Brisbane has a fantastic history and a world of cultural experiences waiting to be discovered. As a local, I can tell you there’s been a lot of change in Brisbane over the past few years and, with it, opportunities to see and experience a wealth of history and exciting, new cultural spots. So, if you’re up for discovering a new cultural scene and uncovering a city bursting with fresh and quirky experiences, Brisbane is just the spot for you. Here are 27 of the best cultural experiences in Brisbane, just to get you started.
1. Explore The Brisbane Powerhouse
A beautifully restored power station of the 1920s, the Brisbane Powerhouse is now home to a program of comedians, live music, dancers and writers, visual and digital films and so much more. Catch a cultural event or performance, some of which are free, or simply check out the Jan Powers Farmers Market held each Saturday at this stunning riverside location.
2. Find Hidden Spots With Brisbane Greeters
Join a guided tour of Brisbane for free, thanks to the wonderful Brisbane Greeters. Learn about Brisbane’s unique history, discover hidden street art and uncover things even the locals don’t know (trust me! I did one and was blown away by how little I knew about my home city).
3. Discover The Aboriginal Art Trail
Escape the city to nearby Mt Coot-tha for stunning views of Brisbane and explore the Mt Coot-tha Aboriginal Art Trail for free. The bush trail, just off the Summit Track, will take you along a 1.5km journey showcasing tree carvings, rock paintings and etchings, rock arrangements and more. It’s a great way to learn how the traditional owners of the land passed cultural information throughout history.
4. Ultimate learning experience at Queensland Museum and Sciencentre
Especially great for kids of all ages and sizes (yes, that means you, ya big kid!) the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre are home to a range of permanent and rotating exhibits. It’s a great way to get hands-on with fun exhibitions while doing some sneaky learning in the process. My favourite part is the giant dinosaurs! You’ll find some parts are free while others require admission.
5. Experience Live Music
Brisbane is home to a great range of live music venues offering the perfect spot to catch a gig! Be sure to check out the upcoming events and performances at local favourites Max Watt’s, The Triffid, The Zoo and The Tivoli.
6. Explore The Beautiful State Library of Queensland
One of my favourite places to hide out on those particularly hot summer days, the State Library of Queensland is architecturally gorgeous, offering great, free views of Brisbane CBD and the river. Seek respite from the sun with a cosy corner and a good book.
7. Wander Through The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art
Another favourite spot among locals, the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) are home to Australian and international works sure to impress. Entry is free, which includes most exhibitions, though some may attract an entry free (book online or buy your tickets on arrival). I remember exploring the Andy Warhol exhibit and loving every moment – it’ll stay with me forever.
8. Dive Into Inner-City Swimming Spots
Aussies are known for their love of all things swimming and Brisbane City is no exception! Grab your swimsuit and head to Streets Beach at Southbank, our beach in the city, for a free swim or take a trip to the seldom-busy Spring Hill Baths or Valley Pool for a dip.
9. Explore Our Riverlife
Immerse yourself in Queensland’s outdoor culture by taking part in some of our great inner-city, Riverlife experiences. Go kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding in the Brisbane River and see the city from a different angle, a great way to have a totally unique Brisbane experience, or try your hand at abseiling and rock climbing. I’ve tried them all and loved the SUP and abseiling most!
10. Have A Laugh At The Sit Down Comedy Club
If you love comedy, head directly to the Sit Down Comedy Club for an evening of drinks and laughs. They have venues dotted all around Brisbane, with three located in central Brisbane. Peep the gig guide for upcoming shows or drop in on a free Open-Mic Night.
11. Experience Historic Places
Take yourself on a walking tour of some of Brisbane’s iconic and historic spots, like the Story Bridge and stunning parks below. Be sure to visit the heritage-listed Customs House, Old Government House, and the Albert Street Uniting Church. Check out The Old Treasury Building and stroll down the Queen Street Mall and nearby Elizabeth, Adelaide, and Charlotte Streets, paying particular attention to ‘look up’ at the tops of old buildings.
12. Explore Cafe-Chic and Artsy Paddington
Settled in the 1860’s, Paddington is one of Brisbane’s most loved suburbs, owing to its super cool, cafe-chic vibe, unique, artsy stores and boutiques, great restaurants and iconic ‘Queenslander’ homes. Wander the main streets of Given and Latrobe Terraces to spot Queenslanders lining the steep, winding streets and explore art galleries, boutiques, cafes and more.
13. Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts
Wander into Fortitude Valley and visit the Judith Wright Centre, named after the celebrated poet, to discover a unique blend of cabaret, circus, dance, music and contemporary performance. Keep an eye on the ‘What’s On’ page and stop in to catch a live performance showcasing Brisbane’s cultural prowess and local talent.
14. Queensland Performing Arts Centre
One of Australia’s leading centres for live performance, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) offers everything from concerts and comedians to dance, ballet and theatre performances and is a great place to catch a show. For a free dose of Brisbane culture, visit the Green Jam Sessions held each Friday from 5:30 pm on the Melbourne Street Green, showcasing the talents of locals artists and music students.
15. Street Art Trail
There are a wealth of talented artists based in and visiting Brisbane to leave their mark on our city’s walls. Take yourself on a DIY guided tour of Brisbane, spotting works of all shapes and sizes, giving life to the streets and offering artists the chance to share their expression. This guide to 52 street art spots in Brisbane is a great reference point.
16. Experience Our Cafe Culture
Brisbane has a cafe culture that is alive and well, with some fantastic cafes popping up all over the city offering cups of caffeinated liquid goodness to visitors and locals. For those eager to experience the best of our cafe culture, try local favourites Death Before Decaf, John Mills Himself, Bunker, Coffee Anthology and Campos Coffee.
17. Find Hidden Culture In Burnett Lane
You’ll find Burnett Lane hidden in the heart of Brisbane’s CBD, running parallel to the Queen Street Mall, between George and Albert Streets. Originally named after one of Brisbane’s earliest surveyors, (James) Charles Burnett, the lane is now home to art installations, street artworks and a few, select, fabulous eateries like Super Whatnot, Brew, and The Survey Co.
18. Explore The Vibrant Fortitude Valley
Earning its name from Scottish immigrants who arrived in Brisbane on the ship SS Fortitude in 1849, ‘The Valley,’ is now home to an eclectic mix of bars and clubs, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, old and new buildings and an unmistakably unique buzz. Explore local bars, shop up a storm on James Street, scoop up bargains at thrift stores or simply wander through Chinatown. This guide to 36 things to do in Fortitude Valley is a great start.
19. Dig Deeper Into Our World At The Museum of Brisbane
You’ll find the Museum of Brisbane located within Brisbane City Hall, offering exhibits that showcase Brisbane and its residents to the world. Admission is free and inside you’ll find works examining how Brisbane and its people continue to change over time, revealing how our stories are the milestones of the city’s evolution.
20. Discover The Bohemian World Of West End
Named by early English settlers who were reminded of the West End in London, Brisbane’s very own West End is a meeting point of art, culture, shops and boutiques, food and more. Well-known for its soulful streets, you’ll find West End offering a laid-back vibe and plenty of spots to unearth Brisbane culture. Check out the Davies Park and Boundary Street Markets, eat Greek Food, go on a cafe crawl (starting with favourite, The Gunshop) and tackle this list of 35 things to do in West End.
21. View Amazing Aboriginal Artworks
Prior to settlement, Brisbane was inhabited by two Aboriginal tribes – the Turrbal and Jagera people, who knew the Brisbane CBD area as Mian-jin, which means ‘place shaped as a spike.’ Take a trip to the Suzanne O’Connell Gallery in New Farm to view some impressive Aboriginal Artworks from artists Australia-wide and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the importance of Indigenous artists.
22. Explore Hidden Laneways
As locals will tell you, Brisbane is changing each day. There are pockets of culture dotted all over the city, including some hiding down hip laneways, waiting to be uncovered. Peep the new Brisbane cultural scene in spots like Eagle Lane, Gresham Lane, Winn Lane, Albert Lane, Bakery Lane, Fish Lane and M&A Lane, each housing cafes, bars, boutiques, stores, music venues and more.
23. Get Up Close With Culture At The UQ Anthropology Museum
Located at the Universty of Queensland’s St Lucia Campus, you’ll find the UQ Anthropology Museum home to a significant collection of art and artifacts, including contemporary Pacific and Australian Indigenous Artwork as well as 6,500 photographs. Open Monday to Friday from 11 am to 3 pm, entry is free, and you’ll find rotating exhibits as well as permanent collections.
24. Swing Into The Brisbane Jazz Club
For a little audible culture, get yourself over to the Brisbane Jazz Club immediately! Dedicated to live jazz, you’ll find the venue boasting exceptional skyline views of our stunning river city, serving cold drinks and offering hot, hot jazz.
25. Catch A Sporting Event
It’s no secret Aussies are sports mad and Brisbanians are no exception. If you’re keen to experience our sports culture first-hand you might want to check out a Brisbane Broncos rugby league game, Brisbane Roar soccer match, Queensland Red’s rugby union game, Brisbane Lions AFL match or a cricket match at The Gabba.
26. Explore Our Parks and Gardens
Queensland is known for its great outdoors lifestyle so I suggest you make the most of it by exploring a few of our stunning parks and outdoor areas, all free to experience. Visit Spring Hill’s Heritage-listed Victoria Park, spend some time wandering the Roma Street Parklands. Discover hidden parts of the City Botanical Gardens, walking through South Bank and taking in our iconic riverside walkways.
27. Dive Fork First Into Brisbane’s Food Scene
One of the biggest changes to happen to Brisbane is the evolution of our restaurant and cafe culture. A few years ago it felt like there weren’t too many exciting places to dine in Brisbane but, now, we’re spoilt with incredible restaurants popping up daily and talented chefs putting Brisbane’s food scene on the map. Check out some of Spring Hill’s finest restaurants, including Kennigo Social House, Longtime, Tumbling Stone and nearby food precincts like West End and Fortitude Valley.
Where to stay
Planning a trip to Brisbane and need a place to stay? Check out Holiday Inn Express Brisbane Central. Located nice and close to the heart of Brisbane, the hotel offers everything you need with none of the other stuff that tends to pump up hotel room prices. Modern, fresh, comfortable, light-filled rooms with big squishy beds and power showers as well as complimentary high-speed in-room wifi and breakfast! You’ll find it the perfect base for your easy Brisbane adventure. Remember to book direct on the hotel’s website as it’s got best price guarantee.
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.