South Bank, Brisbane, Queensland
Explore Brisbane's sophisticated city centre and the bohemian neighbourhood of Fortitude Valley before a day of adventure on Moreton Island.
By Ellie Schneider
What to expect
- Discover the Queensland arts scene at South Bank
- Shop at markets and one-off boutiques
- Visit idyllic Moreton Island
- Time: 3 days
- Distance: 70 kilometres (43 miles)
- Transport: car and ferry
- Nearest major city: Brisbane
- Price: $$
Along with lush parks and laid-back locals, this is a city with serious cultural credentials and first-class dining. Wander through the galleries at South Bank, explore the eclectic streets of Fortitude Valley, and on your last day, lose yourself to nature in the aquatic playground of Moreton Island.
Day 1: Culture and cruising
Begin your holiday in downtown Brisbane, a mix of gracious old buildings, sleek skyscrapers and grassy parks. Browse the heritage arcades and 700-plus stores on Queen Street Mall, the city's shopping hub. Around the corner lies the elegant former Treasury Building, now home to a casino, hotel, bars and restaurants. Join a free guided tour of Brisbane City Hall (daily at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1.30pm, 2.20pm and 3.30pm) then get a bird's-eye view of the city on a tour up the City Hall clock tower. From here it’s a 10 minute walk to North Quay wharf, where you can hop on the free five minute ferry to South Bank. the CityHopper service offers free ferries that run every 30 minutes between 6am and midnight. Once you’ve arrived at South Bank, sit down to lunch at Stokehouse Q, and enjoy its Mediterranean-style menu with unbeatable riverside views.
Within the South Bank Parklands you'll find Streets Beach, Australia's only inner city man-made beach. Take a dip in the sparkling lagoon waters or just relax on powder white sand. Alternatively, submerge yourself in culture at major institutions including Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) and Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). Stay on after dusk for a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane overlooking the city's glittering sprawl. Or return in your evening finery for a blockbuster musical, cutting-edge play or performance of opera, orchestra or ballet at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Before the show, enjoy paddock-to-plate dining at Fish Lane Bistro, at the Fox Hotel, or cocktails upstairs at Dandy’s Rooftop.
Day 2: Fortitude Valley and views
The bustling neighbourhood of Fortitude Valley is loved for its alfresco cafés, one-off boutiques and vibrant live music scene. From the city centre the Valley is a 25 minute walk along Ann Street, or you can hop on the two minute train ride from Central Station. For breakfast try French toast with caramelised orange and vanilla mascarpone at King Arthur Café then browse more than 130 specialty stores along tree-lined James Street. Here you'll find high-end Australian designers such as Scanlan & Theodore, Zimmermann and Lee Mathews. On Saturdays don't miss the Fortitude Valley Markets (9am to 4pm), where up-and-coming local designers showcase their wares. Expect a mix of fashion, art, accessories and vintage.
From the city it’s a 15 minute drive to Brisbane Lookout at Mt Coot-tha, where on a clear day, views extend across Brisbane to the Moreton Bay islands. Follow one of the bushland walking trails – such as the one kilometre (0.6 mile) Aboriginal Art Trail – then visit the subtropical Brisbane Botanic Gardens at the foot of the mountains. Catch the bus back to the city. Book in advance for the five or eight course tasting menu at lauded restaurant Urbane or tuck into Levantine-style share plates at Gerard’s Bistro, back in Fortitude Valley. Alternatively, check out what's on at Brisbane Powerhouse, a 1920s power station that has been converted into a contemporary arts centre. Its year-round program features live music, comedy, film, cabaret and theatre.
Day 3: Relax on Moreton Island
Brisbane's coastline is dotted with picturesque atolls, all within easy reach of the city centre. Moreton Island is one of the world's largest sand islands, offering uncrowded beaches, sparkling lagoons and walking trails. Ferries depart from Port of Brisbane and take about 75 minutes. Once you’ve arrived you can chill out on sandy beaches or take a short walk to Blue Lagoon or Honeyeater Lake, where you can swim and spot flocks of waterbirds. Follow the 1.3 kilometre (0.8 mile) circuit route to Cape Moreton and see Queensland's oldest lighthouse, built in 1857. If it's between June and November, keep a lookout for migrating whales. Grab a bite at the Castaways Store & Café, located in the small township of Bulwer.
Moreton Island is home to 15 sunken shipwrecks, creating spectacular snorkelling sites with colourful fish and marine life. For diving, Flinders Reef has more than 100 different coral species about five kilometres (3.1 miles) north-west of Cape Moreton. Tangatours at Tangalooma Resort offers snorkelling and diving equipment hire and a great range of tours and activities, including stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and beach bikes. If you're looking for adventure, climb Mount Tempest, the highest vegetated sand dune in the world. You’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views and can get your thrills tobogganing down. Hand feed the wild bottlenose dolphins that swim up to Tangalooma Beach every evening, then sleep under the stars at one of the campsites on the island. Alternatively, you can jump back on the ferry in the afternoon for a night of multicultural dining in Brisbane’s West End – tuck into pan-Asian street food at Chop Chop Chang’s.
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