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Brisbane

brisbane city hall Brisbane City Hall, built in 1930, was once the city's tallest building. Now, when you take the elevator up 300 feet into the clock tower (which strikes loudly on the hour), you have views of even taller buildings, the river and several parks. On the ground floor, the Museum of Brisbane uses photos and maps to show how the city developed, exhibits paintings of Brisbane through history and screens videos of local citizens talking about their lives. Admission to the museum and clock tower is free.

Newstead House, the city's oldest surviving house (it dates back to 1846), is set in a park overlooking the Brisbane River. During World War II, the U.S. Army occupied the house, and Brisbane saw one million U.S. troops pass through the city during the Pacific War. There is a modest admission charge.

RiverWalk extends for 13 miles along the Brisbane River's north bank -- from the University of Queensland at St. Lucia downriver to Teneriffe and well beyond the city center. Walk one way, and take the CityCat in the other direction from any of a dozen landings. The best walking sections skirt the restaurants and cafes in the city center, passing into the botanical gardens and onto wooden walkways through a mangrove swamp, where the adjacent urban skyline disappears from sight and mind. A shorter walk extends a few miles along the South Bank, opposite the city center.

Photos: 11 Best Australia Experiences

The South Bank, across the Brisbane River, took on its present attractive look during World Expo 88. The area includes riverside walks, shops, parklands, a sandy beach and pool, weekend markets and the Queensland Cultural Centre. There is a sense of complete freedom to be able to walk in and out of these museums at will and without turnstile barriers and security checks. In the Cultural Centre, the Queensland Art Gallery is a spacious, light-filled, water-dappled repository of European masters, Australian artists and Aboriginal art. The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, next door, exhibits contemporary art by Australians, Aborigines, Asians and South Pacific islanders. Two cinemas show regular film programs. The Queensland Museum exhibits natural history, artifacts from World Wars I and II, a hanging aircraft, a beautiful Orient Line ship model and dinosaur exhibits for kids. The State Library often has free exhibits. You can cross to the South Bank by ferry or via several bridges, two built exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, located along the Brisbane River at Fig Tree Pocket, is a 20-minute taxi ride or 30 minutes by bus from the city center. However, the most enjoyable way to arrive is by boat; try a scenic 90-minute sail with Mirimar Cruises (with commentary), a 2.5-hour stay at the sanctuary and a relaxing 90-minute return. Most people come to see the koalas, and more than 100 are on view. You can cuddle one while having your picture taken (for a fee), and dozens queue up for the opportunity. Lone Pine also houses many only-in-Australia creatures. You can buy food to feed the kangaroos and wallabies, and you can observe emus, wombats, bats, skinks, baby crocodiles, black-headed pythons and turtles.

Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha, in Toowong, is just four miles from the city via bus or car. The 128-acre garden is set below Mount Coot-tha, with many rain forest plants that are seen nowhere else. Also featured are the Tropical Display Dome, a cactus house, an elaborate Japanese garden, a lake and walking trails. One trail climbs to the top of Mount Coot-tha for a view of Brisbane and Moreton Bay beyond. Admission is free, as are the one-hour guided tours.
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