Just across the river from the city centre is Brisbane's favourite playground, full of fascinating culture, fabulous dining and plenty of fun to be had.
By Jac Taylor
The vibrant, always popular precinct along Brisbane’s southern riverbank is a must-see for international visitors wanting a taste of this sun-loving city’s more leisurely side. South Bank is home to many of Queensland’s cultural institutions, dozens of eateries offering a world of culinary options, a beautiful parkland where you can get as lively or relaxed as you like, and countless community projects, from cityside mini-farms to eclectic markets and live entertainment.
- Lose yourself for a day drifting through the many galleries and cultural spaces
- Make the most of the famous Queensland sunshine, in South Bank's parks, gardens and swimming spots
- Spoil yourself in the many bars and restaurants, in the laneways or overlooking the water
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Top things to do in South Bank
Catch some culture
South Bank is Brisbane's cultural centre, with Grey Street and its Cultural Forecourt collectively home to such institutions as the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre, and the State Library of Queensland. Catch a live performance of ballet, music or theatre at QPAC (the Queensland Performing Arts Centre) and see groundbreaking visual art exhibitions and famous visiting international artworks at the innovative QAGOMA (the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art). Queensland's symphony orchestra and opera company can also be found here.
Swim at an inner city beach
Stroll the streets of South Bank and you'll come upon a beautiful freshwater lagoon lapping at a white sandy beach among subtropical greenery. Amazingly, Streets Beach – right on the waterfront, surrounded by restaurants – is man-made, and a favourite spot for locals who come to sit in the sunshine and enjoy a lunchtime swim in the city. Both the beach and lagoon, which is as big as five Olympic swimming pools, are free to use. Lifeguards patrol the beach during opening hours (which change seasonally). Next door is a second swimming spot, the tranquil Boat Pool, also free for visitors.
Visit the Epicurious Garden
This is a city that absolutely loves its food – and that includes appreciating where it comes from. Accordingly, a large part of the formal gardens of South Bank were dug up a couple of years ago to make way for what amounts to a giant vegetable patch. Over its 1500 square metre (1794 square yard) area and 30 garden beds, the Epicurious Garden grows everything from figs, herbs and avocado to corn, papaya and sunflowers, in an environment where kids can touch, taste and learn about where food comes from. From Tuesday to Thursday, free samples of produce are available to try on the harvest cart by the garden beds. Watch a cooking demonstration, learn about Brisbane's subtropical climate or simply lie on the grass and smell the herbs on the breeze.
Dine at Brisbane's best
The welcoming carpet of grass and surrounding waterfront area that form River Quay Green serve as both outdoor space and backdrop for some of the city's finest restaurants. Gaze across the river at the city skyline at sunset as you dine on award-winning cuisine at five alfresco-loving restaurants: the seafood and Mediterranean-styled Stokehouse Q, Asian-Australian fusion among the Balinese-inspired daybeds of The Jetty, the classic French fare and relaxed ambience of Aquitaine Brasserie, an urbane take on Italian cuisine at Popolo Italian Kitchen and Bar, and the precinct's newest resident, River Quay Fish, dishing up Brisbane’s famous fresh seafood with style.
Enjoy free family fun
Thanks to a host of complimentary activities and venues, you can enjoy a day or a week in South Bank with the whole family without a care in the world. As well as two modern playgrounds – including the Picnic Island Green playground set among giant fig trees – the kids can splash out in the lifeguard-protected pool and interactive fountains at Aquativity water park or explore the exotic, hand-carved Nepalese Peace Pagoda. Admission to the Queensland Museum is free, including its ongoing dinosaur-laden Lost Creatures exhibition, and South Bank’s Little Days Out program offers free activities, from sports to art workshops, every Thursday morning from 9am until 1pm.
Explore Fish Lane's cosmopolitan secrets
Duck into the cosy and cool Fish Lane, a lively alleyway stretching along six gloriously eclectic city blocks from South Bank all the way to West End, and find tiny bespoke bars, popular eateries, and Brisbane life at its most up to the minute. Just steps from QPAC, the Fox Hotel contains one of the city's iconic rooftop bars. There's great dining at Fish Lane Bistro, and in the art gallery and design space of Fish Lane Creative Studios visitors are equally likely to see an art installation or avant garde performance. Further down the laneway, past Merivale Street, breathe in and squeeze into the intimate bar, Maker; it's dedicated to local produce, Australian wines and spirits, and house-made liqueurs.
Experience the sights and sounds of the city
At any time of year you can enjoy performances by local and international music acts thanks to Australia’s biggest live music program, City Sounds. The music starts at 3pm every Saturday in nine locations across South Bank. Enjoy the acoustics of the Liana Lounge walk-in art piece that acts as an amphitheatre for live acts, or settle in at the Cultural Forecourt or on the Central Café Lawns. Every September the citywide Brisbane Festival ends with a bang with the spectacular Sunsuper Riverfire fireworks display, and South Bank is one of the most popular vantage points, offering a carnival atmosphere and free public transport for almost half a million spectators who flock along the shores of the river for the free show.
How to get there
South Bank is an easy 10 minute walk across Victoria Bridge from Brisbane's centre. You can also take a short ferry ride from North Quay to South Bank ferry terminal 2 or 3.