14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Brisbane

Written by Karen Hastings
Updated Jul 26, 2021

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Australia's third largest city, Brisbane (or "Brissie" as Aussies affectionately call it) offers sophisticated big-city attractions in a sun-splashed riverside setting. 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. Today, you can still feel the buzz of this multicultural Queensland capital at its many tourist attractions and lively events.

Seeking a culture fix? Brisbane has you covered. In the Cultural Centre, you can ogle Indigenous art and cutting-edge contemporary creations alongside works from European masters. Brisbane is also clean, green, and safe. Lush parklands punctuate the city, bike and walking paths radiate throughout, and a strong emphasis on innovation and creativity bubbles throughout the city.

Aerial view of Brisbane
Aerial view of Brisbane

River cruises are the best way to sightsee in the city. Brisbane straddles its eponymous waterway, linked by bridges, and elegant historic buildings peek out amid the gleaming skyscrapers. Hop aboard a cruise for an overview, and focus on your favorite spots later on foot.

East of the city, the blue waters of Moreton Bay hold even more allure. You can head out on rewarding day trips from Brisbane to subtropical islands. Families also appreciate the city's many free attractions and kid-friendly adventures.

Discover the best places to visit in this relaxed riverside city with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Brisbane.

See also: Where to Stay in Brisbane

1. Cuddle a Koala at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Ever wanted to cuddle a koala? At Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, you can tick this lifelong dream off your bucket list.

You can also get up close with more than 70 species of other lovable Aussie animals. Hand-feed kangaroos, cackle with kookaburras, and watch as flocks of kaleidoscopic rainbow lorikeets descend during a feeding. Wallabies, wombats, dingoes, snakes, and even crocodiles also live in this compact sanctuary nestled on the Brisbane River.

Keeper talks and interactive demonstrations keep animal lovers engaged. Daily encounters and experiences include bird of prey flight demonstrations, platypus feeding, sheep dog and shearing shows, Tasmanian devil keeper talks, and barn animal encounters. Not surprisingly, visiting this famous Brisbane attraction is one of the top things to do in Brisbane with the family.

In addition to the ultimate cuddling a koala photograph, you can also take home a souvenir snap of you with a dingo or snake.

Insider's tip: A popular way to travel here is on the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary Admission with Brisbane River Cruise. The cruise departs from Brisbane's Cultural Centre Pontoon.

Address: 708 Jesmond Road, Fig Tree Pocket, Queensland

Official site: http://www.koala.net/

2. Visit the Museums & Galleries in the Cultural Centre

State Library of Queensland
State Library of Queensland | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

On the banks of the Brisbane River, the heritage-listed Cultural Centre in South Bank is a fantastic, family-friendly destination for a day out. Here, you'll find an impressive collection of museums, galleries, and performance venues. Award-winning architecture adds to the precinct's beautiful setting on the river near picturesque parklands.

You'll find plenty of things to do here for the whole family. Browse the excellent collections at the State Library of Queensland; keep the kids entertained with the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre's interactive exhibits; or admire thought-provoking, cutting-edge art at the popular Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA).

The Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) here stages world-class performances of everything from opera and ballet to comedy shows and contemporary music concerts.

Right nearby are the South Bank Parklands, where you can relax on the riverfront amid the lush lawns and gardens, or take a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane.

Address: Grey Street, South Brisbane, Queensland

3. Sightsee on a River Cruise

River Cruises
River Cruises

One of the best ways to go sightseeing in Brisbane is aboard a river cruise. The Brisbane River runs through the heart of the city, and many of the city's top attractions line its banks, vying for your attention. This is an excellent way to gain a fresh perspective of Brisbane landmarks such as the Story Bridge, Kangaroo Point Cliffs, and even some of the wildlife, like the fruit bats that gather along the mangroves on the riverbank.

Once you experience a scenic overview of the city on the water, you can get your bearings, and pinpoint places to spend more time during your visit.

River City Cruises run some of the most popular tours. They range from 90-minute morning or afternoon cruises to sunset cruises and longer excursions. A great choice is the 3.5-hour Cruise to Lunch Package. Along the way, your guide will share fascinating stories about Brisbane's history, and point out key Brisbane attractions, all while you enjoy Devonshire tea with glittering river views.

Kookaburra River Queens offers lunch, high tea, and dinner cruises aboard their multi-tiered timber paddle wheelers. You can also hop aboard a Miramar Cruise to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

Prefer to captain your own boat? GoBoat Brisbane rents eco-friendly electric picnic boats for up to eight people. You don't need a boat licence, and picnic tables are included.

CityCat on the Brisbane River
CityCat on the Brisbane River | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Alternatively, hop aboard a CityCat. Gliding the twists and turns of the Brisbane River seven days a week, the fleet of CityCats and City Ferries offer 24 hop-on, hop-off terminals with a range of different cruises. Many include informative narration about the history and sights 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.

Insider's tip: In the Brisbane city core, the CityHopper ferry service offers free cruises, stopping at attractions like South Bank 3 and the Maritime Museum.

4. Stroll through Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha

Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha
Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha

Visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to gardens in Brisbane. Lush parks and gardens punctuate every corner of the city, and Brisbane's botanic gardens are renowned for their impressive collections of subtropical plants.

First stop should be the stunning Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha (Mt. Coot-tha Road, Toowong), about seven kilometers from the city. Offering panoramic city views, this top tourist attraction is a favorite place to visit with locals and visitors alike.

Diverse themed gardens take you on a journey through 128 acres of horticulture. Highlights include the beautiful Japanese gardens and the largest collection of Australian rainforest trees in the world, as well as sections dedicated to fragrant plants, bamboo, cactus, indigenous plants, and more.

Budding botanists will love the Hide 'n' Seek Children's Trail through the rainforest, and you can take advantage of the free guided walks and minibus tours. Best of all, entry to the gardens is free. While you're in the area, stop by the Brisbane Lookout Mount Coot-tha, about a four-minute drive from the gardens.

Garden lovers should also save time to check out the 17-hectare, heritage-listed City Botanic Gardens (147 Alice Street, Brisbane). This serene oasis and prime picnic spot sits smack bang in the center of the city. Lily-topped ponds, fountains, bamboo groves, river views, and giant fig trees provide the perfect escape from the city buzz.

Do you have wiggly kids in tow? Head to Roma Street Parkland (1 Parkland Blvd, Brisbane). This attraction-packed, 39-acre city park features imaginative children's playgrounds, colorful themed gardens, and a free, guided garden tours.

5. Admire the Views from the Brisbane Lookout Mount Coot-tha

View of Brisbane from Mount Coot-tha at sunset
View of Brisbane from Mount Coot-tha at sunset

For one of the best views of Brisbane, drive up to the Brisbane Lookout Mount Coot-tha. Here, you can breathe in a breathtaking panorama over the entire area, with the city skyscrapers sprouting in the distance. Walking tracks weave through the national park, and a restaurant serves up delicious food with superb views.

If you're looking for things to do in Brisbane at night, many locals and tourists come here in the evening for views of the city at sunset.

The lookout is only about a four-minute drive from the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha, and it makes a perfect complement to a garden tour.

6. Find Inspiration at the Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA)

Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA)
Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

The excellent – and free – Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) occupies two adjacent but contrasting buildings along the waterfront in the South Bank Cultural Precinct. Together, they display more than 1,700 works of art from around the world, with a special focus on Australia, the Pacific, and Asia.

This bold collection is sure to spark animated conversations between art lovers of all stripes. Even the Gallery of Modern Art's award-winning, glass-encased building makes a statement.

Permanent exhibitions at the Queensland Art Gallery include the International and Asian Collection, with classic and contemporary works; the Indigenous Australian Collection; and the dramatic sculptures gracing the grounds. The interior is beautiful. Water features and giant chandeliers reflect the light that floods in through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Giant chandelier and water feature inside QAGOMA
Giant chandelier and water feature inside QAGOMA | Photo Copyright: Brian Hastings

At the Gallery of Modern Art, exhibits span all mediums, including sculpture, painting, video, film, and photography. Special exhibits mean there's always something new to see here. Don't miss the fascinating contemporary art installations.

Also within the complex, Australian Cinémathèque screens stimulating films from around the world, and the interactive exhibits at the Children's Art Centre keep little hands busy. Before you leave, pop into the gallery's River Lounge for beautiful city views.

Address: Stanley Place, South Brisbane, Queensland

Official site: https://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/

7. Explore South Bank & Ride the Wheel of Brisbane

Wheel of Brisbane
Wheel of Brisbane | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

The original site of World Expo in 1988, South Bank is filled with parklands, plazas, and promenades. You'll also find a diverse array of restaurants, and the precinct hosts some exciting Brisbane events and film screenings.

This riverside paradise sits directly opposite the CBD, with Streets Beach at its center. A swim in the human-made lagoon is a popular choice on a warm Brisbane day. Other popular things to do in South Bank include working out at the free fitness classes, visiting the Epicurious Garden, and biking or strolling along the trails. You can also sign up for a host of free children's programs and tours.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the state of Queensland, the Wheel of Brisbane opened here in 2008. The giant Ferris wheel is one of the top tourist attractions in South Bank and offers an exciting 10- to 12-minute ride with a bird's-eye view over the river and city during the day or night.

8. Shop at Queen Street Mall

Queen Street Mall
Queen Street Mall | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Craving a shopping fix? The vibrant Queen Street mall will give your wallet a workout. This popular shopping precinct Brisbane's CBD (central business district) is home to more than 700 retailers showcasing local, national, and international designs and labels.

You'll find everything here from Aussie favorites like R.W. Williams, Lorna Jane, and Zimmermann to high-end labels like Chanel, Dior, Tiffany & Co., and Louis Vuitton. The six-level Myer Centre department store anchors the mall. Cafés buzz with shoppers throughout the day, and a labyrinth of heritage-listed arcades make it rewarding to explore the complex. You'll find some hidden gems down these.

On a budget? Don't worry, H&M and other discount retailers live along here, too.

Most Wednesdays, the area at the bridge end of the mall transforms into the bustling Brisbane City Markets selling local produce, flowers, and artisan products.

If you're on a mission to explore more of the best shopping in Brisbane, don't miss the high-end designer and home decor stores in Fortitude Valley. For vintage treasures, thrift stores, and antiques head to Paddington. It's also a popular breakfast spot.

Address: Queen Street, Brisbane, Queensland

9. Get Your Heart Pumping on the Story Bridge Adventure Climb

Story Bridge Adventure Climb
Story Bridge Adventure Climb| Photo Copyright: Brian Hastings

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 10 years of age or older, the two-hour experience takes you 80 meters above the Brisbane River for uninterrupted views of the city.

New offerings including Walk the Plank, where you can conjure your inner pirate and tiptoe out on a plank 80 meters above sea level as traffic rushes past below. Another new adventure is the Cantilever Lean Out. If you sign up for this tour, guides hold your harness as you lean out as far as you can from the dizzying heights.

The Brisbane Story Bridge Adventure Climb includes an expert guide, safety demonstration, and a complimentary group photo after your climb.

Address: 170 Main Street, Kangaroo Point, Queensland

Official site: http://www.sbac.net.au/

10. Feast at Eat Street Northshore

Eat Street Northshore entrance
Eat Street Northshore entrance | Photo Copyright: Brian Hastings

Eat Street Northshore is like a party for your taste buds. You can eat around the world at this nightlife hot spot, soak up the carnival-type atmosphere, and listen to rockin' good live music at the same time. Eat Street is a pedestrian precinct, and you can wander around here with the whole family – even your pooch.

Food is a highlight. Hundreds of vendors dispense treats from around the globe, from Malaysian to Mexican cuisine, and Peruvian to paella. It's not haute cuisine by any measure, but if you're looking for some international comfort foods – and creative versions of them – this is your place.

Mac and cheese burger, anyone? Japanese pizza? Deep-fried camembert? You'll find it all here. The mind-boggling array of foods can be a little overwhelming. A great strategy is to buy some plates to share and taste a little bit of all your favorites. Kids will love the giant clouds of fairy floss (cotton candy), but the parents not so much after the sugar-high kicks in.

Inside Eat Street Northshore
Inside Eat Street Northshore | Photo Copyright: Brian Hastings

This is not a great place to come if you're on a diet. That said, some vendors do cater to celiacs. But while you're gorging on doughnut fries, you can at least feel good knowing that Eat Street strives to be sustainable – all the vendors are in colorful shipping containers, fresh produce is grown on-site, packaging is compostable, and as much waste as possible is recycled.

Several stages host live musicians and novelty acts, so you can find a table based on your music tastes, and move around throughout the evening.

Insider's Tip: Parking is free, but a fun way to arrive here is by catching a ferry to Northshore Hamilton Ferry Terminal, a short 250-meter walk away. Wear your walking shoes – and stretchy pants.

Official site: https://eatstreetnorthshore.com.au/

11. Take a Day Trip to Moreton Island

Moreton Island Day Trip
Moreton Island Day Trip

Easily accessible via a 75-minute ferry ride from downtown Brisbane, Moreton Island is the perfect day trip. As the world's third largest sand island and with more than 98 percent of the island designated as national park, Moreton Island is one of Queensland's best-kept secrets.

Lush vegetation frames azure waters that lap the pure-white sandy beaches. Popular things to do here include diving and snorkeling the many shallow-water wrecks; feeding wild dolphins at the Tangalooma Island Resort; quad biking; and water sports, such as whale-watching cruises, fishing, and sea kayaking. Sandboarding and 4WD adventures are also popular. While you're here, try to visit Cape Moreton Lighthouse for beautiful ocean views.

River to Bay tour on the Brisbane River
River to Bay tour on the Brisbane River | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

River to Bay offers day tours from the Brisbane River to beautiful Moreton Bay. Some are more nature-based, with guided walks and snorkeling. Others focus on culture and heritage.

12. Learn about the City's History at the Museum of Brisbane

Museum of Brisbane
Museum of Brisbane

Housed in one of Brisbane's premier heritage buildings, this intriguing museum was redeveloped and reopened in 2013. This "small in size, big in stories" museum occupies the top level of City Hall, and brings the history of Brisbane and its people to life through a series of state-of-the-art exhibitions covering everything from convict history to Brisbane's floods.

Temporary exhibitions mean there's always something new to see here, and all the exhibits are designed to engage visitors of all ages.

Adding to the experience are the sweeping views of the city from the magnificent clock tower. Best of all, entry, and most of the tours are free!

Address: Level 3, Brisbane City Hall, Adelaide Street, Brisbane

Official site: http://www.museumofbrisbane.com.au/

13. Take a Tour of Customs House

Customs House
Customs House | Photo Copyright: Brian Hastings

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.

The daily high tea here is popular with locals and visitors, but reservations are essential. Free guided tours of the building are available on Sundays, and free music concerts are often staged in the Long Room.

Address: 399 Queen Street, Brisbane, Queensland

Official site: http://www.customshouse.com.au/

14. Learn about Aboriginal Culture at Spirit of the Sands

At the Spirit of the Sands Indigenous storytelling experience, you can learn all about the Earth's oldest culture. It's about a 30-minute drive from the CBD, but it's well worth the time to gain insight into a key piece of Queensland's history.

During the day, enjoy a traditional Welcome to the Country ceremony. This 1.5-hour interactive experience incorporates Dreamtime stories and cultural activities – listen to the thrumming of a didgeridoo; taste some Aussie bush tucker (food); and take part in traditional customs, like boomerang painting.

The evening dinner and theater experience is equally enthralling. In the gardens of the Beenleigh Historical Village, you'll enjoy an evocative performance of Aboriginal song and dance. The performance portrays the culture clash between the Indigenous people and the British, and is told through the eyes of Aboriginal families. What makes this performance so moving is the fact that the performers actually experienced some of these events. Along with the entertainment, you'll enjoy a delicious three-course meal spotlighting Indigenous ingredients.

Address: 205 Main Street, Beenleigh, Queensland
Official site: https://spiritsredsand.com/

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 Brisbane's CBS, the new Emporium Hotel South Bank oozes elegance and style – think curvaceous sofas, gold-leaf mirrors, and marble bathrooms. Highlights include the rooftop infinity pool, pillow menus, and dazzling views of Brisbane.
  • A little farther out but still within walking distance of the city's top attractions is The Inchcolm by Ovolo. Decor is eclectic, with dramatic black accents and "Neo-Georgian design," and echoes the history of this heritage building – with a contemporary twist.
  • Echoes of mid-century modern Hollywood design make the The Calile Hotel a great new boutique choice in Fortitude Valley. Stroll to nearby Brisbane shopping, relax in a cabana by the sparkling pool, or unwind at the wellness spa.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • In Kangaroo Point, Il Mondo Boutique Hotel offers friendly service in a convenient location – the Story Bridge and free City Hopper ferry is a short stroll away. Choose from four different room types, ranging from motel-style rooms to one-bedroom apartments and penthouses with full kitchens. Take advantage of the free parking and sun-splashed swimming pool during your stay.
  • 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.
  • In an Art Deco-inspired heritage building, Adina Apartment Hotel Brisbane is a short stroll from Queen Street Mall and South Bank. Decor strikes a pleasing balance between classic and contemporary, and accommodations range from studios to three-bedroom apartments with full kitchens.

Budget Hotels:

  • Clean, bright, and recently refurbished, the George Williams Hotel is a great budget choice in the CBD. Stroll to Queen Street Mall in five minutes or cross the river to South Bank in 15 minutes.
  • On the banks of the Brisbane River and handy to public transport and the airport, Kingsford Riverside Inn is one of Brisbane's few pet-friendly hotels. The basic rooms come with shared bathrooms; breakfast and parking are free.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Brisbane

  • See the Sights: The small-group Brisbane Segway Sightseeing Tour is a great way to see the main tourist attractions in just over two hours. Cruise along the Brisbane River, through South Bank Parklands, and capture photos of Kangaroo Cliffs. Segway instruction is included, and you can choose either a morning or afternoon departure.
  • 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, a 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.
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