Brisbane, Queensland’s capital city, has a reputation for being a bit dull. From the outset, visitors notice a murky river running through the middle of the CBD, a few Art-Deco high-rises where well-preserved colonial buildings should have been, and the extortionate cost of public transport, and immediately plot their escape to the Sunshine or Gold Coasts.
This is how I initially felt about this city – as far as I could tell, it was sport-obsessed, lacking for art and culture, and a place where people come to study before immediately taking off for greener pastures. However, having lived there for a few years, I discovered an eclectic and vibrant side of Brisbane many won’t get to discover. And hey – it’s cheaper than Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth, and often has better weather.
Here’s a quick guide for planning your trip to Brisbane. Make sure you compare travel insurance before you arrive and find the best cover for you.
Food and Cafés
At first glance, it seems as though Brisbane doesn’t have the same lively café and coffee culture of, say, Melbourne. Poke about, though, and you’ll find the suburbs of West End, New Farm, and Paddington that are practically overflowing with great places to eat and drink. For starters, your options for breakfast and brunch are pretty legendary – try the Gunshop Café and the Three Monkeys, across the road from one another in West End. Make sure you order the enormous mug of chai tea at the latter.
Also in West End is Govinda’s, a Hare Krishna lunch joint with some delicious (and cheap) vegetarian curries. Travel a couple of kilometres and you’ll find Paddington, a classy area with eateries coming out the wazoo. For breakfast, go to Sassafras – order a chocolate milkshake. For boutique beers and finger food, try the Kettle and Tin – the salt and pepper squid is moreish. For dinner, hit up Tiramisu for some scrumptious pizza and wine, or Kathmandu New Ch’hen for something different – try the vegetarian banquet of Nepalese curries, dumplings and momos, and sweet, milky tea.
In the city, there are sushi shops on every corner that provide a good, cheap lunch. I missed their perfectly hand-sized rolls when I went abroad. There’s also Vapiano’s, part of an Italian chain that offers $10 pizza and pasta lunch specials. Across the bridge in South Bank, there’s a jam-packed Chinese restaurant called Bamboo Basket – the tasty hand-pulled noodles and dim sum are always a good bet – and Ahmet’s, a Turkish joint with plush cushions and displays of belly dancing.
Moreover, Brisbane is developing a bustling farmer’s market scene. In King George Square on Wednesdays, you can find all kinds of stalls, from mango juice to German sausage to macaroons. Go to the University in Kelvin Grove on Saturday mornings for fresh sourdough and almond croissants, free-range duck and pork, and organic produce. Finally, drive out to Eagle Farm (there’s little public transport available) on Sundays and source out the homemade rocky road at their market. It’s supposedly made from an 80 year-old family recipe – all I know is it’s chocolate to die for.
You’ve eaten, and now want to drink and dance it all off. Well, you’re in luck – like with food, Brisbane’s nightlife is more varied than it initially appears. If you want trashy clubs, you can find those in the Valley – however, there are more distinguished haunts. For smashing cocktails, hit up the Sling Bar in West End, the Bowery in the Valley, and the Walrus in Toowong. For some old-school nerdery with your drinks, go to the Mana Bar in the Valley – there are consoles with your favourite childhood games on them. Drunken Mario Kart, anybody?
Cloudland, now rid of its exorbitant entrance fee, hosts themed dance nights amongst its, erm, tropical setting. Back towards the CBD, there’s the Pig and Whistle on riverside – more of a pub club on the water – and the Bavarian Bier Café with its intimidating array of schnapps. Finally, head for King George Square on Friday nights for some free salsa dancing. Bring a partner, or snag one when you get there.
The Outdoors, Art, and Culture
Once you’ve slept off your night on the town, consider recovering with some fresh air and a picnic on the grass. Some great green spots in Brisbane are South Bank – there’s also a walking trail that traces the river, crosses Story Bridge, and loops around the city and Kangaroo Point, if you’re up for some exercise – New Farm Park, and the Botanical Gardens next to QUT Gardens Point. Nearby is a really funky, air-conditioned library with some great views, if you’re feeling the heat.
Then, you can spend your afternoon looking at art, unleashing your inner geek, and catching a performance. GOMA is a great art gallery on the river that frequently hosts a variety of exhibitions – notable ones in the past include creepily lifelike sculptures by Ron Mueck, and some of Picasso’s and Andy Warhol’s best work. Close by is the science museum, where you can spend hours creating shadow art, solving puzzles, and trying to beat the sprinting world record, and the Lyric Theatre for world-class acts. Finally, the Powerhouse in New Farm has always got comedy shows and plays on tap.
Cross all of that off your list, and then try and tell me you’re still bored.