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Brisbane's Tourism Wows

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by Roy Chambers (subscribe)
Lover of all things interesting and new
Published January 18th 2016
Let's look for the Wow factor in Brisbane for tourists
Brisbane's tourism wows

One of the things that make a great tourist destination is the wow factor. Brisbane has trouble competing against other Australian cities simple because most tourists who arrive here have trouble finding the wow!.

Is Brisbane a good tourist city?
Is Brisbane a good tourist city?


But the wows are there, you just have to look and make some effort. So let's go in search of Brisbane's wows!

The Wow view: Kangaroo Point Cliffs

There are lots of places that tourists are directed to go to view the city. Obviously tourists should visit South Bank and head up Mount Coot-tha. But neither provide views that make you go "Wow!".

The view from Mt Coot-tha is nice but no Wow!
The view from Mt Coot-tha is nice but no Wow!


The best place to get a wow is on top of the Kangaroo Point cliffs. You are looking down on the gleaming towers of Eagle Street Pier, the green space of the City Botanic Gardens and numerous yachts moored on the river. Ferries make their way up and down the river carrying passengers. This is a great view during the day or night.

The view from the Kangaroo Point Cliffs makes tourists go wow!
The view from the Kangaroo Point Cliffs makes tourists go wow!


Unfortunately many tourists fail to head over to the cliffs as they have not been setup as a tourist attraction. There is the cliffs cafe and of course free electric barbecues, but that is not really enough to bring tourists to the cliffs.

The other great scenic wow is the view of the Wilson Outlook Reserve. From here you can see the city the way the post cards and promotional material show the city with the Story Bridge in the foreground.

The Story Bridge is a defining feature of Brisbane
The Story Bridge is a defining feature of Brisbane


Finally of course is on the deck of a ferry. This has to be the easiest way to see the city, especially if you take the free red ferry. The ferry staff always go out of their way to help tourists with both ticketing and suggestions about where to go.

The Wow Walk: For Central Station to Eagle Street Pier

Great tourism cities are places where you can walk around and feel transported to a different world. Brisbane is a city that is great to see on foot, but for most people walking around the city find it to be a dull and uninteresting place. However what really matters is how you walk the city.

Walking from Central Station through ANZAC square is one of the great Brisbane city walking tours
Walking from Central Station through ANZAC square is one of the great Brisbane city walking tours


My favourite walk through Brisbane starts at Central Station, goes through first ANZAC and then Post Office Squares. You then pass through a little alley to arrive at the the Cathedral of St Stephens.

The laneway across from Post Office Square
The laneway across from Post Office Square


Now this church and chapel try to stay open as much possible to the public except when private services are on. There is also lovely grounds providing one of the nicest green spaces in the city (as office workers during lunch time will attest to). From here you then make your way to the glass towers of Eagle Street Pier.

St Stephens is a lovely church and chapel worth visiting
St Stephens is a lovely church and chapel worth visiting


This walk alone takes you through several green spaces and historic locations to end up at the river. But you don't have to stop walking here. You can turn left and follow the river and the Riverwalk to New Farm, or turn right and head up to the Botanic Gardens.

From Eagle Street Pier you can take a ferry or walk along the river to your next Wow! destination
From Eagle Street Pier you can take a ferry or walk along the river to your next Wow! destination


You can also take the ferry across the river and easily escape the city at Kangaroo Point. Of you can just jump on a ferry and cruise the river. Remember the little red ferry is the free one.

The Wow activity: Climbing Kangaroo Point Cliffs

Part of being a tourist is doing something you wouldn't normally do. Most sensible people don't even think about climbing up a cliff or abseiling down it while visiting a city. But the moment most visitors see people tackling the cliffs at Kangaroo Point they want to try it themselves.

Climber tackling the Kangaroo Point Cliffs
Climber tackling the Kangaroo Point Cliffs


While not high, climbing the cliffs are reasonably difficult, though different areas are considered easier than others. If you don't have any cliff climbing experience you would be better off abseiling down. Both are fun experiences conducted by experienced guides.

Abseiling at Kangaroo Point
Abseiling at Kangaroo Point


These activities are handled through Riverlife at the base of the Kangaroo Point Cliffs. They also hire out kayaks, standup paddle boards and conduct Segway tours.

Kayaks and standup boards for hire at Riverlife
Kayaks and standup boards for hire at Riverlife


The Wow day trip: Moreton Island

You might argue that the best day trips from Brisbane are the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast. But then you could just fly directly to those places and stay there. However there are a fantastic number of other amazing day trips that are best accessed from Brisbane. Many of these have that wow factor.

Photo of Cape Moreton LIghthouse courtesy of Wikipedia (Philip Rickerby)
Photo of Cape Moreton LIghthouse courtesy of Wikipedia (Philip Rickerby)


However the day trip with the biggest wow has to be Moreton Island. It is possible to visit this island independently but most people do it as a tour. The more you pay the more is included in your tour.

Photo of dolphin feed at Moreton Island courtesy of Wikipedia (S. Newrick)
Photo of dolphin feed at Moreton Island courtesy of Wikipedia (S. Newrick)


So you have the ferry to the island, lunch, swimming with dolphins, snorkeling the Tangalooma Wrecks, sandboarding the world's highest coastal sand dune, paddling in clear kayaks and more. Or if you budget is an issue, you can just take the ferry and camp at one several campsites.

Of course there are other cheaper day trips, such as Island trips to Bribie or North Stradbroke Islands. Let's not forget the fun of just cruising the beautiful Moreton Bay and its many islands. If you have a car, it is easy to visit Mt Nebo, Mt Glorious, Toowoomba or the Scenic Rim. There is a many places near Brisbane that makes you go wow!

The Wow night out: Fortitude Valley

What makes a great tourist city is what you do at night. Brisbane has several night out districts, but the one with the Wow! factor is Fortitude Valley. The Valley provides a wide range of dining and entertainment options all in a single location. Though weekends are usually better than other nights, Thursday nights can be also attract crowds to certain locations.

Photo of Brisbane at night courtesy of Wikimedia (Lachlan Fearnley)
Photo of Brisbane at night courtesy of Wikimedia (Lachlan Fearnley)


So the start of a good night out is dinner. Fortitude Valley has everything from a cheap hot dog to the coolest restaurants in town. The best meals though in the Valley are either those cheap $10-15 meals you find in some of the pubs and cheaper joints, or the more innovative restaurants that you find around the Costin and Alfred Street areas. The China Town area has a wide range of Asian food, though normally of the westernised kind, rather than Authentic.

Around the China town mall there are a wide variety of Asian restaurants
Around the China town mall there are a wide variety of Asian restaurants


Entertainment varies including numerous strip clubs, live pub bands in places like The Elephant, through to the best night clubs in the city. There is basically something for everyone here. There are heavy metal bars and cabaret shows. There are grungy nightclubs and high end nightclub bars. There are backpacker joints and cool roof top bars. There is even a 24 hour karaoke bar, restaurant and games room at 2002 Cyber City.

The iconic McWhirthers Building in Fortitude Valley
The iconic McWhirthers Building in Fortitude Valley


For the timid, some early drinks in a better bar like Cloudland would bet he way to go, while real party people will start with cheap bears and burgers at a place like Taps in Brunswick Street and then seek out the action until late at night. While the Valley has a reputation for violence, most of it occurs very late at night.

Wow dining: West End

When I think of the wow factor when it comes to dining, I immediately think of districts full of great food rather than one dish or one location. The truth is that really Brisbane only has one special food anyway, which is the Moreton Bay Bug. Sure I like them, but there is nothing particularly wow about them.

Photo of Boundary Street in West End at night courtesy of Brisbane City Council
Photo of Boundary Street in West End at night courtesy of Brisbane City Council


When it comes to districts full of restaurants, Brisbane has quite a few locations for eating. South Bank of course springs to mind with its large array of mid-priced ranged dining. Fortitude Valley has already been mentioned, but it is more part of a night out partying. I think that the winner has to be West End.

The reason why West End wins is the Boundary Street Night Markets or Friday and Saturday night. There are other markets for food, but Boundary Street is the only one in the heart of a district famous for food and entertainment.

The Boundary Street Markets is a great place to find food, shopping and entertainment all in one place
The Boundary Street Markets is a great place to find food, shopping and entertainment all in one place


West End is a combination of hip, hipster and hippie and the choices for food reflect this. Every time we go to eat in West End there is always some other restaurant that we pass and consider coming back to next time. Definitely an interesting place to explore for food and cafes and it is a great place for live music.

The Secret Wow

When I travel to a new city, I often look for that secret location, a place that even people who are local or who have lived there for years don't know about. Though for tourists what counts as secret is simply a place that requires a little more effort to reach.

Brisbane is full of secret places and activities that are hard for a casual person to do. Cycling around the river is cool, but cycling the Boondall Wetlands has a great wow factor. Doing a walk at Mt Coot-tha is okay, but walking around Lake Enoggera followed by a swim has much more wow. Even when walking around the Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha, most people stick to the front part of the gardens and miss the beautiful native plant gardens at the rear because it is over a rise.

The cycle path at Boondall Wetlands
The cycle path at Boondall Wetlands


There are lots of little wows to be found in Brisbane. With numerous small and less visited islands. You can walk King Island at low tide, kayak around Coochimudlo Island in just two hours or go to on a ghost tour among the ruins of Brisbane's toughest prison on St Helena Island.

People walking on the sandbar from Wellington Point to King Island
People walking on the sandbar from Wellington Point to King Island


Then there are a range of fun markets around Brisbane. It is well worth checking all the different styles and times to find one that will give you a bit of a wow.

Northey Street City Farm markets is that unusual and quirky place worth visiting
Northey Street City Farm markets is that unusual and quirky place worth visiting


Is Brisbane a Wow! city?

Brisbane has quite a lot of Wow! The problem is that the wow is mostly in the wrong places. Tourist initiatives shuffle visitors to places where they can eat, shop, gamble and otherwise spend money. This tends to push people away from the more interesting locations.

Brisbane maybe just doesn't say
Brisbane maybe just doesn't say "wow"


Brisbane is more of a nice pleasant city than one that says wow. The best wows I think come from basing yourself in Brisbane and doing some of the great day trips that are best accessed from Brisbane.

Brisbane is more of a nice city
Brisbane is more of a nice city


Brisbane is also a city that is worth immersing yourself in and is well worth the effort. It is not always easy to just do interesting things in Brisbane. It is hard to rent a bicycle for the day near the best cycling locations. It is also a hassle getting around to all the places worth visiting. Yet I think Brisbane is worth visiting as part of any trip to South East Queensland.

Brisbane's Story Bridge
Brisbane's Story Bridge





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Your Comment
Hello Roy ! Love your collective articles - Being a newcomer to Brisbane I tried Moreton Bay bugs and here is where we have to disagree. They are such yummy things - almost on a par with Sand crabs and mud crabs. Perhaps even sweeter than lobsters. You need to try them again. Marina
by Marina Marangos (score: 2|503) 758 days ago
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