3 DAYS IN // Brisbane, Australia

Brisbane is a River City.  The Brisbane River dominates this beautiful city.  It is an absolute pleasure to walk, cycle or jog along its banks.  Brisbane is the capital of the self-proclaimed “Sunshine State” of Queensland and is home to the “Gabba”, the cricket ground where England nearly always lose the first cricket match of a test series in Australia. Brisbane is a young person’s city.

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One of the most photographed works of art in Brisbane

We went in February and spent three days and nights in Brisbane.  We could easily have spent more time there.  The temperature was mid to high 20s Celsius and the sun was very strong when it poked its head through the clouds.

Magnificent 7 // Brisbane, Australia

1. Walk with experts

2. Enjoy Brisbane River

3. Stroll around the South Bank

4. Explore Brisbane Museum and clock tower

5. Visit QAGOMA

6. Relax in the gardens

7. Play with the QUT cube

Getting there –

We wanted to fly directly to Brisbane, so, with an hour or so stop in Dubai, we spent around 20 hours in the air with Emirates.

Where we stayed –

We stayed at the Spicers Balfour, a beautiful boutique hotel, a 25-30 minute walk to the Queens Street Mall in the City Centre. The room was stylish. The service we received was exemplary.  Highly recommended.

To Eat and Drink –

Balfour’s Kitchen – Breakfast at Balfour’s kitchen at the hotel we stayed at were simply superb.  We found out at the end of our stay that they had won the Best Breakfast in Brisbane award in 2017.  My favourite was the crab omelette.

The Himalayan Café in Brunswick Street, – this is around the corner from Spicers and serves generous portions. The mixed veggie starter was particularly nice (and filling).

Himalayan Cafe, Brisbane
Himalayan Cafe, Brisbane

To note –

  • Brisbane residents nearly always wait for the lights to turn green before crossing a road, irrespective of whether there is traffic or not.
  • We did not see any litter or graffiti. It is a very clean, green city.
  • It is easy to get vegetarian and vegan meals.
  • In three days we only saw two people without cycle helmets out of literally hundreds of cyclists.
  • We also saw only one person smoking in our time in the city. We saw hordes of joggers. Brisbane is a health-conscious city.
  • Unlike most other cities in the world, Brisbane really embraces the concept of free culture for all. The museums are free to enter, The City Hall clock tower, Streets Beach, the Visitor Centre walking tour, the river CityHopper ferry and the various gardens are all free to use,  and so is Wifi throughout the city. There is a concert every Tuesday at 1200 in a beautiful auditorium in City Hall which is also free.

Magnificent 7

Below are our top seven things that we did.  We could easily have spent more time in Brisbane.

1. Walk with experts

We took the free walking tour from the visitor information in Queens Street Mall.  It is situated in the shell of an old theatre.  You need to book.  We arrived 30 minutes early on our first day and the tour was already booked out.  They only have one tour a day at 1030, eight people per tour. Most free tours ask for a donation afterwards, which we gladly pay, however this was a genuinely free tour operated by the Brisbane City Council’s Visitor Centre.   Our guide, Sue, was informative, proud of her city and knew her stuff. Excellent.

2. Enjoy Brisbane River

Story Bridge

Brisbane’s main artery is a significant waterway 344 kms long.  There are safe, family-friendly walkways and cycle paths along its banks as it flows through the city centre.  These walkways are free to use and are busy most times of the day and evening. Pedestrians and cyclists use the same walkway and everyone seems to get along; we did not see any collisions or even close calls.

On the water, the most common form of transport seemed to be Brisbane City Council’s CityHoppers and CityCats.  The former is basically a taxi from various points on both sides of the river.  We took a CityCat. A complete round trip takes the best part of three hours and stops at 25 terminals.  Both vessels are frequent, the CityCat every 15 minutes, which is pretty good.  It cost us under $10.00 to travel most of the route and back again.  There is no p.a. identifying any of the landmarks, however you get a sense of the city and its riverside neighbourhoods.

There are many other ways to get on the water.  There are a number of river cruises, day and night.  We also saw paddle steamers, yachts, motorboats, jet skis, kayaks, a cruise ship and a small rowing boat bravely navigating close to shore.

An easy way to explore the city

3. Stroll around the South Bank

You can easily spend a day or two here.  There are so many things to do and see.  It is basically a cultural and lifestyle destination for locals and visitors alike.  There is a plethora of restaurants, ice-cream vendors and cafes plus some excellent theatres and museums.  On Sundays there is a market and once a month there are a further 80 stalls adjacent to the weekly market.  There is also a Ferris Wheel that provides fabulous views of the city and Brisbane River. We particularly liked the Rainforest Park and Nepalese Pagoda.

One of the main attractions on South Bank is Streets Beach.  Queensland is known for its Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast.  So the council decided to make a sandy beach on the South Bank of the city on a riverbank.  There are lifeguards on duty. The beach is very popular, as is the mini water park for younger children next to it.  And, of course, it’s free.

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Streets Beach on the South Bank

In February and March there are daily free fitness classes from Yoga to Pilates to Tai Chi to Dance. We didn’t participate, but they sound like fun!

4. Explore Brisbane Museum and clock tower

Located in City Hall, this is a small museum which we both liked.  It shows the history and development of Brisbane and has some interactive exhibits.  You can also ride an old lift past the clock face to a 64-metre viewing platform (higher than the Ferris Wheel). The view is mainly of buildings.

Viewing platform, Clock Tower, Brisbane Museum
View from the viewing platform of the Clock Tower

5. Visit QAGOMA

Museums of Modern Art are a bit like Marmite (or vegemite in Australia): you either love them or hate them.  I am usually not a fan (nor of Marmite).  However, we came across an exhibition of works by Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist who loves coloured polka dots and also writes and sculpts.  It was interesting to see samples of her work and learn about her life. Highlights tours of the gallery are a good way to get a feel for the exhibits in a short time, and are, you guessed it, free.

Yayoi Kusama using polka dots and mirrors

6. Relax in a garden or two

There are a number of green spaces both sides of the river. We spent time in the City Botanical Gardens.  This is a calm place to relax out of the sun.  There are lots of Jacaranda trees, which at end of year exam time have lovely purple flowers. There are plenty of places you can sit and be on your own. We also walked around the South Bank Parklands near Streets Beach. Other recommendations from locals were Roma Street Parklands and New Farm Park.

Water feature, Brisbane's Botanical Gardens
Water feature, Botanical Gardens

7. Play with the QUT cube

I was not expecting this.  It was the last stop on the walking tour in the Queensland University of Technology building near the Goodwill Bridge. There are massive interactive screens.  On one side it showed the different gravitational pull of various planets and how everyday objects react to the different gravities. It is surprisingly fun sending even virtual items up into the sky! Another massive screen was about dinosaurs.  The delight on a child’s face (and his parents’) in digging for a fossil, preparing it for transport and displaying it was wonderful.  I failed miserably in identifying which footprints belonged to living creatures and which to dinosaurs.  There was also another massive screen on robots and their uses.  Absolutely fabulous.

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One of the interactive panels

Lessons Learnt!

  • Brisbane has over 280 days of full sunshine a year and the sun is very strong. It is important to keep covered.
  • Keep to the left on the shared walkways/cycle paths. Some of the cyclists go pretty fast.
  • Lots of restaurants close on Mondays, particularly out of the city centre. We ended up in a burger bar, which wouldn’t have been our first choice!
  • It is easy to work out if you are travelling in the right direction as streets with female names go in a north easterly direction and streets with male names are at right angles.  Nearly all the streets are named after British royalty.

Fun fact: The lamington, an Australian iconic cake, was borne out of necessity in 1900 at Old Government House in Brisbane for Lord and Lady Lamington.

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