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Founded in 1823 on the banks of the wide, meandering Brisbane River, the former penal colony of Brisbane was for many years thought of as just a big country town. Many beautiful timber Queenslander homes, built in the 1800s, still dot the riverbanks and suburbs, and the numerous parks erupt in a riot of colorful jacaranda, flame tree, and bougainvillea blossoms in spring. Today, the Queensland capital is also one of Australia's up-and-coming cities. Glittering high-rises mark its polished business center, and a string of sandy beaches beckon to endless outdoor attractions. Taxis are fairly inexpensive and can be hailed at designated taxi stands outside hotels, in the city center, and at railway stations.
In summer, temperatures here are broilingly hot, a reminder that this city is part of a subtropical region. Brisbane's innercity landmarks-a combination of Victorian, Edwardian, and slick high-tech architecture-are best explored on foot. Most of them lie within the triangle formed by Ann Street and the bends of the Brisbane River. Hint: the streets running toward the river are named after female (British) royalty, and streets running parallel to the river are named after male royalty.
St. John's Anglican Church. Built in 1901 with porphyry rock, this is a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture. Free guided tours are available Monday through Saturday and most Sundays. 373 Ann St., City Center.
Brisbane City Hall. Built in 1930, this substantial Italianate structure was once referred to as the "million-pound town hall" because of the massive funds poured into its construction. Today it's a major symbol of Brisbane's civic pride, where visitors "ooh" and "aah" at the grand pipe organ and circular concert hall. You can take a tour of City Hall on weekdays, but it's essential to book first.
This is also the home of the free Museum of Brisbane. The museum portrays the social history of the city; its changing exhibitions have included entries in the Lord Mayor's photographic awards (an annual photographic competition that has a different, distinctly Brisbane theme each year) and "Brisbane Buddhas" (a display of 2,549 Buddhas owned by local residents). Other attractions include a ground-floor art gallery, a tower housing one of Australia's largest civic clocks, and an observation platform with superb city views. King George Sq. and Adelaide St., City Center.
South Bank Parklands. One of the most appealing urban parks in Australia and the site of Brisbane's World Expo '88, this 40-acre complex includes gardens, shops, a maritime museum, foot- and cycling paths, a sprawling beach lagoon (complete with lifeguards), a Nepalese-style carved-wood pagoda, and excellent views of the city. The Friday-night Lantern Markets and weekend Crafts Village are main events. The park lies alongside the river just south of the Queensland Cultural Centre, stretching along Grey Street to the Goodwill Bridge. Grey St. south of Melbourne St., South Brisbane.
Queensland Cultural Centre. The Queensland Art Gallery, Queensland Museum, State Library, Performing Arts Complex, and a host of restaurants, cafés, and shops are all located here. On weekdays at noon, there are free tours of the Performing Arts Complex. Backstage peeks at the 2,000-seat concert hall and Cremorne Theatre are often included. Melbourne and Grey Sts., South Brisbane.
Roma Street Parkland. The world's largest subtropical garden within a city is a gentle mix of forest paths and structured plantings surrounding a lake. Look for unique Queensland artwork on display along the walkways. Highlights include the Lilly Pilly Garden, which displays native evergreen rain-forest plants. Pack a picnic, lunch at the café, or hop aboard the park's train for a 15-minute ride with commentary. 1 Parkland Blvd., City Center. Admission charged.
Outside of town are two very popular attractions, both of which can be reached by public transit or by rental car if you wish to visit independently.
Australian Woolshed. The Woolshed is a popular stop if you have children in tow, or if you're fascinated with the pastoral parts of Australia. Eight rams from major sheep breeds found in Australia perform in this park's one-hour stage show, giving insight into the dramatically different appearances-and personalities-of sheep. Next to perform are the sheepdogs, who show how adept they are at rounding up their woolly charges. Waterslides, miniature golf, and an animal nursery are also on-site, and you can get your photo taken with a koala at the koala sanctuary. The woolshed is 14 km (8.5 mi) west of Brisbane city, and the nearest train station is at Ferny Grove. From Ferny Grove, it's about a 10-minute walk to the theme park. 148 Samford Rd., Ferny Hills. Admission charged.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Queensland's most famous fauna park, founded in 1927, claims to be the oldest animal sanctuary in the world. The real attraction for most people are the koalas (130 in all), although emus, wombats, and kangaroos also reside here. You can pet and feed some of the animals, have a snake wrapped around you, and even cuddle with a koala for free (there's a fee for a photo). The MV Mirimar, a historic 1930s ferry, travels daily to Lone Pine sanctuary from Brisbane's North Quay at the Victoria Bridge, departing at 10 and returning at 2:50. Bus 430 from the Myer Centre and Bus 445 from outside City Hall also stop at the sanctuary. Jesmond Rd., Fig Tree Pocket. Admission charged.
The historic and aesthetically pleasing Brisbane Arcade in the City Center joins Queen Street Mall and Adelaide Street and has elegant designer boutiques and jewelry shops. Broadway on the Mall, which runs between the Queen Street Mall and Adelaide Street, connects via a walkway to David Jones department store and has a very good-and enormous-food center on the lower ground floor. The stores of Brunswick Street Mall (Brunswick St., Fortitude Valle) and other parts of the "Valley," including Ann Street, are in one of downtown's hippest fashion districts. Chopstix (249 Brunswick St., Fortitude Valley) is a collection of 20 Asian shops and restaurants in the heart of Chinatown. MacArthur Central (Edward and Queen Sts., City Center) houses boutiques and specialty shops, a bookstore, and a food court. Myer Centre (Queen, Elizabeth, and Albert Sts., City Center) is home to the national department store of the same name, as well as boutiques, specialty shops, delis, restaurants, and cinemas. The Pavilion (Queen and Albert Sts., City Center) has two levels of exclusive shops. Queen Street Mall (City Center) is considered the best downtown shopping area, with numerous buskers and a generally festive crowd. Rowes Arcade (235 Edward St., City Center) is a rebuilt 1920s ballroom and banquet hall with boutique clothing stores. Savoir Faire (20 Park Rd., Milton) is an upscale shopping and dining complex 10 minutes from the business district. Tattersalls Arcade (Queen and Edward Sts., City Center) caters to discerning shoppers with a taste for upscale designer labels. The Wintergarden Complex (Queen Street Mall, City Center) houses boutiques and specialty shops, as well as a food court.
Bicycling. An extensive network of bicycle paths crisscrosses Brisbane. A highlight is to follow the Bicentennial Bikeway southeast along the Brisbane River, across the Goodwill Bridge, and then along to South Bank Parklands or the Kangaroo Point cliffs. Brisbane Bicycle Sales and Hire (87 Albert St., City Center) rents bikes right in the heart of the city. Brisbane's Bicycle Guide, detailing more than 400 km (250 mi) of cycling paths, can show you where to go on two wheels.
Boat and Ferries. Speedy CityCat ferries call at 13 points along the Brisbane River, from Bretts Wharf to the University of Queensland. They run daily 6 AM-10:30 PM, about every half hour. The CityCat ferries are terrific for taking a leisurely look at Brisbane river life. From the city skyline to the homes of the well-heeled, there's always something of interest to see.
Golf. St. Lucia Golf Links (Indooroopilly Rd. and Carawa St., St. Lucia) is an 18-hole, par-71 course open to visitors.
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