Glowing sandstone heritage buildings and glistening modern office towers stand side-by-side in Queensland’s capital, Brisbane, monuments to a lifestyle that has embraced change while keeping its traditions alive.
Built on 11 beautiful, tree-clad hills with spectacular views of the D’Aguilar Range, Brisbane offers a combination of city life and all its comforts, and the close proximity of the Australian bush. The city heart focuses on the wide brown Brisbane River and its parklands, but escape from the city environs can be less than 30 minutes’ travel from the central business district. Life takes on a leisurely pace here.
Walkways and cycle paths allow leisurely enjoyment of most of the city riverfront and its opposite banks, and getting out on the river is easy (and cheap) aboard a fast and comfortable CityCat or ferry.
Brisbane’s majestic sandstone City Hall dominates the centre of the city on King George Square, which is alive with round-the-clock activity. Take the lift to the top of the clock tower for a new perspective on the city and its surrounds.
The Queen Street Mall is Brisbane’s modern, relaxed and traffic-free haven where café style can be combined with people-watching. Major shopping complexes include the Myer Centre, which has 230 specialty stores, restaurants, taverns and cinemas.
Start with these Brisbane Itineraries
At the river end of the Mall is the heritage-listed former Treasury building, now Brisbane’s elegant, European-style casino (but currently undergoing a major redevelopment).
Walking paths give easy access to the riverfront parklands, on both sides of the river, which is also spanned by 11 bridges, including two for pedestrians and cyclists only.
South Bank is home to the Queensland Cultural Centre with the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, State Library, Queensland Museum, and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre with its theatres, restaurants and cafes, as well as the Queensland Conservatorium of Music.
Getting away from the concrete jungle is easy in Brisbane and the city’s sub-tropical climate means you can take advantage of the great outdoors all year round. Brisbane has long held the title of “Australia’s Koala Capital”. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, situated in 20 hectares of beautiful parkland, shaded by native trees in a quiet pocket of the Brisbane River, is home to more than 130 koalas, as well as kangaroos, wallabies and other native wildlife.
Brisbane is also the gateway to the islands of Moreton Bay, readily accessible by ferry, water taxi, high-speed catamaran or light plane. Some, like Moreton Island and North Stradbroke Island, are massive wilderness areas with vast expanses of windswept surf and sandy beaches on the ocean side.
Visitors should also head south (about an hour by car) to the beaches of the Gold Coast and north (about 90 minutes) to the Sunshine Coast.
Brisbane’s sub-tropical climate and inland position – it’s on a river, not a beach – make it very hot and sticky in summer (December-February). One of the best times to visit are spring (September-November) when you’ll also be rewarded by the sight of the city’s many jacaranda trees in bloom. In summer, the Poinciana trees blossom, turning parts of the city a Christmassy shade of scarlet.
Brisbane has plenty to occupy you, and if you include Gold Coast to the south and the Sunshine Coast to the north, you could spend easily a week to 10 days exploring. For the city itself, I think a minimum of five days is needed to see the highlights and get a feel for this relaxed riverside Queensland capital. But stay for longer, and you’ll not run short of things to see and do.
Brisbane summers are hot, humid and sometimes very sticky. This is also the wettest time of year, with afternoon storms not unusual. December to February is also the peak summer/Christmas holiday season. Spring (September-November) is cooler and quite lovely, with city’s many jacaranda trees in full purple bloom. There’s no real autumn to speak of (or at least not much in the way of autumn foliage, and winter (June to August) is mild. While the locals rug up if the mercury dips below 20 degrees Celsius, visitors from cooler climes seem still happy in their t-shirts and shorts.
Local Events & Holidays:
Time your visit for some of Brisbane’s special events, think about Spring, when it is not too hot and the city hosts the annual Brisbane Festival over three weeks in September. The highlight of this arts festival is Riverfire, a spectacular fireworks display best seen from the riverbank. The festival program includes music, theatre, dance, comedy, opera, circus and much more.
The city also has one special public holiday all of its own: Royal Brisbane Show Day, fondly called “The Ekka” (for exhibition) by locals. The Ekka Show holiday is on a Wednesday in August, but only applies to Brisbane City, not surrounding regions.
National Holidays include:
January 1: New Year’s Day
January 26: Australia Day
March/April: Good Friday and Easter Monday
April 25: Anzac Day
December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Boxing Day
On national public holidays, banks, post offices and liquor outlets may be closed or open for limited hours. There are also additional holidays in each state or territory.
To check the local time in Brisbane, click here.
When the rest of Australia’s eastern states turn their clocks back for daylight saving from early October to early April, Brisbane (and the whole of Queensland) goes it alone, sticking resolutely to Eastern Standard Time. So during this time, when it’s 9am in Sydney and Melbourne, itâs still 8am in Brisbane. Remember to change your watch or phone when you land in Brisbane from another state.
The rest of the year, Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania. Central Standard Time (CST) is used in the Northern Territory and South Australia, and Western Standard Time (WST) is the standard in Western Australia. When its noon in Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, and Tasmania, its 11:30am in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and 10am in Western Australia.
All states except Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia observe Daylight Saving Time (DST) during spring and summer. At 2AM on the first Sunday in October clocks are advanced one hour. On the first Sunday in April at 2AM, clocks shift back one hour to standard time. However, not all states switch over to daylight saving on the same day or in the same week, so it pays to check if you are travelling at these times.
You’ll only need light clothing in this warm and often humid climate, but it always pays to pack something warm as it can be cold in winter and cool in the evenings anytime except in the height of summer. While Queensland dress is always casual, Brisbane people love to dress up and something smart won’t go astray for evenings out and smart restaurants. Men almost never need a tie, but proper shoes and shirts with sleeves are often a requirement. It’s not the beach.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $AU.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $20 per
$$ => Tickets $21-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $70 per person
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a
$$ => Rooms $201-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $301 for a double
$ => $1-$35 per person for a meal
(without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $36-$80 per person for a
meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $81 per person for a meal
(without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $20 per
$$ => Tickets $20-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $50 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their “friend” or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping, and the major companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis and Europcar all operate around Australia, alongside smaller local companies that are worth investigating.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ’em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Ride-sharing company Uber is relatively new to Australia and is currently under scrutiny by state governments where it operates. It currently operates in Sydney, Canberra (from Oct 30), Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong in Victoria, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Rides are ordered through a smart phone app, it’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Hopefully, your trip to Australia goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation – About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical – Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption – For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay – Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage – Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Standard medical and travel insurance is advisable for travel to Australia. Divers including the Great Barrier Reef or other Australian diving destinations should also
ensure they have the appropriate insurance.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework – check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions – Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance – If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
Australian dollars come in $1 and $ coins, and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. Each is a different colour, so they are easy to tell apart. Other coins are 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents. The $1 and $2 coins are gold, all the others are silver.
Prices sometimes end in a variant of 1 or 2 cents (for example, 52 cents or $1.78), a relic from the days before 1-cent and 2-cent pieces were phased out. In these cases, prices are rounded to the nearest 5 cents, so 52 cents rounds down to 50 cents, and 78 cents rounds up to 80 cents.
If you get money from an ATM, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, Australian banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash out” when paying for your goods – this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout Australia. Visa and MasterCard are universally accepted in Australia; American Express and Diners Club are less commonly accepted, so it pays to check first. Always carry some cash, because some traders won’t take cards for purchases under $10 or $15.
Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card – which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.
Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.
Tipping is always appreciated, but is not widely practiced or expected in Australia. It is usual to tip around 10% to 15% or round up to the nearest A$10 for a substantial meal in a restaurant, but certainly not mandatory. Some taxi passengers round up to the nearest round figure in a cab, but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping hotel porters and housemaids is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, massage therapists and spa employees or hairdressers.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
Airports & airlines
About 30 international airlines serve Brisbane from Europe, North America, Asia, and New Zealand. From North America, you can fly direct from Los Angeles to Brisbane on Qantas, but from other places you will likely fly to Sydney first, then take a connecting flight to Brisbane, or come via Auckland, New Zealand.
Qantas and Virgin Australia both operate daily flights from all state capitals. Jetstar has daily service from Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart and other Australian cities. Tigerair flies to Brisbane from Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin and Cairns.
Brisbane International Airport is 16km from the city, and the domestic terminal is 2km farther away. There is a free inter-terminal bus, or you can catch the train to the city center. Airtrain, a rail link between the city and Brisbane’s domestic and international airport terminals, runs every 15 minutes from around 5am to 10pm daily. The trip takes about 20 minutes. If you are traveling on Virgin Australia, the train is free upon showing your boarding pass. Con-x-ion runs a shuttle between the airport and city hotels and the Brisbane Transit Centre. No public buses serve the airport.
A new airport, Wellcamp Brisbane West Airport, has recently opened at Toowoomba, about ??? from Brisbane. Despite the name, this is not a Brisbane airport, and to drive to Brisbane from here takes about ???. So don’t make the mistake of thinking this is “just west” of Brisbane city – it’s not!
If you are driving to Brisbane from the north, you will enter the city via the Bruce Highway; from the south youâll be on the Pacific Highway.
Queensland Rail operates long-distance trains north from Brisbane along the coast. The Spirit of Queensland takes about 24 hours between Brisbane and Cairns. NSW TrainLink runs daily train services to Brisbane from Sydney (the final leg of the trip, from the town of Casino, south of the Queensland border, is by bus). All trains pull into the Brisbane Transit Centre at Roma Street in the city center.
All intercity and interstate coaches pull into the Brisbane Transit Centre. Greyhound Australia serves the city several times daily. Cairns-Brisbane takes nearly 30 hours. The Sydney-Brisbane trip takes about 17 hours.
Cars & traffic
Central Brisbane’s main streets are named after British royalty: those running east-west after female royals (Ann, Adelaide, Queen, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Mary, Margaret and Alice, in that order) and those running north-south after their male counterparts (Edward, Albert, George, and William). The main street is Queen Street, which becomes a pedestrian mall between Edward and George streets. Ann Street leads into the nightclub district of Fortitude Valley. The main street in Fortitude Valley is Brunswick Street. Remember, to drive on the left! Brisbaneâs grid of one-way streets can be confusing, so plan your route before setting out. Brisbane’s biggest parking lot is at the Myer Centre (off Elizabeth St.), open 24 hours.
Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty all have outlets in the city center.
Brisbane’s suburban rail network is fast, quiet, clean and relatively safe. Trains run from around 5am to midnight (until about 11pm on Sun). All trains leave Central Station, between Turbot and Ann streets at Edward Street. Airtrain runs between Brisbane Airport and Central Station.
CityCycle has 150 bike parking stations across inner city Brisbane, with bright yellow bikes and helmets (compulsory by law) to hire. You can hire a bike between 5am and 10pm daily and return it to the station at any time.
Buses operate from around 5am to 11pm weekdays, with less service on weekends. On Sunday, many routes stop around 5pm. Most buses depart from City Hall at King George Square, Adelaide, or Ann Street. The Loop is a free bus service that circles the city center. The Loop’s distinctive red buses run on two routes, stopping at convenient places including Central Station, Queen Street Mall, City Botanic Gardens, Riverside Centre, and King George Square. Look for the red bus stops. They run every 15 minutes from 7am to 6pm Monday through Friday.
For a good introduction to Brisbane, look no further than the bright red double-decker Brisbane Explorer bus tour. This hop-on, hop-off service stops at 15 points of interest in a continuous loop around the city center, Spring Hill, Milton, South Bank, and Fortitude Valley, including Chinatown. They take in various historic buildings and places of interest. The entire trip, without stopping, takes about 90 minutes.
For a taxi, call Yellow Cabs or Black and White Taxis. There are taxi stands at each end of Queen Street Mall, on Edward Street and on George Street (outside the Treasury Casino). Uber operates in Brisbane too.
Two pedestrian bridges link South Bank with the city: the Goodwill Bridge links South Bank with the City Gardens, while the Kurilpa Bridge links Tank Street, in the city center, with the Gallery of Modern Art at South Bank. The floating Riverwalk boardwalk runs for 2km from near the Story Bridge to New Farm.
The best walking tours in town are run by the Brisbane Greeters and they’re free. You get your own personal tour guide (or you can join a group), often a local with a particular area of expertise or interest in some aspect of the city. So you can choose from tours that look at architecture, arts and culture, history, and more, or at a particular neighborhood or precinct. Guides are volunteers with a passion and enthusiasm for the city, and you’ll learn a lot along the way. Some tours combine bicycling using CityCycle bikes. You’ll likely see the Greeters in their bright red shirts out and about in the city. Tours start from the Visitor Information Centre in the Queen Street Mall, and last between one and four hours. Try to book ahead, online or at the Visitor Information Centre.
Free one-hour guided walks of the City Botanic Gardens at Alice Street leave from the rotunda at the Albert Street entrance Monday to Saturday at 11am and 1pm. Just turn up and join the group.
The fast, comfortable CityCat ferries run the length of the Brisbane River on a 20km route between the University of Queensland to the south of the city center, and the suburb of Hamilton to the north. The smaller, slower CityFerry service (Inner City and Cross River ferries) has stops at points including the south end of South Bank Parklands, Kangaroo Point, and Edward Street right outside the Brisbane City Gardens. Ferries run from around 6am to 10:30pm daily. Two hours on the CityCat takes you the entire length of the run (and there’s free Wi-Fi on board too!). This is a great way of seeing the city!
All intercity and interstate coaches pull into the Brisbane Transit Centre in Roma Street, which is also a hub for long distance trains. The major bus terminal for city and suburban routes is at King George Square. All CityRail trains leave from Central Station.
SEEQ cards, specially designed for visitors, offers 3 or 5 consecutive days travel on all public transport services, including two Airtrain trips. The cards are available through Translink.
TransLink operates the network of buses, trains, and ferries. It uses an integrated ticket system, and the easiest place to buy your tickets is on the buses and ferries or at the train stations. You can also buy tickets and pick up maps and timetables at the Queen Street bus station (in the Myer Centre, off Queen Street Mall) and the Brisbane Visitor Information Centre in the Queen Street Mall. Tickets and electronic go-cards are also sold at some inner-city newsagencies and 7-Eleven convenience stores. If you plan on using public transport a lot, it is worth investing in a go-card, which gives discounted rates (you can also buy online and just top up the card balance as you need it). Off-peak tickets are available on weekends, public holidays and on weekdays (but then only between 9am and 3.30pm or after 7pm).
Like many other Australian cities, Brisbane started life as a British convict settlement.
But when the first Europeans – the British explorer Matthew Flinders and his crew – arrived in 1799, the banks of the Brisbane River had already long been home to the Jagera and Turrbal aboriginal people. The river provided a steady and abundant supply of fish and shellfish and there were many campsites along it.
Flinders explored Moreton Bay during his expedition from Port Jackson north to Hervey Bay, spending two weeks searching fruitlessly for the Brisbane River. It was another two decades before a permanent settlement in the region was, when New South Wales Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane was petitioned by free settlers in Sydney to send the worst convicts elsewhere.
On 1823, Surveyor General John Oxley found the entrance to the river and explored about 100km of it, naming it in honour of the governor. The following year, a convict colony was established at Redcliffe Point. Meanwhile, Oxley and Allan Cunningham explored further up the Brisbane River in search of water, landing at the present location of North Quay in the Brisbane city centre. A year later, the colony was moved south from Redcliffe to a peninsula on the Brisbane River, now the central business district. Convicts were charged with building some of the city’s early buildings but only two of these still remain – the Commissariat Stores and the Old Windmill.
Brisbane’s penal colony soon had a reputation, along with Norfolk Island, as one of the harshest penal settlements of all. Over 20 years, thousands of convicts passed through the penal colony.
But Brisbane’s attributes made it too good a proposition to remain as only a penal colony. The region’s suitability for fishing, farming, timber cutting, and other occupations saw it opened up to free settlers in 1838.
Queensland was formally established as a self-governing colony of Great Britain, separate from New South Wales, in 1859, and the same year the Municipality of Brisbane was officially proclaimed.
Even though gold was discovered north of Brisbane, near Maryborough and Gympie, most of the wealth went to Sydney and Melbourne. Brisbane remained a “big country town”, with few of the beautiful Victorian buildings that still characterise southern gold-rush cities.
Brisbane played a prominent role in the defence of Australia during World War II and was a temporary home to thousands of Australian and American servicemen. The present-day MacArthur Central building was the Pacific headquarters of Amercian General Douglas MacArthur, and historic Newstead House was also used to house American servicemen.
The Brisbane River – along which the city is built – has seen major devastating floods over the years. The 1893 “Black February” floods caused severe flooding in the region – an event that was to be repeated throughout the centuries that followed – and devastated the city. Other major floods were in 1864, 1893, 1897, 1974, 2011 and 2013. Among the places that marks these events is the historic Regatta Hotel on Coronation Drive, where flood markers on the verandah posts show the water levels.
Brisbane is a multi-cultural city, with many religions represented. There are Anglican (St John’s on Ann St) and Catholic (St Stephen’s on Elizabeth St) cathedrals – both in the city centre, and you will also find other places of worship. There is a Buddhist temple at Logan City, to the south of Brisbane, and a mosque in the suburb of Holland Park.