Set aside a day to spend at South Bank; with its large areas of parklands and some of Queensland’s major cultural institutions, it’s one of Brisbane’s favourite places to play and celebrate. On the opposite side of the river to the CBD, it's an easy walk across Victoria Bridge from Queen Street, the Go Between Bridge from Coronation Drive or the pedestrian-and-cycle-only Goodwill Bridge from the Botanic Gardens. Throughout the year thousands gather here for Christmas and New Year parties, and events such as the Brisbane Festival with its Riverfire extravaganza. There are also regular concerts and multicultural events.
The beautiful kilometre-long Arbour – created by tendril-like metal columns covered in vibrant magenta bougainvillea – winds through the length of the South Bank precinct. Along the way, stop to watch some of the free entertainment – from buskers and street performers to international acts in the 2600-seat Suncorp Piazza. For something more peaceful, discover the ornate Nepalese Peace Pagoda set among tropical rainforest trees or take a detour and stroll along the shady Rainforest Walk, a raised boardwalk through the sort of subtropical vegetation for which Queensland is famed.
You can walk east along the Cliffs Boardwalk to watch rock climbers and abseilers do their stuff on Kangaroo Point Cliffs, located on the bend of the river beyond the Captain Cook Bridge. If you’re keen, you can learn to abseil on the spot. From the Kangaroo Point Cliffs City Lookout there are great views of the city.
A sandy beach right in the centre of Brisbane, Streets Beach holds enough water in its crystal-clear lagoon to fill five Olympic swimming pools. Patrolled by lifesavers and with views across the Brisbane River to the CBD, the lagoon is a favourite for kids and sunbathers alike. Surrounded by tropical palms, there are plenty of barbecues and covered picnic areas.
Clem Jones Promenade
Walking or cycling along the riverside promenade is a great way to see the sights of South Bank. There are more than 50 cafes, restaurants and bars along here, including the Riverbend riverfront dining precinct. You’ll also find ideal barbecue areas for a picnic.
Queensland Performing Arts Centre
This is the place for theatre, music and opera. The Cremorne Theatre is dedicated to experimental theatre; the Playhouse offers cutting-edge technology in stage design; the Lyric Theatre is the flagship of the centre, hosting everything from Opera Queensland performances to the latest blockbuster musical; and the Concert Hall is home to regular performances by the Queensland Orchestra as well as international classical, jazz and pop artists. At the ground-floor entrance of the Cremorne Theatre is the Tony Gould Gallery, the exhibition space for the QPAC Museum, which displays exhibitions related to the performing arts. There are cafes and a restaurant, perfect for post-theatre suppers. Guided tours of the centre must be booked in advance. Cnr Grey and Melbourne sts; guided tours (07) 3840 7444; general admission free.
Queensland Museum South Bank
This excellent museum has an extensive natural history collection, including a fascinating endangered species exhibit, and displays on Queensland’s Indigenous and European history. Interactive displays for kids sit alongside the skeleton of a humpback whale and dinosaur displays. Plan to spend a few hours here and take in Sciencentre, an interactive science experience. Cnr Grey and Melbourne sts; open daily; general admission free.
Queensland Art Gallery
Overlooking the Brisbane River, the city's premier cultural attraction houses Queensland's permanent art collection as well as regular special exhibitions. Not to be missed is the Watermall, an internal feature that runs the entire length of the building and is flooded with natural light from a huge skylight. Free guided tours are available. The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), which opened at the end of 2006, showcases cutting-edge contemporary art and is home to the highly successful Asia–Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. GoMA’s architecture is equally impressive. Stanley Pl; open 10am–5pm Mon–Fri, 9am–5pm Sat–Sun; general admission free.
State Library of Queensland
The State Library of Queensland must rank as one of the most beautiful repositories of books, archives, manuscripts, images, prints and maps you’ll find anywhere. There are regular exhibitions and events (visit www.slq.qld.gov.au for details). (07) 3840 7666; open 10am–8pm Mon–Thurs, 10am–5pm Fri–Sun.
Queensland Maritime Museum
No maritime enthusiast should miss this local institution, which is self-funded and run by volunteers. There are three galleries displaying relics, memorabilia and exhibits, such as a wall map of vessels lost in Queensland seas – more than 1500 since the first recorded wreck in 1791. Look for displays on sailing, old diving equipment and the navigation instruments used by early explorers of Queensland’s coastline; there's also an impressive collection of historic seagoing craft, ocean-liner replicas and nautical machinery. In the Dry Dock explore Australia’s only remaining World War II frigate, HMAS Diamantina. You can also see a coal-fired, steam-powered 1925 tug SS Forceful. Sidon St; open daily.
Grey Street Precinct
The success of South Bank has spilled over into the adjoining area, especially Little Stanley and Grey streets, where you will find cafes and shops and people out and about enjoying the sunshine. Little Stanley Street is home to designer fashion stores, gourmet food shops and great cafes, bars and restaurants. Closed to traffic, Stanley Street Plaza also has eateries aplenty and buzzes day and night. Grey Street, a grand tree-lined boulevard, has shops, cafes, a hotel and a cinema complex as well as the nearby Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, a 7.5-hectare complex used for regular trade and retail exhibitions.
Wheel of Brisbane
For the city's best sky-high views, jump aboard an air-conditioned gondola on this giant observation wheel. Reaching almost 60 metres, it spins for 13 minutes on each ride. Cultural forecourt, Russell St, South Bank; (07) 3844 3464; open 11am-9.30pm Mon-Thurs, 10am-11pm Fri-Sat, 10am-10pm Sun.