10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Brisbane
The jewel in the crown of the Sunshine State, Brisbane is Australia's third largest city. Winding along the Brisbane River, the CBD blends historic buildings with modern elegance. Although the city's history dates back to 1824, Brisbane rose to the world stage after hosting the Commonwealth Games in 1982 and World Expo in 1988. The mild subtropical climate together with a relaxed yet sophisticated culture attracted a large numbers of tourists as well as permanent residents relocating from other Australian states. Today Brisbane is referred to as Australia's 'new world' city. It's clean, green, and friendly with an emphasis on innovation and creativity.
See also: Where to Stay in Brisbane
1 Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
There's nothing quite like cuddling a koala. As the largest sanctuary in the world for Australia's iconic marsupials, a visit to Lone Pine makes for a memorable experience. Other Australian animals such as kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, dingoes, snakes, and even crocodiles live in this compact sanctuary nestled on the Brisbane River. Daily encounters and experiences include bird of prey flight demonstrations, platypus feeding, sheep dog and shearing shows, Tasmanian devil feeding, and barn animal encounters. In addition to the ultimate 'cuddling a koala' photograph, visitors can also have a holiday snap holding a snake or baby crocodile.
Address: 708 Jesmond Road, Fig Tree Pocket
2 Cultural Centre
Located on the banks of the river, in the heart of central Brisbane, this precinct is a mecca for cultural experiences. Incorporating Queensland Art Gallery, State Library of Queensland, Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, and Queensland Theatre Company, the area is a hub of activity during the day and night.
Location: Grey Street, South Brisbane
3 Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens
With panoramic views of Brisbane, the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens is a favorite attraction with locals and visitors alike. Located seven kilometers from the city, the various themed gardens take visitors on a journey through 52 hectares of horticulture. Housing the largest collection of Australian rainforest trees in the world, the gardens are also dedicated to fragrant plants, bamboo, cactus, wetland plants, indigenous plants, ferns, and bonsai.
Location: Mount Coot-tha Road, Toowong
4 South Bank
The original site of World Expo in 1988, South Bank is filled with parklands, plazas, and promenades. Located directly opposite the CBD, Streets Beach is at the center of this riverside paradise. A swim in the human-made lagoon is a popular choice on a warm Brisbane day.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the state of Queensland, the Wheel of Brisbane was opened in 2009. The giant Ferris wheel offers an exciting 60-minute bird's eye view over the river and city during the day or night.
5 Customs House
Owned by the University of Queensland, this magnificent 19th-century building offers a cultural and educational experience. Although operating as a function center, Customs House includes plenty of public spaces, including an indoor/outdoor restaurant offering unparalleled river and Story Bridge views. Free guided tours of the building are available on Sundays.
Address: 399 Queen Street, Brisbane
6 Ride a CityCat
The most scenic and exciting way to get around Brisbane is by CityCat. Gliding the twists and turns of the Brisbane River seven days a week, the fleet of CityCats and City Ferries with 24 hop-on, hop-off terminals highlights the history and beauty of the city. From the magnificent University of Queensland to the North Shore, the route takes in redeveloped industrial sites, riverside mansions, bridges, and parklands.
7 Queen Street Mall
This vibrant shopping precinct is home to more than 700 retailers showcasing local, national, and international designs and labels. In addition to the centrally-located, pedestrian-friendly street frontage, a labyrinth of heritage-listed arcades adds to the ambience for history buffs. Every Wednesday, the area at the bridge end of the mall transforms into a bustling Farmers Market selling local produce, flowers, and artisan products.
Address: Queen Street, Brisbane
8 Story Bridge Adventure Climb
Constructed during Australia's Great Depression in the 1930s, the attractive steel Story Bridge is a much-loved Brisbane landmark. As one of only three bridge climbs in the world (after Sydney and Auckland), this one also offers something totally unique - the choice to abseil the descent. Catering to people of all fitness levels and those older than 10 years of age, the two-hour experience takes visitors 80 meters above the Brisbane River for uninterrupted views of the city.
Address: 170 Main Street, Kangaroo Point
9 Moreton Island
Located 58 kilometers from Brisbane and easily accessible via ferry, Moreton Island is the perfect day trip. As the world's third largest sand island, it's a taste of tropical paradise without needing to travel further north. Rich vegetation frames the azure water gently lapping the pure-white sandy beaches. With very little development and 98 percent of the island designated as National Park, Moreton Island is one of Queensland's best kept secrets.
10 Museum of Brisbane
Housed in one of Brisbane's premier heritage buildings, the museum was redeveloped and reopened in 2013. Occupying the top level of City Hall, this 'small in size, big in stories' museum brings the history of Brisbane to life through a series of state-of-the-art exhibitions. Adding to the experience are the sweeping views of the city and the City Hall's magnificent clock tower and copper dome.
Address: Level 3, Brisbane City Hall, Adelaide Street, Brisbane
Where to Stay in Brisbane for Sightseeing
For first-time visitors to Brisbane interested in experiencing all the city's top attractions, the best place to stay is in the city center. Within walking distance are the parklands, promenades, and restaurants of South Bank; the Cultural Centre, with its museums and galleries; and Queen Street Mall. Here are some highly-rated hotels in these areas:
- Luxury Hotels: In a prime location, within walking distance of Queen Street Mall and South Bank, the great-value Capri by Fraser oozes personality, with its modern design, earthy art, and vertical garden. The hotel is also home to a popular restaurant headed by a famous Aussie chef. A little further out but still within walking distance of the city's top attractions, The New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites Brisbane - MGallery Collection scores top points for its well-appointed rooms and modern elegance. For those who prefer large chain hotels, the Sofitel Brisbane Central delivers on amenities with a heated pool, fitness center, and spa.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In a superb location, close to public transport hubs and an easy stroll from Queen Street Mall, the Cultural Centre, and South Bank, Meriton Serviced Apartments Brisbane on Herschel Street, offers exceptional value - especially for extended stays and families. A little further out, but still handy to the city center, Punthill Brisbane, near Central Station, has modern studio apartments and a swimming pool. Across the road from a lovely park, the Watermark Hotel is a ten-minute walk from the CBD with clean, quiet rooms and a swimming pool.
- Budget Hotels: At the high end of the budget hotels, BEST WESTERN PLUS Gregory Terrace Brisbane lies within walking distance of the CBD, while the Bowen Terrace International in New Farm is only a few minutes away by car. This charming home offers single rooms, dorm rooms, family suites, and a pool. On the banks of the Brisbane River and handy to public transport and the airport, Kingsford Riverside Inn offers good-value rooms with shared bathrooms. Breakfast is included in the rates.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Brisbane
- See the Sights: If you want to see and experience all the city's highlights in one day, the Best of Brisbane Full-Day Sightseeing Tour is a fun adventure that allows you to view the city from multiple angles. Start your day with a scenic coach tour around the historic landmarks, then hop aboard a boat and cruise along the beautiful Brisbane River before heading to the top of the Brisbane Wheel and Mount Coot-tha Lookout for panoramic city views. This tour also includes a trip to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where you can cuddle one of these lovable creatures and get up close to other Aussie wildlife.
- Save Money: If you plan on hopping between the theme parks during your stay, you can save money with the Gold Coast Theme Park Pass. This great-value ticket includes entry and unlimited rides and attractions for Movie World, Sea World, and Wet 'n' Wild. You can also choose between a pass that's valid for seven or 21 days, giving you maximum flexibility to plan your itinerary.
- Springbrook National Park Day Trip: Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and experience the breathtaking beauty of a World Heritage-listed wilderness on the Springbrook National Park Discovery Full-Day Bushwalking Tour. This wilderness adventure includes a guided bushwalk, a picnic lunch at pretty Purlingbrook Falls, and the chance to swim in rainforest pools and see interesting rock formations. This is a small-group tour, with a maximum of 15 people, and includes expert guides, picnic lunch, transportation in an air-conditioned minivan, national park fees, and hotel pickup and drop-off.
- Lamington National Park Day Trip: You can explore yet another stunning World Heritage-listed wilderness area on the O'Reilly's Lamington National Park and Tree Top Canopy Tour. Birds are a highlight on this full-day excursion, which gives you the chance to hand-feed colorful flocks of king parrots and see bowerbirds, lyrebirds, and wedge-tailed eagles. The day includes a canopy tour at O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat in the heart of the rainforest and a visit to an alpaca farm on the way home. Entrance fees, the tree top canopy walk, round-trip transportation with commentary, and hotel pickup and drop-off are included in the tour.