How To Spend 48 Hours In Brisbane
When planning a trip to Australia’s East Coast, Brisbane tends to be cast to the role of the oft-forgotten, somewhat ugly step sister, devoid of things to do and lacking in landmarks like the Sydney Opera House or the Harbour Bridge.
But, as a staunchly proud local and pious wearer of the title of most likely to wax lyrical about the lure of her hometown, I’m here to prove the misnomer wrong. Brisbane is full of tropical life, and a sleepy, small-town vibe that has kept its alluring laneways, foodie prowess and natural wonders secret to the few who have been clever enough to add it to their Australian itinerary.
So, if you’re doing Australia, let this be your guide to spending a perfect 48 hours in this not-so-sleepy capital city.
Breakfast at Gauge
You’ll want to start day one in Brisbane with brunch at one of the city’s best. In my opinion, that’s Gauge. Ask any local and they’ll tell you Teneriffe’s Sourced Grocer is an equally as delicious brunch spot, and that’s why Gauge is so darn good: it’s a second venue from the team behind Sourced, which has seem them elevate the brunch mood so they’re famous for. Think a progressive, forward-thinking menu calling on the region’s best produce and you’re halfway there. Their avo on toast iteration is a beguiling, grown-up version of the Aussie classic that wouldn’t be out of place on the menu of a Michelin-starred eatery. While the crumpet toast with chicken mortadella, soft egg, brown butter, pork crackling and tobiko is exactly what you’d expect to find in a Melbourne cafe--but here it is, hiding on the menu of one of Brisbane’s best kept secrets.
After your brunch, you’ll want to stroll over to Brisbane’s cultural centre where you’ll find GoMA, Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art, and the State Library (an equally as architecturally delightful spot to explore). GoMA sits on the Brisbane River and is home to an ever-changing collection of art exhibitions, most of which are free. You can easily while away the hours getting lost here before working up an appetite for lunch.
Lunch at Fish Lane
Once you manage to pry yourself away from GoMA, you’ll want to head to the nearby laneway precinct brimming with delicious eateries, Fish Lane. For Italian eats so good you’ll think you’re in Italy, you need to head to Julius. Order the calamari, a pizza of your choosing and an Aperol Spritz and thank me later. If you’re feeling like a lighter meal care of the city’s tropical heat, you’ll want to head Hello Please. These guys do fresh, zesty Vietnamese street food served up in a communal style outdoor eatery complete with overhanging greenery, festoon lights, and a very Instagrammable giant Mohammad Ali street art mural. Vegans may want to head to GrassFed, a 100% vegan burger spot converting even the most discerning of meat eaters.
Explore South Bank & West End
After lunch, you’ll probably be keen to walk off those holiday carbs. My tip would be to follow Fish Lane to it’s end in West End and explore the city’s bohemian hub. Explore thrift shops, arty stores and browse through records as you make your way down Boundary Street.
South Bank, at the other end of the laneway, is home to Brisbane’s iconic Streets Beach, a man-made beach that sits pretty on the banks of the Brisbane river overlooking the city’s silhouette. Stop by for a dip, or meander through the area’s parks and bougainvillea tunnels until you reach River Quay Green, a grassy knoll complete with deck chairs and a panoramic view out across the Brisbane skyline and river. If you’re here on a Sunday, time your visit for the live music sessions. Fun fact: between 10am and 8pm, you can BYO here.
City Cat to the W For Sunset Drinks
Once you’ve spent the day exploring the South Bank area, you’ll want to hop on the CityCat (Brisbane’s ferry network) and cut across the river to the W Hotel for drinks on their uber cool “Wet Deck” -- think, part rooftop bar, part pool deck. Order one of their classically Aussie cocktails like the swooping magpie as you watch the sunset over Brisbane.
Dinner at Hellenika
From there, it’s time to head to The Calile on Fortitude Valley’s James Street. The Calile is an architectural delight that wouldn’t be out of place in Palm Springs. Stare in awe at the hotel’s beauty, pinch yourself that you're here, and then head downstairs for dinner at Hellenika. Dinner at Hellenika isn’t your regular hotel dining experience. Oh no, this is one of Brisbane’s best restaurants, popular with locals and those staying at the hotel. You’ll want to come hungry, as the banquet menu at this Greek eatery will send you straight in to a food coma. Chose to dine inside or in a cabana by the delightful pool. Your friends will be very jealous when they see this on Instagram.
Sunrise at Mt Coot-tha
It’s up bright and early today to see Brisbane from new heights. Literally. You’ll find locals getting in their morning steps at Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane’s inner city mountain which offers views out across the Brisbane skyline, best seen at sunrise. If you’re feeling active, you can start your walk at JC Slaughter Falls and work your way up the mountain, or you can head straight to the summit to catch the sunrise without the sweat sesh.
After your hike, you’ll be wanting breakfast. Since you’re on that side of town, Toowong’s Corner Store Cafe do a delicious brunch served up in a courtyard with giant fiddle leaf figs and a menu that caters to lovers of both sweet and savoury breakfasts, although the breakfast offering at The Calile is just as delicious.
Explore James St
...Or, you can venture out to explore James Street’s boutiques. Get lost amongst the area’s vine-covered laneways as you stumble upon hidden gems like micro gallery, TW Fine Art, or Libertine Perfumerie, where you can nab Grace Kelly’s wedding perfume for yourself.
Laze away the day exploring the boutiques and stop for a coffee at Jamie’s Espresso. My favourite stores to explore at The Modern, for those who love to browse homeware stores and imagine they live there, or Arc and Family pots for serious indoor plant inspiration.
Walk down to Howard Smith Wharves
Next up, you’ll want to walk down to Howard Smith Wharves. From your hotel, it’s about a 15 minute walk that takes you through the valley, and to one of the best views in Brisbane: Wilson’s Outlook. You’ll be treated to views of the Story Bridge and Brisbane’s skyline, river, and down to your next destination Howard Smith Wharves.
Drinks at Felons or Mr Percivals
By now, it’s most likely golden hour, which just so happens to be the perfect time to visit Howard Smith Wharves. Perch yourself (Spritz in hand, of course), at the gorgeous Mr Percivals bar which sits on the Brisbane river offering one of the best views in the city. Yes, literally on the river. Or, if you’re more a beer fan, head to Felons Brewing Co for beer brewed onsite and enjoyed on the grassy knoll overlooking the river.
Dinner at Arc
To end your magnificent 48 hours doing Brisbane like a local, head to Arc Dining for dinner. I can bet you’ve probably never dined anywhere like Arc before. You’ll eat dinner in a floor-to-ceiling glass atrium that juts out over the river and offers you yet another breathtaking view of the city. Don’t even bother perusing the menu, just order the chef’s menu and let the waiter wow you with each dish they bring you, concluding with the deliciousness that is the snickers. A very grown up, sophisticated iteration of the classic chocolate bar.
Then, it’s back to lounge in luxury at the Calile before you head home the next day. I’d even hazard a guess as to say your final night will be filled with you asking yourself, why am I leaving again?