Beloved Brisbane: Exploring This Eclectic City

Australia/New Zealand/Pacific, City Travel — By on June 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Yelena Galstyan, a magazine journalism student at Syracuse University, is taking a study abroad semester at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. In her fourth piece in a series about her observations in the land down under, she highlights what Brisbane has to offer.

As I sit in a café in the middle of King George Square sipping on a lemon-lime and bitters, I reflect on the past four months I’ve spent in Australia. I’ve traveled up and down the east coast—from Cairns to Melbourne—but what’s most heartbreaking is leaving the city I’ve come to call home – beautiful Brisbane. While Melbourne and Sydney compete for the most cultural city spot, Brisbane often gets overlooked.

Brisbane SkyTake my word for it; the third largest city in Australia is anything but boring. In many ways, “Brissie” is like a town. It maintains a hometown feel, and deviates away from the previous notion of being the poor cousin of Australia’s urban epicenters. In essence, it’s an eclectic metropolis with a laid-back, relaxed feel, populated by the friendliest Aussies you’ll meet.

Plus, the city seems to be unfazed by the January floods. With resilience, the community came together and patched up its infrastructure at an alarming rate. Now it’s better than ever. Within the past few years, Brisbane upped its game and became one of Australia’s most desirable places to live, with an estimated 1,000 people packing up and moving here each week. Brisbane is not chocked with tradition. It’s an everything-goes type of place, which makes it ultimately refreshing.

After spending a bit of time here, I can’t help but sing its praises. Read on to find out what to do in this bustling gem of a city.

South Bank Parklands

South Bank is the heart of Brisbane’s cultural and recreational scene and just a short walk across Victoria Bridge from the central city. It truly has something for everyone; it’s where the food, art, and entertainment scenes converge.

Brisbane SkylineVenture out here for a romantic stroll along the Brisbane River, a bite to eat at the trendy restaurants, or dessert at Max Brenner, an Australian chocolate specialty shop. South Bank is a hot-spot for lip-locked lovers, family bonding, and catching up time with friends. As you stroll the boardwalk, you’ll notice the lamp-lit path as it leads you to the Arbour, a blooming walkway that winds through the precinct. Let the flowers lead you to one of my favorite watering holes: Brewhouse Brisbane on Stanley Street. Char-grilled food and local beer samplers are galore. Don’t stop there. In all its culinary goodness, The Sardine Tin offers an eclectic assortment of tapas and a rustic relaxed vibe. Think assorted cheese plates and tangy charcuterie.

Brisbane lies inland, about an hour away from the infamous Gold Coast beaches. To deliver a beach experience to the city dwellers, Breaka Beach was built in South Bank, fully equipped with sun, sand, and lifeguards. How would the locals possibly survive without it?

If you’re in the market for handmade crafts or unique shopping, visit the South Bank Lifestyle Market Friday night, Saturday or Sunday. If you’re in the mood for some drama, go to a show at the Performing Arts Complex or catch a flick at the Imax Theatre with a screen that hovers eight floors above the audience. For a great way to spend a long afternoon, visit the Queensland Museum or the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art and marvel at the ever-updated exhibits and art collections.

Riverside AKA Eagle Street Pier

This up-and-coming strip is a corporate center in Brisbane. But just under the skyscrapers, the boardwalk boasts some of the classiest bar restaurants in the city. For an elegant seafood dinner, visit Jellyfish. For a specialty beer, check out the Bavarian Bier Café. If you’re after a laid-back dinner experience, stop by The Groove Train and try anything lamb. If your taste buds are craving cocktails, veer in the direction of Fridays. Brisbane SunsetOn Sundays, grab a pizza and beer for only $7 at Boardwalk. All of these establishments offer a perfect vantage point for soaking in the scenic view of the river and the lit-up Storey bridge.

West End

If you’re spending more than a few days in Brisbane, make your way to West End. This residential area is just a short walk from South Bank and has a unique little strip that is out of the way and prized by locals. My favorite venue is the Archive Beer Boutique with over 300 crafty beer options from all over the world. Prepare to swoon.

Fortitude Valley

Back in the day, the valley was considered the sketchy part of town. It was the hang-out spot for streetwalkers and junkies until the music scene took over. Today, it’s your best bet for a big dose of nightlife. This hotbed of action is known for its pubs, nightclubs, and outdoor bars. Make sure you visit the valley on an empty stomach. The lively stretch has cuisine to match. Whether you’re grabbing take out or dining in, there are heaps of Asian, Mediterranean, and Italian places to chose from.

If it’s time to refuel, I suggest Flamingo Cafe, tucked in the back alley way of Winn Street. This hidden gem will make you feel like an savvy local. To experience one of the largest open rooftops in the Southern hemisphere, try Cloudland: a 4-level eatery by day, decked out club by night. The heart of the valley is Brunswick Street, which is swarming around the clock. After dark, come here for a fun pub night, live band performance, or a sweaty club dance off.

Brisbane StreetsThere’s no doubt that the subtropical weather and the meandering Brisbane river have something to do with the city’s appeal. To get people from point A to point B, Brisbane offers inexpensive and efficient public transportation through Translink. I highly recommend hopping on a ferry for a stellar view of the entire city. Speedy city ferries called CityCats will take you up and down the river, stopping regularly at key locations. Don’t forget there is much more to this boomtown than what’s offered at the center. The heart of Brisbane beats in its thriving suburbs. If you get a chance, venture out further for under-the-radar drinking dens, quaint cafes, and lush green neighborhoods.

Also, don’t miss these attractions:

Mount Cootha Lookout, for a superlative view of the city.

Botanical Gardens, for exotic plants and a planetarium.

Queen Street Mall, for shopping. Fashion mavens rejoice.

Brisbane Forest Park, for a bush walk.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, for an up-close and personal day with kangaroos, koalas, and other native Australian animals.


Sunday: The Fox

Monday: X&Y in the Valley

Tuesday: Ladies Night at Down Under Bar

Men, if you wear a dress, you get a free drink. Ladies, you get a free drink for putting up with the men.

Wednesday: The Royal Exchange Hotel AKA “The R.E”

I’ll be honest—this bar is young. By young, I mean every single person in it. If you’re a student, come here for $10 jugs and live music.

Thursday: The Victory Hotel AKA “The Vic”

If the line is astronomical, the rooftop bar at the The Exchange Hotel across the street is a good second bet.

Friday: Fridays on Riverside

Dress nice. Stay classy.

Saturday: Anywhere in the Valley

Not so obvious tips for going out: If you’re a dude, lose the sneakers and stick with nice pants. If you’re a girl, wear whatever you want. Try not to sway back and forth as you will get kicked out. If a bouncer asks how much you’ve had to drink, say two, tops. He always has the last call, so don’t bother arguing. Just go somewhere else.

Explore the hidden pockets on this city and you’re guaranteed an unforgettable stay. Enjoy Brissie, one of the most vibrant and livable places in Australia.

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