Brisbane, Queensland – The Ultimate Guide

Don’t tell the other cities, but Brisbane is the young and fun capital of Australia… Really setting the tone for the rest of Queensland.

Paired with its year-round good weather and a bustling outdoor dining and rooftop bar scene, the river city of Brisvegas, as it’s known colloquially, is a lot more relaxed and casual compared to bigger Australian cities to the south, Sydney and Melbourne.

That might be something to do with the fact is has half the population of those two cities, but it is still the third-largest in the country.

As a tourist destination, Brisbane might not have the raw appeal of the action-packed tourist hubs of the neighbouring Gold Coast (about an hour’s drive south) and Sunshine Coast (about an hour’s drive to the north). But it does offer its own unique mix of unique attractions with the mix of convenience and nightlife that you would expect from any big city.

Where Is Brisbane?

As I just touched on, Brisbane is located in the southeastern part of the state of Queensland on the eastern coast of Australia.

From Sydney, it’s about a 1.5-hour flight to get to Brisbane or a roughly 9-hour drive. While from Melbourne, the flight times are around 3 hours.

A Brief History Of Brisbane

Brisbane, Queensland

As with almost all of Australia’s big cities, the origins of what we now know as Brisbane started out as a British penal colony when it was settled back in 1825.

However, European exploration of the area began in the late 18th century when British explorer Matthew Flinders sailed into Moreton Bay in 1799.

The settlement’s location on the Brisbane River saw it thrive, and it was only a few years before Brisbane would become the major port and commercial centre of the region, growing into the city that we know today.

In 1859, when Queensland officially separated from New South Wales, Brisbane became the capital of the new colony.

Brisbane continued to grow into the 20th century, with the city reaching global recognition when it hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1982 and followed it up with the World Expo in 1988.

Today, Brisbane is a dynamic and multicultural city mixing both modern and historic to become a popular tourist destination in its own right. Something that will only continue to grow as the city continues to develop towards hosting the Olympic Games in 2032.

What’s The Best Time Of Year To Visit Brisbane

Brisbane is a year-round destination. Enjoying a subtropical climate, temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year.

It does get a little hotter and much more humid in the summer (December to February), but also tends to be relieved when the late afternoon/evening short-lived storms roll in.

In the winter, particularly June and July, it is a little cooler. Which are also the driest months of the year.

That all said, the weather isn’t going to be a major factor when planning your trip.

How To Get To And From Brisbane

Story Bridge - Brisbane

By Air – Brisbane International Airport

Brisbane International Airport is one of the most well connected in Australia. Not only do Australia’s major airlines connect Brisbane to the rest of the state capitals, but they also use it as a hub to connect regional Queensland, meaning that it is one of the busiest domestic airports in the country.

Internationally, Brisbane International Airport is serviced by a number of airlines directly connecting the city to North America, the Middle East, much of Asia and New Zealand.

Getting between the airport and the city is relatively easy, as Brisbane enjoys the privilege of having its airport closest to the city out of all the other major state capitals.

As such, transport between Brisbane Airport and the city is the easiest and cheapest of any major city in Australia.

Located at the northern end of the Brisbane suburb of Eagle Farm. The airport is only 15 kilometres from the city centre and an easy 15-20 minute drive. That said, there are a number of easy and convenient ways to get to and from Brisbane Airport.

The Airtrain is the fastest way to get in and out of Brisbane Airport, with the train service interlinking the Domestic and International Terminals as well as both Brisbane City and the Gold Coast.

If you are staying within the CBD and plan to utilise the rest of cities public transport while you are in the city, then the Airtrain easily makes the most sense.

Brisbane Airport is also well-serviced by all of the usual rental car companies. While Taxis and Uber also operate out of both of the airport terminals.

By Train – Roma Street Station

Roma Street Station is Brisbane CBD’s major transport hub for both trains and busses and as such, it has been undergoing a major redevelopment recently as the city builds towards the Olympics in 2032.

The entirety of Brisbane’s local train network passes through Roma Street Station, connecting to most of the surrounding suburbs as well as the Gold Coast. It’s also where you will find the intercity rail services with two times daily XPT service from Sydney. While regional long-haul train services interlink Brisbane (Roma Street Station) to Cairns, Longreach, Townsville, Bundaberg, Rockhampton and Mackay.

By Bus/Coach

Bus/coach services also operate out of Roma Street Station, with Greyhound operating a two-time daily service that links Brisbane and Sydney.

By Driving

The Pacific Highway and New England Highway are the major road connections to the south of Brisbane, interlinking the city with Sydney and further destinations. To the north, the Bruce Highway connects Brisbane to the regional Queensland cities and popular tourist destinations like Townsville and Cairns.

How To Get Around Brisbane

Getting Around Brisbane

Brisbane is a great place to explore, and in my opinion, the best way to get around the city is by foot or by using its public transport options. Especially when you are staying within the CBD and Southbank area.

Walking

Brisbane is a very walkable city with plenty of footpaths and pedestrian-friendly streets especially within the CBD and along the river. In fact, there is an extensive boardwalk known as the Riverwalk (as mentioned above) along much of the northern bank of the Brisbane River that makes for an extremely convenient way to explore sections of the city.

While almost all the bridges have footpath sections allowing you to get across the river reasonably easy.

Public Transport

The public transport system in Brisbane makes getting around within the city and out to the suburbs extremely easy.

All of the transport options, Bus, Train and Ferry services, are all interlinked and can be accessed with Translink’s electronic ticket system known as “Go Card”. Making it a seamless experience jumping from one service to the next while you explore the city.

In fact, Translink runs much of Queensland’s public transport system, meaning you can use the same Go Card system while down on the Gold Coast, or in some of the more regional cities like Cairns and Townsville.

Translink does offer special tourist-focused Go Cards, however, I’ve found that unless you are doing a lot of across the city routes every day, it works out a lot more cost-effective just to get a regular one from a local service station etc.

For more information about the transport routes across Brisbane (and the rest of Queensland) and timetables for the services that Translink offers, check out their website.

Driving

Driving around Brisbane is another good option if you have your own car, or need to rent one as part of the rest of your travels.

It is important to keep in mind that parking can be expensive within the city, so it might be best to find parking just outside of Brisbane and take one go the public transport options into town. There are also restrictions on where you can park your car during certain times of day and days of the week, so be aware of these restrictions before you head out!

When I do drive into the city I tend to park at Southbank. I find it a little easier than trying to navigate through a city that I don’t drive through regularly. That said though, it is a very popular option and does fill up very quickly. Particularly on weekends.

That all said, driving around Brisbane is relatively straightforward, with motorways interconnecting much of the city so you can avoid clumsy navigation through much of the suburban area if you don’t feel confident with that.

Just keep in mind that most of these motorways do have tolls electronic toll systems. So while you won’t see any toll booths you will need to pay, being proactive in paying online the day you use them (if you don’t already have an e-tag) will save you money.

Taxi/Uber

Much like most Australian cities, Brisbane is well-serviced by local Taxis as well as several ride-sharing services like Uber. These can be expensive but really handy for shorter trips.

The Best Things To Do In Brisbane

Being such a popular tourist destination, there is plenty to see and do in Brisbane. Check out this blog post where I’ve picked out my suggestions for the must-dos.

Where To Stay In Brisbane

Where To Stay In Brisbane

Brisbane is one of the fastest-growing cities in Australia and it has been ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world.

That said, it’s not short of shorter stay options as well. There are many hotels to choose from when you are visiting Brisbane; it’s just a matter of finding something to suit your needs and budget.

Brisbane CBD

Staying within the CBD is probably the most convenient way to make the most of your time in Brisbane.

Obviously, there are a tonne of accommodation options, but I wanted to try and narrow it down for you based on my own experience.

If you are planning a lengthy stay, more than just a couple of nights, then one of the serviced apartment options will probably suit you best. I would recommend the Oaks Brisbane Aurora Suites for the most full-featured option with a gym, pool and stunning views out over the river and Story Bridge. While the Park Regis North Quay is a slightly cheaper option but still offerings

Should your travels only see you in Brisbane for a couple of nights, but you are looking for the most comfortable and convenient place to stay, then I would suggest either the Four Points by Sheraton Brisbane or the Brisbane Marriott Hotel.

For something on the cheaper side, I would recommend Soho Brisbane. Only a very short walk from Roma Street Station, you won’t get the views but you’ll have easy access to the city.

Fortitude Valley

If your goal while in Brisbane is to enjoy the city’s nightlife, then staying in the heart of all the action, Fortitude Valley, is your best option. It’s also where you’ll find some of the most unique and fascinating places to stay while in Brisbane.

For a truly noteworthy room for a couple of nights, check out these three Fortitude Valley hotels – The Constance Fortitude Valley, The Calile Hotel and Ovolo The Valley Brisbane.

South Bank

South Bank is a great alternative for those people who would like to be close to the city, but don’t need to be in the thick of the action all the time. A little quieter than staying in the city; most of the hotels on the South Bank side of the river offer great views of the Brisbane skyline and are often newer than those on the other side of the river.

My top picks in South Bank are the Emporium Hotel South Bank and Ivy and Eve Apartments. However for something a little more budget-conscious without the fancy views, then try Parkview Apartments.

Near Brisbane Airport

If your trip to Brisbane is a quick one and you need easy access to the airport, then I would recommend staying in the suburb of Hamilton. Equally a short drive from both the city and the airport, this is the ideal spot for a very short stay.

There are a number of restaurants within a very short walk as part of a reasonably recent riverside development in the area. While if you happen to be staying over the weekend, the extremely popular Eat Street Northshore is only a couple of minutes’ walk further along the river.

My top picks for comfortable stays in Hamilton are the Alcyone Hotel Residences and Kingsford Smith Motel.

City Outskirts

While staying within the city is extremely convenient, it’s also the most expensive option. If you’ve already got your own transport and not planning on spending all of your time in the city centre, there you can very easily save by staying in one of the many surrounding suburbs.

Some of my favourites from outside of the city that I’ve stayed at in the past:

  • Brisbane Holiday Village – Ideal for families, this holiday park is just a 15-minute drive outside of the city.
  • Comfort Inn North Brisbane – Perfect for short stays, this motel is very comfortable, although 20 minutes outside of the city.
  • Logan City Motor Inn – A bit further outside of the city, this motel has the convenience of being near the motorway and the Hyperdome shopping centre making it perfect for overnight stays while in transit.

Where To Find Food/What To Do In The Evenings?

Brisbane at Night

Throughout this post, I’ve already included a handful of popular options of exciting places to visit to eat, but as a bustling young city, Brisbane has plenty more to offer.

However, in case you skimmed to this point and missed them, make sure you check out the Eat Street Northshore, Queen Street Mall and Treasury Casino listed above.

I should also mention at this point, the restaurant that offers the best view of the city – Ciao Papi. It’s right on the river looking out towards the Story Bridge with a sensational Italian menu.

Beyond those, there are numerous bars and restaurants scattered around the city. That said if you are looking for a good night out, you have two key places to head – South Bank and Fortitude Valley.

South Bank

South Bank is the place to go if you are looking for a more relaxed night out with great views out over the city.

You’ll find a good number of casual dining options throughout the South Bank Parklands, but for something a little more upscale checkout either OTTO Ristorante right by the river or Embers located within The Charming Squire (also known as the James Squire Brewhouse).

Once you’re done with dinner, the South Bank Parklands and the views across the river are stunning at night.

Fortitude Valley

If you are looking for something a little more up-tempo, Fortitude Valley is the place to go.

From dive bars through to the most deluxe offerings in Brisbane, The Valley as it’s referred to by locals has it all.

Brunswick Street is the heart of the action with several live music venues, notably The Fortitude Music Hall and The Sound Garden. It’s also where you’ll find the biggest and most popular nightclubs, The Met being the biggest and where the masses tend to congregate as the night kicks on.

Commercial Road and James Street also have a host of good options if you are willing to take a short stroll. While Chinatown is also only two blocks away.

With so many options, the best way to find what you are looking for during a night out in the Fortitude Valley is just to walk around. The precinct definitely has something for everyone.

Day Trips Beyond Brisbane

Tangalooma Wrecks - Moreton Island

If you are looking for things to do beyond the heart of the city, the Gold Coast is a bit over an hour (or so depending on traffic) drive south of Brisbane.

A couple of other great day trip options include:

Moreton Island

Moreton Island is a great place to visit for a day trip away from Brisbane.

Most famously known for the Tangalooma Wrecks, Moreton Island is just a 75-minute ferry ride from Brisbane making it an ideal day trip destination while staying in the city.

The sand island is predominantly a National Park so it’s relatively untouched, with stunning beaches, sand dunes, and the famous blue lagoon. While the wrecks, a collection of 15 ships that were deliberately scuttled to make an artificial reef is an extremely popular snorkelling destination.

Tamborine Mountain

A little over an hour’s drive south, towards the Gold Coast, Tamborine Mountain offers a very different experience while still getting in touch with nature.

The rainforest and waterfalls stand out from the typical beaches associated with a trip to the Queensland capital. You can read more about my suggestions of what to do there in my Gold Coast guide.

Stradbroke Island

Stradbroke Island, also known as Straddie, is another iconic island just off the coast of Brisbane. Not far from Moreton Island actually.

As the second-largest sand island in the world, it’s actually two islands, designated North and South, split by a fast-moving tidal channel that carved its way through the island in 1896.

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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About the author

Rhys Vandersyde

Traveller, Photographer, Content Creator - I've spent the last 20 years actively seeking out new destinations and new adventures. Find out more about me here: vandersyde.com.au

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