It takes a while to learn how to navigate a city and if you only have a day or two, it might be helpful to know where some of the hidden and not so hidden gems are. I’m focusing on the most central parts of Brisbane because that happens to be where I live and they’re areas that are easy to get to if you’re only here for visiting purposes. Naturally, I can’t cover an entire city in one blog post, so this is highly biased and based on what I’d personally recommend if asked.
Brisbane has gotten a bit of a bad rep, but it’s actually a nice place to visit as long as you know what you’re doing. It’s not very touristy and therefor a visit here truly gives you a chance to see the city like the people who live here do. Take it for what it is and it’s truly worth your time.
Breakfast: Brisbane has some really good food options and the one thing we do best is breakfast. The area you want for this is New Farm, located just a short bus ride from the city. One of my all time favourites is Au Cirque that has a mild French theme and constantly reinvent their menu. Near Au Cirque is another New Farm icon, the Ponycat. Sure, you might need to battle the hipsters for a seat, but the food served here is delicious and it has a lovely quirky feel to it. A less well known place that serves fantastic eggs benedict is The Little Pantry on James Street that should not be confused with the more popular The Little Larder. The interior is lovely and it always feels welcoming, plus there’s an antiques store just nearby. There’s endless breakfast options, these are just some of my favourites. If you don’t want to try New Farm, go for West End. They have some pretty amazing stuff too.
Lunch: Surprisingly, one of the absolute best cold lunches you can find in Brisbane is a salad served at a bakery. The brown rice, kale, cranberry, and goat cheese combo makes for a fantastic and fairly healthy lunch that can be found at Choquette in New Farm.
Dinner: If you want to have dinner with some blues and drinks, try Papa Jack’s for a taste of the south. It’s located in such a way that you can eye the Jaguar store if you’re a tad resourceful. This place gets me excited about grits and their cocktails are really nice. Convinced Papa Jack’s would be a good date spot, was actually meant to go on a date here once but then a cyclone happened.
Coffee: Now, my local cafe is called Cafe 530 and it’s on Brunswick Street. They don’t have a Facebook or a website, but it’s at 530 Brunswick street just between New Farm and the Valley and they do some really good coffee. It’s also a good spot for a small breakfast or to have a small treat with your coffee. The interior is a weird mixture of vintage, New York Meatpacking District style roughness, and hipster. The coffee is great and the food is great, seriously, try it.
Fancy stuff: If you’re looking for confectionery, there’s one place that has you covered. The New Farm Confectionery just across the street from Chouquette has handmade quality confectionery that is the candy equivalent of a luxurious red lipstick. For high tea, try Customs House, where you can also have a meal in a truly elegant setting. Apparently it’s also a popular wedding venue.
Bars: You can’t go to these areas without at least one drinks stop. My favourite place is probably the newly opened Bloodhound Bar, it’s perfect to just grab a drink and have a chat or study. For fancier drinks, I’d recommend the Gresham in the CBD, which has a beautiful interior and some truly good cocktails. Just avoid it on Friday nights as it gets loud and busy. Same thing goes for The Bowery. I also quite like Dutch Courage Officer’s Mess in the Valley. Great interior, great drinks, good place for a night out where you still want to be able to talk to each other. Specialises in gin of all things. If you’re more into pubs than bars, I’d try some of the Irish places in the cbd. There’s a handful of them and they’re all quite good in my experience.
Clothes: A key icon for pinup and alternative clothing in Brisbane is Trash Monkey, which can be found in the China Town part of the Valley and is located next to a hippie store and a vintage records store. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Trash Monkey is where I go to buy hair flowers, Besame cosmetics, and quirky accessories. If you prefer the more alternative style compared to the cuter pinup ones, you might want to check out Voodoo Lulu in the Valley. It’s a massive store that sells alternative clothing and tons of handmade steel boned corsets. I’d recommend checking out the RSPCA op shop, the Lifeline op shop, and the Red Cross op shop in the Valley. In the CBD the Lifeline has a store that focuses on second hand designer and mid-range items, which is well worth checking out. Right near it there’s a second hand store known as Revamp Fashion.
Leona Edminston Vintage Boutique is a little different from their regular stores and the clothes available vary rather greatly, so it is well worth dropping by if you’re near James Street. In fact, taking a walk along James Street is a good way to get an overview of what’s available from the more high end side of the spectrum.
Antiques and Second Hand: So you might not be able to pick up an entire bedroom while you’re here, but browsing in antiques stores is one of the most interesting ways to kill time. Firstly, there’s one in Fortitude Valley called Unique France and it always looks super fancy. I’ve only looked through the window as I walked past but they do seem to have some interesting items. An antiques store where I’ve bought anything from Balmain scarves (10 dollars) to clip on vintage earrings to a winter coat is the New Farm Antique Centre. It doesn’t look like much from the outside or when you first walk in, but then you slowly begin to realise just how massive this store actually is. The furniture tends to be expensive, but smaller decorative objects, clothes, and jewellery is usually really cheap. Perfect escape from the summer heat.
Makeup: Two stores with unusual makeup & beauty products can be found in the Myer Centre of all places. The first one is MyCube where the stock naturally varies, but it’s usually good for unusual makeup products and accessories. The second one is W Cosmetics that can be found on the top floor, it sells Korean products and it’s where I pick up most of the Korean products I use at this chain. There’s mainly the big chains in the CBD, which doesn’t really require a specific recommendation. As mentioned before, Thrash Monkey sells Besame and Voodoo Lulu sells some more alternative makeup.
Markets: The Valley has markets every weekend during midday and there tends to be some interesting stalls sometimes, I’ve bought a few pieces of jewellery, scarves, and even clothes there. It’s usually located on the walking part of Brunswick street. Another thing to keep an eye out for is the suitcase rummage markets that pop up every now and then, look them up on Facebook to see their relevant dates.
Beauty/Spas: I don’t go to a lot of beauty treatments or get my hair cut very often, so this will be a slightly smaller category than the others. The best spa I’ve tried in Brisbane is without a doubt Archon Spas that focus on hair removal and skin treatments. When I want to get my hair done, Di Vine Hair in the CBD is one of the best places I know of. It’s either Korean or Chinese and they do fantastic colourings for a standard CBD price, much better than some of the high end places I’ve tried. (My distaste for Oscar Oscar after they failed to create the colour ‘chocolate brown’ twice in a row and ruined my scalp in the process knows no bounds). There’s plenty of nail studios in the major malls and most of them are alright, so I’d recommend just walking into one that catches your interest.
Other things to do:
Have a night to spend on something exciting? Hop on Destination Blues, a steam train where you’ll be served drinks, hear live blues music, and get the chance to eat some truly tasty looking food. This was only launched this year, so I haven’t had the chance to try it yet, but it looks amazing.
Brisbane is a great walking city, I’d recommend walking along the river walk Southbank. The parks there are amazing. If you took my advice and headed to New Farm, do that river walk too, it has some historical information that’s quite interesting to read and is truly relaxing.
The Roma Street Parklands is very centrally located and is well worth a visit. No matter if you want to explore the park, chill with some iced coffee you brought along, or play around on the lawns (time to revive your inner kid), it’s a good place to spend a few hours when the weather is nice.
Eat Street Markets – now this, this is really cool. It requires getting a bus or ferry to get there if you don’t have a car, but it’s worth the trip. It’s a combination of a farmers’ market and a food truck.