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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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The Brisbane River winds its way through the heart of the city, from the neighborhoods of South Brisbane all the way to Moreton Bay. The river is also a center of local life, and residents and visitors alike enjoy the many waterfront parks and landmarks, riverside walks, and sightseeing cruises.

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Moreton Island
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With its miles of sun-bleached sandy beaches, towering sand dunes, shimmering lagoons, and pockets of wild bushland, Moreton Island feels a world away from nearby Brisbane. As the third largest sand island in the world and a national park, Moreton Island makes for a perfect day trip when you want to get in touch with nature.

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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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Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park
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Just across the river from Brisbane’s central business district, Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park offers sweeping views of Brisbane’s skyline, as well as excellent rock climbing and rappelling—suitable for all skill levels—on its cliffs. The cliffs were formed by convicts mining the volcanic rock in the middle of the 19th century.

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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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Australia Zoo
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Formerly home to Steve Irwin, also known as “the Crocodile Hunter,” the Australia Zoo is one of Australia’s largest and most popular wildlife conservation facilities. Managed by the Irwin family, whose personalities are a major part of its continued success, the zoo has a huge collection of native Aussie animals as well as creatures from around the world.

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Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
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One of the best places to spot native Australian animals is the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which has been devoted to wildlife conservation since 1927. As well as being the oldest and largest koala sanctuary in the country with more than 130 resident koalas, the sanctuary is home to kangaroos, wombats, emus, dingoes, Tasmanian devils, and platypus.

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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. There are often boxing and pilates fitness class going on in the park, and in the historic curator’s house, The Gardens Club cafe is a popular spot for a bite to eat. Free guided walks of the gardens are also available.

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Lamington National Park
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Part of Australia’s Gondwana Rainforests, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lamington National Park is a paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers. Covering 77 square miles (200 square kilometers), it’s known for its rich biodiversity, ancient trees, over 500 waterfalls, and more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) of hiking trails.

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Tamborine Mountain Distillery
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While it may be located back in the hills of the rugged Gold Coast hinterland, Tamborine Mountain Distillery is a place that despite its size and location competes with some of the world’s largest and most well known distilleries. In 2014 alone, this small pot distillery garnered 300 awards for their brand of spirits and liqueurs, from vodka and schnapps to brandy, gin, and fruity eaux de vie. Proud of their small batch, small scale vibe, the distillery has purposely kept their driveway too narrow for large-scale buses, choosing instead to focus on small, person-to-person visits. While visiting the distillery to sample the products, hear how this family moved from Tasmania and began to run their own fruit farm, eventually fermenting and distilling the fruit their family of four couldn’t eat. Now, after 20 plus years of taking fruit and turning it into spirits, the distillery produces nearly every flavor of liquor imaginable. Try a refreshing limoncello or one of the flavored vodkas, or go all in with a shot of absinthe before sampling the toffee liqueur. If you find a particular style you like, the gift shop sells everything from bottles to shot glasses and visitor souvenirs, and cocktail enthusiasts will be blown away by this small pot still in the hills.

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More Things to Do in Brisbane

Mooloolaba

Mooloolaba

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Surrounded by golden beaches, scenic waterways, and mountainous hinterlands, Mooloolaba enjoys a stunning setting along Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Perched at the mouth of Mooloolaba River, the town has a reputation as one of the coolest on the Sunny Coast, known for its great surf, lively markets, and buzzing nightlife.

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Mt. Coot-tha

Mt. Coot-tha

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Hovering above Brisbane to its west, Mt Coot-tha offers a natural lookout point with views across the city and the winding 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 leafy escape.

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Wheel of Brisbane

Wheel of Brisbane

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Located at the entrance to the South Bank Parklands and towering 197 feet (60 meters) over the river, the Wheel of Brisbane has been part of the skyline since 2008. The giant Ferris wheel is one of Brisbane’s most memorable landmarks as well as a popular attraction and boasts unbeatable views of the city.

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Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve

Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve

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There’s more to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast than suntans, surfboards, and shoreline, although given the wealth of white sand beaches and places to bake in the sun, it’s easy to see why the forested interior can sometimes be overlooked. At the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, travelers are reminded how Queensland’s interior has an endemic beauty of its own. These hills that rise behind the Glass House Mountains were once covered in rainforest—parts of which are still visible on the reserve’s 135 acres. Stroll along miles of wooden boardwalk past red cedar and ginger, and listen for the mating call of green catbirds and they flit high in the treetops. While silently strolling the shaded trails, keep an eye out for red-legged padmelon as they scurry and forage through the underbrush. These small wallabies have lost much of their habitat due to surrounding deforestation, although still survive on this small refuge that’s been called an “ecological island.” There are playgrounds and barbecues for family outings as well as an education center, or simply sit at the small café to enjoy a tea in the forest.

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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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Roma Street Parkland

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’sGardening 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.

Free guided tours are offered to show visitors around the Australian subtropical gardens and distinct globe-inspired horticultural displays. Between Friday and Sunday, a mini train, known as the Parkland Explorer, runs from 10am to 3pm for a gold coin contribution.

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North Stradbroke Island (Straddie)

North Stradbroke Island (Straddie)

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North Stradbroke Island, the second-largest sand island in the world, is a beach and nature lover’s paradise. Known as “Straddie” to the locals and traditionally known as “Minjerribah,” this picturesque island is famous for its white sandy beaches, freshwater lakes and wetlands, and scenic headlands, and is a popular day trip from Brisbane.

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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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North Gorge Walk

North Gorge Walk

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If you’re looking to discover the rugged coastal cliffs and serene beaches of Stradbroke Island, the North Gorge Walk makes a good place to start. The 1.5km marked trail curls its way around Point Lookout on the island’s northwestern coast and is renowned for its dramatic ocean views and landmark ‘Blow Hole’ rock formation. Hugging the coast and hemmed in by dense bushland, the popular walk takes around 45 minutes and is suitable for all fitness levels.

The North Gorge Walk is also the top spot for whale watching on Stradbroke Island and humpback whales are a frequent sight during the June-November migration period. Dolphins, sea turtles and manta rays are also abundant along the coast, while kangaroos and myriad birdlife can be seen inland.

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Suncorp Stadium (Lang Park)

Suncorp Stadium (Lang Park)

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Home of the Brisbane Broncos Rugby League, the Queensland Reds Rugby Union, the Brisbane Roar Soccer, and host to national and international sporting events and concerts, Brisbane’s famous Suncorp Stadium is a state-of-the-art arena located in the inner-city suburb of Milton. Formerly Lang Park, the site of Suncorp Stadium has a long and rich event history.

With a capacity of over 52,500 people and a site area of over seven hectares, Suncorp Stadium transforms from an echoing shell to a pulsing entertainment hub on event days.

Keep an eye out for the famous bronze statue of Queensland sportsman, Wally Lewis, outside Brisbane stadium.

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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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The Gabba (Brisbane Cricket Ground)

The Gabba (Brisbane Cricket Ground)

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For an authentic Australian sporting experience, take yourself along to The Gabba (Brisbane Cricket Ground).

Known as The Gabba because it's in the suburb of Woolloongabba, the 42,000-seat sports ground hosts Australian Football League (AFL) games and international cricket matches.

Summer is the time for cricket, with matches held between January and March. In winter, March to October, AFL games hit the turf, often under the lights at night. Tours run daily, but not on match eve and match days. You get to view the stadium from the upper levels, then take a walk on the hallowed ground, see the memorabilia in the members’ dining room, see the corporate and media facilities, view the practice wickets and take a stroll through the players’ locker room.

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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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Dreamworld

Dreamworld

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Offering more than 50 rides and attractions, Dreamworld is Australia’s largest theme park and one of the most popular Gold Coast family attractions. With big-thrill rides, live shows, the adjoining WhiteWater World water park, and animal residents—including tigers, koalas, and crocodiles—there’s something to entertain all ages.

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