Brisbane, the relaxed tropical metropolis in Queensland, seems to be the right place to rest for a stressed Northern European.
When travelling around Australia, Brisbane is a definitely worth spending a couple of days in. A day in Brisbane would be well spent taking a stroll by the river and in the Central Business District (CBD), relaxing on the city’s beach South Bank, dining in the West End and going out in Fortitude Valley.
Messy architecture, lovable place
The first impression of Brisbane is that it’s strikingly modern, and you’ll only find a handful of buildings more than a 100 years old. Author and philosopher Alain de Button recently gave it the undesirable honour of being the ugliest city in the world because of the mixed architecture and ‘no planning whatsoever’. Despite of shortage of European aesthetics, Brisbane will end up stealing your heart regardless. The weather is chronically sunny. In fact, the sun shines 261 days a year on average and in ‘winter’ it never goes below 10-14 C at night. No wonder that Brisbane’s inhabitants seem to be in such a good mood. Everyone from the girl in a vintage shop, to the fellow at the supermarket wants to know how you’re going, and I was astonished to find that everyone greets the bus driver and says ‘thank you’ when getting off. How friendly and polite is that in a city with 2 million inhabitants?!
Living the life
One of Brisbane’s best characteristics is it’s relaxed attitude. It is not uncommon to see people walking around without shoes down the street and in the supermarkets. Buses rarely stick to the timetable and in general time keeping is not taken too seriously. It seems that Brisbanites have got something right when it comes to their lifestyle, which apparently is centred around taking things easy and eating out well and often. The weather really encourages people to do outdoor activities, like climbing the cliffs at Kangaroo Point, running by the river and cycling ‒ which is exercised in full Tour de France uniform and with life at risk. The city’s beach on South Bank is greatly used and has a impressive view over to the Central Business District skyline.
When it comes to dining, the city is blessed with a broad variety of different cuisines, there is virtually nothing you can’t get. In West End, you will find heaps of delicious and affordable food. A few favourites are TRANG (Vietnamese), Mizu (Japanese), and The Gun shop Cafe (breakfast/brunch). In the little bit more expensive end, there is Tukka, which do contemporary Australian cuisine and that have, if you’re lucky, possum on the menu . Possums looks very cute, but are considered to be a pest by the locals because of the noise they make, which makes eating them equivalent to eating a squirrel.
Australia is, probably, the only country that eats the animal of its national emblem. Kangaroos in Australia are abundant and are picked up from the cooled counter in the supermarket by the locals as if its the most normal thing ever.
A must-do food-wise during your visit to the West End Market is French, Japanese, Hungarian, Spanish and much more street food, various artists, heaps of coffee, hippie gear and jewelry. Head to Davies park on Saturdays to take part in this weekly Brisbanite ritual.
If you feel like going to relaxed bars with a wide variety of beers in a hip setting, head to Boundary Street and choose one of the bars scattered all the way down the street. For more massive crowds and harder partying, head to Fortitude Valley. My personal favourites in the valley are Alfred & Constance — ‘hipster’ relaxed outdoors and woody place topped with Hawaii necklaces — and Cloudland, beautiful and classy club with amazing and enormous dance floor. On the way back from ‘the valley’, head to the 24/7 Pancake Manor, instead of getting the usual kebab or pizza. It is exactly what you’d imagine – a place that serves both sweet and savoury pancakes in extravagant portions 24/7.
When you’ve explored the hip and tropical metropolis and are reaching bursting limit from all that eating, you might want to experience something that Australia is famous for: exotic (and dangerous) animals. One of the misconceptions that many foreigners have about Australia is that you are going to meet animals that can kill you pretty much as soon as you walk into your back yard. It hasn’t happened to me (yet). Other than several encounters with possums, which are annoying but harmless, I’ve seen no big spiders or snakes. Unfortunately this means that you have to make a bit of effort to see actual wildlife. Go to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary a 20 minute drive away from Brisbane, for the ultimate aussie animal experience. Or head to Australia Zoo, a couple of hours north. Remember Steve Irwin, the guy killed by a sting-ray? Yep, that’s his zoo, now run by his wife and famous for their “crocodile show”, which involves vicious crocodiles jumping.
Brisbane is located very conveniently when it comes to exploring the rest of Queensland. You can go to truly amazing beaches an hour’s drive away, and lush rainforests, mountains and peculiar small towns inland.
There is a zillion great beaches on either side of Brisbane. If you go south to the Gold Coast you’ll find places such as Surfers Paradise, which is quite famous and very touristy. But if you want a bit more chilled and local atmosphere, head to Fingal Head or Burleigh Heads.
If you go north to Sunshine Coast ‒ for example, Mooloolaba — you’ll find great beaches as well, and since that coast was developed at a slightly slower pace, you won’t find skyscrapers like in Surfers, but a more relaxed and, in my opinion, charming, atmosphere instead. Noosa, even further north (2-3 hours drive from Brisbane) is one of my favourite places, where you can also do some amazing hiking and see Hells Gate.
If you feel like islands, head to Stradbroke Island, Moreton Island or the big sand island, Fraser Island. Feel more like hiking? Go to Mount Glorious, Glass House Mountains or Mount Koot-Cha. The best thing is that you can visit these places almost any time during the year. For lying on the beach and surfing, June to the middle of August is probably a bit chilly unless you have a wetsuit.
By Ida Nordland
Pictures: Ida Nordland, Peter Firminger, Rae Allen