Brisbane is filled with cool eateries, thriving bars and hotels, and an eclectic range of galleries. Paired with an abundance of stunning river and ocean vantage points, it’s one of the country’s most popular food and culture hubs.
After being established in 1824 as a penal colony for convicts from Sydney, free settlement in Brisbane officially began in 1842, and by the 1880s, it had become a city of commerce along the Brisbane river. It then went on to host the 1982 Commonwealth Games and the 1988 world expo, solidifying its importance on the world stage. Now Queensland’s capital city is one of Australia’s fastest growing metropolitan hubs, and a place that many people from down south are flocking to in order to have sunshine with their culture doses.
Top cultural experiences in Brisbane
Brisbane’s landmark 777-metre-high Story Bridge was built in 1940 and provided much-needed work to hundreds of men during the Great Depression. You can dine along the river at Felons Brewery at night and look up to see the lights of the bridge illuminating the skyline. To get a great view of the city, try the Story Bridge Climb experience and head right to the top of this impressive monument while learning about the city’s history.
A bit more random but equally as interesting, is the Nepalese Peace Pagoda, which was a contribution from Nepal for the 1988 World Expo. Made out of hand-carved Nepalese timber, this 3-story high structure was relocated from the Expo’s south gates to the Parklands in South Beach after the residents of Brisbane won a bidding war for it against a determined Japanese committee. As it is now regarded to be a site of reflection of one’s life and finding peace, it has another name – The Nepal and Peace Pagoda.
Another opportunity to get high off the ground can be found at the Wheel of Brisbane, which lifts you 60 metres into the air over the trendy suburb of South Bank. Enjoy 15 minutes of incredible views in an air-conditioned environment. The wheel at night is lit up with 65,000 LED lights, making it not only a fun ride but a beautiful addition to the glittering skyline. Up to six adults can be in a regular gondola, but you can also reserve a VIP gondola for up to four adults for a special occasion.
Get in line for the best street food Brisbane has to offer at Eat Street Northshore, which is located in an abandoned docking site in Hamilton and open from Friday until Sunday. This global food bazaar perfectly reflects Brisbane’s multicultural society, and animal lovers will rejoice as it’s pet friendly! From French, Thai and Mexican fare, to Greek, Indian and Brazilian dishes and sweet treats, search until you find the food for you, and try out some quirky things along the way such as French fry-shaped donuts and super sweet mango pizzas. Music and the sparkle of fairy lights fill the air, and the many scents swirling about are as alluring as watching the different chefs from around the world work on culinary wonders in the glow of neon lights.
Another cultural attraction with Australia’s iconic critter at its heart is the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, thirty minutes southwest of downtown Brisbane. It is the world’s largest koala sanctuary with a mission is to inspire individuals and communities to live in balance with the natural world.
Lone Pine wants people to see koalas up close while also taking care of them and educating visitors about their habitat and the many challenges that they in the wild. The sanctuary is home to over 70 species of Australian native wildlife and some other animals you can expect to see include platypus, Tasmanian devils, dingos, echidnas, crocodiles, and wombats, the elusive southern cassowary and an abundance of birds including the black cockatoo, which is more rare than lions in the African wild.
Where to stay in Brisbane
Limes Hotel in downtown Brisbane is a charming boutique hotel with balconies in every room. On Fridays and Saturday evenings, there’s a rooftop bar atop the hotel where you can relax after a day of exploring and have a beverage while enjoying the surrounding cityscape. Yoga classes also take place here when the weather allows it. With plenty of cafés and eateries around, you’ll be spoilt for choice and won’t have to toddle far.
In New Farm, just a few minutes from the city centre, Spicers Balfour Hotel, with its relaxing atmosphere and art deco-inspired decor to reflect the building’s heritage, provides a welcoming, 5-star sanctuary.
There’s an intimate rooftop bar (with superb views of Story Bridge) and The Balfour Kitchen & Bar carries the title of the Best Vietnamese restaurant in Australia, as dubbed in the 2019 Savour Awards. Its latest festive menu (from December 2020 until January 2021) is an example of how beautifully balanced, delicate and expertly executed the meals are.
Just for starters, the menu included drunken chicken followed by spanner crab with cucumber with soy dressing, then warmed mozzarella with kaffir leaves and heirloom tomatoes. Last but not least (for starters) there was a cured ocean trout with tostada, avocado and sriracha mayo. For mains there was the turmeric roasted barramundi and a wing bean salad and a red duck curry with pickled pineapple – served with thrice cooked potatoes (peppered with truffle salt of course), steamed rice and Asian greens on the side. To finish, lovers of sweet treats will (and did) swoon over the roasted stone fruit, rhubarb & pandanas leaf jelly with kaffir lime mascarpone.
Over in the middle of the city on bustling George Street is The Adina Apartment Hotel Brisbane, which is housed in a heritage-listed building that was initially built to accommodate the Queensland Government Savings Bank. It first opened in 1922 and has been artfully with a classic yet contemporary design that reflects its two very different lives. The hotel is ideal for business and leisure travellers and is a stone’s throw from Queen Street Mall and Queen’s Wharf, and a stroll down the road will have you in the in the middle of Southbank’s cool bars, restaurants and parklands.
Some of Brissie’s best bites, served with art
Birrunga Gallery and Dining is the place where food meets culture. This is the only Indigenous-owned and operated cultural hub in Brisbane where people can enjoy food, peruse the art gallery, grab a drink at the wine bar and catch a live performance. The café uses native herbs and ingredients wherever it can in its recipes to create an authentic local meal for its modern diners. From the spring/summer menu, you can order breakfast all day or something for lunch such as the Native Meat Slider Trio – who can go past deliciously marinated kangaroo, emu, and crocodile on a bun for a cultural hit?
Rogue Bistro has a sleek black setting with an intimate dining area for people to enjoy a lively dinner. It’s renowned for its Dego menu with a set six-course meal that includes a new dish every few months. The menu also accommodates many dietary restrictions, making the food inviting to anyone to try while they’re in Newstead looking for modern European food.
In 2019, chefs Tim and Sarah Scott founded Joy Restaurant to share their passion for cooking and hospitality. With a seating area for 10 people, this restaurant is all about the personal relationship between the guests and chefs. You are not only paying for the food but also for the experience with a menu that may change each time you go. Reservations are can be backed up past three months, so reserving your spot to this private eating experience early is a must.
Before you pack your bags to head to Brisbane, find out more about its local restaurant scene here.