Brisbane is the biggest city we have visited on our lap – it’s Australia’s third most populous city, behind Melbourne and Sydney. Nicknamed Bris-Vegas because of its cosmopolitan lifestyle, Brisbane is a city full of pretty churches, crazy drivers, American inspired eateries and hills – all providing a great view of the CBD.
- When the Brisbane City Hall opened in 1930, it was the city’s tallest building.
- The Story Bridge opened in 1940 and is the longest cantilever bridge in Australia.
- To remove the stigma of being a big country town, Brisbane’s infrastructure was redeveloped and a tram system was installed in the CBD and inner suburbs. This was a popular mode of transport until 1969 when the network was closed. The tram system has since reopened and runs from Southport to Broadbeach..
- Brisbane’s economy benefits from the tourism of the Sunshine Coast in the north and the Gold Coast in the south.
The CBD sits in the original settlement that was established along the Brisbane River, east of the Great Dividing Range, and was named after the Governor of New South Wales from 1821 to 1825, Sir Thomas Brisbane.
The first European settlement in the area was a penal colony at Redcliffe, about 28km to the north, but free settlers were allowed in the area from 1842. Once Queensland was separated from New South Wales in 1859, Brisbane was declared the capital of the state, but it didn’t earn the status of a city until 1902. During the 20th century, Brisbane underwent massive growth, amalgamating with over twenty other small towns in the area to become the City of Brisbane in 1925.
Points of Interest
There is plenty to see in the city. Explore the streets, gape at the high-rise buildings, duck into an alleyway café or find as many sculptures as you can. City Hall in King George Square is magnificent, and Anzac Square War Memorial is a great place to take your lunch. On the northern side of town is St John’s Cathedral, the mother church of the diocese of Brisbane. The church was built in three stages, with the foundation stone laid in 1901 and the final stage completed in 2009.
On the other side of the river is the South Bank Parklands, complete with an inland manmade beach called Streets Beach, and the Arch of Flowers. Nearby is the Queensland Museum and Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). Both are open daily and the entry is free, but if you want to see a special exhibition, you may have to purchase a ticket.
On the southern end of the Parklands is the Goodwill Bridge and Wartime Museum. If you don’t want to pay to enter the museum, you can see enough from the bridge, which spans the Brisbane River to the City Botanical Gardens on the other side.
South Bank is a popular spot for festivals and events. While we were in Brisbane, we saw the annual Lantern Parade, which celebrates multiculturalism, and attended the Lifeline Bookfest at the Convention Centre. If you’re peckish, there are plenty of eateries and bars along Grey Street.
Located on Milton Road, the XXXX Brewery might not seem like much but it’s a must visit destination in Brisbane. Inside is a bar that serves the best burgers in Queensland and the tours through the brewery are fantastic. Check out our post here.
Mount Coot-tha & Brisbane Botanical Gardens
Meaning place of honey, Mount Coot-tha is 287 metres above sea level and is the highest peak in Brisbane, offering amazing unobstructed views of the city. Whether you go there at sunrise, sunset or in the middle of the day, it’s a popular spot amongst locals and tourists alike, and the nearby Summit Restaurant is perfect for functions or lunch.
A little way down the mountain is the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. It’s certainly worth a visit, as there is an excellent selection of plants, as well as a Japanese garden, bonsai house and an impressive tropical display dome.
Brisbane is mad for markets, and there are plenty around town to suit everyone. The West End Markets on Saturday morning and the Eagle Farm Markets on Sunday morning are very similar –both have live music, clothing stalls, a wide variety of food stands, and fresh fruit and veggies. The West End Markets are free to visit, but the Eagle Farm Markets are bigger and will cost you $2 to get in. We had an awesome breakfast at the Eagle Farm Markets – an omelette with the lot for $9 and Hungarian lángos with additional bacon for $10 filled us up until the afternoon.
The Eat Street Markets on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoons, are a foodies dream. It’s a funky market at Hamilton Wharf with around 60 shipping containers that have been reconfigured as food outlets. There’s plenty of choice and many international cuisines are represented. It also costs $2 to get in, but with live music and great views of the city at sunset, it’s worth the visit. Our highlight was the Snickers cruffin – a muffin shaped croissant filled with caramel and topped with chocolate and peanuts – YUM!
Closer to town is the Collective Markets on South Bank. While it’s nowhere near as big as Eagle Farm or Eat Street, there is a fudge stall there that makes the best jam donut fudge we have ever tasted.
Food & Drink
Brisbane is obsessed with the American food scene, and there are heaps of food outlets offering American style pizza, sandwiches, bagels and burgers. There’s also a noticeable presence of Asian cuisine, a love of craft beer and a solid passion for good coffee.
We were so happy to be in a city that valued good coffee, so we were sure that wherever we went, we’d get a palatable brew. Our first coffee experience was at Scout Café down the road from the Brisbane City YHA. It’s one of the popular places in town – an understated café playing happy big band music that makes great coffee.
Our second experience was our best – Tutto Caffe Espresso Bar in Ashgrove not only makes amazing coffee but also a monster of a meal, the pork belly challenge. Imagine succulent pork belly, bacon and haloumi in a Turkish bun with salad and a delicious Moroccan sauce – death by deliciousness.
We tried four Asian establishments all up. If you’re in the city, there are plenty of great options for a cheap lunch. Roll’d is a healthy Vietnamese franchise that offers Pho in a Cup for $5.90 – a great way to get a daily fix of pho without the belly bludge. Bing Boy at the food court under Post Office Square is also great in taste and in value. Juz found it by accident after wandering the city for over an hour, not knowing what to have for lunch.
Bamboo Basket on South Bank was the fanciest place we ate at. We paid $19.80 for two servings of dumplings but they were pretty tasty. On the cheaper end of the scale is Trang Vietnamese Restaurant in West End, with a big bowl of pho with silky rice noodles setting you back around $11.90.
Another place that we really wanted to try was Café O Mai – a Vietnamese café that serves breakfast with a western twist. Unfortunately, we didn’t get around to going, but if we visit Brisbane again, it will be on the list.
Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall
Another example of Brisbane’s love affair with America, this elaborate saloon style bar with crimson walls and hanging chandeliers is a great place to sip a whiskey and apple juice while listening to live music. For a change of scenery, go upstairs to the Mermaid Bar for some rowdy seafaring fun.
The RG in Fortitude Valley has midday munchies sorted with their Fatboy Lunch Specials. We got a scrumptious BLT with thick sliced bread and loads of bacon, with curly fries with aioli on the side. The total was $13.70 and satisfied us both.
Brisbane is a great place for beer lovers. The XXXX Brewery is the main beer producer in Brisbane, but if this iconic Queensland beer is not your cup of tea, at least try the awesome beef burger on their lunch menu.
If you love kooky and crafty beers, a visit to the Hoo Ha Bar can be enlightening. This industrial style bar serves a selection of craft beer. Dave was impressed with the Sunshine Coast Brewery Rye ESB. Which had a luscious raspberry smell and minimal hops. They also had a coffee kolsch, but it wasn’t as good at the coffee cream ale in Ipswich.
Another great place for beer is Charming Squires on Grey Street. It seems to be a popular place for after work drinks or a weekend session, and they offer tasting paddles of four James Squires beers of your choice for $12.
There are also a few microbreweries around town. Check out our article here.
Information & Accommodation
Brisbane’s public transport system is called Translink http://translink.com.au/ and it is a comprehensive network of trains, trams, buses and ferries. We made use of the bus route into the city, as well as the free city loop bus to get around, but the highlight was the free City Hopper ferry that cruises over the Brisbane River.
There are various tickets you can get to travel on public transport, but the most economical for frequent travelling is a go card, which can be purchased from various locations like 7 Eleven for $10. You then top up the card with money and touch on/off as you travel. Paper tickets are available for one time use – they are a one way ticket valid for two hours and are significantly more expensive than go card travel.
For accommodation, we recommend the Brisbane City YHA. It’s clean, quiet, spacious, and the rooftop deck provides awesome views of the city. Check out our post here.