Brisbane Sign | South Bank Parklands

A first timer’s guide to the best things to do in Brisbane

So, you’ve just bought an airline ticket that reads BNE, what next? Planning the best things to do in Brisbane and lots of it, because capital cities have a tendency to be overachievers and the River City is no exception.

Brisbane packages a little taste-tester of what the rest of the state has to offer (think sun, sand and big blue skies) into its 15,826 km² borders, all without any of the travel time to get there.

Don’t get capital city fatigue. Instead, map out your plan of attack with this guide to discovering the best things to do in Brisbane.

Visit a beach in the middle of the city

Streets Beach South Bank | First Timers Guide to the Best Things to do in Brisbane

If you’re wondering where Brisbane’s postcard-worthy photos are taken, a trip to South Bank will answer your question. The 17 hectares of parklands overlooking the city are undoubtedly Brisbane’s most photographed attraction and it’s easy to see why.

You’ll find every sort of landscape cleverly manicured along the riverfront from edible gardens to an unexpected lush rainforest, which you can explore using this guide. The pièce de résistance is Streets Beach, the world’s only city beach, which comes complete with surf lifesavers and white sand.

To truly tick this icon off your Brisbane-bucket list, take a photo against the Brisbane Sign, a three dimensional sign, made for both the G20 summit and Instagrammable moments.

Ride a cat around town

City Cat Brisbane - First Timer's Guide to the best things to do in Brisbane

You wouldn’t go to Venice without taking a gondola, and the same goes for Brisbane’s City Cat service. These water taxis wind their way from the southern reaches of St Lucia to the northern banks of Hamilton, with 25 stops in between.

A ride will cost you as little as $2.60 (or, free if you opt for the red City Hopper free ferry), and you’ll have the best seat in the house for views of the City, South Bank and Brisbane’s answer to Mayfair, Bulimba.

Use the City Cat system to get from point A to point B on this 48 hours in Brisbane itinerary, or make things more interesting with a progressive City Cat pub crawl between bars, including the brand spankin’ new Howard Smith Wharves precinct.

Dine on Eagle Street

Don’t bring an indecisive Libran to Eagle Street because you’ll be spoilt for dining choice. There’s over 15 different bars and restaurants on the waterfront, with the likes of Aria Restaurant Brisbane, Pony Dining, Sake and Alchemy competing for the fine dining crown.

For a meal worthy of a place on this top eats of Queensland list, it’s hard to go past Il Centro’s sand crab lasagne, which has been a stalwart of the menu since opening the doors in 1992. It’s creamy, it’s delicious and you definitely don’t want to fill up on bread before you dive into it.

Wander through modern art

Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) Brisbane | First timer's guide to things to do in Brisbane

If you prefer your art modern, GOMA is the epicentre of all things contemporary art in Brisbane. Not only is the art gallery heavily awarded, most of the exhibitions are free and the kid’s art program is so good, you often find adults popping down for a slice of the action.

Time your visit before 29 April 2019 to catch ‘The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ aka APT9. Back for its ninth year running, the collection of Asian Pacific artists includes over 400 artworks that reflect the new art emerging from Asia, the Pacific and Australia.

Cuddle a koala and meet native animals

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary | First timer's guide to the best things to do in Brisbane

Can you even say you’ve been to Australia if you didn’t cuddle a koala? Considering Queensland is one of the only states in the country you can still cuddle the furry native, you’ll want to plan your encounter wisely.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is still the original and best at the koala cuddling game, home to over 130 koalas along with a Guinness World Record title as the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary. You’ll find this eucalyptus heaven 30 minutes drive from the centre of town, or a 75-minute boat ride with Mirimar Cruises, departing from South Bank.

Snorkel crystal clear water without going near the reef

Snorkelling Moreton Island Brisbane | First timer's guide to the best things to do in Brisbane

Brisbane or Bora Bora? You could get the two confused when you see the water colour at your doorstep when you visit Moreton Island’s Tangalooma Island Resort. Go snorkelling without the travel time to the Great Barrier Reef to see the ecosystems thriving off the 15 sunken shipwrecks off the island, with a variety of reef fish, coral formations and marine life.

If you’re more of a feet-on-solid-ground kind of traveller, there’s ATV quad biking and sand tobogganing to keep you active. By night, feed wild dolphins or take a glow-in-the-dark canoe for a spin around the wrecks rather than turning in early under a blanket of stars.

For more Moreton Island magic, stay and play for 48 hours armed with this guide.

Shop ‘til you drop

James Street Shopping Brisbane | A first timer's guider to the best things to do in Brisbane

If you’re more of a retail therapy kind of holidayer, bring an extra suitcase because Brisbane delivers the goods. Armed with this shopping guide and good walking shoes, we recommend hitting the pavement of the Queen Street Mall for all the major players (Myer, David Jones, Zara and H&M to name a few) and 700 other stores lined wall-to-wall.

For clothes you won’t likely see anyone else wearing at a BBQ, visit Brisbane’s high street, James Street in Fortitude Valley. It’s worthy of its crown as Brisbane’s most stylish shopping strip with 130 speciality stores that sit amongst award-winning restaurants like Hellenika (inside The Calile Hotel) and Gerard’s Bistro.

Climb the Story Bridge

Story Bridge Climb Brisbane - First timer's guide to the best things to do in Brisbane

See Brisbane from new heights (74m high to be precise) with a Story Bridge Adventure Climb. Considering it’s only one of three bridges you can climb in the world, you’ll want to dedicate two hours to climb the 1138 steps to reach the top with a guided climb.

You’ll be dished up Brisbane history and views in spades, with a clear day promising vistas out to the Glass House Mountains in the north, Moreton Bay in the east and Scenic Rim in the south.

Expect to walk away parroting fun facts about what was Australia’s second largest bridge which kept 434 men busy for five years during its construction.

Head to destination delicious

Eat Street Markets Brisbane | First timer's guide to the best things to do in Brisbane

The River City has a habit of turning unused areas into pumping hot spots and Eat Street Markets are proof. Inside shipping containers in its Hamilton Wharf location, you’ll find international street food and drinks to choose from.

From wood-fired pizzas to dreamy doughnuts, you’ll find everything you’ve ever craved under its fairy-light roof.

Kick on after dark at a rooftop bar

Rooftop Bars Brisbane | First timer's guide to the best things to do in Brisbane

Brisbane might put the sun in the Sunshine State, but it’s far from just a daylight-only destination. After dark, Brisbane’s nightlife is heaving but don’t just take our word for it. A visit to one of the many rooftop bars delivers not just cold drinks but views as far as the eye can see.

For sky-high views over the city, make a beeline for happy hour at Emporium Hotel’s rooftop offering, The Terrace.

Drink, Eat, Sleep. Repeat

If you thought you had to go further south to find Australia’s wine scene, think again. Thirty kilometres from the CBD at Mount Cotton you’ll find a triple threat of dining, cellar door and glamping aka Sirromet Wines.

It’s not just us who think the wine is good. Since the year 2000 the cellar door has clocked up some 900 awards for their drops. At the cellar door you can taste the Granite Belt while saving the three-hour drive to get there yourself.

Where there is good wine, you know there is good food, with Restaurant Lurleen’s dishing up fresh local, regional produce prepared by Executive Chef Mathew Fulford. As of 2018, you can also sleep where you sip with a stay at the new Sanctuary by Sirromet tented pavilions with views over Moreton Bay.

Go market to market

Brisbane - Jan Power Farmers Markets | First timer's guide to the best things to do in Brisbane

Shop local with a visit to one of Brisbane’s farmers markets, which prove produce tastes better when it hasn’t travelled thousands of kilometres by truck to get there.

Brisbane’s food bowl is less than 150km away in the Scenic Rim, which explains why the farmers market culture is so strong in Brisbane. From Kalbar carrots to Killarney potatoes, Jan Powers Farmers Markets brings the best country to the city.

To see the biggest and best markets in action, time your visit for Saturday at Davies Park Market in West End or Jan Powers Powerhouse Markets in New Farm.

Swap main streets for laneways

Winn Lane - Brisbane Laneways | First timer's guide of the best things to do in Brisbane

If you’re the sort of traveller who prefers to go off the beaten track, discover both the backstreets and boutiques of Brisbane with a self-guided tour of Brisbane’s best laneways. Proving good things come in small packages, you’ll find cute clothing stores, cafes and bars tucked into previously disused alleyways.

For a new take on Brisbane’s laneway scene, step off Melbourne Street in South Brisbane into Fish Lane following a string of fairy lights that lead to dining delights like Julius Pizzeria and Gelato Messina.

Looking for more Brisbane itinerary ideas:

What did we miss? Let us know your favourite thing to do in Brisbane in the comments below.