As the premier tourism state in Australia with destinations like Cairns and the Gold Coast, it should be no surprise that the Queensland capital city, Brisbane, also offers an abundance of its own attractions to draw tourists in.
But where those other destinations draw people in with their beaches, in Brisbane it’s the history, the culture and the food that are the big drawcards.
That’s not to say Brisbane doesn’t have its own unique beach, but we’ll get to that shortly.
Let’s take a look at everything you must see and do on your next trip to Brisbane.
South Bank Parklands
South Bank Parklands sit on the southern bank of the Brisbane River, which is actually, technically, west of Brisbane’s CBD. But we won’t get caught up on that.
Initially built for the World Expo in 1988, this reclaimed section of the Brisbane River has been continually redeveloped ever since into a public park and event space that both visitors and locals flock to year-round.
The star attraction of the 17 hectares of riverfront parkland is the artificial Streets Beach. This self-contained beach, the size of five Olympic-sized pools, caters to both tourists and families alike.
Tanning seems to be the state sport of Queenslanders, so you’ll often find locals taking to the artificial beach during the day to enjoy the sun. But on the weekends and school holidays, you will find that the place is chock full of families making the most of a day out.
South Bank Parklands is also home to the Wheel of Brisbane, a much smaller, yet no less impressive, version of the London Eye. Built back in August 2008 to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the World Expo the wheel is another popular attraction offering great views of the city skyline and over the greater Brisbane area.
Depending on when you are in Brisbane, you might stumble upon any number of events that are taking place in South Bank as well. The most popular (and busy) being the Brisbane Festival in September, which culminates in the famous Riverfire celebration.
In addition, South Bank Parklands also offers a wide array of other facilities from an amphitheatre, to picnic areas and even a Nepal Peace Pagoda (from the 1988 World Expo) all interlinked with walkways and bike paths.
On the weekends you might also find markets, but it’s the restaurants and bars in and around the precinct that always seem to draw a crowd.
Alongside South Bank Parklands is the Queensland Cultural Centre which is home to a number of Brisbane’s other key attractions, including the Queensland Museum.
The state museum of Queensland has a long history, having operated since 1862, although in that time it has moved around the city until it found its current home in South Brisbane back in 1986.
Over that time, the Queensland Museum has built up an extensive collection dedicated to natural history, cultural heritage, science and human achievement.
Many of these artifacts are on display in the large themed galleries of the museum, most of which are free to access!. The most impressive of which, at least in my opinion is its Lost Creatures collection, because, well… Dinosaurs (Obviously!). Especially its Muttaburrasaurus.
The Anzac Legacy Gallery and Wild State galleries are also worth exploring, while the SparkLab is great if you have kids, but it does have an entrance fee attached to it.
A number of large temporary exhibits also regularly frequent the Queensland Museum, so keep an eye on their website to find out what is in town while you are.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Originally opened in 1927, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the oldest and largest koala sanctuary in the world as recognised by the Guinness World Records.
What started out as a simple sanctuary with only two koalas has grown into a stunning showcase of Australian wildlife including kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, wombats and echidnas.
Beyond the animal exhibits, the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is also home to a large eucalyptus plantation, the main food source for koalas. While the Brisbane Koala Science Institute was also recently (2018) opened at the sanctuary and is open to visitors during the day.
If you have any interest in knowing more about this unique Australian marsupial, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the place to visit.
Mount Coot-tha Lookout
Want to see all of Brisbane at the same time? Mount Coot-tha offers one of the best vantage points to get those stunning views out over the city.
Southwest of the city, not only is the lookout at the top of Mount Coot-tha worth a visit, but the precinct is also home to a number of Brisbane’s other key attractions, but we’ll get to all of those shortly.
The highest point within the Greater Brisbane area, the lookout provides uninterrupted views out over the city skyline, as well as Moreton Bay (to the east), from a couple of key vantage points including a cafe/restaurant.
Equally spectacular during the day and at night, Mount Coot-tha is actually well worth two visits if you have the time. The lookout offers a fantastic perspective on the state capital that not many other cities around Australia can boast.
For a different perspective of the city, Mount Gravatt offers an alternative viewpoint south of the city.
Roma Street Parkland
A popular attraction for locals and tourists alike, Roma Street Parkland is a public park created by the Queensland Government to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s 2002 visit to Brisbane.
The parkland is located in the heart of Brisbane city, right near the transport hub of Roma Street Station and covers an area of approximately six hectares.
Roma Street Parkland is home to an artificial pond with a fountain, a range of mature trees and landscaping, sculptures, playgrounds, barbecues and picnic areas.
It’s also a convenient access point while walking around the city with two major pedestrian walkways that run through the parkland. One from Roma Street to Edward Street (via Wickham Terrace) and one from Edward Street to Adelaide Street (via Creek Street).
Would it be an Australian city, without recommending a casino?
Located in the heart of Brisbane CBD right alongside the river, Treasury Casino is more than just a gambling venue.
Brisbane’s Treasury Casino is an entire entertainment complex located within two heritage-listed buildings featuring a five-star heritage hotel as well as ten restaurants and bars. Making it the go-to destination for an upscale night out in the city.
However, if none of that interests you, it’s still well worth walking by the casino to check out the historic Treasury Building (from which the casino draws its name) and Land Administration Building that have been repurposed to house it.
It’s also worth noting that the Treasury Casino will close in the not too distant future with a newer larger casino and entertainment precinct to be known as Queens Wharf currently under construction alongside it on the Brisbane River.
Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art
Another major attraction of the Queensland Cultural Centre as part of the Southbank area of Brisbane is the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. Also known as QAGOMA.
The QAGOMA is one of the most significant art galleries in Australia having been formed out of two significant art Brisbane collections. The Queensland Art Gallery was originally established in 1895 and moved to its current Southbank location in 1982. It was then joined by the Gallery of Modern Art in 2006 to become what it is today.
QAGOMA is now home to a large collection of both historic and contemporary Australian art with its collection including works by some of the most famous Australian artists, like Sidney Nolan, Brett Whiteley, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker and a must-do for any art aficionado.
Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium is another fascinating feature located in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha.
The star attraction (pun intended) is the Cosmic Skydome which hosts a number of different shows (some specific for kids and others more catered to adults) on a rotating roster that provides a truly insightful and interactive way to learn about the night skies.
Beyond the Cosmic Skydome, the Planetarium is also home to a number of other space exploration and astronomy exhibitions. A collection from the Apollo 11 landings is particularly noteworthy, as is the Skylore exhibit which showcases Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Astronomy.
In addition, there is the observatory if you’d like to get a much better look at the Moon, planets and star clusters for yourself, but I believe you need to book sessions at the observatory.
Eat Street Northshore
What do you get when you combine a disused historic wharf and hundreds of repurposed shipping containers? Brisbane’s must do international food destination, that’s what.
Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, Eat Street Northshore is a popular destination for a fun night out in Brisbane with numerous food vendors, musical acts, themed bars and market-style stalls.
If you want to travel the world with your tastebuds while enjoying views out over the Brisbane River, then Eat Street is the place to go if your travels to Brisbane have you there on the weekend.
Kangaroo Point Lookout/Cliffs
Kangaroo Point is a great place to go if you are looking for a different scenic view of Brisbane.
The lookout offers breathtaking views of the city and is one of the best places to view the Brisbane skyline during sunset.
While the views are stunning the site also has some unique history. The cliffs were actually formed after the stone was quarried from the site by convicts and used in the construction of a number of local structures including some of the historic buildings in the Moreton Bay penal settlement.
The quarry was closed in the 1970s and turned into a public park that offers equally impressive views from the lookouts at the top cliffs as it does from the river level.
Did you know that Kangaroo Point Cliffs are also a popular rock climbing destination? If you are feeling properly adventurous, there are a number of operators who run organised rock climbing sessions.
Museum of Brisbane
Located within Brisbane City Hall, the Museum of Brisbane is distinctly different from the larger Queensland Museum over at Southbank.
With a more specific focus on the history and growth of the city, the Museum of Brisbane is a great place to get a better understanding of the Queensland capital.
Take the opportunity to browse through the free exhibits and enjoy both the historic artifacts and photos as well as the more contemporary art pieces, to get better insight into the growth of Brisbane.
Brisbane Riverwalk is another unique way to take in the sights of the city and along the river. This dedicated walkway and cycle path along the river stretches for the Brisbane CBD to New Farm in the city’s east.
Offering views of the iconic Story Bridge, city skyline and the Kangaroo Point Cliffs, the walk is a nice and relaxing way to take in some of the city’s key attractions.
If you are just after a gentle stroll to take in the sights as well as enjoy Brisbane’s typically fantastic weather then start the walk from either Riverview Ct in New Farm or the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. Once you’ve completed the walk one way, you can catch the free CityHopper ferry service back to where you started.
For those a little more active, the Riverwalk cycleway links up with Bicentennial Bikeway for a scenic way to get the heart pumping along the river.
Queen Street Mall
Queen Street Mall is a popular shopping destination in Brisbane. Located in the heart of the city, it’s the key place to go for shops and restaurants within the CBD.
Brisbane doesn’t have the same shopping prestige as cities like Melbourne or Sydney, but the open-air pedestrian mall that occupies Queen Street and the surrounding precinct is loaded up with hundreds of shops from leading brand name stores to much smaller local boutiques and touristy trinket stores.
If shopping isn’t your thing, don’t worry it’s not mine either, it’s also the central location if you are looking for a decent feed while in the city with everything from fast food through to bars and fancy restaurants. Just take a stroll through the mall until you find something to suit your tastes.
Story Bridge Adventure Climb
The Story Bridge Adventure Climb is a must-do activity for anyone visiting Brisbane. It is a slightly challenging climb up the iconic bridge, but it is worth it for the views and the sense of accomplishment.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there are only six (maybe seven) major bridges around the world that you can actually climb? Three of them are in Australia!
The Story Bridge is one of those and a different way to take in the sights of the city and a much easier (and cheaper) experience than doing the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb in the southern state.
Save Money On Queensland Attractions
With so much to see and do, not only in Brisbane but in Queensland as a whole, the admission to all these attractions can really add up. A great way to save money is to make sure you take advantage of the bundle ticket offers.
Personally, I use the Queensland Klook Pass if I’m planning on visiting a few things while I’m in the state, but you can also find good deals on individual attractions as well.
Make sure you also read my ultimate guide to Brisbane, covering everything else you need to know for your trip.
If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.
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