Planning a trip to Brisbane but don’t want to break the bank? I feel ya. Travel is amazing, but it can also be costly. Luckily, I’m a savvy, often broke Brisbane local and know a thing or two about how to still have an amazing time while staying on-budget. So today I wanted to share my local’s guide to unearthing the very best, free and cheap ways to spend an amazing weekend in beautiful Brisbane…
Where to stay
You’re going to need a budget-friendly, central location to base your Brisbane weekend, so look no further than the brand new Holiday Inn Express Brisbane Central. Located in Spring Hill, you’ll find the hotel close to all the main sites of Brisbane as well as bars, restaurants and a wealth of things to see and do (as you’ll soon see!) You can easily catch the Airtrain from the airport to Brisbane Central, where you’ll find the hotel a 10 minute walk or 5 minute ride from the station – you can pre-purchase tickets online and save on ticket costs.
You’ll find the rooms here come with all the things you need and none of the things you don’t! We’re talking big comfortable beds with squishy pillows, rooms with plenty of light and enough space to get comfortable. Your en-suite comes with a power shower (yessss!) and the room has complimentary high-speed wifi and breakfast included daily.
What I really like about Holiday Inn Express is they pick out the things travellers like us need most and focus on those. It makes for a simplified stay that doesn’t compromise on quality or experience – so important. You can also use the Brisbane City Council’s free Spring Hill Loop bus to get around town. You’ll find it convenient, comfortable and the perfect base for your easy Brisbane adventure.
Kick the day off with a stop at the on-site hotel gym then fuel up with your complimentary breakfast at the hotel. Next, it’s time to head out and explore one or more of the great weekend markets held around Brisbane. You might want to head out to the iconic Brisbane Powerhouse in New Farm, 12 minutes drive from the hotel and situated along the river, where the Jan Powers Farmers Markets are held each Saturday from 6 am to 12 noon. You’ll find great coffee, freshly baked goods and a whole range of beautiful fresh produce and yummy goodies on offer. If you prefer a more bohemian scene, make a beeline for the Davies Park Markets held from 6 am to 2 pm in West End, a short 10-minute drive from Spring Hill and the hotel.
Now you’ve dusted the cobwebs out it’s time to get acquainted with Brisbane. It’ll take you 10 minutes to get back into town, where you can grab a coffee from a hidden favourite, Brew, in Burnett Lane then join a free guided tour of Brisbane, hosted by the Brisbane Greeters. You’ll learn about Brisbane’s history and unearth things even the locals didn’t know existed (trust me!)
While you’re in the CBD, take a walk down the Queen Street Mall, check out the Eagle Street Pier and be sure to stop in at my favourite old bookshop, Archives Fine Books, and lose time perusing the seemingly endless rows of rare, second-hand and collectible books. Hungry? Stop in at Comuna Cantina for lunch and fill up on their delicious South American, Mexican Street food (tip: the abundance bowl is amazing!) If you’re in need of a rest, catch the free Spring Hill loop from the city or take a 15 minute stroll to help digest your delicious lunch, back to the hotel for an afternoon siesta.
As the day starts to wind down, head to Paddington, a quick 7-minute drive from the hotel, and spend an hour or two perusing the boutiques, stores, and galleries before closing time. Then, grab a seat at a local bar for a few pre-dinner drinks before heading to Gnocchi Gnocchi Brothers for the best gnocchi in town (at $12 a plate, your tummy and bank account will thank you) and, if you feel the need, after dinner drinks and great music at Remy’s.
Looking for more of a foodie adventure? Head out to the Eat Street Markets instead, a 15-minute drive to Hamilton, and take yourself on an eating tour to be remembered. If you’re visiting on a Friday evening, be sure to head to the Green Jam Sessions held in Southbank, 9 minutes drive from the hotel, to listen to free music performed by Jazz students from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University (they don’t just play jazz).
Make the most of that complimentary breakfast again, then head out for a stroll through the nearby Roma Street Parklands, wander and explore or laze for a while under the shade of a tree, listening to the waterfall. Continue down into the heart of Brisbane, crossing over the Victoria Bridge into Southbank. If you take it slow, it should take around 40 minutes or so. Snap a selfie with the Brisbane sign and peruse The Collective Markets (held on Saturdays 10 am to 9 pm and Sundays 9 am to 4 pm).
Make a visit to the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, visiting the free exhibitions and getting a dose of culture. Afterward, wander into West End to peruse the Boundary Street Markets, held on Sunday mornings from 9 am to 3 pm (also Friday and Saturday evenings from 4 pm to 10 pm.)
Spend some time perusing the streets of West End, popping into boutiques and book shops, before grabbing lunch at my favourite vegetarian spot, Govinda’s, for an incredibly delicious, $12, all you can eat and drink feast. For something a little fancier, check out The Burrow for delicious, $10 pizzas.
Now you’re full, it’s time to take a free ride on the City Hopper and see Brisbane from a new angle. From West End, walk the 15-20 minutes across to the North Quay Terminal and climb aboard. If you want to, stay aboard for the entire journey. Just be sure to jump off at the Maritime Museum and stroll along the footpaths winding along the river’s edge before heading up to the top of the Kangaroo Point Cliffs. Grab a seat and relax for a while, watching one of our beautiful Brisbane sunsets start to form. Thirsty? Visit the Cliffs Cafe for a cold drink or coffee. Catch the City Hopper back to Eagle Street or the Riverside and get the Spring Hill loop back to the hotel or walk the 13 minutes back to the hotel.
Take a walking tour through Fortitude Valley, Spring Hill’s neighbouring suburb, starting in the James Street Precinct, 9 minutes drive from the hotel. Wander the fancy streets of Brisbane, stopping to check out local boutiques or maybe treat yourself to something sweet from Jocelyn’s Provisions. Continue along Ann and Constance Streets, pausing to peep what takes your fancy, before arriving at Kwan Brothers for dinner. Get stuck into their Asian Street Eats menu and Night Market Snacks or share the more sizeable large plates. Keen to kick on? Head to local favourite and rooftop bar, Up On Constance, for after dinner drinks, before heading back to the hotel for a well-deserved rest (and to make the most of that power shower!)
This post was written in collaboration with Holiday Inn Express Brisbane Central but, as always, opinions are honest and my own.
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.