20 free things to do in Brisbane, Australia
Australia has amazed me with the amount of free attractions provided, but Brisbane outshines all other cities. Not only are museums free, but there are tons of other alternative activities and events open to the public. It's a business city, but knows how to let loose and enjoy the free time!
1. Take a ride along the Brisbane River
The adorable red vessels you see cruising around are the CityHoppers and they're free for anyone to use! The hours vary, but it's a great way to see the city and you can snag some great photos (especially at night).
2. Walk along the Cliffs Boardwalk
This was my favorite thing I did in Brisbane -- beginning right past the South Bank, you can walk on the edge of the cliffs up to Story Bridge. The boardwalk has a nice view across the river to the CBD. There are running tracks, sculptures, small garden walks, and even rock climbing areas set up (as long as you have your own gear!).
3. Take a dip at Streets Beach
Located on the South Bank, this is a free waterpark which boasts a man-made beach that looks towards the city. It's filled with people of all ages throughout the day and night, but it's kept really clean and is a fun way to pass some hours. There are countless restaurants and bars surrounding the area when you need to cool down a bit.
4. Learn about Aboriginal culture
Every Wednesday afternoon from 12-1pm in Queens Street Mall a different group performs traditional dances or shares stories. It can get quite crowded, so get there a bit early to make sure you get a good spot. It's a great place to learn more about Aboriginal culture from Aboriginal people, as opposed to reading in museums. But, talking about museums...
5. Wander through QAGOMA
The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art complement each other perfectly: the Queensland Art Gallery boasts traditional Australian art, while the other of course hosts modern art. The Gallery of Modern Art has a fantastic permanent collection on Aboriginal art and culture.
6. Visit the Botanical Gardens
Established in 1828 along the Brisbane River to provide food for the early penal colony, it was originally a botanic reserve. The City Botanic Gardens officially opened to the public in 1855. Strolling through you can find some of the first Queensland native plants to be formally planted. You won't be alone as you wander along, countless birds, lizards, and other creatures will be scurrying along beside you.
7. Take a free tour of the gardens
There are walks leaving from the Rotunda on Monday-Saturday, at 11am and an afternoon walk at 1pm. They last for about an hour and a tour guide will share all the history and their plant knowledge with you! l
8. Book a Brisbane Greeter
This is actually one of the cooler things I have seen in a city before -- not only do they provide a free walking tour, you can actually choose where you want to start AND if you are interested in something specific, say street art, you can request a tour focused on Brisbane street art. (Side note: If you want a street art tour, you should probably head to Melbourne, not Brisbane, but it was the first example I thought of :P )
9. Watch the sunrise at Mt-Coot Tha
From here, you can see the sun sitting just behind the Brisbane skyline -- but you will have to wake up early! After the sun rises, you can head down to the Mt-Coot Tha Botanic Gardens to see some other varieties of flora. Make sure to walk near the water and greet the water dragons!
10. Join a crew and go sailing!
For some reason, some sailors at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron will let us novices join them on Wednesday afternoons for a sail around. Try to memorize "port" and "starboard" beforehand. Really impress them by throwing in some "stern" and "bow".
11. Head to the City Hall and Museum of Brisbane
This labyrinthine building can be toured with a free guide (which you should book ahead of time) or you can enjoy the exploration of getting lost. The museum upstairs dives into Brisbane's history (it was an Australian city that was home to a lot of convicts back in the day).
12. Read at the State Library of Queensland
Or, at least, go check it out. It's situated in between QAGOMA and has a nice bookstore, coffee shop, and some displays. There's also a kid-friendly play zone with some hands-on activities!
13. Pick up some flavorings at the Epicurious Garden
Or, ask if they need any help and see if you can volunteer some of your time! Located in the South Bank Parklands, this is a volunteer run edible garden. It looks gorgeous, it smells gorgeous, and you can head there anytime from 7am-2pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to pick up some free herbs to take home.
14. Follow the City Heritage Trail
Starting at Regent Theatre, you can follow the trail for 26 stops, all which highlight the city's history. You will find yourself going through the shops of the Brisbane Arcade and the site of the old convict barracks.
--If you're interested to learn more about Brisbane's convict past, you can visit the Commissariat Store (there is an entry fee of $5 AUD for adults). Located in a small, unassuming building next to the Treasury Casino, it's actually one half of the only two remaining buildings in Brisbane which were built by convicts.
15. Tour Parliament House
Parliament was built in 1868 but has been restored since. On the outside flies the Australian flag, the Queensland state flag, and the two indigenous flags, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
16. Work out in the park with the Medibank Feel Good Program
Located at Stanley Street Lawn, the program provides activities 6 days of the week (not on Sundays), including yoga, boot camp, cardio, dance, and a program for moms and kids -- or, "mums and bubs" if you're Australian ;)!
17. Discover some new music
Brisbane is actually home to Australia's largest free live music program. The concerts are located all around the city and multiple times during the week. Check out the City Sounds program to see what's on.
18. Wander through the Sherwood Arboretum
The architecture surrounding the arboretum is colonial-style and different than what you will see in the city center, giving you another view of Australian history. The arboretum was quite empty when I visited, not many tourists or locals visit it, so it's a tanquil place to escape to and enjoy your surroundings.
19. Laugh with the locals at Knockoff
Every Friday night at 6pm there's an hour of free comedy provided -- and it's actually really good!
20. People watch at Davies Park Market
On Saturday morning Davies' Park Market is lively with vendors and people strolling around the alternative area in the West End. It's one of the best markets too because of the shade it provides: lined with fig trees, it's a refreshing way to spend a Saturday morning.