Brisbane River Heritage Trail: Sightseeing Cruise Through the City’s Storied Past

Brisbane River Heritage Trail
Northshore Hamilton ferry terminal, where the trail begins (Photo credit: Adil Gat/Google Maps)

What better way to discover Brisbane’s history than on the river that shaped It? Drift back through the city’s storied past with Brisbane River Heritage Trail, a 90-minute sightseeing cruise along the river.

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The heritage trail by CityCat ferry allows travellers to immerse themselves in tales of the waterfront whilst enjoying panoramic views of today’s ever-changing skyline.

Map (Photo credit: Brisbane City Council)

The one-way ride starts at the Northshore Hamilton terminal and ends at UQ St Lucia. With stops along the route, riders can take the full roundtrip or hop on and off to explore Brisbane’s heritage at their own pace.

Brisbane River from Bowen Terrace, c. 1908 (State Library of Queensland)

The journey features 32 riverfront heritage sites identified in a mobile app. Users can select themed tours focused on Brisbane’s river trade, crossings, riverside living, wartime history, or local “Brisbane tuff” sandstone. Navigational hints guide riders whether travelling upstream or downstream.

Here are some of the sites at the Brisbane River Heritage Trail:

Tower Ad

Living on the River

Toorak House flying the Union Jack, November 1921 (Photo credit: State Library of Queensland) 

Highlights along the route include grand 19th century riverside mansions like the Gothic-inspired Toorak House and Newstead House, Brisbane’s oldest surviving residence. The trail also showcases 20th century architectural gems, including the domed observatory tower of Home in Kangaroo Point and the row houses of Cook Terrace in Milton.

Gino's Italian Restaurant

The Second World War

A 10,000-ton (10,160-tonne) cargo vessel under construction at the Evans Deakin & Co Ltd shipyards, 1943 (Photo credit: Australian War Memorial)

During the Second World War from 1942–45, General Douglas MacArthur established the headquarters of the Allied campaign in the South West Pacific in Brisbane. The city hosted many American and Allied troops, transforming Brisbane’s formerly quiet colonial culture stemming from its British roots. 

The Brisbane River was vital for wartime activities including substantial boat-building utilizing the Woolstores, docks and other riverside locations. Several famous American submarines docked at the South Brisbane Dry Dock and Naval Stores. 

View of the Limbless Soldiers’ Bowling Club, New Farm and the river, date unknown (Photo credit: State Library of Queensland)

Troops recovered at the former Limbless Soldiers’ Bowling Club and the former Evans Deakin Dry Dock. The influx of personnel thoroughly modernised Brisbane from its provincial past into a strategic centre of military operations in the Asia Pacific theatre.

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Historic audio narrations and reenactments in the app share stories and anecdotes about select sites. Riders can further dive into Brisbane’s past by connecting to other heritage trails in the city centre and South Bank.

With panoramas of the Brisbane River, this journey through time is best experienced from the deck of a CityCat. Please note that a go card or prepaid ticket is required for travel. For more information, visit Translink’s website.

Published 4-January-2024