Things to do in Brisbane

Secrets in Brisbane: Hidden Gems and Places

Brisbane’s hidden gems shine brightly — if you know where to look.

In Brisbane, beauty is everywhere, and adventure knows no bounds. The city can't help but be impressive, with a river running through its heart and buildings with memorable architecture.

Many tourists might be tempted to flock to some of the best attractions in the city, and who can blame them? When you go to such an iconic city, it’s hard not to feel enchanted by what it’s known for.

But if you step off the beaten path, the most unique things to do in Brisbane shine through. These hidden gems offer a completely different perspective of the city.

Hidden Cultural Spots

With centuries of history and a penchant for all things artistic, Brisbane is ripe with hidden cultural spots waiting to be discovered.

1. Old Windmill Tower in Observatory Park

Over 200 years ago, convicts in Brisbane were tasked with building a windmill. Today, the Old Windmill Tower still stands, north of the city center in Observatory Park.

It initially processed wheat and corn grown in the Moreton Bay colonial penal settlement but was destined for failure. The area didn’t get enough wind to operate correctly. Convictshad to turn the millstone on the treadmill manually.

After colonial times came to a close, the mill underwent numerous transformations. In 1855, it became a signal station. Later installed with a time ball as a public observatory, the tower eventually became a lookout point for spotting night fires.

Today, it’s known as the longest-surviving convict building and the oldest windmill in Australia.

2. House Conspiracy

Embrace art in a whole new way at House Conspiracy. Here, small groups of artists come together for four weeks in a residency program. Any type of art is welcome here, from novel writing to sculpting or dancing.

When artists with different preferred mediums come together, something wonderful happens. Each artist may create something vastly different from what they normally would. At the end of the residency, the artists showcase their work in an art exhibition.

3. Metro Arts

Art can grow from anywhere, and Metro Arts proves it. It was an old warehouse before it was transformed into a thriving arts venue in the West End with daily performances, galleries, and workshops.

Participating in the workshops introduces you to contemporary artists across various mediums. You’ll be able to work on or showcase your own art or view work by other artists.

The live performances are always a treat, no matter the topic. Some delve deep into personal issues through a serious lens. Others feature hilarious comedies that you can’t help but roll with laughter.

4. Queensland Maritime Museum

Queensland Maritime Museum is home to tens of thousands of artifacts, all of which are a little piece of the region's history. Maritime enthusiasts, young and old, delight as they take a stroll through time.

Nautical equipment, ranging from whaling tools to navigational devices, displays the evolution of seafaring. Many of the instruments you’ll see come from significant Australian captains and sailors.

Explore seven marine vessels, with the HMAS Diamantina as the most notable. This Royal Australian Navy frigate is one of the last World War II-era river-class frigates remaining today, and it’s available to tour from top to bottom.

Unusual Nature Escapes

Queensland is well known for its vast, diverse ecosystems and wildlife. Brisbane is no exception. Some of its best-kept secret escapes are just minutes from the city.

5. Sherwood Arboretum

Sherwood Arboretum may not be as vast as some of the city’s other botanical gardens, but that's what makes it one of Brisbane’s hidden gems. It offers stunning riverside walks and is home to native, heritage-listed trees.

The central avenue of 72 Kauri Pines has stood since 1925. They were first planted to commemorate the arboretum’s opening. Each tree is named after the person who planted it. Thanks to all the native trees within the park, it’s a favorite hangout for nature enthusiasts.

Over the last several years, the environment has attracted around 170 distinct bird species, including rare sights like the Spotless Crake. If you want to see wildlife, we recommend going on morning adventures to improve your chances.

6. Toohey Forest Park

The eucalyptus trees and smooth sandstone boulders of Toohey Forest Park offer a glimpse of Brisbane before its urbanization. The trails here are fantastic for hiking through nature, especially if you want to spot local wildlife.

Although kookaburras are a common sight, if you have a particularly keen eye, you might spot a koala or an echidna. While many of these trails are too rough for strollers or wheelchairs, the Toohey Ridge Track provides the perfect circuit with its smooth, paved path. It’ll take you through the forest, a few hills, and part of the boardwalk.

7. Boondall Wetlands Environment Centre

Boondall Wetlands Environment Centre is located at the edge of Moreton Bay. Its 1,150 ha of preserved wildlands, from mangroves to salt marshes and open forests, await your exploration.

You’ll explore the Brisbane region's best and most diverse habitats from all sorts of vantage points. Kayak along mangrove creeks while you look for migratory shorebirds, or walk along the mangrove boardwalks and admire the beautiful scenery.

To delve into the region’s history, hike along the Nurri Millen Totem Trail. Indigenous artist Ron Hurley created it, and it's an important part of the local public art collection. The trail features eighteen cast aluminum totems integrating Indigenous symbolism with contemporary art.

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8. J.C. Slaughter Falls

Mount Coot-tha has a hidden secret most people don’t know about. With a bit of effort, you’ll find J.C. Slaughter Falls. You’ll have to hike from the picnic area up the mountain. But the trails aren’t terribly strenuous, and they’re marked to guide your way.

Take the Summit Track until you reach the Aboriginal Art Trail, which takes you to the falls. Be sure to check out the breathtaking art and scenery along the way.

If it hasn't rained recently, the falls may be a slight trickle down the stony mountainside, but if you go a day or two after major rainfall, you’ll see it pouring out.

9. Enoggera Reservoir

The Enoggera Reservoir was the first of its kind to be built in Queensland, and it's a local favorite for swimming that tourists might overlook. It doesn't have sprawling sands and sea, but the lake surrounded by greenery is a true sight to behold.

This heritage site is an access point for other nature expeditions, such as Walkabout Creek, but many choose to stay on the lake’s shore. Enoggera Reservoir has been converted into a recreation site, so you can swim and enjoy the space however you want.

We recommend packing a picnic and enjoying an all-day excursion while you hike and swim to your heart’s content.

Quirky Cafés and Bars

Quirkiness comes with a subversion of expectations we can get behind. These cafés and bars take what you’d expect from a dining experience and flip it on its head.

10. Banneton Bakery

The heavenly smell of freshly baked bread hits you before you even walk into Banneton Bakery in Woolloongabba, a nearby suburb of Brisbane. This hidden gem was built within a warehouse loading dock. Its industrial exterior echoes within, with simple, streamlined decor and garage doors.

You won't regret hunting this café down. The baked goods range from sweets and pastries to hearty breads and savory sandwiches. Don’t forget to wash it all down with a handcrafted coffee before heading out.

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11. John Mills Himself

You might not expect to find some of the best coffee in Brisbane in the basement of a heritage site, but that’s what you'll get at John Mills Himself.

Here, premium coffee, chocolates, and pastries from Chouquette and Doughluxe attract a steady thrum of business. You might have trouble finding a seat, but the drinks are just as delectable in a to-go cup.

It’s a bit of an adventure to find the café, as it’s tucked away off the main road. Keep your eyes peeled for the folding sign on the sidewalk pointing you in the right direction, and follow it into the alleyway. You’ll find yourself in a tiny café with baristas ready to serve you.

12. The Scratch

Whether you need somewhere to unwind after a long day or you’re looking for quirky date ideas in Brisbane, head over to The Scratch bar.

The eccentric interior, with knickknacks and photos covering the walls and a wooden shark mounted to the ceiling, adds to the ambiance. Nine Australian independent beers and other less foamy options are on tap at any given time.

Dairy and vegan cheese boards are the only food on offer here. However, a relaxed bring-your-own-food policy and a pile of takeout menus on the counter encourage you to take advantage of the nearby restaurants that deliver to the bar.

Unique Shops and Markets

In a city as vast and diverse as Brisbane, there’s no shortage of prime shopping opportunities. When you're looking for something truly different, check out the unique shops and markets in the city.

13. The Collective Store

The Collective Store only stocks handmade, locally designed, or ethically sourced products. This artist co-op offers over 100 Australian brands, from art and jewelry to gourmet treats and handbags. You’ll find a little of everything here, but that’s part of the appeal.

Since much of the stock is handmade, it changes frequently, and there’s always something new to find. You might go home with a pair of quirky earrings from Cheeky Little Monkeys or a bar of soap from Kangaroo Soapery.

14. Powerhouse Farmers Markets

Set beneath the old, worn-out power plant, Powerhouse Farmers Markets is one of the more unique places to shop in Brisbane. It’s especially attractive if you want to taste some of the best food the city has to offer.

Coffee and food trucks line the walkways while vendors vie for your attention to sell freshly prepared bagels, smoothies, and other finger-licking good options. This market is next to New Farm Park, making it a prime place to purchase picnic items.

Of course, you can always buy artisanal ingredients, such as oven-fresh bread, handmade pasta, and farm-to-table produce, to create your own mouth-watering meals. Everything here is straight from the source; you just can't beat that freshness.

15. Suitcase Rummage

If you love searching for hidden diamonds in the rough, you'll adore Suitcase Rummage. It’s like a giant community yard sale. People set up items they don’t want anymore, and you can dig in. Everything’s spread out on blankets on the ground — they have a policy of no tables, tents, or racks — or sold right out of suitcases.

You never know whether you’ll find books you’ve been dying to read or a new (to you) favorite hat. Even better, you’ll know you’re helping divert usable goods from landfills.

Exploring Brisbane’s Secret Charms Reveals a City Full of Surprises

On top of Brisbane's fun things to do, the city also has us. When we take the stage, limits fade, and everything is possible. We'll dazzle you as we lead you through a story woven from artistry, passion, and athletic prowess.

Experience heart-stopping moments and overwhelming awe as you witness feats that seem impossible. You won’t regret putting one of our shows in Brisbane on your itinerary. We’ll make sure of it.

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