CBD Skyscrapers (Brisbane)

I spent three days in Brisbane, in the middle of a heat wave, commuting from my suburban AirBnB accommodation. Needless to say, I was moving very sluggishly. Yet there is no reason why you couldn’t see the city’s highlights within a day, if you’re organized.

Brisbane is pretty compact, with its centre nestled within a bend of its eponymous river. Here is my suggested itinerary for a day in the city. The best part: all of the sightseeing is free!


After breakfast, hop on the City Hopper ferry to get your bearings and see the city from the river. The City Hopper (a red boat, not to be confused with the CityCat) is free and stops at several locations on both sides of the river. Every city map shows the boarding points, the most central being at North Quay (starting point), South Bank 3 and Eagle Street Pier.

City Hopper ferry coming towards South Bank 3 (Brisbane)

City Hopper ferry coming towards South Bank 3

You can ride the ferry all the way to Sydney Street and back if you want, which shouldn’t take more than 1.5 hour. The ferry stops often to pick up and drop off passengers. If you want a more leisurely cruise, several companies operate tourist boats. If you simply want to explore further out, the CityCat (blue catamaran), which travels from St Lucia to Hamilton, is part of public transit and accessible with the TransLink Go card.

Story Bridge seen from City Hopper ferry (Brisbane)

Story Bridge seen from City Hopper ferry

Disembark at either North Quay or Eagle St Pier and walk to City Hall on King George Square. Get your free ticket for the tour up the clock tower in an antique hand-operated lift. At 76-metre high, the observation platform provides a great view over the city. The clock tower has been in operation since City Hall opened in 1930 and measures a total of 92 metres.

Tours depart every 15 minutes from 10:15 AM to 4:45 PM, but because groups are limited to seven people, you may have to wait a little. You could use this time to visit the adjoining Museum of Brisbane (also free), which displays the living history of the city through exhibitions, videos, and events.

City Hall and clock tower (Brisbane)

City Hall and clock tower

By the time you’ve been up the tower and visited the museum, you may feel a little peckish. You could grab lunch (or a snack) right here at City Hall, at the famous Shingle Inn, the reincarnation of Brisbane’s oldest and most loved café. I only had cake and coffee here, but the pastry was delicious and the portion quite large.

If the Shingle Inn does not appeal, no biggie, since you’re heading next to the heart of the Central Business District (CBD): Queen Street Mall.  This pedestrian space, along with the adjoining streets, offers all manners of shopping, eating, and drinking, as well as public art and buskers. This is also where the Tourist Office is located. Sit down for a bit, and enjoy the atmosphere.

Queen Street Mall (Brisbane)

Queen Street Mall

Albert Street in particular offers many eating possibilities, from Malaysian, to sushi, to casual cafés such as Palettes (corner of Charlotte Street) which advertises $5 drinks (beer or wine) with lunch.


After lunch, make your way to the Victoria Bridge, with perhaps a little detour to the intersection of Elizabeth Street and William Street to see the Treasury Casino and Hotel, an elegant building fronting a plaza dotted with intriguing metallic spheres.

Treasury Casino and Hotel (Brisbane)

Treasury Casino and Hotel

Cross the bridge to South Brisbane, which is home to several interesting museums and galleries. Just north of the bridge, the Queensland Museum has free general admission. (There is a cost for special exhibitions and the adjoining ScienCentre.) The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) are both free.

Gallery of Modern Art (Brisbane)

Gallery of Modern Art

If it’s raining, or insanely hot (as it was during my visit), you’ll be glad to while away a few hot afternoon hours in the air conditioned interior. Be warned that the AC is really cold in these museums, so you may wish to carry around a sweater or light jacket.

By late afternoon, make your way south to the Southbank Parklands, a combination of green park and entertainment area. There is even a giant Ferris wheel (not free)! You could do worse then stopping at one of the many bars for a pre-dinner drink and a bit of people watching. The Southbank is also home to an artificial beach and a few pools, if you feel like a swim. There are toilets, showers and change rooms nearby.

Beach at Southbank Parklands (Brisbane)

Beach at Southbank Parklands

Not tired yet?

You could have dinner at one of the restaurants in Southbank and end your sightseeing here. But if you’re not yet ready to call it a day, go back downtown via the pedestrian Goodwill Bridge at the southern end of the park, and make your way back to the CBD via the City Botanic Gardens (if they’re still open). There aren’t many flowers here, but several large trees, including impressive ficus trees.

Giant ficus tree in City Botanic Gardens (Brisbane)

Giant ficus tree in City Botanic Gardens

For a splurge, Eagle Street Pier is home to some of the city’s best restaurants, with terraces right by the river.

Eagle Street Pier (Brisbane)

Eagle Street Pier

There is a lot more to do in Brisbane of course. With more time you could go a little further afield and explore the other Botanical Gardens on Mount Coot-tha, or the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. But this day tour should provide a good overview of the city.

I have to admit that I didn’t expect much from Brisbane. After all, this city is not as well known and popular as Melbourne or Sydney. However I was happily surprised, both by its level of development and its aesthetics. If only it hadn’t been so bloody hot and humid!

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