Discover the most fascinating heritage sites in Brisbane

heritage sites in Brisbane

From its origins as a penal colony to its evolution into a thriving urban centre, the heritage sites in Brisbane offer a glimpse into its fascinating history.


Brisbane is a city steeped in rich history and vibrant culture. The history of the area stretches back over 60,000 years as the home of the Yuggera and Turrbal peoples. The traditional name for the area is Meanjin, which means “the spearhead.” This sacred location served as an important place for trade and cultural exchange where communities would barter resources, including spearheads, and other highly sought-after goods.

In 1824 it became the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement and was briefly called Edenglassie (a portmanteau of the Scottish cities Edinburgh and Glasgow), before becoming known as Brisbane in 1834 to honour Sir Thomas Brisbane, then Governor of New South Wales. In 1859, Brisbane became the capital of the newly independent colony of Queensland.

The bustling city carries within its buildings and landmarks the echoes of a storied past. As you wander through the streets of Brisbane, you’ll encounter a plethora of Heritage-listed sites, each with its own tale to tell.

Opening image: Conrad Treasury Brisbane. Tourism and Events Queensland.


His Royal Highness Edward, Prince of Wales, laying the foundation stone of the new Brisbane Town Hall, July 1920. Image: State Library of Queensland.


Brisbane City Hall

City Hall is at the heart of historic Brisbane. Since opening in 1930, it has played an important social and cultural role in the lives of Brisbane communities, earning the title of the ‘People’s Place’. City Hall took ten years to build at a cost of one million pounds making it one of Australia’s most expensive buildings, and the second largest construction of its time (outdone only by the Sydney Harbour Bridge).

The Museum of Brisbane is located on City Hall’s third level and is a perfect place to explore Brisbane’s history. Daily guided tours also showcase the Main Auditorium, Father Henry Willis Organ and the iconic Clock Tower. The Clock Tower Tour includes a ride in one of Brisbane’s oldest working cage lifts, where you can look behind Australia’s largest analogue clock faces. Catch a 360-degree view of the city from the observation platform at the top!

City Hall is just one stop on the City Centre Heritage Place Trail, a self-guided walking tour which includes other heritage gems such as Regent Theatre, Brisbane Arcade, Anzac Square, Jacob’s Ladder and St Stephen’s Cathedral.


Heritage sites in Brisbane: Aerial view of the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland.


Botanic Gardens and Parliament House

Established in 1828 to provide food for the early penal colony, the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens are historically and culturally significant. Officially opened in 1855, the gardens are a ‘living museum’, and can be explored on self-guided walks or free guided tours.

While at the gardens, you can also visit Parliament House and Old Government House. Parliament House is Queensland’s premier heritage building, and one of Brisbane’s most well-known landmarks. Built in 1868, the interiors have been beautifully restored with the principal rooms retaining much of their original, purpose-made furniture. On sitting days, you can observe the Parliament in session from the public gallery.

Old Government House has seen eleven governors and their families over a period of almost fifty years. It is now a historic house museum showcasing the story of the House and those who lived and worked there.


Heritage sites in Brisbane: Exterior aerial views of the brewery. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland.


XXXX Brewery

Nothing says Brisbane quite like XXXX beer. But did you know that there has been a brewery on the site in Milton since 1878, when the first Castlemaine Brewery was established? In 1889 the brewery became the first in Queensland to produce lager-style beers.

The iconic brick Moderne building which today houses the brewery was built between 1940 and 1956, with the central tower block containing the brewhouse built in the 1940s. Visitors can tour the brewery to get filled in on over 145 years of brewing history, with 90 minute tours available. You’ll learn about your favourite brews, world-class brewing methods and how to pour the perfect XXXX – followed by a beer tasting session in the Alehouse.


Heritage sites in Brisbane: Historic Windmill. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland.


Old Windmill Tower

No exploration of Brisbane’s heritage would be complete without a visit to the Old Windmill Tower: the city’s oldest building and a symbol of its dark past. Built by convicts in the late 1820s to process wheat and corn crops from the Moreton Bay penal settlement, it quickly became a place of punishment. Due to its mostly windless location, convicts were put to work on a treadmill to keep the arms and millstone turning – often in 8 kg leg irons for 14 hours a day.

From 1894 to the 1950s a copper time ball (which still sits on the roof) was dropped at 1pm every day. Interestingly, it was here in 1934 that the first television signals in the southern hemisphere were transmitted. This pioneering broadcasting continued up until World War II.


Heritage sites in Brisbane: Fort Lytton. Image: Must Do Brisbane.


Fort Lytton

For a journey back in time, venture half an hour from the city where the echoes of World War I still resonate at Fort Lytton. This coastal fortification was built in 1881, and served as Brisbane’s first line of defence up until the 1930s. It is widely accredited as the birthplace of Queensland’s military history.

The well-preserved pentagonal fort is concealed behind grassy embankments and surrounded by a water-filled moat. Join a guided tour and immerse yourself in the history of the fort and its restored guns, which were designed to fire and disappear. Don’t miss the fascinating military museums, showcasing  weapons and uniforms to wartime diaries and personal memorabilia, as well as impressive collection of Australian artillery. Fort Lytton is open every Sunday.


Heritage sites in Brisbane: Aerial view of St Helena Island. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland.

St Helena Island

St Helena Island in Moreton Bay has a turbulent history as the site of Queensland’s first penal settlement, which operated from 1867 until 1932. Accessible by boat from Manly or New Farm, you can take a guided tour to explore the ruins and hear the stories where they happened. There are short walking tracks to several historic sites at the southern end of the island that are accessible without a tour guide.

On the guided tour you’ll see the remains of the prison stockade including the bakery, workshops and underground tanks. Beyond the stockade discover stone ruins of warder accommodation, a sugar mill, lime kiln, jetty and Queensland’s first tramway. Middens reveal that local Aboriginal people visited the island seasonally, and hunted and collected flying foxes, dugongs, shellfish and other resources.


Heritage sites in Brisbane: Group experiencing Indigenous walking tour in Brisbane. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland.

Indigenous sites and experiences

Take a stroll along the Nurri Millen Totem Trail at Boondall Wetlands, where you can learn about the Aboriginal heritage of the area. Cast aluminium totems along the trail reveal how the clans used the wetlands. Follow the tracks, boardwalks and bikeways to spot an amazing array of flora and fauna, enjoy a picnic or visit the Conservation Centre for informative displays.

You can also explore the CBD on foot with BlackCard Cultural Tours, who will take you on a journey through the history of Meanjin’s first people. The three walking tours cover the city, Kurilpa and Parklands across 90-minute and 3-hour formats. See a new side of the city and discover history, culture, flora, spiritual sites and public artworks that reflect Brisbane’s rich Indigenous culture.

Enjoyed reading about these heritage sites in Brisbane? For more to explore in Queensland’s capital, check out our top tips on where to eat, stay and play.


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