Yes, Brisbane might be warm all year-round. But it’s still summer that sets this town apart.
Built for the outdoors, the Queensland capital comes alive as the days grow longer. It’s in the open-aired architecture. In the sultry days giving way to warm, clear-skied nights (perhaps with the odd dramatic thunderstorm as an intermission). And it’s in the light, the sun staying out that much longer to saturate the city in subtropical reds, purples and greens. There’s nowhere else in the world quite like it.
Locals make the most of the season, with mornings spent at riverside fresh-produce markets or long afternoons enjoyed picnicking in parks with friends. That’s on top of what makes Brisbane great at any time of the year – world-class restaurants, bars, cafes and coffee joints, and a terrific art and cultural scene.
Here’s how to experience a few days in Brisbane – what to eat, drink and do, and where to stay.
Coats Group performed the mother of all Covid pivots when in June it transformed its buzzing Eleven Rooftop Bar into Maya, a beautiful open-air Mexican restaurant.
Chef Leisa Smith is cooking a Queensland produce-driven menu that explores a variety of Mexican influences, from the Pacific-inspired food of the north-west to the Caribbean-inflected dishes of the Yucatan peninsula. There are small plates such as slow-cooked beef ribs, chargrilled squid with pickled kohlrabi, braised pork, crumbed mushroom, or Dos Equis-battered fish tacos, and larger share plates of barbacoa lamb, chargrilled flank steak, and pan-seared market fish finished with a jalapeno beurre blanc. All paired with a drinks menu heavy on tequila, mezcal, sotol, Margaritas and sparkling wine.
Still, locals also come for what hasn’t changed: Maya sits on a Fortitude Valley rooftop and boasts one of the most unique views in the city. Looking uphill at the CBD from an unusually narrow angle, the office and apartment towers shine like glass pinnacles when the summer afternoon sun hangs low in the west.
Which means you should arrive early to check it out, but also stay late on the weekends as the venue puts on DJs and leans into its freewheeling origins.
This West End cafe is a celebrated weekend go-to – owner Yianni Passaris’s declaration that the best bit of a night out is the morning recovery.
There’s a couple of dishes that have become Brisbane brunch classics – a breakfast carbonara pappardelle and an off-menu fried-egg roll (the latter so popular Passaris gave it its own venue in Newstead) – but over time the menu has slowly developed a more Southeast Asian bent. There’s pad kra pao – wagyu mince with a fried egg, brown rice, pearl barley, green beans, basil, yoghurt and roti – and scrambled eggs served with lemongrass Thai pork sausage, green chilli and a capsicum sambal.
Coffee comes from Five Senses and Roast by Yili, with booze offered once lunch kicks off.
The location does the rest: a fabulous open-air venue from the mind of Brisbane designer Alexander Lotersztain, it puts you within easy walking distance of West End’s bohemian high street and, on Saturday mornings, the celebrated Davies Park Market.
Jerome Batten’s Maker is a tiny revelation hidden in the heart of Fish Lane, one of Brisbane’s best modern dining and drinking precincts.
It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair. The limited number of seats often go quick, but once you’ve secured a space at its striking 7.5-metre-long brass bar, you’ve landed time with some of the best barkeeps in the city.
The drinks menu changes frequently (the cocktail list is refreshed every two weeks) but leans on local spirits, beer, wine and seasonal ingredients. The booze is served alongside charcuterie, cheese and house-made pickles and a short menu of toasties.
This is where to go if you’re catching a show at nearby QPAC (the coming and going of theatregoers means the crowd turns over pretty frequently early in the evening) or dining at cracking restaurants such as Gauge (also owned by Batten), Julius, Maeve, Hello Please and El Planta.
And yes, you can book – just send them an email.
Felons Brewing Co
The big kahuna of Brisbane’s craft-beer scene, Felons is not only a great brewpub but also lands you in the middle of Howard Smith Wharves, arguably the city’s most hyped precinct. Right on the river, a beer here is enjoyed with the Story Bridge and the skyscrapers of the financial district as backdrop.
The core range of beers includes a lager, pale ale, IPA and low-carb session ale. There’s also a terrific spread of pub grub that includes burgers, woodfired pizza and a separate fish’n’chips menu.
The venue itself is housed in a line of heritage-listed dockside sheds. It’s a classic open-air Brisbane affair, all the better to make use of those river breezes.
Boutique winery tour of Mount Tamborine
An often overlooked Brisbane virtue is the easy access to the surrounding hinterland. An hour’s drive south, Mount Tamborine is a long plateau buttressing the northern end of the Gold Coast, populated by boutique winemakers, distillers and artisan producers.
An ideal way to experience it is with a winery tour hosted by the Vino Bus Winery Tours. This all-day affair departs from the CBD and visits between three and four boutique wineries and a distillery to taste local wines, liqueurs and cheese. The trip also includes a two-course lunch, so you won’t go hungry.
Still, it’s mostly about the location, Tamborine a world unto itself with its Gondwana rainforest, eucalypt forests and spectacular views out towards the Gold Coast on one side and the Scenic Rim on the other.
Walking tour of Newstead
Teneriffe and Newstead are a magnet for Brisbane’s cool crowd, but the bars, eateries and fancy apartments that populate the twin riverside suburbs conceal a rich industrial and wartime history.
This 90-minute walking tour helps uncover much of it, taking you from the historic Woolstore apartments through to the commercial heart of Newstead, which has undergone an enormous program of urban renewal in recent years. Along the way you’ll see old warehouses and industrial buildings now converted into shops and eateries, and learn about the factors that influenced the area’s development.
Best of all, it’s a primer on one of Brisbane’s most vibrant neighbourhoods. Tie in the tour with beers at Range Brewing, Newstead Brewing Co and Green Beacon Brewing Co, lunch or dinner at Beccofino or Smokey Moo, and drinks at Hello Gorgeous or Mrs Brown’s.
Private apartment in FV by Peppers
This modern two-bedroom apartment lands you right in the heart of Fortitude Valley, 20 floors above Brisbane’s buzzy entertainment precinct.
It means you’re within walking distance of some of Brisbane’s best restaurants, including Agnes, Honto, Montrachet and Baja (which is on the building’s ground floor); popular bars such as Netherworld, Soapbox Beer and Dutch Courage Officers’ Mess; and a 10-minute walk away from precincts such as James Street and Howard Smith Wharves.
And the facilities are terrific if you just want to stay in. There are two large bedrooms (plus a sofa bed – the apartment can sleep six people in total), two modern bathrooms with large showers, a laundry, a balcony and a spacious kitchen. There’s also a rooftop infinity pool with stunning views across the city, Story Bridge and the mountain ranges to the west.
If you want to be in the middle of Brisbane’s busiest district, this is where to stay.
Private studio in Fairy House
A very different style of accommodation, this quirky hillside abode is a heritage-listed icon for locals in the city’s west.
Inside, it’s a large self-contained contemporary guest studio with sweeping views of the surrounding suburbs. There’s a private entrance, kitchenette, ensuite bathroom and covered outdoor terrace where you can enjoy breakfast or afternoon drinks.
It places you in Brisbane’s bucolic inner-west, alongside old Queenslander houses renovated into million-dollar properties. Pretty Paddington and its cafes, such as Naim and Chapter IV, are a short walk away, and there’s a couple of bus services that will have you in the city in about 10 minutes.
You’re also just a five-minute drive from the base of Mount Coot-tha, Brisbane’s enormous western bookend, and a 15-minute drive from Mount Nebo Road, which quickly delivers you into the rainforests of D’Aguilar National Park.
Sound good? You could take this trip and more, thanks to Airbnb’s Once Upon a Summer competition. There are seven $15,000 Airbnb travel coupons up for grabs, for use anywhere in Australia. All you have to do is write an up to 50 word story on what memories you want to make this summer. The competition closes December 11. Enter now for your chance to win.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Airbnb.