South Bank, Brisbane

3 Things Brisbane Does Better Than Sydney

February 7, 2012

in New South Wales, Queensland, vacation

“Brisbane’s a shit hole.”

“Don’t waste time seeing Brisbane — there’s nothing there.”

“Why would you go to Brisbane?”

Those were the responses to my trip to Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Byron Bay five months after I first arrived in Australia. I’d heard the Brisvegas puns and started really wondering what in the hell was so bad about this southeastern Queensland city, while still fully committed to checking it out no matter what anyone else said.

You have to understand that, as an American, hearing a place is a “shit hole” makes me think of really, really bad cities. Like Compton. Like Camden. This is not what I envision when I hear the term.

South Bank, Brisbane

But, hey, what do I know?

As a big champion of anyone and anything that is the underdog, it’s little surprise I found things to like about Brisbane upon my first visit: those little bars in the middle of Queen Street Mall; the riverfront; the Botanic Gardens (both of them); the friendly locals. So when Brendan kept saying he wanted to see Brisbane at some point, I decided his wish would be granted in 2012; his Christmas present was a jaunt to the city where the streets are paved with XXXX GOLD.

After our trip wrapped up Sunday, I decided I still liked Brisbane. Brendan liked it too. I still couldn’t see why it sucks so bad according to so many people. In fact, I saw some things in Brissie I’d like to see in Sydney, the bestest city in all of Oz.

1. Public transport

It’s not news that Sydney’s public transport needs a lot of work. Between the buses never running on time and services not always linking up well, it can be a nightmare. Brisbane’s got the same modes of transport as Sydney (it’s also building an underground system), but there’s a difference: unlimited, no-charge transfers between buses, trains and ferries within two hours if you travel in up to 10 zones, and 3.5 hours for 11 zones. If things ran this way in Sydney, I could get to Manly Beach for a little over $10 instead of the $20 I now spend.

2. Bike rentals

Brisbane residents actually bitched about the city’s bike scheme when it was unveiled in 2009. The prices could be considered a little steep if you rent a bike for a day, but for $2 a day or $11 a week, you can technically ride a bike for no extra charge as long as you return it every half hour to one of the more than 100 bicycle stations in Brisbane. Otherwise, it’s $4.20 for an hour or $8.05 for up to 90 minutes.

Sure, it would be better if Brisbane had free cycle rentals like Adelaide, but the price is still far less than what you can find in Sydney, which is roughly $15 or more an hour. Plus, Brisbane lets you rent the bike for a longer time frame, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., whereas other rental outfits make you return it before dark. Β 

3. Free pools

I am spoiled. Sydney has beaches, bays and pools. If you want to swim, it’s a good place to be. But…

– The beaches are far from where I live and require up to an hour on public transport to visit.

– Some of the bays inspire fears of Impetigo. And sharks.

– Pools cost money, and I’m a cheap as mofo.

My first visit to Brisbane was in chilly early winter, so I couldn’t take advantage of Streets Beach, an artificial Bondi along the river in South Bank. This time, the 28-degree weather prompted not one, but two visits to this free pool about 10 minutes from the CBD. Yes, there were lots of kids there and it isn’t a place you go for a romantic dip, but it sufficed. And it made me wish we had something similar in Sydney.

What are your thoughts on Brisbane — shit hole or nice city?

23 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. Rebecca

    I didn’t love Brisbane like I loved Sydney (or even Adelaide for that matter!), it was my last stop on my whole east coast backpackers bullshit tour and I was just happy to be back in a decent size city again! I wouldn’t say skip it (I’d leave that honor to the Gold Coast) but it’s a decent base with a decent amount of stuff to do.

    1. Lauren Post author

      I love your thoughts on the tour. I’ve never heard it described quite like that. Yeah, I agree, Brisbane’s not super awesome, but I don’t get all the hate. I guess Aussies can be picky since there are only like 10 cities. If there were more, Brisbane might actually be considered an OK place.

    2. Billy J. Jack

      Friend, Brisbane Town is the greatest city in the world. We gots a muddy river, and them ghetto ass suburbs too. Utes and pokie machines fer miles friends.

      That’s the Brisbane Town difference right there.

      God Bless the fine folks of Brisbane Town, and God Bless Billy J. Jack.

  2. laura b

    hi there again! been a while but still follow your blog. loved your post. as you may recall – we live about an hour north of brissie. i love visiting the city and find it a very cultured city – great museums, heaps of sport, great eating [esp. greek food and greek festival]…great shopping. river and ferries are fantastic.

    but for beaches, next time just head up to the sunshine coast – beaches are the most beautiful in the world…mooloolaba especially…

    1. Lauren Post author

      Hi Laura! I remember you. Brendan and I actually considered trying to get up to the Sunshine Coast while there, but we were short on time — next time.

  3. borogirl

    Hi Lauren

    A Brisbane local here – born and bred. I’ve travelled all over the world and think this is the best place to live. Southerners always bag Brisbane – not sure why, but there sure seems to be a lot of them that live up here now!! We don’t mind. We just keep to ourselves and head south to beat everyone at sport every now and again!!

    Did you get a chance to go to GOMA? I’m a member and go to all the shows which have an eclectic but international pieces coming on rotation.

    I’m so glad you like the beach at Southbank. I remember it getting a bagging on JJJ when it was first opened. Nobody seemed to bag London and Paris when they did their own version πŸ˜‰

    Would love to hear more about your thoughts of Brissy….

    1. Lauren Post author

      I think they’re jealous of your weather! It was certainly nicer up there than it has been in Sydney. I finally got some color πŸ™‚ We did not make it to GOMA, but we did check out the Powerhouse in New Farm which I thought was really cool with the photographer and just overall setup. Why did the beach get bagged? It seems like an asset.

  4. Amy

    I have nothing but good memories of Brissie, so I find it hard to think people would refer to it as a shit hole! It’s not my favorite city in Oz, but I didn’t hate it. We made several trips up there from the Gold Coast when I was in Uni (and I wouldn’t be one to say skip the GC either), especially for the Rugby World Cup games.

    I’d also like to ditto Laura’s comment, love Mooloolaba – the beaches were gorgeous!

    1. Lauren Post author

      I want to go to Mooloolaba just for the name alone. Will definitely try to get up to the other beaches, including Sunshine Coast, at some point.

  5. Heather

    I’m a Brisvegas fan! No, it didn’t do some of the same things for me that Sydney did, but it’s not supposed to — it’s Brisbane. It’s the home of my beloved Brisbane Lions (I love ’em no matter how bad their record has been in recent years) and of course in Queensland, a state that’s dear to my heart. AND, it’s home to three of my favorite people in Australia (2 American ladies and 1 Aussie guy).

    I’m glad you guys enjoyed it — and the free beach πŸ™‚

  6. Kristin Repsher

    Love it! It always baffles me when Brisbane finishes so low in liveability surveys (or when people bag it out so much) because it’s a great place. Sure, it doesn’t have the most tourist attractions in the city itself, but I think it’s a great jumping off place to a lot of great places, like O’Reilly’s or Mooloolaba (where I am lucky enough to have sort-of in-laws).

    I definitely agree with your points though, although it’s funny that many people I’ve talked to in Brisbane seems to hold up Sydney as a paragon of Australian public transport excellence. I like public transport here because the train is only a block from my house so it’s incredibly convenient, and I agree, it’s nice that there’s free transfers. Plus, there’s a great loophole that you can exploit to save a lot of money if you use it regularly to commute.

    The CityCycles are great too. They used to be too expensive ($11 for one day) but I’ve got a $60 yearly pass. Riding for part of my commute cuts the time about in half too.

    When I first studied over here my friends and I thought Southbank was the coolest thing (and I still love it, but I don’t go there nearly as much). We used to get on the ferry every afternoon and go lie on the “beach” and read. It was awesome.

    1. Lauren Post author

      OMG, public trans here blows! I don’t know how anyone can say it’s good. The buses especially are never on time. As far as livability, I think there’s something to be said of a smaller city sometimes. I’m glad you’re enjoying being there.

  7. iliana

    I always find city rivalry entertaining. The only city in the US I strongly dislike is the home and loved by two of my best friends … what more can I say (shoulder shrug) πŸ™‚
    I know someone who moved to and loved Brisbane. Hopefully one day I get to see it myself.Meanwhile, do you think one can make analogy between US and Australia cities, i.e. Sidney is like Seattle, Melbourne is like Chicago, etc.?

    1. Lauren Post author

      Iliana, is this city, by chance, Detroit? πŸ˜‰ I have heard the analogy that Sydney is like LA and Melbourne is like San Fran I think. I don’t really agree with either, but I guess Sydney is a bit showier while Melbourne is known for being artsier.

  8. Adri

    I don’t understand the negative reputation, either! I moved to Brisbane nearly two years ago, after living in NYC & Philly areas and traveling extensively throughout North America, South America, and Europe. The city has a lot to offer, but you have to know where to look. It doesn’t cater as well to visitors and tourists as Sydney or Melbourne (or NYC or LA or San Francisco…), so it’s easy for people to pass through on holiday and miss out. My boyfriend has lived in Brisbane for ~8 years, and we’re both still uncovering new experiences here.

    The pool at South Bank is lovely, as are the botanic gardens and small parks & greens throughout the city. For a different spin on visiting the South Bank beach, you can rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board from Kangaroo Point, paddle your craft up-river to the beach, then take a dip in the pool before paddling back. There’s also fantastic scuba diving right off the coast of Brisbane. Each suburb has its own distinct personality, which carries through to the outdoor markets they host (I love the Powerhouse Farmers Market and the more eclectic West End Market & West End Twilight Market, especially). The laneway culture is slowly evolving with several must-do cafes and bars.

    The public transport is decent; I live in the city and have never needed a car, but the buses are typically 5-10 minutes late. The bike hire often ends up being more expensive than taking a bus or train, though it’s a nicer ride on sunny days. The locals’ complaints toward CityCycle was the outrageous cost of the scheme (the program costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain and the bikes are chronically underused, hence dropping the price from $11/day to $2/day + hourly rate to attract more riders), and the city disrupted residential areas and businesses while seizing a lot of already-sparse street parking spaces to install the bike rental stations that now sit untouched. Courier Mail – CityCycle Scheme Costs Brisbane City Council $300,000 as User Numbers Plummet

    We spent a week and a half in Melbourne over the holidays this year, and there was so much to see and do while wandering around the city. Brisbane is more the type of place where you need a plan going in because the attractions are more subtle.

    1. Lauren Post author

      We are from the same land (NYC/Philly). All great points you bring up. I see what you mean about having to look for some of the good places to check out. I only found out about New Farm right before this visit, so we checked it out and I thought the Powerhouse was awesome. Same with Fortitude Valley and the West End. Re: the bike scheme, hopefully it will truly take off as they get into the next phase of it. Do you use them?

  9. Jade -

    I live in Brisbane and just love it! It’s a small city but it has a lot to offer! I live really near to the lagoon and its such a great place for hot days. Although, I havn’t been to Sydney so I guess I can’t compare!

    1. Lauren Post author

      I’m glad you are loving it. It definitely seems like a liveable city. I guess Sydney has more of a big city feel, but that can have its drawbacks.

  10. Misuer lechiffre

    Back I’m thr day ( if say about 2010)..I’d lean towards Brisbane being more of a shit hole…
    Fast fwd to 2017 (amd looking into the next few years)…if say no- it’s not bad at all.
    1. Economic development and jobs (much new construction in the past couple of years and also in the pipeline for the next 5 yrs at least). This is the biggest reason…and this development is non mining related signifying a maturing place.
    2. Number one above leads yo population growth. That’s what you want- a growing city
    3. Locals are still friendly and more sophisticated than in the past.
    4. Bogans and undesirables have largely been pushed out to non Brisbane lower socio-economic areas and they don’t venture into the city much anymore.
    5. Still relatively cheap compared to Sydney melboure and Perth.
    6. This rise of the city means it’s talked more and more in line with Sydney amd Melbourne than with Perth as was in the past.
    Again, this is what you want – it’s a viable alternative to Melbourne in the next 3-5 years.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Interesting perspective. When I was in Australia, Queensland always reminded me more of the American South. People were nicer, it was slower-paced, less-crowded, nicer weather. Glad to see Brisbane might actually get its due after all.


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