The capital city of Queensland, Australia, Brisbane has a population of over 2.4 million people and growing. With a large number of residents, in addition to flocks of tourists, signs of Brisbane’s expansion are everywhere. From construction cranes to new businesses opening every week, it’s an exciting time to explore Australia’s third largest city.
Although classic landmarks like South Bank Parklands, the Brisbane Wheel, and the Story Bridge continue to wow, it’s the extra-curious who get rewarded for wanting to go beyond the ordinary. From stunning gardens and hipster bars to refurbished buildings and locals’ favorite eateries, Brisbane is full of hidden gems.
For those who want to venture off the beaten path, here are eight lesser-known things to explore in Brisbane.
The Walrus Club
This club is named after the SS Walrus Steamboat, a boat that once prided itself on making rum from molasses. The steamboat was used as a floating rum distillery that catered to plantations along the Brisbane River.
With the SS Walrus as inspiration, The Walrus Club makes house-batches of rum. Not only that, but it also has a monthly cocktail list designed by house bartenders. To complement your rum drink of choice, choose from a variety of authentic Cuban cigars. The speakeasy continues to take inspiration from the rum-running vessel with authentic uniforms and memorabilia all around the bar. In 2018, The Walrus Club was designated Queensland’s best themed bar by the Queensland Hotel Association.
A classy establishment, make sure you’re dressed to the nines for an evening at The Walrus Club. Doors open nightly at 5:30 p.m. and don’t close until the last person leaves the bar. Make sure to bring your dancing shoes as live jazz and blues bands play every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Roma Street Parkland
At times overshadowed by its South Bank Parklands and Brisbane City Botanic Garden neighbors, Roma Street Parkland is a hidden gem. Almost 40 acres of planned gardens with 1,800 plant species and a man-made lake make up Roma Street Parkland.
Initially, the land -- now known as Roma Street Parkland -- was used by the indigenous communities as a gathering place. When Brisbane became a city center, this area was turned into a railway station and yard to connect outlying Ipswich and Toowoomba to Brisbane. After the railway yard moved, Roma Street Parkland was opened with several distinct areas like the lakeside, the rainforest, and an amphitheater in 2001.
Make sure to wander through Spectacle Garden to view the beds of flowers, various sculptures, plus a cascading waterfall. The main lawn is the perfect place for a picnic and a bottle of wine, especially since it's 100 percent legal to have open containers in the area. The park is open 24 hours a day, other than the rainforest walk and Spectacle Garden. Free volunteer-guided tours are hosted twice daily at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Archives Fine Books
In our digital era, great bookstores are becoming few and far between. Boasting the title of largest secondhand bookstore in Queensland, Archives Fine Books occupies the first level of a historic warehouse.
Located on a quieter street within Brisbane’s Central Business District, it’s easy to walk past the heritage building. Take note of the green sign along the side of the brick wall claiming, “One million books!” Upon entering, you’ll find floor-to-ceiling shelves overflowing with books of all sizes. The smell of old parchment will hit your nostrils without fail and the excitement will be hard to contain for true book-lovers. Whether searching for an obscure tome or a popular Australian novel, Archives Fine Books has something in almost any genre or topic you desire.
Archives Fine Books is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and closes an hour later on Fridays. It’s open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and is closed on Sundays.
Placed in between Ann and Adelaide Streets among Brisbane’s Central Business District skyscrapers is ANZAC Square. This well-maintained area is dedicated to the heroes who served in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).
The most notable part of ANZAC Square is the Shrine of Remembrance. Created to commemorate the toll of WWI and WWII, the shrine is made of 18 sandstone columns. In the center, the “Eternal Flame” burns without ceasing. In remembrance of ANZAC sacrifices, several galleries beneath the square are filled with stories, photos, and plaques.
ANZAC Square is open 24 hours a day and entry is free of charge. The entrance into the memorial galleries is also free.
Museum Of Brisbane
Chances are, those who have walked the popular Queens Street Mall have also walked by Brisbane City Hall in King George Square. However, most people don’t know that the Museum of Brisbane also lies within the corridors of City Hall.
Focused on presenting the history, identity, and culture of Brisbane, the museum has a stationary collection and new exhibits every few months. One of the most unique and iconic aspects of the Museum of Brisbane is its clock tower. Opened in 1930 -- the same year as City Hall -- the clock tower observation deck is 210 feet above street level. A short elevator ride to the top provides a bird’s-eye view of skyscrapers and the plaza below.
Clock tower tours are held every 15 minutes from 10:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. every day and are free. Since only eight people are allowed per tour, arrive early to avoid a long wait time.
Little Red Dumpling
With several locations around Brisbane, Little Red Dumpling is a local’s delight when it’s time for something to eat. The restaurant is fittingly named with over 10 types of dumplings on the menu -- including popular Xiao Long Bao soup-filled dumplings.
In addition to your choice of fresh dumplings, the soup or dry noodle is a must. The large steaming bowl of soup comes with tender meat (beef, lamb, or chicken), tangy broth, and firm noodles perfect for slurping. For dessert, order the sweet dumplings, which come in the adorable shapes of either pigs or hedgehogs. Each order comes with three dumplings filled with coconut paste or sweet red bean paste, respectively.
Little Red Dumpling has multiple locations throughout Brisbane, most of which are open between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. or later.
Spring Hill Baths
While exploring Brisbane, you’ve probably walked through South Bank’s man-made Streets Beach. Just ten minutes from South Bank is another beautiful place to take a dip: Spring Hill Baths.
A heritage listed building, the Spring Hill Baths was built in 1886. It was one of the first pools to be built in Brisbane. A popular place for locals to leisurely swim and exercise, the complex features an outdoor pool, a heated indoor pool, and swim lessons. Its most iconic feature, however, are the colorful changing rooms along the sides of the lap pool. With red, green, and yellow painted doors, the changing rooms were built to hold just one person at a time -- a reflection of the decorum of the late 1800s. The second-floor seating, consisting of wooden benches, is also a feature of the original bathhouse.
Whether you decide to watch from the mezzanine or take a swim, the $5.80 AUD admission fee can give you bragging rights about visiting one of the oldest swimming pools in the Southern Hemisphere! The Spring Hill Baths are open Monday to Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., until 6 p.m. on Fridays, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends.
Located a short ferry ride from Brisbane’s city center, Brisbane Powerhouse stands in New Farm Park. In the 1920s, this building was indeed a power station that provided trams with electricity. Its industrial history is evident with thick, concrete walls and an uninviting facade. However, inside, the station has been transformed into one of the leading venues for art and entertainment.
Over 1,250 events, ranging from plays to movies to concerts, take place at the Brisbane Powerhouse. Several events happen at the Brisbane Powerhouse simultaneously. Additionally, a free live comedy show graces the Turbine Platform every Sunday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Set along the Brisbane River, the Powerhouse provides beautiful views of the water. Order a snack from Mary Mae’s or a drink from Bar Alto and enjoy the slight breeze and sunny weather on the second-story patio. Although most shows are ticketed and restaurant fees apply, it’s free to enter and wander around the Powerhouse.