One doesn’t tend to hear amazing things about the city of Brisbane (pronounced “Briz-bin.”) Capital of Queensland, an inland area situated on a bend in the Brisbane River, Brissy is the third largest city in Australia. This was about all I knew about Brisbane before venturing northward for a visit over Anzac Day weekend. However, after a short time in the riverside town, I came to respect and enjoy what Brisbane had to offer.
Donnie and I left early Saturday morning to catch a Tigerair flight from Sydney. Tigerair is budget airline here, much like EasyJet (SleazyJet) or RyanAir in Europe. I was impressed with how quickly the boarding and take-off process was completed, and we did not have any issues with the airline, despite hearing some horror stories from other travelers. After a quick 1:10 flight, we landed in sunny (and much warmer) Brisbane.
Thanks to TripAdvisor reviews, we booked our weekend stay at the Meriton Serviced Apartments. The room was large, modern, clean, and very reasonably priced at $150 AUD per night. Bonus: We also had a partial river view.
After a quick bite at Guilty Rogue (where I had the best veggie/goat cheese/pesto sandwich ever) we headed down to the North Quay pier to jump on the CityHopper. I really appreciated how much effort the city has put into making their city accessible. The CityHopper is a ferry that’s free to ride (hop-on, hop-off style) up and down the river. They also have city-wide free wifi! We rode the full circuit on the CityHopper, which was a great way to get a feel for Brisbane, and some great views of the skyline.
After an hour or so on the river, we were ready to explore some more of the city and also take a little siesta since we got up super early for our flight. After resting up, we headed back to the river and headed down to nearby Hamilton to visit the Eat Street Markets.
The Eat Street Markets is a food market that is only open on Friday and Saturday nights (plus some Sunday afternoons in the winter) and features foods from around the world. The market is built out of shipping containers in an abandoned container wharf– kind of like stationary food trucks. After disembarking the CityCat, we took a leisurely 10 minute walk along the lighted riverside path before arriving at the Markets.
We arrived around 7:30 pm on Saturday evening to find the place absolutely packed with visitors. There was a live band playing, twinkling lights everywhere, and heavenly smells coming from every direction. We made a full lap, which was quite a feat considering the crowds, before deciding on an appetizer of Chinese dumplings and a pork bun, a main of taco salad/quesadillas, and a dessert of the most sinful little fried delights called “honey puffs.” I’ve never seen honey puffs in the States, although if they do exist or you should ever come across them, indulge immediately. Traditionally Greek (called Loukoumades) honey puffs are deep fried mini balls of dough, coated in honey, and in our case, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled in Nutella. Heaven in a styrofoam bowl.
After our international feast, we walked around to people watch and soak up the atmosphere. Even though it was difficult to navigate the crowds, everyone seemed to be having a fabulous time, eating, drinking, and enjoying the lovely night. I was grateful for the 15 minute walk to our bus stop when it was time to leave, although we probably needed more than a mile to walk off those kilojoules.
Sunday morning we woke up very excited to venture to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is in Fig Tree Pocket, about an hour bus ride from the CBD, and we were lucky to get a seat on the packed bus. Apparently everyone was dying to cuddle a koala!
Lone Pine was founded in 1927 with two koalas named Jack and Jill, and is now the world’s largest koala sanctuary with over 30 koalas currently in residence. There are also all kinds of other Aussie-native animals, including kangaroos, emus, dingos, parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, sheep, raptors, and a duckbill platypus. We were thrilled to see a duckbill platypus swimming around in his exhibit as they are almost always burrowed away and impossible to see. I’ll post a Lone Pine-specific blog later this week, but for now, how cute are these little guys?
After returning to Brisbane, we grabbed some pizza at Communal Bar and Eats. The prosciutto and parmesan was perfectly salty, savory, and cheesy.
We walked around the Queen Street Mall, which had some fun stores, although as the receptionist at our hotel told us, “It doesn’t really compare to shopping in Sydney, and definitely not to anything in the States, so you might just skip it…”
Once it was dark, it was time for a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane and a pre-dinner sparkling drink. Much like the London Eye, but on a much smaller scale, the Wheel of Brisbane is a ferris wheel located on the banks of the Brisbane River. The cars are enclosed, air conditioned, and private, which is a nice difference from the giant, crowded London Eye cars. (Also, Donnie didn’t knock down a little kid and make him cry like he did on the Eye, so that was a win!) The wheel makes several full rotations while a recording describes points of interest. We enjoyed the views and the drinks!
We loved Brisbane at night. The temperature was a perfect mid-20 degrees (low 70s) and the lights from the buildings and bridges reflected beautifully in the river. It was also so quiet and calm– quite a difference from Sydney.
After our ride on the Wheel, we headed to dinner. We grabbed a table at Ole, a tapas and Spanish restaurant on the Southbank. Once we had glasses of red sangria in hand and melt in your mouth buñuelos de queso on the table, we relaxed and noticed the gorgeous wooden ceiling. Almost all restaurants in Brisbane are either outside or open air, since the weather is typically warm year round, which reminds me of San Diego. The service was good but not rushed (it never seems to be hurried anywhere here so far) and we really enjoyed the beautiful night, almost as much as we enjoyed our seafood paella.
Monday dawned sunny and windy, mostly pleasant weather for Anzac Day, a national holiday here that commemorates the Australians and New Zealanders who served (and died) in war, much like Memorial Day in the States. We lined up with the crowds to watch the parade, full of service men and women, drum corps, and bands. It was difficult to get a good photo, but fun to watch!
After the parade, we attempted to take a bus to Mt. Coot-Tha. I say attempted because it was quite the journey. Due to the Anzac Day parade, several bus stops were temporarily relocated, even though no two sources seemed to agree on the new locations. After traversing dozens of blocks, waiting, seeing our bus zoom past, and one minor argument (it can get a bit stressful trying to figure out complicated transit when no one has a cellphone with any battery power left…) we finally made it on the 471 and headed out of town and up, up, up, to the Mt. Coot-Tha lookout.
The views were definitely worth the transportation disaster.
Once we made it back to the CBD, it was time for a quick stop at the Treasury Casino (where we won $11– yeah!) before we had to gather our bags from our hotel and jump on a train to the airport. Brisbane turned out to have a lot more to offer than we originally expected, and the city was (almost always) very easy to navigate. I’d give Brissy a 7 out of 10 for overall experience, and definitely recommend it as a place to visit if you are going to be in Australia for a while.