Decorating the Australian coat of arms is a kangaroo and an emu—the only two animals that can’t walk backward. It feels appropriate that such forward-thinking animals would represent the country—particularly in Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city. From the broad boulevards to the ultra-open environment that seems to invite the outside in (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen an ibis wander into a restaurant or a kangaroo hop down a residential street) to the cooler than cool residents, the country feels like it’s striding forward into a bright future.
Regardless of whether you’re an adventurer, foodie, or animal lover, the combination of forces makes the city an ideal vacation spot. Australians are big fans of doing life any way they please, but if you’re at a loss, here are a few suggestions for your next trip Down Under.
WHERE TO STAY
TRYP: This hotel is located in Fortitude Valley, one of the city’s coolest suburbs. (Note: Brisbane residents have an odd habit of calling their neighborhoods "suburbs," but rest assured, you can walk or cab quickly between most of them.) Every inch of the hotel, from keycards featuring artist Rone’s eerie tribute to the founder’s beauty queen wife to multicolored graffiti in every hallway to the cozy, book-lined work nook, is a tribute to pop art. Hit the gym, grab a drink at the bar, scrub down with ZAMBELI bath products, or just stare into the swirling waters of the handmade glass sinks. Although, sorry: Despite what you might have learned on The Simpsons, the Coriolis Effect doesn’t actually make bathroom water swirl counter-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.
WHAT TO DO
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary: You’re in Australia for the animals, right? Right. Take the first opportunity you have to head out to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The site was established in 1927 as a refuge for sick koalas, and today is one of the only places in the country where you can actually cuddle one of its titular residents. Not only that, but you can also hang out in a field of kangaroos. (Don’t worry—there’s a “safe area,” where animals who don’t feel like being social can chill sans humans.) Once you’ve hugged, petted, and fed some of the sanctuary’s residents, stroll the rest of the grounds to get up close and personal with platypuses, dingos, Tasmanian Devils, and all manner of serpent and fowl. The animals’ areas are large and kept incredibly clean, resources are conserved, water is recycled, and if their informational plaques leave you wanting more, the entire place is set up with free Wi-Fi so you can Google your new favorite species to your heart’s content.
Hire a Local Guide: So maybe you don’t have a friend in Queensland’s capital city. No worries! (A phrase that the locals often utter.) Thanks to Visit Brisbane, you can snag a personal tour guide for the morning or afternoon. Dig into aboriginal history and art, learn about local bridges, get the story behind the country’s German heritage, or tell your guide what you want to explore. Don’t know where to start? Roll the dice and let the guide tell you what they love about Brisbane. (Ours enlightened us on everything from modern art, to Hungry Jack's fast food, to stories of her life as a kid in the city.)
Road Trip to Gold Coast: Queensland is straight-up beautiful and much bigger than its capital city. For the full effect, rent a car, grab a friend who can remind you to drive on the left (a unique and occasionally terrifying experience for anyone not from England, South Africa, or India), and hit the road for an adventure. If beaches are your bag, head to Gold Coast/Surfer’s Paradise. (This, as it turns out, is still entertaining when a storm keeps you out of the water. Who needs people watching when you have rogue wave watching?) Hit up the Bam Bam Bakehouse for breakfast or lunch (OR WHY NOT BOTH?) to sample their mouthwatering Croissant French Toast or Green Tea Noodle Salad. (Again though, WHY NOT BOTH?) Make a night out of it and crash QT Gold Coast for in-room lemonade kits and a stunning view of the surf (which, as previously mentioned, may or may not be going crazy during your visit).
WHERE TO DRINK
Take a Craft Brewery Tour: Fosters… definitely not Australian for beer. Go one better than the iconic/eye-rolling brand and join up with Creative Tours for a look at the Noosa area craft brewing scene. Even if you’re not a beer drinker by nature (guilty as charged), the breezy tour and unique offerings mean you’ll find something to love about the experience, like the Breakfast Beer Espresso Stout at Moffat Beach Brewing (an easy drinker despite its dark color), or Brouhaha Brewery’s delightfully zingy Finger Lime IPA.
Les Bubbles Bath House: Please note: Les Bubbles Bath House is no longer a brothel. Or so the garish neon sign in the interior announces. While the watering hole has shed its dark past, there’s still an air of illicit fun to its dimly lit interiors. Stop in for a bit of bubbly (naturally) or one of their carefully concocted theme cocktails like the “Hush Money” or “Page Four.” The truly adventurous can take their drinks downstairs where, in a nod to their splashy past, there’s still a functional 15-person hot tub.
Piggy Back Café: Alcohol not your bag? Piggy Back Café has got your back with the kind of non-intoxicating drinks worth lingering over. Stop in for breakfast, and stay for intricate multitoned latte art, rainbow iced lattes, hot chocolate piled high with pink marshmallows, and a galaxy of smoothie options. Bonus edge, they have that most bars don’t: food. And it's as pretty and Instagram-worthy as their drinks.
WHERE TO EAT
Shingle Inn City Hall: Shingle Inn City Hall offers up salads, smoothies, and sandwiches. (If you’re feeling fancy, you can also join them for a high tea.) But the real draw here is the building’s crazy history. Originally located at 1936 Edward Street, the establishment was closed and reopened in the Brisbane City Hall in April of 2013, with its original wood paneling, tables, dishware, menus, all transferred with the hopes of recreating the original location as carefully as possible.
LongTime: Brisbane’s premier South Asian restaurant splits the difference between Thai and Western cuisines, often mixing both into the same dish. Pair any one of their curries (both lobster and cauliflower were big hits) with a selection of bar snacks, including bloody mary oysters, spring rolls, and garlic chicken mini burgers. Room for dessert? (Admittedly, this might be a stretch, but that’s why sharing was invented.) Try one of its unique flavor combinations, like the black sesame mousse with coconut caramel or the passion fruit marshmallow with Szechuan pepper pineapple. Make peace now with having to roll out your way out of the dark, artfully lit dining room.
Aria: Take a deep breath, mutter “treat yo self,” and book a table at Aria, a dining experience well worth the price of admission. Located in the Eagle Street Pier, this is a white tablecloth affair with cynicism-banishing views of the harbor. (Translation: You’re going to want to jockey for a seat by the window.) Under the direction of chef Matt Moran, Aria serves small plates comprised of fresh, local ingredients, so the menu will change seasonally but expect complex and flavorful combinations regardless. Brussels sprouts with parsnips, sherry, and garlic flowers; Wagyu bresaola with parmesan cheese and fried bread; and achingly fresh banana and butterscotch soufflé are just some of the things that were offered to yours truly. Wine lovers rejoice, Australia is your country. Not sure what goes with your meal? Aria has an on-staff sommelier to guide you toward the perfect pairing.