Australia’s Most Underrated City Is on the Verge of Blowing Up

From World Cup football to koala sanctuaries, there’s never been a better time to check out Brisbane.

Aussies love to hate on Queensland's capital city. They even gave it a nickname—Bris-Vegas—far more ironic than anything Alanis could come up with. For decades, the former penal colony was the antithesis of Las Vegas, at least in terms of things to do. But these days? The waterfront metropolis is like Brooklyn in the early aughts. That’s right—Australia’s Queen City, proud host to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and future host to the 2032 Olympics, has officially punched a one-way ticket to cool-ville. And for travelers who fancy themselves early adopters, there’s never been a better time to visit.

Home to some 2.5 million, Brisbane—nowadays often accompanied by its Aboriginal name, Meeanjin—was built along the banks of the Brisbane River on land inhabited by the Turrbal and Yuggera peoples. Located halfway between Australia’s Gold Coast and its Sunshine Coast, the city lies just an hour’s drive from world class beaches where you may find yourself sharing a wave with a Hemsworth (or two). Yet, many would argue—and they’re right—that Brisbane/Meeanjin is now a destination in itself.

There are endless opportunities to surround yourself with local art and culture. High-end shopping lurks around many a corner, while cutting-edge coffee purveyors rub elbows with award-winning independent breweries. And with a burgeoning restaurant scene and too many rooftop cocktail lounges to count, Brisbane does not disappoint in the dining department, either. Unless you go to Karen’s Diner. In that case, complaining is not only welcomed, it’s expected. But if this city can make a room full of Karens fun, the sky's the limit. Here are all the places in Brisbane/Meeanjin tailor made for testing that limit.

streets beach brisbane
Martin Valigursky/Shutterstock

Best places for first timers to visit in Brisbane/Meeanjin

While it’s well worth a visit for Aussies and foreigners alike, first-timers will especially get a kick out of Brisbane/Meeanjin’s must-see hit list. The city is situated around the curving Brisbane River, tucked slightly inland from Moreton Bay and broken up into neighborhoods, each with their own distinct makeup. Its proximity to water means you’ve got plenty of photo-ops to check off the list, from gazing up at the CBD’s glittering skyscrapers from the deck of a signature blue CityCat water taxi to posing in front of the iconic Story Bridge to lounging about Australia’s only inner-city, man-made sandy shore by way of Streets Beach.

Speaking of incredible views, if you identify as an adrenaline junkie, sign whatever waiver you can get your hands on and strap in for a hike up Story Bridge. It’s the only bridge-climb in the world that you can abseil down (legally). Or, for something slightly less terrifying, visit Brisbane’s popular outdoor rock climbing gym and bag a crag at Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park.

nyanda tour group

Other surefire sights include the free City Botanic Gardens, with its 49 acres of serene palm, fig, and bamboo trees, the nearly 200-foot-tall Wheel of Brisbane ferris wheel, the Museum of Brisbane for an immersive local history lesson, and the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (a.k.a. GOMA) for eye-popping contemporary displays (more on that below). And to get to know the area’s rich Indigenous history and modern Aboriginal culture, consider a stop into Birrunga Gallery & Dining, the downtown district’s only Indigenous-owned and operated venue, or embark on a fascinating walking tour organized by BlackCard Cultural Tours or Nyanda Cultural Tours.

Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art exterior
Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art

Museums, art, and culture in Brisbane/Meeanjin

For starters, Brisbane is home to GOMA, a modern art mecca boasting Australia’s largest collection of contemporary art. Here you’ll find a solid permanent collection accompanied by cutting-edge traveling shows by such prominent artists as Michael Zavros and eX de Medici, plus regular programming like workshops, festivals, film screenings, and more (not to mention a killer onsite restaurant lineup). Then there’s the underground (literally) opera house founded by a former miner who was blown away (not literally) by subterranean acoustics.

When it comes to murals, Brisbane is basically Australia’s answer to Wynwood. Every year, it hosts the country’s largest street art festival: 15 days of colorful graffiti crawls and 15 days-worth of guesses as to who will be crowned the next Banksy. And for concerts, comedy, cabaret, and more, follow the locals to Brisbane Powerhouse. In its past life, this massive industrial venue was a power station that supplied the city’s public transportation network with electricity. It also served as squatter central, and the Australian army used it for target practice (once the squatters were out, of course).

whale watching in moreton bay
Photo courtesy of Tangalooma Island Resort

Nature and wildlife experiences in Brisbane/Meeanjin

If you like animals more than people (who doesn’t at this point?) embrace your inner Steve Irwin just an hour north of Brisbane at the Australia Zoo. While other zoos shy away from animal encounters, this 700-acre wildlife park founded by the late Crocodile Hunter encourages visitors to get close up with everything from wombats to wallabies.

The city is also just a 45-minute drive from world class whale watching. Every year, tens of thousands of humpbacks migrate through nearby Moreton Bay/Mulgimpin, and a fantastic way to witness their magnificence is with a visit to Tangalooma Island Resort. Book a stay on this laid-back, family-friendly resort among the aquatic wilds, or hop on one of Tangalooma’s day trips, with packages including boat transfers, meals, and access to tons of on-island activities like shipwreck snorkeling, helicopter and sand dune tours, whale-watching, ATV-ing, and more. Get your birding fix at an afternoon kookaburra feeding, then stick around as some of the resort’s most famous regulars make their nightly appearance: The shallow waters have long attracted a pod of wild dolphins, who return each evening to feast on fish supplied by wading guests aided by resident marine biologists.

koala at lone pine sanctuary
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

More of a land-lover? Grab a car and head to the hills to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the world’s oldest and largest of its kind and one of the only places in Australia where you can legally cuddle your favorite misnomer—news flash: it’s not a bear; it’s a marsupial. Between hugs, you can (safely) mingle with kangaroos, wallabies, dingoes, sheepdogs, kookaburra, and other native wildlife that call the sanctuary’s lush expanse home.

waterfront italian restaurant
Ciao Papi

Where to eat and drink like a local in Brisbane/Meeanjin

Never skip a meal (or snack)

It almost seems sacrilegious to visit Brisbane without indulging in something sweet at Dello Mano. The brownies at this family-owned artisanal bakery are so good Ashton Kutcher reportedly had a batch of them flown to France for his birthday.

Of course, you can’t come to Oz without trying its signature proteins. Head to Birrunga Gallery & Dining—the only Indigenous-owned and operated restaurant in Brisbane’s CBD—for bacon-wrapped ‘roo filet mignon, emu batcha burgers topped with housemade tomato bush sauce (don’t be basic and ask for ketchup), and the best beer-battered crocodile tail on both sides of the Nile.

plate with cheffy toasts
Restaurant Dan Arnold

Meanwhile, over at Restaurant Dan Arnold, the chef’s choice menu features “experiences” in lieu of entrees. For example, if you order Experience #5, you might get a plate of fallow deer paired with a pile of beets and foie gras.

Plant-based or want to be? You can’t go wrong with the faux gras (a French pickle+truffle pate) and potato gnocchi at Wooden Horse Restaurant & Bar. And over in the scenic Howard Smith Wharves, don’t miss Caio Papi, a cheffy Italian trattoria where the beauty of each dish rivals the riverside views.

bar door
Next Episode Bar

Drink like you’re as thirsty as a D-lister

In Brisbane, where the craft beer scene rivals Denver’s, you don’t bar hop as much as you brewery hop. At Helios, a sustainable brewery founded by an environmental scientist, they harness the sun’s power to make Greta Thunberg-approved beer. At the award-winning Felons Brewing Co., everything on tap is tempting. Seriously, the best strategy is to just order a tasting paddle.

Courtesy of its subtropical climate, Brisbane’s rooftop bar season is a gloriously long one. Head to Ivy Blu (no relation to Beyonce) for prime people watching. For the best views of the bay, post up at The Terrace. And for sunsets set to music so chill it makes Marley seem like metal? Take the elevator all the way up to the Eagle’s Nest. If secret speakeasies are more your speed, imbibe at Mrs J. Rabbits where you enter through a wardrobe à la Narnia and need a password to get in. Or try to sneak into Next Episode Bar. Don’t be fooled by the barbershop storefront; it’s a decoy. Here, you enter through a mirror.

Not sure where to start? Book a chaperoned, multi-stop tour with Kiff & Culture and leave it up to the affable experts. The Brisbane Artisan Food & Drink offering promises a hearty taste of the city via three of the area’s most celebrated booze purveyors, while more immersive gin and wine tasting tours get you out of the urban core and into some of the wider region’s top-rated distilleries and wineries.

farmers market
West End Markets

Brisbane/Meeanjin neighborhoods you can’t miss


Technically an inner suburb, this leafy enclave has been headlining every “best Brisbane neighborhood” list since time immemorial. Historic homes and cottages share space with quirky antique and vintage shops, independent boutiques, colorful homeware shops, and other offbeat retailers. Breezy cafes by way of Anouk, Darling & Co, Sassafras Canteen, and Chapter IV and reliable gastropubs like the beloved Hope & Anchor dominate the food and drink scene, buttressed by a healthy number of international stand-outs (see: King Tea, Gnocchi Gnocchi Brothers, and Masterchef-helmed Emily Yeoh) and sporty nightlife options like the Paddo. You’re hanging in the shadow of Suncorp Stadium, after all.

West End

Head to the city’s South Bank for this chill riverfront neighborhood, just a stone’s throw from the site of Brisbane’s FIFA Women’s World Cup Fan Festival. These days, the West End is known first and foremost for its abundance of green spaces, many of which host open-air markets hawking everything from art and antiques to produce and tasty made-to-order snacks set to a backdrop of live tunes. Elsewhere, most of the action can be found on and around Boundary Street, where restaurants like Nostimo, Yamas, and Little Greek Taverna draw on the district’s Greek roots and craft outlets like Catchment Brewing Co, Brisbane Brewing Co, and Ballistic Beer have the drinks department covered. Mural-strewn walls, mom and pop shops, and all-star music venues like The Boundary Hotel

and The Bearded Lady round out the area’s top attractions. Butting up against the West End, buzzy Fish Lane is a strip worth seeking out. It’s stocked with some of the city’s most exciting restaurants and bars (Southside! Next Episode! Julius!), plus public art and excellent vibes for days.

City Winery Brisbane
City Winery Brisbane

Fortitude Valley

The Valley, as locals call it, is tops for after-hours fun thanks to the plethora of dives, music venues, cocktail bars, and clubs that call it home. Australia’s first dedicated entertainment district, the nightlife revolves around Brunswick Street while James Street offers a more laid-back daytime scene perpetuated by excellent coffee shops, enticing restaurants, the always-stunning Calile Hotel, and countless storefronts peddling high-end fashion from coveted brands. Don’t miss brunch at the show-stopping King Arthur, a very exclusive dinner at Restaurant Dan Arnold, fancy Japanese fare at Hônto, Southeast Asian hot shot sAme sAme, and legends Stone & Wood Brewery and City Winery for delicious house-made booze.

Teneriffe and New Farm

Venture just east of the Valley and you’ll slip seamlessly into this scenic neighborhood duo, treasured for its leafy streets, classic views of the snaking Brisbane River, and clusters of post-industrial buildings that have been lovingly transformed into some of the hippest joints around. Start by grabbing a top-notch coffee or bite to eat at any one of the area’s exceptional cafes (you can’t miss with Blue Bear Coffeehouse or Nodo) before traipsing through New Farm Park, a 37-hectare expanse rife with sundrenched opportunities to laze away the day. Later, grab a beer at Newstead Brewing Co, Green Beacon Brewing Co or Range Brewing, then get some culture at the historic Commissariat Store Museum and Brisbane Powerhouse, an ultra-cool, graffiti-tagged performing and visual arts complex that started life as a coal-fired power station back in the 1920s.

hotel room interior
The Calile Hotel

Hotels and other great places to stay in Brisbane/Meeanjin

If locals were to plan a staycation—and money was no object—they’d probably pick The Calile. It’s long been the city’s swankiest 5-star hotel, stocked with a noteworthy food and drink program, spacious, gorgeously designed guest rooms, and a pool scene to rival Miami’s. Elsewhere, the ultra-luxe Hotel X, located in the heart of Fortitude Valley, has been giving ol’ Calile a run for its money since its Pandemic-era debut. And it’s already been deemed to have the best rooftop pool in town.

If your budget is more two seasons than Four Seasons, check out The Limes Hotel or The Point. The vibe at these boutique properties, where rooms start around $120 per night, is a bit more casual as the crowd tends to skew younger. Wherever you crash while you’re in town, don’t worry too much about who you bring home with you. What happens in Bris-Vegas stays in Bris-Vegas.

story bridge brisbane
Peter Unger/Stone/Getty Images

What to know before you go to Brisbane/Meeanjin

Best time of the year to visit

Australia is firmly in the southern hemisphere, with summer falling from December to February and winter coming in from June through August. The most temperate weather can be found during the fall and spring (March to May and September to November), when rain is scarce and Queensland’s warm, sunny days and slightly cooler nights are at their best. However this also means that high season will be in full effect, attracting larger crowds and selling out events, hotels, and other attractions.

In September, the month-long Brisbane Festival draws folks from all over the country—and for good reason. It’s a great time to get to know the city, as arts and culture opportunities abound and local businesses get in on the fun with plenty of public programming and special promotions.

Brisbane’s time zone

Brisbane falls under Australian Eastern Standard Time (GMT+10). This translates to 14 hours ahead of New York’s Eastern Standard Time and 17 hours ahead of California’s Pacific Daylight Time.

The currency

Brisbane uses the Australian Dollar (AUD) and each dollar is worth 100 cents. As of September, 2023, $1 USD exchanges for $1.55 AUD.

International outlet adapters

All Australian states, including Queensland, use plug type I, marked by three flat pins arranged in a triangle.

taxi at night
The Valley (Fortitude Valley, Brisbane QLD)

Brisbane’s weather and climate

Brisbane is dryer and sunnier than the far northern reaches of Queensland, which can err on the tropical side. It’s warm and sunny for most of the year, with average temperatures ranging from 70 degrees to 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 52 degrees to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months.

How to get around

Brisbane offers several different ways to move around the city. If you’re brave enough to try your hand at driving on the opposite side of the road, you can easily rent a car from the airport to navigate the city’s network of safe and well maintained streets, highways, and bridges. As for cab companies, don’t expect to only Uber everywhere—rideshare companies Ola, InGoGo, and Didi are also available, as is Aussie cab-hailing service 13cabs. You can also class it up by booking private rides with Blacklane and Specialized Transport Australia.

Public transportation is also accessible, and spans buses, trains, and river ferries. Pick up a reloadable TransLink Go Card, available for purchase everywhere from local convenience stores and train stations to airport retailers, or pay as you go by grabbing a single-use ticket from an in-station kiosk before hopping aboard. Get to the lay of the land (literally—we’re talking buses and trains) by checking out QueenslandRail’s website and get step-by-step instructions using TransLink’s Journey Planner tool. The free CityHopper ferry is another great option, providing pick-up and drop-off at several different terminals throughout the city, while the TransLink Go Card-powered CityCat ferry operates additional routes for a charge.

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Katie Jackson is a contributor for Thrillist.
Meredith Heil is the Editorial Director of Thrillist Travel. She misses her koala buddy dearly.