As more and more people live and work in the suburbs, visiting the city centre of Brisbane is something that a lot of people rarely do. So turn the local travel rules on their heads and instead of heading to the countryside, why not have a city weekend in Brisbane.
Sometimes the best break away is to go to the centre of the action
There are people who want a relaxing weekend and others who want a bit of action. The city centre of Brisbane offers luxury hotel rooms at discount prices on weekends as Brisbane doesn't really attract a lot of tourists on the weekend. This gives you the chance to relax in comfort on a budget. In addition, once in the city centre, you are in walking distance to a lot of activities and attractions.
Whether you are from the outer suburbs or from another town, city or country, The River City can be a great place to spend the weekend
The best reason is getting into a staycation mindset. Spending a weekend in the city means not worrying about anything, walking to everything, and doing as little or as much as you want.
Oh, also at the time of writing this, most local travellers are heading to the countryside and avoiding the city and international travellers are not coming. So cities all around the country are desperate for travellers, so it is the perfect time for a city weekend.
Hotels and accommodation
There are lots of hotels in the city, along with a fair selection of Airbnb and other short-stay rental accommodation. I am going to focus on hotels, as Airbnb is good for longer stays where you are going to cook or where you want something really cheap, like a room in an apartment with other people.
Because Brisbane tends to be a business destination, hotels are often very cheap over the weekend. You can find good prices online, and if you wait till the last minute or even the day you plan to go, hotels will drop their prices to fill up empty rooms. But don't just book online, ring the hotel and negotiate deals. Ask for guaranteed late checkout on Sundays (few people check in on Sundays, so that is easy for them), negotiate for inclusions like breakfast or even free bottles of wine when you arrive (turns out, wineries send restaurants and hotels free bottles of wine all the time, so it costs them nothing to put a bottle of bubbly in your room) and course, many hotels will offer you a suite for not much more than a standard room if it is not booked.
Where to stay exactly
When you think of the city in Brisbane, the CBD stands out as the main place to stay, especially with the hotels near the City Botanic Gardens. While there are hotels closer to Queen Street Mall or Sofitel over Central Station, nothing beats the park and river view. This also gives you easy access to the high-end bars and restaurants in that area.
Sofitel is in a central location over Central Station, but I prefer the hotels near the City Botanic Gardens
Across the river at South Bank, you will find a growing collection of hotels that are just a casual stroll over the river to the city. South Bank also has lots of places to eat and is close to the theatres, museums and art galleries.
Then, of course, you can also consider Fortitude Valley. While not strictly speaking the city, it is where the action is when it comes to bars, nightclubs and restaurants. It is more of a walk than a stroll to the city and on to South Bank, but it is a spot well worth considering if you are heading into the city for action, as the CBD gets a little quiet at times on weekends.
Eating & Drinking
This is mostly just me, but while I love to eat in hotel restaurants, I usually avoid eating in the same hotel I am staying in. Having said that, there are lots of hotels with great options for breakfast buffets, lunch and dinner, as well as of course high tea.
Some legendary breakfasts include Walnut in the Royal on the Park and Thyme 2 at Sofitel. While there are lots of places for high tea, but the Treasury Heritage Hotel is famous for a bit of traditional style.
Sometimes the best option is to focus on the bars as a reason to choose a hotel. For example, the Mercure Hotel has the Sixteen Antlers Rooftop Bar. More and more hotels are adding feature bars that can seal the deal for many people looking for a city weekend.
There are three nightlife areas that can make a stay in the city worthwhile. In the CBD, nightlife is focused on pub-style locations, with a number of pubs around the city, but with the better pubs and bars being at Eagle Street Pier, such as the Jade Buddha. But let's not forget the growing number of rooftop bars in the city and of course, the new Howard Smith Wharves area.
Fortitude Valley is Brisbane's adult playground. Quite literally, with bars where you can play mini-golf, darts or computer games, you can do more than just drink, dance and listen to music here, though there plenty of places for that as well.
An alternative place for a good night out is South Brisbane through to West End. This is where you get more live music and entertainment. A favourite spot is the Fox Hotel, where you can have a quiet drink on the ground floor or party on the rooftop.
There is always something happening in the city and if there is one thing that gets people into the city or to visit another city in Australia is an event. So if you need an excuse, or have to find something to entice others to join you in the city, finding a great event makes it worthwhile.
Of course, the complication is that if there is a major festival, many other people will have the same idea and hotel prices will go up and book out early. But then a great show at QPAC or the performance of your favourite band in a venue in or near the city is a good enough reason to enjoy the city for the weekend.
There are always big and small events on somewhere in Brisbane City
While you are visiting the city, checkout WeekendNotes and other sites to find out what else is going on. You are likely to find some entertainment in a park or special exhibition on at a gallery or museum.
There are a range of permanent and temporary attractions in the city. There are, of course, the City Botanic Gardens and the lovely Roma Street Parklands. Kangaroo Point provides the perfect view of the city and it is part of the Art and the River public art trail. You can also follow the city art trail or various heritage walks.
There are also quite a few art galleries and museums, including GoMA and the Queensland Art Gallery for art. You can also duck into QUT's little art gallery or check out the exhibitions on at the State Library of Queensland.
There is always some interesting exhibition at one of the Galleries in the Cultural Centre
The main museum is the Queensland Museum, which often has dynamic interactive displays that are great for the young and the young at heart. Also, don't forget the Brisbane Museum and the MacArthur Museum. When at the Brisbane Museum, you can look around City Hall and head up the clock tower for views of the city.
Don't forget to check for any temporary exhibits or attractions that might be on. These can include pop-up galleries or public street art exhibitions. Watch Weekend Notes for information any upcoming art events.
The city is actually a very active place with something for everyone. Going for a walk along the river is actually pretty relaxing, even if lots of other people have the same idea. But why not rent a CityCycle bike or one of the electric scooters and cruise further afield!
Riverlife at Kangaroo Point offers a wide range of activities, including kayaking the river, as well as climbing up or abseiling down the cliffs. You can also do a Story Bridge Climb, join a Segway tour and much more.
Kayaking through the heart of the city is just one of many Brisbane City based activities
There are lots of other free or low-cost activities on in the city area. I have learned both salsa and ballroom dancing for free at South Bank. Zumba is popular in the parks and there are various exercise classes and boot camps on. You need to check out the information from the Brisbane city council in advance.
There is nothing wrong with being a bit touristy in your own city. To be honest, there are not a lot of things in Brisbane that only tourists do in Brisbane with most places also popular among locals as well. If there is something locals avoid, it will be tours. Maybe you are going to jump on a river cruise, follow a ghost tour of the city, or motor around with a Segway tour. You can also jump on a Green Cab pedal rickshaw to get around the city in style with your choice of blaring music.
While a weekend in the city might seem like the opposite of a family weekend destination, there is a lot to see and do in the city. GoMA's art exhibitions often include items and information aimed at kids, including an area set aside for younger attendees (which can also be enjoyed by the young at heart). The Queensland Museum also includes a lot for kids to do, though it can depend on what the current exhibition is. You will also find the Brisbane Museum is often fairly interesting for kids too, with many exhibitions having interactive exhibits.
The city and South Bank have lots of activities for families and kids
If you want, you can keep it pretty simple. Your kids can swim at South Bank's artificial beach, have fun at South Bank's playground. Then you can just let them run around one of Brisbane's parks while you sit under a tree and relax. I recommend Roma Street Parkland for this.
If a stay in a luxury hotel in the city isn't romantic enough for you, then there are plenty of other options for couples in Brisbane. Many of them revolve around the river. The Kangaroo Point Cliffs provides the best view of Brisbane, and you can enjoy a romantic view with a nice meal there at Joey's at the Cliff's Park, or enjoy a picnic or barbecue on the cliffs or in the park down below.
A bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, Brisbane City lights reflected in the river, and thee
A river cruise is a great romantic option. Most people will go for one of the Kookaburra Showboat Cruises, which combine meals, views and good music. There are also Gondola river cruises for something more intimate but which are of course, a lot more expensive.
For something simple, then a ride in a Wheel of Brisbane is a good idea. Always look on Groupon or other discount sites for tickets unless you want to pay full price. The best romantic option is the VIP Gondola, which includes luxury seats and sparkling wine.
City weekends are the local travel option that lots of people seem to forget about. They certainly beat driving out of the city and back again and you can often you can get a great deal on good hotels on the weekend. Brisbane might not be Australia's most exciting city, but it can still be worth a weekend.
Just a quick note. Yes, I wrote this article during the COVID times, but I wrote it in a fairly general way as these articles stay up on Weekend Notes for years. For COVID times
- Yes, city centres can be a source of infection, but it is more about crowded indoor venues and gatherings or friends than the city itself.
- Watch the news and follow health alerts. At the time of writing, things are not only open, but opening further and life appears to be almost normal.
- As far as I can tell, everything I listed here is open or still ongoing. Had to drop a few of my favourite places just because of the times.
- Free events during the COVID times often need to be booked ahead so that they can trace everyone and control numbers. So be aware of that when planning to go to the city for an event.