By far the largest city in Queensland, BRISBANE is not quite what you'd expect from a state capital with over one and a half million residents. Although there is urban sprawl, high-rise buildings, slow-moving traffic, crowded streets and the other trappings of a business and trade centre, there's little of the pushiness that usually accompanies them. To urbanites used to a more aggressive approach, the atmosphere is slow, even backward (a reputation the city would be pleased to lose), but to others the languid pace is a welcome change and reflects relaxed rather than regressive attitudes.
Brisbane is an attractive enough place, with the typical features of any Australian city of a comparable age and size – a historic precinct, museums and botanic gardens – though there are neither outstanding sights nor funky beach settlements. It's a fairly easy place to find casual, short-term employment however, and there's a healthy, unpredictable social scene, tempting many travellers to spend longer here than they had planned. As for exploring further afield, you'll find empty beaches and surf on North Stradbroke Island and dolphins around Moreton Island – both easy to reach from the city.
Cutting dramatically through lush coastal plains, the Brisbane River coils like a snake around the cosmopolitan chic of Queensland's unique sub-tropical capital. Developed as a penal colony in 1824, the city spent years in the shadow of its southern neighbors. However, following the Commonwealth Games and Expo in the 1980s, investment skyrocketed, cementing Brisbane's future as a place of wealth, beauty and excitement.
Brisbane's architecture is a mix of the modern and the old with impressive Renaissance style and timber Queenslander dwellings sharing a berth with the modern giants. Despite being close to the ocean, this is very much a river city, and the footpaths and waterways are a delightful way to explore this majestic metropolis.
Central Business District
Dominated by the impressive City Hall , Brisbane's business center is a remarkable dichotomy of style. Unlike other Australian cities, the life of the central area does not fade with the sunset. Bars and clubs swell with numbers, attracting large crowds with entertainment each night. The spectacular Conrad Treasury Casino looms proudly over the river, whilst Queen Street Mall 's garnished modern decor greets shoppers, diners and people-watchers with open arms. Built in 1828, the Old Windmill and Observatory are some of Brisbane's oldest buildings and Parliament House , built to French Renaissance style in 1868, is a classic example of the city's historical prowess.
South Bank Parklands
If you cannot go to the beach, then the beach must come to you. The South Bank is a true wonder of ambitious modern design. With a large swimming area and sandy beach, escaping from the city is means a 30-second ferry ride. The nearly 40 acres of parkland include some of Brisbane's finest restaurants and cafes, and its own rainforest boardwalk. The popular South Bank Markets are held on Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays. The atrium snakes its way through the Parklands from the Queensland Cultural Centre, which houses the Performing Arts Complex , Queensland Museum , Queensland Art Gallery and State Library .
Mirroring the diversity of the South Bank , this city side complex is dissected by a lazy walkway, curving its way past the City Botanical Gardens , and hugging the foreshore with its traditional timber jetties and visiting touring yachts. Eagle Street Pier is the wining and dining area, while the Riverside Centre hosts a huge Sunday Craft Market . Standing proud among its modern neighbors, Customs House is a glorious building, providing a timely reminder of the area's vibrant heritage.
Fortitude Valley & Chinatown
Depart the river at the engaging New Farm Park, and the walk toward Fortitude Valley could take you an age if you choose to wine, dine and shop your way through the broad spectrum of styles. In Brisbane's vibrant Chinatown , a bewildering selection of Asian cuisine swamps the senses with local shopkeepers contributing to the enchantment of this true Asian hideaway.
The Valley offers similar diversity but does it with a brash energetic style for fun loving, nightlife seekers. Originally unfortunate enough to be considered a bad area, this is now Brisbane's alternative Mecca. For a one location night out, Dooley's Hotel has become a cult favorite.
Kangaroo Point & Woolloongabba
The elder statesman of Brisbane suburbs, Kangaroo Point , is the place to gaze in awe at the city's dramatic views. Cast in the shadow of the imposing Story Bridge , the Point's impressive sandstone cliffs dominate the foreshore. With the area transforming into a dynamic residential enclave, the demand for cafes and restaurants has grown rapidly. Kangaroo Point rivals South Bank in style as it strives to become the south side's new home for fine dining.
The Gabba (Woolloongabba), gateway to the Gold Coast and southeast, has earned an international reputation as the location of the Brisbane Cricket Ground , home of the Brisbane Lions Football Team .
Milton, Paddington & Rosalie
These west side suburbs offer a change of pace from the frantic energy of the Valley. In Milton, Park Road 's mock Eiffel Tower calls the discerning visitor to the city's most fashionable pavement cafe precinct. Rosalie Village, nestled in the western hills, conjures up visions of a small European community, with fine dining or relaxed, inexpensive fare available al fresco throughout the year. For the eccentric or exotic, Paddington's Latrobe Street has a selection of hidden gem restaurants, galleries and boutiques encased in colorful Queenslander cottages.
Around the Bay
Within an hour's drive of Brisbane's downtown, the wonders of Moreton Bay provide the day-tripper with unequaled delights. Before leaving the mainland, a visit to the charming Manly Harbour is a must. A mix of the new and traditional, this is the East Coast's largest pleasure boat marina, and home to good food and shopping.
A short trip ferry trip to Moreton Island reveals a realm of sand dunes (the world's highest coastal dunes), dolphins and four-wheel drive adventures. Whether you choose to stay at the plush Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort or just camp along the beach, Moreton Island is a kaleidoscope of natural wonder.
North Stradbroke Island (Straddie to the locals), a stone's throw from the mainland, is a Queensland treasure, providing an escape to paradise without the long trip. Within the National Park, Tortoise Lagoon and the 'Window' Blue Lake are spectacular.
With a bridge connecting Bribie Island with the mainland, this is the most accessible destination to see the fauna-rich waters of the Bay without getting your feet wet. Diving, fishing and relaxing are the order of the day on this lively, well-populated island, and a visit to the wonderful Abbey Museum is essential.
Brisbane's self-promotion as Australia's "most livable city" may have been used before, but it is absolutely true. Spending time wandering Brisbane's districts will bring you to the realization that this city is Australia's true capital of leisure, jaunty style and good living.
Arriving in Brisbane, the enthusiastic gastronome faces a Herculean challenge when narrowing down dining options. The city's rich vein of cultural diversity creates a more assimilated food style and a genuine sense of the geography and culture. The term "Asian" has never been so all encompassing with many restaurants sampling a variety of styles with wondrous results. The city's location upon the rich waters of Moreton Bay creates a haven for seafood connoisseurs, and the fertile soils contribute to the supply of succulent meats and vegetables. The Queensland harvest is truly mouth-watering.
Central Business District
You can find just about anything you'd like downtown. Tudor England can be explored at the Shingle Inn . Many of the local pubs supply excellent food to accompany your choice of drink, including Friday's and Gilhooley's . The same locations offer regular, late night entertainment, including live bands and drink discounts. For the traveler on a tight budget, the Down Under Bar and Grill offers food and drink at prices that help guard your finances without spoiling your evening. Pane e Vino and Picasso's are two places where you can indulge in pizza and pasta. Gianni's Restaurant serves authentic Australian fare, like Oven Roasted Guinea Fowl.
South Bank Parklands
The impressive South Bank is a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, but offers no less in the way of food and drink. Many of Brisbane's finest restaurants, including the Parklands Bar and Grill , can be found here with a range of styles from traditional Australian to Indian. To enjoy a pint of beer and watch the world go by, the Plough Inn is an ideal spot. Tasty, traditional fare can be found at the River Canteen and Stone Restaurant & Bar . Dine with a view at Cafe San Marco or grab some fish and chips at Capt'n Snapper .
Fortitude Valley & Chinatown
Fortitude Valley is Brisbane's one-stop entertainment district with a bewildering array of dining sideshows and bar offerings. Perhaps the most famous meeting place is the sprawling Dooley's Hotel , which seems to adopt a different personality on each visit. Live music, good food and some genuine Irish craig make this a hard place to leave. Also try out sensational cuisine at the Tibetan Kitchen and Taj Mahal . Go Greek at Purple Olive or grab some tapas at Gertie's Bar & Lounge .
A city would not be complete without its own Chinatown , and Brisbane can proudly boast one of the most traditional such areas in Australia. Situated at the heart of the Valley, this is not a purpose-built or newly developed center for the benefit of travelers, but more a complete Asian community, going about its daily business. Garuva Hidden Tranquility Restaurant & Bar , Asian House and Chinahouse Seafood Restaurant are some of the best culinary options in this community.
Milton, Paddington & Rosalie
To the west of downtown, and under the shadow of Milton's imposing Ale House Brewery , Park Road 's fashionable cafe precinct is the place to be seen. The cuisine is largely Italian, despite the miniature Eiffel Tower. Sample an award winning pizza at Arrivederci Pizza Al Metro , dine by candle light at Alberto's Italian Restaurant or alfresco with the local Ferrari owners at Rue De Paris . Bamboo Shoot is a popular spot for Chinese cuisine, while Oz Sushi features all you can eat buffets every night of the week.
While the biggest tourist attractions in the area are the Great Barrier Reef, the Sunshine Coast, and the Gold Coast, Brisbane has a few gems of its own.
Make sure to include a visit to the South Bank or Mt Coot-tha Lookout . The energetic can keep their feet moving while soaking up the historic sites along the Heritage Trail. Hire a bicycle and zoom down the river paths, winding along the picturesque South Bank. A visit to Chinatown is another must to see the multicultural side of Brisbane. Shopaholics are not forgotten as the South Bank Markets and Eagle Street Pier Craft Markets feature some of the latest fashions. Some might prefer to skip the shopping and go straight to the Ale House Brewery .
Families scramble to visit the fantastic theme parks of southeast Queensland. Coachtrans offers the 'Brisbane Get Around,' a three- to four-day unlimited travel pass. This includes airport transfers, a half-day guided City Sights tour, a choice of four Gold Coast Theme Parks ( Movie World , Sea World , Wet 'n' Wild among others) and a tour along the coastline, which, many will say, is Australia's favorite playground.
Sunshine Coast (true to its name) is a must. Australian Day Tours and Coachtrans Day Tours offer packages including such treats as the Big Pineapple , Underwater World , the Ginger Factory , Bunya Park , Australia Zoo , crocodile feeding (in season), and the Glass House Mountains ; a wow of a day for all the family.
Great Barrier Reef
A great day trip just north along the coast to the largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island , is a spectacular place with flora and fauna found nowhere else. The orange-colored scribble gumtrees are truly amazing with scrawled markings all over their trunks. If time permits, spend more than just a day as there is so much to see. The world-renowned Great Barrier Reef, a magnificent variety of fish and corals among which you can swim, snorkel, scuba dive or fish, can be experienced from a base on Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island (further north off the coast from Bundaberg).
Whether you shop, snorkel, or bike around Brisbane, you will see why Brisbane is the third fastest growing city in Australia.
Worldwide Shopping Tours (http://www.worldwideshoppingtours.com.au/)
Venture Down Under
Great Barrier Reef (http://www.australianexplorer.com/brisbane_tours.htm/)
Brisbane City Life Tours (http://www.partner.viator.com/en/1810/search/BRISBANE/)
Brisbane Star Cruises (+61 7 3399 1599 / http://totaltravel.com.au/link.asp?fid=569149/)
Brisbane Cruises (+61 7 3630 2666 / http://www.brisbanecruises.com.au/index.htm)
Cruise Maroochy Eco Tour (+61 7 5479 0993 / http://www.cruisemaroochyeco.com.au/)
Mooloolaba Reef and Game Charters
Coachtrans Day Tours
Cycle Brisbane (+61 4 0800 3198 / http://www.cyclebrisbane.com/)
Ozmoto (+61 4 0874 2274 / http://www.ozmoto.com/guidedtours.htm/)