With $26.5 billion worth of tourism and infrastructure projects on the blocks – including a string of new hotels, a casino, a cruise terminal and a second airport runway – Brisbane is set to become a tourism hotspot.
Bernard O’Riordan visited in March 2019
With the Sunshine Coast to the north and the Gold Coast holiday strip to the south, Brisbane has long been considered little more than a gateway to more exciting destinations. But not anymore.
Australia’s third largest city is booming with more than A$26.5 billion worth of infrastructure, lifestyle, tourism and entertainment projects set to lure visitors from around the world over the next decade.
With Brisbane Airport’s second runway due to open in 2020, and five new hotels now open for business, the Queensland capital is on the cusp of a major tourism boom.
The crown in the jewel for Brisbane will be Star Entertainment Group’s $3.6 billion Queens Wharf resort and casino development, scheduled to open in 2022. It’s expected to lure about 1.39 million new visitors to the city every year.
Queen’s Wharf will cover more than 26 hectares between the CBD and the riverbank – more than a tenth of the entire CBD land area. Almost half of that will be public space, with the development including a casino, hotel, restaurants and new plazas and parks.
The Fantauzzo Art Series Hotel has
opened under the Story Bridge
The cruise ship is expected to create $20 million in economic activity in Brisbane from passenger spending alone.
To cater for the influx of tourists and corporate travellers, a string of five-star hotels have already opened and 2,718 new hotel rooms are in the pipeline up until 2025, according to a Tourism Accommodation Australia report. Nine new hotels will built in the next 18 months alone.
The $100 million Fantauzzo Art Series Hotel, carved into the cliff under the Story Bridge, opens today with 166 rooms. It follows the launch last year of the $200 million Westin Brisbane, Next Brisbane and two boutique hotels in the city by Ovolo.
W Brisbane is also open for business, offering 312 design-led rooms, including 29 suites, while across the river, Emporium Hotel South Bank, features 143 suites.
The ever-trendy James Street precinct in Fortitude Valley has also welcomed The Calile, with 175 rooms, including nine suites and two premier suites.
The River City
Brisbane, with its near-perfect weather, balances a laid-back, outdoorsy vibe with the excitement of a global city. With a population of 2.1 million people, it’s one of Australia’s fastest growing cities.
The city centre occupies a loop of the Brisbane River with streets following a grid pattern.
Many street names are drawn from Australia’s British roots: north-south streets are kings and princes (King St, Edward St, Albert St, George St etc), and east-west streets are queens and princesses (Queen St, Elizabeth St, Mary St, Alice St etc).
Queen Street Mall runs for 500 metres through the centre of the city from George Street to Edward Street. It’s home to more than 700 retailers, including the big department stores Myer and David Jones.
The trendy area is Fortitude Valley, or ‘The Valley’ as it’s affectionately known, about 1 km north-east of the city centre. It’s popular for cafes, nightclubs and boutique stores. Fortitude Valley also has a large gay community.
Brisbane boasts a number of sophisticated entertainment precincts including South Bank, Eagle Street Pier, James St, King St and most recently Howard Smith Wharves, under the Story Bridge.
With a growing creative scene, abundant wildlife, quirky backstreets and world-class dining options, Brisbane is already a destination punching above its weight.
What To Do And See In 48 Hours
Ride the Wheel of Brisbane
What better way to get your bearings than from a fully enclosed gondola 60 metres above the city? The Wheel of Brisbane, at Southbank Parklands, provides a unique 360 degree view of the city and includes an audio guide to some of the main landmarks. You can even tuck into a picnic box with wine and cheese as you soak up the sights. The Wheel opens daily at 10am and continues late into the night.
Stroll the Riverwalk
Follow the curve of the Brisbane River, and Brisbane’s own millionaire’s row, on one of the city’s best walks. Winding from the Teneriffe Ferry Terminal all the way to the Botanic Gardens, there’s about 6 km of footpath to trek, suspended above the river. Riverwalk cuts through the new Howard Smith Wharves, where you can stop for a coffee or a beer, and finishes near Eagle Street Pier, where you can have lunch. The suspension bridge was a high-profile victim of the 2011 Brisbane floods when part of it was washed down river. It has since been rebuilt at a cost of around $17 million.
Chill out at Howard Smith Wharves
Located under the Story Bridge, the heritage-listed Howard Smith Wharves (HSW) is the city’s newest entertainment precinct following a $200 million restoration. The project has transformed a derelict 3.5 hectare stretch of the Brisbane River that starts at Boundary Street and runs underneath the Story Bridge, connecting to the River Walk that goes through to New Farm. The glamorous space is home to overwater bar Mr Percival’s and Felons Brewing Co, which operates as a working micro brewery. With two beer gardens and 150 stools overlooking the river, it’s the new hot spot on Brisbane’s social scene. Greek restaurant Greca recently opened at HSW, along with Fish n Chippery and ARC Dining and Wine Bar. The Fantauzzo Art Series Hotel also opens on the wharf today.
Climb The Story Bridge
Story Bridge Adventure Climb, at the corner of Wharf and Main Street, kits guests out in unflattering jump suits then clips them to a wire which goes all the way to the top of the bridge, 74 metres above the river. The experience lasts around two-and-a-half hours and costs from A$129 for a day climb. If your schedule permits, the dawn or twilight climbs are magical on a clear night, but they’re not cheap at $159. There’s also a Mandarin-speaking climb, tailored to Chinese visitors.
Dine at Eagle Street Pier
You’ll find more than 15 restaurants and bars at Eagle Street Pier, located on the edge of the CBD alongside the Brisbane River. Eagle Street Pier is home to some of Brisbane’s most prestigious restaurants including Sake, Pony and Aria Restaurant. You’ll also find a wide selection of easy food choices, from burgers and sushi to seafood and top-end steaks, and a longtime favourite, George’s Paragon Seafood. Few people realise that Eagle Street Pier was meant to be a temporary structure built for Expo 88. There are now plans to demolish and rebuild the waterfront dining precinct next year, if it’s approved by the State Government.
Lose Yourself In The Laneways
Melbourne might have started the laneway trend, but Brisbane has certainly embraced it. Brisbane is actually home to some quirky and little-known laneways that house cafes and bars, restaurants and art. Hidden near Queen St Mall is Burnett Lane, where you can kick start the day with coffee, or end it with wine. Visit Gresham Lane next to Central Station for a quick tipple, or Albert Lane for tasty eats, including sake and dumplings at Harajuku Gyoza. In a cool little laneway at 283 Elizabeth St, you’ll find a subterranean dining space that houses the pizza and wine bar, Corbett & Claude. The eatery actually pays homage to the historic Corbett Chambers building whose basement it occupies. Head to Fortitude Valley for the real star attractions. Here you’ll find Fish Lane (home to funky restaurants and hole-in-the-wall bars like Maker), Winn Lane (boutiques and burgers), Bakery Lane pictured above (cafes, cocktails and crafts) and the newest arrival, California Lane (coffee, cocktails, food and fashion).
Visit Lone Pine Sanctuary
Just 12 kilometres from the centre of Brisbane is Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – the world’s first and largest cuddly koala sanctuary. It’s home to more than 130 sleepy-eyed koalas as well as a huge array of marsupials including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, Tasmanian devils, emus and a platypus. Last year a koala science and research facility called the Brisbane Koala Science Institute opened at the park. It aims to improve koala management and eradicate disease in koala populations. Visitors can peer inside the research lab and wildlife hospital through special viewing windows.
Shop, Eat and Party in Fortitude Valley
Fortitude Valley is the epicentre of Brisbane’s night life and live music scene. Around Brunswick and Wickham Streets there are scores of streetside bars and pubs, including a handful of surviving gay bars, like the The Wickham. On the tree-lined, shady James Street you’ll find possibly Brisbane’s coolest shopping strip. There’s a cluster of independent boutiques, homewares stores and book shops. James St is also home to some of the finest dining, from Middle Eastern-inspired Gerard’s Bistro and the Italian favourite Bucci, as well as half a dozen casual eateries and cafes.
Visit A Gallery
Three of Brisbane’s cultural must-sees are virtually next door to each other in the South Bank Parklands. Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) contains works by Australian and international artists including Anish Kapoor and Edward Ruscha. GoMA is just 150 metres from the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG), where you can see more traditional works and a fine collection of indigenous Australian art. Backing on to the QAG is the Queensland Museum with displays on Australian wildlife, relics from the nation’s history and an impressive science centre.
Cruise the Brisbane River
Brisbane is the river city, so what better way to experience the city than along the weaving and winding bends of the Brisbane River? Brisbane City Council’s CityHopper is a free inner-city ferry service that runs to local destinations like New Farm, South Bank and the CBD. The service runs between 6am and midnight, seven days a week. The service stops at New Farm (Sydney Street), South Bank (Terminal 3), North Quay, South Brisbane (Maritime Museum), Kangaroo Point (Dockside, Holman Street and Thornton Street) and Eagle Street Pier in the Brisbane CBD, with the total return journey taking about 45 minutes. CityCats also travel between St Lucia in the south and Northshore Hamilton in the north, but you’ll need a GoCard to pay for this service.
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