Whether you're a first-time visitor to Brisbane or you've lived here all your life, there's always a new activity to discover. How many of these family fun adventures can you tick off the list?
1. Cool culture
Brisbane’s cultural precinct on the riverside of South Bank, is home to the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Queensland Museum, Sciencentre, State Library of Queensland and Queensland Performing Arts Centre and there’s plenty to engage all ages, including young children, from the museum’s ‘Whale Mall’ with its suspended life-size whale sculptures and ‘singing’ whale sounds to the interactive exhibits at the Sciencentre. GOMA has a permanent and dedicated art centre for kids with changing exhibitions and activity programs.
2. Cuddle a koala
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the first and oldest koala sanctuary in the world, about 12km from Brisbane’s city centre and a 75-minute cruise aboard the Mirimar from South Bank or an hour by bus from the city. There are many more highlights in addition to cuddling a koala, including hand feeding kangaroos and dingo and reptile encounters. Kids can also be a keeper for a day, helping with cleaning, feeding and care of the animals.
3. Ride a bike
Exploring the riverside by bike is easy with picturesque routes through the City Botanic Gardens, across the Goodwill Bridge (cyclists and pedestrians only), along South Bank and all the way to West End and Davies Park where busy markets are in full swing on Saturday mornings. Bikes for adults, kids and tandem bikes (plus infant seats) can be rented from Bike Obsession about 150 metres from the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, from Riverlife on the Kangaroo Point side of the river, and there are 150 CityCycle stations between St Lucia and Newstead (with bikes available for rent for people over age 17). Brisbane has more than 3700 cycle routes.
4. Go bush
Only 10km from the city walkers can go bush at Mt Coot-tha Reserve. From the JC Slaughter Falls picnic grounds, an Aboriginal Art Trail (only 20 minutes walk) reveals ancient rock paintings and stick art and offers a good view of the falls (after rain). The 2km hike up the Summit Track is steeper and a bit tougher but the reward is a bird’s-eye view of the city from the top.
Further north, the Walkabout Creek Discovery Centre in D’Aguilar National Park is 12km from the city and has a wildlife centre with platypus and wombats, a 5km walking track and Enoggera Reservoir is a popular spot to swim, paddle in kayaks or canoes and build sandcastles.
5. Whale encounters
Moreton Bay becomes part of the whale highway from June to November when thousands of humpback whales travel between the Antarctic and the sub-tropical waters of North Queensland. Tours operate from Cleveland, south of Brisbane to Redcliffe north of the city and from Tangalooma on Moreton Island and they can be seen every day from Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island.
6. Active parks
There are more than 2,000 parks around Brisbane and most close to the city have playgrounds. One of the best is Riverside Green at South Bank Parklands with its giant slides, tunnels, climbing ladders, swings and pirate ship for exploration and just a short walk from the Wheel of Brisbane for panoramic views of the city.
New Farm Park is a 15-minute ferry ride from the city centre and has plenty of lawn space for games, a children’s playground and is home to Brisbane Powerhouse, a contemporary theatre space on the riverfront.
The Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha is a wonderful walk through different environments in one park, including the largest collection of Australian native rainforest trees in the world and an arid zone with cactus garden. There’s a hide ‘n’ seek children’s trail, guided walking tours or minibus tours on most days and the Sir Thomas Planetarium is also open within the park for cosmic exploration of the starry Brisbane skies and solar system.
All Brisbane’s council parks have a program of free or super cheap activities that range from early morning tai chi, cooking classes, gardening workshops, circus skills training, twilight yoga, arts and crafts, live music, and more.
7. All about trains
The Ipswich Workshops Rail Museum is Australia’s oldest railway workshops still in operation and the museum has genuine locos and vintage carriages, a model railway, train simulator, and 15 larger-than-life exhibits to explore, trackless miniature train to ride around the grounds and tours of the workshops.
8. Victoria Park putt putt and bistro
The family who plays together… You don’t have to be an expert at golf to have fun at Victoria Park Golf Complex where playful putt putt can entertain a family for hours. After working up a healthy appetite around 18 holes of sand and water traps, rocky terrain, over bridges and through lush gardens, stop at the bistro which is open from breakfast to dinner, with plenty of kid-friendly options from Dutch pancakes with berries to mini cheeseburgers, fish and chips and more. Even better, the kids can keep on playing in the wooden playground, complete with cubby and farm tractor right beside the outdoor café seating.
9. River ride
CityCat ferries cruise the Brisbane River from St Lucia to Northshore Hamilton (near the Portside passenger ship terminal) every day, running every 15 minutes between stops on both sides of the river including West End, South Bank, New Farm, Kangaroo Point, the CBD, New Farm and Bulimba. A Go SeeQ card allows visitors to travel for three or five days with unlimited access on bus, train or ferry services, or purchase a paper ticket on board the CityCat which covers travel for two hours.
10. Saint Helena Island
Saint Helena Island is about 21km east of Brisbane and just 4km from the mouth of Brisbane River, accessible only by boat. It was once the lock-up for hardened criminals, including murderers and bushrangers, but all that remains of its notorious past are stone ruins, artefacts from the prison years from 1867 to 1932, cemeteries, an old quarry, the jetty, remnants of Queensland’s first tramway and olive trees which form the backdrop for a range of guided tours – including night time ghost tours – that depart by ferry boat from Manly on Brisbane’s southern bayside (about 19km from the CBD) or Newstead Park (about 4km from the CBD). It’s worth keeping eyes peeled on the journey through Moreton Bay’s Marine Park to spot dugong, shorebirds and turtles.
11. Get wet
Brisbane is a city some way from the coast but there are plenty of places to have a splash and stay cool, from Streets Beach, the Aquativity water park and Boat Pool at South Bank, to Wynnum’s Waterpark on the Bay, about 20km east of the city, where there’s an enclosed wading pool that fills with seawater during high tide, soldier crabs scurry along the foreshore at low tide, and ‘whales’ spout water at shrieking children from a playscape in the park. Take a break with fish and chips and ice-cream on the jetty.
12. Morgans Seafood Takeaway
Morgans is an institution on the Redcliffe Peninsula almost 40km north of Brisbane and a bit of an expedition to get to but it’s worth the trek to eat fish fresh off the boat with a view of the marina and a gaggle of expectant seagulls at your ankles. The seafood market has been open for more than 30 years and it’s Queensland’s biggest with almost 30 metres of counter display showcasing more than 180 fish products daily, including live crabs in tanks, freshly shucked oysters and whole fish.
Nitrogenie is a cool idea has gone global from right here in Queensland where it all began. It’s ice cream as you’ve never seen it served before – first choose a flavour (which has real food ingredients added), then watch as staff (wearing goggles and surrounded by clouds of icy nitrogen) prepare it to order. Flavours change every week but there’s usually a list of seven favourite flavours to choose from and occasionally some Aussie specials including ‘Milk and Milo’ or Lamington.
There is something to please all ages at this dessert diner. Kids will be in sweet heaven tucking into cookie pancake stacks, party pizzas packed full of chocolate, biscuit crumbs, marshmallows and more, crunchy churros with chocolate dipping sauce or create their own paddle pop with choice of toppings while grown-ups can sip on liqueur spiked sundaes.
15. Bird’s Nest Yakitori
The owners won a television cooking show and have been an instant hit ever since, serving up traditional Japanese yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) in their casual and loud restaurants at West End and Fortitude Valley where diners can sit on a tall stool overlooking the smoky grill and watch the chefs at work.