I recently had the trip of a lifetime down under to Brisbane and Sydney Australia. The 13 days we spent both went incredibly fast, and far too short- my mom, dad, cousin and I headed down for my brother's wedding. He plays baseball in Australia where he met a beautiful girl, and has decided to make Australia home (though I'm hoping I can still sway them into living stateside for a while since my kids adore their uncle and I LOVE my new sister-in-law!)
It was tough trip though, because I decided not to bring my kids. I am still confident in my decision to not bring them since traveling with a 2 and 4 year old for over 30 hours sounded pretty much awful. Unfortunately I didn't get to take my husband either like I normally would, as our babysitters (my inlaws) were in Eastern Europe (and my parents were with me). I'm sad I couldn't take my husband, but the trip was amazing, and I can't wait to head back to Australia when the kids are a little bit older and will actually remember such a crazy expensive flight!
I'm so excited to share all the things we did in Brisbane. A lot of the photos I have from Brisbane are from my iPhone- I didn't want to lug around my DSLR all day since we were heading in all sorts of directions with the wedding coming up- so you'll see different types pictures interspersed.
We stayed at the Oaks Aurora Tower which was the perfect place for touring all Brisbane has to offer. While not the most luxurious, it was a very affordable option for our group of four- and it also offered a kitchen which can really help cut costs as eating out in Brisbane is quite a shock to the wallet if you're used to prices in America. The three Oaks hotels in the area are a mix of extended stay apartments and hotel rooms. The amenities are sparse, but the room is comfortable and clean. It offers plenty of space, was quiet for being in the city, and the kitchen was a huge plus- and it was about half the price of one hotel room- for our two bedroom condo. It was incredibly safe, and also had a decent parking garage (we rented a car... which was it's own experience). While we didn't visit, the Oaks also has a pool. But really, its all about that view:
Plus, the view out our room off our incredibly spacious balcony was stunning to say the least. We had a perfect view of the river, the story bridge, and the Customs House. It was unreal during sunrise and sunsets- there was a gorgeous orange red glow that hung over the river for each. I can definitely see why my brother has fallen in love with Brisbane!
My brother's wedding reception was at the Marriott just up the street- which also had phenomenal views and would be a great base for travel too. There are also two other Oaks hotels close to the action. There are some people who live in the Oaks since it is available for extended stay. The amenities are a bit sparse for a hotel, but the price and locations are great.
One note- check your hotel's internet policy. I found wifi was FAR less available in and around Brisbane (and Sydney too). There are some great areas with free wifi (The entire Queen St. Mall and Southbank area, for example- but you have to be outside), but our hotel allowed something like 100mb a day. Which... we went through in about 10 minutes after texting home and a FaceTime session with my kids. If you need to connect home without upping your phone plan, you can head into a Telstra or Vodafone store, grab a prepaid wifi hotspot, and carry it around with you. For around $50, I got the device itself and 3GB of data. That lasted me our trip through Brisbane so I could keep my phone on and be available to my husband and kiddos in case something went wrong. Not everyone will be in the position that they need connectivity (if my kids were older than 2 and 4, I might have just skipped it)- and since my activities were mostly data/wifi based (facetiming my toddlers, working on my blog at night, answering emails etc) it was cheaper than adding an international plan for my phone for the month.
I was also surprised to see how less reliant on phones everyone in Australia seemed to be. Here, I feel like everyone's face is buried in their phones at all times- myself included. It was nice to not be able to connect as much because it did help me realize how stupidly addicted to my phone I am. I've been trying to cut back a lot since the trip, and just enjoy my surroundings. It's something I definitely need to work on!We had some of my brothers friends joke with us about our phones and how much Americans are on them. Guilty as charged... one of the things that I liked the best about Australia were all the fantastically nice people (seriously- as an American, you're not always welcomed with open arms everywhere- but I never once felt that way in Brisbane or Sydney. Everyone was friendly and ready for a chat!)
The popular Queen Street Mall was pretty much our launching base for walking around the city. We'd walk towards the river, touring through the shops and peeking in the delicious restaurants and seemingly endless malls, until the street mall opens up at the Casino. Full disclosure: I am NOT a casino person. I don't mind killing a little time with nickel and penny slots, but I have a hard time putting money in a machine or on a table, knowing with my lousy luck I'll never see it again. I sit there and tally things I could buy or eat with every cent I lose. So going in the Treasury Casino wasn't a huge draw for me- but it is a GORGEOUS building that is definitely worth checking out, even if you don't spend any money at the pokeys. They also seemed to have some fabulous restaurants, and when we went there after the wedding (long story), they had a live band and a fun club feel right off the table room. We also ducked into the Treasury hotel- just across the street and through a little park- and it is stunning. Totally worth a quick peek!
From the Casino, we walked across the bridge over into the South Bank area, which is where we spent a lot of time. Southbank has a lot to offer- trendy, fresh and delicious open air restaurants of all cuisines that spill onto the street, a fabulous faux beach on the river (it is so beautiful- especially at night!), the Wheel of Brisbane, and a gorgeous, winding arbor that lines the walk.
The wheel of Brisbane is awesome. We went right at sundown- which is not only a gorgeous time to go- but it was happy hour and therefore ½ off! Since we went with my parents who just barely qualified for the pensioners (seniors) price, the four of us got to ride the wheel for under $35. The wheel also sells photo books, wine, cheese and crackers, ice cream sandwiches and other snacks- it is air conditioned, and has a great commentary track piped in that talks all about Brisbane's history, the buildings and mountains you see in the horizon, and fun facts about aboriginal Australians. It made my stomach flip quite a few times, but the enclosed gondola (just like at a ski resort) made you feel completely safe (even if you're chicken like me) and was a cool way to see the city!
From the wheel, we walked the gorgeous arbor. It winds and winds along the river and past the city beach to take you to the heart of the restaurants in south bank. Its gorgeous in the day, but absolutely magical at night.
About halfway through is an open air amphitheater off to one side, and one of the nights we walked past they were offering free dance lessons in the amphitheater. It was so cute and romantic- if I lived in Brisbane I'd hit those up as often as they are on offer!
I could have spent every second of the day in Southbank, eating my way through the delicious restaurants that buzzed along the two long main streets of the area. The fabulous thing about Brisbane (and all of Australia) is that with an incredibly diverse culture, you can find so many authentic ethnic cuisines everywhere. Southbank is filled to the brim with just about any type of food you'd like to eat- and the place seemed to always be buzzing. We were there in Brisbane's winter and the outdoor seating was still packed (I giggled at the heaters everywhere as it never got below 60 degrees), so I can only imagine in warmer weather it is even more alive! I'll be sharing some of our favorites from the area soon.
We also walked down to St. Stephens Cathedral. As I grew up Catholic, it was hard to not feel immediately at home in the gorgeous church- but even if you aren't religious, St. Stephens is a must see. The architecture is stunning (it is the oldest church in Queensland) and they offer tours on Wednesdays or Sundays by appointment. The bells on Sunday ring for a very long time filling the city with an amazingly joyous sound.
The stained glass was exquisite!
To the side of the church sits a shrine to St. Mary MacKillop and a small chapel. The shrine is a beautiful sculpture made from wood, and sits behind the smaller chapel. The room is quiet and lit softly even in the bright of day allowing candles to dance along the walls. It is a very moving place and worth a visit, even if you're not Catholic.
My only real regret is that we didn't take any of the numerous City Cat ferries around the river. Many are free, and take you from one side of the river to the next. We walked pretty much everywhere so we could see as much as possible- but I really wish we had taken a ferry or boat cruise and taken the time to see the city from the river! Next time, right?
Really, we missed a good half of the city. While we were there for a week, we had the wedding, rehearsal and hanging out with my brother and his wife, so our touring time was cut a bit short. I really can't wait to come back someday soon and see so much more of the city. If you live in Brisbane (or have been and have some favorite activities)- leave me a note and let me know what to check out in the future!
Check back in soon- I'll be sharing our favorite shops, our experience cuddling koalas and feeding kangaroos- as well as all the delicious restaurants we found!