A complete backpackers guide to Brisbane
Welcome to BrisVegas!
You’ll find we’re home to a bloody good beer, a beach in the middle of the city and a river that’s known by locals as the ‘brown snake’ because it winds like a massive serpent right through the middle of town.
The allure of all this and more attracts some 1.1 million international visitors each year to the capital of Queensland, most of whom, are just like you – backpacking or travelling on a budget.
If you’re here for a good time and not a long time, here’s our ultimate guide to the River City.
First impressions: what you’ll notice about Brisbane
First things first. Brisbane, Brissy, Bris, BrisVegas is wedged between 100km of very famous coastline – with 50km of Gold Coast beaches to the south and the same again to its Sunshine Coast north.
The river is without a doubt the most defining feature of the destination – and just like there is Buda and there is Pest, Brisbane has a distinct north and a south side that’s also divided by a river.
At times this aqua serpent can make transport a little frustrating – so think boats and bridges if you want to visit all of Brisbane’s precincts.
Weather wise, Brisbane is #blessed and worthy of the prayer emoji hands.
Even in winter, you can still get around in T-shirt most days and on a really cold day, you might add a jumper (Aussie for pullover).
If you need any more convincing, we suggest you read up on these 10 things you can only do in Brisbane over here.
Where to Stay
It goes without saying that most backpackers can sniff down a bargain like a dachshund diving down a badger hole. So, skip this section if you’ve got your bed in Brisbane sorted.
But if you want to drive your dollar further, focus your attention on the hostel scene rather than hotels, which will not only save you money when it comes to nightly cost but also transport to all the things-to-see-and-do in the city.
Here, you’ll find most backpacker hostels share the same postcode as Brisbane’s CBD.
To be in the thick of it all: Brisbane City YHA
This hostel on Upper Roma Street is so close to everything it could be equally rebranded Grand Central Station.
You’ll find it’s walking distance from the Queen Street Mall, South Bank and the drinking heaven Caxton Street, which is packed with bars, most of which have been graced by world leaders, sporting greats and headlining musicians during their visits to Brisbane.
Brisbane City YHA is also among a cluster of other backpacker hostels, in undoubtedly the backpacking ‘heart’ of the Brisbane CBD. Surrounded by bars which are pumping every day of the week, this is where you stay when you want to live and breath the backpacking lifestyle.
With a tour desk to sort your day trip needs, there’s no wondering what to do at this hostel. Of course, if you’re at a loss, activities like guided CBD walks, movie nights, Friday BBQs and Sunday morning pancake sessions are just a few ways that Brisbane City YHA will ensure the words “I’m bored” are not uttered about your stay.
For the night owls and party lovers: Bunk
Introducing the Meryl Streep of Brisbane backpackers hostels, Bunk, who were the winners of the Best Hotel in Australia Awards 2016 and Golden Backpack Awards in 2016, as voted by other backpackers who’ve come before you.
What was once an old arts college has been transformed into a five-level backpacker hostel and haven, all within spitting distance of Brisbane’s nightlife capital, Fortitude Valley.
More than just a place to rest, it’s a bar as well – and Birdees, Bunk’s onsite bar, is a destination in its own right.
In fact, every day of the week you can expect a crowd gravitating towards its live music, DJs and themed nights, which are spread across the three smaller bars that make up the space.
If you like the nightlife and are happy to sacrifice a few zzz’s in return for dancing on the dance floor, bunker down at Bunk, choosing between shared dorm rooms (most of which sleep eight) or boutique five-bed private apartments, with self-contained kitchen, lounge area and private bathroom.
In case you need more convincing, did we mention they serve a free breakfast every day – and curiously, a free reptile show on a Thursday? Intrigued much?
For the spoils of resort-style living: Brisbane Backpackers Resort
Less of a hostel and more of a resort, book into Brisbane Backpackers Resort.
This backpackers is the closest hostel to South Bank and is walking distance to the bohemian and trendy West End. Its location guarantees that what you’ll spend on accommodation, you’ll save in equal measure on transport being in the heart of the 4101 postcode.
Rocking some serious resort vibes, Brisbane Backpackers Resort, offers a pool, spa, tennis/basketball/football court, along with a bustling bar, which is pumping day and night.
Dorm style rooms range from 4-6 bedrooms, each with an ensuite, balcony and fridge – which is perfect for those nights you might feel like holing up at home.
For travellers thinking of extending their Brisbane stay into something more long-term, check out Brisbane Backpackers Resort’s job club to speak with an expert about sponsorship, tax and applying for a Working Holiday Visa.
At reception, you’ll also find a job folder that’s updated weekly with vacant opportunities – making it one of the fastest ways to find work in the capital city.
Where to eat on a budget
The words ‘budget bites’ and Brisbane go together like bananas and smoothies, so you can save your cash for more important things like happy hour, rather than feeding yourself.
To dine out with less than $20 in your pocket, these are our picks.
For Vietnamese: Trang’s
Try as you might, it’s nigh-on-impossible to spend more than $20 on a meal at Trang’s Chinese & Vietnamese in West End. Packed every single night with families, students and backpackers, Trang dishes up fresh Vietnamese and Chinese at not much than the cost of a coffee at most cafes in town.
You’ll find all your favourites are on the encyclopaedic menu – ho, fried chicken, stir-fries and vermicelli salads. It’s so cheap you won’t feel guilty for ordering a starter of satays and spring rolls on top of your main meal, which we know is really living on a backpacker’s budget.
Did we mention it’s BYO too, so you can use up your change at the bottle shop next door?
For Indian (and vegetarian): Govindas
How would you like to drive $12.95 further? All-you-can-eat at Govindas is the definition of bargain bite. This Brisbane-establishment has been dishing up a taste of the sub-continent for over 20 years.
Aside from being 100% vego, you’ll find their fare amenable to almost all dietary requirements like gluten-free and vegan. Where there are hostels, there are Govindas and you’ll find them in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane CBD and bohemian West End.
Take note though – only the West End chapter opens for dinner.
For a burger: Ben’s Burgers
You’ll find Ben’s Burgers atop most cheap-eat lists in Brisbane. What we like about it is that it’s not just cheap – it’s delicious and comes with a great setting to boot.
The duo behind this Brisbane joint follow the same recipe for business success as they do on the menu. Do things simply and do them well. That’s why you’ll only find three burgers on the menu: a classic, special and vegetarian.
Wash it down with a Burleigh Brewing Beer (burger and a beer combo will cost you $20) and have yourself the perfect lunch or dinner date. You’ll find Ben’s hiding in one of Brisbane’s Best Laneways.
When you don’t know what you feel like: Eat Street Markets
Get your taste buds inspired at Eat Street Markets Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, the former wharves of Hamilton come to life with a host of brightly coloured shipping containers, which have been transformed into mini-commercial kitchens, each serving cuisine from around the world.
It’s one of the best places to go when you’re out with your new hostel besties and can’t settle on something to suit everyone (and their dietary quirks). Most importantly, this is a licensed market. We repeat, you can buy beers here.
Want more cheap food-spiration? Tune into Facebook to find where Brisbane’s best food trucks are popping up. You’re guaranteed to find a cheap feed from one of these.
It’s no surprise that 17 acres of parkland in the city have backpackers flocking like a moth to a flame. Throw in a man-made beach with city views and it’s easy to understand why you’ll find Streets Beach awash with international visitors while Brisbanites are busy at work.
More than just a beach and cafes, you’ll also find a rainforest too, so you can truly experience the best of Australia’s landscapes without leaving the city. Before you discover Brisbane’s best parkland, don’t forget to devour this guide.
Cuddle a Koala at Lone Pine
In case you missed this blog about why it’s important you cuddle a koala in Queensland, we’ll give you the low-down real quick. Queensland is one of the only states where you still can cuddle a koala – and trust us – a photo of you and this Aussie icon is something you’re going to want in your souvenir bag of tricks.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, in Brisbane’s western suburbs, is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary, so it makes sense to set your target there. Mirimar Cruises depart from South Bank to Lone Pine making this an easy day out from the city, with a river cruise thrown in.
Take in the views from the most famous mountain in Brisbane
To see the full extent of the CBD – get yourself to the top of Mt Coot-tha for sunset, or after dark. From your lofty height, 287m above sea level, you’ll get 180-degree views of the city and see just how far urban sprawl has expanded in Brisbane – with views as far out as Moreton Bay.
You can use a go card (more on that later) to hitch a ride on a Brisbane City Council bus, but if you’re planning on sticking around in town for more than one or two days, the Brisbane Explorer Hop on Hop Off bus will pay itself off in spades because it includes this trip up the mountain.
Get out of town
Sure, you could base yourself on the coast and follow this backpackers guide to the Gold Coast or, you call Brisbane home and do both coasts from your central base. Easy!
Your hostel is likely to run day tours to both coasts, otherwise Roma Street Transit Centre is the best way to go coastal by bus or train.
There’s no shortage of places to wet your whistle in a city which serves bevvies on ice 365 days of the year.
Fortitude Valley is Brisbane’s nightclub district with no end of clubs, pubs and laid back bars – depending on how you like your Saturday nights shaken on the dancefloor or stirred sitting down in a Chesterfield. To get a feel for Brisbane’s going-out scene, we’d recommend brushing up on this guide to Fortitude Valley.
Down Under Bar
If you’re looking for all the other backpackers after 9pm, chances are they’ll be at the DUB (Down Under Bar). This establishment is the definition of backpacker paradise, packed with people, chasing good vibes and new friends every night of the week.
Thursday nights are the most popular thanks to an unbeatable happy hour – although you’ll find most days, the Happy Hour is unparalleled.
For bevvies overlooking the story bridge and the twinkling lights of the city, Fridays Riverside is best enjoyed, on, well… Friday.
Drinks are CBD prices outside of Happy Hour, but since you’re on holidays and aren’t confined to the desk, there’s no reason you can’t follow the sun and move from bar-to-bar and happy-hour-to-happy-hour, bagging bargains that Brisbanites seem to miss.
Pig & Whistle
Where there’s a Pig & Whistle there will be international travellers, lured by its British Pub warm and welcoming feels. Forget what you might have heard about this fabled watering hole, almost all Pig & Whistle pubs have been renovated in the past two years, making them look more like boutique bars complete with fairy lights, green walls and Edison light bulbs rather than the dive bars they once were.
Pig & Whistle Riverside and Pig & Whistle Fortitude Valley are undoubtedly packed with foreigners almost every day and night – and just wait til’ there’s a big Premier League Game on because they transform into a sea of local supporters.
Other tips for making your Brisbane stay more memorable
Catch Public Transport with a go card
Just as London has the Oyster Card, so too does Brisbane, only it’s called a go card. Not only is this card rife with savings – but rife with convenience – as buses in Brisbane only take cash and generally correct change, which can prove a challenge when adult prices could be $5.70 for a simple two-zone fare.
Go to a bottle shop and ask for the ‘goon’ section
Booze in Australia can be expensive when you’re on a budget. The good news for budget drinkers though – no judgment is passed when it comes to drinking wine out of a box.
Download Groupon and Scoopon
Play the lottery of holiday life with apps like Groupon and Scoopon to book experiences on the day at heavily discounted rates. You’ll often find meals at a fraction of their normal cost, especially on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night. Aside from ridiculous discounts, the other bonus is that your holiday will be spontaneous, waiting for the deals to ‘ping’ through to your phone.
Buy a voltage converter
Your trip to Brisbane doesn’t need to come at the cost of replacing your hairdryer or hair straightener too. Just a heads up, Australia runs off different voltage to other parts of the world, so you’ll want to pick up a voltage converter before using appliances, particularly ones that heat.
Love it so much you want to stay?
If you’ve developed a taste for our beer-of-champions, XXXX Gold, and you’re ready to extend your stay a little further – you need these tips for making a go of a working holiday in Brisbane.
The best place to get information about what visa to apply for is the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Generally speaking, most backpackers kick on with a Working Holiday Visa which is designed for people aged 18-30. Naturally, a list of terms and conditions apply.
Take Out Travel Insurance
We don’t want to scare you – but there are plenty of animals with teeth in Australia, so taking out travel insurance and hospital cover is a must-do for any traveller, regardless of how long you think you’ll be on Australian turf. Talk to your local insurers about a plan to suit.
Organise a Tax File Number
If you’re eligible to work in Australia with your Visa, you’ll need a Tax File Number (TFN) which is a little bit like the keys to your entire life in Australia. You’ll need this in order to secure official employment – and is compulsory for all employees because it’s how you pay your tax. Oh, and yes, you will be required to pay tax.
Research if you need further qualifications
Mix a great Mojito and think you can walk cocktail shaker in hand, straight into a bar and take the world by storm? Think again. In Australia, you need qualifications to just about anything – so be aware that you might need an initial outlay for a Responsible Service of Alcohol (you can do an online course) to work behind a bar. Similarly, working with children requires a blue card, construction and labouring work require a white card – and that’s only the beginning of potential qualifications you could need to darken the doorway of an employer. Use Google to find out what your industry might require.
Once you’ve ticked all these must-dos off the list, all that remains is finding your dream working-holiday job. In Brisbane, there are limited options when it comes to fruit picking since it’s a capital city, but there’s no shortage of retail, hospitality and office temp jobs suited to the backpacker market.
If staying at a hostel, you’ll find most offer jobs boards advertising roles suited to foreigners on working holiday visas. Alternatively, online portals like Jobaroo and Seek are where you can let your fingers do the walking to find a suitable option.
Looking for more tips about working holidays in Queensland? Don’t forget to check out this blog post.