How to see the authentic side of Australia without the hubbub.
When a lot of travelers think of Australia, they think of the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, or maybe kangaroos in vineyards. But what doesn’t necessarily pop up on their must-see destinations list is the adorably quaint good time that is Brisbane in Queensland. And if you want to get a feel for what life is really like for Australians living down under, it’s a stop you can’t (and won’t want to) miss!
This Is Not Sydney
Sandwiched between the Sunshine and the Gold Coast, the most charmingly named beaches in the world, is the mid-sized city of Brisbane in Australia’s state of Queensland. Perched along the Brisbane River, the hilly terrain and 300 days of sunshine make for sparkling city views that meet beautifully manicured landscaping. With its Vancouver-meets-Santa Barbara, bucolic-yet-breezy vibe, nature meets urbanity with distinctly inviting appeal.
Brisbane has unique offerings that popular cities like Sydney and Melbourne can’t touch. For one, Queensland is one of only three states (including South and West Australia) where you can snuggle up with a REAL-LIFE koala, and the best place in the country to do so is undoubtedly the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, home to over 130 of the sleepy marsupials. Unlike regular zoos, the Sanctuary is also a science and research facility and wildlife hospital that also works to release injured/orphaned animals back into the wild.
Take a quick ride on the CityHopper, Brisbane’s free ferry service, to check out South Bank, the city’s riverside promenade-hang lifestyle and party scene. Everyone’s there being beautiful–scooting along on electric bicycles, drinking wine and beer at outdoor-indoor cafes and restaurants, strolling along hand in hand past the Nepalese Peace Pagoda, and generally just admiring the gorgeous views and incredible weather. If you don’t want to make the trek north or south to the ocean, there’s a city beach waiting for you to enjoy at Streets Beach in South Bank. Though man-made, it’s sparkling clean and a lively good time for all ages, with cityscape skylines crowning your shoreline views.
Want to get inside for a while after all that sunshine? South Bank’s got even more art and culture options worth exploring: the Queensland Theatre Company, Queensland Museum, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, and State Library of Queensland.
Get a Move on, Get Your Party on
There are two things Brisbanians do extremely well: live hard and party harder.
There are two things Brisbanians do extremely well: live hard and party harder. The active culture isn’t just trendy here, its a lifestyle. So while you visit Brisbane, indulge like a local: try climbing or abseiling the Kangaroo cliffs in the afternoon, climb Brisbane’s Story Bridge for unparalleled views of the city at sunset, then get your eat and drink on along the river in the evening. For an elegant-yet-casual foodie experience with plenty of boozy concoctions, don’t miss Alchemy, where modern Australian cuisine is served with a fanciful twist–do not skip the liquid nitrogen dessert experience with head chef Brad Jolly–the visual experience of exhaling freezing fumes is as fun as the treats are tasty. Need something way wore more relaxed (and yet satiating) on your way out to party? Hit up Mister Paganini for pizza and beers before you head over to the Wheel of Brisbane to get 360 panoramic views of the hopping nightlife. For the rowdiest displays of Australian nightlife, catch a rugby match (and lose your mind cheering at the over-the-top fanfare and crowd displays) at Lang Park/Suncorp Stadium. No matter what you do, you’ll want to do it the Brisbanian way: as extra as possible, with full intention for enjoyment in every moment.
Get Out of the City
If you have more time to devote to the area and can make it out of the city limits, you’ll be rewarded with incredible landscape diversity. Beach and glamp in either direction north or south along the coast, catching the famed waves on southern Gold Coast beaches or exploring the mangrove forests before making your way north to the Great Barrier Reef for one-of-a-kind swimming, snorkeling, and glass bottom boat tours you’ll likely never forget. Queensland has more than beaches to offer your sense of majesty: UNESCO World Heritage sites like Gondwana Rainforest, the most extensive area of subtropical rainforest in the world and home to weird and wonderful Aussie marsupials such as koalas and wallabies, as well as truly spectacular waterfalls.
Need your nature with a big glass of alcohol? Visit multiple wineries (and a distillery!) on Tamborine Mountain, or check out Kooroomba Vineyard and Lavender Farm in the Fassifern Valley, where you can get the most incredible Instagram shots without taking off your high heels.
Spend Spend Spend–Australia Is on Sale
Because of the conversion rate, buying goods in Australia is cheap. An easy, very loose way to look at cost is to take one-third off the price tag to find your American dollar equivalent. That means it feels great to get spendy in Brisbane. And besides, what urban adventure would be complete with a slice of shopping? Brisbane has something for everyone’s tastes. Like to sample the goods? Hit up the Brisbane City Markets to partake in local produce and unusual delicacies, along with vendors selling homemade treats and crafts (don’t sleep on the meat pies–its an Australian delight).
Want something you can take home with you? Check out Australian-made; female and family-owned Gorman for wildly fun fashion, or keep it even more local at upcycle shop Arkive Vintage. While the Central Business District can certainly cover any lusts for high-end designer and box store necessities, the Newstead neighborhood, especially James Street, has you covered for unique boutiques. Looking for something a bit trendier? West End is the up and coming neighborhood to hang in, with hip cafes, multicultural stores, and a generally good vibe.
Where to Stay in Brisbane
If you want to stick with Brisbane’s active-yet-carousing lifestyle, there’s no better place to keep up the scene than the Westin Brisbane in the heart of the Central Business District. Not only does the hotel incorporate the goodness of the urban dynamic lifestyle on the premises (with indoor/outdoor spaces, an extensive spa, rooftop infinity pool, and signature Heavenly beds), it works with guests to help you find your happy medium (because pub crawls are technically active).
Featured image by Martin Valigursky