How to explore Melbourne on a budget
She’s a charmer, known for her decadent foodie experiences, uber-cool hipster nightspots, plethora of shopping havens, thriving arts scene and sporting culture.While our vibrant hometown of Melbourne might consistently be voted the most liveable city in the world, it’s also fast becoming known as one of the most expensive.
If you visit Melbourne in November, you'll generally find the city awash with florals, a party atmosphere, and free-flowing champagne thanks to the Spring Racing Carnival. While a day at the races can definitely leave your wallet in a bit of a pinch, if you're here for the weekend there are still plenty of awesome cheap things to do and see once you've recovered.
Exploring this wonderful city really doesn’t have to squirrel away your hard-earned bills before you can say ‘pineapple’ - here are our tips on how to Melbourne on the cheap!
How to Explore Melbourne On a budget
Visit The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)
The NGV is Australia’s oldest, and most popular art gallery - and for good reason. This art-lovers’ paradise is situated over two sites, NGV International and NGV Australia (at Federation Square), and has been known to entertain some blockbuster international guests. To satisfy your aesthetic cravings without breaking the bank, avoid the feature exhibition and spend a day wandering through the rest of NGV International’s free collections instead.
Bonus tip: Lie on the floor in the NGV Great Hall and look up at the stained glass roof. You’ll thank us later.
Stroll through Federation Square
Brilliant, ugly, chaotic, kitsch, or all of the above. Call it what you want, but Federation Square is where it’s at when it comes to public spaces in this city. Park your bum on one of the piazza steps and watch the bustling city go by, have a coffee in one of the cafes or sink a beer (or wine) or in one of the many bars.
Federation Square is often home to many free activities and cultural events including the Polish Festival, Diwali celebrations, Tai Chi, yoga and even Qantas’ 95th birthday instameet!
Want to see what events are on when you're in town? Visit here.
Explore Melbourne's Labyrinth of Laneways
Exploring Melbourne’s famous labyrinth of laneways is the perfect way to see the city it all it’s glory. The laneways house everything from al fresco eateries, hip bars, unique shops and street art.
The pièce de résistance of Melbourne’s street art scene is Hosier Lane. This 24/7 open air art gallery evolves daily and you’ll often see artists going about their creation.. Extremely popular during the day, our tip is to visit at night, when the crowds die down and the street lighting illuminates the unique pieces.
Eat Everything in China Town
Almost all cities have a Chinatown, yet Melbourne’s is Australia’s oldest and most authentic. Explore the strip between Swanston and Spring St on Little Bourke St and be transported to the streets of Shanghai; think Asian cuisine, karaoke, cocktails bars and bright lights!
Although it will cost you, be sure to try one of the many dumpling houses. Cheap, cheerful and always busy, dumpling houses are a Melbourne institution. Our tasty tip; China Red.
Swim and Sun at Melbourne's Beaches
Ok, we admit it. Our beaches are not a patch on Sydney’s (we make up for it in every other way!), but there are still some great beaches to get your vitamin D hit.
St Kilda beach, just 20mins from the city, is home to the weird and wonderful. You’ll improve your sun tan, and guaranteed, be entertained by some interesting locals as well.
Our pick of the Melbourne bayside beaches is the picturesque Half Moon Bay, a short 45min train ride from the city which features the wreck of the HMAS Cerberus. Or, you could venture down the Great Ocean Road …
Hop aboard the City Circle Tram
The City Circle Trams are a set of historic ‘W’ Class trams which loop around the city outskirts and Docklands. Brilliant for tourists and locals alike, the free tram provides audio commentary providing details for city landmarks and major attractions such as the City Museum, Parliament House, Docklands, Federation Square, Melbourne Aquarium and the Princess Theatre.
Wow Over the State Library of Victoria
Not all libraries are created equal, and the State Library of Victoria is proof that study spaces can indeed be beautiful. The exterior is pleasing enough, but step inside and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time. Featuring Melbourne’s most impressive heritage interior, the majestic dome ceiling of the La Trobe reading room will leave you speechless.
The library also features two permanent exhibitions, one which houses the famous bushranger Ned Kelly’s armour! Free guided tours are also available.
Sip Cocktails at Curtin House Rooftop Bar
You may curse us when you finally reach the rooftop bar at Curtin House. Why you ask? Because you have to walk up seven floors to reach it. But trust us, the workout is totally worth it. You’ll not only enjoy a grand view of Melbourne, but you’ll be able to have a drink and relax in one of the best spots in Melbourne.
Come the warmer Summer nights (December-March, excluding Monday and Friday), the Rooftop Bar becomes an open air cinema, screening mostly indie, cult and documentary features. More info available here.
Get Into the Great Outdoors
There are many beautiful parks and gardens located in and around Melbourne, perfect for that picnic in the park.
If we had to pick one, we’d suggest the picturesque haven of the Royal Botanic Gardens, just a short walk from the city. Our favourite place to relax in Melbourne, there are expansive lawns to spread out and enjoy the sunshine, play a game of frisbee (no ball games aloud), or sip a cider!
Other free parks include Albert Park, Carlton Gardens, Fitzroy Gardens or the Gardens of the Dandenongs.
Remember at the Shrine of Remembrance
One of the most iconic landmarks in Melbourne is the Shrine of Remembrance. Built in 1934 to honour the service and sacrifice of Australian men and women in war, the Shrine stands as a beacon of respect for all those who visit.
Located underneath is the war museum, focusing on education and the interpretation of stories of Victorians at war. It’s a sombre but worthwhile experience to visit. Also make your way to the viewing platforms for an amazing view of Melbourne.
Our tip; visit on the half hour mark from 10:30am to participate in a Remembrance ceremony featuring the Ray of Light re-enactment.
Do you have favourite places to go or things to do on the cheap? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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