When we went to Queensland in Australia, we flew into Brisbane and spent the first two days of our trip there. I'd researched the best places in Brisbane to visit beforehand so we could use our time efficiently and see a lot of the city in that short period.
Below, you can find our exact itinerary for what to do in Brisbane if you only have two days.
- What to do in Brisbane if you’re a first-timer
- Day 1: CBD, Fortitude Valley, and New Farm
- Day 2: Mount Coot-tha and the Brisbane Botanic Gardens
- Tours from and places to go near Brisbane
- Brisbane tours
- 1. The best of Brisbane bicycle tour
- 2. Express Segway tours Brisbane On this 1.5-hour Brisbane sightseeing tour, a local guide will provide live information while taking you on a Segway ride around the city. A safety briefing, some practice driving, and a helmet are included. Book this tour Day tours from Brisbane If you want to add another night to your stay but feel like getting out of the city, there are plenty of places to visit near Brisbane. And if you don't feel like renting a car or figuring out public transportation, a day tour offers a hassle-free way to explore the Brisbane region. 1. Tamborine wine and distillery tour with lunch
- 2. Moreton Island dolphin and snorkel cruise adventure On this eight-hour full-day trip, a dolphin and whale-friendly vessel with large viewing decks takes you to the Moreton Bay Marine Park, where you see dolphins, dugongs, and giant loggerhead turtles. Between June and October, you can also spot humpback whales here. A marine naturalist will give information both about the animals and the history of Moreton Island, and you can join a guided snorkeling tour around the 14 scuttled ships of the Tangalooma Wrecks. The tour includes morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, all the gear you need, as well as the marine park fees. Book this tour 3. Stradbroke Island day tour This full-day tour introduces you to the second-largest sand island in the world: Stradbroke. The tour includes a 40-minute cruise in Moreton Bay, a visit to a tea-tree lake where you can go for a swim, and a walk in the North Gorge. There's also a chance to watch dolphins, manta rays, and turtles from Point Lookout. Book this tour For even more Brisbane day trips, check out GetYourGuide. This platform is an authorized ticket seller for a ton of activities in and around Brisbane. Hotels in Brisbane Our Brisbane hotel: The Park Hotel Brisbane
- Brisbane tours
- How to get to Brisbane
- Plan your Brisbane itinerary
- Don't forget travel insurance
What to do in Brisbane if you’re a first-timer
Day 1: CBD, Fortitude Valley, and New Farm
You might not think the fun stuff to do in Brisbane would be in the CBD or Central Business District. But it's actually where a lot of the stuff to do in Brisbane is, not to mention shops and restaurants. We'll start our first day in Brisbane there, but not before we've had a good breakfast.
Breakfast at Sisco bcl.
As it was just a four-minute walk from our hotel, we had our first breakfast in Brisbane at Sisco bcl. It was so good we went back there the second morning too.
Sisco is a small coffee, brunch, lunch, and breakfast shop in Spring Hill where you can eat in or take away. All the dishes are freshly prepared, and the coffee makes you crave a second cup.
I had the bircher muesli there twice, and my former partner loved the acai bowl. Service was friendly and fast.
I'm guessing the place could fit about 20 people inside, and it also has a few seats on the sidewalk.
King George Square and Brisbane City Hall
All energized, we headed for the Brisbane CBD and, more particularly, for King George Square. The square is a popular location for all kinds of events and is home to a few bars and restaurants.
It's also where you can find City Hall. Built between 1920 and 1930, The City Hall is a heritage-listed building that can be visited with a free guided tour and is one of the historically more interesting places in Brisbane.
City Hall tours occur daily at 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. From Friday to Sunday, there is also a 1:30 p.m. session. You need to book beforehand. On the tour, you'll see the Main Auditorium, Father Henry Willis Organ, and the iconic Clock Tower.
Aside from that, you can also visit the Museum of Brisbane on level three of City Hall. It consists of a gallery showcasing how Brisbane and its citizens have evolved over time. You can find practical information to visit the museum here.
If you don't feel like going in, you can also do as we did and simply admire the building from the outside. In the evenings, it's beautifully lit up.
Reddacliff Place with Wednesday market
From King George Square, make your way to Reddacliff Place. We initially walked there because we wanted to see the Treasury Casino and Hotel but got something even better instead: a market.
Every Wednesday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., a farmers' and artisans' market takes place at the square. A small band played music, and I had some of the best churros ever from a stand there.
It's a small market but the perfect place to get a quick second breakfast ;-)
Treasury Casino and Hotel Brisbane
We didn't want to visit the Treasury Casino and Hotel Brisbane, but I'd read that it's quite an impressive building, so I did want to see it. Aside from a hotel and a casino, you can find six restaurants, five bars, and a nightclub in these two heritage-listed buildings.
The Treasury got its name from the former function of one of those two buildings, while the other used to be the Lands Administration Building. Queens Gardens lies in between them.
From Reddacliff Place, you can easily cross the Victoria Bridge to get to South Bank. The bridge was built in 1969 as the third bridge in that location and offers some good views of the river and both shores.
Once you've crossed the Victoria Bridge, you're in South Bank. This is where you can find many cultural institutions and tourist attractions, such as the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, The Wheel of Brisbane, The Gallery of Modern Art, and the Queensland Maritime Museum.
It's best to decide beforehand if you want to visit any of these places. We didn't and built our list of fun things to do around Brisbane based on seeing as much of the outside of sites as possible. So if you want to follow our Brisbane travel guide, you won't have much time left to add on a museum if you're also just staying for two days.
That being said, I think South Bank is one of the best places to go in Brisbane if you just want to stroll and see all that this side of the city has to offer. There's a promenade that follows the Brisbane River almost all the way until Captain Burke Park. For me, it was one of the most fun things to do in Brisbane City.
We followed it until the Kangaroo Point Lookout, where we took the stairs up to check that out. From there, we decided to follow state route 15 so we could walk the Story Bridge over the river to get to Fortitude Valley.
You'll have to follow the state route for a good 15 minutes or so before you get to the bridge, and there's not much to see. But it's worth crossing the bridge as you get great views of the river, South Bank, and the highrises of the Brisbane CBD.
If you don't feel like walking all that way, Uber is the quickest and easiest way to go from Kangaroo Point to New Farm. If you don't have an Uber account yet, you'll get a discount on your first ride if you create an account via my link.
The Story Bridge
The Story Bridge in Brisbane is the longest cantilever bridge in Australia. It spans 777 meters over the Brisbane River and is one of the most iconic tourist attractions in Brisbane.
The Story Bridge opened in 1940, and you had to pay a toll to cross it for the first seven years of its existence. Today, the bridge is a listed heritage site. For its 75th anniversary in 2015, the bridge was blocked for traffic, and no less than 75,000 people attended the celebration.
At night, the bridge is lit up, and you can climb it with a tour company during the day.
The Story Bridge adventure climb tour takes you up the structure to take in the 360° view of Brisbane and the city skyline. After a quick pre-climb brief, your guide takes you up a spiral staircase to the suspended walkway directly beneath the Bradfield Highway.
While you walk from there to the southern pylon, you'll learn about the history of the bridge and the city. Once you reach the pylon, it's time to climb all the way up to the summit platform. You'll move around at the top of the bridge to get different perspectives, take a group photo, and see as far as Moreton Bay.
Sounds exciting? Book this tour.
Once you get off the Story Bridge, you're in Fortitude Valley, what seems to be Brisbane's hipster district. I wanted to go there because of the tiny alleys with independent boutiques and cafes. If you don't know they're there, you'd only find them by stumbling upon them by accident.
Fun alleys to check out are Bakery Lane, Winn Lane, and California Lane. If you're using Google Maps, you'll see there's also a Lucky Lane. We checked it out, but there wasn't anything there during our visit.
The lanes are particularly nice to get a drink or a bite. We went to Botanical Lab for chilled iced tea.
From Fortitude Valley, we walked back towards the water to follow the New Farm River Walk, a boardwalk placed over the river with a few cafes at the start of it. We stopped at Felons Brewing Co for a light lunch.
The reviews for this place were mixed, and normally, that means I'd skip it, but we were hungry. There weren't many options around, and the place had a massive outdoor seating area with views of the river.
We took the risk, and I'm glad that we did, as we both liked the big healthy bowls we got. My ex wasn't a fan of the Australian beer he ordered, though, and at 12 AUD / 8 USD a pint, it was a bit overpriced.
If you're a beer lover, it might be better to go on the Four X beer tour and tasting experience. Four X seemed to be the beer in Queensland, as we saw it everywhere. The tour lasts only 90 minutes and teaches you all about the brand's history and how it's produced during a walk through the heritage-listed Four X brewery. Afterward, you can try a few beers at the brewery's restaurant.
Our walk took us over the water and then through Merthyr Park before we reached New Farm Park, our point of return. New Farm Park itself is nice but not spectacular. In this case, it's really the route that's one of the main things to see in Brisbane.
The free City Hopper ferry service
We had quite a few kilometers in our legs by then, so we were happy we could get one of Brisbane's free ferries back to the CBD.
Now when you check which ferry to take, make sure to go for a red one. Those are the free City Hopper ferries. The blue ones are CityCat ferries and those you have to pay for. The same goes for the blue SpeedyCat Express Service ferries.
There's a free ferry stop at Sydney Street Ferry Terminal, a 10-minute walk from New Farm Park. At the ferry terminal by New Farm Park, only paid ferries stop.
You can look at the map to see which ferry terminal you want to get off at. The first one at the CBD is the Eagle Street Ferry Terminal.
Aside from being a free mode of transportation, taking the ferry is also a great way to do some Brisbane sightseeing while taking a little break from walking.
Brisbane river cruises
If you'd rather not just go from A to B and want to learn a few things about the city while cruising the river, consider going on a Brisbane boat tour. You'll get a whole other perspective of some of the most beautiful places in Brisbane.
Here are a few Brisbane river tours that other travelers recommend.
1. Brisbane river cruise and Koala Sanctuary visit
On this 5.5-hour tour, you'll first make a trip down the Brisbane River while your captain shares information about the city. After about 70 minutes, you'll reach Lone Pine, where you'll have three hours to explore the world's largest koala sanctuary. Cuddle one of the 130 koalas that live there, or listen to a talk by one of the rangers.
Other animals at the sanctuary include owls, kangaroos, wallabies, and the timid platypus. There's even a bird of prey show.
At the end of your visit, the boat will take you back to Brisbane Southbank.
Book this tour
2. Brisbane guided kayak river tour
If you're looking for active things to do in Brisbane, this guided kayak tour on the Brisbane River might be just the thing for you. Over the course of two hours, you'll learn how to steer a kayak before heading off to get a different perspective of some of Brisbane's most iconic landmarks while your guide shares fun facts and information about them.
Book this tour
3. Brisbane sightseeing river cruise with morning tea
This is a great river tour for those who want to take it easy. Listen to stories about Brisbane’s history and its future as you sip your morning tea and glide along the river. You only need to put down your cup to take advantage of the photo opportunities at sites such as the Story Bridge. In the end, you get a souvenir map with discount vouchers to enjoy the rest of your time in Brisbane.
Book this tour
Queen Street Mall
If you're not absolutely knackered by now, you could go for a bit of shopping at the Queen Street Mall and its side streets. Otherwise, you've earned a shower and a bit of rest before dinner :-)
Noodles at Jackpot Dining
As we'd just come from Hong Kong the day before, we were pretty much dead after that day of walking around the Brisbane region, and so we wanted something quick and easy for dinner.
We decided to head to Jackpot Dining, a Chinese place where you order at the counter, and they give you one of those devices that buzzes when your food is ready. My ex had the roasted duck, and I had the steamed chicken. Both came with a choice of rice or noodle soup, and we both chose the noodle soup.
The bowl was good, but the noodles were a bit too thick to our liking and overcooked. Nevertheless, in the state we were in, it was an okay solution for that particular evening, and at 10 AUD / 7 USD per dish, we really couldn't complain.
Day 2: Mount Coot-tha and the Brisbane Botanic Gardens
We started our second day in Brisbane with breakfast at Sisco again before catching an Uber to the Mount Coot-tha lookout point. Mount Coot-tha, combined with its botanical gardens and a hike in the area, is just one of the many day trips around Brisbane you can fill your second day with.
The Mount Coot-Tha Lookout spot can easily be reached by car, and there's a parking spot at the top if you're driving yourself. You can also take the bus there, but from the Brisbane CBD, it takes around an hour and a half, while a car will get you there in less than 20 minutes.
The lookout is a concrete platform at the top of the mountain that gives you great city views. There's also a restaurant there and, as in many places in Queensland, you can use the free public toilets here.
If you haven't looked up hikes beforehand, you can check the map of the mountain on which they're all laid out.
We'd planned to do the Summit Track to the JC Falls Picnic Area, but that track was closed for maintenance, so we walked the Mahogany Trail instead. It runs parallel to the Summit Track and is just 50 meters shorter.
While categorized as “moderate” on the Mount Coot-Tha tracks map, we both thought it was an easy hike down. The path starts narrow but then widens to easily fit two people next to each other, and while it is a dirt path, it's rather even and easy to walk.
We'd hoped to see the JC Falls, but they'd clearly dried up when we got there. The picnic area was nice, though.
Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-Tha
It's only a 15-minute walk from JC Falls to the entrance of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-Tha, and I think they're one of the best places to visit in the city. They're named that way to distinguish them from the botanical gardens in the CBD and are free to enter.
Now when you get there, it's a bit confusing as there's a little stretch of the botanic garden right by the entry road, and if you don't look further, you'll be highly disappointed as it's really tiny. The actual entrance to the botanical gardens lies higher up, behind the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium.
When we saw that you could freely access the planetarium (but not its shows), we planned to do so after we visited the gardens. But the gardens were so big that we didn't make it out in time. So if you're interested in space and star stuff, planning your visit is best.
Anyway, the botanical garden!
It's divided into different sections depending on themes (fossil plants, fruit trees, bamboo, …) and geography (Australian rainforest, eucalypt, bunya forest, …). Aside from that, there are some special areas like the Bonsai House, the Japanese Garden, and the Lagoon.
Also fun is the several lookout spots, and for kids, there's a playground.
You walk from section to section over narrower and wider concrete paths, and if you truly want to walk all of them, you'll need as good as a full day. I believe we arrived somewhere before noon and didn't leave until around 4 p.m. It was definitely one of the highlights of our 2 days in Brisbane.
The gardens are well-maintained, and signs guide you from one place to the next, but there's not that much info given about the plants you see. We didn't mind as we were there to stroll and look rather than read or listen. But if you want more information, you can join one of the free guided walks that depart from the Visitor Information Centre daily at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Good to know: they don't run on public holidays and from mid-December until late January.
It's also possible to pre-book a guided walk for groups or to reserve a guided walk around a specific kind of plant.
We had lunch at the on-site restaurant, and while we'd expected it to be over-priced and of not great quality as it's really the only place at the gardens where you can get some food, it pleasantly surprised us.
The menu had everything from cake to quiche and sandwiches to salads and main courses, and the prices were very reasonable. I had a slice of quiche with some salad on the side, and my former partner had scrambled eggs on toast.
Also good to know is that drinking fountains and free toilets are available throughout the gardens.
How to get to the Mount Coot-Tha botanical gardens
There's a bus stop right by the planetarium and the entrance to the gardens. If you come by car, there are different free parking lots with ample space.
Brisbane City Botanic Gardens
We're all for efficiency, so we took an Uber from the Mount Coot-Tha botanic gardens to the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. Much smaller in size, the latter feels more like a park than a botanical garden. It also features a stage and two cafes.
The City Botanic Gardens originated at the location of a public garden in 1855 and are Brisbane's first botanical gardens. They weren't well-located, though, because, between 1870 and 1974, eight floods swept through the gardens destroying lots of the flora.
Because of these floods, a second botanic garden, the one at Mount Coot-Tha, was created.
Dinner at Santa Monica Brisbane
After a shower at the hotel, we ended our second day in Brisbane at Santa Monica, a small restaurant with a large covered outdoor seating area serving a variety of dishes.
You couldn't tell from the name of the place, though. Advertised as “Santa Monica Pizza Burgers Bar,” it is indeed pizzas and burgers. Pizzas and especially burgers seemed to be a thing all around Queensland, but neither of us is a big fast-food fan.
Luckily, we looked at the menu and discovered they also had a nice choice of meat, fish, and pasta dishes. My ex loved his Black Angus steak, and I finished my grilled salmon fillet with pleasure.
If you want to eat somewhere outdoors with plenty of choices at reasonable prices, I can recommend Santa Monica.
Tours from and places to go near Brisbane
My former partner and I love wandering around by ourselves and taking in the sites that way. If you prefer a bit more background information about what you see (and taste!), here are some recommended Brisbane tours to consider.
1. The best of Brisbane bicycle tour
During this Brisbane city tour by bike, a local guide gives you a cultural and historical introduction to the city. You'll ride along South Bank to Kangaroo Point, over the famous Story Bridge to New Farm Park, the suburb of Teneriffe, and back to the waterfront to ride through the City Botanic Gardens before returning to the start point.
You can choose between a 2- and a 3.5-hour ride. All tours include a bike, a helmet, a bottle of water, sunscreen, and – if you choose the longer option – a picnic stop with snacks and drinks.
Book this tour