48 Hours In: Brisbane

Fed up with our soggy summer? The lively yet relaxed capital of Australia's Sunshine State is the obvious cure


WHY GO NOW?

For decades, Brisbane was seen as Sydney and Melbourne's country cousin. But locals swear that Queensland's capital now offers the highest quality of life in Australia, with near-perfect weather, great shopping and a lively eating and drinking scene. Catch it now before Brisbane becomes a victim of its own success. August is an ideal month to visit the Sunshine State, with an average top temperature of a comfortable 24C in Brisbane; but if you can be in town on 1 September, you can witness the annual fireworks celebration known as Riverfire, a spectacular display of choreographed colour and music.

TOUCH DOWN

Direct flights no longer operate between the UK and Brisbane, but several airlines can get you there with just one quick plane change at their hubs in Singapore, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur.

Brisbane's uncrowded airport is 15km north-east of the city centre. The Airtrain (00 61 7 3216 3308; www.airtrain.com.au) runs every 15 minutes, 6am-7.30pm, between the airport and the city's Roma Street (1) and Central (2) stations – and half-hourly to South Brisbane station (3). The 20-minute ride costs A$12 (£5.30). Coachtrans (00 61 7 3238 4700; www.coachtrans.com.au) will deliver you by bus to your hotel in central Brisbane for A$12 (£5.30). A cab to the city centre will set you back around A$35 (£15.55).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

The centre of the city occupies a loop of the Brisbane River. Downtown, the streets follow a grid pattern, with names loyally drawing on royalty: north-south streets are kings, and east-west streets are queens. The trendy area is Fortitude Valley (or simply "The Valley"), 1km north-east of the central business district.

The main tourist office (4), in Queen Street Mall (00 61 7 3006 6290; www.ourbrisbane.com), opens 9am-5.30pm daily (to 7pm Friday, and to 5pm Saturday) and 9.30am-4.30pm on Sunday.

Brisbane's buses, trains and ferries are run by TRANSlink (00 61 7 3215 5000; www.translink.com.au). Fares are based on a zone system; a one-zone single ticket costs A$2.20 (£1), while a $3.30 (£1.45) single-zone off-peak day ticket offers unlimited rides.

CHECK IN

The opening in June of the five-star Emporium Hotel (5), 1000 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley (00 61 7 3253 6999; www.emporiumhotel. com.au) added an extra dimension to The Valley's atmosphere. This 106-studio/suite boutique property offers a package including breakfast in bed for A$395 (£175) for a double.

The Saville South Bank (6) at 161 Grey St (00 61 7 3305 2500; www.savillehotel group.com) offers 161 studios and one- and two-bedroom suites from A$159 (£71); breakfast costs an extra A$29.50 (£13) each.

The Abbey Hotel Apartments Brisbane (7) at 160 Roma St (00 61 7 3236 0600; www.abbeyhotel.com.au) offers a dining/living area with kitchenette and separate bedroom for A$150 (£67) per night with a two-night minimum, or A$110 (£49) per night if you stay for the three nights from Friday to Sunday; breakfast not included.

TAKE A VIEW

Don special overalls and hook up to the safety lines for a guided ascent with Story Bridge Adventure Climb (8) (00 61 7 3514 6900; www.storybridgeadventureclimb.com.au), from A$110 (£49) for two-and-a-half hours. If your schedule permits, the dawn or twilight climbs are the most magical. Or head to City Hall (9), King George Square (00 61 7 3403 8888; www.brisbane.qld. gov.au) between 10am and 3pm to take the free ride in an antique lift up the 92-metre-high clocktower.

TAKE A HIKE

Start at the south end of the Queen Street Mall, with the Edwardian Conrad Treasury (10), which now houses a casino, on your left. Cross Victoria Bridge (11) and turn left through the forecourt of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (12), and then bear left towards the river. Pass the Nepalese Pagoda (13) and weave in and out of the South Bank Parklands, passing the artificial beach and Arbour View Cafes (14). Head back to the river and follow it to the Goodwill Bridge (15). Cross over this pedestrian bridge, pass the Queensland University of Technology (16) and enter the Botanic Gardens.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

The City Botanic Gardens are home to the City Gardens Café (17), Gardens Point Rd (00 61 7 3229 1554; www.citygardens.com.au): tuck in to a big Caesar salad with chargrilled lemon chicken for $20 (£8.90) as you look out on to the greenery.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Downtown Brisbane's main shopping street is the pedestrianised Queen Street Mall, lined with five shopping centres and two department stores. For something different, wander over to the stores and galleries on and around Ann Street and Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley. For fashion, try Lucid Laundry (18) at 367 Brunswick St (00 61 7 3257 3888; www.lucidlaundry.com.au) or Blonde Venus (19) at 707 Ann St (00 61 7 3216 1735; www.blondevenus.com.au).

A food, art and fashion market takes place in the South Bank Parklands every Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday.

TAKE A RIDE

Cruise along the Brisbane River by CityCat ferry. Sleek catamarans run from the University of Queensland (20) in the south-west to Brett's Wharf (21) in the north-east. An all-day ticket costs A$5.20 (£2.30). If it's the morning of the second or fourth Saturday of the month, stop off at New Farm Park and visit the huge farmers' market.

Meat-lovers with big appetites should continue to Brett's Wharf: close by, the Breakfast Creek Hotel at 2 Kingsford Smith Drive (00 61 7 3262 5988; www.breakfastcreekhotel.com) is renowned for its steaks.

AN APERITIF

In the West End, arrive early to grab a seat at the exotic Lychee Lounge (22) at 94 Boundary Street (00 61 7 3846 0544; www.lychee lounge.com.au). Or aim for Brisbane's best cocktail spot at The Bowery (23) at 676 Ann Street in Fortitude Valley (00 61 7 3252 0202; www.thebowery.com.au).

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Enjoy fantastic Brisbane River views and French-influenced modern Australian cuisine at Michaels (24) at 123 Eagle St (00 61 7 3832 5522; www.michaelsrestaurant.com.au). Pizza-lovers should make for Wild Pepper (25), 75 Hardgrave Rd, West End (00 61 7 3844 1262; www.wildpepper.com.au): more than 35 varieties are offered, including three dessert pizzas with chocolate bases.

SUNDAY MORNING: A WALK IN THE PARK

The 16-hectare Roma Street Parkland (00 61 7 3006 4545; www.romastreetparkland.com) is the world's largest urban subtropical garden, and is open 24 hours a day. You can wander through dense rainforest and view the lake and waterfall. Brochures including self-guided walks around the Parkland are available from the Activity Centre (by the Albert Street Bridge): there's also an information booth at the back of the Spectacle Garden. Free guided walks leave from the Hub, near the entrance to the Spectacle Garden at 10am and 2pm daily.

OUT TO BRUNCH

The Butter Bistro (26) at Rotherham and Goodwin Streets, Kangaroo Point (00 61 7 3891 7005; www.butterbistro.com) is open 8am-1.30pm at the weekend. Eggs Benedict is A$15.50 (£6.90), caramelised pear and chestnut crepe with vanilla ice cream A$17.50 (£7.80).

GO TO CHURCH

Pay a visit to a work that, like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, has been in progress for a century or so. The foundation stone of St John's Cathedral (27) in Ann Street (00 61 7 3835 2248; www.stjohnscathedral.com.au) was laid in 1901, but funding problems have caused a few hold-ups; the latest estimates are that the work will be completed in 2009. This is the only cathedral under construction that employs traditional medieval building techniques. The cathedral opens 9.30am-4.40pm daily; free guided tours are offered at 2pm most Sundays, or 10am-2pm on other days. Holy Communion is celebrated on Sundays at 7.30am, 9.30am and 5pm.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Three of the city's cultural must-sees are virtually next door to each other in the South Bank Parklands. The new Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) (28) contains works by Australian and international artists including Anish Kapoor and Edward Ruscha. GoMA is just 150 metres from the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) (29); call 00 61 7 3840 7303 or visit www.qag.qld.gov.au for both museums), where you can see more traditional works and a fine collection of indigenous Australian art. Entry is free to both; opening times are 10am-5pm daily (from 9am weekends).

Backing on to the QAG is the innovative and stimulating Queensland Museum (00 61 7 3840 7555; www.qm.qld.gov.au) with displays on Australian wildlife, relics from the nation's history and an impressively child-friendly science centre. It opens 9.30am-5pm daily and admission is free; entry to the science centre costs A$9.50 (£4.20).

ICING ON THE CAKE

Paddle a kayak along the Brisbane River past the CBD's skyscrapers and under the Story Bridge. Riverlife Adventure Centre (30) (00 61 7 3891 5766; www.riverlife.com.au) charges A$25 (£11) for 90 minutes' hire and A$29 (£13) for a 90-minute lesson. The company also offers abseiling and rock climbing on the Kangaroo Point cliffs.

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