Much more affordable than Melbourne and Sydney, Brisbane, Australia, offers numerous free activities for the frugal traveler. If you’re on a budget and looking to get the most bang for your buck, this is the city for you.
With its free guided tours, free museums, and even free public transportation, you can easily enjoy a day in Brisbane without spending a dime. The city boasts more than 260 days of sunshine per year, so make sure to take advantage of the innumerable free parks (and man-made city beach!) full of complimentary amenities such as Wi-Fi, bathrooms, and barbecue areas.
Here are 10 fun and free things to do in Brisbane.
1. Take A Walking Tour
There’s no better way to get acquainted with a new city than by taking a walking tour, especially if it’s a free one! Although there are a few different guided tours available, the one offered by Visit Brisbane is dedicated to showing off the very best of what the city has to offer.
The free tour takes visitors through the Central Business District, and a knowledgeable guide is ready to answer any questions. The tour stops by all the main sights, including the historic Brisbane City Hall and Treasury Brisbane Casino, but it also covers little details such as sculptures, plaques, and lamppost adornments that you’d probably miss otherwise.
The free guided tour of Brisbane starts at 10:30 a.m. at the Brisbane Visitor Information and Booking Centre. Arrive early to secure your same-day spot, or call the center ahead of time.
2. Go Swimming At Streets Beach
After your long walk around the city, you’ll probably want to refresh before heading out to explore. Instead of stopping at your hotel, head to South Bank Parklands, where you’ll find the largest inner-city beach in Australia.
Streets Beach resembles most oceanside beaches -- it’s got palm trees, clear blue water, lifeguards, and fine sand -- but it’s entirely man-made. The artificial lagoon is a popular place to lay out, read a book, and enjoy the cool waters. The striking backdrop of modern and historic buildings across the Brisbane River makes this a truly unique spot to take a swim. And although it seems too good to be true, access to Streets Beach is completely free.
3. Appreciate Art At The QAGOMA
Most of the museums in Brisbane are free to visit. However, the QAGOMA compound, made up of the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art, is one of the largest and best contemporary art museums in the city.
The complex is home to more than 17,000 works of art in permanent and visiting exhibitions. Special exhibitions or events may require a fee. You’ll find modern art from around the world as well as artwork by indigenous Australian artists.
Conveniently located in the heart of the city in an area called the Cultural Precinct, the QAGOMA is surrounded by other interesting cultural attractions. To the left of the complex is the State Library of Queensland, and to the right are the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and South Bank Parklands. The area is easily accessible by car (a spot in the large lot costs $17 per day) and by public transportation (the Cultural Centre busway station is nearby).
4. Enjoy Live Music At The Melbourne Street Green
Across the street from the Queensland Art Gallery is the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Although attending a performance inside costs money, the center hosts free musical performances on the corner of Melbourne Street and Grey Street every week.
Guitar chords, soft vocals, and sometimes even the sounds of a didgeridoo fill the air as artists from every musical genre showcase their talents every Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Although this area is always open, it transforms during Green Jam. Under strings of lights, locals and visitors sit on lawn chairs, picnic blankets, and around plastic tables with snacks and drinks from the bar.
5. Stroll Along The Banks Of The Brisbane River
There are several pathways along the Brisbane River, including the Bicentennial Bikeway, Clem Jones Promenade, City Reach Boardwalk, and New Farm Riverwalk. They’re all wide, clean, paved paths that flow effortlessly into one another.
Walking along these pathways, you’ll always have the bustling city on one side and the Brisbane River on the other. You can make your way -- all for free -- from the suburb of Toowong to New Farm on the north bank and from West End to Kangaroo Point on the south bank. There are more than 11 miles of inner-city riverside walks, and you can switch between banks using any of the area’s bridges, including the Kurilpa Bridge, Goodwill Bridge, or Story Bridge.
If you get tired of walking, you can rent a CityCycle bike to continue your journey -- it’s not free, but it only costs $2 for a 24-hour rental. For convenience, most of the pathways feature both a pedestrian path and a cycling path.
6. Watch The Sunset At The Kangaroo Point Cliffs
For one of the most stunning views of Brisbane’s Central Business District, visit the Kangaroo Point Cliffs.
The sharp, flat cliff face was formed when the area was excavated for construction materials. Today, there are upper and lower terraces with well-maintained walking and biking tracks for leisurely strolls or long runs along the river.
The upper boardwalk is lined with picnic tables and gas barbecues for romantic evenings or group gatherings. The cliffs provide a fantastic view of the sun setting behind the sea of Brisbane skyscrapers. Access to the cliffs (and scenic skyline views) is free -- just bring along your favorite tapas for a budget-friendly night out.
7. Catch A Ride On The CityHopper
If you’re hoping to float down the Brisbane River without a care in the world, the relaxed (and free) CityHopper ferries are for you. The upper decks of the two-story ferries are the perfect places for sunbathing and photographing the towering skyscrapers of the Central Business District.
Servicing the inner city with stops from North Quay to New Farm, these cute ferries are a great way to enjoy Brisbane from the water. Along the way, stop at Thornton Street, which provides access to the Kangaroo Point Cliffs. Then float across the Brisbane River to Eagle Street Pier for a beautiful view of the Story Bridge.
Another three stops downriver will bring you to shady Merthyr Park near the Brisbane Powerhouse, an old power station that has been converted into an arts center. The Powerhouse offers free gallery access, comedy afternoons, and other events.
8. Meander Through The Brisbane City Botanic Gardens
You can take a break from the busy urban center at the City Botanic Gardens. This 121-acre space, just a 15-minute walk from King George Square, offers everything from 23 species of bamboo to an avenue flanked by weeping fig trees and a lagoon teeming with fish, birds, and water dragons.
Although the space is beautiful on its own, it’s fascinating to learn about the area’s flora and fauna. The City Botanic Gardens offers free hour-long guided walks led by volunteers Monday through Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The garden’s central location makes it a great complement to a walk along City Reach Boardwalk, a bite at the restaurant-filled Eagle Street Pier, or a ride on the CityHopper.
9. Explore The Mount Coot-Tha Precinct
Just a 15-minute car ride from Brisbane’s Central Business District, Mount Coot-Tha's 4,000 acres consist of eucalyptus forests, walking tracks, a botanic garden, and a planetarium. Entrance to the park, including the 138-acre Mount Coot-Tha Botanic Gardens and the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium, is free. After exploring the Mount Coot-Tha area, make your way to the top to the Brisbane Lookout either by trail, car, or bus.
Once you’ve made it to the top of Mount Coot-Tha, appreciate the sweeping view of Brisbane. You can also see Moreton Bay in the distance on a clear day. The view from the Brisbane Lookout is most stunning early in the morning and during sunset.
10. People-Watch At The Markets
As the agricultural capital of Australia, Queensland is brimming with tropical fruit, crisp vegetables, and fresh dairy products. Farmers flock to Brisbane, the largest city in Queensland, to sell their fresh produce and goods at the city’s various markets.
Although the products are delicious, you don’t have to buy anything to enjoy the lively ambiance of the markets. Almost always outdoors, the markets are a great place to peruse the stalls, people-watch (and fawn over four-legged companions), and enjoy the sunshine, usually within earshot of a local musician playing for passersby.
Farmers markets can be found around the city every weekend. Some of the most popular are the Davies Park Markets in West End, the Riverside Sunday Markets at the City Botanic Gardens, and the Powerhouse Farmers Markets in New Farm.