A day is not enough to devote to Brisbane, a youthful city that revels in what must be the most relaxed and welcoming atmosphere of any east-coast capital city. One of the great things about Brisbane is that it is a compact city, however, so even though you won’t want to leave after just one day, you can easily cover large swathes of it in 24 hours, even on foot.
Take in the Views
You would not think that a city in Australia would have much in common with the Eternal City, but, like Rome, Brisbane is built on hills around a river. Get your bearings (and the best views of the city) by going to the top of one of those hills. If you don’t have a rental car, and don’t fancy a trek, the lookout at Mount Coot-tha is accessible by bus. You can also visit the Botanic Gardens (see below) while you’re here.
To appreciate the distinctive architecture of the city, take a walk toward Boundary Street. If the colonial Queenslander homes on the ridge don’t impress, you are sure to be wowed by the stunning views west to the Great Dividing Range.
The City Botanic Gardens at Mount Coot-tha are a 15-minute walk from the city centre and Central or Roma Street railway stations. The 52-hectare expanse encompasses Queensland's leading subtropical botanic gardens, with free entry and free guided tours Monday to Saturday at 11AM and 1PM. See the Japanese Gardens, Freedom Wall monument, and Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium.
Brisbane’s meandering river cuts a swathe through the city, dividing the Central Business District from the more laid-back South Bank. After your morning in the Botanic Gardens, cross the river to South Bank and its parklands, on the reclaimed site of Brisbane’s World Expo 88. This is one of Brisbane's most important cultural districts, regularly staging major festivals and events and should definitely be included on your whistle-stop tour of Brisbane.
If you’re still feeling energetic after all that, pop down to Kangaroo Point at the base of the cliffs, take the ferry to Riverside, and enjoy a CityCat cruise. The City Cats are Brisbane's catamaran-based ferry service and operate from Brett's Wharf at Hamilton to the University of Queensland at St Lucia. The full trip, taking in New Farm, South Bank, Bulimba, the City, and West End takes about an hour, but the great thing about City Cat is that it's a hop-on, hop-off service, so you can make as many stops as you want. Enjoy coffee in Oxford Street, Bulimba, lunch in the City, and cake at St Lucia.
You’re probably feeling pretty relaxed at this stage, so rev it up notch with a visit to Fortitude Valley (also known simply as "The Valley"), a suburb of central Brisbane encompassing Chinatown, an alternative shopping district, and a lively night scene. Have dinner in Chinatown and then hit the eclectic bars for the best live music and entertainment scene in Australia.