Brisbane is a fantastic destination to visit with toddlers, babies or children of any age – and what’s best of all is that you don’t need to spend big dollars to have big fun!
We have visited the mighty Bris-Vegas many times over the years – but mostly for big events or celebrations and never before on a family holiday, so we weren’t sure what to expect. I had a vague recollection of a swimming area that I had spotted from a pub beer garden once through the haze of about 5 craft beers, but that was about the only info we were armed with.
We had originally planned only a couple of days in the city before picking up our new motorhome and coasting back up to Cairns – however things didn’t quite go to plan (blog to follow), and we found ourselves extending our stay before flying back home. And are we glad we did! I am officially now in love with Brisbane – not only is it perfectly possible to walk between lots of attractions but there is also a network of free public transport to take you further afield – all of it pushchair friendly (we didn’t go anywhere without our double side-by-side stroller and were not restricted at all).
Another absolutely wonderful and surprising thing to find was that nearly all of the things we visited and loved were completely free of charge – we filled 5 days of activities and only paid for food and drinks – on some days we went to the supermarket and took picnics with us making the break even more suitable for our budget.
Here’s a list of our highlights:
GOMA – the Queensland Art Gallery and Museum of Modern Art.
Without a doubt one of the coolest places on the planet – we could have spent a whole day there looking at all the exhibits and enjoying the interactive installations. The gallery is located on the South Bank (we walked there from our city centre accommodation across the Kurilpa Bridge) and is open all year except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Good Friday. Kids are made to feel welcome here – there is even a double slide to get from the first to ground level in the current exhibition! There is also a children’s art centre with kids activities to encourage them to have fun whilst learning about art – if you visit on a Tuesday there is a free 45 session just for toddlers with games and storytelling – you can find more info here. There are so many exhibits and things to do – we got to make crazy hairstyle wigs and have a go at tracing some designs – there was even a massive lego exhibit with thousands of bits of lego that visitors are encouraged to play and build with that we managed to miss (probably for the best as our youngest is more into destructing than constructing at the moment).
A short walk along the river will bring you to The State Library of Queensland – we didn’t get chance to visit but some mum friends have told me they have a great kids’ section with craft and big building blocks – they also have different family-friendly events and exhibitions throughout the year – all the family-friendly links on their website can be found here.
Next door to the library you can find the Queensland Museum – again this is another place you could almost spend a whole day – there is a really cool dinosaur-themed play area for small kids here called Energex Playosarus Place where little ones can run free and touch everything in the shade of some giant dinosaurs. In the main museum there is a science centre and a big exhibit on Australia’s own lost creatures – giant marine animals and dinosaurs from days gone by. You can see all the current exhibits here.
City Botanic Gardens
Just a few minutes walk from the city centre you can walk through the beautiful Botanic Gardens – there is a free guided walk that lasts about an hour or you can just stroll through and discover lots of different attractions. There are the bamboo grove and ornamental ponds, and we visited on a Sunday so had a chance to stroll through the market stalls – but of course the highlight for us was the giant playpark – featuring lots of things to climb, buttons to press, corners to explore and a brilliant roundabout that I spent quite a bit of time on myself!
The gardens are riverside so it’s a beautiful walk whichever direction you head – it also means that you can arrive at, or leave from them on a boat – look out for the super cute looking City Hopper boat – running every 30 minutes, 7 days a week from 6am until midnight – and it’s absolutely free! It will take you from Sydney Street to North Quay – our little guy ended up falling asleep so we took the chance to have a rest too and stayed on the boat for the whole trip – a perfect way to enjoy the beautiful Brisbane River and see all the sights – there is an open top area too so you can get some excellent snaps.
For more info on the CityHopper and timetables and maps click here
There is also a free bus around the city that we didn’t know until the last day – more info here
Southbank Streets Beach
Another great place to spend the whole day – there is a huge man-made white sandy beach surrounding a tropical lagoon overlooking the Brisbane River and the city skyline – awesome! Not only the main lagoon, there is also a kids’ water park style fun zone, and a rock pool further up. In the opposite direction is a great pirate themed play area, there is also an abundance of cafes, restaurants and ice cream shops, as well as picnic areas and BBQs (one of the most interesting we saw was on a small island behind the beach!).
Walking South from the playparks you’ll find a lovely rainforest style board walk leading into the Nepalese Peace Pagoda – be sure to go and marvel at the beauty of the structure – it took 160 Nepalese families over 2 years to carve the intricate details in the timber – and it’s one of only 3 such temples in the world.
Also make sure you check out the Epicurious Garden – a community city centre garden growing fresh produce for everyone! You can get gardening advice, taste the home grown goodness and get tips on how to cook the produce when back at home. More info here.
Incidentally, we found the beer garden that we visited – it’s called the Plough Inn and they serve a mighty fine lunch and beer!
Four very good reasons to pay for a return trip on the public bus up to this place:
1. The Botanical Gardens located almost at the summit are out of this world. We spent around 2 hours there and didn’t get to see everything – there is a stunning Japanese garden with stepping stones and water features, a Bonsai exhibit with perfect miniature trees of unbelievable age and beauty, a rainforest dome, sensory gardens and for the kids a really cool hide and seek trail and a brand new play park. There is also an abundance of wildlife to spot – you can also go on a free guided walk with one of their lovely and welcoming staff. Love everything about this place!
Visit their website here for more info.
2. Space rockets! Yes you read that right – my hubby loves the planets and we were excited to visit the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium located just outside the Botanical Gardens – but we went on a Monday and it’s closed! Should have checked their website out before we left! It’s top of the list for next time.
3. Breathtaking views of Brisbane – Mount Coot-tha is 287metres above sea level and the highest peak in Brisbane – meaning you get incredible sweeping views of the whole city and surrounds. Get your camera ready!
4. Cake and wine! The last photo might have given you a bit of a clue that the boys had a nap when we reached the summit – giving us half an hour to savour the amazing selection of drinks and snacks at Kuta Cafe. Last time we visited we had lunch at the Summit Bar and Restaurant – they have one, two or three-course lunches on offer and the food was amazing (this definitely does not fit into the budget category though!)
You can catch a public bus up to Mount Coot-tha, it takes about 20 minutes to get there and cost around $5 each way. We liked visiting the Botanical Gardens first (you hop off a stop before the summit) then riding up to the lookout and cafe afterwards for refreshments. Make sure you check the timetable when you hop off the bus so you can plan your ride to the top (doesn’t look fun to walk with little ones!)
Roma Street Parklands
The boys loved this place so much it was the first thing our 3 year old asked to do again the next day when he woke up. We really only scratched the surface of this place – only visiting the kids play areas (which are sooooo much fun and so imaginative!) – there is easily another whole day’s worth of attractions here. There are free guided walks and we also saw evidence of a little train that runs around but we weren’t there at the right time to have a go. There were also loads of lizards everywhere which we had great fun spotting with the boys – they even came for a play on the park! More info can be found here.
Our 5 days went so quickly I am sure there are loads of things we missed – we’ve since been told a trip to Newfarm and the Science Museum is also a must do.
There are also an abundance of markets in and around Brisbane if that’s your thing (it’s definitely mine!) and
we were I was lucky enough to stumble across the monthly ‘Suitcase Rummage‘ and picked up some snazzy shorts for $1!
Another thing we really enjoyed was walking around the City in the evening too – there are so many works of art and sculptures dotted around the streets, singers and performers in the open air and beautiful buildings and monuments to look at, by night it’s a whole new experience. I’ll leave you with a quick video I took of Southbank – hubby is available for voice overs if anyone needs some inspiring commentary!