Enjoy a scenic look at the city from the Brisbane River with a ride on the free CityHopper service. Departing North Quay and running a handful of stops to Sydney Street, this helps get your bearings in the city as it runs along the river including under Story Bridge. Running from North Quay, the boat stops at all stops; from Sydney Street, it runs direct back to North Quay but we recommend getting off at Dockside Terminal on Kangaroo Point and walking along the south bank of the river.
Stretch your legs as you walk along the river - if short on time or not wanting to walk the full distance, you can cut inland across Kangaroo Point, arriving back towards the Thornton Street CityHopper terminal before continuing along the river path. Keep your eyes open for lizards, massive spiders and an array of native flora, and you'll shortly find yourself besides stunning cliff faces. Don't be shocked if you see someone hurtling down them - the Kangaroo Point Cliffs are used by rock climbers. Join the fun with the experts at River Life.
Further along the path, you'll pass the Queensland Maritime Museum, the epicurious garden (an inner-city communal lot) and the South Bank gardens home to Streets Beach (see below) and Nepal Peace Pagoda (worth a look, pictured below). Enjoy the shade the gardens offer.
By now, you will have worked up an appetite and thankfully South Bank has plenty of restaurants to offer! Along Grey and Little Stanley Streets, running from Tribune Street to Glenelg Street, there's an array of cuisine ranging from Turkish and Italian to 'pub grub'. Head back a little to the Jetty South Bank for a riverside view and great Aussie menu including seafood and grilled favourites.
If you haven't already dropped off your weekend bags, we recommend doing this before or after lunch and getting your swimsuit out for an afternoon dip at the Streets Beach. Free to use and with a lifeguard on duty at most times, the beach is a popular addition to the city so don't expect a quiet relaxing seaside experience. But if you fancy a dip and are feeling social, this is a great place to cool down from Brisbane's warm afternoons.
Arrive in the heart of the city via the train (easy journey from the airport) and use the early morning to wander the arcades and some of the city's main sights. Get off the train at Central station and head out towards Anzac Square and Brisbane's General Post Office, pictured below before hitting Queen Street and its famous Mall awash with restaurants, shops and the historic Brisbane Arcade. Head past the Treasury Casino and Hotel towards the river, and head for the free CityHopper service from North Quay terminal.
As you will have crammed so much into your first day, we recommend venturing further afield for your next day. When we visited, the Brisbane Open tennis was on so headed out to watch some of the game's biggest stars use this tournament as a warm-up for the Australian Open grand slam a few weeks later. (Worth noting, if you do attend, that your tennis tickets include public transport to/from the Queensland Tennis Centre and its Pat Rafter Arena). Sports fans may also fancy a rugby, football or cricket game at one of the city's grounds including the Gabba. Other options for a fun day are below.
Staying on South Bank - you've had a big day exploring so may fancy an early night close to many hotels in the area - head to one of the restaurants in South Bank's busy eating quarter. We dined at Ahmet's Turkish Restaurant - busy with tourists but efficient service and truly delicious cuisine (the best Turkish food outside of Turkey!). If unsure what to select from the vast menu, ask your waiter's advice and go for a selection but be sure to include their Kisir - the balls of hand rolled bulgur, Turkish chilli with fresh mint, parsley and garlic yoghurt sauce.
Get an understanding of the state's diverse fauna with a wander around the Queensland Museum on South Bank. Ever wanted to see some of Australia's fearsome spiders? Check out the display in the Wild State Gallery (thankfully, they're not alive although there were some very-much-alive giant cockroaches on display during our recent visit!). There's a changing roster of temporary displays so check out for the latest before you visit as some require (paid for) tickets.
After a relaxing night's sleep, head off to brunch. We're sure you'll have passed a lot of enticing options in your exploring the day before, but strongly recommend heading to Jimmy's On The Mall, back down Queen Street. Located in the midst of Brisbane's shopping mecca, Jimmy's has been open since 1982 and does Aussie Brunch the way you expect it to be - great portions and creative menus with plenty of avocado and sourdough toast options!
Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art sit side-by-side in South Bank so are perfect for exploring before an afternoon/early evening flight home. Depending on how interested you are in art (the QAG Australian art is highly captivating) and how quickly you walk, you can visit one or both in the morning before you depart.
You can't leave Brisbane without a visit to the institution that is Gelato Messina. Open daily from 12pm, you'll find 40 flavours to select from so you may want to visit earlier than this to sample as many as possible! As well as staples like Strawberries & Cream, Hazelnut or Chocolate Fondant, there's specials which change frequently and are guaranteed to challenge all you think you know about ice cream. From here, you're a short walk to the train at South Brisbane, and an easy journey back to the international and domestic airport terminals.