Brisbane from South Bank

The Grumpy Traveller’s Guide to Brisbane

Have you been to Brisbane, Australia? No? Then you should.

Brisbane is a beautiful city in Queensland, Australia, with a population of roughly 2 million plus. It is a clean, green, beautiful city, and does not have (high speed) Internet connectivity or speedy wifi so you can concentrate on what is important in your life rather than check your social media on your phone now and then. Here is a brief seven minute guide to get you going. I have lived there for the last month as a traveller (but also for work), so I know the city in different ways. I have travelled the hard way, on foot, running in the morning, biking at times, on public transport, I visited bookstores, malls, city centres, gardens et al. Here’s my “grumpy traveller” travelogue of the city.

Brisbane has a great airport (nice looking International and domestic terminals), so do not forget to check their website. However, arriving at Brisbane means that you are still a little way off from the city and unless you know how to or have someone pick you up from the airport, getting to the city can be challenging unless you know the best and easiest route and that is not very obvious. I arrived at the airport from Christchurch, New Zealand and was looking for a shuttle service. Should tell you that there is a shuttle service but that only goes to elite hotels, and will not drop you to say a backpacker or a motel (where at least I was supposed to go). The lady in the counter did tell me that there was a train service, and mumbled the name of a station, tried to be as helpful as she could, but actually fact wise, left a lot unsaid, in terms of how good actually the train-ferry-bus integrated public transportation system is in Brisbane. I went up to the level (for some strange reason, in Brisbane, every office and shopping mall I have visited, they do not seem to have “ground floor”, the “ground floor” seems to start from the third storey, take that!) to catch a train, and when I told the street name near where I wanted to go, the ticket office clerk handed me an expensive train ticket to Gold Coast (certainly the most desirable destination in this part of the world for vactioneers), but er … I wanted to go to Brisbane, at a place called Herston, not too far from the CBD. Then I suspected that she directed me to the wrong station, and I got off (accidentally, purely by way of reading the excellent route map posted in the train door/walls), and got off at the right station but the very kind and helpful station officer misguided me. He told me I could walk with my heavy suitcases “roughly a couple of kilometres” to reach my destination. Which, turned out to be about five kilometres of walk through up and down weavy streets of Brisbane crossing busy street signals hauling 20 kilos of packed suitcase and more on your shoulders.

Anyway, the moral of the story is this: most people in Brisbane (other than people in the information centre in their city centre) do not seem to know anything about anywhere in the city, so either check the excellent cell phone apps, or Mr Google, or some other sources — never ask people! They are clueless, and they will be, for all the right reason, read on.

Everything in the public transport system in Brisbane is so well designed and planned that the bus will take you there, or the train, or the ferry, and you will not need to know anything if you are on the street, everything is so well signposted and well marked. The city is like a living GPS, so if a stranger comes and asks you for directions, all you need to do is to shrug. They are all there, :-). You can get by murder, let alone not knowing how to navigate through the city.

To cut a long story short, if you are planning a trip and would like to save time, money, and have a first hand experience of the best public transport system in the world, definitely check out, and no matter how long you are going to stay here, if you know where you are going to stay sufficiently in advance (say like 10 days in advance), apply for a go card. Life cannot be much simpler in Brisbane for transport with a go card in your hand.

An underground busway in Herston station, Brisbane

The translink go card in Brisbane links your bus, trains, ferry, and is just amazing. The buses in Brisbane not only run on time, they have special bus ways (underground tunnels dug througout the city) that safely carries the bus; the bus stations in the city are air conditioned and sound proof. Best of the best. Should check them out. The fares are dirt cheap.

An underground bus stop in the city: perfectly quiet, spotlessly clean. Amazing, just amazing!

So, get yourself a “go card”, and you should be all set. Take the bus, and their public transport system — clean, green, fast, efficient and very well connected — you get to the ferry, the train, the bus, all using one ticket which you can top up online, and virtually in most places, using ticket machines, and on magazine stands! Isn’t that great! But wait, there’s more

They have this “red ferry” (Brisbane city hopper ferry) — a little slow (and that’s a good thing, trust me), where you can hop on and hop off all day long. You do not need to purchase a ticket for that, free for you, and it ambly cruises along the Brisbane River, and you slowly take in all of the city and everything along the bank. The experience is ethereal and you’d like to carry your camera with you. Do it. It won’t cost you anything and you get to see some of the most spectacular river life and bridges and sight seeing on the way. Don’t miss it.

Brisbane city sights aboard the Red Ferry (City Explorer), all for free!

Brisbane is a great city, and I am sure there are great places to eat and drink, but I did not find them. I am yet to find one that is truly great (readers, I need help to locate some). That said, I found in general, coffee in Brisbane is great (even a gas station/petrol pump coffee tastes really good) , and I found a decent chocolatier in the South Bank (South Bank is reputedly the food Mecca of Brisbane). I tried out various places in a neighbourhood called Fortitude Valley famous for their smaller Chinatown. But I will not recommend that place at all. Too bad, too pricey. Stay away from that place if you can, there are far better places in comparison if you can venture out to their Central Business District, which is about twenty minutes (roughly two kilometre stretch) walking distance.

I found food in general quite expensive in Brisbane. They have well stocked supermarkets and nice grocery stores, but they are limited in number and scope I thought for a city of its size. If you are a vegan/vegetarian type, your choices of eating out are really limited, but they have nice options in grocery stores. In one of the malls, I found a nice Papparich restaurant that was quite good with their Malayasian/Indonesian dish, and this place was justifiably very busy on most weekends and weekdays.

A very common experience of writing to Medium when writing from Brisbane, :-)

I’d say Internet access is Brisbane’s weak point. The motel I stay has no reception in their upper storeys, and the reception where they say they have the router close is quite weak. The city centre diplays the wifi sign at several places, but these practically do not work. The only place where wifi (rather free wifi) seems to work in patches in Brisbane is in some pockets in the South Bank of Brisbane. So, if access to wifi is important for you (as it was for me), check well with the motel or hotel or your place where you are going to stay about the reception. Setting up a cell phone prepaid SIM account is easy in Brisbane (need to carry some form of identification), and most people are very courteous and will set it up for you easily. The Internet connection fees are reasonable (again, notwithstanding the speed of connection).

Actually a good thing if you ask me. You will have more time to disconnect, and enjoy the sceneries around. The coffee is great, and enjoy the umami. The river is out of this world, the people are interesting, and the city life is fantastic. When will you enjoy them if you are hooked to your phone checking social media all day.

The Zen …

A Nepalese Pagoda in the South Bank, heart of CBD, Brisbane.

Many, many things. You will be spoilt for your choice. Do not miss the Koala Park, the Southbank, the CBD tour, and river cruise. Even if you do not head out to the Gold Coast, there is so much to see and do, it will need another article to do justice to it.

  • Great city! Absolutely love it (except for its Wifi access, oh well!)
  • The best public transport system in the planet (or very close to it). Period. You cannot beat it.
  • Weatherwise, very hot and humid most part of the year but very well organised, so it should not daunt you as they have plenty of trees, shades, and well designed walkways, and busways, so they care for you.
  • Food is generally very expensive and for most part you will be able to get by unless you are fussy and food is your thing. Be prepared to have your own grocery (if possible and if you can cook), and you cannot afford to be too fussy about these things if you are in Brisbane.
  • Great coffee and chocolate, and I am sure there are pockets of great food joints and restaurants, but I am yet to find one to my satisfaction. There is not a single Indian place in the Central Business district so that should tell you something about the variety of food available here (other than Far Eastern, Japanese, Chinese, and fake Middle Eastern food). That said, I found Papparich restaurant in the Myer Centre quite nice, and most Mall based food courts, are, well, as good as they go. Not my thing.
  • Wifi is forgettable. You have to forgive this city for its poor wifi coverage. Well, at least, there is one thing to grump about, and one thing not to rave about in a city that is otherwise the best in the world in my eyes, :-)

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store