Words by Brigid Delaney
But Brisbane? What does it have to offer that you can’t get in other Australian cities?
Quite a lot, it turns out.
Brisbane feels as though it has taken Melbourne’s mantle of a place emerging. Things feel fresh and exciting here and, if you’re visiting, it’s the perfect place to spend a weekend – balmy and relaxed, with great food served on terraced restaurants overlooking the river, unusual independent boutiques filled with the work of interesting local designers, and quirky neighbourhoods with cafes in old Queenslanders.
Plus, there’s that great subtropical weather which means outdoor events like food markets can be enjoyed almost all year round.
So here’s what I did on my 48 hours in Brisbane.
4pm: Next Hotel
I check into my hotel for the weekend – the just-opened Next Hotel that overlooks the city-centre mall.
After a $15 million refurbishment last year, it has a number of appealing features: you can check in and out without speaking to anyone, the minibar is free, you can use your phone as a room key, there are sleep pods for international travellers who get off early flights and need somewhere to crash before their rooms are ready, and they give you an iPhone to use (not to keep) while in town.
Lennons Restaurant and Bar on level one and the hotel’s rooftop bar – with a pool – are great places to eat and drink but I opt for a coffee in a nearby laneway, at Felix Espresso. It also sells salads and sandwiches, with a focus on vegan food.
4.30pm: Segway ride and Goma
To the first-time visitor, the arts precinct down by the river is a confusing, interconnected set of buildings. Am I in the library or the art gallery? The modern art gallery or the traditional?
And what is this walkway that has whale noises being piped through it? What does it mean?
But once you get your bearings you could easily spend a whole day down at South Bank.
Along the river there’s a good smattering of cafes and bars with outdoor seating and activities such as Segway hire.
I’ve never been on one before. I don’t even have a driver’s licence but the guy at X-wing on the promenade doesn’t seem to mind. He hands me a helmet (he really should be handing them out to the pedestrians I’m going to knock over) and shows me how it’s done. You stand on it, tilt forward and then it zooms along the boardwalk at the speed of a motorised scooter.
It’s fun. I don’t want to get off. But I must because Segways are not allowed in Goma, the modern art museum in the South Bank precinct.
The first person I see in Goma is Kevin Rudd. I try to make eye contact as I walk past him but he doesn’t look my way.
I’m here to see the Future of Beauty exhibition. There’s a real Japanese vibe to modern Brisbane. Japanese-inspired boutiques, Japanese/mod Oz fusion restaurants and, right now, the Future of Beauty exhibition at Goma which features the designs of Comme des Garcons, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto.
The clothes – extraordinary works of art – are displayed on dummies and well-lit, allowing close inspection from all angles. The craftsmanship! The bravery! The art of it all!
The Future of Beauty exhibition has now closed but in keeping with the gallery’s edgy vibe, a collection of David Lynch prints, paintings and photography is now showing.
6pm: Drinks at the Charming Squire
For a pre-dinner drink, I head to the Charming Squire near Goma.
The big, wood-panelled space at that opens out on the street has tables for large groups and sells James Squire beers and pork sliders, if you feel like a snack.
On Friday night it’s full of office workers unwinding – including quite a few ABC types, whose office is across the road.
7pm: Dinner at Madame Wu
Madame Wu – with views across Brisbane river towards the lit-up Story Bridge – is very much in the same vein as Chin Chin and Supernormal in Melbourne – think lots of big-flavoured, Asian-inspired dishes to share and a lot of effort put into a sleek interior. It’s relatively new and already hugely popular.
I recommend the beef cheeks braised in rock sugar and soy, black bean and chilli sauce ($35) and the Moreton Bay bug dumplings with XO and lime ($18).
9pm: Up Late
We grab a cab back to South Bank, where Goma is hosting an “Up Late” event for the Future of Beauty exhibition.
Four-piece Broken Doll, known for their energetic performances and awesome Harajuku-style fashion, are playing, there’s a bar and the crowd is buzzing around the exhibits. Many guests are wearing their own Japanese-inspired clothes: I see a woman in a stunning Akira silk top and lots of black, sharp, architectural shapes.
The night is warm but not too muggy – just right for the 20-minute walk back to my hotel.
“How were the beaches?” asked one friend when I returned from Brisbane. There is this idea of Queensland as being beachy but – apart from a fake beach at South Bank – it’s all about the river in Brisbane and the best way to explore it is by kayak.
It’s early morning and there’s not much traffic on the river, which is wide and brown. You have to stick close to shore, but not so close that you’d get caught in the mangrove swamps.
The River Cat and smaller ferries go past but there’s plenty of room to move about. I think, if I lived in Brisbane, this would be a fine way of getting to work.
Kayaks can be rented by the hour from $20 along the river at Riverlife.
11am: City Tour
Back on land, I go on a guided city tour with Brisbane Greeters – part of a worldwide network of city tour guides. The idea is that visitors are matched with locals and get an insider’s view of the city. All greeters are volunteers.
My guide, Anna, advises that the best walk in Brisbane is the city to New Farm walk, via the Botanic Gardens and the Queensland University of Technology. She also recommends walking over the Goodwill Bridge.
Forget beaches ... it’s all about the river in Brisbane and kayak is the best way to see it.
Anna is a Brisbane enthusiast and one of 200 volunteer greeters. She says visitors should book online at least three days ahead.
I purchase an all-purpose travel Go Card and Anna and I board a River Cat towards New Farm and the Brisbane Powerhouse.
The trip along the river is pleasant, passing the lovely, large Moreton Bay figs and poinsiettas that line the banks and Brisbane’s waterfront properties – all new-looking and gleaming glass in the sunlight.
To find some of the old weatherboard-on-stilts Queenslanders, head to the posh suburb of Ascot or see the smaller worker cottage versions in Paddington (though just because they’re smaller doesn’t make them cheap).
If there’s a second arts hub in Brisbane, it’s here at the Powerhouse in New Farm, about 3km from the city centre. The former power station has been transformed into a cool events space with a bar and restaurant attached.
I lunch at Bar Alto, an Italian restaurant overlooking the river.
My Brisbane pals tell me the Powerhouse is “a bit corporate and for visitors, like the Opera Bar at the Sydney Opera House”, but it’s one of my favourite venues in Brisbane.
I return later for a poetry readings and, long after the performance is over, the bar area zings with energy. During the day the vast, industrial concretey space is a good lunch spot.
I’m dining alone but rather than being shoved at a little table down the back, I’m given a nice spacious table overlooking the water and lots of magazines to read, lest I become gloomy with existential angst after an hour in my own company.
The wine list is very good and I recommend the set lunch menu for $37 that offers two courses plus a glass of wine.
2.30pm: Shopping In James Street
It’s a short cab ride from the Powerhouse to James Street in Fortitude Valley.
This lovely tree-lined, shady street is Brisbane’s coolest shopping area – the city’s premier designer, Easton Pearson, has a flash flagship shop here.
The precinct features a mix of more than 130 specialty shops – with a cluster of independent boutiques homewares stores and the very cute Scrumptious Reads, which stocks independent magazines from around the world and cute journals (I buy two).
Around the corner is Gail Sorronda, one of the city’s most original designers. Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld named Sorronda “one to watch” and her original designs including dresses and jewellery can be bought online. I recommend popping into her store if you’re in Brisbane.
4pm: Night markets
It’s back to the hotel for a quick dip in the rooftop pool then drinks on the deck before heading out to the Eat Street Markets.
Catch a City Cat to the Hamilton Wharf where there are night food markets every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It’s a bit of a hike from the centre of town (it’s out near the airport) but when you get there it’s as though a portable city has sprung up.
There’s about 60 shipping containers converted into mini-restaurants, serving up international cuisine, with stalls and live performers. Fairy lights are strung up between the stalls and the atmosphere is like one of those German Christmas markets – but it’s lovely and warm, and instead of drinking gluhwein we knock back cold beers.
8pm: Drinks in the Valley
We take a cab to Fortitude Valley where there’s a good range of bars within walking distance.
First up it's Kwan Brothers, where you can snack on “Asian street food” while your eyes adjust to the busy decor including novelty toys, disco balls and massive Chinese lanterns.
It’s pretty rowdy, with lots of big groups enjoying huge bowls of Korean fried chicken.
My pals and I are about 10 years older than a lot of the people in the bar. We sit in the quieter back area where the cocktails are great but the decibel level lower.
From there it’s a short stumble to Alfred and Constance streets, and Limes, in a converted church, or At Sixes and Sevens, a gastropub in a heritage-listed weatherboard cottage dating from 1878.
My pal, a Brisbane musician (and Guardian Australia’s Queensland correspondent, Josh Robertson) recommends the Triffid if you fancy some late-night live music. It’s one of Brisbane’s newer music venues and is run by the former bassist of Powderfinger.
It’s a time for a sleep-in, then brunch. I head to Kettle and Tin in Paddington, another charming old workers’ cottage that has resisted the spit and polish and sparkle of so many Sydney eateries.
There’s a bit of a queue but it moves quickly. The bacon and eggs are good, and the coffee is amazing. My only gripe? They were a bit snooty when I asked if they had a copy of the Courier-Mail. I was given the Australian instead, which was a bit of a let-down, as nothing quite captures the flavour of a new city like a read of its local paper.
I stick around Paddington and do a final bit of shopping.
Several of the cottages nearby house independent boutiques including Dogstar which – once again – stocks Japanese-inspired designs. It’s the brainchild of the Brisbane-based Japanese designer Masayo Yasuki.
There’s an American visitor in the shop who is buying everything she tries on, explaining to her friend: “They don’t have any of this kind of stuff in LA!”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Brigid Delaney from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.