Brisbane, Australia is the state capital of Queensland and is the third largest city in Australia.
Founded in 1825, Brisbane is something of a “business city” so there isn’t as much to do here when compared to cities like Sydney or Melbourne. It’s the kind of place where people work on weekdays, and then they leave to go to the coast on weekends.
Most people visit Brisbane on their way to the Gold Coast or as they head up towards Cairns. The city is a huge stop on the backpacking trail and you’ll find a lot of hostels, young kids, and budget travelers here.
While it’s not my all-time favorite place in Australia, Brisbane has a lot to see and do. It’s a really great city with a high quality of life. South Bank has some nice restaurants as well as some good pubs in the city.
This Brisbane travel guide can help you plan your trip, save money, visit cool exhibits and attractions, and, overall, have a great visit.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Brisbane
1. Koala Sanctuary
2. South Bank Parklands
3. Wheel of Brisbane
4. The City Botanic Gardens
5. Churches and cathedrals
Other Things to See and Do in Brisbane
1. Enjoy the view from Mt Coot-tha
Mt Coot-tha offers beautiful panoramic views of the city (and on a nice day, Moreton Bay). A favorite for locals and visitors alike, you can enjoy a meal or coffee and look out over the city’s surroundings. The mountain is just under 300m above sea level and there are dozens of easy and moderate trails to enjoy. The moderate 10km Mount Cool-tha Loop, the 5.6km Power Owl Trail, and 2.6km Mahogany Track are just a few of the more popular routes to enjoy.
2. Hit the Beach
The beach is never a bad idea here. The Gold Coast, with its surfing, white-sand beaches, and lush rivers, is only 30 minutes away. Just remember that on the weekend, everyone in the area gets the same idea so the beaches get crowded and traffic is a mess. Head there during the week to beat the crowd. You can also go north instead as there are plenty of beaches there, including Bulwer (Moreton Island), Ocean Beach (Bribie Island), and Sylvan Beach (Bribie Island).
3. Explore the Cultural Centre
The Queensland Cultural Centre is right in South Bank and includes the Queensland Art Gallery, as well as the Gallery of Modern Art. The Queensland Museum is a good place to learn about the natural history and cultural history of the area. If you want to see an opera, ballet, or other theater, there is also the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Admission to the galleries is free while prices for performances will vary, usually costing at least 50 AUD ($38 USD) per person.
4. Enjoy the Roma Street Parklands
This is the world’s largest sub-tropical urban garden, covering over 39 acres and located only 5 minutes walk from city hall. I personally like it better than the park by the river, but both are very good if you have the time to hit both. Bring a book, pack a snack, and relax. There are also lots of trendy cafes in the area too.
5. Have fun at the Riverlife Adventure Center
The Riverlife Adventure Center is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. They offer various outdoor activities for people of all ages such as biking, rollerblading, abseiling, kayaking, and rock climbing. Guided groups can take you everywhere from the riverside to the Kangaroo Point Cliffs. Prices will vary but expect to spend at least 65 AUD ($49 USD).
6. Visit the XXXX Brewery
XXXX (Four X) is one of the cheapest beers in the country. It’s also not that great (in my opinion). However, if you need something to do one day and you want to learn more about beer and drink some beer, you can do so here. The brewery has been in business for over 140 years so there’s a lot of neat history there. Tours are 32 AUD ($24 USD).
7. Visit the St. Helena Island’s Prison Ruins
The first historic national park of Queensland, this island is host to the ruins of a colonial prison that was once known as “the hell hole of the Pacific.” Built in 1867, it was in use for over 60 years, firing prisoners to live in hellish conditions while doing backbreaking labor. While dozens of people tried to escape over the years, no one ever did so successfully. I definitely recommend the guided tour — even the local schools go on field trips here. It’s pretty interesting.
8. Wander Manly Boat Harbour
This is Brisbane’s gateway to the Moreton Bay Marine Park, an area with pristine waterways and picturesque islands. You can find a range of food and shopping options overlooking the marina, however, they may not be the most budget-friendly. However, it’s a nice place to stroll around and window shop.
For more information on specific cities in Australia, check out these guides:
Brisbane Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There are lots of hostels in the city. A bed in a larger dorm room (10-20 beds) costs around 20-35 AUD ($15-26 USD). A bed in a smaller dorm room (6 beds) averages around 25-40 AUD ($19-30 USD). Private rooms that sleep with a shared bathroom cost about 65 AUD ($49 USD). Free Wi-Fi is standard and a few hostels in the city also include free breakfast.
Camping is also available outside the city with a basic tent plot without electricity costing around 15-20 AUD ($11-15 USD) per night.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start at 85 AUD ($65 USD), but most are above 125 AUD ($95 USD). Most of these hotels offer a private bathroom and free WiFi. Expect to pay even more for a central location (the cheapest places are usually far from downtown).
A better alternative to hotels is Airbnb. Private rooms start at 40 AUD ($30 USD), though most average closer to 75 AUD ($56 USD). For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 85 AUD ($65 USD).
Average cost of food – Cheap takeaway meals and ethnic food like Indian or Chinese can be found for under 15 AUD ($12 USD), but most sit down restaurant meals with a drink cost between 20-30 AUD ($15-23 USD). These are usually dishes like fish and chips, meat pies and vegetables, or seafood. Lamb is incredibly popular, as is chicken.
For a meal at a more expensive mid-range restaurant, expect to pay closer to 50 AUD ($38 USD) for a three-course meal and a drink.
Domestic beer at a bar costs you about 8 AUD ($6 USD). Fast food like McDonald’s costs around 13 AUD ($10 USD) for a combo meal. Naturally, if you’re on a budget you’ll want to limit eating out. If you cook your meals, expect to pay 100 AUD ($75 USD) per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs.
Backpacking Brisbane Suggested Budgets
How much does it cost to visit Brisbane? On a backpacker budget, you can do it for 70-90 AUD per day. This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a cheap hostel or camping, cooking almost all of your meals, limiting your drinking, and using local transportation to get around. On this budget, you also stick to mostly free activities or admission fees for museums/sites.
On a mid-range budget of 190 AUD or more, you’ll be able to stay in an Airbnb or budget hotel, eat out for all your meals, take the occasional taxi, have a few drinks at the bar, and see a few more paid sights (like the Koala Sanctuary).
On a “luxury” budget of 430 AUD or more, you can book a room at a nice hotel, enjoy sit down restaurants for every meal, do day tours, hire a rental car to get around, and drink at the bar as often as you want. The sky is the limit here!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily. Prices are in AUD.
Brisbane Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Brisbane can be a very, very expensive city to visit. However, here are ways to save money when you visit Brisbane:
- Drink goon (box wine) – Goon is an infamous staple on the Australian backpacker trail. This cheap box of wine is the best way to drink, get a buzz, and save a lot of money at the same time.
- Cook often – Eating out in Brisbane is not cheap. The best way to reduce your food cost is to cook as many meals as possible at your hostel. Look for a hostel or Airbnb with a kitchen so you can avoid eating out often.
- Book tours as a package – Australia has a lot of fun activities and exciting tours that will eat into any budget. If you plan on doing any tours while you’re here, booking activities together through a hostel or tour agency will get you a discount and save you tons of money.
- Work for your room – If you’re on a budget and looking to save some cash, many hostels offer travelers the opportunity to work for their accommodation. In exchange for a few hours a day of cleaning, you get a free bed to sleep in. Commitments vary but most hostels ask that you stay for at least a week.
- Couchsurf – Accommodation in Brisbane can be quite pricey. If you plan ahead, you can usually find really a fun Couchsurfing to host you during your visit. This way, you not only have a free place to stay but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Fill up your water bottle – The tap water is clean and safe to drink in Brisbane. Avoid single-use plastic to save your budget and the planet.
- Get a Go card – If you plan on using the bus to get around, get a Go card. You’ll save 30% on your bus tickets.
Where To Stay in Brisbane
I’ve been a backpacker here for ages. Here are my favorite places to stay in Brisbane:
How to Get Around Brisbane
Buses – The bus system here is reliable and fast, making this the most budget-friendly way to get around the city. Fares start at 2.40 AUD ($1.80 USD) and are based on how far you go. Day passes start at 4.80 AUD ($3.50 USD). Get a Go card (the local bus card) to save 30% of each fare. Additionally, you can save money by traveling during certain hours or by buying more than 8 tickets in a 7-day period. Visit translink.com to learn more.
Trains – Brisbane’s rail network is excellent and will take you to attractions all across the city and the surrounding suburbs. Central Station and Roma Street Station are two of the biggest stations in town. Tickets are the same price as the bus. You can also take the train all the way to the Gold Coast in under 2 hours for around 16 AUD ($12 USD).
The Airtrain will also take you to and from the airport in about 20 minutes, with services running every 15 minutes. Tickets are 15 AUD ($11.30 USD) when purchased online or 19.50 AUD ($14.75 USD) when paid for at the station.
Ferries – Ferries are a popular way to get around because the Brisbane River cuts right through the city. The CityHopper ferry is free and runs between the Sydney Street and North Quay terminals. For other routes, you can take the CityCat and use your Go Card (or buy tickets on board).
Bicycle – With Brisbane’s CityCycle bicycle rental program, you can access bikes at 150 stations around the city. The CityCycle casual pass allows you to use the bikes for unlimited 30-minute trips per 24-hour period. It’s also the cheapest way to get around: the first 30 minutes are free, then it’s 2 AUD ($1.50 USD) for the rest of the day.
Note: You’ll have to put down a 48 AUD deposit ($36 USD) for the pass to ensure you comply with the terms and conditions.
Taxi – Taxis are expensive here and should be avoided. If you need to take one, prices start at 4 AUD ($3 USD) and go up by over 2 AUD ($1.50 USD) per kilometer.
When to Go to Brisbane
Autumn (from March to May) is the best time to visit Brisbane. The average daily temperature during this time is between the high 50s°F (around 15°C) to mid 80s°F (around 30°C), and there is very little rainfall. This isn’t peak season either, so you’ll find good discounts on accommodations and activities. You’ll still want to pack sunscreen for this time of year though!
Winter (June to August) and spring (September to November) are also good times to visit, as temperatures are still warm and dry. The average low during this time is just 50°F (10°C), but 72°F (22°C) is the average high. Brisbane can be very busy during this time, however (especially in September when the month-long artsy Brisbane Festival is happening), so book well in advance.
You’ll get the best accommodation deals during Brisbane’s wettest, most humid time of year — from December to early March. If you’re planning on doing a lot of outdoor adventuring, this is not the best time to visit.
How to Stay Safe in Brisbane
Brisbane is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel. Keep your eye out as you would any other city but, beyond that, you’re likely to encounter few problems.
When in doubt, always trust your instincts. If a taxi driver seems shady, get out. If your hotel or accommodation is seedier than you thought, go somewhere else. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID, before you travel in case of an emergency.
As a general rule, if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Brisbane. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of safety advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Brisbane Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Brisbane. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. There are a ton of listings in the city!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. Just enter your departure and arrival destinations and it will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost. One of the best transportation website out there!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Brisbane Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Brisbane Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is one of the most prolific and recognized names in travel writing. This book chronicles a journey through Australia and takes you from east to west, through tiny little mining towns, forgotten coastal cities, and off-the-beaten-path forests. Bryson includes lots of trivia in his tale as he travels around in awe — and sometimes in fear (thanks to box jellyfish, riptides, crocs, spiders, and snakes) — of this enormous country. This is the book that inspired me to go to Australia.
A Long Way From Home, by Peter Carey
Irene Bob loves to drive fast, and her husband is the best car salesman in southeastern Australia. Together they decide to enter the 1954 Redex Trial – an endurance drive that circumnavigates the entire country. Willie Bachhuber, a failed schoolteacher, joins them. If they win their lives will be forever changed — but first, they’re led out of the comfortable Australia they know so well and into an unexpected adventure full of twists and turns. Peter Carey is a two-time Booker Prize winner, and one of Australia’s most well-known writers.
Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback, by Robyn Davidson
This is Robyn Davidson’s memoir of her incredible journey 1,700 miles through the Australian desert to the sea, accompanied only by four camels and a dog. Davidson fends off sweltering heat, poisonous snakes, and dangerous men – all while wrangling her temperamental camels. It’s definitely one of those transformative stories that allow you to get super invested in the author as well as the severe Australian desert landscape. It has also been made into a great documentary!
The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin
You can’t come to Australia without learning a little bit about the country’s Indigenous Australians. This is part travelogue and part autobiography, and one of Chatwin’s most famous books. Here, Chatwin searches the Australian Outback for the source of the Aboriginal “dreaming tracks,” the invisible pathways from which the Aboriginals’ ancestors sang the world into existence. The Songlines was an instant best-seller when it was published, and nowadays it’s a classic.
Australia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Australia travel and continue planning your trip: