I’ve lived in Brisbane nearly all of my life and I love it. The subtropical climate suits me, as does the pace of life. People often refer to Brisbane as a big country town but I’d suggest that those people haven’t visited Brisbane in a very long time. With over 2 million residents, Brisbane is Australia’s third biggest city and yet it’s still a friendly place. If you’ve caught a bus in Brisbane, you will have noticed that almost every passenger to a fault says ‘thanks’ to the driver when they hop off the bus whether they leave via the front or back door. If you’re standing on the street with a map, someone will normally walk up to offer assistance. People wear colours other than black. These things make Brisbane a very liveable city.
Visitors often think that Brisbane has white sand beaches. It doesn’t. That’s the Gold Coast. After the initial disappointment, many people are quick to say, ‘There is nothing to do in Brisbane’. The thing about liveable cities though is that they don’t always give up their secrets easily. There’s no big coat hanger bridge with fireworks constantly shooting from it shouting ‘look at me!’. You have to walk around a bit, go up a few staircases and head around a few bends to find out what Brisbane has on offer.
Here are 10 Free Things To Do in Brisbane so you can get to know the city better.
1. Brisbane Greeters
The best way to learn about any new city is to take a tour. Brisbane Greeters are ambassadors for Brisbane, conducting short walking/public transport orientation tours based on your interests. The Greeters are local volunteers who are enthusiastic about our city and want to share it with you. They are part of the ‘Global Greeters’ program. It’s hot in Brisbane so bring a hat, sunscreen and water!
Tours run 7 days a week from outside Brisbane City Hall but you need to book ahead by at least 3 days (Greeter’s Choice) or 5 days (Your Choice) via the website. Tours run for up to four hours and where possible, they will cater for special needs. Tours are only in English. www.visitbrisbane.com.au/Brisbane-Greeters
+ Value Add: use the #brisbanegreeters hashtag on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram to share your photos and experiences to promote this free service. Leave a testimonial on Facebook. Greeters do not accept tips (tipping tour guides is generally not part of Australian Culture) but if you wish, you can make a small tax-deductible donation via the Brisbane Greeters website to help support running costs
2. City Hopper Ferry
These cute little ferries ply the Brisbane River around the CBD. Originally part of the city’s main ferry fleet, they have been superseded by the high volume, high-speed CityCats. This leaves the colourful ferries to shuttle people back and forth to popular destinations such as Southbank and Kangaroo Point on a non stop basis. Take the opportunity to view the city from the Brisbane River, a powerful force of nature that dominates the lives of those who live in the river city.
The CityHopper runs every 30 minutes from 6.00am – midnight, seven days a week www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/cityhopper
+ Value Add: Use the CityHopper to access the Story Bridge via the Thornton St Ferry Stop at Kangaroo Point.
3. The Museum of Brisbane
MOB is a bit of a hidden gem. Located inside Brisbane City Hall, many locals don’t even know of its existence. In addition to the permanent collection showcasing the history and culture of Brisbane, there’s always a number of temporary exhibitions. Recent examples include a celebration of 30 years since Brisbane hosted Expo 88; a highly topical display about the bridging of the Brisbane River over the past 200 years; and, a trip down memory lane about the days of formal dances and debutante balls where the community was asked to contribute photos, outfits and ephemera.
Located on the 3rd floor of the Brisbane City Hall (follow the signs once you walk in), the MOB is open 10am – 5pm, 7 days a week. www.museumofbrisbane.com.au
+ Value Add: purchase a unique, handcrafted souvenir of Brisbane in the form of high quality printed linen tea towels and bags in contemporary designs.
4. City Hall Tour
Whilst you’re visiting the MOB and Clock Tower, check if you can join one of the free daily tours which includes the beautiful sculpted dome and skylight in the auditorium and impressive 1892 pipe organ with 4600 pipes, still in use on a regular basis. Book online to secure tickets or try your luck at the desk. Don’t forget to also take a look at the sculptures outside in King George Square. A mix of classic and contemporary with some great photo opportunities. www.museumofbrisbane.com.au/cityhalltours/
+ Value Add: During renovations of Brisbane City Hall and King George Square, a few archaeological finds were made. One of these is the Wheat Creek Culvert from the late 19th century. The culvert was carefully dismantled during construction of the Inner-Northern Busway and reconstructed inside the King George Square Bus Station on Platform 1. Take the escalator down to the platform to have a look at a piece of Brisbane’s past.
5. Brisbane City Hall Clock Tower
Not the tallest building in Brisbane, the Clock Tower made of Qld sandstone nonetheless give a great view over the city as well as providing an opportunity to go behind the clock faces. Restored as part of the 3 year $215 million City Hall restoration program, the digitised hand-operated original cage lift will take you the 70m to the top for photo opportunities and a pigeon’s eye view. The Brisbane City Hall Clock Tower has its own Twitter account: @BNEclocktower
Tours run 7 days a week from 10.15am – 4.45pm with timed tickets available from the MOB reception. Only 7 passengers can join each 15 minute tour and the day’s allocation goes quickly so try to get to the MOB at the start of the day so you don’t miss out.
+ Value Add: There has long been a Red Cross rest room or café in City Hall. After renovations, the café returned as Commix Espresso, attached to City Hall with entry on Adelaide St. Affordable drinks and snacks are available and the café provides an opportunity for trainees to learn valuable skills for employment. Money raised goes towards Australian Red Cross services such as the ‘Night Café’ for homeless youth with hot meals, showers and toiletries available two nights a week.
6. Walk The Bridges
Brisbane is a river city criss-crossed with bridges, most of them accessible to pedestrians. Grey St, Kurilpa, Victoria, Goodwill and the Story Bridge. Each crossing of a bridge will give you a different view or perspective of the city and surrounds. Both Kurilpa and the Goodwill Bridge are green bridges with no motorised vehicles (pedestrians and bicycles only). Walking along the Story Bridge will give you magnificent views of Brisbane’s waterside financial district as well as opportunity to experience vertigo by looking over the edge of the bridge into the fast moving waters of the Brisbane River.
+ Value Add: On weekday mornings, grab a coffee from the cart on the Goodwill Bridge and take a seat in one of the alcoves to watch the peak hour foot traffic above and ferry traffic below.
You could spend days in the galleries of the Qld Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art, perched on the edge of the Brisbane River as part of the broader Qld Cultural Centre complex. The Art Gallery has a vast collection representing Australian and international artworks in a number of mediums including painting, sculpture, textiles and indigenous art. There are cafes, quiet locations to sit and contemplate, kids programs and a gallery shop in addition to (paid) temporary exhibitions such as the recent California Design and Quilt exhibits.
150m away from the Art Gallery, newer kid on the block, the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) has been a runaway success from the moment it opened. Soaring galleries allow multi level installations, with fun and thought provoking exhibits that change regularly. GOMA has a well rated fine dining restaurant as well as cafes, a large gift shop and a program of talks. Kids GOMA is an important aspect of the gallery with special themes tying in to temporary exhibitions. Anyone who visited the photo booth at Warhol for Kids can tell you just how fun it is for adults too.
Both galleries are open 10am – 5pm, 7 days a week. www.qagoma.qld.gov.au There are free guided tours of the permanent collections daily as well as special ‘in focus’ tours related to temporary exhibitions (may incur a fee for the exhibition). www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/guided_tours
+ Value Add: Even in beautiful Brisbane there can be rainy days when you don’t feel like being outdoors. Extend your visit by attending one of the free movies on offer in the cinema at GOMA on weekends and weekday evenings. The cinema program is on the website. www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/cinematheque
8. State Library of Queensland
What a fabulous resource the SLQ is for locals and travellers alike. Free computers and internet access (very popular so get in early to book), free wifi if you have your own device, copying & printing for a modest fee, a reading room with access to newspapers from across Australia and the world and (in my opinion), some of the best public toilets in Brisbane. For those with more time on their hands they may want to search the collections, view historic maps and prints or catch up on what was happening in the Moreton Bay Times, 100 years ago. There’s a kid’s room, cafe and bookshop as well as a regular schedule of live music and classic movies such as James Bond and Alfred Hitchcock.
The SLQ is located in the Qld Cultural Centre complex between the Art Gallery and GOMA with wonderful river and CBD views from many of the reading rooms. www.slq.qld.gov.au
+ Value Add: There are always a number of exhibitions showcasing the library’s collection with past exhibits covering ‘Hot Modernism: Qld Architecture 1945 – 1975’; white glove tours of SLQ’s most unusual bookplates; and, ‘Floodlines’ a celebration of the resilience of communities after the devastating floods in Qld in the Summer of 2010/11. The website provides information on current exhibits
9. South Bank Parklands
Most people have heard about South Bank, even if they haven’t ever been. It’s a sprawling community parkland on the river, overlooking the city and has its own beach. That’s right, a beach. With white sand, salt water and lifesavers, City Beach is a man-made beach in the heart of South Bank that draws crowds year round. Just like any beach, there are showers, change rooms, seagulls and plenty of places to buy ice cream. If swimming doesn’t interest you, take a stroll along the length of the parklands underneath the fabulous bougainvillea clad ‘dinosaur bone’ arbour or along the riverfront, stopping to take in views towards the Brisbane CBD.
In a former life South Bank was docklands and wharves before being transformed into the site where Brisbane hosted EXPO 88. You can walk over from the CBD or catch a CityHopper Ferry. www.visitbrisbane.com.au/South-Bank
+ Value Add: The Nepal Peace Pagoda is the only Expo 88 exhibit that remains on site. A gift from the Kingdom of Nepal, this beautifully carved pavilion is tucked away in a quiet spot, surrounded by sub tropical rainforest. Take a moment to rest your tired feet, relax and take in the peaceful surrounds of the pagoda before you rush off to your next destination.
10. City Loop Bus
Brisbane is a compact city, easily navigable by foot but sometimes those feet are tired. And then there’s the suburb of Spring Hill. Well named indeed. Save the shoe leather and give your feet a rest by jumping on one of the City Loop buses running clockwise and counter-clockwise around the edge of the CBD and surrounds. Relax in air conditioning, press your nose against the window and take in the surrounds.
The buses run continuously from 8.30am – 6pm Monday to Friday and take around 15 minutes to do a loop. There are two centrally located stops on the different routes in Ann St on King George Square and, on Queen St opposite the GPO. Look for the red bus stops. www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/city-centre-free-loops
+ Value Add: Hop off at stop 134 at Wickham Park on Wickham Terrace and take a look at the convict era windmill, which now serves as a weather observatory.
You may have known about some of these things but perhaps not others. Whatever you decide to do, remember that the locals are friendly and the weather is divine!
Leave me a note in the comments if you have a question about Brisbane and I will do my best to respond.
*Looking for somewhere to stay in Brisbane? Visit the Hotels Combined website via this link to search all of your accommodation options in one place. This is an affiliate link – I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) from any purchases made via the link.