Brisbane is the underdog of Australian major cities. It doesn’t attract tourists like Sydney and Melbourne, and is often overlooked in favour of the glitzy Gold Coast, a mere hour’s drive south. But Brisbane, with its river cutting the city in half, has a lot on offer for Travelettes: a prolific arts scene, a saturation of independent cafes and restaurants, a volume of vintage boutiques and some of Australia’s mildest winter weather. I lived in the Queensland capital for a year now and I believe the city’s highlights lay outside the city centre – this is my guide for Brisbane’s best suburbs.

Travelettes Guide to Brisbane's Suburbs - Boundary St West End

West End for Coffee

Brisbane’s West End is Melbourne’s Fitzroy: a suburb of cafes, independent bookstores and live music venues. You won’t find any coffee shop franchises here as each café has its own defining feature. The main thoroughfare is Boundary Street, where you will find most of the dining and entertainment options.

Plenty Café has a fresh focus, with every product locally sourced and responsibly grown. The Gunshop Café presents excellent food in a warm environment. Depo is a warehouse that reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. The interior includes a sparkly gold feature wall, an antelope greeter, a gold pig with toupee on the bar and a buffalo head. It is an experience you can have from morning till late. The Hi-Fi is West End’s biggest and best live music venue. They secure local, national and international acts and offer a more intimate alternative. West End is Brisbane’s street art hub too, so get lost on your own search through the suburb’s streets.

Alternative: New Farm is on Brisbane River’s other side and offers the same assortment of cafes, leaving the live music to its neighbour, Fortitude Valley.

Travelettes Guide to Brisbane's Suburbs - Gunshop Cafe

South Bank for the Outdoors

Across the Brisbane River from the Central Business District (CBD), South Bank is an ideal place to spend a day outside enjoying the Sunshine State (seriously, it’s what our license plates say). There is a path stretching for kilometres beside the river for uninterrupted city views, plus a manmade “beach” for swimming, tanning or relaxing. You can also take to the sky in the city’s London Eye edition, The Wheel of Brisbane.

Travelettes Guide to Brisbane's Suburbs - Streets Beach

On Friday nights and weekends, discover The Collectives Market in Stanley Street Plaza with stalls predominantly selling local handmade jewellery and clothing. My favourite restaurant is Cactus Republic, because I love Mexican and their slogan is “in Tequila we trust.” Ahmet’s serves slightly-expensive-but-worth-it Middle Eastern cuisine. The Plough Inn is your go-to for an authentic Australian pub experience: beer garden, cheap brews and meal deals.

If you feel inclined to watch a movie, the South Bank cinema has the cheapest tickets. I recommend a visit to the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art even if you are like me and not an art aficionado, because the interior is fascinating and it’s free!

Alternative: Bulimba is further from the CBD, but you will find a similar abundance of restaurants, river views and another cheap cinema.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Travelettes Guide to Brisbane's Suburbs - South Bank Bouganvillea

Paddington for Shopping

Paddington is the shopaholics’ dream. It is the only place in Brisbane you will find a plethora of vintage stores, thrift shops and independent and designer boutiques. You can’t judge a book by its cover though, because some of the shops don’t look appealing from the outside, but the bargain treasures amass inside.

Travelettes Guide to Brisbane's Suburbs - Retro Metro

My picks include Retro Metro’s $5 clearance racks and Endeavour and St Vincent De Paul’s stores. Given and La Trobe Terraces are one street, minus a slight turn, and the only street names you need to know. Head to Kettle & Tin to fuel up, as the popular café/bar is open from morning to late.

Alternative: Visit the Woolloongabba Antique Centre (read: warehouse) for your vintage fix. Enjoy a coffee or milkshake at the adjoining 50s style milk bar or their cinema’s daily 1920s silent film viewing.

Travelettes Guide to Brisbane's Suburbs - Cousin Kate at Suitcase Rummage

Fortitude Valley for Fun

The Valley as it is known is Brisbane’s nightlife epicentre. On weekend mornings visit the Valley Markets at Brunswick Street Mall, where local designers showcase their exclusive clothing, jewellery and homewares. For lunch head to Chinatown for yum cha at King of Kings.

Travelettes Guide to Brisbane's Suburbs - Chinatown

In the afternoon check out James Street’s art or stroll down Winn Lane, a place established so independent retailers had an affordable place to share their wares. At night, Birdie Num Num’s attached to Bunk Backpackers is for dancing and drinking with fellow Travelettes. Cloudland is the nightclub, with an expensive entry fee but ethereal interior. Think Ferngully: greenery, water features, lights galore and floor to ceiling windows.

Alternative: Runner-up for best market is the bi-monthly Suitcase Rummage in the CBD, where you essentially rummage through people’s suitcases of second-hand clothing, shoes, jewellery, books and more. It’s cheap and fun as who knows what you may find.

Travelettes Guide to Brisbane's Suburbs - Cloudland

Finally, my top tip: Brisbane Greeters are passionate locals available for free, personalised tours. You tell them what you want to see (art, history, sports) and they show you the highlights.

Brisbane may be an underdog, but statistics say those usually come out on top. From fun Fortitude Valley, popular Paddington and whimsical West End, there is a Brisbane suburb for you. So take a chance on Brisbane and add it to your Australian itinerary.

This is a guest post by Hayley Simpson, who writes about all things travel on her blog Hayley on Holiday.
All photos (except Gallery of Modern Art & Suitcase Rummage) by blogger and photographer Kristin Repsher.