City culture on the Gold Coast

From sensational rooftop bars and craft breweries to Pac Fair and Harbour town shopping, the Gold Coast has an urban style that's all its own.

Some people come to the Gold Coast and never set foot on the sand! Amazing but true. Instead of beaches and waves, they're chasing the best restaurants, bars, clubs, pubs and shopping malls. You see, the Gold Coast has cultivated a thriving city culture that's quite unique. It's outdoorsy, in an alfresco kind of way, but it also likes to get dressed up and party.

When it's time for a drink, head to Burleigh's craft breweries - Burleigh Brewing, Black Hops and Balter. The latter is owned by former world surfing champs Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson, who often work behind the bar.

Southport and Surfers Paradise

Home of the Arts in Southport is a hub for movies, theatre, dance, comedy, art exhibitions, live music and festivals. And it looks amazing! The surreal, futuristic roof structure is highly Insta-worthy. The HOTA website lets you know what's on and when. At the very least, catch a movie here or wander through the art gallery. It'll be a nice break from GC's relentless sunshine.

While you're in the general vicinity, head up to the SkyPoint Observation Deck on level 77 of the Q1 Building in Surfers Paradise. There's food and drink available, so you can easily while away an hour or two at this dizzy height. SkyPoint is also where you'll find Australia's highest external building climb, a great way to snap the best views of the Gold Coast.

If you're going all out with your Gold Coast holiday, you can stay at Q1 Resort and Spa, Australia's tallest residential resort tower. Complementary to this is fun on the YOT Club, the world's first super yacht entertainment venue. Out on the water, you'll be up to your neck in pure GC glamour.

Hyde Paradiso at Peppers Soul Hotel is a recent addition to the Surfers Paradise restaurant scene. Along with amazing food and artful mixology, it offers unobstructed sea views.

Living large in Broadbeach

The Oracle's twin high-rises loom large over Broadbeach, a corner of the Gold Coast that pulls off the difficult trick of being close to the buzz, but just far enough away to ensure your holiday is relaxing. There are some great places for eating here too, within the Oracle Precinct and Broadbeach Mall. Special mention must be made of the Kurrrawa Surf Club, which has a fabulous new clubhouse. Here you can enjoy incredible seafront views and a surf club institution - a cold beer and a 'chicken parmy' (parmigiana).

Being cool at Burleigh

Burleigh Heads began life as a small fishing community, but today it's all about classy surf breaks, a funky café culture and relaxed coastal vibe. Just beyond the beach, James Street is lined with cool boutiques, homeware stores, surf shops and numerous restaurants and bars. If you want to eat so close to the beach that you're almost in the water, try the iconic Rick Shores, which has uninterrupted views of the Surfers Paradise skyline.

It's hard not to be healthy in Burleigh. Join the locals for an early morning run or along the seaside trail under fragrant pine trees, then grab an acai bowl, corn fritters, French toast or bibimbap to fuel up for the day ahead.

When it's time for a drink, head to Burleigh's micro-breweries - Burleigh Brewing, Black Hops and Balter. The latter is owned by former world surfing champs Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson, who often work behind the bar. Grandad Jack's Craft Distillery is also down this end of town; it has ties to New Zealand and the gin gets rave reviews. For fine dining Burleigh style you can't go wrong with The Tropic at Burleigh Pavilion.

Gold Coast nightlife

As the sun sets, the Gold Coast continues to shine with all kinds of night-time fun. Here are just some of your options:

  • Toast the sunset at a rooftop bar. There's Bar Hellenika in Nobby Beach, the Island Rooftop at Surfers Paradise, Justin Lane in Burleigh and The Star in Broadbeach.
  • The Star Gold Coast is also a casino, complete with six-star hotel and six restaurants. Even if you don't fancy a flutter, there's plenty to keep the whole family entertained, like a relaxed meal at the Garden Kitchen and Bar at The Star Grand.
  • See if you can find one of the speakeasies or hidden bars that have popped up (secretly). Look for Etsu, Aloha Bar, Soho Place and Lockwood Bar.
  • Catch a night-time boat cruise around some of the 400km of man-made canals that flank the city's narrow coastal strip. It's also a good opportunity to have a sticky-beak at the sprawling mansions that line these waterways.
  • Miami Marketta is a bustling street food market where you can eat and drink with an accompaniment of live music every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night. There's every food ethnicity here and dancing after dinner is definitely on the cards.
  • Perfect your drive at Topgolf Gold Coast, a multi-storied golfing experience that's open until midnight. It rolls golf together with great food, music and prizes.
  • The local live and DJ music scene is definitely worth pursuing. Check out Sound Lounge, Hidden Groove, Elsewhere Bar, House of Brews and The Cambus Wallace.
  • Hundreds of night-time events and festivals happen across the Gold Coast every year and many of them are free! Watch the events calendars and book your trip to fit.

Best Gold Coast shopping

You're going to need something new to wear for all that night-time fun. Luckily the ultimate Gold Coast shopping centre is within reach. Pacific Fair ('Pac Fair', as the locals call it) offers more than 400 luxury global and local brands. It's also home to the Gold Coast's largest Myer department store and, at the other end of the retail spectrum, Aussie streetwear store Culture Kings, which includes a DJ, mini basketball court, barber and a gym! When you need to rest your weary legs, there's also a visitors lounge with free Wi-Fi .

If the word 'market' fills your heart with joy, then the Gold Coast provides ample opportunity to bag a bargain. Start at Carrara Market, Australia's largest permanent market, which features more than 400 stalls covering 10 acres. Indulge your hunter gatherer instincts by fossicking among produce, homewares, plants and arts and crafts. There are also pony rides and mini golf, if you're travelling with kids.

If you time your visit for the first or third Sunday of the month, head to The Village Markets in Burleigh Heads. Featuring mainly fashion and lifestyle stalls, including local emerging designers, this lively Gold Coast market also serves up delicious food and live music.

Bargain lovers should check out Harbour Town, one of Australia's largest outlet shopping centres. With more than 220 shops, including international labels and much-loved Australian brands, it'll set you up with a new wardrobe - and there will still be money in your pocket! Before you start flashing the credit card, make sure you visit Harbour Town's Tourism Lounge to collect a club card for extra discounts. Handily, there's a free shuttle service which runs twice a day, seven days a week with pick-up points in Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach.

Keep exploring Gold Coast