Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, features a lovely river ambiance, a thriving contemporary art scene, and a profusion of fine dining. The city also benefits from its inhabitants’ easygoing approach to life, which is a real boon for visitors that helps make Brissie (an affectionate nickname for the city) as inviting as can be, and a delight to explore.
Another thing that this modern city has going for it is its proximity to wild nature, diverse parklands, and the fascinating Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, not to mention some of the world’s finest sandy beaches.
What’s more, with almost 300 sun-filled days a year, the chances are that you’ll enjoy glorious weather as you explore the city, the coast, and the hinterland.
Here are some of the best things to do in Brisbane.
Hike & Bike Around Mt. Coot-tha
Brisbane’s Toowong suburb is home to the Mount Coot-tha Reserve, one of the most beautiful places in Australia. This natural spot is where you can go for different hikes or cycle rides, varying in intensity, that cut through woodlands and eucalypt forests.
You can walk over creeks, or head out to JC Slaughter or Simpson Falls, enjoying the fauna, including koalas, and green flora, so close to the city.
The reserve is home to six officially named peaks; the aptly named “The Summit” is the highest of the bunch. The Summit, once you hike to the top, will reward you with wonderful views from its lookout over Moreton Bay, and the Brisbane Central Business District (CBD).
Learn About Koalas at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
One of the coolest things to do in Brisbane is to head over to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, southwest of the city center, to learn more about these charismatic, sleep-loving animals.
Billed as the “world’s largest koala sanctuary”, this koala haven, founded in 1927, is well worth your time, especially if you’re fascinated by Australia’s indigenous wildlife.
The sanctuary supports more than 100 koalas—and yes, you can hold one of these cuddly balls of fur in your arms if you’d like. At Lone Pine, you can also feed kangaroos by hand, which can be awe-inspiring if you’ve never interacted with kangaroos before.
The free-flight raptor show here features wedge-tailed eagles, Australia’s largest bird of prey, whooshing overhead. The raptors put on quite an impressive flight display. Animal lovers are bound to have a wonderful time at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.
Get to Know Brisbane CBD
Brisbane CBD (Central Business District), which you can simply call “the city”, has heaps of riverside skyscrapers, as well as lots of shopping, fine dining, and culture.
The open-air, pedestrian-only Queen Street Mall is where you’ll come across an array of boutique shops and luxury fashion brands. The city has also seen an influx of cool bars, bistros, and fancy restaurants.
If you relish the idea of eating near the river, Howard Smith Wharves, a restoration project, with its bars, a microbrewery, and stylish restaurants, is where you should venture to indulge your refined culinary tastes.
Brisbane CBD is also home to the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, a spot for relaxation and a bit of greenery downtown. The historic Brisbane City Hall, which houses the Museum of Brisbane, is in the vicinity as well.
Take a guided tour of the City Hall’s celebrated Clock Tower, once Brisbane’s tallest building, although the CBD’s skyscrapers have long since stolen that title.
Explore South Bank Parklands
Exploring, and dining out at South Bank Parklands should definitely make your list of things to do in Brisbane.
South Bank Parklands, on the Brisbane River’s South Bank, features 17 hectares of developed land teeming with local and international food along Little Stanley Street and Grey Street, which should make any true foodie very happy.
You can also stroll down the handsome Clem Jones Promenade along the river here, or experience a bit of art and culture at locations like the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, situated next to the State Library of Queensland.
You could easily spend an entire afternoon wandering around South Bank Parklands.
Visit South Bank’s Artificial “Streets Beach”
While visiting South Bank Parklands, head over to Streets Beach if you’d like to play in the water and get some relief from the heat.
Streets Beach is touted as the country’s only artificial inner-city beach and is perfect for splashing around in, particularly if you don’t have time to make it to an ocean beach.
Streets Beach boasts a glistening blue lagoon, white sand, and green flora. There’s also a water-play park nearby, with interactive activities for children, should anyone in your group need even more aquatic-themed activities to keep them occupied.
Take a Tour of the Queensland Parliament House
If you’d like to see how the state government works in Australia, sign up for a tour of the beautiful Queensland Parliament House, constructed in 1868, and located in the Brisbane CBD. This legislative body is the country’s only unicameral (one assembly) state parliament.
Tours of the Queensland Government House’s Fernberg Estate and gardens run regularly. A visit to the Parliament House will help you learn more about the history of Queensland. And when parliament is in session, you can even observe the governing proceedings from the public viewing gallery.
Journey Down the Brisbane River by Kayak or River Cruise
One thing to do in Brisbane, especially if river voyages appeal to your sense of exploration, is to take a journey down the snaking Brisbane River by kayak or river cruise.
A river trip will give you excellent vantages of the downtown area, the climber-friendly Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park, South Bank Parklands, and some of the inner suburbs’ upmarket waterfront homes, plus a better sense of the city’s overall layout.
Different operators run a variety of multi-hour river cruises. Outfitters, located along various bends in the river, will be more than happy to take you out on kayak tours too, should you want a more intimate experience with the water.
If pressed for time, you can still get out onto the flow by taking advantage of the city’s “CityCats” and “KittyCats” catamaran ferries, used for cross-river travel.
Plan an Action-Packed Day Trip to Moreton Island
If the idea of exploring an island that’s dense with vegetation and scant on roads appeals, an action-packed day trip to Moreton Island might be just the ticket.
The protected Moreton Island, about a 75-minute ferry ride from Brisbane, is one of the largest sand islands on the planet.
Some of the highlights here include powering around in a 4WD across beaches or along the one-way tracks that make up Middle Road, which bisects the island, or stomping around the sandhills. For added thrills, jump onto a sandboard and rip down the dunes.
Moreton Island features sweeping vistas across the sand and water, the gorgeous freshwater Blue Lagoon, which is ideal for a swim, and the sparkling Champagne Pools, where the ocean breaks against sandstone and volcanic rock, frothing like glasses of champagne.
Snorkel Around Moreton Island’s Tangalooma Wrecks
If you visit Moreton Island, you could also consider a guided snorkeling excursion around the island’s mesmerizing Tangalooma Wrecks.
The Tangalooma Wrecks, on the western side of the island, are a group of ships scuttled by the government several decades ago to build a sheltered anchorage for small boats.
Since the anchorage was established, the wrecks have seen coral bloom, different fish species arrive, and even dolphins frolicking about. You could also spot dugongs, a relation of the manatee, and wobbegong, a kind of carpet shark that dwells on the ocean floor.
Test Your Nerves With a Story Bridge Adventure Climb
So, you’re reasonably fit, looking for new thrills, and don’t suffer from a fear of heights? If these three traits describe you, you might be a candidate for a Story Bridge Adventure Climb.
Story Bridge is a massive steel bridge spanning the Brisbane River. For brave souls, a Story Bridge Adventure Climb with ropes, climbing experts, and lots of safety precautions is a real possibility. Head up to the top of the steel span for spectacular views of the river and surrounding city.
If you really want to test your nerves, once you reach the top, 262 feet or so above the water, opt for the “Lean Out” or “Walk the Plank” add-on activities. These extras will let you expose your body to the hard vertical drop below and will only appeal if you have a real head for heights.
Take a Queensland’s Gold Coast Tour
Queensland’s Gold Coast, down the shoreline from Brisbane, combines metropolitan glitter with some of the region’s most amazing beaches for surfing and swimming.
The Gold Coast’s sandy beaches, along with the largest man-made canal system in the southern hemisphere, lined with some very ritzy homes, makes for a wonderful day out from Brisbane. A bonus is the many marvelous seafood restaurants by the water here.
Another Gold Coast high point is the lush Gondwana Rainforest, which links up with Numinbah Valley along the 34-mile Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk.
And while this trek might be a bit too much to tackle in a single day, if you have time, try to at least see part of the rainforest; perhaps a short jaunt to Lamington National Park, which truly is sublime.
Encounter Animals at Australia Zoo’s Wildlife Exhibits
Brisbane’s Australia Zoo, home of the renowned “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, is an extraordinary spot for learning more about the Wildlife Warriors’ conservation programs, which are focused on endangered species, and to have some incredible animal encounters.
Some of the wildlife experiences on offer include observing red pandas, koalas, kangaroos, ring-tailed lemurs, giraffes, tortoises, and wombats go about their lives.
A few of the creatures here come with some dangerous-looking teeth as well. The zoo’s “Crocoseum” is the place to catch Wildlife Warriors’ performances starring highly trained humans who interact with the snapping jaws of some very large saltwater crocs.
Although this show is essentially educational entertainment, the zoo, led by Irwin, does a great deal to study and protect these impressive predators.
Go for a Relaxing Hike Around Tamborine Mountain
Tamborine Mountain, about an hour’s drive south of Brisbane, is great for escaping the coastal heat. This hinterland zone, due to its elevation, is usually cooler than sea-level locales.
Mount Tamborine, and its mountainous plateau, are full of rainforest walking paths, incredible views, and dazzling waterfalls like Knoll and Curtis Falls. You can also explore the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk, running high above the subtropical canopy, or try your hand at a forest zip line.
In the town proper, visit the Tamborine Mountain Gallery Walk, with more than 70 shops. The Gallery Walk is brilliant for picking up clothing, enjoying a coffee, or dropping by a brewery. You can call on different art galleries here too, or sample some locally-made fudge.
Unwind at New Farm Park
If you’re looking for calming things to do in Brisbane, why not spend an hour or two at New Farm Park, near the riverside?
This large garden park, in an inner suburb going by the same name, and the New Farm River Walk (extending out into the water), are great for leisurely strolls, or an afternoon picnic.
A visit to New Farm Park will let you enjoy the river scenery, along with Brisbane’s laid-back charm, at a pace of your choosing.
Dine & Shop Along James Street
Fine dining and high-end shopping opportunities are plentiful along the compact James Street, located in the inner suburb of Fortitude Valley, often called “The Valley.”
Swanky James Street establishments offer all kinds of food and drink, including delicious coffee roasters, fashionable bars, burgers, Greek cuisine, Middle Eastern bistros, Asian fusion, Italian, and many other options.
In the shopping category, you’ll find a variety of art galleries here. You’ll also come across boutiques featuring local designers and international luxury brands. An outing to James Street will offer you delectable food, great art, clothing, and many of the finer things in life.
Discover Brisbane’s vibrant city life and the spectacular nature nearby on a cruise to Brisbane with Celebrity.