Brisbane, the new powerhouse of Australian tourism, is really starting to flex its come-and-see-me muscles – with destination hotels, outstanding dining and drinking venues, shopping and exclusive, must-see events this winter and spring.
With the transtasman bubble now wide open, it's a great time to be planning that trip across the ditch. But if it's one of the big cities you want to visit, forget the wintry climes of Sydney and Melbourne: with its subtropical climate, luxury hotels and a booming arts and culture scene, Brisbane should be at the top of any savvy traveller's list.
Rob Unson, general manager of The Calile Hotel in Brisbane's trendy James Street precinct, moved from Melbourne to Brisbane in late 2019, right before the pandemic hit – and never looked back: "It's one of the best decisions I've ever made. The weather is incredible, even in winter, and with so many new developments in the city, you can build an entire holiday around a very small part of Brisbane."
The Calile Hotel is a destination in itself, offering the best of both worlds: resort-style poolside glamour and close proximity to Brisbane's bustling inner city. It's oozing with thoughtful design touches like custom-crafted oak furnishings, marble surfaces and brushed brass accents in each room.
"Most five-star luxury hotels are about the room or the service, which we are too, but at The Calile it's also about the design element across the board," says Unson, adding that the architecture of the hotel celebrates its location in the James Street precinct.
"There are a lot of open-air spaces, whether you've got a pool view room with a big balcony or one of the city view rooms with a Juliet balcony. This indoor-outdoor element means you always have that sense of your surroundings in wonderful Brisbane."
The poolside at The Calile Hotel is also home to Hellenika, a restaurant that's made a name for itself as some of the best traditional Greek food you'll find in the city. There's also an impressive wine list, including a number of Greek varietals.
But The Calile isn't the only hotel with a diverse offering – also in the area is the indulgent Hotel X, home to Brisbane's newest rooftop bar, Iris Rooftop, as well as French brasserie and aperitivo bar Bisou Bisou.
Lining the river just a stone's throw away, the Fantauzzo Art Series hotel is located in the buzzing Howard Smith Wharves food and entertainment precinct; the iconic 312-room W Brisbane, in all its eclectic glory; and the boutique Emporium Hotel South Bank, complete with an unmissable rooftop infinity pool.
Food and drinks worth flying for
If you can't make it in time for Dine BNE City (Brisbane's newest celebration of the best fine dining the city has to offer), don't worry – there are plenty of other food- and wine-centric events to plan a trip around.
Lighting up South Bank Parklands three times this year is Regional Flavours, a premium food happening in Brisbane with special events, immersive experiences and a celebration of Australia's top chefs, cuisine, makers and producers. In June, Regional Flavours serves up Grazed and Grown, showcasing Australia's top makers and chefs; in August, Global Fiesta explores international food trends; and in October, Providore Park promises to be a glutton's haven with a focus on wine, cheese and chocolate.
In July, the Night Noodle Markets return to Brisbane's City Botanic Gardens as part of Good Food Month – now in its eighth year – not to mention delectable collaborations like Shane Delia at Gerard's Bistro, punk-rock queen of vegetarian cuisine Shannon Martinez at Za Za Ta and Scenic Rim Eat Local Week from June 26 – July 4.
Art, music, fashion & fun
If it's music and arts you want to experience, Brisbane has plenty of options. For years, music fans and influential industry figures from all over the globe have been travelling to Brisbane for the annual BIGSOUND music festival and conference. After a hugely successful virtual event last year, the festival returns to 'IRL' venues across Fortitude Valley this September, with over 150 artists to be announced soon.
Unmissable on the art calendar in Brisbane this year is the European Masterpieces from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: a world exclusive exhibition at GOMA showcasing a breathtaking journey spanning 500 years, from the Renaissance to 20th-century post-impressionism. This once-in-a-lifetime art experience will give visitors the opportunity to see works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Turner, Degar, Renoir, Cézanne, and Monet, direct from The Met's collection that rarely leaves the Big Apple.
Elsewhere, the Brisbane Powerhouse continues its explosive programme with the Brisbane Comedy Festival, while the Queensland Performing Arts Centre brings a rich range of live performances from some of the state's best performing arts organisations.
Our hot tips for QPAC's 2021 season? Queensland Ballet's rendition of Sleeping Beauty in June; the world-renowned West Side Story in July; or the premiere adaptation of blockbuster Australian novel Trent Dalton's Boy Swallows Universe, brought to QPAC's Playhouse stage by Queensland Theatre and Brisbane Festival, which brings the city to life in August and September.
If it's style you want, then style you'll get at the Brisbane Fashion Festival in August, taking the runway to the streets in King George Square in the heart of the city. Keep an eye out for the official programme announcement on June 1.
World-class sporting destination
With Brisbane a frontrunner to secure the 2032 Olympic Games, there's no question about the city's status as one of the world's premier sporting destinations. Not to mention that last year, for the first time in 123 years, the AFL Grand Final was played outside Victoria – with Brisbane's Gabba stadium beating bids from Western Australia, South Australia and other Queensland cities.
With rumours abound that the Warriors will stay in Australia for the rest of the season, Kiwi NRL fans won't be able to catch our mighty Warriors back on home ground until at least July. Until then, the games continue on Aussie soil – plus a Brisbane-based clash in August against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium.
Worth a look elsewhere are the Brisbane Cycling Festival in July, as well as the Nitro World Games in October, showcasing the best in FMX, BMX, skateboarding and scooters.
Back at the Calile Hotel, Rob Unson says: "The best thing about Brisbane is being able to do so many different kinds of activities without having to travel far."
"Whether it's cafes and restaurants, shopping, sports, or hanging out with friends down at the wharfs… what we have on offer here in Brisbane is of the same calibre as what you can get internationally."