Brisbane has an energy that even the catastrophic recent floods cannot drown. For decades it has been in the shadow of its larger, brasher and more glamorous sister city, Sydney. A foreigner's first thoughts of Australia undoubtedly involve the creamy white arches of the Sydney Opera House, the mighty steel span of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the stunning crescent of sand at Bondi Beach. Rather than lamenting this, Brisbane has got on with the job of making a name for itself, regardless of rivalry. It has developed its arts and music scene, pioneered architecture and design and re-energised its city centre with lanes for shopping and nightlife. The fact that it has done all this modestly, rather than boasting and showing off like other cities we could mention, makes Brisbane all the more attractive.
A comfortable bed
Until recently Brisbane lacked a seriously good and hip hotel scene, but two establishments are now pioneering what could become a cluster of cool places to stay. Both reflect Brisbane's confident, modern image. Limes Hotel, on Constance Street in Fortitude Valley (www.limeshotel.com.au, www.designhotels.com; 00 61 7 3852 9000; double rooms from about A$250 [Dh915] per night, including taxes), is a member of the stylish Design Hotels family. It is a 21-room urban retreat with special touches, such as individually hand-painted feature walls, iPod docks and free wireless, custom-made furniture, L'Occitane toiletries and an outdoor rooftop cinema for those balmy Brisbane nights. Nearby is the Emporium Hotel (www.emporiumhotel.com.au; 0061 7 3253 6999; double rooms from about A$270 [Dh990] per night, including taxes), which is also modern and sleek with dark-fabric curtains and Molton Brown products.
Find your feet
Brisbane is built around its eponymous river, which snakes languorously through the city centre en route to Moreton Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Get to know the river and you get to know the city, so hop on board the excellent CityCat express boats, which cruise down south of the city centre to the University of Queensland campus, before heading back north again. For the locals, the CityCats offer one of the most enviable commutes in the world but they are also perfect for visitors. The floods hit the CityCat service hard and the authorities predict it will be April or May before the boats are running again. If you are in town in September and October (spring) then you will be treated to a fabulous display of jacaranda trees, whose bright blossoms paint the riverside and are whirled into mauve blizzards by the breeze.
Meet the locals
One location where you are guaranteed to be outnumbered - and probably deafened - by the locals is the 42,000-seater sports stadium known as the Gabba. Sport is worshipped in Australia and the Gabba is a shrine. During summer (October to March) the stadium hosts interstate and international cricket matches and in winter (April to September) it's home to Australian Rules Football. Details and tickets can be found at www.thegabba.com.au. Another chance to mingle with the locals is at a game of lawn bowls, an ancient English game adopted with passion by Australia in the 19th century. The New Farm Bowls Club is a good place to start.
Book a table
In the past decade Brisbane has undergone a culinary revolution and now boasts some of Australia's best dining spots. Two to check out are Ortiga (www.ortiga.com.au), a stylish Spanish place with main courses from A$20 to A$35 (Dh73 to Dh130), and Anise (www.anise.com.au), which specialises in French cuisine and has mains from A$35 to A$42 (Dh128 to Dh154) and a five-course degustation menu from A$90 (Dh330).
If you want a slice of real Aussie dining culture, then head for the imposing 1889 building known as the Breakfast Creek Hotel where you can choose from one of 12 cuts of prime Queensland beef. After a trip to the Brekky Creek, steak may possibly never taste as good again. For breakfast with the locals and possibly the best coffee in the city, head to the suburb of West End and the rustic, brick-walled Gunshop Cafe (www.thegunshopcafe.com, breakfast mains from A$15 to A$20 [Dh55 to Dh73]).
I believe no city can be considered truly modern and sophisticated without a collection of good bookshops, and Brisbane does not disappoint. As well as mainstream stores such as Borders, it has Folio Books on Albert Street, which has been a bookworm's hangout for years, and Pulp Fiction in Anzac Square Arcade off Edward Street, specialising in science fiction, crime and mystery. As well as architecture, design, art and music, Brisbane has also developed a compact and diverse fashion shopping scene. Aussie womenswear favourites Allanah Hill and Lisa Ho are present but try to find Brisbane-based designer DogStar (Edward Street) for Asian-infused couture. Men can find stylish shirts at Australian label Herringbone (city centre) and a range of fashions in a clutch of funky shops near the corner of Ann Street and Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley.
What to avoid
Quite frankly, not much, but the city centre on a Saturday night can get rowdy, especially if the locals are celebrating a sporting achievement.
Brisbane boasts not one leading national art gallery but two - the soon to re-open Queensland Art Gallery and the adjacent Gallery of Modern Art - which house vast collections of Australian, Pacific, Aboriginal and Asian pieces as well as exhibitions and installations from home and abroad. Another must-see is the city's sub-tropical Botanic Gardens whose riverside location makes the perfect spot for a picnic after strolling by the river. Brisbane is slightly inland from the coast so if you have time and a penchant for the beach, head out of town and south to the inviting stretches of sand at the Gold Coast, or catch the ferry to Moreton Island, where dolphins frolic.