Street markets, folk festivals and crocodile shows are just some of the many attractions in this leafy river city, writes Christina Pfeiffer
1 South Bank
With a picturesque waterfront promenade and the only beach in the heart of an Australian city, South Bank is one of the country's most creatively designed riverside precincts. Meander through parklands and rainforest walks and under designer flower trellises that stretch along winding pathways, and explore the outdoor cafes, bubbling water features and colourful markets at weekends. Brisbane may be a river city with no natural beaches, but its sun-loving residents can still enjoy the sand and sunshine. Streets Beach opens into a man-made lagoon that's patrolled daily by lifeguards. It's a popular meeting place for locals at weekends. You could spend an entire day strolling around the Queensland Cultural Centre, through the Queensland Art Gallery, Queensland Museum and State Library. Also in the area, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Opera Queensland and Queensland Theatre Company offer a menu of live performances. On Friday nights, Little Stanley Street pulses with Latin rhythms as people let their hair down and dance. Markets are open on Friday nights from 5pm to 10pm, Saturdays from 11am to 5pm and Sundays from 9am to 5pm. There are plenty of activities such as fun runs, festivals and fairs all year round (www.ourbrisbane.com).
2 Cruise the river
For A$5 ($30) a day you can use the fast, sleek City Cat ferry to explore many of Brisbane's attractions. Start at North Quay, a city stop that's a short walk from Queen Street Mall and the heart of Brisbane's shopping area. Eagle Street Pier is where locals go for the Sunday craft market. The Sydney Street stop is near the popular cafes of New Farm (www.translink.qld.gov.au). There are organised cruises such as the River Queen paddle wheeler or the Mirimar Wildlife Cruise to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (www.queensland holidays.com.au).
3 Roma Street Parkland
The world's largest urban subtropical garden, Roma Street Parkland is designed to show off a wide assortment of plants. Wander along the Forest Walk above cascading waterfalls and around steep hills to the colourful, ever-changing display of annuals in the Spectacle Garden. Camellias and azaleas, native violets, gymea lilies and Bangkok roses are now in season. Themed gardens include the Topiary Maze Garden, Lilly Pilly Garden, a wall of epiphytes and an extensive collection of herbs. There are free, one-hour guided walks at 10am, September to May; 11am, June to August; and 2pm, Thursday to Sunday, all year round (www.romastreetparkland.com).
4 Mount Coot-tha
The best view of Brisbane can be enjoyed from the observation deck at Mount Coot-tha, a 15-minute drive from the city centre. The lookout is well planned, with guides to the city, a wishing waterfall and beautifully manicured gardens that blend into the surrounding bushland. The Summit Restaurant and Bar is a popular lunch spot that serves Australian cuisine and has terrific views (www.brisbane lookout.com). After lunch, take the Aboriginal Art Trail, a 45-minute return walk to Slaughter's Falls past Aboriginal contemporary paintings, tree carvings and rock paintings. Free guided tours of the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens begin at 11am and 1pm Monday to Saturday.
5 Conrad Treasury
Try your luck at one of the 80 gaming tables and thousands of poker machines in Brisbane casino's 19th-century sandstone building. It's one of Australia's grandest heritage buildings and was the seat of the Queensland Government Treasury for 70 years. Now named Conrad Treasury, it houses a five-star hotel as well as the casino - and it's still raking in the money (www.conrad.com.au).
6 Fortitude Valley
From Spanish tapas bars to Irish pubs, Fortitude Valley is the hub of Brisbane's nightlife. Trawl the hip nightclubs and bars for evening entertainment. Browse the bohemian Valley markets for collections from up-and-coming designers in fashion, accessories, crafts and homeware. The area is also famous for its under-ground music culture and as the birthplace of Australian bands such as Powderfinger and Savage Garden. The market place is a magnet for unsigned bands trying their luck.
7 St Helena Island
A fun way to learn about Queensland's colonial history is to take a spooky ghost tour through the ruins of St Helena Island. For more than 60 years it was Queensland's Alcatraz, a maximum-security prison once known as the 'hell hole of the South Pacific'. Today it's a national park of historical value (www.sthelenaisland.com.au).
8 Moreton Island
Although the world's second-largest sand island consists mostly of national park, with expansive white sandy beaches and sparkling freshwater lakes, it has a few small villages. You can hire a four-wheel drive on the mainland, catch the ferry across and drive straight onto a beach, where normal traffic rules (and a 60km/h speed limit) apply. When Paris Hilton visited Australia last year she made a beeline for the Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort (www.tangalooma.com), where you can hand-feed wild dolphins in the shallows. There are plenty of other nature-based activities suitable for children.
9 Australia Zoo
At Steve Irwin's zoo the main stars are Australia's largest and most dangerous predators: saltwater crocodiles. At the daily feedings, Irwin lookalikes dangle chicken carcasses to entice the cranky crocs out of the muddy billabongs. There are other animal shows featuring Asian otters, cuddly koalas, snakes, Harriet the amazing giant Galapagos tortoise, elephants and camels. One of the newest additions is the Tiger Temple, home to five tigers and four cheetah cubs (www.crocodilehunter.com).
10 Woodford Folk Festival
From December 27 to January 1, 2,000 Australian and international performers strut their stuff at the country's largest annual folk festival. With more than 400 events, including concerts, dances, workshops, forums, street-theatre performances, comedy routines, acoustic jams and debates, Woodford attracts legions of devotees who camp in the grounds. There are arts and craft workshops for children (www.woodfordfolkfestival.com).