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 great ways to save money on travel to Melbourne.
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 tramcar that trundles a loop around the city, complete with audio commentary. Tip: 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.
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. 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.
Alongside the many high-profile ticketed exhibitions that come to Melbourne, the city is tipping over with free opportunities to enjoy priceless works of art. The permanent collections of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia can be viewed free of charge. The State Library 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.
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…
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.
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!
Free Wi-Fi — it’s the holy grail for budget travellers the world over, and Melbourne offers oodles of opportunities to get connected without paying a cent — including on board Skybus as you cruise into town from Melbourne Airport. They’ve been dragged kicking and screaming to the table, but many Australian hotels are now offering at least an allowance of complimentary Wi-Fi. It can be arduously slow, so here are some other options.
VicFreeWiFi is the largest scheme of its kind in Australia and offers one gigabyte (GB) of free data daily for users in the Bourke Street Mall, Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne Museum, and on platforms at CBD train stations. There is no grander place to sit and surf the net than in the State Library Victoria — and the free Wi-Fi on offer there is super fast! If all else fails, head to the nearest Maccas.
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 Street 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 head out to the fabulously multi-cultural suburbs of Brunswick, 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 that than in Melbourne’s plethora of parks and gardens. Pack a picnic and a book and head to the superb Royal Botanic Gardens, Fitzroy Gardens, Treasury Gardens, or the lovely Victorian-era Carlton Gardens around Melbourne Museum and the Royal Exhibition Building. Tip: You can join a daily tour of this World Heritage-listed architectural gem for just $10 (at the time of writing). Purchase a ticket at the museum.
So, can you really experience Melbourne on the cheap? You bet your bottom dollar.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ways to save money on travel to Melbourne? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel writer and author. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta 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. Her first novel — The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman — is now available in bookstores.