20 (almost) free things to do in Brisbane
Thrifty is the new buzz word around town and there’s plenty of things to do in Brisbane without breaking the bank.
Whether you’re chasing something historical, delicious or entertaining – there’s no real secret to frugal frolicking in the river city.
Make like Macklemore and discover Brisbane with only $20 in your pocket.
1. Engage a Brisbane Greeter
Cut from the same cloth as the New York Greeter program, Brisbane Greeters offer free walking tours of Brisbane city led by an eclectic group of volunteers through the city’s best kept secrets.
Whether you’re passionate about public art, architecture or WWII – you name it, the Brisbane Greeters can cover it in their various walking tours around the city.
Each tour is like a treasure hunt and it won’t cost you a dime! I’m a serial Brisbane Greeter taker (at last count, I’d done six) and my pick is the Walter Taylor Bridge Tour where you get to go inside the bridge and into the original toll master’s apartment.
COST: Free, so save your spendings for a bottle of water, a hat and a coffee at the end of the tour.
2. Check out #lanelyfe
Brisbane’s laneway network may not be as comprehensive as Melbourne’s, but they aren’t overrun with man buns, pugs and tight jeans. You can spend a morning exploring two of Brisbane’s favourite Fortitude Valley nooks, Winn Lane and Bakery Lane.
From cute magazine stores stocked with unusual titles to delicious handmade brownies, you can feed your soul and stomach without breaking the bank. Once you’ve had enough window shopping in the Valley, catch the 196 or 199 bus to the City for lunch at one of my favourite Burnett Lane haunts – Brew or Survey Co.
COST: Depending on how many brownies you eat, you can escape this shopping trip for pretty cheap. Pick up Womankind zine at Kunstler for $14.95, a brownie for $4, and you’ll have three hours of bliss WITH change from a $20 note.
3. Sail Moreton Bay
If you fancy yourself a bit of a WAG, and not the kind that dangles off the arm of a beefy bloke at the Brownlow, then check out the Wednesday Afternoon Go Sailing (WAGS) club at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron.
Each Wednesday, the Manly yacht club welcomes wannabe Jack Sparrows for a cruise around Moreton Bay. If there’s space on the boat and you’re happy to play deckhand, you’re in! There’s plenty of opportunity for pirate speak with this free activity. Unfurl the sails! Moreton Bay, ahoy! Scrub the deck you scurvy dog (ok, reel it in).
COST: Free! But landlubbers might like to park themselves at the bar from 12 noon. Save your $20 for a few drinks and nibbles at the club house.
4. Go to GOMA
Before you go, be sure to visit to one of the country’s most exciting art galleries for a dose of culture – the Gallery of Modern Art. Considered one of the most innovative artistic spaces in Australia, GOMA packs 16,000 works inside it’s glassy walls.
Perched on the banks of the Brisbane River, this building alone is an art form, and your artistic senses will be buzzing before you’ve even walked through the main doors.
COST: Free but some special exhibitions may be ticketed. My favourite part of GOMA is the children’s art centre and entry to this is always free, no matter how old you are *taps nose*.
5. Catch a cat
This must be the only cat that loves water, but Brisbane’s CityCat network is the prettiest way to commute around the river city. You won’t be the only person who boards these blue catamarans for a bit of afternoon fun as you wind your way along the Brisbane River. From the University of Queensland, hop along past Toowong, the City, South Bank, New Farm, Hawthorne, Bulimba and onto Brett’s Wharf.
COST: Brisbane’s transport is categorised into zones, so talk to your driver about how far you want to travel. If you see the little red ferry called “the city hopper”, jump on that one. It’s completely free and runs every half an hour, seven days a week, from Sydney Street to North Quay.
6. Supersize South Bank
Built for Expo ’88 but here to stay, South Bank is Brisbane’s most famous backyard. The iconic parkland offers everything from yoga to dance classes and aqua activities in various venues dotted around this 2km stretch of green space.
Streets Beach is the highlight and you can take a dip overlooking the city’s skyline. If crowds aren’t your thing, we suggest an early morning or late afternoon dip to have the place to yourself. If you want to finish your weekend on the right note, pop down to ‘Southy’ for a Sunday Session on the green – where the music is pumping, the sun is setting and the BYO wine is flowing.
COST: Entry is free, but you’ll want to save your $20 for a snack or tipple in one of the many bars or restaurants at River Quay.
7. Find a Flick
If you’re up for a little Hollywood escapism, have a cinematic experience that doesn’t cost the earth. The Cineplex cinemas, located at South Bank, Balmoral, Hawthorne and Victoria Point offer movies for less than rental DVD prices.
COST: Cheap Tuesdays is how the locals do it with adults costing $6.50 all day and night. If you don’t want to go on a school night, it’s $8.50 on weekends, leaving plenty of change for a choc top and popcorn.
8. To market, to market
For a measly $10, let your taste buds travel the world with Brisbane’s market scene. Jan Powers is the matriarch of the markets at the Powerhouse, Queen St and Manly. Serving up everything from middle eastern falafel pockets, hot smoked salmon, to homemade pan fried gnocchi, there isn’t a shortage of culinary curiosities to tuck into in Brisbane.
COST: Expect lunch to set you back $10-12. Add on a few sweet treats, a drink and you’ll blow your $20 and your waistline, but it will be oh so worth it.
9. Power to the people
If free music and comedy gigs get your motor running, Brisbane’s Powerhouse is where you need to be on a Friday night. More Indie than a vintage Olympus camera, the Powerhouse is an architectural re-tread having once supplied electricity to Brisbane’s entire tramway system before being transformed into a venue for music, theatre and comedy.
Knockoff Fridays, as they are aptly named, is where you’ll find free (good) comedy and can sit, with a chilled glass of savy-B, with views over the river.
COST: Only what you want to drink.
10. Bowl me over
Ask just about any Brisbane local and chances are, in their perfect world, they’d be barefoot on the grass. Better still, if there was a beer in one hand, and some kind of sport taking place.Such nirvana exists on the banks of the Brisbane River at New Farm’s Merthyr Bowls Club.
Yes, lawn bowls, that sport at which your grandmother used to excel, has made a comeback in Brissie in a big way. It won’t take long to see why the oldies are so fond of this social sport.
COST: For around $5 you can finally understand what floats nanna’s boat.
11. The hills are alive with the sound of Instagramming
You don’t have to travel far out of town to find lush forest for bush walking. Check out the panoramic city views from Mt Coot-tha, the ocean views at Mt Glorious, and picnic spots at Mt Nebo. Lace up your hiking boots for a bit of huffy-puffy through a national park and get back to nature.
COST: Nothing but your petrol to get there!
12. A dose of local history
Turn back the time to the Gatsby era and check out the refurbishment of City Hall, with a free guided tour. With marble stairs, a pressed ceiling and ornate balustrades, this magnificent Brisbane monument has been restored to its former glory just last year.
Inside City Hall is the Museum of Brisbane, which is well worth a poke around. Their exhibitions on the top floor are completely free and ever changing. You can honestly spend a whole morning in this place without leaving City Hall’s sandstone doors.
COST: Nudda! But there is a Shingle Inn at the bottom of City Hall which is the perfect spot to refuel with a cupcake.
13. Something old, something New Farm
Hyde Park, Central Park, I raise you New Farm Park, Brisbane’s green, lush, answer to any big city’s parkland. Get your green fix with a walk through the rose garden, throwing a frisbee or sitting under one of the fig trees that line the Brisbane River.
COST: Free. FYI the coffee booth by the main playground won’t leave you with much change from a $5 if you are chasing a caffeine fix in the park.
14. Barbeque delight
If you want to chew with a view, one of the best places to eat has got to be one of Brisbane’s free BBQs. Whether you want to sit on top of the Kangaroo Point Cliffs, in South Bank or in the Botanic Gardens, there are plenty of spots to throw a shrimp on the barbie in the river city.
If it’s a notable night like Riverfire, you’ll need to secure your BBQ well in advance, but the views are well worth the wait and the best vantage point to watch the city come to life.
COST: Only the cost of what you want to cook on the BBQ.
15. When in Roma Street
Italy has Roma but Brisbane has Roma Street Parkland, and I challenge you to find as much green space in Italy’s capital as you can find in Queensland’s.
You can take a free guided walk around the 16-hectare parklands or do it yourself, just make sure you save time to check out the rainforest.
COST: Free. Spend that $20 on packing a picnic.
16. In the Navy
If ever your stripey T-shirt and deck shoes were to look at home it’s at the Queensland Maritime Museum. Nestled alongside the river at South Bank, you can scamper like a deckhand on the HMAS Diamantina and experience how the crews navigated their tiny quarters and galley.
COST: It’s only $8 for a slice of nautical history.
17. Hole in one
For fun that lasts hours, tee off at the Victoria Park Golf Course, Brisbane’s answer to Pine Valley, with city views and lush rolling greens.
Serious golfers can take to the real course while hobby-putters can have a crack at putt putt – 18 holes with water traps, swinging poles and punching bags to navigate. Did someone say date night?
Cost: $17 will get you 18-holes of tear-inducing laughter as you navigate the challenging putt putt course.
18. ‘Gabba ‘Gabba Do
Take a walk onto the pitch at the cricket colosseum, The Gabba. Every Thursday, tours run through the spiritual home of Brisbane cricket.
Once your cricket taste buds have been quenched, take a stroll to nearby Logan Road precinct and check out the cafes and shops housed in old-style buildings.
COST: It’s $16 for a tour of the Brisbane icon, leaving just enough change to grab a coffee at Brisbane favourite Pearl.
19. Eat, drink, repeat
A food fantasy exists every Friday and Saturday night (and Sunday in Summer) in the previously disused Hamilton Wharf, as Eat Street Markets open their shipping containers to hungry Brisbanites. You’ll find most of Brisbane here on any given weekend, so you’ll always feel part of the crowd.
The order of the evening is to eat, drink, eat, repeat. Kids are welcome and there’s plenty of live music and entertainment to keep everyone occupied.
COST: $2 entry, so you have plenty left over for spending on the edible delicacies served within. Here’s looking at you honey puffs.
20. Power a pushie
Have your own tour de Brisbane moment by hiring a bike at Brisbane-activity epicentre, Riverlife. From its Kangaroo Point digs you can easily reach the CBD precinct of Brisbane and cover off most major attractions in a morning.
There’s over 20-kilometers of paved bike path at the doorstep, so whether you’re a hobby rider or someone who just loves lycra, it’s easy to switch two legs for two wheels in Brisbane.
COST: 1.5 hours of cycling fun will cost you $20 and in that time you should be able to tick off a mighty CBD loop covering Kangaroo Point Cliffs, Botanical Gardens, CBD and South Bank.