Top things to do in Brisbane on a budget
Brisbane has plenty to offer the budget-savvy traveller. In fact, some of the best things to do in the River City don’t cost a cent.
- November 2017
- Updated January 2021
Blessed with arts and cultural centres, plentiful park lands, a diverse food scene, and a glorious subtropical climate, Brisbane has long outgrown its reputation as just a big country town. Luckily for visitors, many of Brisbane’s highlights are free to enjoy – here are some of the top things to do that won’t break the bank.
Picnic at Kangaroo Point Cliffs
Directly east of the city across the Brisbane River are the heritage-listed Kangaroo Point Cliffs – a sheer wall of volcanic rock that was once quarried to provide the stone that helped build Brisbane. From atop the cliffs there are picture-postcard views of the city skyline. At night the cliff face is lit up, showing off the craggy formations that attract so many rock climbers and abseilers. The cliffs also form a striking backdrop to the riverside below, where there are walking trails, shady groves and picnic areas. Pack the gourmet treats and spread a blanket on the grass for a meal under the stars.
Enjoy views and nature at Mount Coot-tha
Head to the observation deck at the summit of Mount Coot-tha, Brisbane’s highest peak, for beautiful sunrise views over Moreton Bay. Or go in the evening for panoramic views of the city when it is all aglow after dark. The surrounding Mount Coot-tha Reserve has many walks, ranging from easy strolls to more challenging steep tracks.
For a full (and free) experience of the nature of the area, start by exploring the Brisbane Botanic Gardens at the base of the mountain, home to Japanese gardens, an arid zone, a tropical dome, and the world’s largest collection of Australian native rainforest trees. From the gardens the 7.2km Spotted Gum Trail leads through bushland all the way to the summit of the mountain.
Immerse yourself in art at South Bank
Brisbane’s South Bank precinct is known for its cultural events, dining and green spaces – not to mention Australia’s only city-centre beach. At South Bank’s arty heart is the excellent QAGOMA, comprising the Queensland Art Gallery and adjoining Gallery of Modern Art. Explore a range of changing exhibitions, from Indigenous and Asian art at QAG to the thought-provoking contemporary works at GOMA. Best of all, most are free to enter. At night, the GOMA building itself becomes an installation as James Turrell’s colourful Night Life illuminates it from within.
Tour Brisbane City Hall and clock tower
History and architecture enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the heritage-listed Brisbane City Hall, its columned sandstone facade commanding full attention on King George Square. Take a free guided tour to explore the grand interior of this 1920s-built Brisbane icon, and book a ride on the old-school cage lift up the clock tower. At 76 metres up the 92-metre tower, an observation platform offers a fine view of Brisbane’s city life. For more insight into the people and history of the city, spend some time at the Museum of Brisbane, located in the City Hall building – entry is free.
Stroll historic Shorncliffe Pier
On the northern coast outside the city centre, Shorncliffe Pier is Brisbane’s largest timber pier, stretching 350 metres into the blue waters of Bramble Bay. Originally built in the 1880s, the structure was refurbished in early 2016. Pack your camera and some lunch, and savour the views of the Redcliffe Peninsula, Boondall Wetlands and Moreton Bay Islands. Behind the pier, Lower Moora Park has picnic tables and barbecues. From the park, a foreshore walk leads along the water’s edge to Sandgate about 2km away.
Getting around Brisbane on a budget
The free CityHopper ferry service is a fun way to get around central Brisbane, or to just enjoy seeing the city from the river. On land, free city loop buses will get you to several main sights, including City Hall. And at Mount Coot-tha a regular shuttle bus runs between the main sights, from the botanic gardens to the summit lookout – also for free!