by Jodi Panayotov
Queensland's oldest provincial city was once known for its mines, gracious ornate Queenslanders and grand colonial buildings and boasted a cathedral, leading fashion designers such as Helena Kaye and even a 49 room castle (Blackstone castle). After the closure of its mines in the latter 20th century it suffered a major economic downturn and high unemployment yet today it is on the verge of another renaissance. With its well-preserved heritage buildings and gracious parks, a new wave of groovy cafes and boutiques, tapas and wine bars, an award-winning museum, art gallery, Walter Burley Griffin-designed theatre and a free mini wildlife zoo it has more than enough attractions to make it high on the must-visit list.
Here are some highlights that no trip to Ipswich should be without.
Top of Town:
The funky little go-to precinct of cafes, boutiques, hotels and wine bar known as Top of Town occupies two blocks of Ipswich's oldest and best maintained heritage buildings just on the west side of the city centre along Brisbane St. The name Top of Town was coined after World War II and some of the area's landmark buildings reflect its prominence: one of Queensland's earliest newspapers The Queensland Times occupied the building on the corner of Ellenborough St and Brisbane St and the gorgeous old Flour Mill was the birthplace of the retro radio station 4IP that every hip teenager of the 1960s and 70s had their transistor radio permanently tuned to.
Eating & Drinking:
Within Top of Town are a bevy of character filled cafes, coffee nooks and a wine and tapas bar. Stop here for coffee or brunch before heading off to the attractions and come back for lunch.
For coffee the best bets are Urban Pantry, a Byron bay style coffee bar and gourmet pantry that peddles delicious sweet treats and their own blend of beans Mudlark from a Byron bay roastery. Otherwise head around the corner to Ellenborough St where a charming Euro style laneway contains the seating for Bon Laneway, a top notch espresso nook that also serves up delicious sandwiches and refreshments.
For an old-fashioned taste of 1950's Ipswich Deann's Coffee House is a vision of retro Nanna's kitchen, from the formica tables and vinyl chairs to the vintage window displays and the home-made food; otherwise the in-crowd all gather at Fourthchild, a chef-operated café come bistro in a rustic artsy space, where everything is locally sourced and fresh and prepared on premise and that would hold its own against anything Brisbane has to offer.
A few strides west and a bit away from the action (still on Brisbane St) the 150 year old Settler's Inn (now the Stump Hotel) is home to Tapas Tree, a boutique beer, wine and tapas bar that has district views out back to St Mary's cathedral.
For the best eclectic shopping stick to the Top of the Town precinct – standouts here are The Vintage Advantage, a quirky trove of fashion, homewares and collectables, E.S. Traders, a gorgeous eclectic emporium of unique fashion, furniture, gifts, home wares and accessories in an old plumbers workshop down the laneway beside Bon Laneway coffee.
Otherwise back at the old Flour Mill, downstairs in a near deserted arcade of quaint shops, Cassandra's Closet is tucked away in a corner – a fab source of steam punk, Victoriana and alternative clothing, Inkuku peddles fair trade gifts and trinkets while upstairs on the street front Pimp My Closet delivers edgy street wear. Back on Ellenborough St Shady Lady is the place for handmade antique laces, accessories, finery and collectables and dotted throughout the precinct are a smattering of op shops.
This bushland reserve just to the south and up the hill from the town centre sits atop a network of abandoned mine tunnels. One of its walking paths encircles an old disused quarry and another leads to a crude Triassic discovery hut with replica dinosaur prints. The main attraction however, are the water towers which can be climbed for the city's most stunning views – a 360 degree vista that takes in countryside, mountain ranges and the entire city.
The namesake of Queen Victoria and historical green heart of Ipswich was established in 1864 and as such still has some of the unique features of parks of this era such as the grandeur and terraced layout, the latter featuring the distinctive limestone walls peculiar to Ipswich. Take a wander through and find dotted throughout are Victorian and Federation era rotundas, a caretakers cottage and glass houses. As well as a sensational children's playground it incorporates an enchanting Japanese garden – Nerima Gardens and in the heart of the park the Queens Park Café makes a great child-friendly casual dining option
This delightful rambling mini wildlife zoo is free to visit and consists of a well maintained labyrinth of wheelchair and pram accessible pathways and boardwalks that pass close by enclosures of an extensive range of native Australian animals, reptiles and birds as well as a little barn of baby farm animals.
Housed in Ipswich's 150 year old town hall, the Ipswich Art Gallery is one of Queensland's best regional galleries, showing a constant flow of touring expos as well as its own private collection. It also has an excellent children's room with well curated themed hands-on activities.
Whether a rail fan or not, child or adult, this fabulous state of the art museum set in the historical still operational railway workshops is well worth a visit. Well-preserved engines and carriages capture the romance of the vintage era of rail travel for general public and royalty and the interactive displays, films, simulated train driving and themed children's playground are but some of the attractions so set aside at least a couple of hours to really appreciate this one.
Lastly, if visiting on a Friday stick around Top of Town for the Sunset Market from 3-7pm along Ellenborough and Brisbane St, with stalls selling fresh produce, handmade items and more.