What’s the best way on how to spend one day in Brisbane, Australia? Free! Here are 10 things to do in Brisbane, without a car, for a fun-filled day, solo or not.
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When to Go to Brisbane
Touted for its fabulous weather year-round, early October in Australia is the shoulder travel season and a great time to avoid higher costs and tourist crowds, which I mention in my Australia travel guide. When I was in Brisbane (after Cairns and Noosa) in October the weather was amazing – sunny with highs in the 70’s F (25 -26 C) during the day that didn’t dip far in the evening.
If you’re on a budget, try to book further in advance to open up more accommodation options at cheaper prices.
The capital of Australia, and third largest city, Brisbane has many sights to see and activities to do, like the Wheel of Brisbane, the Botanic Gardens, South Bank Parkland, river cruises, the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, Mt. Coot-tha and more! Brisbane is also very walkable. I recommend you stay within the central business district (CBD) (my hotel was on Turbot Street just minutes from the river), so you can enjoy much of what Brisbane has to offer on foot. Brisbane is well-designed with its many pedestrian paths, bridges and riverside esplanades.
You can also rent electric scooters. I saw many of them about town when I was there. I prefer to walk, though. How else can I work off the wine and gelato? Another option is taking advantage of Brisbane’s great TRANSLink public transportation system (even to and from the airport) – yes, it’s budget AND environmentally-friendly. Best yet is Brisbane’s free city Wi-Fi has many hot spots, so between your hotel and the city, there is no need to pay for international cellular service.
Spend One Day in Brisbane with These 10 Free Activities
Now that you know where to stay and how to get around, why not enjoy free things to see in Brisbane? Here are 10 fun things to do and see on foot for an incredible day in Brisbane.
1 – Brisbane City Botanic Gardens
Located between Alice Street and the Brisbane River, the Brisbane Botanic Gardens are a 49-acre green haven from the concrete of the business district skyscrapers that tower over the gardens. Walk or bike through the gardens and enjoy the fountains, lush trees, Bamboo Grove, and lizard sightings. The Riverstage holds events enjoyable for the whole family. Cop a squat for a rest or picnic. We grabbed lunch at food tents while viewing artist crafts, one of the many happenings in the gardens. The gardens are open 7 days a week, 8am to 5pm.
2 – Downtown Historic Landmarks
A walking tour of Brisbane will undoubtedly unfold some of Australia’s, and the city’s, history through the plethora of Brisbane’s beautiful, historic buildings. If you enjoy architecture as much as I do, then this is a treat.
Within the central business district alone, you will see the Customs House, the Naval Offices, the General Post Office, the Brisbane Treasury Casino and Hotel, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Brisbane City Hall, the Old Windmill, Post Office Square, and the Brisbane Arcade. And that’s just to name a few.
If you like, you can just wander at your own pace and stumble across one historic building after another or create your own self-guided Brisbane historic building walking tour. Either way, Brisbane will not disappoint any architecture buff.
3 – City Hall Clock Tower
Due to time constraints, my mates and I didn’t have the chance to visit Brisbane City Hall or ride the elevator to the top of the City Hall Clock Tower, but I hear the view is amazing. Yes, it’s free and admission is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis daily. I’m bummed I missed this so it will have to be on the checklist when I go back.
4 – Queens Street Mall
Feel like some window shopping while meandering through downtown Brisbane? Don’t forget to make a stop at the Queens Street Mall. An outdoor, pedestrian mall, it stretches from the base of Brisbane Square at George Street to Edward Street in the heart of the business district.
With over 700 stores in six major shopping centers, two historic arcades, rooftop bars, over 1000 year-round events, this detour is bound to satisfy your window-shopping itch while enjoying Brisbane’s incredible weather.
5 – Cruise the Brisbane River
Give your feet a rest and enjoy a cruise along the Brisbane River for beautiful views of the city, parks and bridges. You could pay for one of the many river cruises available, but why pay when the CityHopper ferry is free?
This public transportation runs between the Sydney Street and North Quay ferry terminals. If you want to go further, you can pay a small fare price ($4.60) on the CityCat, which runs the same route as the CityHopper but has more stops. CityCat tickets can be purchased at the ferry terminals or on the boat.
We didn’t mind the small charge for convenience, so we opted for the CityCat boat from the Eagle Street Pier Ferry Terminal, which provided views of the Common House and Story Bridge.
In a 20-minute ride, we passed CT White Park, Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park and Kangaroo Point Lookout, and the Botanic Gardens followed by passing under Goodwill Bridge leading to views of the South Bank and the Wheel of Brisbane on the left.
From landing at the North Quay stop we wandered the walking (and biking) path underneath the M3 freeway for views of the museums across the river, and the Victoria, Kurilpa, William Jolly and Go Between bridges. Not bad for less than $5 or for free if you take the CityHopper.
6 – Roma Street Park
Just a 10-minute walk from the North Quay Ferry Terminal is Roma Street Park, an amazing 40-acre (16 hectare) city park adjacent to the Roma Park railway station. I must say, I was very impressed with this park.
Created in 2001, the park is open year-around, day and night (except the Spectacle Garden and Rainforest walkwhich close at dusk), that offers a children’s playground, amphitheater, free live music and kids programs, restroom facilities, vast green lawns with waterfalls and fountains with opportunities to see colorful fauna and wildlife (check out the park map).
It’s an optimal place to enjoy lunch on the outdoor patio of The Garden Room or picnic waterside on the many lawns and take advantage of the free barbecues to use. You can take a guided tour or just explore yourself. For city parks, Roma Street Park has got it going on.
7 – Observatory Park & King Edwards Park
Green spaces abound in Brisbane, making this city great for walking and diverting from the many high rise buildings. For more green space walking, exit the Roma Street Park from the Albert Street exit turning left on Wickham Terrace. On your right you’ll pass Wickham Park where at the end is the entrance to Observatory Park. You’ll immediately see the Old Windmill, the oldest windmill in Australia AND oldest surviving building built by convicts.
Check to see when the windmill is open to access the hexagonal staircase up five flights to an observation deck. Adjacent to Observatory Park is King Edward Park, a heritage-listed 1942 air raid shelter. Rest on a bench in the shade before descending towards Turbot Street down the steep, red steps of Jacob’s Ladder, named or the biblical stairway leading to heaven.
8 – Victoria Bridge
Ready for an evening out? Brisbane’s river-lined buildings and bridges are beautifully color-lit at night adding to the city’s scenic wonder that you don’t want to miss. There are over 15 major bridges that cross the Brisbane River, some of which can be viewed on a river cruise as I noted previously. Yet, Victoria Bridge is brightest lit in neon green and a central walk way to the South Bank area.
At Brisbane Square (where the Treasury Building is lit in pink), stroll across the Victoria Bridge for great night-time pics of the central business district, South Bank museums and the Wheel of Brisbane.
9 – South Bank Parkland
Once on the south side of the river the Clem Jones Promenade leads from Victoria Bridge to the South Bank Parklands passing the Gallery of Modern Art, the Queensland Museum, the Tony Gould Gallery, and Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Center and the Wheel of Brisbane, where the 60-meter high observation wheel provides yet more scenic views of the city. Tickets can be purchased directly at the booth or save 5% and purchase them online.
The large green space provides picnic and barbeque areas, restrooms and, of course, free WiFi. In fact, this could be the place you may want to start your day in Brisbane!
If you don’t want to picnic, pop over to the many cheap-eats options on Grey Street one block away for an early lunch. Take a short nap before tackling the rest of the free Brisbane activities to enjoy I provide.
10 – South Bank Dining & Shopping
Across the South Street Parkland on Little Stanley Street, more than thirty cafes, restaurants and bars across all cultural cuisines provide an abundance of dining choices. Have dinner outside and enjoy the people watching. We had a wonderful, tapas and sangria dinner at Olé. Some restaurants fill up quickly so a small wait time may be required.
Have More Than One Day in Brisbane?
Brisbane has a lot to offer, so if you have more than one day in Brisbane, try checking out these other free activities when you visit Brisbane.
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