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South Bank Brisbane: Exploring the city’s cultural heart

As Brisbane‘s dedicated cultural heart, South Bank has a wealth of things to see and do, representing the very best things about the Queensland capital.

Home to some of the country’s most revered art galleries and museums, a burgeoning bar and dining scene, plus some of the most lustrous riverside walks, CBD skyline views and parklands in Brisbane, South Bank is more than just another tourist-friendly precinct.

Buckle up, take notes and get exploring; this is your ultimate guide to Brisbane’s iconic South Bank.

South Bank galleries

QAGOMA | South Bank Brisbane

Photo by @qagoma

Art lovers will never get over their first visit to the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA).

Flanking either side of the State Library of Queensland and the Brisbane River, the twin galleries are dedicated to some of the best examples of contemporary art from Australia, Asia and the Pacific.

This also happens to be home of the Asia Pacific Triennial—a wildly ambitious and visually breathtaking exhibition held every two years. If you can plan your trip to South Bank during APT, do yourself a favour and lock it in.

For lovers of street art and sculpture, take a walk along Fish Lane. In recent years, this once bland thoroughfare has become a bustling dining and arts hub, even hosting Brisbane’s annual Brisbane Street Art Festival (BSAF) and opening a working studio for artists to showcase their works.

Featuring huge murals, sculptures and installations, this ever-expanding network of colour currently stretches the length of the laneway and under the South Brisbane Railway line, connecting to the famous G20 Pillars Project.

South Bank museums

Down at the southern end of South Bank is the Queensland Maritime Museum. Tucked away under the Goodwill Bridge, it may be smaller in size, but it packs a historical punch that’s well worth a look around.

At the top end of South Bank sits the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre; spanning four-levels of collections and exhibitions, it’s the perfect way to entertain the (big) kids. Explore the ancient fossil hall – home to some of the world’s oldest dinosaur fossils – and get stuck into interactive experiments in the Sciencentre.

The State Library of Queensland is home to Australia’s literary icons, housing an impressive collection of first-edition journals, vintage magazines, manuscripts and archives, rare books, music, photographs, films and videos, with a large chunk covering Queensland’s heritage, history, art, design and science.

Theatres and events

If theatre, dance and live music performances are your cultural compass, you’ll want to head straight to the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC).

Home to some of the biggest names in Australian performing arts, including Queensland Theatre, Queensland Ballet, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, and Opera Queensland, QPAC features a compelling year-round program that can rival any capital city. From one-man shows to famed West End and Broadway musicals, you’ve not done right by Brisbane until you’ve watched someone tread the boards at QPAC.

If that wasn’t quite enough entertainment, South Bank is also home to the South Bank Piazza and the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. While the former tends to hold more intimate gigs, both have seen their fair share of international artists and feature a line-up of local and international acts.

South Bank Parklands and riverside walks

Parklands South Bank

Comprising of 17 manicured acres, South Bank Parklands is a haven of lush rainforest, expansive greens and riverside parks. And it’s all completely free to enjoy.

Nature lovers will relish the tranquillity along the Rainforest Walk, which winds along wooden walkways through tropical and sub-tropical plants to the enchanting Nepalese Peace Pagoda. Others will prefer finding the perfect secluded picnic spot at River Quay Green, Rainforest Green and Liana Lounge. Making a decision will be the hardest part.

Further south along the Parklands, you’ll come across South Bank’s famed Epicurious Garden; a specialist volunteer-led herb and vegetable garden. As well as a learning hub for visitors on all things horticultural, the garden holds a free weekly harvest cart Tuesdays through Thursday, where you can pick up freshly picked produce.

South Bank markets

South Bank is buzzing with energy at any time of day, but it really goes the extra mile on market day. Every Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday, the South Bank Collective Markets fill Stanley Street Plaza with dozens of stalls showcasing local arts, crafts, collectibles and homemade treasures.

If you’re on the hunt for one-of-a-kind fashion, jewellery, and homewares, make sure to hit up the Young Designers Markets. Held on the first Sunday of every month, these famous markets feature cutting-edge and unique creations from emerging local designers and artists.

Cheap and free things to do

City Sounds

Photo by The City Sounds via FB

On a budget? Don’t sweat the bill; there are tonnes of things to do in South Bank that don’t cost a thing.

Workout enthusiasts should visit the lawns along Little Stanley Street, where free outdoor fitness classes (including yoga, Pilates and HIIT classes) are regularly held throughout the year. BYO a towel and you’re away.

Music lovers will want to hit up City Sounds held every weekend on Saturday evenings on the Parkland lawns. Part of Australia’s longest-running free music event, Brisbane has long been revered as Australia’s home of music—and it more than lives up to the hype. River Quay’s weekly Sunday Sessions are not to be missed either; grab yourself a deck chair, order a drink and watch the world go by.

Flowstate | South Bank Brisbane

Photo by @jenniferat58

Brisbane’s newest creative space, Flowstate is South Bank’s neon-lit, open-air performance hub. Located in the heart of South Bank Parklands, when the hub isn’t in use, it makes for a very beautiful, very relaxed spot to put your feet up.

Arguably Brisbane’s most recognisable location, Streets Beach is easily one of the best free things to do in South Bank. A man-made beach featuring real sand, a cooling lagoon and CBD views to boot, you’ll thank yourself for pulling up stumps here on a sweltering summer’s day. Trust us, it’s worth a dip.

To see this beautiful city from a fresh angle, hop on one of Brisbane’s famous City Cat ferries. Stops run right along South Bank and will take you the length of the Brisbane River. Enjoy a scenic route to one of Brisbane’s gorgeous riverside suburbs or cut a leisurely lap of the river before disembarking on South Bank shores.

Drink and dine

Put it this way; you won’t go hungry in South Bank. Every nook of this district offers ample opportunity for face stuffing—and you’d be mad not to. From cheap eats and causal eateries, degustation dinners and hatted dining, there is something to suit every tastebud.

Little Stanley and Grey Street precincts have slew of fun, causal eateries. Here, you’ll find everything from Asian street food at Junk Boat, Hellenic-inspired gyros at Zeus Street Greek, Italian heavyweights Gnocchi Gnocchi, Salt Meats Cheese and Spaghetti House, plus a handful of small bars and dedicated dessert cafes.

Venture to Stanley Street Plaza for atmosphere in spades; live music, classic Aussie pub-grub and dessert bars aplenty. For quick and easy bites on the move hit up the alfresco parkland food court for classics all the family will love.

Stokehouse Q

Outdoor dining at Stokehouse Q, River Quay

For dining with a view, River Quay delivers with a slew of slick restaurants overlooking the CBD and Brisbane River. Brisbane dining icons Stokehouse Q, Aquitaine and Popolo all reside here. You can’t go wrong. Want to go all-out? Loosen your belt at Bacchus; South Bank’s super slick, super fancy dining option. Whether you’re after dinner with paired wines, a decadent high tea, or max out on a degustation, this is where to head.

For cocktails with city views, make your way to the Terrace Bar rooftop cocktail lounge at the Emporium Hotel. The bar skills here are next level—and so are the views. After a cocktail or two, head downstairs to Little Big House for a game of pool and a round of karaoke. The beautifully renovated pub masquerading as an elegant old Queenslander is all about letting your hair down.

Want to kick on after eating out? Head to Fish Lane. Here, you’ll find quirky cocktail bars nestled in between award-wining Italian, alfresco Vietnamese and cheese and wine bars. Stop in at local beer cafe Saccharomyses, before finding the secret Hip Hop dive bar, Next Episode, then settle in at Maker for classy whisky cocktails.

Where to stay in South Bank

Emporium 2 | hotels in Brisbane city

Making South Bank your Brisbane base is a smart move, not only because everything’s on your doorstep, but because you’re also central for exploring Brisbane’s other incredible city precincts, too.

If you’re looking to stay in the heart of South Bank’s bustle, set your sights on Rydges on Grey Street. Adjoining the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre and a short stroll from QPAC and QAGOMA, it’s ideal for those wanting to maximise the cultural surroundings.

For the ultimate luxury stay, make reservations at Emporium Hotel. This 5-star boutique gem comes complete with a rooftop infinity pool and bar, plus an award-winning restaurant. Need we say more?

Mantra South Bank on Grey Street sits in the heart of it all; directly across from South Bank Parklands, moments from dining and bar options and is the perfect home from home.

Just a short walk from South Bank Parklands is the Swiss-Belhotel. Close to shops, dining and the CityHopper ferry stop, choose a room on the river for breathtaking views of the Botanical Gardens and Kangaroo Point Cliffs.