Brisbane was an amazing city to visit and I feel like we just scratched the surface during our four-day visit. As we had a child under one and no car, we chose to focus on activities around the centre of town. We found that, with an apartment strategically located in the Brisbane CBD, near the river, we could easily walk to all of the places and activities that we wanted to. Perhaps on our next visit we will venture into the suburbs.
The City Botanic Gardens
The City Botanic Gardens are at the top of my list because they were just a street away from our accommodation. We visited them a lot. They were our go-to place for quick walks and for playtime.
The city botanic gardens are a well-maintained and interesting series of gardens set in a beautiful location, right on the Brisbane river. They appear to be a popular spot for locals and tourists to exercise and wander around, as they were always fairly busy. Be aware that some cyclists have mistaken the Bunya Walk (the main path beside the river) for the Tour de France, so be extra careful when pushing a pram on or around that area.
One of the most impressive parts of the City Botanic Gardens is the all abilities playground. It is a large area with swings, slides, things to climb, a merry-go-round, diggers, musical components and a whole variety of other activities. Hannah loved spending time at this playground and we took her there every evening of our stay.
On the Sunday morning that we arrived in Brisbane, there was a market in the City Botanic Gardens. We had a wander through the stalls and it was mildly interesting, but not something I would go out of my way to try and attend. We soon lost interest and headed to the mall to escape the heat.
This is a must-visit spot for anyone travelling to Brisbane with children. It is a vast wonderland that requires several visits to fully explore. The main features include The Arbour – a 1 kilometre walkway which is covered in bougainvillea, The Nepalese Peace Pagoda, the Wheel of Brisbane a variety of gardens and boardwalks, water features and of course, the iconic Streets Beach. Surrounding the area is a variety of cafes, restaurants, takeaway shops and pubs. If you prefer the DIY approach to feeding the family, barbeque facilities are also available.
On a hot day you will find it hard to go past Streets Beach and the water playground, without wanting to get wet. We went fairly early in the morning, on an already oppressively hot day, and found the whole area to be teeming with activity. Hannah loved every second of the experience, from paddling in the shallow pools to playing with the sand as it disappeared between my fingers, to grabbing my by the hands and leading me on a walk through every one of the fountains and spouts in the water playground. All around us were kids and parents having fun together.
One day we ate lunch at The Plough Inn, a large pub that faces on to the parklands, near Streets Beach. It had a great atmosphere, plenty of room to accommodate families with prams, high chairs, and the food was fantastic (and reasonably priced). Many of the meals on the menu were sympathetic to the heat of the Brisbane summer – they included lots of fresh salads.
The Cultural Precinct (Gallery of Modern Art, State Library and Queensland Museum)
I love a good museum, but I had never been one for modern art galleries. My general experience had been one of confusion mixed with anger as I tried in vain to decipher the vague, hidden messages of the artist. Give me paintings of old dead guys and pristine landscapes any day – those I can understand! However, The Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) changed my perception of modern art completely. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
One of the staff explained to us that they had all of their “best stuff” on show, because of their 10th anniversary, so I suppose it’s possible we just got a bit lucky with when we visited, but there were far more things that were hands-on than I imagined there would be. Exhibits most of interest to Hannah included a giant furry wall that could be touched, horse costumes that could be touched, and the one that was also my personal favourite – a beanbag exhibit. I kid you not, there was a space filled with beanbags, on which you could sit, that was an art installation. Older kids would enjoy the Lego City exhibit and the two giant slides between levels of gallery, although parents may get a bit frustrated by the wait. It was a thoroughly enjoyable place to visit.
The Queensland Museum was enjoyable, although it didn’t blow me away like the GOMA. It had all the usual museum stuff – mainly dead things from the past and present. Less hands-on for a little kid, but still plenty to grab their attention for a while. Worth a quick visit while you are in the area.
The State Library looked like an interesting place to visit, and well geared towards kids, although probably more for toddlers up, rather than those under 1. We had a quick glance around, but didn’t have enough time to fully explore it.
A major plus for all of these attractions is that entry is free (there are some exhibitions that attract a fee). That is sweet music to the ears of parents who know how quickly this costs of entertaining children can really add up!
Queen St Mall
The best mall in Australia? Perhaps. Queen St Mall is well worth a wander through. I’m not much of a shopper, so I didn’t find the large array of shops on offer all that interesting, but I did enjoy the atmosphere. The mall had a buzz about it each time we walked through. There were some extremely talented buskers about, including one amazing woman who sung opera (while holding an umbrella to protect herself from the sun). Hannah enjoyed watching her sing and we stayed and watched for a few minutes.
The Myer Centre and Wintergarden shopping centres were packed full of good quality Asian street-food style take-away shops, particularly Japanese, which suited us just fine. We had particularly fresh and enjoyable sushi at Shinbashi Sushi in the Myer Centre. All the usual fast food classics can be found in abundance as well.
Both Coles and Woolworths have supermarkets very close by, so if you have a kitchenette in your accommodation, this is a good place to head. There is also a Chemist Warehouse in the mall, if you have forgotten any baby essentials.
The mall is dotted with licenced bars and these add further to the atmosphere. I could easily picture myself enjoying a cold beer from the open top of one of the bars on a hot summer evening. Maybe next time.
The best way to experience the Brisbane CBD is on foot. We walked extensively every day, but our favourite track was essentially a loop of the river. We started at our apartment on Margret St. We walked up through the city to Queen St Mall. Then across the Victoria Bridge, down along the foreshore of Southbank, back across the river on the Goodwill Footbridge. Finally we walked up through the City Botanic Gardens. Walking this route enabled us to soak up the Brisbane CBD in all its glory.
Other times, we wandered down the streets that form the CBD grid. We found ourselves pleasantly surprised by interesting coffee shops and an abundance of restaurants and cafes. We were particularly surprised by the large amount of Japanese on offer throughout the city. We sampled a few, some of them were great, others not so much.
Brisbane is a city that is well worth a visit. It has plenty to offer Australians looking for a local holiday destination, or international visitors after the best that Australia has to offer. In our four days, we barely scratched the surface. It is a city that understands the importance of catering to families with children of all ages, and it provides enough free activities to spend four solid days exploring without once needing to pull out your wallet (except for food, of course).