Brisbane on a budget: free things to do in Queensland's capital

Thanks to a subtropical climate with warm summers and mild winters, Brisbane* is a great year-round destination.

Explore Brisbane for less than you might think
Explore Brisbane for less than you might think © Stefan Mokrzecki - Adobe Stock Image

The capital of Queensland* is also the gateway to the beaches along the Gold and Sunshine coasts as well as a departure point for the Great Barrier Reef. But unless you live in Australia*, getting there is generally pretty expensive.

Fortunately, once you're on the ground, there are lots of free ways to see the city; here are a few to get you started.

Getting to Brisbane: speak to the experts in Australasia to find great value deals to Australia with Travelbag*.

South Bank Parklands

There are several parklands dotted around Brisbane but the one that offers visitors the most interest is the 17-hectare South Bank Parklands. It's an urban park, with trees lining paved walkways and restaurants where you can grab a bite.

The best way to enjoy it is on a leisurely stroll along the riverfront promenade, where stunning views of the city skyline are just waiting to be photographed.

The sunny shores of Streets Beach, South Bank
The sunny shores of Streets Beach, South Bank © Sam Lindsay - Tourism & Events Queensland

As you make your way from one end to the other, you'll come across Streets Beach, Brisbane's free, man-made inner-city lagoon and beach where you can stop for a dip if the temperature is getting too much.

Another attraction is Rainforest Walk, where Queensland's flora and fauna are used to recreate the sort of tropical canopy you'll only see when you venture out of the city.

Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

Brisbane City Botanic Gardens is an oasis in the heart of the city's urban sprawl. Towering skyscrapers might provide the backdrop here but once you're amongst the trees, tranquillity takes over.

Wander among the greenery of Brisbane City Botanic Gardens
Wander among the greenery of Brisbane City Botanic Gardens © Courtney Atkinson/AWOL Family - Tourism & Events Queensland

Highlights include a bamboo grove with more than a dozen different species and ornamental ponds elevated by spectacular fountains. Come during the day for free workshops ranging from tai chi to zumba, as well as scheduled guided walks.

It's also worth keeping an eye out for special events; throughout the year the gardens are used for concerts, art exhibitions and festivals, some of which are free.

Queensland Museum

Home to a vast collection of artefacts, the Queensland Museum showcases the state's cultural and natural history across numerous galleries and interactive exhibits.

Delve into the collections at the Queensland Museum
Delve into the collections at the Queensland Museum © Courtney Atkinson/AWOL Family - Tourism & Events Queensland

Kids will love the displays of dinosaurs and Queensland's indigenous wildlife, while the fascinating stories of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders will put Australia's history into context.

Entry is free, but look out for ticketed late-night openings and themed events if you want to see the museum in a different light.

QAGOMA

QAGOMA stands for Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) and Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), two of the city's finest art institutions.

They pretty much sit side by side on the South Bank and, save for the occasional special exhibition, are free to visit. For families, there are interactive spaces suitable for children, too.

See contemporary art at QAGOMA
See contemporary art at QAGOMA © The Edit Suite - Tourism & Events Queensland

Established in 1895, QAG is the older of the two and has been in its current location since 1982. Its legacy is celebrated in a handful of rooms where works in its permanent collection from Australia, Asia and beyond are on display. The rest of the gallery rotates themed exhibits, mixing more contemporary works with pieces from its permanent collection.

GOMA opened its doors nearby in 2006 and focuses exclusively on contemporary art, and nearly all of its exhibits are temporary. Alongside visual art, there's also a cinema screening films from around the world, some of which are free.

Then as the sun sets, the building is lit up using LED lights; the sequence of changing colours and hue is a piece of light art created by James Turrell, called Night Life, which gets viewers thinking about how people are affected by light.

CityHopper ferry

Brisbane River snakes through the city and all the way out to sea but the best views are concentrated around the central business district (CBD). There are sightseeing cruises along the river of course, but why not take advantage of the free CityHopper ferry?

Hop aboard the free CityHopper
Hop aboard the free CityHopper © John - Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The city council-funded service has a fleet of five catamarans with panoramic windows that zip between North Quay and Sydney Street, with stops in South Bank, Maritime Museum, Riverside, Holman Street and Howard Smith Wharves.

The boats run on a half-hourly schedule every day between 5.30 am and midnight, with even later services on Friday and Saturday nights. So whether you're looking for sunrise, sunset or nighttime views, you can see it all for free.

Brisbane City Hall

Brisbane's heritage-listed City Hall is an attraction in its own right. Come here for the palm-fronted neo-classical façade, intricate mosaic tiles in the lobby and architectural flourishes throughout, including a Pantheon-inspired auditorium, but stay for some of its other touristic offerings.

Brisbane's historic City Hall
Brisbane's historic City Hall © Kgbo - Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

For those interested in history and architecture, there are free guided tours departing from the foyer between Tuesdays and Sundays. On the third floor, you'll find the Museum of Brisbane, which focuses on the city's living history.

This is also where tours of its 92 metre-high clock tower start; it's just a short 15 minutes and you'll get a 360-degree view of the city from the observation deck near the top.

Mount Coot-tha

For a breathtaking panoramic view of the entire city and even beyond to Moreton Bay, head for Mount Coot-tha Lookout.

The scenic spot's unobstructed views are particularly captivating at sunset, although you'll want to get there early if you want to follow the biking and hiking trails that lead back to the city through forests.

One of these, the Spotted Gum Trail, takes you through the camphor-scented eucalyptus forest to Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha, the city's other botanic garden.

Home to exotic plants ranging from bonsai and bamboo to cacti and orchards, the 56-hectare gardens are open daily and are free to enter, although some activities carry a fee.

Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park

Facing the Brisbane River, Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park is unusual for a city park in that it incorporates an actual cliff, making it a popular spot for rock climbing and abseiling.

Abseiling Kangaroo Point Cliffs
Abseiling Kangaroo Point Cliffs © PixelFrame - Tourism & Events Queensland

Thanks to picnic tables, public barbecue facilities, and a scenic riverwalk, it's also a busy hub for Brisbanites to gather at the weekend.

While here, don't miss the Art and the River public art trail, a 2.4 km route that traces the river, retelling its industrial and maritime history through a series of installations.

Climate in Brisbane

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

The above guide shows the climate in Brisbane. Find out more in our complete guides to the climate in Queensland and wider Australia.

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Posted on Wednesday 20th December 2023 in: City Money saving tips Oceania

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