View of skyscrapers in Brisbane
Trip Ideas

Australia’s Hippest City Right Now Will Surprise You (Spoiler: It Ain’t Sydney)

A clutch of new design hotels, scene-stealing restaurants, sultry bars, and a forthcoming runway are opening up Brisbane like never before. Here's all the things to do in one of Australia's most dynamic cities right now.

Senior Editor, Jetsetter | @lindseytravels | lindseytravels.com

See recent posts by Lindsey Olander

Lobby at the Calile Hotel
Bedroom at Calile Hotel
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Calile Hotel

That it sits within sight of James Street, Brisbane’s chicest shopping strip, tells you all you need to know about the sophisticated style you’ll find at the Calile. Its insides make Instagrammers go weak at the knees: retro rooms are pretty pink or sage green, overlook the pool or city, and channel tropical Miami of yesteryear with their sisal matting, brass trims, and window-hugging daybeds. Open-air hallways let the outside in through their archways and breeze-block balconies, and it all comes to a head at alfresco Greek restaurant Hellenika, whose best tables sit inside cabanas lining the palm tree-shaded pool deck. During the day, the pool is the perfect place to retire for some R&R (and later, cocktails) after a long, muscle-melting massage at the spa.

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Hellenika

Multiple A-Listers have been spotted grazing on mezedes from the private poolside cabana seating at this glamorous Greek taverna, which has been seducing Brisbane foodies and socialites since the day it opened. (Celeb alert: U2 was spotted dining here the night before Jetsetter did.) Reservations are hard to come by, and that’s no surprise—the atmosphere is electric, the staff are attentive and charming, and the food is fabulous. Order family-style so you can taste as much of their meatballs, spanakopita, and hand-selected Greek wines as possible.

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Dinosaur Designs

This iconic Australian design brand from native duo Louise Olsen and Stephen Ormandy (both former art students) has been fashioning colored resin into beautiful handcrafted jewelry and homewares for more than 30 years. Don’t leave Brisbane without picking up one of their hand-cast bead necklaces, painterly bowls or vases, or minimalist chunky bangles, which you can customize in over 100 colors.

RELATED: The Best Places to Visit in Australia—Beyond Sydney

South Bank Pedestrian Walkway
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South Bank Parklands

Running along the South Bank precinct riverfront, this 42-acre expanse is a literal breath of fresh air in Queensland’s capital where the farther you walk, the more you discover. A promenade runs alongside the river and branches off towards sites like the Wheel of Brisbane, the ornate Nepal Peace Pagoda (a remnant of the 1988 World Expo), the picture-picture Grand Arbour, and Streets Beach, a free man-made swimming pool in the middle of the city where locals come to cool off and relax. JS Tip: Hire a Brisbane Greeter (it’s free!) for a truly local, insider’s guide to the area.

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Gerard’s Bistro

Don’t be fooled by the casual, laidback vibe at Gerard’s Bistro. Year in and year out, this spot is rated as one of the best restaurants in Brisbane. The dining room is a study in texture—Moroccan tiled walls, a concrete bar, more surfaces laid with brick and marble—and so is the menu. The bold, flavorful selection of Middle Eastern and northern African dishes marry expected ingredients (eggplant, cauliflower, tahini) with less-expected ones (fermented mushrooms, house-made pig’s blood morcilla). Take a look at the wine list, too, for selections from Australian and Lebanese winemakers.

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Savile Row

There are multiple levels in which to imbibe at London-inspired drinking den Savile Row, and from all of them, you’ll be able to take in a full view of the chandelier-lit back bar. It’s a good thing, too, because you're going to need some extra time to suss out what to order from the 900+ types of spirits lining the walls. Our suggestion? Grab the drinks list and find a corner so you can read through the many pages listing their in-stock Scotch, whiskey, bourbon, gin, rum, tequila, and amaro selections along with a handful of beers and wines. Although there are “only” 20 signature cocktails on the menu, the bartenders are happy to design something special on the spot, too.

Interior of Felons Brewery in Brisbane Australia
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Felons Brewing Co.

It’s a wonder why there wasn’t a single riverside brewery in Brisbane until Felons Brewing Co., but it became just that when it opened its doors in 2018. Named after the four escaped convicts who first discovered the city in the early 1800s, Felons has become the place to hang out on weekends and after work thanks to its airy indoor seating area, stretch of bar stools overlooking the water, and excellent brews that incorporate local ingredients. Ordering up one of their Australian Pale Ales, Crisp Lagers, or Sonny Apple Ciders alongside a wood-fired pizza or poké bowl and watching the sun set behind the city sounds like an afternoon well spent.

Restaurant at The Fantauzzo
Aerial view of rooftop pool at The Fantauzzo
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The Fantauzzo Brisbane - Art Series

Carved into the rocks beneath iconic Story Bridge (yes, the views are fantastic), the Fantauzzo is everything we love about Brisbane right now. It’s artsy with a side of grit, sophisticated without being over the top, and completely current, fitting like a glove in the revitalized Howard Smith Wharves, the city’s buzzy new cultural hub. The façade—fragmented glass alongside an eye-catching zig-zag design—is a perfect prelude for what lies behind the doors: broody black interiors that make those emerald-green sofas, brass light fixtures, and Aussie artist Vincent Fantauzzo’s theatrical prints pop. After catching some sun at the rooftop pool, head down and see if you can snag a table outside at ground-floor Italian restaurant Polpetta.

RELATED: Hotel Views That Will Blow Your Mind

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Stokehouse Q

There isn’t a bad seat in the house at Melbourne transplant Stokehouse Q. Tables both indoors and out face the riverfront and Goodwill Bridge, which twinkles with lights once the sun goes down. It’s a perfectly romantic backdrop for digging into fabulous renditions of Mediterranean flavors made with locally sourced Aussie ingredients, from Moreton Bay Bugs to lamb loin, soda-battered fish and triple-cooked chips, and generous cuts of beef. The wine list is also impressive and extensive, so let your server recommend one. If by some miracle you have room for dessert, go straight for ‘The Bombe,’ a white-chocolate parfait with strawberries and toasted meringue.

Dishes from ZA ZA TA
Drink from ZA ZA TA
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ZA ZA TA

The Mediterranean meets the Middle East at this Ovolo The Valley hotel foodie hot spot. Truth is, we’d gush more about the interiors—the velvet seating and Persian carpets make it feel Victorian with a twist—if we weren’t so blown away by the food. Israeli-born executive chef Roy Ner and head chef Dario Manca put a creative, soulful stamp on centuries-old recipes in dishes like pastrami beetroot, Fremantle octopus with house-made camel n’duja, and Yemenite butter bread. Stick around long enough (past 11 p.m.) and the menu switches over to Tel Avivan street grub like falafel chips and prawn bites—perfect morsels for soaking up those cocktails mixed with plantation rums, Mediterranean gins, and cold-pressed Middle Eastern fruits like persimmon and pomegranate.

Dishes at Eleven Rooftop Bar
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Eleven Rooftop Bar

From this chic open-air rooftop bar in the heart of Fortitude Valley, you’ll have—you guessed it—sweeping 11-story views of the city skyline, from the CBD all the way to Toohey Mountain. The space is swanky, and when the sun sets, there’s hardly an open seat to be found at the wraparound marble bar. Thankfully, the corner booths are cushy and work just as well for groups. Whether you’re here on a date (lucky you) or hitting the town with friends, shareable bites and craft cocktails—Beefeater Gin with passionfruit, ginger, and citrus is the house favorite—keep the conversation flowing.

Image Courtesy of Calexico

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Calexico

International labels find a hyper-curated home in Calexico, one of James Street’s preeminent boutiques for women’s fashion. Alexander Wang, Isabel Marant, 3.1 Philip Lim, Rag & Bone, Acne Studios—you’ll find them all side by side here, courtesy of the skillful eye and far-reaching travels of owner Nicky Charman and sister Rebel Hendrie. They fly to style capitals including New York, Paris, and Milan every few months to find on-trend must-haves to add to their collection. From statements to staples, this is where you’ll find the best of-the-moment designer duds all under one roof.  

Brisbane's Story Bridge, Australia
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Story Bridge Adventure Climb

This side of the world has a thing for climbing bridges. In fact, Australia and New Zealand are the only countries where you can summit one—in Sydney Harbor, of course; Auckland; and good old Brisbane. The fastest way to get your heart pumping in River City is by taking on the Story Bridge Adventure Climb, where you’ll scale the city’s famous landmark and get a bird’s-eye view from two separate viewing platforms of the Brisbane River, the CBD, and Kangaroo Point. The views are stunning any time of day but most magical at twilight, when you get the see the city’s lights flicker on as day transitions into night.

 

Eat Street Northshore
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Eat Street Northshore

Bring cash and show up hungry: open Friday through Sunday, this riverfront shipping container precinct turned food market emporium is now a one-stop shop for all your hunger and shopping needs. Hankering for some Japanese pancakes, triple-decker burgers, ice cream tacos, or hot doughnuts? On the hunt for vintage duds, new housewares, or just a one-of-a-kind souvenir? Odds are you’ll find something to suit your taste among the 70+ vendors that set up shop here. Add to that regular outdoor movie screenings and live music performances, and your weekend just planned itself.

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