Skyscrapers and bush land: The lure of Brisbane’s green metropolis

Australia’s most biologically diverse state capital has sprawling green spaces and pathways along its riverbanks, which are home to parks, picnics and parties


The choice of Brisbane for November’s G20 summit shows just how far the Queensland capital has come from sleepy town to pulsing Asia-Pacific hub.

Up to a decade ago, Brisbane barely beckoned, but rather crumpled you under the weight of its dreary rural atmosphere. It had done little to capitalise on the gorgeous riverside setting or the balmy and barefoot year round sub-tropical climate.

Today all that has changed. Underpinned by vigorous local government and foreign investments, Australia’s third-biggest metropolis is flourishing with inspired architecture, sleek design, on-the-plate dining and hip new hotels.

A thriving cultural scene, indoors and out, is matched by a spirited sporting life, mushrooming cycle paths and much public picnicking and partying, all hinging on the sultry watery location.

The Brisbane river meanders through the city around a series of headlands. A vital source of food and connectivity for indigenous tribes for centuries, today it is a ticket to ride through one of Australia’s greenest urban settings, where skyscrapers mix with bush land. With 1,820 parks and gardens, Brisbane claims to be Australia’s most biologically diverse capital and wants to be its greenest by 2026 – carbon neutral and crammed with trees.

Sprawling green spaces and multipurpose pathways flank the riverbanks north and south. Lap up the city’s watery character by boat, foot, ferry and footbridge. The efficient river transport system connects the city and neighbourhoods in a seamless and most pleasurable manner.

From the CBD, you can hop on and off the free CityFerries and CityCats around a network of 24 terminals and visit villages, parks, museums, cafés and shops.

Well into the 1990s, Brisbane was a mall city of pedestrian concerns and mostly squat buildings. One exception was a 1970s skyscraper on the Queen Street Mall – home for 40 years to the Chifley at Lennons hotel. A €37 million facelift has morphed it into a Next Hotel – a traveller’s cocoon of warm toned travertine, walnut woods and world time zone based design – which opened in early October. The transformation is symbolic of Brisbane’s as a whole.

Drab pockets of the central business district (CBD) have been transformed. Nudging the Roma Street transit hub, derelict railway yards have been converted into an oasis of ponds and forest at the Roma Street Parkland. There is also the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens – jutting into the river at the end of Gardens Point, the wifi-served space is great for morning workouts amid exotic Queensland native plants such as huge bunya-bunya pine trees (conifers with pineapple-like dark green cones).

The CBD is a mishmash of 1970s malls, ultra-modern glassy office towers, 19th- century church spires and steel-clad espresso bars. An anachronism among the skyscrapers, the convict-built Commissariat Store at 115 William Street harks back to 1829. It has a small museum dedicated to colonial history (entry $6;

For more of a dunking into the city’s past, the City Heritage Trail takes in 26 points of interest from its Queen Street start. The Contemporary Art and Architecture Public Art Trail is one of several other signposted walks, with maps available online (brisbane.qld.

Riverside Eagle Street is the heart of the financial and legal district and where the business crowd heads to unwind. It is home to a couple of the city’s best restaurants, with stunning locations. Near the old Customs House and St John’s Cathedral, Esquire, at 145 Eagle Street ( au), dishes up contemporary cuisine in a sleek setting of marble, polished concrete and suspended hand-blown glass ball lights.

For ritzier dining, Aria (ariarestaurant. com), is at 1 Eagle Street, in a white curved building, with views, mood lighting and an award- winning Australian chef in Matt Moran. The menu lists European classics made with local produce – try the duck consommé with miso-cured duck, Moreton Bay bug and snow peas.

Across the river, major cultural institutions centre on South Bank, an easy walk or ferry ride from the CBD. The free CityHopper ferry service runs from the CBD’s North Quay and Eagle Street piers to the Queensland Maritime Museum and South Bank Parklands, every 30 minutes from 6am to about midnight daily – see brisbane. for a timetable.

The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art ( are in the eye-catching, white stone Cultural Precinct on Stanley Place. CityCat and standard ferry services land at the South Bank One terminal is within 500 metres of the galleries, while the CityHopper arrives at South Bank 3, a 1km riverside stroll to Qagoma, as they are collectively known. Entry is free except to special exhibitions.

One current highlight is Terrain (until September 2015 at Goma), an exploration of the aesthetic influences of land and nature on indigenous artists, open daily from 10am-5pm. The child-friendly Southbank Parklands strip has public barbecue facilities, a Nepalese pagoda and a “Liana Lounge” – recycled plastic seating inspired by Queensland rainforest plants. The strip is home to the state’s symphony orchestra ( and the Maritime Museum (

You could also check out what’s on at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (qpac. com au), which hosts dance, musicals, opera and free outdoor jazz jam sessions.

A tad scruffy to some, a bohemian, artsy melting pot for others, West End lies on the same foot-shaped point as South Bank. Either walk there or hop aboard a ferry for another three stops. Come here for Vietnamese food or to browse its vintage shops and art galleries. This is also a good weekend hangout, with a Saturday market in riverside Davies Park from 6am to 2pm. Shop for jewellery, pre-loved clothes, fruit and veg and home-baked treats under the giant Moreton Bay fig trees.

The zone has a curiosity cabinet of eateries. For breakfast or lunch, try Plenty (284 Montague Road), a farm-to-plate café- cum-food market with rustic wooden tables and pallets of organic pressed olive oil. The Gunshop Café (53 Mollison Street; serves up stiff espresso in another post-industrial architectural marvel of brick and wood.

Urban walking enthusiasts should consider a circuit trail through the Botanic Gardens, past Parliament House and Old Government House, over the bike and pedestrian Goodwill Bridge, through South Bank and on to West End. Cross back to the CBD via the solar-powered, Led-lit Kurilpa footbridge, nicknamed “Sticks Bridge” because of its spiky appearance.

Upstream from the CBD, the former rural area of New Farm and Teneriffe is a buzzy mix of gardens, brightly painted Queenslander houses on flood-defying stilts, live music, pop-up markets, haute fashion and wine bars. Take the CityHopper to Sydney Street or the CityCat and cross-river ferry services to Brunswick Street. All will deposit you near the riverside New Farm Park, where says management, 18,000 people flood every week from all over Brisbane, “to picnic, play, eat, dance, ponder, gaze and wonder at the true magnificence of the Park”.

Another few paddles upstream, the old wool stores and warehouses of Teneriffe have morphed into a chic, leafy zone of cafés, bars and boutiques. A cluster of CityCycle stations for the Brisbane bike-share scheme ( can be found in the Macquarie Street vicinity. Several streets away from the waterfront is James Street, a bustling strip of concept stores and delis, with a covered market and free Wi-Fi along the whole stretch.

Also on the south side, Kangaroo Point is the place to go for sensational skylines and cliff-side jogging and walking tracks.

If you fancy some adrenaline-stirring adventure, Riverlife ( offers everything from abseiling to kayaking, as well as bike rental.

You can also walk or cycle the 2.4km Art and the River Public Art Trail from the Maritime Museum along the Kangaroo Point boardwalk, to the Thornton Street ferry terminal, darting to the top of the cliffs at Kangaroo Point Park for a full river and city panorama.

Taking a ferry upriver, the skyline fades and bushland reserves surge. A relaxed community of wide tree-lined avenues and creek-side biking and hiking trails, Bulimba is, along with New Farm, one of Brisbane’s most sought-after suburbs.

To kick back with the locals, head to Bulimba Memorial Park, or Vic Lucas Park out on the point. The former comes out tops if you are travelling with children, the latter for its bushy riverside immersion.

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