How I Made the Most of a Weekend in Brisbane

Brisbane things to do

I brake on my pastel green bike and climb off. The view in front of me is too good not to snap. It’s of the city skyline, Brisbane River and Story Bridge peeking between greenery. A Brisbane CityCat ferry glides under the bridge. Bikers and runners sweep past me.

I’m at Wilson Outlook Reserve in Brisbane on the last day of my solo weekend in Brisbane. After taking photos, I wheel my bike to the lift that takes me down to Howard Smith Wharves. But I’m stopped by another stunning sight. The hotel where I’m staying and whose complimentary bike I’m using, Crystalbrook Vincent.

I have an aerial view and see its dark green rooftop pool, surrounded by white umbrellas and the black and white checked terrace, which houses Fiume Rooftop Bar. From here, I can’t see any of the artwork by Vincent Fantauzzo, the artist the hotel is named after and is decorated in, including a piece in the lobby of his wife, actress Asher Keddie.

what to do in Brisbane
Image: Supplied

Later, after I indulge in a pastry I picked up from Sprout Artisan Bakery on James Street in Fortitude Valley (or simply ‘The Valley’, as I’ve learned) in my room, I head to that pool. It’s heated, which I appreciate on this drizzly morning, and I lean over its infinity edge to peer out at Brisbane River and reflect on my weekend in the city.

I think I’ve done Brisbane well. I’ve had a small taste of most of its best bits: accessible day trips, a growing fine dining scene and beautifully designed hotels do the indoor-outdoor seamless blend Australia is known for.

Ahead, I’m sharing all that I did in Brisbane, along with some alternate options, so you can hopefully feel like you’ve best experienced the city on the weekend too.

What to Do in Brisbane

Bar and Restaurant Hop Along Howard Smith Wharves

Built alongside the Story Bridge it’s under in the 1930s, Howard Smith Wharves has had a makeover in the last few years and is now a hub of restaurants and bars.

Mr Percival’s spills onto the water with a deck that’ll make you feel like you’re in Europe. Stanley is a two-storied Cantonese restaurant. And Greca Restaurant is a modern take on a Greek taverna.

what to do in brisbane howard smith wharves
Image: BEDA

There’s also Mews, part of the Crystalbrook, which is great for brunch, a branch of chain Betty’s Burgers and Italian restaurant Ciao Papi, located at the New Farm end of the precinct.

Window Shop on James Street

You’ve likely seen The Calile Hotel, specifically its pool, on Instagram. Surrounding The Calile on James Street are some of Brisbane’s most beautiful restaurants and Australia’s best designer stores, including Bec + Bridge, Camilla and Marc and Lee Mathews.

It’s the Brisbane equivalent of Rodeo Drive. Spend an afternoon window shopping along the street. Bonus: it’s got plenty of outdoor car parks and street parking.

James Street what to do in Brisbane
Image: BEDA

Take a Day Trip to the Scenic Rim

Brisbane has countless day trip options, including Moreton Island, Caloundra and Lamington National Park, plus, the Gold Coast, which is a 90-minute drive south. I day-tripped to Scenic Rim, an hour and 15 minutes drive from the CBD.

There, I walked through flower fields at Elderflower Farm and into the flower shop to admire the flowers and had lunch at The Overflow Estate 1895, a French restaurant and winery overlooking Lake Wyaralong. Choose your meal a la carte or order the six-course degustation menu.

While I overnighted at off-grid WanderPod on the grounds of The Overflow Estate, you could also drive back to Brisbane after lunch. 

Where to Eat in Brisbane

Visit the Bakeries

Brisbane’s bakery scene was once mainly French patisseries and boulangeries. But these days, it has a range. If you do want that French bakery feel, try Christian Jacques, an artisan boulanger under Storey Bridge.

Sprout Bakery what to do in Brisbane
Image: BEDA

I visited Sprout Bakery and Agnes Bakery across the street from each other in the Valley. Sprout had edible décor and croissant toasties and at Agnes, you can watch the bread baked in the open stone oven. Brisbane also has two branches of Melbourne’s famous Lune Croissanterie.

Other highlights are Gathered Bakers in Chapel Hill, Banneton in Ashgrove, Woolloongabba and Campbhill and King Street Bakery in Bowen Hills.

Dine Sky-High

Brisbane also has a dining experience unlike any other in Australia — Vertigo at Brisbane Powerhouse, launched in October 2023 and open from Thursdays to Saturdays.

It sees you dining 17m above the ground, off the side of Brisbane Powerhouse. You can book a cheeseboard, three-course dinner from Italian bistro Bar Alto or, available on Sundays, champagne brunch.

Wander Neighbourhoods to Find a Spot

Brisbane has many areas packed with restaurants and bars. I’ve already mentioned Howard Smith Wharves and James Street, but there’s also the CBD, Hamilton, home to dining destination Portside Wharf, West End, South Bank and Woolloongabba.

When I had lunch at Middle Eastern restaurant Gerard’s on James Street, its executive chef Jimmy Richardson recommended Penuma in the CBD by lauded chefs Matt Blackwell and Dan Arnold.

“Top notch food, great staff and beautiful ceramics and location,” Richardson said. “The whole menu is pretty good.” 

Where to Stay in Brisbane

Aside from The Calile Hotel, which you probably already know, Brisbane has some other beautifully designed hotels. I stayed at Crystalbrook Vincent, which I mentioned is decorated in Vincent Fantauzzo’s art, but there’s also W Brisbane with a much photographed pool, Ovolo The Valley and Emporium Hotel South Bank.

Related: The 9 Best Bars in Brisbane Right Now

Related: Brisbane Chef Louis Tikaram on the Best Places to Eat in the City

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