Travel Planner: Brisbane

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From culture to cuisine, Brisbane has undergone a dramatic renaissance and now the Queensland capital is proud of its cosmopolitan atmosphere. Throughout most of its modern history, Brisbane has been dubbed “a big country town”, and an often-used saying was that you could fire a cannon down the main street on a Saturday afternoon and hit nobody. True, the Brisbane of old was a little “sleepy” for a major city, but in the past 15 years it’s undergone a major transformation. Now it’s a lively and happening place with more than a few surprises for its visitors. The redevelopment of Brisbane’s inner-city, combined with a strong local economy and large migration numbers from both interstate and overseas, has fuelled the development of its new cultural identity. There’s now a real “buzz” in Brisbane, and the locals are lapping it up and visitors are booking flights into the city in record numbers. 

Need to Know 

Location: east coast Australia. 

Language: English. 

Money: Australian dollar. ATM’s are plentiful and currency exchange bureaus are at the airport. Banks also change money and offer a better rate than the currency booths. Credit cards are also widely accepted. 

Time Difference: GMT +10 hours. 

Getting around: If you’re arriving at the airport, there’s a quick and efficient train service running to the CBD and plenty of taxis as well which will charge around $40 to go to the city, more if there’s heavy traffic. The city centre and river front is easily walkable and you can also use Brisbane’s famous CityCats (river ferries) to get around. 

When To Go: With its subtropical climate, Brisbane is very much a year-round destination. In the winter months (June, July and August) it’s pleasant during the day at around 21C but the nights can be quite cold. In summer (December, January and February) really hot days of 35C are not uncommon. 

Tipping: Like most of Australia, tipping is not essential but appreciated. For outstanding service in restaurants, 10% is considered okay. You don’t need to tip in pubs and clubs but some upmarket bars will give you change on a plate in the hope you leave a little behind. 

Where to Stay 

The Brisbane hotel scene has struggled a little to keep up with the numbers of visitors and in the city centre there’s a few five star hotels like the Sofitel and the Hilton which have fantastic locations. At the four star end, the Novotel has become a favourite with the business set along with The Diamant while The Emporium is a boutique hotel with a little “razzle dazzle” in Fortitude Valley, about 4km from the CBD in something of a late night bar and restaurant precinct. 

Sightseeing Essentials 

Bridge Climb: Not to be outdone by Sydney Harbour’s bridge climb, Brisbane’s own Story Bridge Adventure Climb (07 3177 1633; has been popular with visitors since it began in October 2005. There are four different climbs: dawn, day, night and twilight and each one offers a different perspective on the city. Once you make your way to the viewing platform about 80 metres above sea level, this is where you get a 360 degree view of Brisbane, the river and the surrounding mountain ranges. The two and a half hour trek also includes commentary on the history of the city and the bridge. 

South Bank: It’s hard to imagine Brisbane without the South Bank, and this two kilometre stretch of river front opposite the CBD has been largely responsible for the city’s vibrant growth, or at the very least is a reflection of the changes that have taken place. With its river front walking and cycling paths, grassy picnic areas, playgrounds, cafés, restaurants, live entertainment venues, and three pools for kids and sun worshippers, the South Bank is the pride and joy of Brisbane. Also nearby is the Queensland Cultural Centre which houses Brisbane’s major cultural venues including the Queensland Art GalleryandGallery of Modern Art (07 3840 7303), the State Library of Queensland (07 3840 7666), the Queensland Museum (07 3840 7555) and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (tel: +61 (7) 3840 7444). 

Best Happy Snap 

If you’re out on foot, the CBD looks great from South Bank and if you venture further round to the Story Bridge, the panorama back to the city at night is stunning. 

Eating And Drinking 

Boasting a subtropical climate and balmy evenings, it’s no real surprise that Brisbane’s café scene has become one of the city’s major drawcards. The CBD itself provides a myriad of opportunities to sit outdoors and watch the world go by while sitting in front of a coffee, but for the real deal in Brisbane the inner suburbs are where the local café crew head for a caffeine fix. The Gun Shop Café (07 3844 2241; 53 Mollison St, West End) is a a brunch hotspot and a great place to mix with the locals, as is depot (subs: lower case spelling), located in Fortitude Valley’s Emporium complex (07 3666 0188; 1000 Ann St, Fortitude Valley) and one of the latest “in” joints. And for “foodies” there’s now a plethora of top quality restaurants from the cheapie Asian BYO joints along Wickham St in Fortitude Valley to the likes of Restaurant Manx (07 3216 4999; 39 Hercules St, Hamilton) to Bar Alto (07 3358 8622; Brisbane Powerhouse, 119 Lamington St, New Farm) and the casual Boardwalk Bar & Bistro (07 3221 0026; Riparian Plaza, 71 Eagle St, Brisbane). 

The Elephant and Wheelbarrow is a traditional English style pub in a heritage listed building in the heart of the Valley which also does large portions of good old fashioned pub grub. 230 Wickham St, Fortitude Valley. Phone 07 3252 4136. And to experience a good old fashioned club (not nightclub), the Merthyr Bowls Club is set on a cliff with views over the Brisbane River. It’s a great place to relax with a cheap beer and a decent meal from the bistro. Sunday is barefoot bowls day - a great day out on its own - but you’ll need to book ahead to play. Oxlade Drive, New Farm. Phone 07 3358 1291. 

Shopping And Souvenirs 

A few kilometres east of the CBD is where you’ll find the trendy inner suburb of Fortitude Valley and its myriad of designer shops and markets.

On weekends, the pedestrian malls in Chinatown and Brunswick Street are converted into massive outdoor markets until 4pm, selling just about everything from sunglasses, hats, T-shirts and second hand designer gear.  Shopping in the CBD revolves around the Queen St Mall and this is where you’ll find mega department stores such as Myer and David Jones, along with a slew of arcades and boutiques with everything from clothes to jewellery and homewares. And there’s plenty of cafés and food joints around if you want sit down and give the plastic a break. 

Hot tip 

No trip to Brisbane is complete without a ride on the CityCat or City Ferry (, 13 12 30), along the Brisbane River. This meandering waterway is the heart and soul of the city, and cruising the river is an inexpensive and relaxing way to get your bearings and appreciate the physical beauty of the place. Near the city centre majestic colonial era buildings sit comfortably among modern glass skyscrapers, and further out the metropolis gives way to leafy suburban areas where you can watch the Brisbane-ites at play as they cycle, walk and rollerblade along the river’s edge.

Ben Hall