They don’t call it the River City for nothing. Brisbane is home to the longest river in southeast Queensland, making for epic views and outdoor activities aplenty. Its popularity with locals and visitors alike make it a hub for socialising and Brisbane’s bars, pubs and parks set up shop accordingly. A word of warning though, while it may look tempting you should never swim in the river (as it may or may not be home to bull sharks!) Not to worry, here’s all the things you should do on the Brown Snake*.
1. Laugh it up at Brisbane Powerhouse
The previous 1920s power station is now home to arts and culture as a riverside event and exhibition space. Each year, Brisbane Powerhouse hosts a range of comedy events including the Brisbane Comedy Festival – a month-long calendar of comedic acts. There’s also a free weekly impromptu show Knockoff – suitably held on Fridays from 6pm. Grab some food there before or after for an awesome river view from the in-house Watt Bar.
2. Walk along the Teneriffe boardwalk
Known for its woolstore buildings and hosting Australia’s largest submarine base during World War II, Teneriffe is now a hip location with unique restaurants, cafes and bars. The boardwalk sits over the river in front of the suburb’s apartments and woolstore buildings, and the sunset is always stunning.
3. Jump on a kayak or paddle board
One of the best ways to experience the Brisbane River has got to be right on it. Fortunately, Riverlife organises water activities so you can just rock up and jump right in (to the activity, not the river!) Hire paddle boards or kayaks from the centre at Kangaroo Point. Insider’s tip: While you’re there, see where the flood waters peaked during the Brisbane flood in 2011.
4. Climb to new heights (and abseil back down again)
Experience experts Riverlife also organise some fun activities at the Kangaroo Point cliffs. If you’re up for a challenge you can get involved in outdoor rock climbing. Alternatively, start at the top and learn some new skills while you abseil your way down.
5. Ride the City Cat
Brisbane’s ferries offer an epic cruise for the student budget, connecting the city by river as far north as Hamilton and south as St Lucia. Use the City Cat to hop between the activities on this list.
6. BYO for a picnic or barbecue
There are picnic spots aplenty along the Brisbane River’s banks, and most public parks have dedicated barbecue areas that are free to use for the first to claim them. Our favourite spots are in Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, anywhere at New Farm Park, at the top of the Kangaroo Point cliffs, Captain Burke Park, Orleigh Park at West End, and anywhere at South Bank Parklands. Note that drinking alcohol in public in Queensland is not allowed, however some parks have a wet licence, including River Quay at South Bank.
7. Sunday sesh it up at River Quay
Speaking of which, River Quay at South Bank is the perfect place for a Sunday session with a river view. BYO picnic, and let the music of the City Sounds band serenade you as you see out the weekend.
8. Eat your heart out at Eat Street Markets
Brisbane’s favourite street food market is another riverside delight, located in Brisbane’s northside suburb of Hamilton. Go early to beat the crowds and feast your taste buds on multicultural cuisines from entree to dessert. For a grand entrance, take the ferry from Eagle Street Pier.
9. Join locals at the West End Fire Festival
Each month on the night of the full moon, locals and friends get together to watch and perform at the West End Fire Festival. The casual event sees talented fire spinners, hula-hoopers and slackliners perform their arts under the moonlight at Orleigh Park.
10. Hop between Eagle Street bars
Brisbane’s riverside bars make for the perfect location for an afternoon beverage. Our favourites are Bar Pacino, Riverland Bar, Fridays, Blackbird and Riverbar. The best times to go are Thursdays, Fridays or Sundays.
11. Get your groceries at Davies Park Markets
West End’s weekly farmer’s market pops up every Saturday morning in Davies Park and draws crowds until well after lunch time. Go early for the best and freshest produce and stick around for coffee and breakfast (you can’t go past the French crepe stand). A live band serenades the crowd in front of the river from about 9am.
12. Wet your whistle at the Walrus Club
The 143-year-old Regatta Hotel at Toowong is a Brisbane institution for food, drinks and great views, but did you know it has a secret underground bar? Head down under to find The Walrus Club, a faint-lit jazz bar specialising in rum and cocktails.
13. Hang out at the State Library of Queensland
Whether you want to study, meet or just relax with a laptop or book in hand, the shared spaces at the State Library of Queensland have the spot. Head into the library and towards the river edge to find booths and couches with river views.
14. Browse the exhibitions at QAGOMA
Explore Australia’s largest gallery of modern art – jam packed with contemporary art exhibitions from incredible local, national and international artists. Artworks span multiple levels inside and out, as well as housing a cafe and the renowned GOMA restaurant. The riverside cafe outside offers great coffee and an even better view.
15. Cool off at Streets Beach
Australia’s largest inner-city, man-made beach runs parallel with the Brisbane River at South Bank. While it draws a crowd all week, the evenings are much quieter for a quick dip and cool down.
16. Lunch at the Story Bridge Hotel
Home of the infamous Australia Day cockroach races, Story Bridge Hotel has been around and loved by locals since 1886. The three-storey pub was one of the first of its type in Queensland and has an iconic sunset view of the city from under the Story Bridge.
17. Explore by bike
Brisbane City is highly walkable but if you want to explore the nearby suburbs, bike is your best bet. The riverside bikeways can take you through the city, over Kangaroo Point, around to New Farm and Teneriffe, over to South Bank and West End, and around to Toowong. We’ve made a list of the best routes here.
18. Ride the Wheel of Brisbane
The best views are those with heights. Give yourself a bird’s eye view of Brisbane City and its surrounds from the Wheel of Brisbane, perched riverside at South Bank Parklands.
19. See a show at Brisbane’s Riverstage
Outdoor is best for live gigs in Queensland, and Brisbane’s Riverstage is the perfect place for it. Check the council page regularly to see what’s on.
20. Dance up a storm
Salsa anyone? Sundays at Jade Buddha see the Eagle Street restaurant transform into a stage for the city’s salsa dancers, where beginners and professionals come together to share a dance from 7pm onwards. Come early for a free and informal beginners dance class.
21. Climb the Story Bridge
Brisbane’s Story Bridge is one of only three bridge climb and abseils in the world (the other two are Auckland and Sydney), and provides a spectacular view of the river and city. The sunset climb is the perfect time to experience the city in light and darkness. It’s something you’ll remember forever.
22. Toss a winner at Merthyr Bowls Club
Lawn bowls fans can show their skills at Merthyr Bowls Club, New Farm’s riverside barefoot bowls centre. Get a crew together to hire out a set to play for 2 hours. It’s super affordable at $5 a person and open daily from 10am.
23. Visit Newstead House
Check out Brisbane’s oldest surviving home, Newstead House. Established in 1846, the iconic landmark has evolved from a simple cottage into a grand residence with stunning views of Hamilton and Bulimba across the Brisbane River. Tours run from 10am every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
24. Breakfast Creek Hotel
Just around the corner from Newstead House, but not quite as old, is an iconic Queensland pub, The Breakfast Creek Hotel. The Brekky Creek offers five bars, including a historical tropical Beer Garden and its famous Spanish Garden Steakhouse. Keep an ear out for the ghost of “Old Bill” – the original owner who built the hotel in 1889 and resided here until his death. It is said that he haunts the hotel to this day.
*The local’s nickname for The Brisbane River because of its shape (from aerial view) and colour.