Food and Drink in Brisbane
With Brisbane's location on the Queensland coast, seafood is abundant and fresh. Favourite choices are wild barramundi (reef fish), clams, mussels, mud crabs and Moreton Bay bugs (crustaceans with a strong flavour). A traditional burger, which usually comes with beetroot and a fried egg, is an affordable must-try dish. With the recent influx of immigrants from around the world, many ethnic cuisines -- especially Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian -- are readily available in Brisbane.
Australian wines are varied and excellent; they range from inexpensive to some of the best in the world. When looking at Australian menus, entrees or small plates means first courses or appetisers, and main courses or big plates are just that. In Australia, the price of food includes the tax, and at informal restaurants and cafes, gratuities are not expected. In the better restaurants, tipping is becoming common practice but remains discretionary.
In Brisbane, a good destination for lunch is South Bank with its dazzling selection of restaurants and cafes, many of which capitalise on Queensland's love of outdoor dining. Southbeach Social, overlooking the famous swimming lagoon, gives an inner-city twist to the traditional Aussie beachside bar. It is a great spot for a drink and a bite to eat on a sunny afternoon.
Alongside the river there is River Quay, a collection of sleek dining options ranging from classy French cuisine at Aquitaine Brasserie to rustic Italian share plates at Popolo and the steakhouse sophistication of Stokehouse Q.
In the city, Riverside -- a CityCat stop adjacent to the city centre -- has numerous restaurants on tiered levels, most of which face the Brisbane River. Casual riverside restaurant Riverbar & Kitchen is a good choice for breakfast, lunch or dinner and prices are surprisingly reasonable, especially given the stunning 180 degree views of the river and Story Bridge.
Other dining options include cutting-edge Japanese cuisine at Sake Restaurant & Bar, super-size schnitzel at The Bavarian and Jellyfish Restaurant, a contemporary riverside diner specialising in Queensland's famous seafood. See if you can find the painted flood line decorating the windows -- it's the only visible reminder of the dramatic flood that swept through the city in 2011.
Don't Miss in Brisbane
Brisbane City Hall (King George Square), built in 1930, was once the city's tallest building. Now, when you ride the elevator 100 metres (328 feet) up into the clock tower (which strikes loudly on the hour), you have views of even taller buildings, the river and several parks. On the third floor, the Museum of Brisbane uses photos and maps to show how the city developed, exhibits paintings of Brisbane through history and screens videos of local citizens talking about their lives. Admission to the museum and clock tower is free, but collect your ticket for the clock tower on arrival as slots for the historic lift ride fill quickly.
Brisbane Greeters are enthusiastic local volunteers who are passionate about their city and can't wait to share it with you (for free). Choose from a 'Greeter's Choice' tour where the Greeter introduces you to 'their Brisbane' or book a tour based around topics such as public art, culture, architecture or Aboriginal heritage. Tours are free but must be booked online at least seven days in advance (for more information see www.visitbrisbane.com.au).
RiverWalk extends for 20kms (more than 12 miles) along the Brisbane River's north bank -- from the University of Queensland at St. Lucia downriver to Teneriffe and well beyond the city centre. The best walking sections skirt the restaurants and cafes in the city centre, passing into the botanical gardens and onto wooden walkways through a mangrove swamp, where the adjacent urban skyline disappears from sight and mind. From here you can walk across the Goodwill Bridge to South Bank.
South Bank includes riverside walks, shops, parklands, a sandy beach and pool, weekend markets and the Queensland Cultural Centre. In the Cultural Centre, the Queensland Art Gallery is a spacious, light-filled, water-dappled repository of European masters, Australian artists and Aboriginal art. Next door the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, or GoMA as it is affectionately known, exhibits contemporary art by Australians, Aborigines, Asians and South Pacific islanders. If you are travelling with children, there is an excellent hands-on art space downstairs.
The Queensland Museum exhibits natural history, artefacts from World Wars I and II, a hanging aircraft, a beautiful Orient Line ship model and dinosaur exhibits for kids. Admission is free to all museums, except the Queensland Museum's Sciencentre and travelling exhibits.
Cycling is another enjoyable activity with a choice of picturesque riverside trails, most of which are completely flat. You don't need to own a bike to enjoy riding around South Bank and beyond -- it is easy to rent one through CityCycle, Brisbane's bike hire program, from $2 a day. Simply register at the CityCycle website or at a CityCycle station with Tap + Go facilities, collect a yellow bike from one of the many hire stations around the city and return it to any station when you're done. (Find out more at www.citycycle.com.au).
Queen Street, a pedestrian mall stretching several blocks, is the main shopping area, with fast food courts among the shops and covered outdoor restaurants in the mall. You will also find a well-stocked visitor information centre here.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, located along the Brisbane River at Fig Tree Pocket, is a 20-minute taxi ride or 30 minutes by hourly bus 430 from the city centre. However, the most enjoyable way to arrive is by boat; try a scenic 90-minute sail with Mirimar Cruises (with commentary), a two-hour stay at the sanctuary and a relaxing 90-minute return. Most people come to see the koalas, and more than 100 are on view. You can cuddle one while having your picture taken (for a fee), and dozens queue up for the opportunity. Lone Pine also houses many only-in-Australia creatures. You can buy food to feed the kangaroos and wallabies, and you can observe emus, wombats, bats, skinks, baby crocodiles, black-headed pythons and turtles. Scheduled events include sheepdog and bird-of-prey shows, the latter featuring hawk owls and giant sea eagles swooping over the heads of seated visitors. (Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha, Toowong, is just 6kms (less than 4 miles) from the city via Bus 471. The 56 hectare garden is set below Mount Coot-tha, with many rainforest plants that are seen nowhere else. Also featured are the Tropical Dome, a cactus house, an elaborate Japanese garden, a lake and walking trails. Admission is free, as are the one-hour guided tours. (Open daily 8 a.m. to 5 or 5:30 p.m., in winter and summer respectively.)