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Brisbane River kayaking
Photograph: Kenny Smith

The best things to do in Brisbane

The winner is... Brisbane. This future Olympic host city has an enviable lifestyle and a wealth of fun things to do all year round

Brooke Maddison
Written by
Brooke Maddison

If there was any lingering doubt that Queensland's capital is a world city it was put to rest with the announcement that the 2032 Olympics would be hosted right here in Brisvegas. And truth be told, for a long time the River City has been much more than just a pit-stop on the way to the Gold Coast. In QAGOMA, the city has two of the best designed art galleries anywhere in the world, and blockbuster art to show in them. We have great barbecue spots, sure, but there are also some great high-end, fine dining experiences too. With an incredible climate (although slip, slop, slap please, we implore you) and a great set of river walkways and public transport connections, it’s also easier than ever to get around. Whether it’s a family adventure, a romantic weekend or a spare 24 hours on the end of a business trip – here’s our pick of the best attractions in Brisbane.

(Honourable mentions must go to: Museum of Brisbane’s Clock Tower tours; La Boîte Theatre; Fish Lane; Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary; Red Hill Cinema; XXXX Brewery Tours; and the Spring Hill Baths.)

Got no money? Here are the best free things to do in Brisbane. Love the surf? Here are the best secret beaches around Brisbane.

22 things to do in Brisbane at least once in your life

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Mount Coot-tha

What is it? Only 15 minutes from the CBD, the Mt Coot-tha Reserve is the largest natural area in Brisbane, coming in at a whopping 1,600 hectares of lush rainforest gullies, eucalypt forests, creeks and waterfalls.  

Why go? The summit offers panoramic views of the city and is easily accessible by car or walking trail. Take your camera and head up early to see the sun rise from Brisbane’s highest point, before enjoying breakfast at the café. If mornings don’t agree with you, the sunset and evening views are equally impressive. 

Want more? Make a day of it! The reserve is also home to extensive hiking and mountain biking trails, waterfalls, picnic areas, Botanic Gardens and even a planetarium.

Learn about the history of the city with an Aboriginal guide
Photograph: Supplied/Blackcard Cultural Tours

2. Learn about the history of the city with an Aboriginal guide

What is it? BlackCard Cultural Tours run tours in Meanjin (Brisbane city), offering a unique opportunity to learn about the history and cultural significance of the region from an Aboriginal guide. 

Why go? The tours are a rich cultural experience, taking in significant sites along the bank of Maiwar (Brisbane River) and uncovering the hidden history of the city. Tour highlights include exploring Brisbane’s collection of Indigenous public artworks (with work by Albert Namatjira, Lilla Watson, Fiona Foley and Clifford Possum); and tasting the delights of the bush tucker trail. 

Want more? Make sure to check out Birrunga Gallery & Dining in the city for Indigenous art and bush tucker-inspired food, and Open House in West End for Indigenous fashion and homewares.

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • South Brisbane

What is it? The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) are located in the Cultural Precinct in South Brisbane.

Why go? The galleries house more than 20,000 artworks, with a significant collection of First Nations and Asian and Pacific art. With an extensive collection of free exhibitions, big-name touring shows, a cinema, a dedicated interactive kids area and numerous special events, there is guaranteed to be something happening whenever you visit. In late 2021 the galleries will see the return of their flagship exhibition, the 10th Asian Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art.  

Want more? While you’re there, check out the other cultural institutions in this innovative arts district, including the State Library, Queensland Museum and Queensland Performing Arts Centre. 

  • Attractions
  • Fortitude Valley

What is it? Originally built in the 1930s, the historic wharves have been revitalised into one of Brisbane’s newest entertainment destinations.

Why go? With stunning views of the Story Bridge, the Howard Smith Wharves are a nerve centre for dining out in the riverside city. The heritage-listed buildings are home to some of Brisbane’s hottest tables, including Greca, Yoko, Stanley and Ciao Papi. The wharves are also the perfect spot for a relaxing riverside Spritz at Mr Percival’s or a locally brewed schooner at Felons Brewing Co.   

Want more? Walk or take the lift up to the nearby Wilson Outlook Reserve for Brisbane’s best sunset views over the Story Bridge.

Go island hopping
Photograph: Kenny Smith

5. Go island hopping

What is it? Brisbane boasts stunning islands along its coastline – from big hitters like Stradbroke and Moreton, to chilled-out destinations like Bribie and Coochiemudlo. 

Why go? Only a 50-minute ferry ride away, Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) is one of the most accessible islands to visit. Hop on the passenger ferry and then connect with local bus options on the island for a day trip, or take a car over on the barge for a weekend getaway. Accommodation ranges from beach camping, glamping to holiday rentals. Whale watching season (June-November) is the ideal time to go, but the island is stunning year round. And it’s the closest place to Brisbane where you can see kangaroos on the beach! 

Want more? Quandamooka Coast Tours run cultural tours led by traditional owners, the Quandamooka people. The whale watching and Gorge Walk tours both take in the wonderful views from Point Lookout.   

  • Things to do
  • Markets
  • Brisbane Inner

What is it? West End Markets are held every Saturday from 6am-2pm in Davies Park, with more than 150 unique vendors. West End itself is one of the most diverse and exciting inner city suburbs in Brisbane.

Why go? With fresh produce, delicious food, arts and craft, fresh flowers, live entertainment and stacks of atmosphere, the real question is why wouldn’t you go? The markets pride themselves on being a ‘celebration of the eclectic diversity, independence and lifestyle’ that West End is known for. When you’ve finished checking out the markets, wander into West End for more food and coffee or take a stroll along the river to Orleigh Park. 

Want more? Brisbane is home to a host of markets, so make sure you check out some of the others, including the Brisbane City Markets, Northey Street Organic Markets, West End Vegan Markets and special events like the Seasonal Flavours Twilight Markets.

See the city from the water
Photograph: Greg Sullavan

7. See the city from the water

What is it? The Brisbane River snakes through the heart of the city, and there are several tour operators who will help you get out on the water and show you the ropes, like Riverlife Adventure Centre.

Why go? Kayaking allows you to see Brisbane from a new perspective as you take in some of the sights from the water, including the Story Bridge, mangroves and the Myora shipwreck. Riverlife Adventures offer guided tours and kayak hire, so it doesn’t matter how experienced you are.

Want more? If you're not keen on kayaking, jump on a CityCat or CityHopper. The larger CityCat ferries cruise up and down the river from the University of Queensland to Northshore Hamilton. The smaller CityHoppers are a free inner city service that will ferry you across the river to major attractions. 

  • Things to do
  • Games and hobbies
  • Fortitude Valley

What is it? Netherworld is an all-encompassing good time - drinking hole, diner and home to a collection of vintage arcade games. 

Why go? Venture beyond this hell mouth for guaranteed fun. Inside, you’ll find 25 arcade games, 15 pinball machines, consoles and over 100 board games. Machines are only $1 to play, while consoles and board games are free; and there are deals during happy hour and special events. Add in a selection of locally brewed beers (Espresso Martini Stout, anyone?), a fusion Asian-American diner and live music, and you’ve got an epic night out.  

Want more? Come for the drinks and the games, stay for the food. All the food at the Hellmouth diner is vegan, unless you choose to add dairy or carnivorous options as extras. Don’t leave without trying the demon drummies – crumbed cauliflower never tasted so good.  

  • Theatre
  • New Farm

What is it? Located in leafy New Farm Park, the Brisbane Powerhouse is the home of contemporary culture, performance and art in Brisbane. A pre-war industrial building by the river, its architecture is pretty striking as well.

Why go? Brisbane Powerhouse hosts events from the Brisbane Comedy Festival to the Melt: Festival of Queer Arts and Culture. The space clocks in more than 1,250 performances every year. Catch a CityCat to New Farm, enjoy a stroll through the park and then check out what’s on offer at the Powerhouse for a perfect night out in Brisbane.

Want more? Enjoy a pre-show drink at one of the two on-site bars, both with riverside views. The Powerhouse is also home to weekly farmers markets, held every Saturday.

  • Things to do
  • Games and hobbies
  • Kelvin Grove - Herston

What is it? Victoria Park Putt Putt is an 18-hole mini golf course featuring sand and water traps and swinging poles. There are regular themed events, including Halloween and Christmas, as well as live music and family events at the bistro.

Why go? With great city views and an on-site bar, the putt putt course is perfect for family fun, first dates and after-work hangs. Check out the bistro after a taxing round of mini golf for a bite to eat. Top tip: visit later in the evening during the summer months to beat the heat and soak up the night-time views. 

Want more? Brisbane City Council is revamping the area into a 64-hectare natural retreat with the ‘Victoria Park Vision’. Sign up on the council’s website for updates on how to be part of the community consultation.

Explore South Bank to Kangaroo Point on two wheels
Photograph: Krista Eppelstun

11. Explore South Bank to Kangaroo Point on two wheels

What is it? South Bank is made up of parklands, riverside walkways, restaurants and bars. There’s even an urban beach if you feel like a dip! Kangaroo Point features riverside cliffs with spectacular views and plenty of barbecue and picnic areas.

Why go? Touring South Bank on two wheels is one of the best ways to experience the sites. Jump on your bike or hire a scooter and cruise along the riverside bike tracks, stopping to refuel and admire the views along the way. With a packed schedule of events including markets, festivals and free outdoor music, there’s bound to be something going on.

Want more? Ride all the way to the Kangaroo Point Cliffs, where you can either watch the rock climbers scaling the heights, or join them!

Catch some live music in the Valley
Photograph: Will Johnstone

12. Catch some live music in the Valley

What is it? Fortitude Valley is home to Brisbane’s well loved live music scene, where bands like Powderfinger, Regurgitator and the Grates cut their teeth.

Why go? The Valley offers the greatest choice for live music in Brisbane, with venues the Tivoli, the Triffid, Fortitude Music Hall, Ric’s, Greaser and Black Bear Lodge offering local and international sounds. The Zoo remains the spiritual home for live music in Brisbane, and is one of the oldest independently owned live music venues in Australia. Aside from gigs, check out their weekly nights Punk Rock Pool Comp (Tuesdays) and Open Plains Zoo (Wednesdays).  

Want more? Grabbing a slice of pizza from New York Slice is a rite of passage after a night out in the Valley.

  • Attractions
  • Brisbane

What is it? Story Bridge Adventure Climb takes you up to the heights of Brisbane’s most famous bridge, built in 1940. 

Why go? For the chance to scale one of the few climbable bridges in the world, this urban adventure is not for the faint of heart. At the top you’ll be 80 metres above sea level, with 360° views of the Glass House Mountains, Moreton Bay and the Brisbane skyline. Time your climb for dawn or dusk for that extra frisson. 

Want more? Sign up for the Bridge to Brisbane, a yearly fun run. There are 10k and 5k options, and racing across the bridge with the masses is an exhilarating feeling.

Find your inner queen at a drag show
Photograph: Supplied/Cloudland

14. Find your inner queen at a drag show

What is it? There’s a whole range of drag events on offer in Brisbane – from night-time shows, balls and musicals to brunches, bingo and trivia.

Why go? If you’ve never been to a drag brunch, here’s your invitation. Cloudland’s Brunch with Bite is on every Sunday from 11am-2pm. Cloudland also hosts Fluffy, Brisbane’s campest night out, and the drag-and-dine musical, Hey Felicia. Trust me, it’s a lot of fun. 

Want more? Some of the original drag venues are still going strong in Brisbane. Check out the Sportsman Hotel, the Beat Megaclub and the Wickham for weekly shows and drag trivia. For a taste of drag Ballroom culture, follow House of Alexander for upcoming events.

Awaken your taste buds with a multicultural food tour of Sunnybank
Photograph: Jesse Smith

15. Awaken your taste buds with a multicultural food tour of Sunnybank

What is it? Head out to Sunnybank for some of the best Asian food to be found in Brisbane.

Why go? Sunnybank is known for its fabulous food options – from Chinese favourites like Hot Pot and Yum Cha to Korean Barbecue. Sunnybank also features Japanese, Malaysian, Taiwanese, Singaporean and Vietnamese restaurants. Check out Sunnybank Oriental for authentic Hong Kong style breakfasts, Pappa Roti for buttery coffee buns and teh tarik and Danbo for vegan-friendly ramen.

Want more? Once you’ve checked out Sunnybank, head to Moorooka for some of the best African food in Brisbane, including Yeshi Buna Ethiopian restaurant; or to Inala for Vietnamese restaurants and supermarkets. 

Escape to nature
Photograph: Supplied

16. Escape to nature

What is it? Brisbane is home to huge areas of bushland, with the council conserving over 9,500 hectares for the protection of biodiversity. Take your pick from nature reserves, wetlands, forests, parks, creeks and lakes.

Why go? For an antidote to city living, get back to nature. The Bayside Parklands are particularly stunning, with the Moreton Bay Marine Park listed as a Wetland of International Importance. There are plenty of activities on offer: swim or canoe at Enoggera Reservoir, mountain bike at Daisy Hill State Forest, bird watch at the Boondall Wetlands, explore the Karawatha Forest Discovery Centre or hike to the Cedar Creek Falls for a dip in the ice cold waters.   

Want more? Nyanda Cultural Tours offer Indigenous cultural tours around the Nudgee Waterholes, taking in the Bora Ring and bush food garden.

Try a local tipple
Photograph: Supplied/Ballistic Brewery

17. Try a local tipple

What is it? Craft beer breweries and distilleries have boomed in Brisbane, meaning you are spoilt for choice when it comes to trying the local flavours.

Why go? Support a local business and enjoy a unique drink, what’s not to love? There’s a whole host of places to check out, including Newstead Brewing Co, Catchment Brewing Co and Green Beacon Brewing. Ballistic Beer Co started in suburban Salisbury but has expanded to include several locations, making it the largest brewery on the Southside of Brisbane. With a core range of traditional style beers and an ever-changing selection of seasonal and experimental brews, Ballistic is well worth checking out. 

Want more? The Brisbane Distillery runs its own Gin School, where you can learn how to distil your own unique bottle of gin.

  • Attractions
  • Eagle Farm - Pinkenba

What is it? What do you get when you combine 180 shipping containers, millions of fairy lights and food from all over the world? Eat Street Northshore.   

Why go? With over 70 traders, five themed bars and a roster of live music, Eat Street is like a year-long carnival. It's open every Friday-Sunday, and you can expect to find everything from churros to Filipino street food. And it’s pet friendly!

Want more? Live music is also on the menu – check out the website for upcoming gigs and events.

Picnic in the parklands
Photograph: Jesse Smith

19. Picnic in the parklands

What is it? Brisbane’s inner city is home to several parklands, including the City Botanic Gardens, Roma Street Parklands and New Farm Park.

Why go? Brisbane’s subtropical weather means that it is perfect for picnics year round. Pack your own or check out some of the local companies that offer bespoke picnic experiences.

Want more? The twinkling fairy lights adorning the fig trees at the City Botanic Gardens are a much-loved photo opportunity come night time.

Drink in the view from the Terrace rooftop bar
Photograph: David Kelly

20. Drink in the view from the Terrace rooftop bar

What is it? The Emporium Hotel towers over Southbank, and The Terrace is the place to see and be seen. 

Why go? From leisurely breakfasts to late night cocktails, all served with a side of stunning views, The Terrace is the ultimate rooftop bar. The best bit? The retractable ceiling and operable glass roof! 

Want more? Check out the infinity pool on the terrace. It might just entice you to book a staycation. 

  • Attractions
  • Woolloongabba

What is it? The Gabba, located in the Brisbane suburb of Woolloongabba, is the definitive  home of sport in Brisbane. 

Why go? With sport on offer all year round, you can choose from cricket, AFL, rugby league, rugby union, soccer and baseball. The Gabba is the home ground for the Brisbane Lions, Brisbane Heat and the Queensland Bulls, so there’s plenty of opportunity to catch a home game. 

Want more? The Olympics are set to take place in Brisbane in 2032, so keep an eye out for the Gabba’s major upgrade before it takes center stage. 

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Manly - Lota

What is it? An iconic seafood restaurant with views of the boats moored in the marina as well as Moreton Bay.

Why go? Lunch (or dinner) here can’t help but be an occasion. You don’t have to be Daddy Warbucks to have an ace seafood experience here – you can line up for fish and chips in the casual outdoor Patio section and eat your catch at the tables under big umbrellas. You still get to look at the ocean (albeit framed by cars in the carpark) and your food is coming straight from the same kitchen that’s servicing the indoor diners. 
Your fry up comes wrapped in paper, so you can take the lot away and eat it on the esplanade if you prefer. 

Want more? Try some more of the best fish and chips in Brisbane.

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