Brisbane: The Sunny Australian City That Shines All Year Round

Ann-Marie Cahill

Ann-Marie Cahill

June 24, 2024

10 min read

For years, Brisbane’s claim to fame was “queen of the Sunshine State.” It’s the capital city of Queensland on the northeast coast and the third-largest city in Australia. Okay, so Brisbane doesn’t officially have the sunniest, hottest, or longest days in Australia, but it has a sweet subtropical climate that adds to the marketing slogan.

Brisbane is where you go to escape those winter blues down south. It’s not too hot like North Queensland and definitely not too cold like Melbourne. There’s a casual atmosphere that Sydney never has, and yet there is still plenty to see and do. In fact, it’s pretty much the perfect holiday setting all year round. 

Some say Brisbane is still a young city; we’re not sure if that’s because it was only established as a town in 1825 or because it has more young adults than anywhere else in Queensland (and most of Australia). Either way, Brisbane has the vibe and the goods: cuddly koalas, rainforest walks, river cruises, beach-side barbecues, and local food straight from the bay (Moreton Bay, that is). But dive a little deeper, and you can discover a history dating back 60,000 years along a river that winds through a city filled with character and a vision for a long, sustainable future.

Brisbane’s long history on the river

Aerial shot of Brisbane with bridge over the river and skyline

The Yuggera and the Turrbal people are the Traditional Custodians of Brisbane, or Meeanjin, as the Turrbal people called it, and Maiwar (the Brisbane River). They arrived as early as 60,000 years ago and, ever since, the Brisbane River has been the heart of southeast Queensland, stretching 214 miles through the state. 

The First Australians lived and traded along the river as fishing people. The waterways were the life force and today remain a key feature of Brisbane’s lifestyle. From morning to night, the Brisbane River breathes life into the city. 

Early morning rowers race from the sandstone University of Queensland to the city and back again; daily commuters are collected from any of the 23 ferry stops; people enjoy the leisurely walk along the riverside pathways and bridges; and a plethora of festivals and social events feature the river as their centerpiece. 

You can jump on and off at various stops and explore sections by foot, learning about the connection with First Nations people and their relationship with the waterways. The Mangrove Walk, in the heart of Brisbane’s Central Business District (CBD), is one of many walks following the river through the city. The floating walkway features eight totems representing the First Nations tribes who lived on the river. The walk takes 15–30 minutes from Queen’s Wharf to the Goodwill Bridge and includes pockets of storytelling about the history and wildlife. One section of the trail is lined with speakers, playing the sounds of local birds as you walk past. They are partnered with visual aids for a bit of bird-spotting, too. You’ll often hear the rainbow lorikeets before you see them!   

Walk and talk the streets of Brisbane

Park with flowering trees in Brisbane

Thanks partly to the urban development and accessibility of its CBD, Brisbane was listed as one of Time Magazine’s Greatest Places in the World in 2023. Take a free walking tour, and learn city secrets from the Brisbane Greeters as you walk on streets that weave amongst the high-rises, featuring some stunning and unique architecture, like the State Law Building, affectionately known by locals as Gotham Tower for its heavy Batman aesthetic. 

There’s also the light display on One One One Eagle Street, resembling the buttress roots of the local Moreton Bay Fig. You can find the original inspiration in the City Botanic Gardens, less than a 10-minute walk from the building. The gardens were the original site for the first botanical gardens in Brisbane. The official botanical gardens have now moved to Mount Coot-tha (accessible by bus), while a smaller yet still extensive collection remains in the city gardens. 

Brisbane is already one of Australia’s greenest cities, with more than 54% green cover. However, it’s striving for even more, with the Green Bridges Program connecting across various points on the Brisbane River. These bridges are designed specifically for eco-friendly use: walking, biking, e-mobility, and public transport. There are currently two Green Bridges to add to your walking tours of Brisbane (one is currently under construction, with plans to be completed in fall 2024), with two more planned for future development.  

Local bars, like Soko in Fortitude Valley, are also getting in on the action, with rooftop gardens in their open-air dining. It’s a smart move for Brisbane’s green urban development and comes with an awesome view. 

Casual dining down by the river

Lamingtons in Brisbane

While we don’t recommend you eat directly from the river, it is definitely one of the best places to sit and enjoy the local delicacy: Moreton Bay bugs. They’re named after the bay near Brisbane and are also known as slipper lobsters, but no Brisbanite will call them that. Rest assured, these beloved crustaceans are delicious, with their sweet, white meat perfectly balanced against some crusty white bread with a healthy spread of butter. 

Many of Brisbane’s best restaurants feature Moreton Bay bugs, though for a more casual affair, walk down along the river to the City Botanic Gardens for Brisbane’s best-kept seafood secret, The Prawnster. Here, you can split a Del Fuego Platter of bugs and prawns with a friend—but you’ll need to BYO bread rolls. 

Moreton Bay bugs are just one of many local dishes. There’s also the world-famous Lamingtons, squares of sponge cake rolled in a layer of chocolate sauce and then covered with dried coconut. Everyone has an opinion on the perfect ratio of chocolate sauce to coconut (as well as how exactly they came to be). You’ll just have to try them all to find out. 

Brisbane’s multicultural flair

Brisbane at night

Brisbane is Australia’s third-largest city, and it’s truly characteristic of the country's multicultural heritage. More than 30% of Brisbane residents were born overseas, and on any given weekend all year round, you can find a special event or market celebrating that special fusion of Brisbane with almost everything else. Brisbane’s Buddha Birth Day Festival at Chung Tian Temple is the biggest in Australasia. There’s also Paniyiri, Australia’s longest-running Greek Festival. 

You can also head to Caboolture north of Brisbane for the Abbey Medieval Festival, complete with a jousting tournament. The calendar's highlight, though, is the Brisbane Festival, whose signature event is Riverfire—an explosion of light, color, and festivity along the Brisbane River with a dazzling fireworks display across the night sky. The three-week spring festival (typically held in August and September) celebrates the arts and gives everyone a chance to showcase their own special blend of Brisbane soul. 

Nestled in a valley of nature

Koala in Brisbane

Queensland is home to some of the most diverse wildlife in Australia, and Brisbane has more species of plants, animals, and insects than any other capital city on the continent. You don’t have to travel far to find these animals, either; many of them enjoy the green spaces throughout the city (and many backyards, too). Native birds, such as kookaburras and cockatoos, are found wherever there are native Australian trees. The City Botanic Gardens are home to known and important bat colonies. You can spot possums and even small sugar gliders on rare occasions, and kangaroos and wallabies are often seen farther outside the city in suburban areas near state parks (though as wondrous as the wildlife may be, it is essential to respect their space and not feed the wildlife.)

The best way to enjoy Brisbane’s native wildlife is to visit a specialized conservation area that supports public education and wildlife rehabilitation. The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, opened in 1927, is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary and offers a variety of ticketed wildlife tours for the general public. The state-funded Daisy Hill Koala Centre is smaller but offers free admission, with daily talks shared by the wildlife officers. Both centers offer fantastic opportunities to see some of Australia’s beautiful wildlife and support responsible travel practices. 

Native wildlife is further protected by the state and national parks surrounding the Greater Brisbane area. The subtropical climate nurtures a variety of landscapes, including dense rainforests, ancient trees, and towering waterfalls. The closest is the 98,000-acre D’Aguilar National Park, accessible by bus. Alternatively, hire a car and travel about 90 minutes to Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast Hinterland. This park is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Gondwana Rainforest (along with Springbrook National Park). It includes treetop walks in the canopy, outstanding vistas across the valley, and hundreds of waterfalls.

A scientific vision for the future

Brisbane’s cultural district is also located along the river. Once the original location for most of World Expo 88, the site was later converted into the South Bank entertainment precinct and has now become the science and cultural precinct of Brisbane, including the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), the State Library, the Queensland Museum, both the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Queensland Culture Centre. It also includes a riverfront promenade, the Wheel of Brisbane Ferris wheel, and a kilometer-long South Bank Grand Arbour, a bougainvillea arbor growing over a metal frame that looks like it would be the most beautiful feature in Jurassic Park. 

While each venue has its attractions, the Queensland Museum benefits from its exclusive relationship with the World Science Festival. Originating in New York, this week-long festival is a celebration of science through innovation, education, and entertainment. Brisbane is the only city in Asia and Oceania where you can experience it with local experts and specialty workshops, such as paleontology, marine ecosystems, and Brisbane’s own eco-urban development for future climate management. The website has upcoming exhibits and events that bring in scientists and entertainers worldwide (check it out here). More science fun extends into the permanent exhibition, SparkLab, located at the Queensland Museum. 

The heart of day-trippers

Moreton Island near Brisbane

Brisbane is a city full of Aussie goodness, but there’s always room for more adventure. Head an hour north of Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast, known for its relaxing beach lifestyle and arguably Australia’s most famous wildlife park, Australia Zoo. It is one of the best opportunities to get up close and personal with a wide range of Australian wildlife, including kangaroos, koalas, crocodiles, and elusive cassowary. 

Brisbane has one last secret to share, and it’s worth the wait: Moreton Island, also known as Mulgumpin or Moorgumpin (the Place of the Sandhills), is the third-largest sand island in the world. It is contained within a national park, protecting it from overdevelopment. After a 90-minute ferry ride, you can board down the world’s largest coastal sand dune, scuba dive the Tangalooma Wrecks, snorkel in the freshwater Blue Lagoon, and visit each of the five different lighthouses on the island. It’s also an easy place for whale watching and dolphin spotting. 

Shake off the Bris-Vegas of yesteryear

Aerial view of Brisbane at dusk

Ever heard the name “Bris-Vegas”? Brisbane picked up the nickname back in the 1980s as a parody for its lack of nightlife. To be fair, Brisbane was trying to compete with the big money and nightlife in Sydney and Melbourne. Instead, Brisbane developed an underground indie scene that allowed musicians (and audiences) to explore new styles. Groups like The Saints blasted a path for punk rock in 1970s Australia, The Go-Betweens defied genre-labeling in the 1980s, and the 1990s brought indie rock groups like Regurgitator and Powderfinger. The secret to their success: legendary venues and loyal local fans. 

Things have changed a bit since then. The term “Bris-Vegas” is now an endearing salute to Brisbane’s rebellious streak. The indie music scene played a huge part in Brisbane's growth as a culture hub, as people would travel to Brisbane for the music and stay to explore whatever else was on offer. 

These days, there are still plenty of opportunities to explore Brisbane’s music scene and its creative history. Venues like The Tivoli, a historic 100-year-old building with Art Deco features, are worth a visit, with or without a big gig. You can also catch a few outdoor shows down at the Riverstage in the Botanic Gardens. However, for a true Brissie gig, keep it indie and intimate. Head to The Bearded Lady in the West End for an eclectic collection of musicians in a safe, intimate setting. The music ranges from rock to electroacoustic, with open-mic jazz on Saturday afternoons. 

Good to know

Is Brisbane expensive? 

Brisbane is easy on the eye and the hip pocket. It’s not the cheapest city in Australia, but it definitely is not as expensive as Sydney or Melbourne. Generally speaking, a three-star hotel in the CBD (like George Williams Hotel) will run around $150 AUD per night, while you can snag a hostel (such as Gonow Family Backpacker) for about $40 AUD per night.

For a sit-down dinner in a mid-range restaurant, you can expect to start at $25 AUD for an entree. Brisbane doesn’t have a lot of street food, but you can usually find a substantial meal at a cafe or “hole in the wall” for about $25 AUD.

The priciest activities cost around $150–$200 AUD, usually including a day-trip tour outside Brisbane. If you stay closer to the city, you can find plenty to see and do for under $60 AUD daily. 

Best time to visit Brisbane

Brisbane is a popular destination for sun-seekers and a casual holiday lifestyle. This is peak subtropical living, with hot, wet summers and dry, mild winters. Many tourists think summer is a great time to visit, but it’s actually peak storm season and super crowded during the school summer holidays.  

Brisbane during the Australian spring (Sept–Nov) is idyllic. It is warm enough during the day, with a soft breeze keeping it moderate. You can catch the gorgeous Jacaranda blooms, creating a “purple snow” backdrop across the city.

What languages are spoken in Brisbane?

Like much of Australia, Brisbane has English as its dominant language. However, there are pockets of suburbs with a strong multicultural presence; for example, Sunnybank on the south side has a thriving Chinese and Singaporean community with plenty of restaurants and community activities.

Brisbane with kids

Brisbane is the home of Bluey, the animated TV series entertaining kids (and adults) worldwide. Creating a Bluey-inspired city tour is easy—complete with ice cream and ibises. Brisbane is filled with wonder and playgrounds to entertain kids of all ages.

For slightly older kids, local science centers and culture-centric museums are filled with curiosities. There are also physical adventures from a different perspective, such as abseiling on Kangaroo Point. Brisbane is an easy city to give the kids some freedom in the planning. 

Brisbane public transportation

Pick up a three-day go seeQ card for $79 AUD from the Airtrain ticket booth at either terminal at Brisbane International Airport (you can also find them at the Queensland Rail ticket office at Brisbane Central Station). For three consecutive days, it will give you full access to all public transport throughout the Greater Brisbane area. That’s bus, ferry, train, and tram in Brisbane, Ipswich, Redlands, Moreton Bay, Logan, and both the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast. Always tap on and tap off. It also includes two journeys on Airtrain services connecting with the airports. 

All public transport must be pre-paid with tickets, except for the free CityHopper ferries between the Sydney St. ferry terminal and the North Quay ferry terminal. It’s best to avoid the buses during peak-hour travel, and double-check the timetables.

Is Brisbane safe?

Australia ranks #22 out of 163, according to Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index. Brisbane is incredibly safe, with low violent crime and petty theft. Most social venues are strong advocates for safety, especially against drink-spiking and violence against women. If you find yourself in need of help, most staff will step in immediately.

Australia also ranks #15 with a score of 76/100 for LGBTQ+ equality, according to Equaldex's LGBT Equality Index. Brisbane was one of Australia's most supportive capital cities when voting for marriage equality. The Brisbane Pride Festival features in September, and the nearby Gold Coast Pride Festival celebrates in June.

Getting to Brisbane

More Australian destinations: 

Ann-Marie Cahill

Ann-Marie Cahill

Freelance Writer

Ann-Marie Cahill is a freelance travel writer who has lived in Brisbane for more years than she can count. She was there during World Expo 88 and the final Livid Festival in 2003 and claims no responsibility for either event's downfall. She can also identify 95% of all Brisbane references in any Bluey episode. Ann-Marie has worked with Lonely Planet, World Footprints, and NZ Herald Travel; this is the first time she has included Bluey in her travels. For that, she says, “Thanks!”


Published June 24, 2024

Last updated June 24, 2024

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