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Things to Do in Brisbane

Hemmed in by the beaches of the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane is the perfect cultural antidote to a sun-and-surf overdose. Effortlessly laid-back yet surprisingly fashion-forward, Queensland’s capital city is always changing, with museums hosting some of Australia’s most cutting-edge exhibitions, and new restaurants, pop-up stores, and seasonal events springing up constantly. Highlights of a trip to Brisbane include climbing the famous Story Bridge, strolling the lush City Botanic Gardens, and spotting koalas at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Lone Pine is a 20-minute drive from downtown Brisbane, but it’s more fun to float there on a river cruise that departs from Southbank, with views of Brisbane’s landmarks along the way. As the gateway to Queensland, Brisbane also makes a good base camp for exploring the region’s highlights. The beaches of North Stradbroke Island or Moreton Island are a short ferry ride away, while the world-class theme parks and beaches of the Gold Coast are just an hour’s drive south of the city. To experience Queensland’s diverse flora and fauna, tours are your best bet. A guide can lead you to waterfalls and glowworm caves on a rain forest tour of Springbrook National Park, 62 miles (100 kilometers) south of Brisbane, and Mt. Tamborine National Park. Or join a multi-day excursion to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Fraser Island (one night at a beach resort included) or the Great Barrier Reef, where you can swim, look for turtles and humpback whales, and snorkel ’til your heart’s content.
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Brisbane River
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Brisbane is a city shaped by the river. It is a city of long walks in the summer dusk and riverside picnics on weekends. Bringing natural life to the urban scape, the Brisbane River is the site of many of Brisbane’s best attractions, events and everyday joys.

Popular activities on the Brisbane River include kayaking through the city at night, exploring the river on a CityCat, taking a dining river cruise or catching a local ferry to reach the opposite shore. Climbing the Kangaroo Point Cliffs on the river’s edge is a popular evening activity, and many residents and visitors alike enjoy climbing the famous Story Bridge, dining at South Bank by the water and relaxing with a drink at Eagle Street Pier.

You can also take a walk through the City Botanical Gardens that follow the northern river’s edge, see a live show at the famous Riverstage, look across the urban night from a Gallery of Modern Art ‘Up Late’ event, or read by the river.

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Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
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Australia's first and largest koala sanctuary, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is home to over a hundred cute and cuddly koalas, along with other weird and wonderful native Australian animals like wombats, emus, dingos and kangaroos.

Opened in 1927, the sanctuary began as a home to only two koalas, and over the years has grown to its current size. Lone Pine found its fame around the time of WWII, when Americans would visit the park to see these strange and new creatures. Today, the sanctuary is dedicated to the conservation of all native Australian animals, especially the koala, and works under strict regulations of the Queensland National Park and Nature Reserve Office.

The real highlight of the park is that you are able to cuddle a koala! Get the chance to hold a koala and even pose for a photo. No personal cameras are allowed, so to take home the special memory of you and a koala, you will have the chance to purchase a professional photograph from the park.

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Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park
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Located right across the river from Brisbane’s CBD, the popular Kangaroo Points Cliff Park is the place to head for a sweeping view of Brisbane’s downtown skyline. The cliffs here were formed by mining in the middle of the 19th century, and are now a popular spot for rock climbing and abseiling down their face. Since the park is located right on the river, kayaking is another popular activity for visitors as well as locals, and the BBQ grills and walking tracks make it a perfect family outing. To try your hand at scaling the cliffs, a number of climbing and abseiling companies offer guided lessons on the rocks, and the park is also a popular spot for stops on a city tour. And, while it doesn’t take long to swing by the park and enjoy the manicured grounds, it’s a peaceful, fun, and healthy retreat in the middle of Brisbane’s downtown.

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Story Bridge
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Story Bridge is Brisbane’s answer to Sydney’s Harbour Bridge. Iconic in its own right, Story Bridge is a heritage-listed, steel cantilever bridge that allows access between the northern and southern suburbs of Brisbane.

Story Bridge was built between 1935 and 1939, and was known as Jubilee Bridge until mid 1940. The main attraction of Story Bridge, as splendid as it is to view from afar, are the bridge climbs which began in 2005. A guided tour takes visitors up the bridge to stunning panoramic views of the city, out to Moreton Bay, and west across the aptly named Scenic Rim as they stand 80 metres above sea level. It’s also possible to abseil down one of the bridge’s pylons and into Captain Burke Park.

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City Botanic Gardens
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Opened in the 1840s and stretching from Gardens Point on the Brisbane River to the grounds of Parliament House, Brisbane’s City Botanic Gardens is the oldest green space in the city. The gardens were originally planted in 1825 by convicts who needed to provide food for the penal colony, but three years later the colonial botanist Charles Fraser decided that this would be the perfect spot for conducting plant experiments to see which cash crops could grow well in Australia. Mango, ginger, tamarind and mahogany trees were all planted, and even sugar was produced in the gardens.

Formerly known as the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, the City Botanic Gardens front Alice Street and George Street. Full of rare and unusual flowers and plants including cycads, palms, figs, and bamboo, the gardens stretch for 20 acres and are popular with CBD workers and visitors looking to relax on the lawns and walk by the ornamental ponds.

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Streets Beach
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Water, sand and sun make for a good combination pretty much anywhere in the world. Put them all together to create a man-made beach right in the middle of Brisbane, and you’ve got the must-visit Streets Beach.

Australia’s only inner-city, manmade beach, this site has a chlorinated lagoon surrounded by sandy beaches and sub-tropical plants that makes for a great spot to head to whether you have kids in tow or not. An extra bonus—this beach-like spot enjoys a view of the city skyscrapers and Brisbane River, which will keep you from forgetting you’re not out on a tropical island somewhere.

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Mt. Coot-tha
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Brisbane’s all-natural lookout point and city escape is Mt Coot-tha, hovering above the city to its west. The views from the lookout are legendary, taking in Brisbane and the undulating Brisbane River, all the way to Moreton Bay and the Glass House Mountains on the horizon. At the foot of the mountain, the lush Brisbane Botanic Gardens provide a vivid touch of green.

The lookout is surrounded by expansive native bush and parkland. Brisbanites flock here on family picnics, or to follow walking tracks to waterfalls and more lookouts. An Aboriginal Art Trail winds past ancient sites, and weekend cyclists come here to follow the winding roads. Come here at night to see the city lights twinkle, for a relaxed lunch at the cafe or more formal dinner at the Summit Restaurant.

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Roma Street Parkland
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On a hill overlooking Brisbane City, you will find a sprawling garden oasis known as Roma Street Parkland. This subtropical parkland boasts bamboo thickets, sunny picnic patches, calming waterways and meandering paths through botanical bliss.

The happy result is an inner-city retreat that can whisk you into another world, despite being only a few minutes’ walk from the central bustling business district and Brisbane Transit Centre.

Designed and realised by Australian gardening celebrity, the late Colin Campbell of the ABC’s Gardening Australia, Roma Street Parkland was established in 2001 as a horticultural wonderland, using the former goods yard for the adjacent train station. Since opening, the parkland has become a popular outdoor space, hosting entertainment events in the natural amphitheatre at the top of the park, as well as festivals and other recreational events.

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Wheel of Brisbane
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Admire the gleaming cityscape and natural beauty of Brisbane City from a lofty carriage on the Wheel of Brisbane. Likened to the famous London Eye, the Wheel of Brisbane offers an exciting chance to look across the city from above.

Take your time to spot the heritage buildings nestled among modern skyscrapers, admire the Brisbane River as it twists through the city centre, and enjoy the vibrant lights of the Brisbane’s attractions as they create an evening rainbow.

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Newstead House
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Built in 1846 for Scottish settlers Patrick and Catherine Leslie, Newstead House is Brisbane's oldest colonial residence and remains one of its most renowned heritage properties. Set on the banks of the Brisbane River, the historic home is now a house museum, beautifully recreated in late Victorian style.

Visitors can step back in time as they explore Newstead House, admiring the vast collection of period furnishings and marvelling over unique artefacts like a signal cannon, Sir Thomas Brisbane’s pipe and a model of the HMS Beagle ship sailed by Royal Navy captain John Wickham, a former resident. The house also hosts a number of special events and educational programs including the chance to experience Victorian-style cooking, washing and games.

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More Things to Do in Brisbane

Queensland Cultural Centre

Queensland Cultural Centre

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Brisbane's cultural precinct is on South Bank, opposite the city center on the Brisbane River.

The highlight of the Queensland Cultural Centre is the inspiring Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), which hosts a regular program of visiting and local exhibitions. It's the largest contemporary art gallery in Australia, and includes drama and film. Housed in another building is the Queensland Art Gallery and its collection of Australian and international art. Queensland Museum – South Bank documents the changing face of Brisbane and Queensland over the centuries, from culture and history to flora and fauna. You’ll also find the State Library of Queensland, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the Queensland Theatre Company in this lively arts hub.

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Anzac Square

Anzac Square

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Treasury Casino

Treasury Casino

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Customs House

Customs House

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With its striking green dome and colonnaded façade looming over the riverside, Brisbane’s grand Customs House stands out as one of the city’s most iconic heritage buildings. Dating back to 1889, the Customs House originally served to collect the custom duties on imports brought in Brisbane port, but today, the historic building is run by The University of Queensland and best known for its glamorous ballroom and function rooms.

The architectural gem is also open to the public, with visitors able to stroll around the building, view the Stuartholme-Behan exhibition of Australian Art and admire the collection of artifacts and memorabilia on display. There’s also an on-site restaurant, with terrace seating overlooking the Brisbane River and the Story Bridge.

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Brisbane City Hall

Brisbane City Hall

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Admire historical glamor and civic pride at Brisbane City Hall, which was built between 1920 and 1930 and reopened in 2013 after an extensive $215 million heritage restoration.

Located in the heart of the city, next to King George Square and close to Queen Street Mall, the heritage-listed Brisbane City Hall is Australia’s only city hall and is the home of Brisbane society, culture and governance. As well as hosting community events and civic ceremonies, Brisbane City Hall accommodates the Brisbane Lord Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Brisbane Council chambers and the world-class Museum of Brisbane. The gem of City Hall is the stunning circular auditorium, with an impressive fluted Corinthian pilasters, overhead dome, an organ built in 1892, restored gallery seating and gilded elegance.

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Queensland Art Gallery

Queensland Art Gallery

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With more than 16,000 works dating from the 19th-century to modern-day, the Queensland Art Gallery is one of Australia’s leading art institutions and it’s the top ticket for art lovers visiting Brisbane. The gallery is split over two sites, the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG), which opened its doors in 1982, and the glass-fronted Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), inaugurated in 2006, and the neighboring museums form the focal point of Brisbane’s South Bank Cultural Precinct.

The gallery’s vast permanent collection features works from all over the globe, with a particular focus on contemporary Asia-Pacific art. Highlights include works by Australian artists like Arthur Boyd, William Dobell and George Lambert; a varied collection of Indigenous Australia art; and a dedicated Children’s Art Centre. There’s also a cinema, several temporary exhibition spaces, gift shops and a café-restaurant.

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Museum of Brisbane

Museum of Brisbane

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Located on the third level of Brisbane City Hall, the Museum of Brisbane offers visitors a look at the city’s pioneering past. Before this city was the capital of Queensland and one Australia’s largest metros, it was a dusty hinterland town by the river with intrepid pioneers trying to make it in a land where very few westerners had ventured. While many of the museum’s exhibits rotate, favorites include those that discuss the inhabitants close relationship with the river, and the stories of soldiers and those they left behind while fighting in World War I. See exhibits of how Brisbane has grown to a modern, fast-paced city, while also staying true to its roots with a bit of Queensland quirk. You’ll also find exhibits that highlight the work of local Brisbane artists, and the Museum of Brisbane, with its free admission, is definitely one of the city’s best stops for inquisitive travelers on a budget.

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Queensland Museum

Queensland Museum

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In the heart of Brisbane’s Cultural Centre precinct, the Queensland Museum is a rich and ever-evolving exhibition space for art and culture, which celebrates more than 150 years of recording and exhibiting Queensland and global culture through world-class collections.

As well as hosting traveling exhibitions and the permanent museum collections, the Queensland Museum is home to the Sciencentre, a favorite attraction for families and school groups.

Take time to wander outside the museum, along the river front, past the fountains and sculptures and enjoy a break in the two museum cafes.

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Queensland Maritime Museum

Queensland Maritime Museum

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Even though Australia is considered a continent it’s still an enormous island, so it only makes sense there’s a maritime history as storied as Australia itself. Here at the Queensland Maritime Museum on the banks of the Brisbane River, learn about the thousands of different ships that have wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef, and tour inside the Diamantina—a river frigate from World War II that’s the last remaining boat of its kind found anywhere in the world. Hear the tales of its service in the Pacific and experience the exceptionally cramped living quarters, and sit in the place where Japanese sailors signed surrender documents on board. Back on shore inside the museum, tour the exhibits on marine engines, lighthouses, and nautical equipment, or marvel at the exhibit of Happy II, one of the smallest vessels to every successfully sail across the Pacific.

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Story Bridge Adventure Climb

Story Bridge Adventure Climb

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Brisbane's Story Bridge Adventure Climb is an exhilarating two and a half hour scaling of the beautiful Story Bridge, offering the viewer an exclusive panoramic view of Brisbane's glorious city landscape, Glasshouse Mountains to the north, the world acclaimed Lamington National Park and of course, the phenomenal view of the eastward Moreton Bay.

On the way up, guests may listen to the audio guide tour, which walks you through a detailed history of the bridge. If are able to take the early morning ride, you will notice how the bay gleams in the sunrise, while in the evening the sun radiates off the city the its high-rises. Either way, you may choose to book the time of ascension to fit your preferences. Leaving every 20 minutes, finding a seat on the Story Bridge Adventure Climb is no difficult task. As the specific times of take-off do change somewhat often, you may choose to book your trip ahead of time while making sure to arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

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Old Windmill

Old Windmill

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The oldest surviving building in Queensland, and the oldest existing windmill in Australia, Old Windmill is a heritage-listed building based in Brisbane’s Wickham Park. Built in 1828, the windmill was originally used to grind wheat and maize for the nearby penal colony, but the tower saw many terrible moments in its early life, from the crushing daily life for the convicts who built it, to the hangings of two aboriginal men, convicted for the murders of members of a surveying party near Mount Lindesay in 1840, from a beam in its upper section.

Since then, the Old Windmill has had many lives, being used as both a signal tower and fire lookout. From the 1860s to 1920s, its 1pm gun was even used by locals as a way of making sure they had the right time. The Old Windmill’s wind-powered sails may be long gone, but the tower is still impressive to look at. Used as a weather observatory today, the interior of the Old Windmill is closed to the public.

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Eagle Street Pier

Eagle Street Pier

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Shiny and modern, Eagle Street Pier is the riverside corporate entertainment precinct of Brisbane City. Beneath the glass facades of the city’s law firms and commercial offices, overlooking the Brisbane River, are many of the city’s most loved bars and restaurants.

Local favorites at Eagle Street Pier include Jade Budda for cocktails, the Bavarian Bier Café for a hearty feed and Matt Moran's ARIA for fine dining. The precinct is popular on Friday nights in particular, when end of week celebrations transform the calm riverside into a cosmopolitan hotspot.

Every Sunday between 8am and 3pm, Eagle Street Pier hosts a waterfront market for the weekend wanderer to browse stalls selling clothing, arts and crafts, jewellery and gifts.

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Queen Street Mall

Queen Street Mall

Queen Street Mall is the bustling retail vein of Brisbane City, connecting the business district to the Queen Plaza, Wintergarden and The Myer Centre, as well as heritage retail arcades, food outlets and live entertainment. Big brand international retailers and boutique local businesses create a balance of style and charm in the Queen Street Mall.

Known as the cleanest city mall in Australia, Queen Street Mall is a community hub that offers performance space for buskers, community acts and local and international artists, as well as public art highlights. A tourist information centre, located towards the Edward Street end of the Queen Street Mall, offers mapping, ticketing, tourism and retail information to visitors.

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CityCat Ferry

CityCat Ferry

Explore the sights of the iconic Brisbane River by taking a relaxing ride on the city catamaran service, the CityCat.

Travelling on water is undoubtedly the best way to soak in sunny Brisbane’s skyline and admire the vivid suite of colourfully-lit city landmarks by night. As you cruise along the inner city stretch of the river, look for the ultra-modern Kurilpa Bridge, the glowing Brisbane Wheel, the historic Treasury Casino, the famous Story Bridge, the impressive Kangaroo Point cliffs.

Popular CityCat sightseeing itineraries include embarking from the cultural, entertainment and parkland precinct at South Bank, winding along the river past the City Botanical Gardens and stopping at the Brisbane Powerhouse in New Farm for a glass of wine and an exhibition, or a picnic in the sprawling parkland by the CityCat terminal.

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