Brisbane is a patchwork of very different enclaves. From the cute Queenslanders sprinkling suburbs like Paddington to dark underground venues hosting the next-big-thing in Oz music to the glassy towers in "the CBD" (city center) sparkling in the Queensland sun. You can pick your pleasures in this diverse city.
These are the best neighborhoods in Brisbane.
Families will love South Bank
With easy connections, a free, resort-style beach, and a dinosaur museum on your doorstep, South Bank is a great base for families, or anyone keen to take in Brisbane’s landmark cultural attractions.
South Bank is the city’s cultural precinct, with prestigious players like the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), State Library of Queensland, and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), lining up along the riverfront. GOMA has its own Children’s Art Centre, with hands-on activities and interactive exhibits, the State Library has the Corner creative space for kids under eight, while QPAC has kid-friendly Green Jam sessions with street food and free live music.
Also here is Queensland Museum and Sciencentre, stuffed with dinosaurs like Queensland’s own Muttaburrasuarus and the city’s favorite respite from the heat, lovely South Bank Parklands with an artificial beach, resort-style pool, and shady rainforest gardens to cool everyone down. Rotating over it all is the Wheel of Brisbane, a giant Ferris wheel with enclosed gondolas sailing 60m into the air.
On a budget? Head to the West End
Just beyond South Bank, West End is alt-Brisbane at its best, with street art, cool cafes, indie bookshops, brewpubs, and music venues. Accommodation prices plummet as you head west, while the Davies Park Markets (produce stalls on Saturday) and Boundary Street Markets (food trucks on Friday and Saturday) compete with Greek delis and Vietnamese noodle joints to supply cheap eats.
Dive into underground Brisbane at Jet Black Cat Music, circular fashion exchange SWOP, indie drinking-hole The End, or Catchment Brewing Co.
Fortitude Valley is the best neighborhood for nightlife
Australia’s first designated nightlife district straps on its dancing shoes most nights of the week. The Valley is the epicenter of the city’s fantastic live-music scene, which has given us classic Aussie acts like Powderfinger, Kate Miller‐Heidke, Regurgitator, the Go-Betweens, the Saints, and the Bee Gees.
Check out the Valley Walk of Fame at the top end of Brunswick Street Mall honoring home-grown musical talent, and stock up on Aussie indie vinyl at Butter Beats. The Valley hosts the BigSound festival in September and Valley Fiesta in October.
Catch indie rock at the Zoo or the Tivoli, and heavy metal and punk-rock at Crowbar. Hit the D-floor at the Valley’s big-club offerings, which include the OTT opulence at Cloudland and the four-floor Met. Or steer queer at Beat MegaClub with six bars, three courtyards and events from drag shows to jelly wrestling.
New Farm is the place for coffee lovers
New Farm, and its neighbors Newstead and Teneriffe, offer a chance to chill after hectic nights in the next-door Valley. Cafes, markets, small galleries and waterside walks are the order of the day.
Fuel up first with a shot of caffeine at beloved cafes such as Double Shot, Little Loco, Botanica (with an amazing salad bar) or Nodo (killer gluten-free doughnuts). If you’re super early (or super late) you can always get a buzz at Brisbane’s only 24-hour espresso bar, the hard-core Death Before Decaf.With coffee sorted, take a stroll through the lazy streets to find gems like Fireworks Gallery, Jan Power Farmers Market (Saturday morning), the Brisbane Powerhouse, hosting innovative art, theatre, and dance, or Newstead Brewing Co which can set you up with a delicious paddleboard of craft brews. Or head for the riverbank to survey the city skyline along the Brisbane Riverwalk.
Go to Paddington for brunch
A special treat of visiting Brisbane’s heritage suburbs is the chance to spot classic Queenslanders. These architectural beauties are single-story, detached buildings of timber and corrugated iron with features to provide respite from the heat, like wraparound verandahs, louvers, latticed screens, and decorative window hoods. Often they’re on stilts, lifting their skirts in readiness for the regular floods that afflict the city.
Many cute Queenslanders in Paddington have been converted into lovely brunch spots. Top spots include Chapter IV, with a verandah view over the rooftops, Kettle & Tin, Sassafras or Naïm, with tantalizing treats from the Middle East.
Afterward go antique shopping at Empire Revival, Retro Metro, housed in a shabby but lovable Queenslander, or Ra Ra Superstar for hip tropical vintage.
Central Brisbane is the best spot for luxury
If you’re in town to indulge the senses, central Brisbane offers the city’s finest dining and fanciest digs, including its first six-star hotel, the Rosewood, due to open in Queen’s Wharf in 2022. While we wait, the Westin Brisbane is a luxe urban retreat with Brisbane’s first swim-up hotel bar. Crystalbrook Vincent is covered in the bright, modern artwork of Vincent Fantauzzo, while Ovolo Inchcolm offers heritage charm with a reimagined modern twist.
Step out in the city for signature dining, standouts include Walter’s Steakhouse, a favourite for carnivores for its dry-aged porterhouse served in gentleman’s club surrounds and Donna Chang‘s delicate dishes with Sichuan and Cantonese accents in a heritage-listed former bank. Central Brissie is also where you’ll find impressive imports from Sydney like cult cafe Three Blue Ducks, and yum cha star Phoenix.
International fashion brands line up along Edward and Queen Streets, while you can also discover leading local designers like classic-chic Tengdahl, and colourful, print-loving Maiocchi. Men will measure up in city boutiques like the Cloakroom.
When the sun goes down you can head to the city’s hip laneways with indie bars like supercool Super Whatnot in a former beauty school and NYC wannabes Brooklyn Standard and Gresham Bar.
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