18 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Brisbane

Written by Karen Hastings
Updated Jan 20, 2023
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Author Karen Hastings and photographer Brian Hastings love visiting Brisbane for a culture fix when they're based on the Sunshine Coast. They last visited in December 2022."

Brisbane (or "Brissie" as Aussies affectionately call it) offers sophisticated big-city attractions in a sun-splashed riverside setting. In every season, you'll find countless things to do in this clean, green Queensland capital. Lush parklands punctuate the city, bike and walking paths radiate throughout, and the city hums with innovation and creativity.

Aerial view of Brisbane
Aerial view of Brisbane

River cruises are the best way to sightsee in the city. Brisbane is linked by bridges, with elegant historic buildings peeking out amid the gleaming skyscrapers. Hop aboard a cruise or ferry for an overview, then focus on your favorite spots later on foot.

In the Cultural Centre, you can ogle Indigenous art and cutting-edge contemporary creations alongside works from European masters.

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 abundant 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. Explore South Bank Parklands

Lagoon at South Bank Parklands
Streets Beach lagoon at South Bank Parklands | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

One of the best places to visit in Brisbane is South Bank Parklands. Strolling through the riverfront precinct on a sunny day is a great way to soak up the spirit of the city. This was the original site of World Expo in 1988, and it still buzzes with activities and events today.

Parklands, plazas, and promenades encourage you to linger in this popular pedestrian area. It sits directly opposite the CBD, with Streets Beach at its center, and a swim in the man-made lagoon here is a popular choice on a warm Brisbane day.

You'll also find a diverse array of restaurants at South Bank, and the precinct hosts some exciting Brisbane events and film screenings.

Restaurants at South Bank
Restaurants at South Bank | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Ready to shop? The Collective Markets at South Bank sell everything from hand-made crafts and crystals to jewelry, vintage clothing, collectibles, and more. You'll find them on Little Stanley Street every Friday (5pm to 9pm), Saturday (10am to 9pm), and Sunday 9am to 4pm.

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.

2. 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 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.

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

3. Hop on a Brisbane 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. 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.

Brisbane River Cruise
Brisbane River Cruise | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

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 sites, 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 license, 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.

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

4. 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).

Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC)
Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

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

5. Stroll through Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha

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

Green thumbs 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. Plus, it's one of the top things to do in Brisbane for free.

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.

6. 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.

7. 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

8. Bike or Stroll along the Brisbane Riverwalk

Brisbane Riverwalk
Brisbane Riverwalk

Paralleling the Brisbane River, the 5.3-kilometer Brisbane Riverwalk is another great way to see the city. You can stroll, jog, or bike along the Riverwalk — cycling and pedestrian lanes are separate — and the promenade perches right over the water, providing beautiful water views across to Kangaroo Point and beyond.

Officially, the route starts at Riverview Court in New Farm, one of Brisbane's hip inner city suburbs, and stretches all the way to Howard Smith Wharves. Here, you can relax at one of the many restaurants and cafés.

Feel like more of a workout? Continue walking all the way around the river to the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. And if you're a couple looking for free things to do in Brisbane at night, this is the perfect place for a romantic stroll with the lights of the city shimmering on the river.

9. Take the Kids to Roma Street Parklands

Roma Street Parkland, Brisbane
Roma Street Parkland, Brisbane

Looking for things to do in Brisbane with kids? Let them run wild at Roma Street Parklands. This 39-acre city park is the perfect spot for pint-sized travelers to get their wiggles out — especially if you have a busy day of museum- and gallery-hopping planned.

Playgrounds, climbing equipment, and swings tempt the tiniest members of the family, and they'll also love checking out the herb and veggie patch.

Roma Street Parklands are also the perfect place for a picnic. Spread out your blanket under one of the towering fig trees and soak up the botanical beauty around you. The park hosts one of Australia's finest contemporary display gardens. Mass plantings of palms and bamboo form a lush backdrop, and color-themed flower beds catch the eye.

Free guided walks provide insight into the park's history and horticulture, and a year-round lineup of events offer even more ways to enjoy this lush oasis in the heart of the city.

Address: 1 Parkland Blvd, Brisbane, Queensland

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 cheeseburger, 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).

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. 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.

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.

11. Ride the Wheel of Brisbane

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

You can't miss it. The Wheel of Brisbane rises 60 meters above the riverfront and is one of the top tourist attractions in South Bank. It opened in 2008 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the state of Queensland.

Hop aboard for an exciting 10- to 12-minute ride with a bird's-eye view over the river and city. Each enclosed, air-conditioned gondola seats up to eight people.

You can ride the giant Ferris Wheel during the day; at sunset, when the Brisbane skyline ignites with fiery colors; or at night as the city lights twinkle and reflect on the river. Your ride includes an audio tour of the Brisbane landmarks you can see far below.

You don't need a reservation to ride the Wheel of Brisbane. Just show up and buy a ticket, or pre-purchase one online before you arrive.

Address: Russell Street, South Brisbane, Queensland

12. Shop at Queen Street Mall

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

When it comes to shopping in Brisbane, you have plenty of choice. The vibrant Queen Street mall in Brisbane's 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. On a budget? Don't worry, H&M and other discount retailers live along here, too.

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

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

13. Climb the Story Bridge

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.

Story Bridge and the Brisbane skyline
Story Bridge and the Brisbane skyline | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

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

14. Take a Day Trip to Moreton Island

Beach at Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island
Beach at Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Looking for an idyllic island escape a short hop from the city buzz? You've found it! Easily accessible via a 75-minute ferry ride, Moreton Island is the perfect Brisbane day trip and one of Queensland's best-kept secrets. It's also the third largest sand island in the world.

Azure waters lap the powdery-white beaches, backed by perfectly arching palms, and the island is a wonderland for family-friendly outdoor adventures. More than 98 percent of Moreton Island is designated as a national park, with abundant wildlife both on land and in the sea.

Hop aboard a Day Cruise to Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island to explore this pristine paradise. This full-day cruise includes sand tobogganing, a wildlife/whale-spotting cruise, snorkeling the famous shallow-water wrecks, or an ATV Quad Bike Tour.

Quad biking at Tangalooma Island Resort
Quad biking at Tangalooma Island Resort | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Better still, if you have more time, consider staying overnight at Tangalooma Island Resort. Other bucket-list adventures here include feeding wild dolphins, kookaburra and pelican feeding, helicopter tours, Segway beach rides, and more.

15. 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 at the Museum of Brisbane, 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

16. 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

17. Learn about Aboriginal Culture at Spirit of the Red Sand

At the Spirit of the Red Sand 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/

18. Catch a Show at Suncorp Stadium

Suncorp Stadium
Suncorp Stadium | POC / Shutterstock.com

Attending a concert or sports game at Suncorp Stadium is one of the top things to do in Brisbane for music lovers and sports fans. This is Brisbane's main events venue. Rock concerts, international soccer (football) matches, rugby league, and rugby union games are just some of the events you can see at this world-class 52,500-seat stadium.

If you're planning a visit to Brisbane, it's a good idea to check the schedule of events to see if anything takes your fancy. You can attend a Brisbane Broncos rugby match or watch performances by international mega-stars — Elton John, Justin Bieber, and Ed Sheeran are among the many performers on the star-studded lineup.

To find out more about Suncorp Stadium, consider booking a stadium tour. You'll learn all about the history of this popular entertainment venue, and even find out what's involved in staging a top sporting event or concert.

Address: 40 Castlemaine Street, Milton, Queensland

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 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:

  • The family-owned and run Riverview Motel sits in a handy Hamilton location, a two-minute walk from the Brisbane River and a stroll from the cruise terminal and Eat Street. Rooms are cute and homey.
  • 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.

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 & Tamborine Forest Day Trip: Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and experience the breathtaking beauty of a World Heritage-listed wilderness on the Springbrook and Tamborine Rainforest Tour. This full-day wilderness adventure includes a visit to Springbrook National Park, where you'll see beautiful waterfalls and the Natural Bridge. The tour also includes a stop at the Tamborine Mountain glow worm caves and a scenic drive and hike through the Numinbah Valley. This is a small-group tour, with a maximum of 21 people, and includes expert guides, coffee and tea, transportation in an air-conditioned minivan, national park fees, and hotel pickup and drop-off.
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