Cruising the Brisbane River Australia

One of the best ways to see a city is through river cruises. This is usually the first activity we do to get an orientation of the city. Brisbane, Australia was our first stop during an island hopping adventure last summer and the city didn’t disappoint. It is Australia’s third most populated city and is the state of Queensland’s capital. Cruise with us along the Brisbane River to learn about the river city’s rich history and interesting sights along the waterfront.

Brisbane CBD Central Business District

We started off our cruise aboard the M V Neptune by South Bank Parklands right across from the Brisbane Wheel around 10:30 AM. The tour boat wasn’t very big but had upper deck areas and indoor seating including some booths. It was a good size boat which felt more like a private tour. We were lucky enough that it wasn’t crowded during our weekday visit and that it was sunny and warm during their winter season.

Brisbane River City Cruises
It was a nice surprise to get a free hat for each paying adult which came in handy after the cruise and a handy souvenir map to follow our route. Complimentary servings of tea, coffee and scones with jam and cream also greeted us when we entered the boat. They were delicious!

Brisbane River City cruise food
This 1.5 hour, round-trip guided tour had open seating so we ventured to the covered upper deck and enjoyed the lovely views. As we sailed along the river, the modern buildings and waterfront reminded me a lot of San Diego’s harbor.

Brisbane was discovered by a surveyor and two castaways in 1823 and became a convict settlement site known as Moreton Bay Penal Colony. Its location was strategically chosen due to its natural barriers that made it harder for the convicts to escape. The city was named after the river who was named after the governor of New South Wales who authorized the exploration of this area.

Brisbane Central Business District

We found colorful art like this common along the riverfront.

Brisbane riverfront art
We never did make it back to climb this lookout point.

Brisbane lookout Point
We passed by the Central Business District (CBD) with its skyscrapers that rival many other metropolitan areas. One of the things we liked about Brisbane was how compact its city center was which was wonderful when sightseeing with kids in tow. It was clean and easy to walk around too.

Brisbane skyscrapers
Story Bridge has been Brisbane’s iconic attraction for years. It was opened in 1940 to supplement the traffic flow from the city’s other main bridge and is 2,549 feet (777 meters). It shares the same designer as the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge but this was designed more similarly to Montreal’s Jacques Cartier Bridge. It was also meant to connect two of Brisbane’s neighborhoods of Kangaroo Point and Fortitude Valley by bypassing the downtown area.

Brisbane Story Bridge

For the adventurous types, tours are available to climb to the top of Story Bridge for panoramic views of Brisbane. Can you see them here? My husband wanted to do this but I wasn’t too fond of not having anything to hold on to up there. My son who wanted to do this with him was too young. Would you do this tour?

Brisbane Story Bridge climbers

This beautiful building was the Parliament House which is the seat of the Queensland State Government. This state parliament is the only one that has one legislature, the Federal Parliament, in all of the Australian states. It was built in the 1860s and is open on weekends from 10 AM – 2 PM for free guided tours.

Brisbane Parliament House

The imposing, red brick Brisbane City Council Powerhouse was once the electricity supplier for the southern hemisphere’s largest tram network and Brisbane’s suburbs. The trams were eventually replaced by buses and this building became a haven for the homeless and graffiti artists. It was redeveloped by the Brisbane City Council to become the Brisbane Powerhouse, an arts, culture and entertainment complex filled with restaurants, theaters and exhibition/conference spaces.

Brisbane PowerHouse

Wool export was a huge industry here in the early 20th century and many large stores and factories were built along the river. These buildings were eventually turned into modern, residential apartment complexes with riverfront boardwalks.

Brisbane Wool Store buildings

I loved how Brisbane has turned some of its factories and rundown buildings into functioning spaces instead of letting them become eyesores along the riverbank.

Brisbane wool stores building

Our only stop was near this beautiful Georgian cottage for passengers to disembark and to pick up other passengers. Built in 1846, Newstead House, named for England’s Newstead Abbey, was Brisbane’s oldest surviving home. Its hilltop location offers some beautiful views of the area and would have made for a perfect bed and breakfast. This has been a historical museum since 1932. Its rooms were furnished and decorated in the Victorian period to depict how life looked back in that era. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit inside.

Newstead House Brisbane

We saw plenty of new housing developments along the river. Of course, these properties came with insane multi-million dollar price tags. Some even had their own private docks.

Brisbane riverfront mansions

There is a City Cat service that makes public transportation along the river easy for suburban residents.

Brisbane City Cat
This pink mansion was nice and definitely stood out among the extravagant houses along the river.

Brisbane pink mansion
It was hard not to miss the Brisbane Riverwalk along the river with a lot of construction going on during our visit. This floating walkway took walkers and bikers into the middle of the river that connected the Bicentennial Bikeway to two of Brisbane’s popular areas.  The old walkway became submerged during the devastating 2011 floods and broke apart.

Brisbane Riverwalk

This reconstruction is a fixed walkway, built and bolted into the bedrock (11.15 feet) 3.4 meters and built to withstand stronger floods. We could see most of the walkway when we were there in June but it was officially opened in September 2014. The Brisbane Riverwalk has different areas for cyclists and pedestrians with rest and viewing areas in the shade.

Brisbane Riverwalk
We really enjoyed this relaxing trip down the river and felt lucky we had great weather. It was an informative and sometimes, entertaining commentary but the guide also allowed some quiet times to enjoy the river scenes. The cruise provided a wonderful way to learn some of Brisbane’s history and see its sights from a different perspective. There were plenty of things to see along the way that entertained passengers including the kids. The staff was friendly and it was a great value especially for families. If you’re visiting Brisbane, we recommend this river cruise as one of the first activities you do.

Brisbane City River Cruises with kids

River City Cruise Basics and Tips

  • Cruise Prices in (AUS $): Adults ($29); Seniors ($24); Child 5-15 years ($15); Family $65 (2 adults and up to 3 kids under 15)
  • Tickets can be purchased aboard the boat or at information center.
  • City cruises depart from the River Lookout Cruise Terminal (Jetty A) by Southbank Parklands near the Wheel of Brisbane at 10.30 AM. It arrives at the John Oxley Landing, Newstead Park at 11.15 AM where passengers embark and disembark. Passengers can choose to hop-off here and hop back in when the boat returns at 1:15 PM.
  • There is also a river cruise tour from 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM.
  • Restroom facilities are on the boat as well as a coffee shop and licensed bar.
  • The river cruise operates year-round.
  • Bring light jackets as it did get a bit cold when sitting outside. But, we were visiting during their winter season.
  • Bring binoculars if you can to see some sights up close.

Have you cruised down the Brisbane River? What are your favorite river cruises?

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