The Brisbane Explorer bus is a reasonably priced way to see a bit of inner Brisbane, but consider saving your money if you’re a local.
Getting a ticket
I’m a Brisbane local of twenty years with no particular need for a city tour, but I had some time to kill on a winter day, and decided to give the Brisbane Explorer bus tour that I’d seen around the city a go. I hoped I might get to see some obscure sights or learn some exciting new stories about my city. The ticket was $40 for a tour that takes a couple of hours, or longer if you use the hop-on/hop-off option to investigate the sights yourself. I bought my ticket from Viator, which I swear by for tours whenever I travel.
Getting on the bus
I sat on the top of the red double-decker bus and plugged in the provided headphones to hear the recorded commentary, available in a number of languages. The Australian voice actor was someone who sounded very familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on who, or find out later for that matter, so you might enjoy trying to work out who it is. I had made a poor decision in leaving my jacket at home on a slightly chilly day, and I rather disagreed with the line in the commentary about year-round t-shirt weather. Don’t forget your jacket between about June and September, but otherwise yes, it is usually warm to hot in Brisbane. It is certainly sunscreen weather year-round, especially if you’re as pale as I am.
The bus runs on a continuous loop around the city all day, and you can hop on at whichever stop suits you. I joined the tour at Chinatown in Fortitude Valley (which is a part of the city I recommend checking out whether you’re a local or a visitor, for weekend markets, Asian grocery stores, and funky bars).
Features of the tour
The bus headed toward the CBD, highlighting familiar landmarks including Anzac Square and City Hall. The commentary spoke highly of ‘many restaurants’ in the city without actually naming any, which is less than useful. (Spaghettihouse in South Brisbane or Wagaya in Fortitude Valley are my favourites, if you’d like a recommendation.) I learned that the netting stretched above the road in Felix Street is a protective measure against a tall building that used to have window panes fall out onto the street periodically… now that’s a fun bit of trivia.
As the bus wound its way up Wickham Terrace towards Milton, I was treated to a few more interesting bits of local information. One of the traffic islands featuring a big sculpture, on the edge of the CBD, was the site of Brisbane’s first cemetery, and was where the last criminals hanged in town were buried. Apparently all the bodies were moved when the road and the traffic island went in. I had so many questions—chiefly: the bodies were moved where? One of the downsides of recorded commentary is you can’t ask weird questions of the tour guide, but for $40, no tour guide was okay by me. As we passed by the old windmill on the hill, I learned that it was considered the worst-located windmill in Australia, due to its location in a spot that experiences almost no wind. The tour commentary pointed out the medical and dental specialist clinics along Wickham Terrace, which I can’t imagine would be a point of interest for too many people.
The bus continued past Suncorp Stadium and the Park Road area of Milton, again highlighting the existence of restaurants but failing to name any. (Do check out Park Road for some good spots to eat and drink, though. Just look for the little Eiffel Tower.) We continued past the Cultural Centre at South Brisbane, where the museum, library, and art gallery are. This would be a great place to hop off the bus if you’re a tourist, or possibly even a local, and spend a few hours. There’s a little artificial beach down by the river as well, which I think most Brisbanites have fond memories of splashing around as kids. You might want to take a ride on the relatively new Wheel of Brisbane as well, for an aerial view of the city and surrounding areas. On the weekend there are markets at South Bank that make a great way to spend a few hours eating and browsing.
The tour shows off a few spots that are maybe not so interesting, such as the Transit Centre at Rome Street and the shopping centre at Toowong, but if you’re new to Brisbane these might at least be useful to you. I noticed that we didn’t go through West End at all, which is a shame because it’s one of the most interesting and vibrant areas of the city, just outside of the CBD. Check it out for vegan restaurants, quirky shops, and colourful locals.
The bus returned me to Chinatown in the afternoon. The winter sun was warm but I still had some regrets about not bringing a jacket. I felt like I’d had a couple of enjoyable hours seeing the city as a tourist might.
A worthwhile tour for tourists
So did the tour meet my hopes of obscure sights and interesting trivia? Sights: not really for me, although it would be a fine introduction to the major attractions Brisbane has to offer. Trivia: yes, I definitely learned a few interesting new things about my city.
If you’re a Brisbane local you may well not get much out of the Brisbane Explorer bus. However, if it’s your first visit, this tour is an easy and fairly cheap way to get oriented with the inner city and see a few points of interest. If you’re already familiar with the city I would suggest picking another activity, but for tourists, it would be money and a couple of hours fairly well spent.