Brisbane’s selling points are many: Enviable weather, laidback locals, dynamic culinary and cultural scenes – all without the hassles of frazzled, faster-paced Sydney and Melbourne. While the city (like much of Australia) is no traveler’s bargain basement, a little know-how can help you live it up without blowing the budget. Follow these tips to get more out of Brisbane for less.

Buy your Airtrain tickets from the airport online

Brisbane Airport is Australia’s third busiest, with budget carriers Jetstar and Rex providing cheaper flights to other Australian destinations. If flying in, the Airtrain connects both the domestic and international terminals to popular Brisbane districts, including dining-and-nightlife hub Fortitude Valley, the city center (the CBD) and attraction-packed South Bank and South Brisbane. Slash the standard $37 adult return fare by purchasing your ticket online for $28.

Ditch the CityCat for the free CityHopper

You’ll need a Go Card or pre-purchased paper ticket to ride Brisbane’s CityCat catamarans. Its CityHopper ferries, however, cost nothing. While they cover less ground than CityCats, CityHoppers do stop at the main inner-city riverfront precincts, including South Bank, the CBD and New Farm. And just like their faster partners, they serve up breathtaking skyline and Story Bridge views, making any trip a highlight in itself.

Street art on the Loft exterior wall
As well as in galleries you'll see plenty of art on walls in Brisbane's West End © Emily McAuliffe / Lonely Planet

Go on a South Bank art crawl for nothing

The family-friendly Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) is Australia’s largest museum of contemporary art, with a refreshing focus on artists of the Asia-Pacific region. While some of the temporary major exhibitions are ticketed, the general galleries are free to enter, as is the dedicated Children’s Art Gallery.

A quick stroll away, Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) also gifts free access to its permanent collection, which includes works from the Aboriginal Hermannsburg School, as well as non-Indigenous Australian heavyweights like Arthur Boyd, Howard Arkley and Patricia Piccinini.

Both venues are within walking distance of street-art hotspots Fish Lane and The Pillars Project. The latter consists of specially commissioned, large-scale murals beneath the South Brisbane rail overpass, created by top-tier artists.

Low cost riverside street food and Asian classics

Simple, old-school Asian eateries are a good bet for fresh, affordable dining. In the CBD, take-away Banh Mi Now serves outstanding Vietnamese baguette sandwiches for around $12. In Fortitude Valley, hit no-frills The Vietnamese Restaurant for $10 bowls of nourishing phở (noodle soup). Across the street, Chinese-Malaysian Jimmy’s Superbowl is known for its lunch specials, where you can wash down a laksa with a beer for around $20.

For something hipper, catch the CityCat to Eat Street Northshore, an end-of-week global street-food village with live tunes and a festive vibe (bring cash). Another Sunday option is chilled Paddington cafe-bar Remy’s, which peddles 2-for-1 burgers (vegan available) from 3.30pm to 6.30pm.

Homemade Gourmet Food: Fresh Green Salad with Mozzarella, Mixed Nuts and Dry Fruits
Gourmet dining is not exclusive to Brisbane's high-end restaurants © Moment RF / Getty Images

Go gourmet at a high-end cafe in Brisbane

If you can’t justify $150 for a degustation at Joy or Elska, sample Australian culinary ingenuity at innovative, produce-driven cafes like Newstead’s Industry Beans and Nodo. Most dishes are under $25, with offerings that might see porcini dusted egg paired with potato nest, wild mushroom duxelle, kale and pickled mushroom, or native-spice fried chicken with kombucha citrus chilli jam, lemon myrtle mayo and pepperberry. In West End, standout vegan cafe Grown offers a Chef’s Choice banquet for $35.

Free music to rock out in Brisbane

Violent Soho, Powderfinger, Sheppard and Regurgitator are all bands out of Brisbane, and the city’s live-music scene is epic. While it’s worth spending $50 (or more) to catch a gig at The Tivoli or Fortitude Music Hall, equally revered The Triffid (co-founded by former Powderfinger bassist John Collins) regularly hosts free, quality independent talent in its beer garden. Free nightly gigs run Wednesday to Sunday at Archive Beer Boutique, while the City Sounds program offers an eclectic mix of free outdoor concerts year-round.

Streets Beach in South Bank Parkland. It's inner-city man-made beach next to city center.
Cool off at this man-made beach next to Brisbane's city center © Martin Valigursky / Shutterstock

Keep cool with an inner-city drip at these Brisbane pools

If your digs don’t come with a pool (or you can’t stretch the budget for an ocean dip on the nearby Gold or Sunshine Coasts), pack your togs (bathing costume) and lounge at Streets Beach, a free, lagoon-style pool at South Bank Parklands. If laps are more your thing, opt for the Valley Pool, popular with both mere morals and elite Aussie athletes. Admission is an affordable $6 (child $4.40, family pass from $12.90).

See a film on the cheap in Brisbane

When those subtropical storms hit, take refuge at the movies. Cinema chain Cineplex screens new-release Hollywood and independent films for a bargain $8.50 (child $5.50); much lower than the standard $17 to $20 price tag. Its ‘Off-Peak Sessions’ (weekdays before 6pm and Tuesday nights) are cheaper still, with adult tickets just $7. 

Even its bougier, adults-only Deluxe cinemas are a steal at $12. To make it an event, sail the CityCat to Hawthorne ferry stop and catch a film at 1940s-veteran Hawthorne Cineplex or its luxe sibling Hawthorne Deluxe. For free classic, cult and experimental films and documentaries, check what’s playing at GOMA’s in-house Cinématèque.

People shopping at Jan Powers Farmers Market in Brisbane City.It provide the best produce in Queensland of fresh fruits, vegetables and food to Brisbane, Australia.
Join the locals shopping at Brisbane's farmers markets with the best Queensland produce © ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock

Save on slumber at low-cost hostels

Although Brisbane’s low season (December to March) is hot and muggy, it does deliver good accommodation deals. For budget slumber, crash at one of the city’s hostels, where dorm beds range from $20 to $40. Many also offer private rooms, with shared or private bathroom. Some – like design-savvy Brisbane Quarters – also come with a pool and breakfast.

Airbnb apartment rentals are a good alternative to midrange hotels. Some include an onsite pool and/or gym, while most offer wi-fi, washing machine and kitchenette. Aside from cutting down on laundry and restaurant bills, you’ll have reason to shop at fantastic farmers’ markets like West End Markets, Powerhouse Farmers Market and Brisbane City Markets. Across the board, book accommodation well in advance for the largest selection of options.

Travel Brisbane's transport network with a Go Card

Taxis and ridesharing services are generally expensive, so hop between neighborhoods using Brisbane’s integrated system of TransLink buses, trains and ferries. An adult single-ride paper ticket for Zone 1 costs $4.90, so if you plan on more than a couple of rides, opt for an electronic TransLink Go Card (starting balance adult/child $10/5). Simply add credit to use and enjoy savings of over 30% on individual trips. 

Save an extra 20% by traveling between 8.30am and 3.30pm and after 7pm on weekdays, or all day on weekends and public holidays. Children with a child Go Card travel free Saturday and Sunday.

Another option is the go seeQ card, which allows unlimited travel on trains, buses and ferries for three days ($79; child $40) or five days ($129; child $65). This card includes two Airtrain journeys and can be purchased from Brisbane Airport’s train stations.

If you do need a taxi between 11pm and 5am on a Friday or Saturday night, opt for a NightLink flat-fare taxi. Available from dedicated ranks in the CBD and Fortitude Valley, they often work out cheaper than standard taxis.

Daily costs

  • Flat white coffee: $4.50
  • Midrange dinner: $40-$75
  • One-day bike hire: $25
  • Private queen hostel room with ensuite: $85-$105
  • One-bedroom apartment: $115-$220

You might also like:
How to get around in Brisbane: the easiest, cheapest and most sustainable options
9 best museums in Brisbane: contemporary art, convicts, Indigenous culture and more
Brisbane's best parks: from botanic gardens to city beaches

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