Brisbane evening, there’s little more refreshing than the watermelon salad: seasoned with red curry dressing and topped with toasted coconut and crisp fried shallot, it’s sweet, savoury, spicy and cooling all at once. Other crowd-pleasers are the beef short ribs with black vinegar sauce and a curry of Moreton Bay bugs with coconut and turmeric.
610 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley; (07) 3160 3123
THINGS TO DO
Brisbanites love a market. On any given weekend there are organic farmers, second-hand clothing and craft markets happening all over the city. Eumundi Markets is one of Australia’s biggest craft gatherings with 600 stalls and stallholders must “make, bake, grow or sew” the wares they sell. The Mount Gravatt Marketta is a destination for the hungry. There are food trucks, street stalls and a bar set up in a shipping container. For those intent on staying in town, Riverside at the Gardens in the City Botanic Gardens has a bit of everything.
See also: A Guide to Brisbane's Laneways
The Museum of Brisbane is telling the story of the city with the 100% Brisbane exhibition. It peeks into old Queenslander homes, sails along the river and climbs into the newest high-rises to reveal the beating heart of Brissie. It’s an interactive show that brings together 100 residents and explores their lives, attitudes and histories. There is also Scents of the City – four smells that epitomise Brisbane (they’re mangroves, sunshine, frangipani and thunderstorms) and a short film written and narrated by William McInnes.
Until 2019; 64 Adelaide Street, Brisbane; (07) 3339 0800
Spring Hill Baths
Built in 1886, this heritage-listed public pool was Brisbane’s first in-ground pool and retains its original Victorian changing rooms and grandstand seating. There have been a few updates, though – now you can have an excellent coffee after your laps.
14 Torrington Street, Spring Hill
Barefoot lawn bowls isn’t a new concept, but it’s a particularly charming pastime when it’s performed alongside the Brisbane River. Brisbane’s most popular bowling club, Merthyr Bowls has barbecues, breezes and a backyard vibe.
60 Oxglade Drive, New Farm
Ascend Mount Coot-tha for the best views of Brisbane. The city’s highest peak is six kilometres to the west of the CBD. It’s excellent for hiking, mountain-biking and picnicking, and the Brisbane Botanic Gardens are Queensland’s best subtropical gardens. Also on the peak is the Planetarium, a library and the Summit Restaurant.