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.
1. Greet 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!
COST: Free, so save your spendings for a bottle of water, a hat and a coffee at the end of the tour.
2. Set Sail on 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 clubhouse.
3. Spend a day in the laneways
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 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 (score!).
COST: Depending on how many brownies you eat, you can escape this shopping trip for pretty cheap.
4. 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 Portside 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, hop aboard. It’s completely free and runs every half an hour, seven days a week, from Sydney Street to North Quay (you’re welcome).
5. Go to GOMA
Be sure to visit 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 art spaces in Australia, GOMA packs 16,000 works inside its 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.
6. Find a Flick
If you’re up for a little Hollywood escapism, have a cinematic experience that doesn’t cost the earth.
COST: Budget Tuesdays is how the locals do it with adults costing $6.50 and kids $4.50 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.
7. Supersize South Bank
Built for Expo ’88 but here to stay, South Bank is Brisbane’s most famous backyard where you can take a dip overlooking the city’s skyline.
The iconic parkland offers everything from yoga to dance classes and aqua activities in various venues dotted around this 2km stretch of green space. If you want to finish your weekend on the right note, pop down 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.
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 Mall 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 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 you like your comedy free and on a Friday then head to Knockoff at Brisbane Powerhouse. Hosted every Friday from 6pm by a variety of local and national comedians, Knockoff features hilarious stories and outrageous anecdotes that will delight the toughest of critics. For those wanting to work out their funny bone, be sure to see Brisbane’s premier improvised theatre company, ImproMafia, on the last Friday of each month perform a side-splitting improvised comedy routine. To finish (or kick start) your night, head to the Bar Alto on the upper level for drinks with dazzling views of Brisbane city guaranteed.
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 bushwalking. Check out the panoramic city views from Mt Coot-tha, the ocean views at Mt Glorious, and picnic spots at Mt Nebo. If your keen, 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 1930s icon that is the 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. Inside City Hall is the Museum of Brisbane, which is well worth a poke around. The exhibitions on the top floor are completely free and ever-changing. You can honestly spend a whole morning in this place without leaving the sandstone doors.
13. Eat, drink, repeat
Avoid the cuisine conundrum (for a hefty price) with a sensational selection of international foods in one place. Situated at Portside Wharf on the Brisbane River, Eat Street Markets offers an array of street eats and refreshments, live music and stunning views of the city. Hidden between brightly-coloured shipping containers, the newly renovated markets offer something for the most indecisive of eaters from fresh seafood to doughnut fries. Open every weekend of the year, you’ll find most of Brisbane here so you’ll always feel part of the crowd.
COST: $2.50 entry, so you have plenty left over for spending on the edible delicacies served within.
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 the Botanic Gardens, there are plenty of spots to throw a shrimp on the barbie in Brissy. 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. Bookworm Haven
If you love to curl up with a good book, head straight to Archive Fine Books for rare collectable, secondhand and unusual books. The library is inside a beautiful heritage-listed building and is above John Mills Himself. So, grab yourself a coffee and find yourself your next favourite book.
COST: A large flat whites fromJohn Mills Himself will run cost you $4.50 and books at Archive Fine Books start from as little as $10.
16. When in Roma (Street)
Italy has Roma but Brisbane has Roma Street Parkland and we 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.
17. Hole in one
Those with a competitive side can put their golfing skills (or lack thereof) to the test at Holey Moley in Fortitude Valley. Characterised by its outlandish obstacles, the venue is truly a ‘whole in one’ as it combines a cocktail bar with nine pop-culture themed mini-golf courses. Fight it out to take your place on the Iron Throne or resort to some old-fashioned arcade games to settle the score.
Cost: $16.50 will get you 9-holes of tear-inducing laughter as you navigate the challenging putt-putt course (with the help of some liquid courage).
18. 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.
COST: It’s only $8 for a slice of nautical history.
19. ‘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 per adult ($6 for kids) for a tour of the Brisbane icon, leaving just enough change to grab a coffee at Brisbane favourite Pearl.
20. Power a pushie
Have your own tour de Brisbane moment by hiring a bike at Brisbane-activity epicentre, Riverlife. From Kangaroo Point you can easily reach the CBD precinct of Brisbane and cover off most major attractions in a morning. There’s over 20kms 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.
What’s your favourite thing to do in Brisbane for under $20?
*This post was originally published in 2015 and updated in November 2017.