Beneath the cantilevered beams of the Story Bridge couples and friends gather for sundowners at the octagonal pastel-hued Mr Percival at Howard Smith Wharves – Brisbane’s hottest new riverside playground. Families sprawl across lush lawn tucking into fish and chips, punters enjoy a cold ale propped up at riverside bars while a passing flotilla of boats, chugging ferries and city cats pass by.
Children explore the lush Roma Street Parkland, where water dragons roam, art lovers browse the halls of the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) while inspired cocktails are being served at the rooftop Terrace at the Emporium Hotel.
This is Brisbane, where the sky is eternally blue and cloudless, streets are lined with blazing red poinciana, bats fly on the dusk sky and the smell of barbecues wafts from countless backyards.
Much has changed about the northern capital city affectionally known as Brisvegas. Once a gateway for travellers on their way to Noosa to the north or the Gold Coast to the south, Brisbane is now a destination in its own right with fabulous restaurants, bars, cafes, boutiques and galleries. It’s also the unlikely capital of Australia’s coolest new hotels. Unquestionably one of the best things about Brisbane in summer is it’s devoid of the holiday crowds that flock to east coast beaches and it’s affordable, too.
If you’re travelling with kids, they’ll love Brisbane’s lush parks and playgrounds including Roma Street Parkland and the City Botanic Gardens which hugs the Brisbane River. Hire bikes and cycle along the riverside pathway to Howard Smith Wharves (HSW) and beyond to New Farm.
Built on the banks of New Farm in the Depression to generate employment, the unloved buildings and sheds that make up HSW have been completely transformed. Today the precinct includes Felons craft brewery in a vast waterfront shed, overwater bar Mr Percival’s, Arc Dining, modern taverna Greca and new Art Series hotel The Fantauzzo, carved into the cliff beneath the iconic bridge.
On the other side of the city, cross the Brisbane River and explore the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. Until 15 March, the Children’s Art Centre’s Island Fashion exhibition allows kids to explore fashion and adornment through fun hands-on and multimedia activities created by four artists from Australia and the Pacific.
Afterwards take a cooling dip in one of the free lagoons at South Bank or let the kids loose at Aquativity, a fun interactive water park. The rivercats are another fun way to explore the city.
Brisbane offers a raft of new and newly revamped hotels great for families. The stylish new Westin Brisbane (westinbrisbane.com) offers the city’s first swim-up bar and has an onsite spa, 299 rooms and suites in calm neutral tones and fun tepees for young guests.
In Fortitude Valley, the 103-room Ovolo the Valley (ovolohotels.com.au) melds whimsy and artwork with retro furnishings, a rooftop swimming pool and a Mediterranean-meets-Middle Eastern signature restaurant Za Za Ta (Sunday brunch is a must).
The newly reopened heritage-listed Adina Apartment Hotel Brisbane (adinahotels.com) on George Street in the CBD offers 220 contemporary apartments (some sleep up to six and many have Brisbane River vistas), a heated swimming pool and Cantonese eatery Donna Chang.
Best Gold Coast theme parks for kids
Brisbane is within easy reach of the Gold Coast’s theme parks (in fact travel time is about the same from Gold Coast Airport or Brisbane Airport).
There are four major parks, Wet’n’Wild, Dreamworld, Warner Bros Movie World and Sea World, with the first three all located at Oxenford on the Pacific Highway, while Sea World is located at Main Beach, near Surfers Paradise.
Dreamworld is the biggest park and offers something for everyone from toddlers through to action-hungry, rollercoaster-loving teens (and adults). Toddlers and under-fives will love Wiggles World while at ABC Kids World, children can meet their favourite TV characters including Hoot and Hootabelle and Bananas in Pyjamas. Dreamworld also offers WhiteWater World for serious aqua fun.
Sea World is the place to see aquatic animals including the world’s largest man-made shark lagoon, while rides and entertainment are best for under-10s. Warner Bros Movie World combines Hollywood fun (including superheroes, Scooby-Doo and Looney Tunes characters) with theme-park fun. It’s here you’ll find the Southern Hemisphere’s longest, tallest and fastest rollercoaster, DC Rivals HyperCoaster.
Wet’n’Wild is best for families with older kids, although Wet’n’Wild Junior offers pint-sized waterslides, a sandcastle-themed lagoon area and miniature versions of the park’s larger thrill rides, such as the Aqua Racers and the Tornado. Older kids will love the FlowRider and the Super 8 Aqua Racer.
Take me there
Fly: Brisbane is serviced by daily direct flights from all Australian capital cities and some regional cities.
Bus: The free City Loop and Spring Hill Loop buses circle the city every 10 minutes on weekdays.
Ferry: You can travel between Brisbane’s inner-city precincts by hopping on the free CityHopper ferry service, which travels along the river from North Quay to Sydney Street in New Farm (translink.com.au).
Train: To get to the Oxenford theme parks take the train to Coomera station and then a bus. For Sea World, take the train to Helensvale before transferring to a bus.
Explore More: queensland.com