Queensland’s sunny capital finds itself in a rather lucky position. Not only is Brisbane one of Australia’s fastest-evolving cities in the trend stakes but it’s also within day-tripping distance of some of the state’s best beaches, national parks, and unique townships.

And with the Australia slowly re-opening to visitors from interstate, as well as overseas, Brisbane and the Queensland coast tourism sector has never been more excited to see you. So get ready for a multitude of sunshine-soaked adventures – you may want to consider extending your holiday plans this year – with our pick of the best places to visit near Brisbane.   

An aerial view of the sunny coast of surfers paradise with skyscrapers backing on to beaches
Stunning Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast is an easy day trip from Brisbane © zstock / Shutterstock

Theme parks, surfing and hiking the Gold Coast

The Gold Coast might be one of Australia’s most misunderstood cities. Often pigeonholed as a party town, the Goldie hosts more than 50km of pristine sand so, as logic would suggest, there’s far more to this beach city than just the nightclubs of Surfers Paradise. In the north, thrill seekers can hit the theme parks and families can picnic and play at the waterfront Broadwater Parklands. Further south, surfers can ride competition waves at Snapper Rocks (or anywhere along the coastline really) and nature-lovers can stomp the tracks in Springbrook National Park. 

Don’t be fooled into thinking Gold Coasters are as casual about their food as they are about their lifestyle – gastronomy is serious game and there are plenty of A-grade restaurants to choose from (plus quality beans for coffee aficionados). Hip cafes and watering holes abound, including in bright and buzzy Burleigh Heads, which lays claim to a hatted restaurant (Australian code for best in show) –  Rick Shores – and Burleigh’s lesser-known but no-less-cool neighbour, Palm Beach, which is fast becoming a haven for swanky bars (try Suga or The Scottish Prince). Busy Broadbeach and chilled-out ‘burbs like Mermaid Beach and Coolangatta are also worth checking out. And do pop into Surfers Paradise – it is a lot of fun. 

How to get to the Gold Coast: The Gold Coast is just under an hour's drive south of Brisbane. Regular trains depart from Brisbane Central and the journey takes around an hour and 40 minutes.

Glass House Mountains at sunset on the Sunshine Coast © Blue Pebble / Shutterstock

Unwind from Caloundra to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast 

Like the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast is hard to define, but is a little less zing and a little more calm than its southern counterpart. Noosa is a highlight because of its boutique shopping, trendy cafes and one of the most beautiful national parks you’ll lay eyes on (that turquoise water…), while Mooloolaba and Caloundra offer quieter alternatives (and the latter has an award-winning brewery by the beach). 

The Sunshine Coast hinterland trades ocean spray for clean mountain air, and Montville and Maleny are two standout locales. Montville is an adorable one-horse town that peters on a mountain ridge. The main street is lined with cafes, galleries and shops, and the nearby Kondalilla National Park is laced with walking trails and waterfalls.

Maleny, 9.3 miles (15km) south, is an equally endearing town that supports a thriving dairy industry. Visit Maleny Dairies and Maleny Cheese to sample the region’s award-winning produce, then stop in at the Maleny Botanic Gardens for views over the Glass House Mountains and to see more than 700 native and exotic birds at Bird World. Duck off the highway to visit Australia Zoo – founded by the late Steve Irwin – or to pick up local handicrafts and snacks at the Eumundi Markets

How to get to the Sunshine Coast: Regular trains depart from Brisbane Central to Nambour, the region's main train station. The journey takes an hour and 50 minutes.

A woman is walking on a narrow trail through the undergrowth in Lamington National Park, Queenland.
Despite suffering bushfires in 2019, Lamington National Park is still ready to welcome visitors © Enrique Díaz / 7cero

Explore lush Lamington National Park 

Lamington National Park hit the news in 2019 when bushfires swept through the area, but all is not lost. For starters, Lamington is big (more than 20,000 hectares big), and is split into two sections – Green Mountains (also called O’Reilly) and Binna Burra. Sections of the Binna Burra forest were damaged, but much of the park and the businesses within it remain open.

Join a monthly cooking class using regional produce at the Wild Lime Cooking School (which can be topped or tailed with a swim in the Christmas Creek or Lost World rock pools), or enjoy a massage and sweeping valley views at O’Reilly’s Lost World Spa. Nearby hiking options range from easy 30-minute circuits to multi-hour treks through soul-cleansing rainforest. Visit the Queensland Parks and Forest website for up-to-date trail information. 

How to get to Lamington National Park: The park is 68 miles (110km) south of Brisbane, which equates to about a two-hour drive.

A road leads towards a white lighthouse at the end of the Cape Byron Walking Track; it stands on a rocky cliff, with waves crashing beneath.
The lighthouse at  Cape Byron  marks the most easterly point on mainland Australia © swissmediavision / Getty Images

Iconic Byron Bay mixes beaches with boutique shopping

Byron Bay is a two-hour drive from Brisbane, crossing the state border into New South Wales. Arguably one of Australia’s most popular and well-known beach towns, Byron is old-school hippie and modern-age hipster rolled into one. Here, shoes are optional and bathers are commonplace within the compact town centre, but there’s an air of sophistication about the place. Boutique shops stock stylish local handicrafts and fashion labels, the dining is on-trend, and if you fancy staying overnight, Byron Bay accommodation spans a spectrum from backpacker to chic. 

The town itself hums with energy for much of the day and night (Byron manages to wake up early after partying into the wee hours), but it’s easy to escape into nature. Follow the Cape Byron Walking Track to the lighthouse – the most easterly point of mainland Australia – or take a dip in the crystalline waters of Wategos beach, where dolphins frolic and waves gently spill over a wide sand bar. 

How to get to Byron Bay: The trip takes two hours by car (102 miles). Coaches are available from Brisbane Roma St Bus Stop to Byron Bay daily and the journey takes a little over two and a half hours.

The easiest day trip from Brisbane: North Stradbroke Island 

Stradbroke Island (or ‘Straddie’ to the locals) is split into north and south. North Stradbroke is the most easily accessible of our favorite day trips from Brisbane via a 30-minute boat ride from Cleveland. Hire a 4WD for ultimate freedom (including beach cruising potential) or buy a daily bus pass to get between the hubs of Point Lookout, Dunwich and Amity. 

Main Beach has a powerful swell and is popular with surfers and body boarders, while Cylinder Beach is a calmer, patrolled cove better suited to families and lazy afternoons. The more secluded Deadman’s and Frenchman’s beaches are dotted with rock pools, and inland there’s a freshwater lake system. This includes Blue Lake, referred to as the ‘deep silent pool’ in the local indigenous language, and Brown Lake, tinged by the colour of native tea trees. Whale watching is a popular pastime on Straddie, with migrating humpback whales a common sight between June and November.  

How to get to North Stradbroke Island: Ferries depart daily from the Brisbane suburb of Cleveland and take around 30 minutes. You can travel as a foot passenger or bring your own vehicle.

A shallow pool surrounded by large rocks on Tamborine Mountain, looking out over an expanse of rainforest.
Tamborine Mountain has many walking trails to explore © iStock / Getty Images Plus

Rainforest and glow worm caves await on Tamborine Mountain 

Tamborine Mountain sits between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. It’s another of Queensland’s magnificent hinterlands strewn with rainforest, criss-crossed by walking trails and peppered with cute shops and eateries. The Gallery Walk on Long Road has more than 50 cafes, restaurants and stores selling handicrafts and knick-knacks, then there are a number of wineries and breweries nearby, plus the Tamborine Mountain Distillery, which has a trophy cabinet laden with more than 300 awards. 

Tamborine is also known for its glow worms glittering in a purpose-built cave. Guided tours run throughout the day. 

How to get to Tamborine Mountain: It's just an hour's drive south of Brisbane (45 miles).

Produced by Lonely Planet for American Airlines. All editorial views are those of Lonely Planet alone and reflect our policy of editorial independence and impartiality.`

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This article was first published December 2019 and updated November 2021

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