A complete backpacker’s guide to Brisbane
Welcome to Brisbane – otherwise known by its nickname, the River City. It’s also home to some great beer, a beach in the middle of the CBD that’s an engineering marvel, and 283 days of sunshine a year. After a backpacker’s guide to Brisbane? The city attracts 1.1 million international visitors annually (probably something to do with all that sunshine) many of whom are backpacking or travelling on a budget.
Backpacking here is very much doable, with plenty of budget-friendly experiences, eats and events that’ll keep your heart satisfied and your belly full. The trick to balancing it all out is treating yourself to the unmissable experiences and spending where it counts.
Read on for a bit of travel bug-inducing wonder, and a whole lot of new knowledge with our backpacker’s guide to Brisbane.
Brisbane is wedged between 100km of very famous coastline – with 50km of Gold Coast beaches to the south, and 50km to the Sunshine Coast up north.
Brisbane itself also has a distinct north and south side that’s divided by the Brisbane River, but you’ll find all ferries and bridges we have make travelling between each side easier.
Weather-wise, Brisbane is usually mild, even in winter – with the coldest part lasting only a few weeks. So bring your swimmers, sunscreen and a jumper or two and get ready to deep dive head-first into everything that is Brisbane.
Where to Stay
If you’ve already sorted your accommodation for Brisbane, skip this part.
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 and transport to all the things-to-see-and-do in the city, but you’ll meet plenty of like-minded travellers at the same time.
Here, you’ll find most backpacker hostels share the same postcode as Brisbane’s CBD. Read on for stylish yet affordable digs to rest your head after a big day in the city.
To be in the thick of it all: Nomads Backpackers, Brisbane CBD
Smack-bang across the road from Central Station and walking distance from Queen Street Mall and South Bank, Nomads Backpackers’ digs aren’t too shabby (and are very accessible). It’s close to a cluster of other hostels in the backpacking ‘heart’ of the Brisbane CBD (with the famous Down Under Bar below it) and has all the charm and history a heritage-listed building can offer.
Its rooftop terrace is a great spot to chill out and watch the sunset, have a barbecue and mingle with fellow residents. They also have common areas where you can kick back or cook up a feast. With free activities seven days a week, their customers don’t call them boring, ever.
If you feel like venturing out, the night hub of Caxton Street is close by, where the bars have been graced by world leaders, sporting greats and headlining musicians.
For resort-style living: Brisbane Backpackers Resort
Based in artsy, carefree West End, Brisbane Backpackers Resort is less of a hostel and more of a resort. This spot is the closest hostel to South Bank and is walking distance to the vintage shops, wellness nooks and curios of West End.
The resort offers a pool, spa and tennis/basketball/football court along with a bustling bar. Dormitory style rooms range from 4-6 bedrooms, each with an ensuite, balcony and fridge.
If you’re loving the Brisbane life and are wanting to extend your stay, check out their job club and speak with an expert about sponsorship, tax and applying for a Working Holiday Visa. They also have a job folder at reception that’s updated weekly with vacant opportunities if you’re looking to call Brisbane home a little longer.
For the night owls and party lovers: Bunk, Fortitude Valley
Bunk won Best Hotel in Australia in 2016, Most Popular Hostel in Brisbane by Hostelworld in 2016, and the Golden Backpack Awards in 2016 (as voted by other backpackers), so you know you’re onto a good one.
From an old arts college, this place been transformed into a five-level backpacker hostel, all within walking distance of Brisbane’s nightlife capital, Fortitude Valley. Home to Birdees, its own on-site bar (a destination in its own right) you’ll find crowds gravitate towards its live music, DJs, and themed evenings every night of the week.
If you like the nightlife and are happy to sacrifice a few ZZZs in return for cutting shapes on the dance floor, Bunk is the party central haven for you. Choose between shared dorm rooms (most of which sleep eight) or boutique five-bed private apartments, with self-contained kitchen, lounge area and a private bathroom.
Best of all? They serve free breakfast every day.
Where to eat
There are plenty of budget-friendly options thanks to the rise of food truck culture and stand-up eats in Brisbane. To fill up for less than $20, check out our picks.
For Vietnamese: Quan Thanh, West End
Packed every night with families, students and young couples, Quan Thanh dishes up fresh and sumptuous Vietnamese and Chinese.
All the old faithfuls are on their menu – noodles, stir-fries, pho and vermicelli salads. Get their signature pho for under $14 and don’t feel guilty for ordering a starter on top of that.
It’s BYO too, so you can use up your change at the bottle shop next door.
For a burger: Ben’s Burgers
Tucked down Winn Lane you’ll find Ben’s Burgers: delicious, affordable eats with a view.
The duo behind this Brisbane joint follow the same recipe for business success as they do on the menu. That is, 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.
For Indian (and vegetarian): Govindas
Handy if you’re staying at the Brisbane Backpackers Resort, Govindas is a Brisbane establishment that has been dishing up a taste of the sub-continent for over 20 years.
Aside from being 100% vegetarian, their delectable curries also happen to be gluten-free and vegan. You’ll find them in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane CBD (both open for lunch only) and West End (opens for lunch and dinner).
When you don’t know what you feel like: Eat Street Markets
Get your taste buds inspired at Eat Street Markets on the former wharves of Hamilton. Discover a lively hub of street food 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 and can’t decide what to eat. Happily, this is also a licensed market.
Cuddle a Koala at Lone Pine
Queensland is one of the only states where you still can cuddle a koala – and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane’s western suburbs is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary. Giving one of our iconic marsupials a cuddle is a quintessential Aussie experience that’s sure to warm your heart.
Mirimar Cruises depart from South Bank to Lone Pine making this an easy day out from the city, with a river cruise thrown in.
Visit South Bank
17 acres of parkland in the middle of the city is an attraction in itself, but add a man-made beach and you’ll see why tourists and locals alike flock here on a hot summer’s day.
Bring your swimmers and relax on the real sand of Streets Beach, go for a wander to find the community herb and veggie patch and the secluded rainforest, then browse the markets and grab a meal and a drink at one of the nearby restaurants and cafes.
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 drink in 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.
Get out of town
One of the best things about Brisbane is that it’s at the epicentre of everything – perfect driving distance from the Gold Coast to the south, and the Sunshine Coast to your north. 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 good bars, pubs and nightclubs in Brisbane – for all budgets.
Down Under Bar
Located downstairs from Nomads Backpackers, it’s a hub of backpackers and locals alike, mingling on the dancefloor. Constantly packed every night of the week, if you don’t get in early you’ll be lined up out the door.
Thursday nights are the most popular thanks to an unbeatable happy hour.
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, you’ll most likely be able to fit it into your schedule.
Pig & Whistle
It wouldn’t be a backpacker’s guide to Brisbane without a mention of this iconic pub franchise. With a choice of multiple locations dotted throughout Brisbane, where there’s a Pig & Whistle there’ll be international travellers. Having gone through extensive renovations, Pig & Whistles all over Brisbane each have a unique charm (depending on the building they inhabit) and resemble boutique bars complete with fairy lights, outdoor areas and a good, strong pub food-laden menu.
Choose the Valley and Riverside venues for good views of both the river and a TV screen when there’s a game on.
Good to know
Catch Public Transport with a go card
The ‘go card’ is good for buses, trains and ferries or City Cats all throughout Brisbane wherever there’s a TransLink sign. Super convenient, this card will take you between zones and anywhere you want to go. Just don’t forget to tap on and off.
Download Groupon and Scoopon
For dinner deals, discounts and experiences, look no further than the Groupon and Scoopon apps. You’ll often find meals at a fraction of their normal cost, especially between Monday and Wednesday nights when restaurants are usually quieter.
Aside from great discounts, your plans can be completely spontaneous, dining in Fortitude Valley one night and Woolloongabba the next (a good way to discover more of Brisbane, too).
Buy a voltage converter
Make sure you check Australia’s voltage (we run off a different one to other parts of the world) and buy a converter if necessary. You don’t want to fry your hair straightener or not be able to charge your phone – especially when there are important travel pics to be taken.
Buy travel insurance
Like anywhere, there are lots of animals with teeth in Australia, so getting travel insurance with hospital cover is a must-do for all travellers.
Want to stay a while?
If you’re ready to call Australia home for a bit, you need to know these tips for living and working 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. Terms and conditions apply, so it’s best to enquire directly.
Organise a Tax File Number
If you’re eligible to work in Australia with your Visa, you’ll need a Tax File Number (TFN) in order to secure official employment. It’s compulsory for all employees, because it’s how you pay your tax.
Research if you need further qualifications
In Australia, you need qualifications for just about anything – so be aware you might need to complete online courses and/or certificates, for example a Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) to work behind a bar. Similarly, working with children requires a blue card, construction and labouring work require a white card. Use Google to find out what your job 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’s no shortage of retail, hospitality and office temp jobs suited to the backpacker market.
If you’re staying at a hostel, you’ll find most offer jobs boards advertising roles suited to foreigners on working holiday visas. Alternatively, online portals like Indeed and Seek are where you can find a suitable option.