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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Things to do in Brisbane, Australia

Alisha McDarris
Smaller than Sydney but still offering plenty to do and mass appeal is Brisbane, Australia. It may not be renowned for coffee like Melbourne, or beaches like Sydney, but Brisbane has a beauty all its own. It's a city on a river, green and lush, and it's just the right size for travelers passing through for a few days to weeks. Just check out all the cheap and free things to do in Brisbane!

The iconic Brisbane sign takes center stage on Southbank.


Getting Around Brisbane

  • Train: Like every major city in Australia, Brisbane's train system is a handy and affordable way to get around inside and outside the city. You'll want to pick up a GoCard, Queensland's reloadable fare card, and make sure to travel between 8:30 am - 3:30 pm or after 7:00 pm for discounted off-peak fares! 
  • Buses: The train will only take you so far. Where it doesn't go, buses will. Use your GoCard to pay for a trip.
  • GoCard: It's the preferred way to pay for public transport in Brisbane. It's cheaper than buying a paper ticket and while it does cost $10 to get one, that bit is refundable, so when you leave the city, you can get it back. Pick one up at a train station or a convenience store when you arrive.
  • City Center Service: Totally free and operated by Brisbane City Council that stops at many of the major sites like the Botanic Gardens and Queen Street Mall. Just look for the red sign posts and red buses!
  • City Cat Ferry: As Brisbane is built on two side of a river, visitors will occasionally need to cross a bridge. You can do it by car, bicycle, or foot, of course, but as the shortest distance between two points is a straight line (with no traffic), the quickest way from point A to point B may be a ferry. Pay with your GoCard.
  • City Hopper Ferry: Like a City Cat, but slower and less frequent, are the totally free red City Hopper ferries. And since they're free, feel free to use them not only for transportation, but a leisurely float down the Brisbane River just to take in the cityscape. We highly recommend you do so at night!
  • Bike: Scattered all over the city are CityCycle bike rental locations. For $2 a day or $11 a week you get unlimited access to the bikes and any trip you take under 30 minutes doesn't cost you any extra. Up to an hour is only $2.20 more. And there are plenty of bike paths, especially around South Bank and the Botanic Gardens, so whether you rent one or brought your own, ride on!
The city cats are a swift way to get around the city and across the river (though not free like the slower city hopper).


Free Things to do in Brisbane


There's plenty to do in Brisbane that won't cost you a dime. Explore and enjoy!

  • QAGOMA: The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art are home to classic, contemporary and modern art, Australian and International exhibitions. You'll find a bit of everything between these two galleries.
  • APT8: The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art is located in the same cultural district as QAGOMA and is free and open to the public every day and features all kinds of crazy modern art. They also offer film screenings (free and ticketed) that include indie and arty projects.
  • Queensland Museum: Right next door is this fascinating museum that covers everything from dinosaurs to Aboriginal culture to the quirks and history of Queensland (check out the display about the Meter Maids). It's a pretty interesting museum and free, too, though there are special exhibits that require a ticket.
  • State Library of Queensland: Still in the same block by the river is this massive library. Even if you can't check out a book, it's worth noting that there is a huge lounge area with free wifi (and air conditioning) so you can escape the summer heat and check your e-mail. There are also free lectures, film screenings, and exhibitions regularly.
  • South Bank: Along the river is lovely and trendy South Bank. There are scores of cafes and restaurants (including some with vegan and vegetarian options), the Brisbane Eye (not free), and lots of lush parkland to wander through. There's a rainforest walk, bike paths, an amphitheater, playgrounds, picnic areas complete with grills, and even an herb garden from which you can procure fresh specimens. You'll also want to make sure to get your photo in front of the giant "Brisbane" letters. It's a lovely (and free) place to spend an afternoon.
  • Streets Beach: In the center of South Bank is a little taste of the ocean (with or without the sand  in your swimsuit). There is a sandy beach and sandy-bottomed swimming lagoon and a cement pool next to it so you can cool down and catch some sun on a beautiful sunny day, all with the river and the city within view. Love!
  • Feel Good Program: Join a free exercise class at one of many locations throughout the city if the Medibank Feel Good Program is on while you're in town. Try yoga, pilates, even aqua aerobics to stay in shape.
  • Markets: They happen all over the city and weekends are hopping, but our favorite markets are the Friday night Boundary Street Markets where food, music, and curiosities abound. And that goes for vegans and gluten free folks, too. You'll have so many options (including donuts, pizza, and tacos) that you won't know what to do! A 10-minute walk away are the Collective Markets at South Bank which go on from Friday night to Sunday afternoon and are better for gifts, clothing, and all manner of special items. Eat Street Markets are cool, too, but they cost $5 and don't offer much in the way of vegan food. Update: As of April 2016, Boundary Street Markets are currently closed for redevelopment. 
  • QUT Art Museum: The Queensland University of Technology Art Museum is another spot to appreciate art for free. Changing exhibits offer visitors a glimpse of varied and fascinating art on the QUT campus right next to the Botanic Gardens.
  • Mount Coot-tha: While you will have to pay for the bus to get there, it's worth the short trip from the city center to get a glimpse of Brisbane from above. Make sure you go on a clear day or views will be less than impressive, but there are also walking trails to keep you occupied while you're up there (and sorbet, coffee, and snacks).
  • City Botanic Gardens: For a relaxing walk or bike ride, pleasant picnic, or impromptu game of soccer, take a stroll around the gardens. They're lovely any time of year and are filled with fountains, ponds, trees and flowers. There's free wifi, too, so kick back and enjoy the afternoon outdoors.
  • Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens: For more flora, check out the gardens just down the road from the summit. The bus stops on the way up and down, so it's even on your way, and there are free guided walks at 11:00 and 1:00.
  • Movies in the Park: During the summer months Brisbane City Council hosts free movies in parks around town while students are on school holidays. It's a no-go the rest of the year, though.

South Bank offers all sorts of lovely surprises, including the Epicurean Garden.

The Boundary Street Markets offer food, produce, and so much more on weekends.

Take a dip in South Bank's sandy beach, right in the middle of the city.

The Contemporary Art Museum in Brisbane features all sorts of modern art.

The Brisbane Museum is an interesting and informational (and free) way to spend and afternoon.

Our Favorite Things


Spend the cash. It’s worth it.

  • Comedy: Once a month or so in a room above the Boundary Street Markets is an improv troupe called Cool Story Bro that offers a cheap show from time to time. It's only $5 and they're good. We were definitely laughing out loud. Check out their Facebook page to see what's coming up with them and other comedy troupes. Update: As of April 2016, Boundary Street Markets are currently closed for redevelopment. Cool Story Bro is now based out of the Room to Play Independent Theatre in Paddington.
  • Stradbroke Island: For only $10 you can walk on a ferry and head over for a day of beaches and sand dunes. Moreton Island is also accessible by ferry, but it's far more expensive a ride at $50-$60.
  • The Wheel of Brisbane: Get a bird's eye view of the city from Brisbane's Ferris Wheel, similar to the London Eye. Look on bookme.com.au for great deals on tickets.

See the city across the river from South Bank's Brisbane Eye.

Grab a Bite


There are plenty of places to eat in Brisbane, plenty of cheap places to eat in Brisbane, and plenty of vegan places to eat in Brisbane, so you won't have to look far to find a restaurant that caters to a small budget.

  • Govinda's: If you've read our other Australia posts, you may notice a trend in Hare Krishna affiliated restaurants. This is another one with great deals on heaps of food. It was around $12 for an all-you-can-eat Indian style buffet, including dessert.
  • Vege Rama: With several locations around Brisbane, you won't be far from one of these vegetarian and vegan restaurants. They have amazing vegan desserts including tiramisu and cheesecake ($7) and tasty lunch and dinner options like cheap samosas ($3) and delightful, sharable, vegan pizza ($16).
  • Vegeme: For asian-inspired vegan and vegetarian food, this place offers some tasty selections, and we were surprised to find the main dishes were large enough to share! So for less than $20 we were happy and well fed.
  • Boundary Street Markets: On Friday nights there's a plethora of amazing food at these night markets for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike. There's Mexican, Persian, Japanese, Italian, you name it. Our favorites are Plant Based Dough Co. and The Organic Frog for awesome vegan donuts ($3-$5), Get Vegan with Jada for $6 vegan pies, and numerous options for quick bites like samosas, dumplings, even vegan pizza ($17)!
  • Gelare: To satisfy a sweet tooth Gelare has gelato, ice cream, and sorbet, including coconut ice cream.
  • Noosa Chocolate Factory: Another place for a sugar fix, this chocolate shop has all manner of tasty treats from chocolate covered coffee beans to solid bars and if it's vegan chocolate it's labeled as such.
  • Smoothies: Nothing beats an icy fruit-based beverage on a hot day. There are scores of places to pick one up no matter where you are in the city and they're usually under $8. Good luck finding a banana peanut butter smoothie, though. Australians just don't get it.
  • 5 Dogs: It may not be healthy, but sometimes you just want a hot dog. This place offers meat and vegan hot dogs for $6-$9. 

We love vegan pizza at Terradrift. And for vegan pizza in brisbane, Vege Rama is tops!

We also can't pass up a sweet treat. Vegan pumpkin cheesecake at Vege Rama. Mmmm...

Govinda's is a great deal for vegan food in Brisbane

Ways to Save


  • GumTree is a great way to locate everything from used bikes to ride shares out of town. If you need a job, you could probably find it on there, too.
  • ShopADocketOurDeal, and BookMe all offer deals on meals and entertainment. It's worth taking a look to see if you could save a few bucks.
  • Check websites like The Urban List and Weekend Notes for free events going on while you're in town. You might find live music, movies and festivals, among other things.

Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha has been a writer and photographer forever. OK, maybe not forever, but at least for more of her 20-something years than she hasn’t been those things... [Read More]

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