Not long ago, Australians disparagingly referred to Brisbane as “a big country town.” No longer. Queensland’s capital is now a rapidly growing, culturally polished metropolis. The sunshine and easygoing locals make it simple to have a good time anytime in Brisbane (or BrisVegas, as the locals love to call it). But the pursuit of fun gets even easier during the Comedy Festival (briscomfest.com), on from Feb. 26 until March 24. Now in its fifth year, the event features a top roster of local and international comics performing at the Brisbane Powerhouse. If you’re not able to make the festival, or just want to fill time between sets, here are five other lighthearted ways to enjoy Brisbane.
1. PLAY GAMES AT MANA BAR
Brisbane is home to a vast number of cafés and lounges, but Mana Bar (manabar.com.au) is the city’s first and only video-game cocktail bar. Established in 2010 in Fortitude Valley (Brisbane’s hopping nightlife district, known to locals simply as the Valley), the bar offers a novel space where you can drink and indulge your inner gamer.
With eight screens dotted around the room, customers are able to play on the Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles for free. In between drinks — the bar serves craft ales and game-themed cocktails — customers are encouraged to mingle and challenge one another to a game of Mario Kart or Halo 3. Fridays and Saturdays are reliably the busiest nights, but be on the lookout for special events, such as “geek trivia” or Guitar Hero competitions, to get the most out of the evening.
(LIST: All-TIME 100 Video Games)
2. CLIMB THE STORY BRIDGE
Built during the Great Depression through a public-works program, this cantilever bridge, in the very heart of the city, is one of Brisbane’s most iconic landmarks, spanning the river between Kangaroo Point and Fortitude Valley. Since 2005 adventurous locals and visitors have been able to scale this 74-m-high structure (storybridgeadventureclimb.com.au) and use it to take in views of the city and the surrounding landscape.
Those looking to maximize the adventure can opt for the Sunday-morning abseil climb, which pairs the regular climb with an encore rappel of 30 m below the bridge’s southern end. Climbs run from sunrise to past sunset and are priced from $87 to $123.
3. RIDE THE WHEEL OF BRISBANE
For those eager to take in Brisbane’s stunning river views but lacking the stamina — or stomach — necessary to scale a bridge, a spin on the Wheel of Brisbane (thewheelofbrisbane.com.au) is an easy alternative. Erected in 2008 in celebration of both Queensland’s 150th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the World Expo ’88, which was held in Brisbane, the giant Ferris wheel sits across the river from the city’s central business district.
The Wheel of Brisbane is open seven days a week, with tickets costing $15. The top of the wheel reaches 60 m above ground, giving passengers in the enclosed air-conditioned gondolas a spectacular, 360-degree view of the city and its environs.
4. VISIT SOUTH BANK PARKLANDS
You’ll find great surfing at, well, Surfers Paradise, about 80 km from Brisbane. But if you don’t want to travel that far, pay a visit to South Bank’s Parklands (visitsouthbank.com.au). The park is home to Streets Beach, a man-made beach with expanses of white sand sloping into a chlorinated fresh-water lagoon and a view of the city’s skyscrapers in the central business district across the river.
Unsurprisingly, Streets Beach is a popular attraction for locals and visitors, and it’s always packed when temperatures soar. If you’d rather look for quieter and shadier pastures, South Bank is also home to Little Stanley lawns, which is perfect for picnicking, and the Arbour, which is dripping with beautiful bougainvillea.
5. SPEND A DAY AT DREAMWORLD
Australia‘s largest theme park (dreamworld.com.au) is located just 48 km south of Brisbane on the Gold Coast and easily accessible by car, bus or train. Dreamworld and its neighboring sister park, WhiteWater World, are home to 28 rides, including eight thrill rides, which are not for the fainthearted. The Giant Drop is the second tallest attraction of its kind in the world and consists of a 119-m free-fall drop.
If that’s too much of an adrenaline rush, then check out the wildlife park, live shows, shops and restaurants. An adult day pass will run you $93 and give you access to both parks, with kids’ tickets costing about $72. But you can also pay a little more and get unlimited entry for 21 days. Keep an eye out for late-night events, during which ticket holders are given after-hours access to rides while DJs spin and fireworks and laser shows light up the sky.
PHOTOS: The Harry Potter Theme Park