Follow Cristian Bonetto's tips on where to eat, drink and play in Brisbane
Brisbane is hot. White-hot. No longer staid 9-to-5er to its fun-loving neighbours, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Queensland's capital is now the main event. The city's booming dining, bar and music scenes are edging in on Melbourne and Sydney, all served up with a laid-back ease its larger rivals lack. Find your passport, book your flights and follow these tips for a perfect long-weekend stay in Australia's unexpected "It kid".
Day One | Modern art, sneaky hotspots and Valley pleasures
Start big at South Bank's GoMA (Gallery of Modern Art). Australia's largest gallery of modern and contemporary art, its ambitious exhibitions and Asia Pacific Triennial have motored Brisbane's transformation from charming provincial to cultured global citizen. Head to level three for epic skyline views and stop for an al fresco coffee beneath its giant riverside canopy, bush turkeys and ibises grazing around you.
Close by on Grey St, unassuming stairs whisk you up to Maeve Wine Bar. Don't be fooled by the Euro bistro vibe: the hero here is prime Australian produce, singing flawlessly in small plates of charred zucchini with labneh and blood plum-pimped chicken-liver parfait. If Maeve is closed, slip into its boisterous Latin neighbour Julius for perfectly charred, Neapolitan-style pizza.
Cross town to Fortitude Valley. Once a mess of dive bars and clubs, "The Valley" now garners national attention for its on-point restaurants, bars and hotels. Spend an hour or two exploring leafy James St, its crisp white facades and airy bars the epitome of new-school Brisbane style. Retail offerings are heavy on upmarket Aussie designers, among them fashion-forward Brisbanite Gail Sorronda. Post-shop, drop by Gerard's Bar for a lemon myrtle Americano, house-cured charcuterie and people-watching on the deck. While you could happily stay on – sampling chef Adam Wolfers' takes on Levantine flavours – you've smartly secured a reservation at brooding, Japanese-inspired Honto or next-level-Thai Same Same. Both exemplify 21st-century Brisbane: confident, progressive and bloody good fun.
The Valley is also the heart of Brisbane's formidable music scene, with venues like The Zoo and Fortitude Music Hall solid spots to tap into its wealth of indie, folk, rock and electro talent. In neighbouring Newstead, The Triffid – brainchild of ex-Powderfinger bassist John Collins – showcases local and touring acts in an old World War II hangar.
Day two | Bohemian wanders, cuddly critters and shipping-container eats
Start the morning in the shade of Moreton Bay Figs at West End Markets (formerly Davies Park Market), where musicians strum, locals linger and chatty vendors peddle everything from cheap crates of mangoes to artisan pastries, organic veges and locally made jewellery. Brunch at neighbouring Plenty West End, a graphics factory turned cafe-provedore plating nourishing, locavore grub. Alternatively, settle in at nearby Morning After, a crisp, light-filled space where your mushroom and leek croquettes come with truffle yoghurt.
If you plan on cooing over a marsupial or three, it's a 20-minute Uber ride (or one-hour bus trip) to suburban Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, home to more than 100 koalas, as well as kangaroos, wombats and other native pin-ups. If you'd rather stay in town, continue exploring West End's eclectic vibe, dropping into Jet Black Cat Music on Vulture St for killer edits of indie vinyl and Avid Reader on Boundary St for a thoughtful selection of books.
It's roughly a 15-minute walk north along Boundary St (which becomes Melbourne St) to South Bank Parklands, a little more if you stop for salted coconut and mango salsa gelato at Gelato Messina along the way. Regular buses also head in the same direction. Either way, kick back in the Parklands' subtropical greenery or (if you've brought togs and a towel) luxuriate in Brisbane's near-flawless weather at the park's artificial beach. Lockers and shower facilities make this a completely viable option.
Dried down, it's an unforgettable CityCat catamaran ride from South Bank Parklands to Northshore Hamilton, taking in Brisbane's towering skyscrapers, heritage-listed Story Bridge and blue-ribbon riverfront real estate en route. Your destination is the city's most novel dining experience: Eat Street Northshore, where shipping containers have found new life as a global street-food village, complete with bars, shops, bands and DJs.
Day three | River cycles and revived relics
Brisbane's magnificent, mangrove-tickled river really does demand more of your time. Rent a bike from Riverlife in Kangaroo Point and follow the waterfront path north around the Kangaroo Point Peninsula. Veer right on to Dockside Walk and left into Ferry St to reach the southern entry to Story Bridge. While that Manhattan-esque view to your left is hypnotic, concentrate on crossing the bridge and turn right into New Farm's Bowen Tce, where an equally spectacular backdrop rewards. Pull yourself away, if only for the flawless pain aux raisins at nearby bakery Chouquette.
New Farm's sleepy streets are speckled with distinctive old Queenslander-style villas. Elevated abodes of timber and corrugated iron, their deep verandas, delicate fretwork, wooden screens and louvres imbue a heady, tropical magic that's a little Malay Kampong, a little Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The vernacular style dots Mark St, which leads to New Farm Park – awash with figs, jacarandas and fiery orange poincianas – and the adjacent Brisbane Powerhouse. Once a derelict power station, the latter is now a thriving arts centre. Take in its art-slung industrial innards, sip a speciality coffee at its riverfront cafe-bar, then pedal south along the riverfront, detouring momentarily along Oxlade Dr and Griffith St to reach Brisbane Riverwalk.
Connecting New Farm to the city, this 870m bike-and-pedestrian path weaves its way directly over the water, rolling out a prime-time panorama of Kangaroo Point, New Farm and central Brisbane. The pathway flows seamlessly into wharfage-turned-hotspot dining district Howard Smith Wharves, where a cooling ale awaits at gastro-brewery Felons Brewing Co. The best seat in the house is on the rustic timber deck, directly below Story Bridge. Linger awhile, drink up the languid waterfront scene and contemplate the good fortune of those 2.5 million Brisbanites.
Air New Zealand flies non-stop daily to Brisbane from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Qantas flies non-stop daily from Auckland and several times weekly from Christchurch.
TransLink runs city trains, buses, catamarans and ferries. Rechargeable electronic "go cards" are valid on all TransLink services, including Airtrain services to/from the airport. Three and five-day "go SeeQ" cards (adult A$79/129) offer unlimited travel on all TransLink services. Purchase cards at Brisbane Airport. translink.com.au