Brimming with creativity and bursting with nature-inspired attractions, Brisbane’s South Bank is a culture-heavy pocket of Queensland’s capital city. Home to some of the state’s best museums, galleries, and theaters, this creative corner is certain to capture the imagination of any art enthusiast.
Beyond its cultural institutions, the South Brisbane neighborhood, formed by 42 acres of parklands, is equally inviting for unexpected urban finds. Lush rainforest walks, a city-center beach, and even a Nepalese-designed pagoda are some of the more surprising experiences awaiting along the river’s curve. All this is complemented by some of Brisbane’s best dining options.
You could easily spend a whole day exploring everything that South Bank has to offer, all while being whisked away to a more tranquil style of city living. Here are the best things to see and do in the area.
Follow The Arbour Walk
For first-time visitors to Brisbane South Bank, there is no better introduction to this remarkable suburb than The Arbour Walk.
You’ll spot many of the neighborhood’s most renowned attractions as you stroll the 1,000-yard route of curved steel columns, decorated and scented with bright pink bougainvillea and shaded by overgrowth.
From the Nepalese Peace Pagoda to the high-flying Wheel of Brisbane, you’ll finish the walk with a better understanding of how much this beloved quarter offers and how to spend your day.
Connecting Vulture Street to the Cultural Forecourt, the Arbour Walk offers plenty of detour spots for a coffee. Whether you want to sip your morning brew beachside or by brutalist architecture, the unique combination of construction along the South Bank will happily oblige.
Cool Down at Streets Beach
Quite the novelty, swimming at Streets Beach is one of the best things to do in Brisbane for those looking for an unusual experience. This artificial inner-city beach, the only one of its kind in Australia, brings a little slice of the country’s famed coast to Brisbane’s South Bank.
Framed by palm trees, the dazzling blues of the lagoon welcome you with soft white sand—a true retreat along the river.
At first, laying out your towel with the towering buildings of the central business district (CBD) beyond might seem a little peculiar. Still, with the mercury hovering around 85°F during summer in Australia, this urban oasis is a welcome spot to cool down.
With lifeguards throughout the year, and no worries of running into any unwelcome aquatic life, Streets Beach lagoon is a popular bathing spot with Brisbanites.
The surrounding cafés and bars offer the perfect point to pause for a refreshing cold beer and admire the unique views of a tropical-style Australian beach in front of the CBD, even if you don’t want to go swimming.
Marvel at the Nepalese Pagoda
Located in a prime parkland position, the Nepalese Peace Pagoda is a tranquil and magical memory from the 1988 World Expo held in Brisbane.
Constructed from Nepalese timber over two years, the pagoda was transported from the Kingdom of Nepal to Australia specifically for the Expo. To the delight of Brisbanites and visitors alike, it remained in the city as a gift.
You can explore the multi-tiered structure at the lower level, allowing the opportunity to study the intricate carvings and ornate details which have been hand-carved into the supports.
Spiritual portraits, golden bells, and lapping fountains are some of the most captivating sights in the complex, which you’ll find sandwiched between the Rainforest Walk and The Wheel of Brisbane.
Find Culture at The Gallery of Modern Art
Step inside two of South Bank Brisbane’s most impressive and creative spaces and be prepared to take yourself on a colorful and thought-provoking journey.
Since 2006, Australia’s largest contemporary and modern art gallery has spread out over two campuses, earning quite the reputation as a destination that pushes the boundaries of creativity.
Consisting of two buildings, the Queensland Art Gallery houses an expansive Australian Art Collection and a sculpture courtyard, while the three-floor Gallery of Modern Art usually showcases even more innovative exhibitions.
The expansive rooms are often transformed entirely to create a more interactive experience to appreciate the installations fully. You won’t find yourself merely walking from frame to frame but often at the heart of the artwork itself—whether suspended from the air, introducing audio and visual aspects, or all-encompassing.
GOMA is a bold project; thus, the art program often links to a greater social-cultural discussion, crafting a brilliant space to appreciate the artists of today and tomorrow.
Shop for Souvenirs at the Collective Markets
From Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, Brisbane South Bank comes even more alive with stallholders, artisans, and boutique goods sold from a colorful array of pop-up shops.
If you’re searching for a souvenir and prefer to shop local, you are in for a treat. Hop between tents while perusing handmade jewelry, boutique clothing, and organic bathroom goodies.
Thanks to the weekend crowds, there is always an electric energy in the air, which has helped make these markets a permanent fixture in the city.
Paintings and crafts are also well represented, with small artworks perfect for packing into your suitcase found alongside larger canvases, often decorated in modern or Aboriginal art.
Stroll the Rainforest Boardwalk
Find your inner zen on the South Bank and be transported deep into Australia’s bushland without leaving the city.
Crafted by man yet powered by nature, The Rainforest Boardwalk is a lush display of sub-tropical flora and gurgling water features. The short boardwalk trail—taking only five minutes—guides you under a shaded canopy and above the streams, with innovative Rain Bank technology providing the water.
While there are countless ways to fill your day on the South Bank, take the time to settle into one of the wooden benches and soak up the serene environment. How often do you get the chance to visit an urban rainforest, after all?
Explore the Epicurious Garden
This delightful community garden, packed with aromatic herbs and native plants, is another inner-city novelty in the South Bank Parklands.
Fruits, herbs, and vegetables bloom here thanks to the nifty green hands of the local horticulturists and volunteers who keep the garden perfectly manicured. If the gardeners are around during your visit (usually in the mornings), they will be more than happy to answer any questions and share insight into the local produce.
Samples of the herbs and other goodies can be enjoyed from the complimentary harvest cart on certain days, allowing the chance to taste some of the freshest produce in Queensland direct from the source.
Enjoy Exhibitions at Queensland’s State Library
Housed in an enormous and slightly futuristic-looking building, the State Library of Queensland offers some of the best views from Brisbane South Bank, framed by expansive glass windows.
For visitors, however, the main attraction isn’t the vistas or volumes but the exhibitions presented in the library’s gallery spaces.
The program is eclectic and varies throughout the year, though you’ll often find presentations on local Brisbane or Queensland culture. Whether it’s sharing Aboriginal stories and the history of The Turrbal People, the Traditional Owners of Brisbane, or paintings by up-and-coming local artists, it’s a superb location to learn more about the local area.
Dine at Little Stanley Street
Perfect for a pause to refuel between exhibitions and galleries, one of Brisbane’s finest quarters to dine is right in the heart of the South Bank.
Strolling down Little Stanley Street, you’ll be greeted with a diverse array of international restaurants, chic cafés, and creative gastronomy. Australia’s premium coffee culture is well represented, and connoisseurs will find some of the best brews at the hole-in-the-wall Espresso Garage, or Lebanese-style at Baba Ganouj.
For a globally flavored lunch, head to lively Olé Restaurant to sample Spanish-style tapas plates washed down with generous jugs of sangria, or venture to Gnocchi Gnocchi Brothers for some scrumptious servings of signature Italian dishes.
If you’d prefer to indulge in some of Australia’s fine fresh seafood, Yellowfin will happily oblige; the seafood platters overflowing with oysters and other shellfish are particularly impressive.
Step Back in Time at the Queensland Museum
Take a deep dive into the history and heritage of Queensland in the state museum, a treasure trove of natural history, science, and human interest stories.
Covering an array of interests and time periods, from dinosaurs and the native wildlife of gigantic proportions to the heritage of First Nations communities and Australia’s role in WWI, the museum offers plenty to educate and entertain visitors of all ages.
In addition, the museum often offers some fascinating temporary exhibitions. Whether it’s an in-depth study of animation techniques or an expert talk on local culture, the extensive program of events is well worth checking out ahead of your visit to Brisbane.
Ride the Wheel of Brisbane
Since 2008, the Wheel of Brisbane has become a landmark on the South Bank skyline, rising nearly 200 feet into the air.
A ride on this grand Ferris wheel will not only give you a bird’s-eye view of Brisbane but also provide a solid orientation of the city as you take in the 360-degree panoramas across the river and beyond.
With four rotations over the nearly 15-minute ride, you’ll have more than one opportunity to spot the city’s other landmarks. An informative audio guide is included in the gondolas, highlighting some of Brisbane’s key sights and history.
For something a little more special, consider the VIP Gondola rides, which include a glass of fizz while you take in the vistas—the perfect combination.
Kayak Along the South Bank
To admire the South Bank from another angle, take to the waters and follow the tides on a kayak adventure.
Paddle past iconic South Bank sights such as the Wheel of Brisbane and further afield to the steel Story Bridge. Over 90 minutes, the sun-kissed lapping waters will guide you through the nearby neighborhoods, providing an unforgettable Brisbane experience.
If you’d prefer to experience the river with less effort involved, scenic city cruises are available. You can also use the CityHopper ferry service to cross to the city center with ease.
Visit the Queensland Maritime Museum
Alongside the striking Goodwill pedestrian bridge, the HMAS Diamantina, an imposing docked navy ship, welcomes you to the Queensland Maritime Museum area.
Given that the continent is surrounded by water in all directions, it’s unsurprising that much of Australia’s more recent history is tied to the oceans. The collections inside the three-floor showroom and the docks will take you on a brief walk through the country’s maritime past.
There is plenty to entertain and inform, from aquatic relics to vessels of significant importance, navigation tools, and lighthouse history.
The star of the show is undoubtedly the WWII frigate, standing proud on Brisbane South Bank, whose insides paint a picture of life on the seas from days gone by.
Glance Into Griffith University Art Museum
Moments from the Maritime Museum, the Griffith University Art Museum houses an impressive public art collection.
As an academic space, the exhibits and displays often have an educational angle, with experimentation at the forefront. This is one of the oldest art schools in Australia, and the installations provide the chance to learn about the creative processes alongside the finished pieces.
Contemporary Australian Indigenous art is well represented, as are visual video productions diving into a deep range of subjects. Temporary exhibitions can cover anything from poetry told through sculpture to photography from the deep seas, making a glance inside the Griffith an always exciting experience.
Catch a Show at Queensland Performing Arts Center
Housing four theaters and concert halls, this vast performing arts venue has been a staple of the entertainment scene in Brisbane South Bank since 1985.
Inside the brutalist building, opera aficionados will find delight in the acoustics of the Lyric Theater, while the striking modern design of the Concert Hall provides the perfect setting for anything from jazz to stand-up comedy.
With an action-packed performance calendar throughout the year, including regular matinee performances, QPAC is the perfect ticket whether you’re seeking ballet, big-name bands, or more classical melodies.
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