Destination Brisbane: Australia’s Third-Largest City Comes Into Its Own

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Brisbane, Australia The manmade Streets Beach boasts sweeping views of Brisbane, Australia.

Here’s what you’ve heard about Brisbane, Australia (if indeed you’ve heard anything at all): It’s a small country town hiding under a big city facade. It’s Sydney and Melbourne’s forgotten sister. Or, it’s sunny and cheery, but dull and forgettable.

Now, here’s what you should know: Sure, Brisbane is a country town at heart. Sure, it’s often overlooked. And, sure, it’s sunny and cheery to a fault -- but it certainly isn’t dull or forgettable, at least not anymore.

Fueled by Queensland’s mining boom, Brisbane has blossomed over the past few years into one of the sleekest, most stylish cities in Asia Pacific, with a restaurant scene to rival Sydney’s and enough arts and culture to please the hippest hipster in Melbourne.

Toss in a roaring economy and a lower cost of living, and you begin to understand why Brissie (as locals call it) adds an estimated 1,000 new residents each week. Indeed, if Australia has a rising star, this is it. Brisbane even snagged the 2014 G20 Leaders’ Summit away from its domestic rivals, much to those cities’ chagrin.

The World’s Fair in 1988 may have put Brisbane on the map, but 25 years later, the city is finally ready to come into its own.

Your Perfect Weekend In The River City

Where To Stay: Emporium Hotel

Emporium Hotel, Brisbane The Emporium Hotel, Brisbane

The independently owned Emporium Hotel is tucked away in a lively corner of Fortitude Valley (“The Valley”), renown for its nightclubs, bars and entertainment. This Qantas Australian Tourism Awards-winner for Best Luxury Accommodation feels as though it was ripped out of Wong Kar-wai’s masterpiece “2046” and transported to Brisbane, with its futuristic light fixtures, cherry red décor and trance-inducing lounge music. If design teams from Heaven and Hell came together to design a high-end hotel, it might look something like this.

Friday Night: The Boatshed Restaurant

The Boatshed Restaurant The Boatshed Restaurant

Flooded and restored countless times since it served its first beer in 1886, the heritage-listed Boatshed Restaurant at the Regatta Hotel won't be destroyed -- though the devastating 2011 floodwaters tried their hardest. Its latest reincarnation balances modern design with old-fashioned nautical touches, while the menu boasts aged meats that “may not look entirely appetizing during the aging process” (as the menu notes and the hanging slabs confirm) but contain a flavor profile far superior to their everyday counterparts.

Try (if you dare): The 1 kilogram Dry Aged Steak

Check out: The surprising Broadway-style mirrors in the toilets

Saturday Morning: Paddington

The Paddington Antique Center The Paddington Antique Center

It’s Brooklyn meets Brisbane in Paddington, the city’s hipster suburb. A quick trip up the hills from the city center on the Maroon City Glider, this historic enclave was once home to bustling trams and noisy factories, but the industry faded, the artists moved in and the rest is history. Take a stroll down Latrobe Terrace and pop your head in the amusing antique shops, funky galleries and free-trade grocers, or take a break to meet with a mystic or stretch with some yogis.

Check out: The Paddington Antique Center, home to what is quite possibly Australia’s creepiest collection of doll parts and anatomically incorrect mannequins

Saturday Brunch: Hamptons

Hamptons Hamptons

Occupying the top floor of a beautiful old Queenslander home, this local favorite boasts veranda dining with enticing views of the city below. Inside, the rustic-chic café mixes subtle earth tones, fresh flowers and cool breezes for a soothing start to your Saturday.

Try: The Hamptons Benedict (poached eggs, baby spinach, double smoked bacon, hollandaise sauce and toasted sourdough)

Saturday Afternoon: City Hall

Brisbane City Hall Brisbane City Hall

Head back into town and base yourself within the confines of City Hall, which just reopened to the public in April following a three-year restoration project. Start with a quick tour of the historic building, then switch gears upstairs at the Museum of Brisbane’s Expo 88 exhibit, which chronicles the psychedelic light parades of the 1988 World’s Fair. Cap your afternoon off with high tea at the original 1936-built Shingle Inn, which was plucked from Edward Street in 2002 and put back together piece by piece (original sugar bowls and all) for its City Hall reopening in April.

Check out: City Hall’s 4,000-pipe organ, which dates back to the 1890s

Try: The Grand Duke Afternoon Tea (a pot of tea, ribbon sandwiches, scones and a selection of petite cakes and sweets, all topped off with a glass of champagne)

Saturday Evening: Alfred & Constance

Alfred & Constance Alfred & Constance

When dinner and drinks just isn’t enough, there’s Alfred & Constance, Brisbane’s new chic-meets-shack “hospitality complex” that caters to our ever-shorter attention spans. You can start your night in the Vanguard Restaurant (where there’s no need to ignore the giant elephant in the room), transition over to the beer garden, top up your glass at the rooftop tiki bar, then wander down to the basement for an old fashioned, New York-style speakeasy.

Check out: The eclectic furniture and shocking décor

Try: The Josper Grilled Duck Breast (with watermelon, mint, toasted cashews and marinated feta)

Drink: The Alfred Collins (with gin and peach liqueur, mint, lemon, sugar and cranberry juice over ice)

Sunday Morning: River Cruise

The Brisbane River The Brisbane River

Like a nervous worm, the Brisbane River wiggles back in on itself as it passes through the city and heads to sea, ensuring new views with each turn aboard the River City Cruise. Take the 10:30 a.m. boat upstream to Newstead and grab brunch at the Disneyesque Breakfast Creek Hotel, one of the city’s defining watering holes before returning to the central business district, or simply CBD as locals call it, at 1:15 p.m.

Check out: The multimillion-dollar houses that line either side of the Brisbane River

Sample: The selection at the biggest rum bar in Australia at Breakfast Creek Hotel

Sunday Afternoon: Bike Along The Brisbane River

Cycling In Brisbane The Brisbane waterfront

Brisbane is a city that gets its river right (unlike, say, New York, which uses most of its riverfront for highways), and both sides boast long stretches of bikeable paths and parkland. Hop on a CityCycle bike at any of the docking stations around central Brisbane or hire the quirky husband and wife duo from Brisbane Bicycle Tour to show you around.

Check out: The South Bank’s man-made swimming beach, Streets Beach, which boasts sweeping views of the city and 100 percent shark-free waters

If You Have Extra Time don’t miss the latest art exhibitions at the airy Gallery of Modern Art, catch a show at the imposing Queensland Performing Arts Center or take a stroll down James Street for more eclectic shopping and fine dining.

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