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The lively, scenic shoreline along Australia's Gold Coast.

The lively, scenic shoreline along Australia's Gold Coast.

Brisbane in a day: 6 highlights for cruise visitors

Explore South Bank, beaches, markets & that signature Gold Coast

Queensland is fast becoming a big player in the Australian cruise market, and bustling Brisbane is at the center of it all. With many ships embarking on cruises from Brisbane and others just stopping in for the day, the river sees frequent traffic from the beautiful, big ships and a steady flow of passengers eager to take in everything the city and surroundings have to offer.

What to do during your visit

And what, exactly, might that be? Plenty. Brisbane is a bold and busy place, full of creative energy and warm year-round with the Queensland sun. (See Cruiseable's Brisbane port guide.) Lonely Planet speculates that it could be Australia’s most underrated city, and many people would agree. There is much to see and experience, including great dining and arts scenes, riverside parks, endless shopping opportunities and a pumping nightlife.

Brisbane for cruise lovers

The Portside cruise terminal is just a short drive or bus ride from central Brisbane, where ships from all kinds of lines dock: P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and many more. The largest ships dock at the commercial port on Fisherman’s Island, from which passengers can get a shuttle into the city.

Whether you're killing time before your cruise departs, or exploring during a day in port, have time for some travel or want to stick close to the dock, you’ll find more than enough to keep you entertained. Here are my top six picks for cruisers to do in Brisbane

South Bank Brisbane at night is shown in this enhanced photo.
jayde aleman / Creative Commons BY-NCSouth Bank Brisbane at night is shown in this enhanced photo.

Wander South Bank


If you’re looking for a bit of an urban break, South Bank is a fantastic destination. Take a taxi or the 300 bus here from Portside and spend a few hours soaking in the atmosphere. The area is considered the heart of the city and offers plenty of ways to pass the time while getting to grips with Brisbane.

Besides a huge range of boutiques to browse and cafes to sit in while watching the world go by, South Bank has extensive parklands and even an artificial beach where you can cool off with a swim. It's a one-stop shop for fun!


At Rainbow Bay in Coolangatta near Brisbane.
Michael Dawes / Creative Commons BY NCAt Rainbow Bay in Coolangatta near Brisbane.

Gold Coast adventures


This one requires a bit of a trek, but most cruise lines offer shore tours that include it— and you might like to come a day or so early to fit it in if you are departing on a cruise from Brisbane. The delights of this string of coastal neighborhoods are well-documented, and it’s a very popular holiday destination.

From Surfer’s Paradise to Coolangatta, the golden surf beaches are backed by high-rises, shopping centers, restaurants, bars and all kinds of urban entertainment. Venture farther inland and you’ll find the pinnacle of family fun: the Gold Coast’s trifecta of amusement parks. Movie World, Sea World and Wet'n'Wild offer hours of good times with roller coasters and rides galore.


At the Brisbane Market Place Fresh Markets.
eGuide Travel / Creative Commons BYAt the Brisbane Market Place Fresh Markets.

Visit the markets


There’s nothing quite like markets for a low-key and relaxed day out. The Eat Street Markets, an evening extravaganza of street food, take place every Friday and Saturday night from 4 pm right next to the Portside terminal. Also within just a few kilometers of where the ships dock is Eagle Farm Markets, which take place on Sunday mornings, offering fresh produce, food, homewares, flowers and more.

The wider Brisbane area has many more markets — the Brisbane MarketPlace in Rocklea hosts “Fresh” and “Discovery” markets on Saturdays and Sundays respectively, and every Sunday at the Botanic Gardens sees the eclectic Riverside at the Gardens market. There’s a market for every taste, so if you’ll be in Brisbane on a weekend, schedule in some retail therapy!


A special event at Newstead House in Brisbane.
Courtesy of Newstead HouseA special event at Newstead House in Brisbane.

History and culture


Get in a little learning at one of Brisbane’s museums while you have the chance. There are plenty to choose from, some closer to the cruise port than others, and many are handily located right around the central city.

The Museum of Brisbane is a good place to start, on Adelaide Street in the Central Business District. Those interested more specifically in nautical stories might head across the river to the Queensland Maritime Museum, and then wander through the South Bank parklands to visit the Queensland Cultural Centre. Should you want to stay reasonably close to Portside, both the Miegunyah Folk Museum in Bowen Hills and Newstead House in Newstead are fascinating heritage homes that have seen many stages of Queensland’s history.


Some of the shops in Portside, Brisbane. 

Chill out at Portside


If you’re content to stick close by the ship, you could do worse than Portside. It’s far more than just a cruise terminal, but an extensive development and apartment complex that is a destination in itself.

A range of shops and boutiques allows cruisers some decent retail therapy, and there are also places to get nails or hair done or a quick beauty treatment before boarding. Portside boasts plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants, too, and a cinema that is a great way to catch that movie you’ve been dying to see while you have the time.


A crocodile at the Australia Zoo.
A crocodile at the Australia Zoo.

Wildlife encounters


If you’re willing to spend some time traveling, you can get up close and personal with some wonderful Queensland wildlife during your time in Brisbane. The famous Australia Zoo, Steve Irwin’s legacy, is about an hour’s drive from the city and the cruise terminal, within reach for a day trip. This extraordinary zoo is focused on conservation of Australia’s unique fauna.

A little closer, just 20 minutes’ drive from Portside, is the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Here you can cuddle a koala, hand feed a kangaroo and visit with many other types of Aussie wildlife, from which range from cute to deadly — and are often both.

Day Tripping: Other articles in our series

Sarah Glover
I'm the Content Editor of Cruise Sale Finder at &