Brisbane, with its evergreen gardens, gleams under vast skies. Flashes of magenta bougainvillea adorn South Bank’s arbour. Sub-tropical Brisbane is humming with a quiet confidence these days. There’s a background buzz playing base note to the blossom-scented seasons.
Queensland’s capital is home to 2 million and entertains more than 12 million visitors annually with its easy mix of the upmarket, casual and eclectic activities.
The charm and languor of Brisbane’s formative years still lives in pockets but the face of the city centre is an increasingly gentrified one. Chanel, Sass & Bide and Calibre can now be found in the company of Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton in Queens Plaza. A $100 million redevelopment of the Wintergarden retail centre has also been welcomed and several other buildings have thrown off scaffolding to reveal chic facades and plush or polished interiors.
More people live in inner Brisbane than ever before and it feels more lived in. Increasing residential densification has brought young professionals closer to the city, injecting bustle and appetite. In the past year or so, more than 20 new bars and restaurants have opened in the city and neighbouring Fortitude Valley and South Bank. They’re catering to palettes craving Haute cuisine through to Chinatown cheap. If you need a boutique imported beer or a word in a sake sommelier’s ear, this city can serve it up. Preferably outdoors!
Brisbanites apply ‘al fresco’ to their whole lifestyle, not just dining preference. A temperate climate (annual average 16–25 degrees C) draws people to inner-city parks and botanical gardens at all hours. Exploring by foot or ferry is a firm visitor favourite.
Riverfront picnic areas, bike paths and boardwalks are modern products of a beautification effort which began in the late 1950’s. While Brisbane hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1982, securing World Expo 1988 (attended by more than 16 million visitors) was the catalyst for more significant transformation, physically and culturally. The Expo’s riverfront site at South Bank is today part of attractive parklands incorporating a man-made beach, landscaped spaces, water features, eateries and markets.
Adjoining the South Bank Parklands and waterfront spaces is a string of the city’s prominent cultural venues. Galleries, theatres, outdoor performance spaces, museums and the state’s library are within walking distance of each other, providing an unwitting timeline of changes in architectural style. A review of their programming reveals an industry enjoying international coups across several genres.
Like any city, Brisbane has urban pockets, each with their own character. Beyond the city centre and South Bank, visitors short on time can easily reach Fortitude Valley, New Farm, Paddington, West End and Kangaroo Point.
The Valley is a chameleon. It’s upmarket and underbelly. It’s prestige cars and dance ‘til dawn…Chinatown lives here too.
Seekers of finery may appreciate the James Street precinct’s collection of food, film, fashion and arts. Noteworthy here: Libertine Parfumerie—home to prestige fragrances made for royalty and classic Hollywood stars by the oldest perfume houses in the world; fio—beautiful one-off, hand-made jewellery and objects by an internationally-exhibited metalsmith and designer.
Live music lovers will appreciate the Tivoli and The Zoo; clubbers rate Family and the visual cornucopia that is Cloudland is an experience in itself.
Adjoins Fortitude Valley and has the good fortune to be bounded by the Brisbane River on three sides. It has retained several examples of residential Art Deco architecture and its casual and trendy eateries are patronised by very loyal locals. If you’ve a sweet tooth, New Farm Deli has arguably the best Tiramisu outside Italy (and a bevy of savoury goodies too).
Droves arrive at New Farm Park on sunny weekends to BBQ and picnic by the water and nearby Merthyr Bowls Club is known for its accommodating attitude to enthusiastic barefoot bowlers. The Brisbane Powerhouse arts complex perches on the river adjacent to New Farm Park and consistently attracts favourable reviews for its edgy, contemporary twist of internationally-noted and local theatre, live music and comedy.
Is next to South Bank and saw an influx of Greek migrants after World War II. By the 1980’s it was home to a significant proportion of Brisbane’s Greek population. So it was fitting a restaurant named Ouzeri piqued my interest here originally and I’ve been a little stuck on grilled haloumi and the suburb ever since. West End is relaxed but funky, wearing its multiculturalism proudly.
There’s no shortage of taste-tempters: Mondo Organics (restaurant), Three Monkeys (café), Archive Beer Boutique and Bistro and The Gunshop Café. Book lovers will appreciate losing themselves Avid Reader or finding second-hand fabulousness in Bent Books. And for people watchers? Just pull up a chair.
More to come on Brisbane arts, hotels, dining, Tangalooma and the Brisbane River…