Featuring high on the list of the world’s most liveable cities and bursting at its creative seams with art, fashion, culture and a renowned culinary scene, it’s no surprise that everyone loves Melbourne.
However, its position on that ‘other’ list — as one of Australia’s most expensive cities to visit — may have you worried. Whether you’re coming for a weekend or a week, here are ten insider tips for experiencing the best of Melbourne on a budget.
Take a free tram
Let’s start with getting around. Melbourne’s transport network is ticketed using the myki system (a touch on/off rechargeable card), but you’ll be overjoyed to hear that riding the trams within the CBD is absolutely free! One of the best ways to get the lay of the land is on the (again, free) City Circle Tram — a beautiful old-style red tram that trundles a loop around the city, complete with audio commentary. Make sure you keep an eye on where the Free Tram Zone finishes. A hefty fine can apply if you travel beyond it without paying.
Street art is free art
Melbourne is famous for its eclectic street art and positively embraces the work of graffiti artists, which decorates the hidden lanes and back alleys of the city. If you have the budget you can book a guided walking tour with a working artist, but if not, spend a day getting lost on your own in the city centre. It can turn up plenty of contemporary cultural gems. For a bit of a head start, use Google Maps to find Hosier Lane, Rankins Lane, Centre Place, AC/DC Lane and Caledonian Lane.
High culture doesn’t have to cost
Alongside the many high-profile ticketed exhibitions that come to Melbourne, the city is tipping over with free opportunities to enjoy top cultural collections. The permanent collections of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the Ian Potter Centre can be viewed for free. The State Library of Victoria in Swanston Street is one of the city’s most beautiful buildings and stages regular free exhibitions, while a visit to the stunning St Paul’s Cathedral will have you thinking you’ve been beamed over to Europe.
Do your own laneway tour
Speaking of which, Melbourne is as famous for its European-style laneways as it is for its street art. Again, there are plenty of excellent walking tours on offer, each with their own special focus (including laneway art, cafes, food, shopping and architecture). But if the purse strings are drawn seriously tight and you’re feeling adventurous, it’s not hard to create your own itinerary. Just start walking! Magic can be found everywhere but begin by heading for the better known Hardware Lane, Degraves Street, and the fabulously historic Block Arcade and Royal Arcade. Then seek out Tattersalls Lane, Meyers Place, Postal Lane, and the list goes on. Over to you…
Make for the markets
Discover a city’s local markets and you’ll discover its heart and soul, along with plenty of tasty — and cheap — eats. The Queen Victoria Market is a buzzing, authentic Melbourne institution, and slightly out of the CBD you’ll find the famous South Melbourne Market and the wonderful Prahran Market. A visit to the St Kilda Esplanade Market or the Rose St Artists’ Market in Fitzroy is a fantastic way to get a big dose of creative and cultural vibes for nix.
Scoop discount theatre tickets
If you’re clever (and quick) you can get to see some fabulous live theatre for a lot less than the normal ticketed price. Tixatsix at the Arts Centre offers $30 tickets for a host of performances every evening. Get there well before six though, because you won’t be the only one looking for a cut-price curtain up!
Explore the city by pedal power
Melbourne’s cycling network encompasses more than 135 kilometres of bike paths and routes, and the public Melbourne Bike Share scheme offers cheap and easy bike hire. At the time of writing, a weekly pass is just $8! It’s a great way to save on transport costs to the city’s must-see inner suburbs like South Melbourne, South Yarra, Collingwood and Fitzroy. You’ll need a helmet (they’re mandatory). You can purchase one for $5 from vending machines at Southern Cross railway station and various convenience stores. Some generous soul may even have left one on the bike for you.
Bag a bargain
Yes, yes, Melbourne is the fashion capital of the country (especially if you like black), but the abundance of high-end shopping found at the so-called Paris end of Collins St doesn’t mean you can’t find a bargain. You can – and how! Get started in funky Brunswick Street, Sydney Road or the Camberwell Sunday Market for vintage, then lose yourself in factory outlet heaven at the Spencer Outlet Centre or DFO South Wharf.
Melbourne has some of the best and most written about restaurants in the world, but there are also literally thousands of places to eat good — no, make that great — food on the cheap. Steer away from the CBD and pedal out to the fabulously multi-cultural suburbs of Richmond, Footscray and Carlton for the most authentic Vietnamese, Turkish, Lebanese, Italian, and African cuisine this side of, well, the other side of the world.
One of the best ways to save money when travelling is to do nothing and there’s nowhere better to do just that than Melbourne. Pack a picnic and a book and head to one of the city’s beautiful green spaces. The superb Royal Botanical Gardens are an obvious choice but there’s a host of others within easy reach, including Fitzroy Gardens, Treasury Gardens and the lovely Carlton Gardens.
So, can you really experience Melbourne on the cheap? You bet your bottom dollar.
Do you have any tips for how to experience Melbourne on a budget? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying 10 years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. She has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.