Brisbane on a Budget

It’s difficult to imagine that a thriving city such as Brisbane could also be affordable, but that’s one of the things that makes it so great. The Queensland capital prides itself on being affable and accessible to everyone, so go on, grab this list, slip on your walking shoes, and discover 20 things you can do for under $20. And many activities are even free. 

1. Sail Moreton Bay

Are you a WAG? No, we don’t mean a wife or girlfriend of a footie player. We mean a Wednesday Afternoon Go Sailing (WAGS) kind of person? If so, head to the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron at Manly every Wednesday afternoon and join a crew for a free sail. The Wynnum Manly Yacht Club also invites members of the public on Sundays (that makes you a SAG) to pop down, register, and if there’s spare space on the boat, you can experience life as a crew member.

2. Go to GOMA

Wake me up before you GOMA. This is not a bad Wham song, but rather one of the country’s most exciting art galleries – the Gallery of Modern Art. Considered one of the most innovative artistic spaces in Australia, GOMA attracts world-class exhibitions as well as housing contemporary indigenous and non-indigenous collections. Perched on the banks of the Brisbane River, this building alone is an art form, so just wait until you see what’s inside.

3. Smart art

Within a stone’s throw of GOMA sits the Queensland Art Gallery. Don’t know your Manets from your Monets? Fear not. Both the Queensland Art Gallery and GOMA offer free guided tours of these temples to artistic expression so you will leave this precinct feeling just that little bit clever and being able to seriously impress your friends. The Queensland Art Gallery boasts an impressive collection of European, Asian and Australian art.


4. Catch a cat

One of the cheapest and most pleasant ways to experience Brisbane is aboard one of its CityCat ferries. To enjoy the full experience, board at the University of Queensland and wind your way along the sanguine serpent that is the Brisbane River past Toowong, the city, South Bank, New Farm, Hawthorne, Bulimba and on to Brett’s Wharf. You can hop on and off along the way, or stay on for the entire journey which takes one hour and seven minutes. Prices vary depending on the zones in which you travel, but you can do all this for about $5.

5. Super Size South Bank

There’s so many free activities on offer at South Bank the question really is where to start? Brisbane’s iconic parklands offer everything from yoga to dance classes and aqua activities in various venues dotted around this 2km stretch of green space. Streets Beach is one of the highlights as Brisbane’s only inner-city beach, and at certain times of the year you can lounge on the sand and watch a free movie. Year-round, this is the perfect place to watch people from all walks of the world congregate to picnic and party.

6. Find a Flick

If you need to sit back and take a break, a cinematic experience in Brisbane does not cost the earth. Cineplex cinemas, located at South Bank, Balmoral, Hawthorne and Victoria Point, offer movies at weekends and evenings for $8.50 and even lower during other times of the week. For a real retro experience, head to the Balmoral 6, which is an early-1900s cinema replete with gold paneling, Roman-style columns and regal red carpet.


7. To Market, to Market

If Brisbane’s heartbeat could be measured in its markets, than the verdict is it’s pulsing. From indie music, to organic foods, young home-grown designer labels, and everything you could imagine in between, pick up a souvenir of your stay at one of Brisbane’s many markets. Some of the key markets include:

West End Twilight Market
The Collective Market
South Bank Young Designers Market
Jan Power's Farmers Markets

8. Power to the People

Imagine an enormous warehouse-style building that used to supply electricity to Brisbane’s entire tramway system as well as power and lighting to a few select suburbs. Throw in some graffiti, pipe some indie music through the walls and turn this into an eclectic art space and you’ve got the Brisbane Powerhouse. As if that can’t get any better, there’s regular free music and comedy gigs here.

9. Meet and Greet

They say people are pretty friendly around these parts and as if to prove a point, more than 70 volunteers are on hand to show you the very best of Brisbane. Yes, you heard right, there’s people – we call them The Brisbane Greeters – waiting to reveal the city’s secrets to you. They’ll take you to places you never imagined existed – and that some locals don’t even know about – and with 20 different languages between them, you’re bound to find someone who speaks the same lingo.


10. On Your Bike

Ever arrived in a pretty city such as Brisbane and wished you had your bike with you? We have the solution. Dotted around the city are 150 bike stations where, for just $2 a day, you can hire a bike and a helmet and cycle to your heart’s content. And boy, does Brisbane have some great cycling tracks, particularly along its river. Get fit, see a bit of the city and have a holiday. What’s not to love?

11. Bowl Me Over

Ask just about any Brisbane person and chances are, in their perfect world, they’d be barefoot on the grass. Better still if there was a beer in one hand, and some kind of sport taking place. Such nirvana exists on the banks of the Brisbane River at New Farm’s Merthyr Bowls Club. Yes, lawn bowls, that sport at which your grandmother used to excel, has made a comeback in Brissie in a big way. For about $5 you can finally understand what floated nana’s boat.

12. Something Old, Something New Farm

London has Hyde Park, New York has Central Park and in Brisbane, it’s New Farm Park where inner-city dwellers flock for their fix of green. Smell the roses, literally, at one of the world’s prettiest and most fragrant rose gardens, take a picnic, grab a frisbee or just sit under one of the gigantic fig trees and relax in these expansive gardens which are perfectly positioned by the Brisbane River.

Brisbane City Botanical Gardens

13. Inner-City Pretty

When Brisbane’s office workers wish to take a break, it’s the City Botanic Gardens to which they gravitate. Highlights of this park include its Mangrove Boardwalk where at low tide, you can see Queensland’s mangrove animals and plants come to life. Experience 23 different species of bamboo in the Bamboo Grove, enjoy the ornamental ponds and stroll through Weeping Fig Avenue. Relaxed? We bet you are.

14. When in Roma Street

OK, so it’s not quite like the Italian capital, but Brisbane’s Roma Street still has plenty going for it, most notably its gorgeous Roma Street Parkland. With a placid lake as its centerpiece, there’s plenty of languid strolling to be done around this 16ha space. You can take a free guided walk around the parklands or do it yourself, taking time to experience a range of flora and fauna. Make sure you check out the rainforest.

15. History Lesson

Take a magical history tour of Brisbane and you’ll discover the huge influence US General Douglas MacArthur had on this city during the war. Few people realise that General MacArthur based the Allies’ South Pacific headquarters right here in Brisbane during World War II. Today, the MacArthur Central shopping centre stands in the same building. For more of a war tour head to the MacArthur Museum and see the impact the events in Europe and the Pacific had on Brisbane. Entry fee costs $5 for adults.

16. In the Navy

It’s hardly surprising that due to its bayside and river location, Brisbane has a big naval history as well. A highlight of a visit to the Queensland Maritime Museum is the ability to scamper around the naval frigate HMAS Diamantina and experience how the crews navigated their tiny quarters and galley. For a slice of modern history here, take a peek at Ella’s Pink Lady in which young Queensland Jessica Watson sailed around the world. Entry to this museum costs $8 for adults.

Victoria Park

17. Hole in One

It’s little secret that Australia is home to plenty of great golf courses due to its generous land mass. But if you don’t have time to tee off, why not take the second-best option and play some putt putt in one of the city’s most challenging mini golf courses. This 18-hole course with its view of the Brisbane skyline comes complete with sand and water traps, a rocky terrain, swinging poles and even punching bags. Pack your sense of humour.

18. Ride the Rails

Fittingly, take a train to Ipswich and discover the birthplace of Queensland rail that continues to provide one of the backbones for Brisbane and the rest of the state. At the award-winning Workshops Rail Museum, you will encounter Australia’s largest train set as well as the country’s oldest working steam locomotive which was built here in 1865. There’s also plenty of interactive displays to keep the most avid train spotter entertained.

19. Eclectic Art  

For those who like their art really cutting edge, head to Fortitude Valley and the city for two of Brisbane’s best eclectic experiences. The Institute of Modern Art is Brisbane’s first and Australia’s second modern art space and focuses on sound art, moving images and new music. The city’s Metro Arts space is a vibrant blend of theatres, galleries, studios and rehearsal space. And really, both are just super cool places at which to hang.

20. Gabba Gabba Do

For a bit of a sneak peak at how one of Brisbane’s oldest suburbs is reinventing itself, catch a bus to Woolloongabba. Yes, sport fans, this is home to the Gabba cricket ground where, for $16, you can book a tour of this venue. If you can tear yourself away from cricket’s Colosseum, then stroll to nearby Logan Rd and check out the cafes and shops housed in old-style buildings, such as Ilja Grawert Violinmaker’s shop stacked with all sorts of strings and things.