What To Do in Brisbane


Last Updated on May 15, 2021 by Amy

With David’s family visiting us in Sydney, we took a quick detour up to Brisbane to check out the capital of Queensland that we’ve heard so much about. We also returned a few months later with my best friend, Madeline.

Madeline has been one of my best friends since kindergarten, almost 30 years.  She came to visit us on Starry Horizons in Saint Lucia, and this time she flew to Brisbane to visit with us.

We took this as an opportunity to dock Starry Horizons at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron in Manly and come up to Brisbane.  Friends of ours had offered a place to stay so we took them up on it and stayed three nights at an amazing penthouse apartment in South Brisbane  (Thank you Andrew and Marijun!).

The view from our borrowed apartment.

Australia Zoo

We went to the Australia Zoo on it’s busiest day of the year (December 27th).  Traffic was crazy, and we had to park in overflow parking while it was raining – an unpaved mess of grass and mud.  Thank goodness by the time we got to the zoo itself, the rain had let up.

We were incredibly impressed by the size of the Australia Zoo.  The park is almost 50 years old, and run by the Irwin family (yes, Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter).  And it’s HUGE!  We had just done a zoo outside of Sydney and it was very small compared to the Australia Zoo.  You can also see that the Australia Zoo has conservation as a cornerstone.  It would be very easy to spend an entire day here, watching all the animals in their habitats, even getting to meet some animals or do an animal experience.

Let me also point out that as a general rule, I’m not a huge fan of zoos.  I don’t know that David and I had been to one together before the one in Sydney. What I DID like about this zoo is the focus on conservation and education.  The space the animals had was certainly very generous.  There’s kangaroos feeding, which is pretty chill – there are areas that you can not go into but the kangaroos can.  Like a time out for them from all the people, which is pretty great.

Julie and I (carefully) petting an echidna.
David and Thomas petting and feeding the roos!
Tons of kangaroos stretch out and chill.
Meerkats! We enjoyed seeing the giraffes and rhinos in the Africa section but the meerkats were the highlight for me.

Read about another experience at the Australia Zoo.

River Boat Tour

We booked a tour on the water with River City Cruises.  The Brisbane River flows straight through the heart of the city, and since we didn’t have Starry Horizons as our home base on the water, we thought we’d use a different boat for the waterfront view.  Make sure to get there early to get a seat.  We were in the stern of the boat, which was nice to be out in the fresh air but with the boat’s engines, it was hard to hear the narration.  The waterfront homes in Brisbane are absolutely stunning!

The Wheel of Brisbane at the dock for the river tours.
I checked out some of these homes for sale.  Definitely a million-dollar view!
Seeing the Brisbane skyline in our wake as we motor down the river.

Walk the Arbor

The Arbor is a trail that runs along the waterfront, meandering from the Wheel of Brisbane to the Maritime Museum.  It’s mostly shaded thanks to the trellis and vines that grow along the path.  Our day was nice and sunny, and there was a lot of activity along the walk.  There are multiple pools and lawns for sunbathing.

The yellow stripe and the vines serve to provide shade.
The arbor has blooms of magenta bougainvillea during the summer.
The Arbor walkway goes for one kilometer.

Queensland Maritime Museum

The Queensland Maritime Museum has a fairly random collection of nautical artifacts and vessels, including The Pink Lady, Jessica Watson’s vessel as she became the youngest person to sail solo around the world in 2009/2010.  The HMAS Diamantina is also in dry dock there, which is cool because you can walk down into the dry dock to see the underside of the vessel.

Me and The Pink Lady.
It’s not every day you get to go under a military vessel!

Brisbane Lookout

The highest point in Brisbane is just outside the city, giving a killer view of downtown.  Bonus points, the Brisbane lookout is just west of the city, so for a spectacular sunrise over Brisbane, head here!  The Summit Restaurant has a prix fixe 3-course set menu sunset dinner every night to watch the city go from bright to night.

Me in at the Brisbane Lookout!
The view of downtown from the lookout.
Looking out over downtown Brisbane.

Brisbane Botanical Gardens Mt Coot-tha

This botanical garden in Mt Coot-tha is right next door to the lookout.  Fun fact; there’s one down by the river too, but it kept flooding, so they built a second near the highest point of Brisbane.  The calendar of events looks amazing – from free yoga and pilates to lectures and kids activities.  I (as usual) loved the Japanese garden with the bright coral hydrangeas and the edible garden with an outdoor kitchen for classes!  The cafe is excellent.

This little guy….so cute!
The entrance to the Japanese Gardens.
Waterfall in the Japanese Garden.
Beautiful coral hydrangeas at the Japanese Garden.

MacArthur Museum

We started out by walking across the river and through the Queen Street Mall.  Being a Saturday, the mall was crowded and there were live performances going on.

David’s a big war history buff, so we stopped to check out the MacArthur Museum.  Douglas MacArthur was an American general overseeing forces in the Far East from the Philippines when Japan started to invade in the Pacific Theatre.  MacArthur, his family, and the American troops eventually found their foothold in Brisbane, which became the control center for Allied forces in the Pacific.  From there, MacArthur commanded most of the forces who fought against the Japanese.  He was aboard the USS Missouri when the Japanese surrender was accepted and essentially ran Japan for six years after the war.

Read about our trip to Pearl Harbour and the USS Missouri.

The museum was very interesting, although certainly not as magnificent of a museum as the Australian War Museum in Canberra.  The highlight was sitting in General MacArthur’s office (well, the actual room, but a recreation of his office).

Walking the South Shore

From the museum, we walked to the Eagle Street Pier and had lunch overlooking the river.

After lunch, we took the free City Hopper ferry (which is free) over to the Thorton Street Ferry Terminal.  Turning right, we walked all the way along the riverside.  We passed the Kangaroo Cliffs, with the rock climbers and water dragons.  There are pieces of modern art along the walk.  The path took us past the Queensland Maritime Museum, which we did on our last visit, and onto the Arbor through South Brisbane.

Queensland Art Museum

The Queensland Art Museum is small (receiving half a million visitors a year versus The Louvre’s 8 million) but contains a nice collection of art.  There was an exhibit on 1990s Thai art (very political).  One thing I really liked about the permanent collection was that the art was arranged by subject instead of being arranged by period.  For example, there were three pieces next to each other about traditional dress; one was a photograph of a southeast Asian woman, one was an impressionist oil painting, and one was a piece of ceramic pottery.

My favorite work was Under the Jacaranda Tree, by Godfrey Rivers.

Ride the Ferries to See Brisbane at Night

The Brisbane Customs House

Catch a Show at the Powerhouse

I’d heard on Facebook about the Ocean Film Festival, and amazingly our schedule coordinated for us to get tickets to see it in Brisbane.  It was also an opportunity to check out the Brisbane Powerhouse, a repurposed pre-war industrial power station in the New Farm area.

The films were pretty amazing.  Of course, David and I loved watching the ones with the underwater filming.  There was a disclaimer on one – it contains nudity, but don’t get too excited.  Ya’ll…butt boils.

Dining Out in Brisbane

Our tickets to the River Cruise got us a 10% discount at the Plough Inn, which is on the Arbor between the Wheel and the Maritime Museum.  The inn has been in business since 1864, while the current heritage-listed building has only been around since 1885.  The food is upscale pub fare, with a fantastic patio.  Definitely a delicious choice.

The South Bank has tons of delicious places to eat with outdoor seating.  With Madeline, we chose Italian and had some amazing cocktails and rustic Italian food.

We stopped for dessert at Cowch, a dessert cocktail bar on Grey Street.  Holy cow (pun intended).  David and I shared a banoffee pizza, which was super delicious and big!

Banoffee Pizza! So delicious!
A banana split at Cowch.
a salted caramel milkshake


  1. Would you believe I am Australian and been to Queensland a few times but never to Brisbane. I have wanted to go but I just never made it. I will now next time that I am home in Australia visiting my family and friends there seems like ther is so much to do. I just love the view of downtown from the lookout, its is really pretty.

  2. My hometown! You’ve picked up some of the best things to do in this wonderful city! I just adore South Bank. There is so much to do here and so many great foodie spots which are always changing. The festivals that take place here are terrific too. The Plough Inn and the Ship Inn here are both cool venues. Life on the river is great, Aussie Zoo is definitely cool, and Mt Coot-tha is the place to be for great shots of the city at sunrise and when the big fireworks are on in the city. Next time, head out to Tangalooma on Moreton Island, or Stradbroke Island, or the Gold Coast or….or….or…there’s so many more great places to see. Give me a yell if you come back.

    1. Hey Kerri! We are in the area again now. Our boat is in Coomera but starting in April we will start morning north. Tangalooma and Moreton island ARE BIG on our list.

  3. Brisbane is my hometown and I absolutely love it! I think you have done an awesome job listing all of these great activities. I might have to go back soon for a catch up….

  4. Brisbane is a lot of fun – although the last time I was there was for a figure skating competition, and it was about 37 degrees outside, so I was keen to spend as much time in the ice rink as possible! There’s also a really nice man made lagoon which is worth visiting too. The zoos in Australia are full of incredible animals to see!

  5. I went to Brisbane more than 20 years ago – that’s a bit scary to think how long ago – so it was lovely to be re-introduced. I think I’ve read about the Pink Lady, and the Maritime Museum would definitely be part of any return trip. And the riverboat tour, for which I’d definitely take your advice about not being at the stern. We’ve been on riverboat trips in many cities and it’s one of my favourite ways to see a place.

  6. Those desserts! They look crazy huge and good. The perfect treat after a day of sightseeing. I don’t’ know much about Brisbane so thanks for all the tips on things to do. The arbor with the dangling flowers is stunning!

  7. I love botanical gardens, so I would definitely love to go there. The Arbor, too looks like my kind of place. Our kids love zoos. We especially love zoos that care for the animals properly. So the Australia Zoo would be a must visit for our family. My goodness, those desserts are amazing. I have a stomachache and sugar high just looking at them.

  8. I love kangaroos so I know I would enjoy the zoo! That lookout point looks gorgeous and so peaceful. I also would love to try that Banoffee Pizza! I’ve never seen anything like it!

  9. The Arbor trail looks so pretty and I’d definitely want to check out that awesome view from the Brisbane lookout! The Australia Zoo looks like it offers a lot of unique wildlife experiences, but thanks for the tip about visiting during that time of year!

  10. Pretty busy three days. I spent a couple of years fly in/out to Brisbane. Other than the things you did, I would recommend attending a sporting event. Perhaps something at Suncorp Stadium. Queenslanders are nuts for their sport. The atmosphere will be good. Maybe a cricket match at the GABBA. The ferries are great for getting around Brisbane. I stayed in Milton which is by the river and has a great street packed with restaurants, Park Road. Also recommend the Regatta Hotel, one more stop up the river on the River Cat. Find out about GoCards for transport which can be linked to the City Cycles system. Briisy has fantastic bike tracks along the river. The most enjoyable thing that I did everyday was a circuit around the river (followed by a beer at the Regatta). Viva Bris-Vegas! (too bloody hot for me tho)\

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