In hindsight, one week in Brisbane was probably a little too long. I’d booked it as a sort of buffer – so that I could have some downtime after travelling from Scotland, and to give myself a couple of days to sleep off the jetlag and another couple of days to explore the city before I moved on to the Sunshine Coast.
I’d read a few blogs that claimed Brisbane didn’t exactly have much happening, but I’d chose to ignore them and hoped for the best. For the first two nights, I’d booked into Brisbane Backpacker Resort (or BBR) and Somewhere to Stay Hostel for the rest of the week (you can read more about both of these in A Tale of Two Hostels – coming soon!)
I was based out of the West End, so getting around was easy and all of the major sights were pretty close by. There were a couple of things I had originally intended on doing, but later changed my mind about after talking to other travellers who had been left disappointed and out of pocket – particularly the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. This was pretty high on my list before I arrived (you know, when in Australia…hug a koala!) but when two of the guys I’d been sharing a dorm with had shelled out $54 ($36 just to get in, another $18 for a photo) and said the poor koalas got passed from person to person in a never-ending queue, I quickly decided that I’d rather see them in the wild somewhere later in my trip.
Here’s what I did get up to during my week in the Sunshine State’s capital:
Mt Coot-tah Lookout and Botanic Gardens
Epic views and the best place to see Brisbane’s skyline – the trip up to Mt Coot-tah is a fairly nice way to kill some time while you are in the city. The Mt Coot-tah lookout is (almost disappointingly!) easy to get to – with buses that take you directly from the city centre to the carpark at the lookout point…there is literally zero hiking involved. If you do fancy something a little more challenging, you can hike the trail to the amazingly named “Slaughter Falls” …just don’t expect there to be any water at this time of year (ahem…lesson learned!)
Right next to Mt Coot-tah are the beautiful Brisbane Botanic Gardens. There’s another Botanic Garden in the city (more on that below) but these gardens are the original…and in my opinion, the best.
There’s a planetarium, dome-house, peaceful Japanese garden and no end of lizards, spiders and weird looking birds to look at (or run away from…)
The lily-covered lagoon in the gardens is a nice place for picnics, or there’s a little (expensive) café within the grounds too.
Chilling at South Bank
I’m generally not a fan of manmade beaches but Brisbane’s South Bank is such a great place to hang out on hot summer days that I ended up spending quite a lot of my time there. There’s a manmade lagoon on one side and a long, white sand beach on the other – separated by a wooden board walk and surrounded by tropical plants.
When the temperature goes up in Brisbane, it’s really the only place to go to cool off. Have a swim, find a shaded spot to read your book or sunbathe on the artificial sand. You’ll see plenty of other backpackers and tourists doing the same thing…as it is one of the best, free places you can hang out in the city.
The full pathway along the river front on the South Bank is worth the walk too – you’ll find the Wheel of Brisbane, the GOMA, the library (tip – they have really great free WiFi if the connection at your hostel sucks…like mine did) and plenty of places to eat, drink and pick up souvenirs.
Brisbane City Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens in the city are a lovely place to walk around (or cycle – if you’re making use of the city’s bike rental scheme) and, even if there not quite as impressive as the gardens at Mt Coot-tah, they’re a great place to spend a lazy afternoon.
Watch out for the wildlife – there are lots of lizards here and I spotted my first Australian snake slithering out of a bush!
The West End
The hostels I stayed at were both in the trendy West End, right next to busy Boundary Street – where you’ll find lots of cool places to eat, drink and shop. It’s not the cheapest area for backpackers but I did find a couple of really nice cafes that were offering discounted meals – including the lovely Suburban West End (delicious Eggs Benedict for $10 from Monday through Friday is hard to beat) and the cool Morning After – where a huge plate of scrambled egg, bacon and a door-wedge of bread will set you back about $14.
My other favourite spots were the thrift store on Boundry Street ($5 Paul & Joe shirt anyone?), the awesomely named Bent Books – a multi-coloured second-hand bookstore – and the West End Library (again with the good WiFi…and some fun guide books on the Great Barrier Reef!)
Free CityHopper River Ferry
I still can’t get over the awesome free river ferry in Brisbane – especially after being in Noosa where a short sunset trip down the river will cost you at least $10!
The first time I used the ferry, I was just heading to the South Bank after visiting the Botanic Gardens, so I jumped on the CityHopper at the North Quay and jumped back off at South Bank 3…but when I realised that you could go all the way from the North Quay to Sydney Street – passing Kangaroo Point – for free, I knew I had to come back and use it again the next day!
So, getting back into “hostel life” has been…interesting! I haven’t stayed in a hostel since I was travelling in Europe last year – and both of my last two jobs abroad including pretty nice accommodation.
Living in hostels is a bit like leaving the real world – time doesn’t seem to work the same and normal rules definitely don’t apply! And then there are the wonderful mix of people you end up staying with – the good, the bad, the new friends…and the downright crazy…but it’s all part of the experience!
Have you visited Brisbane? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear about more fun cheap (or free!) things to do in the city so please leave a comment below!