Where to Stay in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast

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Updated: September 30, 2020

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The Best Areas to Stay in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast

South Bank in Brisbane

South Bank is the best neighborhood in Brisbane for families because of its attractions, malls, and restaurants.


Australia’s third-largest city and capital of the country’s second-biggest state is beautifully positioned along the hairpin bends of the namesake river. Massive development around downtown is a testament to Brisbane’s determination to compete with Sydney and Melbourne, and the superior weather and tropical vibe lend itself to numerous open-air markets, dynamic festivals, and a chance to swim, surf, and sunbathe year-round.

Most stay in the pleasingly compact city center which offers several old and new attractions and one of the country’s premier shopping districts: Queen Street Mall. The excellent train and ferry services also make it easy to criss-cross the wide river to places like South Bank. This redeveloped riverside precinct (and part of South Brisbane) is a world-class attraction packed with places to eat, drink, shop, and stay; cultural icons like the art gallery, state museum, and performing arts center; and remarkable (and free) amenities such as the rainforest and massive lagoon-style swimming pool with a ‘beach’.

Within walking distance north of downtown Brisbane is the delightful suburb of Spring Hill. It offers an appealing city-fringe vibe and is home to the fantastic Roma Street Parkland blanketing a ridge overlooking the city center. Less sedate and serene is Fortitude Valley nearby, renowned for its café culture during the day and raging nightlife after dark.

On a peninsula along a paper-clip bend in the Brisbane River is the upmarket residential area of Kangaroo Point renowned for its dramatic cliffs, lovely parks, and views of the city skyline. Alongside South Brisbane is the historic, charming, but often-ignored suburb of Woolloongabba, home to the namesake cricket/football stadium inevitably shortened to The Gabba.

Brisbane’s international and domestic airports are only about 10 miles from the city center and very well-connected by train. Surrounding suburbs – Hamilton, Ascot, and Eagle Farm – do offer accommodations for late arrivals and/or early departures, although the riverside locations are another attraction.

Uniquely among Australian state capitals, Brisbane was not established near the sea, but is only an hour by car/taxi or two by train from the Gold Coast. Boasting powdery beaches, thundering surf, and marvelous amenities – as well as an international/domestic airport – the Gold Coast is a major destination and much more than just a side-trip from Brisbane. Along the 35-mile coastline stretching from Southport to Coolangatta (on the border with New South Wales) are Surfers Paradise, the most popular and developed region; Broadbeach, likably less touristy and more residential; and Burleigh Heads, particularly attractive and spacious.

The Best Places to Stay in Brisbane

The Best Places to Stay on the Gold Coast

Surfers Paradise along the Gold Coast

Surfers Paradise along the Gold Coast is world-famous for surfing and theme parks.

Where to Stay in Brisbane for…

  • Best Neighborhood for Sightseeing: Brisbane City Center
    As the oldest and most developed region in the state, the capital offers numerous sights. These include the colonial-era Parliament House (where tours are possible), Old Government House (again, tours are possible), and St. John’s Cathedral – but most cultural icons, like the state museum and art gallery, are in South Bank just across the river. Other attractions in downtown Brisbane include the world-class City Botanic Gardens and cruises along the mighty river. This area is easy to walk around, while the excellent trains, ferries, and city loop buses help alleviate sore feet.
  • Best Neighborhood for Beaches: Burleigh Heads
    The Gold Coast is a 35-mile-long stretch of white sand, but it does lack shade and waves can be rough. In contrast, the coastline at Burleigh (as it’s called locally) is safely divided into a comparatively calm area ideal for swimmers and headlands popular with surfers for the outstanding barrels. Swimmers can also splash about in Tallebudgera Creek, part of the seaside national park, while the pines along Burleigh Heads add enormously to the appeal. But be wary anywhere along the Gold Coast: inexperienced swimmers may struggle with the waves and currents, while surfers are sometimes inconsiderate. And always swim between the flags where professional lifeguards operate daily during daylight hours.
  • Best Neighborhood for Surfing: Burleigh Heads
    Even with about 35 miles of coastline dominated by Surfers Paradise, Burleigh Heads is renowned as the place to surf along the Gold Coast. The pine-clustered beach is particularly attractive and the vibe is much more laidback and less developed than others, but the sea is the main attraction for some. The consistently good waves – suitable for novices and experts – are regularly used in competitions, while lessons, gear, repairs, and rentals are available in the backstreets, along with moderately-priced hotels often catering to surfers.
  • Best Neighborhoods for Outdoor Activities: Kangaroo Point and Surfers Paradise
    Very few adventurous activities are offered around the city, except at Kangaroo Point just across the river from downtown. These include rock-climbing up and abseiling down the dramatic cliffs with Pinnacle Sports, and Riverlife, which rents out kayaks for exploring the river.

    Most outdoor activities along the Gold Coast are on or above the sea. Many are offered at Surfers Paradise or can be arranged there through numerous travel agencies. Transfers are sometimes included; if not, many are easy to reach independently from Surfers Paradise by taxi, rented car, or, sometimes, public transport. Activities include the usual (jet-skiing and parasailing), the less common (whale-watching and hot-air ballooning), and the more sedate (paddle-boarding and kayaking).
  • Best Neighborhoods for Malls and Department Stores: Brisbane City Center and Broadbeach
    One of the finest shopping districts in Australia, Queen Street Mall is an extended and shady street that is devoid of vehicles and a pleasure to explore. Along with several places to eat and drink, it is also home to two countrywide department stores (and institutions): Myer and David Jones.

    With over 400 stores, Pacific Fair is one of the largest shopping malls in the country. Located along Gold Coast Highway in Broadbeach and only 500m from the sea, it also offers a cinema complex and food court in a delightful palm-lined open-air setting. Check the website about free shuttle bus services.
  • Best Neighborhoods for Markets: South Bank and Surfers Paradise
    With so much space and a gorgeous riverside setting, South Bank is ideal for markets. The 120+ stalls at the Collective Markets sell locally-made produce, crafts, and jewelry, among other things, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Also, check out the Young Designers Market for contemporary fashion (first Sunday of the month) at South Bank and the twice-weekly Boundary Street Markets (food) in West End, less than a mile away.

    Surfers Paradise, the most popular section along the Gold Coast, also hosts the wonderful Beachfront Markets from 5 pm on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Located at the beach end of Cavill Mall (a pedestrian-only street), 100+ stalls sell locally-produced food, crafts, and jewelry, and the live music is always entertaining.
  • Best Neighborhoods for Families: South Bank and Broadbeach
    Among several free attractions for the young ones within the incredible South Bank precinct are the rainforest and lagoon-style swimming pool, with a ‘beach’ and the amazing The Wheel of Brisbane. Even more engaging and educational are activities arranged at the Children’s Art Centre and Queensland Performing Arts Centre, and organized by Kids Collective for those aged 5 and below. Adding to the immense appeal of South Bank in general are the cycling paths, free barbecue facilities, and spacious lawns.

    Noisy and crowded, Surfers Paradise may not be ideal for those traveling with youngsters. In contrast, the less touristy and more residential Broadbeach, only four tram stops away, offers Pacific Fair, a massive open-air shopping mall with a cinema complex and food court, unhurried cycling paths, and a playground among huge lawns near the beach. Also, within a short trip are go-karts, mini-golf, wildlife sanctuaries, and, most popular of all, the major theme parks (see below).
  • Best Neighborhood for Theme Parks: Surfers Paradise
    The prime attractions for many visiting the Gold Coast are the numerous theme parks, particularly the ‘Big Four’: Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World (aquarium and rides), Wet ‘n’ Wild (waterpark), and Dreamworld (the largest with the most rides). Fanatics can buy multi-park tickets (that include unlimited visits to all four) online or through one of many travel agencies in Surfers Paradise. If bookings don’t include transfers, the theme parks are only 20 minutes away by taxi from hotels in Surfers Paradise. And don’t forget there are other marvelous but lesser known theme parks and wildlife sanctuaries along the Gold Coast.
  • Best Neighborhoods for Food and Restaurants: South Bank and Burleigh Heads
    The enchanting riverside leisure and culture precinct of South Bank is packed with chic bistros, less expensive eateries, and takeaway shops. All (with one exception) are one or two blocks from the water, so they offer no river views, but each is inviting with alfresco tables along the sidewalk and more inside when it’s wet and too hot. The incredible choice includes cuisines from across Asia as well as English-style pubs and US-style diners, while some menus specialize in steak, seafood, or contemporary Australian food.

    More attractive, chic, and admirably less developed than other regions along the Gold Coast, Burleigh Heads is filled with cute cafés that are mostly priced for locals rather than tourists.
  • Best Neighborhoods for Transport: Brisbane City Center and Surfers Paradise
    The widest selection of transport can be found in downtown Brisbane. Several convenient train stations offer quick, reliable, and inexpensive services across the city and state (including the Gold Coast) and to the Brisbane airports. Free buses loop around the city streets and connect to pleasant inner-city suburbs like Spring Hill, while boats and catamarans also ply the mighty Brisbane River, including the free CityHopper.

    The very useful G:Link tram stretches along the Gold Coast from Southport to Broadbeach via Surfers Paradise. It also connects to trains at Helensvale for Brisbane city center and the Brisbane international and domestic airports.
  • Best Neighborhood for Boat Cruises: South Bank
    The wide and meandering Brisbane River dominates the city and inner suburbs, so a few companies offer cruises for guests to admire the city skyline and riverside attractions such as South Bank and City Botanic Gardens. Many boats travel at sunset and include meals and live entertainment. Kookaburra Showboat Cruises leave from Eagle Street Pier, but more convenient for some may be the boat terminals at South Bank from where River City Cruises depart. It’s also easy to appreciate the beauty and importance of the river via public transport run by City Cat and the free CityHopper. Both also stop at South Bank.
  • Best Neighborhoods for the Airports: Eagle Farm and Burleigh Heads
    The Brisbane international and domestic airports are well-connected by taxi, shuttle bus, and Airtrain to downtown and South Bank, but some choose to stay near the airports in suburbs such as Hamilton, Ascot, and Eagle Farm. The latter is pleasantly located alongside the river and home to the prestigious Royal Queensland Golf Club.

    The Gold Coast Airport in Coolangatta straddles the border between Queensland and New South Wales. It is easily accessible by taxi, public bus, and door-to-door shuttle bus to Surfers Paradise (14 miles) and, closer, Burleigh Heads (9 miles).
  • Best Neighborhoods for Nightlife: Fortitude Valley and Surfers Paradise
    The inner-city suburb of Fortitude Valley has a deserved reputation for its wild nightlife – from live music to thumping nightclubs and sleazy options in between. Contrastingly sedate during the day, it also offers more sophisticated rooftop cocktail lounges and all sorts of bars with competitive food/drink specials.

    With the largest population and tourist numbers and a vibe enjoyed by the younger set, Surfers Paradise offers the finest array of nightlife on the Gold Coast. At bars along the main streets are rock bands, quiz nights, and flamboyant cabarets (some where men dress as women), and only four tram stops away is The Star Gold Coast casino and Pacific Fair shopping mall with a cinema complex.
  • Best Neighborhoods for Walking and Cycling: South Bank and Broadbeach
    One of the most enjoyable places in Queensland to explore on foot and by bike is the riverside path extending several miles through South Bank and along the cliffs to Kangaroo Point. This path links with two bridges across the river to the city center which is also pleasant to walk around, but less so for cycling, except at the City Botanic Gardens. Shared-bikes can be rented at several spots along South Bank.

    With an incredible 1,500 miles of paths, the Gold Coast is heaven for walkers and cyclists. Broadbeach is particularly attractive and paths head through shady parks alongside the sea.
  • Best Neighborhood for Parks and Gardens: Brisbane City Center
    The Queensland capital is blessed with numerous green spaces, including the beautiful Roma Street Parkland along a ridge in the inner-city suburb of Spring Hill. Even more impressive are the magnificent old City Botanic Gardens. Sharing space alongside the river with the Queensland University of Technology, the gardens are home to shady lawns, lush gardens, lagoons teeming with birdlife, and paths for cycling and jogging – all within a few minutes of chaotic downtown.
  • Best Neighborhood for Sports: Woolloongabba
    Most locals are as sports-mad as the rest of the country. The major stadium for the Brisbane Broncos rugby league team and Brisbane Roar soccer/football team is at Milton within walking distance of Spring Hill and only a little further from downtown and South Bank. The historic and enchanting inner-city suburb of Woolloongabba is home to the namesake stadium, inevitably shortened to The Gabba. Here, matches are played by the state and national cricket teams and by the Brisbane Lions Australian Rules football side.
  • Most Romantic Neighborhoods: South Bank and Burleigh Heads
    Distant from the downtown traffic and the congested suburban roads, the attractive riverside leisure and culture precinct of South Bank is particularly romantic. Several of the top-end hotels and apartment complexes offer direct river views and the quiet streets are packed with fashionable bistros offering intimate tables. Adding to the appeal are the rainforest, walking/cycling paths, lagoon-style public swimming pool with a ‘beach’, The Wheel of Brisbane, and river cruises.

    With a national park, headland, creek, and beach lined with pines, Burleigh Heads is arguably the most attractive region along the Gold Coast. There are also paths for romantic walks, a wildlife park packed with cute koalas, a lookout for sea views, day trips up the Gold Coast and down to New South Wales, and plenty of delightful restaurants.
  • Best Neighborhoods for First-Timers: South Bank and Broadbeach
    Those new to Brisbane and the Gold Coast can avoid the inevitable hassles – mainly traffic, noise, and crowds – without straying too far from the major attractions. In fact, just a short stroll across the river from the chaotic city center, South Bank is a major attraction in itself – a very alluring area with numerous sights, amenities, and vehicle-free paths.

    Likewise, Broadbeach is nicely distant – but only four tram stops away – from the action and congestion at Surfers Paradise, though the beach and range of amenities at Broadbeach are just as appealing.
  • Safest Areas: Kangaroo Point and Burleigh Heads
    As expected, it is usually safer away from crowded and touristy areas (such as downtown Brisbane and South Bank) where petty crime is always possible (but very rare), and from suburbs where alcohol-fueled nightlife is popular (such as Fortitude Valley and Surfers Paradise). Just across the river by boat from downtown, Kangaroo Point is an upmarket area of apartments not part of the tourist trail, while Burleigh Heads is likably laidback and distant from possible dangers.
  • Unsafe Areas: Fortitude Valley and Surfers Paradise
    Brisbane is no less safe than other cities in Australia but take the usual precautions, especially along crowded inner-city streets and at festivals, markets, and transport terminals where opportunistic petty crimes like bag-snatching and pick-pocketing are possible (but very rare). Unfortunately, physical and sexual assaults are not uncommon in Fortitude Valley and Surfers Paradise where excessive drinking and drug-taking are common.

The 7 Best Neighborhoods in Brisbane for Tourists

South Bank in Brisbane

The amazing South Bank precinct, just across the river from downtown, features several attractions, including this remarkable lagoon-style public swimming pool.

1. City Center

The compact downtown area is home to many attractions, including interesting colonial-era buildings open for tours; one of the country’s premier shopping districts, Queen Street Mall; magnificent botanic gardens; and a range of cafés, bars, and nightclubs expected of a vibrant tropical city. What makes Brisbane even more appealing are the several paths designed for walkers and cyclists, its attractive position alongside a swirl in the extensive Brisbane River, and excellent train and boat services. Most accommodations are in lofty high-rises in the form of hotel rooms and spacious apartments, many designed for business people but also very suitable for families. Some moderate choices are available and competitively priced and there are a few boutique hotels, but there’s nothing worthwhile in the budget range.

2. South Bank and South Brisbane

Just across the river from the city center, South Bank is one of the world’s premier precincts for entertainment, leisure, and culture, and it’s admirably not flashy or overbuilt. Offering sublime views of the city skyline for about a mile, South Bank features numerous places to eat and drink, top-class cultural attractions like the state museum and performing arts center, river cruises and public boats across Brisbane, paths for walking/cycling, The Wheel of Brisbane, and weekend markets among lush lawns dotted with free barbecue facilities. Even more remarkable (and free) is the lagoon-style public swimming pool with a ‘beach’ and the rainforest which can be explored along boardwalks. South Bank and the surrounding suburb of South Brisbane have several top-end hotels and apartments, many suitable for families, but almost nothing is less than 4 stars.

3. Spring Hill

This pleasant inner-northern suburb is within walking distance of the city center, but retains a likable residential vibe unspoiled by malls and freeways. The premier attraction is the magnificent Roma Street Parkland blanketing a ridge overlooking downtown. Among its lush lawns and tropical gardens are walking/cycling paths, free barbecue facilities, and an amphitheater designed for public events. Lined with fashionable cafés and old-fashioned pubs, the streets of Spring Hill lead to downtown, two convenient train stations, Chinatown, and the nightlife at Fortitude Valley. Hotels within international chains offer quieter alternatives to the city center, while apartments are often ideal for families. A decent range of moderately-priced hotels is also available.

4. Fortitude Valley

Within a 15-minute walk of Spring Hill, and well-connected to the rest of Brisbane by train, this suburb has a split personality. During the day, likable funky cafés attract well-heeled locals, including families, while after dark, Fortitude Valley teems with pub-crawlers and night-clubbers. It is also home to the charismatic Chinatown, an attractive palm-fringed public swimming pool, and fashionable art galleries almost hidden along narrow lanes. Dotted around the streets are several international-brand hotels, low-key but appealing apartment complexes, and some particularly nice boutique hotels.

5. Kangaroo Point

This narrow finger-shaped peninsula flanked by the Brisbane River is an upmarket residential area where apartment buildings jostle for prime views of the city skyline across the water. Kangaroo Point is known mostly among locals for its lovely parks and dramatic cliffs, enjoyed by adventure junkies climbing up and abseiling down. The area is easily accessible by boat across the river from downtown and via a delightful walk along the riverside path from South Bank.

6. Woolloongabba

East of South Bank and south of Kangaroo Point, this inner-city suburb with antique shops, bohemian boutiques, and chic bistros provides a charm often lacking elsewhere in contemporary Brisbane. Woolloongabba is known outside of Brisbane as home to the cricket and football stadium with the same name shortened to ‘The Gabba’. While convenient to the amazing South Bank precinct, there is no train service, and Woolloongabba is a little distant from boat terminals for transport across the river.

7. Near the Airports: Eagle Farm, Ascot, and Hamilton

Brisbane’s international and domestic airports are only about 10 miles from the city center and very well-connected by train, but some tourists with late arrivals, early departures, and/or overnight connections stay at suburbs near the airport such as Eagle Farm, Ascot, and Hamilton. These offer a likable suburban vibe far from the tourist crowds and prices set for middle-class locals, not big-spending foreigners. Hamilton and Eagle Farm are attractively positioned along the river, and the latter is also home to the prestigious Royal Queensland Golf Course.

The 3 Best Neighborhoods on the Gold Coast for Tourists

Broadbeach along the Gold Coast

Broadbeach is delightfully untouristy even though it is just a couple of miles from Surfers Paradise.

1. Surfers Paradise

The most popular part of the Gold Coast, and one of the country’s leading beaches, features everything expected of a tropical tourist region: endless cafés, bars, and nightclubs; inviting malls and compelling markets; and world-class surf (which will be rough for swimming). Of course, there is also no shortage of hotels and apartments – all in lofty high-rises, though sea views are often obstructed. Loved by younger crowds yet still ideal for families, the added advantages of staying at Surfers Paradise are the range of outdoor activities, weekend beachfront markets, convenience to numerous theme parks, and trains connecting to downtown Brisbane (two hours), both Brisbane airports, and the Gold Coast as far south as Broadbeach.

2. Broadbeach

‘Broadie’ (as it’s locally known) is more residential and chic than the frenetic Surfers Paradise only four tram stops to the north. Other reasons to stay include the extensive parks with playgrounds, free barbecue facilities, and beachside markets; shady paths for walking and cycling; and the appealing and compact layout. Top-class amenities include Broadbeach Mall, a delightful pedestrian lane filled with tempting eateries, the huge open-air Pacific Fair shopping mall, and The Star Gold Coast casino. Broadbeach is also nicely connected by tram to much of the Gold Coast (as well as downtown Brisbane and both Brisbane airports) and convenient to numerous theme parks. With an unhurried vibe favored by families and ideal for first-timers, Broadbeach offers a range of upmarket hotels and apartments, but nothing worthwhile in the moderate or budget range.

3. Burleigh Heads

About 6 miles south of Surfers Paradise (and 55 miles from Brisbane), Burleigh Heads features a dazzling setting where Tallebudgera Creek meets the sea. With a likable mix of locals and tourists and a charm missing in Surfers Paradise, Burleigh Heads is renowned for its bistros, boutiques, and national park with gardens and a lookout. Particularly attractive is the pine-clustered beach where the waves are comparatively calmer and thus, safer for swimming. Surfers relish the barrels along the nearby headland, instead. Accommodations include inexpensive roadside motels, hostels popular with backpackers, and moderately-priced options for families, but there are no luxury hotels or resorts. It is also handy to the Gold Coast Airport.

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