Australia's second busiest port after Sydney, but with better weather, Brisbane is the perfect place to enjoy outdoor dining, active pursuits or a stroll around town. As the capital city of Queensland, it is a cosmopolitan hub for the arts, culture and cuisine, but has retained its small-town friendliness and laidback charm.
The inner-city is filled with world-class museums, botanical gardens, historic neighbourhoods and lively shopping precincts. For those who would like to spend the day exploring the sights, nearly everything is within walking distance, with bridges and free ferries linking both sides of the Brisbane River.
Hiking trails, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries can be found just beyond the city limits. If you would like to venture further afield, the city's public transport makes it easy to get around.
Brisbane is also the ideal jumping-off point for the Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise, which are just an hour away by car, and the Sunshine Coast, which is a two-hour drive to the north.
Before boarding your cruise from Brisbane, or after your cruise, here is our plan for 48 hours of fun.
Experience Queensland's traditional architecture first-hand at Sassafras (88 Latrobe Terrace, Paddington), a vibrant cafe housed in an original wooden worker's cottage. Open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, the Mod-Oz menu features local produce and a compact organic wine list. If the weather is good, head out the back to the leafy courtyard. Down the road, Kettle & Tin (215 Given Terrace, Paddington) is also worth a look for its innovative menu items such as Brisket Eggs Benny featuring 12-hour smoked brisket, poached eggs, hollandaise, and sourdough.
After breakfast, take a stroll around Paddington and browse the area's boutiques and shops housed in historic buildings and workers' cottages along Given and Latrobe Terrace. Whether you are searching for trendy homewares, antiques, one-off fashions or a colourful necklace, you are sure to find it somewhere on Paddington's main streets. Don't miss Empire Revival (167 Latrobe Terrace, Paddington) an antique centre inside a Heritage-listed 1920s' theatre, with more than 50 dealers selling everything from furniture to cameras, jewellery and historic trinkets. Look up to see the building's original features, such as gilded balconies and scroll-work declaring the theatre's name.
Your next stop is South Bank for a swim at the sandy inner-city lagoon and a stroll along the Brisbane River. Drop into the River Quays dining precinct for some great dining options and superb water views. Enjoy rustic Italian share plates at Popolo Italian Kitchen & Bar (Sidon Street, Brisbane) or the sophistication of Stokehouse Q (Sidon Street, Brisbane), which serves steak and Queensland's famous seafood.
After lunch, head to The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) (Stanley Place, South Brisbane) to view contemporary and indigenous works and impressive feature exhibitions. If the weather is less than perfect, you can catch a free movie at Australian Cinematheque, GoMA's onsite arthouse cinema. Films include classics such as She Done Him Wrong as well as contemporary films chosen to tie in with current exhibitions. Culture lovers can also explore the more traditional Queensland Art Gallery (Stanley Place, South Brisbane) or Queensland Museum (Stanley Place, South Brisbane) next door.
Celebrate the golden age of travel at Baedecker (111 Constance Street, Fortitude Valley), a wine bar that pays homage to pioneering circa 1800s' travel guide publisher Karl Baedeker. Decked out with vintage suitcases, travel trunks and eclectic antiques, the bar's artfully curated drinks list offers trip around the globe. Just down the road, a window seat at Cru Bar + Cellar (1/22 James Street, Fortitude Valley) provides the ultimate people-watching perch at this inner-city bar. ‘Beautiful people' come here to air kiss and be seen while working their way through Asian-inspired share plates.
After a drink or two at Cru, head across the road to Gerard's Bistro (14 James Street, Fortitude Valley) to experience the Middle Eastern magic of this buzzing bistro's signature sweet and spicy Bekaa wings, which are named after a valley in Lebanon, or slow-roasted wagyu brisket with a side of fried cauliflower studded with pomegranate seeds. For classic Modern Australian dishes and superb, friendly service, it's a 15-minute stroll to e'cco bistro (63 Skyring Terrace, Newstead), a light and bright modern dining room with Philip Johnson, one of the city's most celebrated chefs, at the helm. If you're dining solo, you'll get dinner and a show from a seat at the bar.
It's an easy stroll from James Street into the heart of Fortitude Valley where the staccato click of high heels mingles with cool jazz from a nearby club and the sound of people having fun fills the air. Fashionistas mix it up with those wearing designer t-shirts and jeans and there's no cut-off age limit for enjoying a night out. “The Valley”, as it is affectionately known, has an edgy excitement all its own and some of Brisbane's best live music.
Cowch (179 Grey Street, South Brisbane) serves Australian-inspired breakfasts such as pavlova pancakes with a lemon and sugar base, passionfruit, berries, meringue and cream or fairy bread French toast, a grown-up take on a classic kid's party treat. If these dishes sound like a step too far, you can always order classics such as smashed avocado on toast or a healthy breakfast bowl.
You can go on one of Brisbane's most iconic excursions from the front of the State Library (Stanley Place, South Brisbane): a river cruise to see the native animals at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (708 Jesmond Rd, Fig tree Pocket). This trip has been running for more than 70 years and, even if you have seen a koala before, the tour is worth it for the cruise alone. If you would prefer not to spend a whole day on an excursion, head to the Museum of Brisbane (Level 3, City Hall, Brisbane), which celebrates the city and its people. Don't miss the free behind-the-scenes tour of City Hall, which includes access to areas not usually open to the public. City Hall also has one of the Southern Hemisphere's oldest hand-operated lifts. Pick up a (free) ticket to ride at the museum.
Hang with the cool crowd at Hello Please (Fish Lane, South Brisbane), a contemporary outdoor Vietnamese eatery with bench tables and a lively vibe. Around the corner at Julius Pizzeria (77 Grey Street, South Brisbane) you will find the confident, friendly service and bustling open kitchen give this modern Italian restaurant extra zing. Top choices include the house-made pastas, daily risotto special and wood-fired pizzas that rival those found in Naples.
If you are from out of town, there are few better ways to get a feel for the city than joining the locals for a walk, run, or ride along the Brisbane River. It is an easy stroll or cycle to the official start of the Riverwalk, a walking and cycling track that extends into the river. Put on a hat and some comfortable shoes or rent a yellow hire bike through CityCycle, Brisbane's bike hire program, from $2 a day. Rides of less than 30 minutes are free.
Your walk (or ride) along the Brisbane River will finish at New Farm Park, a peaceful spot with rose gardens and towering trees, and home to the Brisbane Powerhouse (119 Lamington Street, New Farm). What was once a coal-fired power station is now a vibrant arts centre, filled with cutting-edge photographic installations, music, theatre and dance. Live music and performances take place here most days of the week and there are several bars with breezy river views and a community vibe.
Catch a ferry back to Howard Smith Wharves (5 Boundary Street) where you'll find some of Brisbane's most lively restaurants. Polpetta is a casual Italian eatery featuring Italian dishes with a local twist, such as tagliolini with Queensland prawns, chilli, lemon, and bottarga. Greca is a contemporary Greek taverna offering indoor and outdoor dining and superb people watching. Housed in a Heritage-listed building, Stanley serves classy Cantonese cuisine in atmospheric and romantic surrounds.
When you've finished dinner, settle in for a cocktail or two at Mr Percival with its wooden rotunda perched over the river, also at Howard Smith Wharves (5 Boundary Street). You can also walk down the boardwalk to inner-city brewery Felon's Brewing Co for boutique beers served with a stellar view of the Storey Bridge. Fiume, a trendy bar tucked away on top of the Fantauzzo Hotel, is more upmarket and offers an equally appealing view from the revitalised wharves precinct.
A few things to note:
- There is plenty of free transport in the CBD including Brisbane City and Spring Hill Loop bus services and the red CityHopper ferry, which offers a free multi-stop cross river service.
- If you are walking around the city, don't be tempted to jaywalk as on-the-spot fines are common (as are pedestrian fatalities, hence the hardline approach).
- It's worth extending your stay as you can discover regional produce, vineyards and wineries, cute boutiques and stunning views, all just a few hours' drive from Brisbane city.