Transit hub Brisbane invites travelers to stay a while

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Brisbane, the bustling capital of Queensland, occupies an unusual position for many visitors. As the city is a focal point of domestic and international flights as well as rail and bus services, many arriving visitors are tempted to head directly to the Gold Coast to the south or the Sunshine Coast to the north, missing out on its varied urban attractions.

Brisbane's central business district nestles in a U-shaped bend of the Brisbane River, which snakes its way through the city from its mouth in Moreton Bay. The city is compact and laid out in a grid system, with streets named for male British royals at right angles to streets named after their female counterparts.

Not many buildings remain from Brisbane's earliest days of settlement as a convict colony -- it was founded by John Oxley in 1824 -- but the town still boasts a number of lovely Victorian and Edwardian sandstone buildings. However, some are now used for quite different purposes than originally constructed. 

The two oldest remaining buildings from the early days are the Old Windmill in Wickham Terrace, which is closed to the public, and the Old Commissariat Store on William Street. Close to Victoria Bridge, a main crossing of the river, are the imposing former Treasury and Land Administration Buildings that now house Conrad Treasury Casino and Conrad Treasury Hotel, a five star establishment.

Along the Brisbane

In 1988, the World Expo was held on a run-down stretch on the south bank of the Brisbane River. In the years since, the area has been transformed into a modern living space complete with parks, a convention center, theatres, art galleries, the Queensland state library, modern apartment blocks, shops and restaurants. There is even a popular man-made beach and lagoon, called Streets Beach.

A great way to sightsee is via CityCat ferries, which regularly ply the river from Bretts Wharf, near the airport, to the University of Queensland and farther west, providing fantastic views of the skyline, life along the river and the riverside homes and gardens of Brisbane's most wealthy citizens.

The City Botanic Gardens are located on a bend of the river only a couple of blocks south of the city center. Busy with pedestrians and bike riders during the day, the gardens are strewn with Moreton Bay fig trees and bunya pines, creating shady spots among sweeping lawns and tropical flora.

A storied span

When the cantilevered Story Bridge -- designed by John Bradfield, who also was responsible for the more famous Sydney Harbour Bridge -- opened in 1940, no one could have imagined that it would become a tourist attraction. However, since October 2005, hundreds of locals and visitors have experienced the adrenaline rush of climbing the southern half of the bridge with Story Bridge Adventure Climb. 

After a pre-climb briefing -- which includes a Breathalyzer test, metal detector scan and getting decked out in unflattering climbing gear -- small groups of up to 12 visitors are led to the top of the bridge, secured to a specially constructed rail by a continuous static line.

Some 260 feet above the river, the summit offers stunning views of the city, river and surrounding areas.

A thriving cultural hub

Brisbane's lively cultural landscape, long distinguished by plenty of theaters and galleries, in recent years has been augmented by the completion of the Brisbane Convention and Cultural Centre, Queensland Cultural Centre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Queensland Museum and Sciencentre, Art Gallery and State Library.

All are within walking distance of the city center across Victoria Bridge and comprise a superb arts and cultural precinct. Farther along the river, close to the Goodwill Bridge, the Maritime Museum is a great hands-on venue for young and old tracing the maritime history of Queensland. 

One of the most enduring and endearing places to visit is the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, founded in 1927 and one of the oldest animal sanctuaries in the world. Many native Australian animals are found here but the big attraction, especially for visitors, are the koalas and the chance to have a photo taken cuddling one. Visitors can get to the sanctuary by bus or via the 1930s ferry the MV Miramar from North Quay.

Queenslanders are known for their beer consumption, and XXXX ("Four X") is definitely the iconic beer. The XXXX Alehouse Brewery Tour covers the heritage and workings of the famous brewery, ending with samples of its beers.

Dining out

Brisbane has leveraged its ideal climate in developing a keen outdoor-dining scene. Restaurants, many of top international standard, are now found in all corners of the city; the choice is quite daunting.

The major hotels all have excellent restaurants, and in recent years, new places have opened in and around the South Bank Parklands and at the Waterfront Plaza and Eagle Street Pier area.

E'cco, on Boundary Street on the edge of the city center, is a restaurant consistently rated among the best in town. It features Mediterranean- and Asian-inspired dishes using the best local produce.

Other eateries that come highly recommended are Lot 27, Pier Nine, Cha Cha Char, Restaurant II, Michael's Riverside Restaurant, Seasalt and Siggi's at the Port Office. For a leisurely breakfast, try the Gunshop Cafe in the West End or depot Emporium in Fortitude Valley.

Brisbane is well endowed with accommodation options for all budgets. All the major chains are represented. Increasingly popular are apartment- and suite-style hotels that are an attractive option, especially if guests are staying for a few days.

For example, the Sebel Suites Brisbane offers well-appointed suites with kitchen and laundry facilities. It is situated near all tourist attractions, right in the heart of the business and shopping areas.

Visit www.experiencebrisbane.com.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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