I spent four days in Brisbane back in early March because I’d been on the road for a few weeks and needed a place to recharge, have good wifi, and work. Well, if you know me, you know that it didn’t *quite* work out like that! Instead of working 8+ hours a day, I took off to explore the city and the Brisbane waterfront for part of my day. I also sought out a few hidden coffee shops because #coffee.
Did you know that Brisbane was founded in 1799? It was first conceived as a penal colony for prisoners from Sydney; free settlement began in 1838. You’d never know it, most of the architecture dates to the post-modern era. The Brisbane waterfront has been inundated by flooding over the last century, but the city instituted a flood mitigation scheme which worked until the 2011 flooding. Much of the waterfront was revamped following that disaster, so what you see today is fairly new.
That being said, there’s so much in Brisbane that even with four days I didn’t get a lot done. The waterfront is a great place to hang out and relax though, so I thought I’d share with you a little bit about it and why you should not miss the Brisbane waterfront on your next trip to Brisbane (and, of course, why you shouldn’t skip Brissy on your next trip to Australia!).
Coming? Let’s go.
Brisbane River winds through the city dividing the CBD into three parts. There’s the CBD, on the peninsula; South Bank, across from the CBD; and Fortitude Valley, which appears next to the CBD. Other nearby precincts include Roma Street, north of the William Jolly Bridge and the West End, a kilometre away from South Bank. The Brisbane waterfront is a two kilometre stretch of riverbank that extends along the south bank from the pedestrian Kurilpa Bridge to the Maritime Museum.*
*for purposes of this post, I am combining the South Bank Cultural Precinct and South Bank into one*
This is where you’ll find most of the museums in Brisbane. The state library, the Queensland Modern Art Gallery, Museum and Science Centre, Art Gallery, and Maritime Museum all line the banks of South Bank.
There’s also a plethora of cafes, from early morning coffee joints to sunny afternoon gelato shops, and scores of casual + fine dining restaurants and late night bars.
If you’re keen to spend a day on the man-made Brisbane waterfront, here’s where to go and what to see, as well as where to eat and drink.
where to go
The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, or QGOMA, is a vast building with three levels of impressive QLD modern art. Many of the artists are aboriginal and local, so you get a wide flavour of interesting art. They’re celebrating ten years this year (2017) so expect powerful exhibitions that celebrate not just Brissy but Queensland and Australian art as well.
One of my favourite exhibitions (not permanent, so if you’re reading this several years from now, it’s not there anymore) was one where you could write letters. If you put an address on it, it would get sent at the end of the exhibition. I am waiting to see if mine gets sent back to the US………….
Stanley Place, South Bank, Brisbane
Queensland Museum and Sciencentre
This museum is dedicated to the life and times of Queensland, with a few unique temporary exhibitions. Read stories from Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders – see their heritage and learn about their struggle. Learn about the fragile ecosystem that makes up much of Queensland, from the pristine reef to the wild outback, the lush rainforests, and more. Understand the prehistory of the region with a foray into the many giant creatures that once roamed this state. Plenty of interactive exhibits for kids, and incredibly informative.
Corner Grey and Melbourne Streets, South Bank, Brisbane
Queensland Maritime Museum
The QMM is one of Australia’s largest maritime museums, housing the warship Diamantina, the dry dock that once was her home, and plenty of other historical maritime artefacts. The museum has one of the largest collections of blueprints, photographs, and documents relating to historic ships. Tons of interactive exhibits and more. There is an admission charge; it includes a free audio tour.
412 Stanley Street, South Bank, Brisbane
Live Music on the Green
Every Saturday from 3pm, South Bank does free live music in the park. Grab a blanket, some shade, and bring an al fresco dinner or wine and enjoy the bands. Open to all. On Sundays, Sunday Sessions on the riverside are a great way to wine down your weekend and get ready for the week ahead. Wine is permitted, music starts from 7pm.
You can’t go to Brisbane and not take the requisite photo at the big sign. By day, it’s a kaleidoscope of bright colours. By night, it’s light up in all shades of the rainbow. It mimics the always-lit skyline across the river.
The Brisbane waterfront’s Streets Beach is one of the city’s not-so-hidden gems; it’s a man-made swimming beach lined with imported sand and Bombay Sapphire-coloured water. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While often packed on a sunny afternoon, it’s a peaceful spot to enjoy a late night swim, if that’s your thing. Bonus? No chance of crocs!
A peaceful oasis in the middle of the city. Few people venture into this tiny network of trails, preferring instead to stay on the esplanade. I say, get off the main walkway and wind your way through the tropical lushness. You’re literally in the middle of the city, but it doesn’t feel like that at all.
Wheel of Brisbane
Built in 2008 for the World Expo, the Brisbane Wheel is reminiscent of the London Eye. You get phenomenal views of the city and the river. It does cost quite a bit to go up for a short ride, as of April 2017, it was $20/adult and $14/child. A family pass is $57 (2 adults, 2 kids).
where to eat
Brisbane is quickly becoming a foodie paradise. Far from boring Australian food, it’s a vibrant city with international flair. The Brisbane waterfront has plenty of yummy places to grab breakfast, dinner, and everything in between. I’m not listing all the places, just some. For a comprehensive list of South Bank restaurants, check out this website from Visit Brisbane OR this amazing site from Eat South Bank.
This should be your go-to coffeeshop on the South Bank! The coffee is Di Manfredi, ground especially for you, and they also serve Turkish bread and avo smash, yummy looking pastries, and more. The cafe is tucked down an alley off Grey Street but it gets all the sun, so either soak it up or get your coffee to go and head to the beach.
176 Grey Street, South Bank, Brisbane
Craving something sweet? Stop. Go directly to Doughtnut Time. Do not pass go. I’m so serious – like how, unREAL do these doughnuts look?! The first shop opened in Fortitude Valley and is still there, so if you can’t make it to South Bank, just pop over to FV. There are even Vegan and Low Gluten doughnuts (if you’re celiac, maybe check with the staff first!). Flavours are on a first come, first serve basis and change weekly. It’s also best to get there early in the day because they do sell out!
186 Grey St, South Bank, Brisbane
The proximity to Asia means that Asian food and Asian fusion is a big deal here. Junk Boat is owned by renowned chef Tony Kelly and hospo exec Scott Hoskins. Expect vibrant colours, tasty food with a spicy kick, and a “playful modern-Australian twist” on the traditional Asian cuisines.
Shop 11-12, Little Stanley St, South Bank, Brisbane
Next Door Kitchen and Bar
One of Brisbane’s few speakeasies, this cocktail bar perfects the twenties decadence and bathtub gin with a delightful modern twist. The food looks playful but the cocktails are the stars of the show here.
B11 Little Stanley Street, South Bank, Brisbane
Brisbane is a city with plenty of charm and hidden gems. The more time I spent here, the more I liked it. No matter if you’re travelling through Australia on a Working Holiday Visa or simply road tripping down the East Coast, make sure you take time to visit Brisbane and seek out its charm.
When you’re ready to leave Brisbane, check out this post about all the hidden gems on the coast between Brisbane and Sydney! You’d be surprised at how remote some of these places are!
With so many pockets to explore, you could easily stay for a week. The Brisbane waterfront is an attractive, colourful place to spend time. There’s a lot more than I listed here, so get out there and explore what this fun city has to offer. Are you Brisbane local? Do you have any recommendations for the South Bank?
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