There's a lot happening in Queensland's capital but the long-standing nickname of “Brisvegas” hardly reflects the outlook of this sunny, laidback city. In reality, it's less about pokies and much more polished than its part-time moniker suggests. With a growing creative scene, abundant wildlife, easy access to the Gold Coast and a surge in solid dining options, we can confirm what locals have known for a while: it’s a pretty great place to be. Here’s how to see the best of it in a short space of time.
Hugged by the Brisbane River, the leafy suburb of New Farm is a great place to get your Brissie bearings. Turn up for takeaway The Talking Toucan (a fruity smoothie and one of four avocado-on-toast options are a perfect start); pick up a perfectly flaky pastry from authentic French boulangerie Chouquette; or indulge in a plate of oat hotcakes topped with vegan vanilla ice-cream and swirled with maple syrup at Little Loco. The city straddles the river so use its position to your advantage. Jump on the free CityHopper ferry and cruise to Southbank, passing the bustling CBD as you go.
From South Bank Parklands, it’s an easy, waterside wander to Queensland Gallery of Modern Art and its neighbour Queensland Art Gallery – known collectively to locals as ‘QAGOMA’. Don’t hightail it there, though – the South Bank precinct is made for the curious. There’s Streets Beach, Australia’s only inner-city, man-made stretch of sand, a water park built for family fun and The Arbour – a whimsical kilometre-long walkway adorned with bougainvillea. Fuel your appetite after your cultural fix at one of the precinct's eateries – you’ll need it for your next leg.
Following the river as it winds south, then north again, join the locals on their early evening perambulation, making your way through Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park for a leisurely hour-long walk that finishes at Kangaroo Point. Once you’ve finished admiring the glittering Brisbane cityscape, take a ferry across to Eagle Pier where you can reward yourself with a much-deserved glass (or two) of wine. Mr and Mrs G Riverbar, Blackbird Bar and Grill or Alchemy Restaurant and Bar are spot on for a riverside relax (and a meal that does the up-and-coming dining scene justice).
The Calile Hotel, a towering Fortitude Valley homage to elegance and the colour salmon, is practically a beacon for influencers. Put simply, it's beautiful: deep soaking in-room bathtubs with gold tapware, peach marble tiling on the walls, a glittering turquoise pool hugged by sun lounges. The food is just as pretty, from Hellenika, the city’s second outpost of popular seafood-focused restaurant.
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Begin with brunch on the wide streets of Fortitude Valley, or ‘The Valley” as natives dub it. Consider King Arthur Café for elevated brekkie interpretations, Reverend’s Fine Coffee for serious coffee and Harvey’s for a quintessentially Brissie setting in a shady courtyard. Here, café clientele squeeze in a latte before a window-shopping spree around the area’s boutiques and you’d do well to do the same – Ann Street and Winn Lane are your best bets for one-of-a-kind purchases.
Make your way out to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, just 12 kilometres from the city centre. As the world’s first and largest cuddly koala sanctuary, you’ll have no trouble coming close to one of these notoriously shy (and sleepy) characters, especially as there are more than 130 of them in this nature park’s trees. They aren’t the only residents here – kangaroos and Tasmanian devils are also among the park’s dwellers.
Despite its typically anti-vineyard temperatures, Queensland’s capital has a palpable passion for a good drop – it only takes a quick turn around the CBD to gather proof. There’s an impressive wine list behind the bar at cosy and quaint Malt Dining, a stellar selection of Australian options at French-tinged Greenglass and a drinks list that’s won awards at Coppa Spuntino. If you’re peckish, there’s no need to move – all three of these bars have food menus that are just as tempting. Or, finish your weekend with the ultimate taste of the Brisbane vibe. Greca, at Howard Smith Wharves, is fantastic for great Queensland produce cooked simply in the Greek tradition and packed with flavour. The relaxed service and river views top off the whole experience.
If you have more time...
- Make the hour-long journey down to Surfers Paradise, where the city meets the sand.
- Take a turn in the Gold Coast Hinterland, where some of the state’s most picturesque walks are located.
This piece was originally published in 2019 and has been updated.