Get to This Cool Australian City Before Literally the Rest of the World
Everyone is about to come to Bris-Vegas.
Aussies love to hate on Brisbane. They even gave it a nickname—Bris-Vegas—far more ironic than anything Alanis could come up with. For decades, the capital of Queensland was the antithesis of Las Vegas, at least in terms of things to do. It makes sense. The city got its start as a penal colony. But these days? Brisbane is like Brooklyn was in the early aughts. Australia’s Queen City, set to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2032 Olympics, is on the cusp of becoming cool. For travelers who pride themselves on being early adopters, now is the time to go.
Brisbane (pop. 2.6 million) was built along the banks of the Brisbane River on land inhabited by the Tuurbal and Yuggera clans. Located halfway between Australia’s Gold Coast and its Sunshine Coast, the city is just an hour’s drive from world class beaches where you may find yourself sharing a wave with a Hemsworth (or two). Of course, many would argue—and they’re right—that Brisbane is now a destination in itself.
For starters, Brisbane is home to GOMA, a modern art mecca boasting Australia’s largest collection of contemporary art. It’s also where you can cuddle your favorite misnomer—news flash: it’s not a bear; it’s a marsupial—at the world’s oldest, and largest koala sanctuary. Then there’s the underground (literally) opera house founded by a former miner who was blown away (not literally) by subterranean acoustics.
With a burgeoning restaurant scene and too many rooftop bars to count, Brisbane does not disappoint in the F&B department, either. Unless you go to Karen’s Diner. In that case, complaining is not only welcomed, it’s expected. If this city can make a room full of Karens fun, the sky's the limit. Here are all the places in Brisbane to test that limit.
Immerse yourself in local arts and culture
To really get the lay of the land, do yourself a favor and book a BlackCard Cultural Tour. The company only hires Indigenous guides who can take you behind the scenes of Brisbane’s unique Indigenous art community. 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.
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).
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.
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.
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 a’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.
See bucket list-worthy wildlife and heights
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.
If you identify as an adrenaline junkie, sign whatever waiver you can get your hands on at Brisbane’s iconic Story Bridge. It’s the only bridge climb in the world that you can abseil down (legally). Or visit Brisbane’s popular outdoor rock climbing gym and bag a crag at Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park.
Where to stay in Brisbane
If locals were to plan a staycation – and money was no object – they’d probably pick The Calile. It’s the city’s swankiest 5-star hotel. Or rather, it was. The highly-anticipated, ultra-luxe Hotel X just opened in the heart of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley in December. But 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.