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The Top Things to do in Brisbane

Brisbane is a vibrant cosmopolitan city that embraces its heritage and love for outdoor adventures. Blessed with a balmy climate, the city offers a bounty of aquatic experiences that make the most of its location, close to the river and Moreton Bay Islands. Escape the confines of the CBD and enjoy a day in the sunshine climbing the iconic Story Bridge, abseiling down the Kangaroo Point Cliffs or lazing on the stunning shores of Moreton Island. And in between shopping till you drop on Queen Street, dining at hip alfresco food haunts or enjoying a touch of culture at South Bank, you simply cannot miss out on cuddling a koala at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Kick start your adventure to Brisbane and browse a list of things to see and do with Experience Oz.

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The Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane, QLD

Perhaps Australia's most up-and-coming capital, Brisbane has seen continued fast growth over recent years yet still manages to provide one of the best balances of urbanisation versus nature that helps make it one of the more pleasant cities to visit. With an excellent central area dissected by a lovely river, easy access to some wonderful coastal areas, and possibly the best overall weather of any Aussie capital, Brisbane has a ton to offer both visitors and residents.

While it may not yet have the international fame that its southern brothers Sydney and Melbourne currently enjoy, this is quickly changing as its reputation for providing an ideal balance of activities, attractions and atmosphere is increasingly obvious. The city's CBD is a great example of urban planning, while areas emphasising the outdoors, the cultural, quality shopping and dining area all available within easy reach of one another.

This level of diversity and accessibility thus makes Brisbane easy to recommend for travelling adults and families alike, as there's likely to be at least one area or attraction in the city you'll fall in love with.

But what are the overall “best” things to do in Brisbane? Here's our list - based on a combination of customer feedback, local knowledge and balance of appeal to all demographics – of the Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane:

The Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane, QLD - Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

1. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Location: 708 Jesmond Rd, Fig Tree Pocket, Brisbane, QLD

In terms of wildlife attractions, Brisbane suffers a bit in comparison to other capital cities and regional destinations as it lacks a true “flagship” zoo or aquarium befitting of a city of its stature. Luckily, however, it can still boast the original "Home of the Koalas" in Australia and one of the most criminally underrated wildlife attractions in the country, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary which lies just to the north of Brisbane's CBD.

Able to be visited in a simple 15 minute drive from the city centre, or via taking one of the scenic river ferry options that will deliver you from your stop of choice to the wildlife sanctuary's doorstep, it's an attraction that deserves more publicity on the national stage. Set amongst beautiful natural Aussie bush surroundings, Lone Pine is far more of a literal “sanctuary” than manufactured commercial zoo, which is reflected both in its attitude towards animal welfare and the attitudes of its staff.

As the world’s first and largest Koala sanctuary, Lone Pine has more than 130 koalas and, due to Queensland law being the only state in Australia that allows you to cuddle a koala, you'll be able to come away with a photograph of your encounter with this most famous and furry of Aussie creatures.

Koalas aren't the only focal point of the facility, however; Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary's hands-on approach means you'll also have the opportunity to get up close with and hand-feed kangaroos, hold a snake, and view a variety of native birds and animals in scenic natural settings all without the feeling of being pressured to purchase additional add-ons that more commercialised venues often convey. Lone Pine Sanctuary even has a platypus enclosure, which is exceedingly rare in Queensland.

Home to adorable native Australian wildlife, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the best place to cuddle a koala in Australia, hand-feed kangaroos and view platypus in a beautiful, natural setting.

The park is famous for its family atmosphere and attention to individual detail that some of the larger zoos and wildlife parks in Australia simply can't offer due to visitor volume; the workers at Lone Pine are renowned for being warm and approachable, and are typically happy to provide answers to any questions you may have. This also shines through in the number of animal shows held throughout the day – while it's wonderful to see the animals in action, it's the knowledge and insight that goes along with it that complete the experience.

The Birds of Prey show is a standout among these, and seeing these swift and skilled aerial predators in action is always amazing as they swoop at high speeds to grab food tossed in the air. Other demonstrations highlight different parts of the animal kingdom, and in all you'll get to see interactive displays of sheep dogs and sheep shearing, Tasmanian Devils, reptiles and more all included in the cost of admission.

Lone Pine Sanctuary also boasts a huge array of bird life, from smaller species of finches all the way up to massive and prehistoric-looking Cassowaries. Kids, meanwhile, will no doubt love the kangaroo and wallaby enclosure, as grabbing one of the available bags of feed and getting a hands-on encounter with these Aussie icons is always a positive experience, while emus can often be seen strutting around nearby as well.

Combine all of the above with reasonably-priced food and refreshments (as well as admission fees) compared to other similar attractions, and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary provides the Brisbane region's premier dose of animal action. If you're in Brisbane and are short on time yet wanting to see some Aussie wildlife, or if you're a local who has visitors or friends coming to Australia from overseas, Lone Pine makes for a great and enjoyable introduction to the animals of our country that provides several hours worth of quality entertainment.

The Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane, QLD - The Wheel of Brisbane

2. The Wheel of Brisbane

Positioned on the banks of the Brisbane River, the Wheel of Brisbane offers the best vantage point of Brisbane city with 360-degree panoramic views in your own little pod.
The Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane, QLD - Cruise the Brisbane River with Kookaburra River Queens

3. Cruise the Brisbane River with Kookaburra River Queens

Location: 45 Eagle St, Brisbane, QLD

Brisbane wouldn't be Brisbane without its iconic river, which was a large reason for the city being settled in the first place and continues to this day to serve as a focal point for many of the city's activities and attractions. In short, you haven't truly “experienced” Brisbane unless you've seen the city from the vantage point of the water, and one of the more unique and tranquil ways for doing so is offered by Kookaburra River Queens.

The stars of the show here are the old-style paddlewheel vessels that can often be seen plying their trade around the city's waterways, and add a vintage touch to the proceedings while harking back to the previous days of water navigation. These are lovely, beautifully-constructed 30m boats consisting largely of wood made utilising old-time shipwright techniques, and their peaceful nature when making their way down the river belies the powerful diesel engines chugging below deck.

Many of Brisbane's icons take on an entirely new aspect when viewed from the water – such as the Story Bridge, Southbank Parklands and city skyline – and excellent views of each are available on the boat's spacious top decks that provide an unrestricted 360 degree panorama of all of its goings-on.

There are a range of cruises on offer here, including lunch, dinner and specially-themed jazz cruise that puts an emphasis on live music; if you're looking for a way to combine a sightseeing trip of the city along with a quality meal there are thus few better ways to do so, given that the cost of dining at a decent quality restaurant is comparable without all the scenic benefits. Kookaburra River Queens' lunch cruise features a well-organised and delicious buffet featuring a diverse array of foods to choose from, with the mixed seafood-and-carvery menu containing both hot and cold offerings both Aussie-style and international.

Join a Brisbane River cruise on the historic Kookaburra River Queens paddle wheelers to admire the South Bank precinct, Kangaroo Point Cliffs and iconic Story Bridge while enjoying a buffet meal.

The dinner cruise itinerary, meanwhile, is perhaps the top highlight, as the Brisbane River looks truly amazing in the evenings – the combined view of the city night lights reflecting off the water, the lit-up city skyline and the illuminated Story Bridge look wonderful, and make for a romantic backdrop for a special occasion.

As with lunch, dinner boasts plenty of choice with fresh crab, oysters and prawns as well as steaming beef and pork on offer as well as vegetarian options. Grabbing a drink an enjoying the top deck after a meal is an essential must-do while on the trip, although be sure to dress appropriately warmly if taking the cruise during the winter months.

Atmosphere-wise, this kind of cruise is hard to beat; while the décor is “dated”, its largely a reflection of the time period the boats attempt to recreate, and during the trip you'll gain some well-commentated insight on Brisbane's various highlights both past and present.

There's an on-board, Dixie-style brass band who play some toe-tapping jazz and organ music which provide a touch of old-world class as well. While it's an experience that may be more suited towards the older demographic (it's possible younger kids may find it “boring”), this is one of the most leisurely, relaxed and best value ways to enjoy the spectacles of the Brisbane River.

The Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane, QLD - Climb the Brisbane Story Bridge

4. Climb the Brisbane Story Bridge

Location: 170 Main St, Kangaroo Point, QLD

One of Brisbane's most obvious and distinctive landmarks, the Brisbane Story Bridge goes a long way to adding its own sense of character to the city. While it may not have the fame of its big brother, the Harbour Bridge down in Sydney, the Brisbane Story Bridge makes for no less an impressive way to view the city from a supremely scenic viewpoint and, like the Sydney's bridge, the Brisbane Story Bridge is one of the only three bridges in the world that can be climbed.

Thus the option exists for those wanting a combined adventure / outstanding panorama to take the plunge and climb it for themselves, providing one of the best views in the region. The Story Bridge, which spans the Brisbane River and connects the popular Southbank district to the CBD, measures 74 metres in height at its apex, which makes for a climb that is challenging but safe, making it a suitable activity for all ages and fitness levels.

Lasting roughly 2.5 hours, the journey up and back down the bridge is appropriately long without being overly tiring, and it also happens to be good value for money – particularly when compared to the other bridge climbs on offer. During the climb, you'll be provided with all gear necessary for the experience (including the signature, fully-enclosed climb suit) and have everything well explained in terms of safety and what to expect.

This goes a long way to reassuring those who may be afraid of heights, as safety is obviously the no. 1 priority here and the basic training covers all the essentials without being overly lengthy or tedious. Once everyone's prepared, the climb begins, with the initial portion of the journey rising past the road level that's also the steepest; from here on out things only get both easier and more visually impressive, so don't despair!

There are few iconic landmarks in the world where you can get this close. Join a Story Bridge Climb and you’ll feel like the king of the world with spectacular views of the city, Mt Cootha and Moreton Bay.

As the climb continues, you'll have commentary piped in and delivered via radio headset from your climb-guides pointing out local landmarks and icons as well as details on the bridge's construction. Key facts and historical tidbits make for a nice compliment to the views, and the entire experience is conducted at a pace that allows for everything to be taken in without ever feeling rushed.

After long enough you'll have ascended to the main viewing platform where you've likely seen shots taken for the Bridge Climb's promotional materials, and with good cause – it's a completely unrestricted 360 degree visual cavalcade showcasing a spectacle all the way out over the Brisbane CBD, Mount Coot-tha, Moreton Bay and further on to the Glasshouse Mountains and the Gold Coast Hinterland. It's also the designated spot to pose for a great photo, so get your smile on and enjoy a happy snap or three.

There's also the option to abseil back down to the bottom from a 30m pylon at the base of the bridge for a combined climb/abseil experience that's one-of-a-kind in Australia. The Brisbane Story Bridge Climb can be done at multiple sessions throughout the day, with each time period offering its own unique aspect - four separate experiences can be chosen from in total including Dawn, Day, Twilight and Night climbs.

Which appeals specifically to you will largely depend on your personal preference; both dawn and twilight offer the opportunity to witness the Brisbane skyline under the red-orange glow of the sun which has its own charm, while day climbs are a solid balance and night showcases the cityscape like few other spots can. As one of Brisbane's signature activities at a price that won't break the bank, the Story Bridge Climb is an essential for any first-timer's itinerary.

The Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane, QLD - Brisbane Whale Watching

5. Brisbane Whale Watching

Location: 133-137 Redcliffe Parade, Redcliffe, QLD

Brisbane's coastal aspect and easy access to the open ocean makes it a city that blends all the benefits of modern urban construction with plenty of emphasis for enjoying water-based activities, with its iconic river, waterfront areas and nearby islands all being prime examples of this.

Heading out on the water in some form is thus a must while you're here, and during the yearly whale watching season Brisbane offers a great opportunity to get out and see the gentle giants of the ocean, as the calm waters of the adjacent Moreton Bay offer a place for the Humpbacks and Southern Rights to rest and tend to their young.

Brisbane's whale watching season takes place between June and November each year, and operator Brisbane Whale Watching provide eager participants with the chance to head out on the water and encounter the most surface-active of all whales.

Displaying playful behaviour that has to be seen up close to be fully appreciated, the Humpbacks are surprisingly agile given their mass. The sheer size of the creatures is impressive, and combined with their surprising agility as they breach, it's truly a sight to behold. One of the added benefits of Brisbane's whale watching offerings is the short distance you'll have to travel for your first whale sighting; given how close Moreton Bay is to the city, it's often possible to encounter your first whale after a mere 30 minutes worth of seafaring – something of a rarity amongst the world's capital cities.

Of course, given the wild and uncontrolled nature of the experience, there can't be guarantees about how close the whales will approach, but this largely beats encountering animals in a comparatively sterile, manufactured zoo-style environment. If a whale breaches right in front of your eyes, you can be sure the behaviour was completely spontaneous which makes the occurrence all the more magical.

A magical encounter with humpback whales is a must-do activity in Brisbane. Every year between June and November, you can join Brisbane Whale Watching for an unbelievable close encounter with the whales.

In terms of the whale watching tours themselves, Brisbane Whale Watching's vessel is modern, big and comfortable with all the modern on-board conveniences, and also was constructed with specially-designed engine mounting that helps make for reduced noise and vibration that reduces any irritation for the whales.

Other marine life such as dolphins and sea turtles also frequent this part of the 'Bay, adding to the diversity of the sightseeing experience. Tour itineraries also include a tasty and plentiful lunch consisting of a ham/beef/prawn/salads mixed offering, and as the vessel's lower deck windows are at sea level, you'll be able to see the whales while enjoying your meal which makes for some truly unique dining.

The Brisbane Whale Watching crew and its captain also offer a top-notch experience that provides a solid combination of imparting knowledge and customer service, making for a smooth and pleasant overall day on the water. Tours last for around 5 hours, which is a solid amount of time to be at sea, so be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen during your trip out – the typically clear Queensland skies during whale watching season can make for some intense UV rays.

In addition, bring seasickness pills if you're the type with a sensitive stomach, as although the vessel is stable things can get quite choppy on windier days. If you've ever wanted to tick the “whale watching” item off your bucket list, there are few better spots in Australia to do so than Brisbane.

The Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane, QLD - Escape to Moreton Island for the day

6. Escape to Moreton Island for the day

Location: Tangalooma Island Resort, Moreton Island, QLD

Not all of the Brisbane region's aquatic-oriented adventures are purely relaxed and scenic; those wonderful waters that surround Brisbane present plenty of opportunity for more active types to embark on any number of watersports and shore-based fun as well. A great deal of this is owed to the islands that sit just off shore from Brisbane, the most accessible and obvious of which is Moreton Island which lies just 25 kilometres away from the city and serves as something of a lovely little resort-escape hub for Brisbane residents.

While it's an exceedingly popular destination for Brisbanites to kick back and laze the day away in the sun, operator Adventure Moreton Island take things in the other direction – if you're looking for some upbeat “fun in the sun” whether on the sand or in the water, this is the place to start.

Based out of Tangalooma Island Resort they're a friendly and energetic bunch that have an array of flexible activity packages that provide plenty of entertainment. You'll be able to pick from a range of different itineraries that allow you to choose from 3 or 4 activities from the “menu” of 11 possible in total, allowing for a degree of customisation that lets you tailor your experience at Moreton Island as you see fit.

If you're looking to partake, the journey begins with the trip from the mouth of the Brisbane River aboard a fast catamaran – a scenic enough trip in and of itself – that takes just over an hour and provides the chance for some marine life spotting along the way. Once on the island, the variety of opportunities opens up – ocean kayaking, stand up paddling, fish feeding and more allow you to experience the waterways up close.

Only one hour from Brisbane, this piece of paradise can be found. Enjoy a dolphin and dugong cruise, snorkel the Tangalooma Wrecks and enjoy a delicious tropical buffet lunch on a Moreton Island day cruise.

Your choice of activity lineup here will likely depend on your level of comfort in the water, as there are a range of different areas on and off the island to explore that are best experienced via different methods. Moreton Island boasts a number of rich offshore reefs that are perhaps most famous for their number of shipwrecks that dot the waters and attract marine life of all kinds.

Guided snorkelling tours are thus immensely popular in this area, as the wrecks are famed not only for their own interesting hulls but also for the tropical fish, wobbegong sharks, and coral varieties that call them home. It's one of the best arrays of marine life available to encounter in Queensland outside of the Great Barrier Reef, so if you've been looking to enjoy some snorkelling without a massive time or financial commitment, Moreton Island serves as a decent imitation.

Kayaking, meanwhile is also highly enjoyable here and allows all ages to get out on the water and experience the spectacle of sea and bird life, with both single and double kayaks available – with the double versions ideal for those travelling with kids. Likewise, if you've got little ones in tow, fish feeding is a possible itinerary item that they'll no doubt love and allows for proper contact with the animals of the deep.

Looking towards the shore, meanwhile, and there's an equal amount of selection; hop aboard an ATV/Quad Bike for some offroad exploration, try your hand at riding a Segway on the golden sands, cast a rod and see if you can come up with a catch – the key here is freedom of choice, and Adventure Moreton Island offers this in spades. Add in the ability to take full use of Tangalooma Island Resort's many amenities in-between items in your tour (it's a well-equipped facility in and of itself) and there's an adventure-laden, tropical day out that ensures you'll never be bored within easy striking distance for a day trip from the city centre.

The Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane, QLD - Riverlife Adventure Centre

7. Riverlife Adventure Centre

Location: Naval Stores, Lower River Terrace, Kangaroo Point, QLD

Looking to take your Brisbane-based outdoor adventures to the next level? If the likes of abseiling, rock climbing, kayaking and more pique your interest, be sure to pay a visit to the popular Riverlife Adventure Centre situated at Brisbane's Kangaroo Point. Located within Brisbane's historic Naval Stores, Riverlife features a mixture of scheduled tour-based activities as well as equipment hire for a range of outdoor entertainment, and has thus become a go-to destination for those looking to get active without leaving the boundaries of the city.

In addition to the raw fun of the activities themselves, Riverlife also offers journeys that aim to highlight and detail the Brisbane region's Aboriginal culture, which can be experienced on a tour conducted via kayak to designated areas of the banks of the Brisbane River.

While several of the activities on offer here can be experienced at other destinations in the greater Brisbane area, it's the abseiling plays a major role in setting Riverlife apart from its peers. The sheer walls of the Kangaroo Point Cliffs make for the ideal naturally-formed abseiling spot, and they offer great view of the city skyline to boot.

During an abseiling experience, you'll join a professional instructor for a full safety briefing, then harness up and get prepared for the rush as you begin the descent down a roughly 20m-high cliff. It's an experience that may be a little nerve-wracking for some, but it also comes along with a strong sense of self-achievement at the end, and the Riverlife staff are always famously supportive and encouraging along the way. No prior experience is necessary in order to take part – all you need is to be 8 years or older, and you're good to go.

If adventure is what you crave then head to the Riverlife Adventure Centre to climb and abseil the Kangaroo Point cliffs, kayak Brisbane River or hire a bike in Brisbane.

Riverlife's rock climbing, a.k.a “abseiling in reverse” also takes place in the same area of the cliffs and will see you attempting to ascend rather than drop – a challenge that can be even more strenuous but offers the same rewards. Kayaking tours, meanwhile, provide the chance to get out on the waters of the Brisbane River in person, with Riverlife's specialty being a “night kayaking” adventure that lasts for 1.5 hours and takes participants on a journey past the impressive lights of South Bank and the Story Bridge while all culminating in a meal of fresh prawns accompanied by alcohol along the waterfront.

It's a distinctly different way to see Brisbane and enjoy an evening meal, and it's only further enhanced by the characteristic friendliness of the guides – they're always flexible, accommodating and always willing to go the extra mile, which makes both the kayak trip and the following meal even more enjoyable.

Lastly, a tip of the cap must be given to Riverlife's Mirrabooka Aboriginal show/experience that aims to bring Indigenous traditions to the forefront – all conducted by the banks of the Brisbane River. It's an interactive and enjoyable activity that is quite unexpected in the heart of a capital city, focusing on the song and dance of the native Yuggera tribe and conducted amongst the greenery of the Kangaroo Point bushland.

Stories of traditions, customs and history along with practical demonstration make for a slice of culture that comes highly recommended. Riverlife is another shining example of Brisbane's emphasis on experiencing the outdoors and what the city has to offer rather than just being a passive observer.

The Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane, QLD - XXXX Ale House Brewery Tour

8. XXXX Ale House Brewery Tour

Join a XXXX Brewery and Alehouse tour in Brisbane to see how the famous liquid gold is made. From the brewing process to bottling and canning - this Brisbane Brewery tour is one not to miss.
The Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane, QLD - Day Tour to Australia Zoo

9. Day Tour to Australia Zoo

Visit the Irwin family and see incredible wildlife from all across the globe on this day tour to Australia Zoo. Make the most of your day with an Australia Zoo ticket and return transfers from Brisbane included.
The Top 10 Things to do in Brisbane, QLD - Brisbane to Gold Coast Winery Tour

10. Brisbane to Gold Coast Winery Tour

Discover award-winning cellar doors within proximity to Brisbane on this full-day winery tour to the Gold Coast with wine tasting and a beautiful two-course lunch included.