There’s something about the fabulous River City. Brisbane has changed beyond all recognition over the past three decades, and today it beguiles travellers with a mix of cutting edge culture, diverse dining, and big city experiences. Much of your time will be spent on or around the city’s namesake waterway. While it’s long defined the shape of the Queensland capital, in recent decades the Brisbane River has become its greatest asset. You can relax by it, cycle along it, cruise it, kayak it, walk on it, or be rowed around it in a Venetian gondola. The choices are endless.
Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Brisbane. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.
8am: Do breakfast with Frankie, George, Felix or John
We’ll be spending the morning in the CBD, so get the day started with breakfast at a city café. Our favourite options include Frankie & George (which has a rear courtyard and usually a queue) and quirky Felix for Goodness in Burnett Lane. Those who can make do with a muffin or pastry and an epic coffee should track down John Mills Himself (and trust us, John can be a hard man to find). The street address is Charlotte Street, but the entrance is off Elizabeth. It’s well worth persevering.
10am: Explore City Hall and the Museum of Brisbane
All these options are an easy walk from King George Square, home to the imposing Brisbane City Hall – a natural starting point for exploring the city. Constructed between 1920 and 1930 in Italian Renaissance style, the building is packed with exquisite period features (including the epic auditorium with its rare pipe organ), and free guided tours are offered from Tuesday to Sunday. City Hall is also home to the excellent Museum of Brisbane which is located on the roof of City Hall and offers views of the central copper dome roof and clocktower. The museum stages rotating exhibitions on various aspects of Brisbane’s history, but with a contemporary take.
12noon: Lose yourself in the City Botanic Gardens
From King George Square, walk down Albert Street to the gorgeous heritage-listed Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. This 17 hectare green space is a living history lesson, with its roots (if you’ll excuse the pun) stretching all the way back to European settlement of the region. Originally set aside for the growing of crops to feed the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement, the area was partially designated a public garden in the 1850s and certain trees date back to that era. The Brisbane City Council‘s self-guided walking tour is well worth doing. If you’ve worked up an appetite, Olive and Angelo serves up sensational wood-fired pizzas and antipasto in a gorgeous garden setting of their own on Edward Street.
2pm: Power downriver to the Powerhouse
Time to get to know the sweeping Brisbane River a little better and check out one of the city’s most progressive cultural hubs. Make your way to either the QUT Ferry Terminal or Riverside Ferry Terminal (depending on where your garden foray has left you) and board a super-fast City Cat to New Farm Park (in the direction of Northshore Hamilton). You’ll pass under the Story Bridge and by the fabulous Brisbane Riverwalk – a pedestrian walkway that skims along the surface of the river from New Farm to the city.
Once you reach the park, head over to the Powerhouse Museum. This hulking structure once powered the city’s tram network, but was decommissioned in 1971. Derelict for three decades (and still sporting the graffiti to prove it), the building finally reopened as an arts facility in 2000. Check the website for what’s on during your stay and consider doing the backstage tour, which offers a fascinating insight into the workings of the centre and its industrial backstory. Mary Mae’s terrace bar at the museum is a top spot for drinks overlooking the river, as is the nearby Merthyr Bowls Club.
6pm: Hit the Howard Smith Wharves for dinner
Head back upriver to the bustling Howard Smith Wharves precinct beneath the Story Bridge. Built in the 1930s and largely abandoned by the 1960s, the heritage-listed wharves are another urban renewal success story. They now house several eateries and bars, and a craft brewery that’s popular with the hipster crew. Wine and dine at your choice of venue as the city lights shimmy and shake in the periphery.
8am: Pay it forward for breakfast
Walk over the Victoria Bridge to South Bank as the city gets into work mode around you. You’ll feel good about yourself and that cooked breakfast by seeking out the Hope Street Café. Tucked away behind the Cultural Centre, this café/social enterprise supports those with barriers to significant employment, while at the same time very effectively caffeinating the local community.
10am: Get cultured or meet koalas
This morning you have a choice of two activities. The first is to stay put and get arty or enlightened. Surrounded by fragrant frangipanis, the Cultural Centre is home to the Queensland Museum, the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), and the State Library of Queensland. They all hold staggering collections and they’re all free to enter (entry fees may apply for specialist exhibitions). Engage with the culture of the First People at the Library’s Kuril dhagun space, admire both contemporary works and those by the who’s who of Australian art from the past two centuries at QAGOMA, and walk with dinosaurs at the Museum.
The second option is to catch a ride upriver with Mirimar Cruises to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary at Fig Tree Pocket. Departing from the Cultural Centre Pontoon, this cruise has long been a favourite with locals and visitors alike. You’ll hear commentary about key landmarks along the way (including how Merle Thornton, mother of Sigrid, famously chained herself to the bar of the Regatta Hotel in 1965 to protest for women’s rights) and spend three hours at the Sanctuary itself. It’s home to more than 130 koalas, along with a menagerie of other native critters. The cruise will have you back in Brisbane by mid-afternoon.
4pm: Stroll around South Bank
It seems like only yesterday that Brisbane stepped onto the world stage with Expo 88 – the event that marked a cultural shift for the River City. Today as you meander through the leafy South Bank precinct, a direct legacy of Expo, you can’t help but be impressed by this urban green space and the vibrant metropolis that frames it. South Bank is incredibly popular with Brisbanites and packed with things to do. Families in particular will love the recreational amenities (including Streets Beach and the Wheel of Brisbane), but the impressive café and dining scene and Collective Markets (held on Friday evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday) will interest everyone.
6pm: Dine at Gauge
Wander back to the western end of South Bank (behind the Cultural Centre) and check out the Fish Lane arts and dining precinct. It’s home to Gauge, one of Brisbane’s most celebrated Modern Aussie eateries. Feast on a set menu of edible works of art for a very reasonable $88 per person at the time of writing.
Need a place to stay? Choice Hotels has you well and truly covered in Brisbane with a range of accommodation options to suit every budget. Search online and book direct for a Lowest Price Guarantee.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.