Riverside houses, parkland, skyscrapers and buzzing nightlife: Brisbane is no longer simply a gateway to the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. The city that was once a penal colony today has plenty to offer itself, and has well and truly landed in the 21st century. The surrounding countryside is an incredible bonus, with parkland, reserves and a koala sanctuary all within easy distance. And then, of course, there are those beaches.
You can get from Brisbane to many of Australia's main hotspots via the Greyhound bus network, which has more than a 1,000 destinations. To get to Cairns way up the western coast, it takes about 30 hours from Brisbane. There are good public transport options across the city, while Crisps Coaches connects the city with the Southern Downs via a daily service.
Much of Brisbane's attraction lies in the natural wonders situated nearby. Within easy reach of the city, you can visits immaculate beaches, islands teeming with biodiversity, rainforests and unique wildlife. Meanwhile, the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef reaches down towards the city, offering the chance to see thousands of different species of fish, turtles and whales within an easy drive. Hit the Gold Coast for several world-beating amusement parks.
The zig-zagging Brisbane River is the lifeblood of the city, with many of its most interesting places dotted along it. Head to the Queensland Cultural Centre for a taste of Brisbane's ultra-modern side. The complex includes the Gallery of Modern Art, better known as GoMa, the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre, and the Queensland Art Gallery, all set amongst pristine lawns.
Nearby, just past Victoria Bridge, is South Bank Parklands, a vast urban park that's something of a pioneer in Australia. With paths turned into half-covered tunnels by metal ribs that are covered in floral decoration and trees and vegetation merging with modern architecture, it's a unique space, with a lively riverbank, a wooden pagoda and terrific markets on the weekend. There's also the iconic Wheel of Brisbane, which offers unbeatable views.
It may be a way down the river and a few kilometres from the city centre, but it's essential to take in the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Nearly a century old, the site's 130-odd koalas make this the first and biggest koala sanctuary. There are also wombats, crocodiles, platypuses and emus to gawp at, as well as reserves for wallabies and kangaroos. Take the 1930s boat, MV Mirimar, down to the sanctuary for gorgeous views along the way; it travels there daily. For something completely different, visit the Buddhist temple in Brisbane. The traditional Chinese complex was built in the early 1990s and is stunning.
Brisbane has a reputation for being a chilled out kind of place, which can be seen clearly in the city's culinary scene. Dining often takes place al fresco thanks to the typically spotless weather, with restauranteurs priding themselves on local produce. Expect plenty of native Queensland fruits and vegetables, seafood fished in Moreton Bay and excellent wine, for which Australia is well known. The city boasts most of Queensland's finest restaurants, as well as laid-back gastropubs based out of historic buildings that tend to have a great grill. Hip cafes are also popular – locals take the quality of their coffee rather seriously.