Australia is one of the most expensive countries in the world. But visiting this beautiful country doesn’t have to break your budget. Melbourne is my favourite city in Australia (quite possibly the reason why I live here!), and also one of the easiest to navigate if you’re tight on money. Here’s my itinerary for three days in Melbourne on a budget, plus bonus tips on transport and food.
To start off, Melbourne is the arts and sporting capital of Australia, and not a week goes by without some kind of FREE festival – whether it’s Moomba, Chinese New Year, White Night… and that’s just in the last month. Free entertainment seems to be some kind of civic right in Melbourne; if it was taken away from us Melburnians, we’d probably revolt.
Day 1: Embrace your inner artist – Melbourne’s CBD
National Gallery of Victoria
Start your day at Federation Square, where the tourist information centre is located opposite Flinders St Station. Here you can pick up a map before heading out. Walk south past the giant spire (that’s the Arts Centre) towards the National Gallery of Victoria. Entry is free to the main collection and you can easily spend the morning looking through traditional and modern art. For lunch, why not eat a sandwich on the banks of the Yarra?
In the afternoon navigate through Melbourne’s laneways, visiting AC/DC Lane and Hosier Lane, a popular street art destination. Grab a coffee in Degraves St, before continuing north towards Melbourne Central through the Royal Arcade and Union Lane. What’s amazing is that you can cross Melbourne without even hitting a main street.
The State Library
Opposite Melbourne Central is the State Library, which has free exhibitions and some of the most beautiful architecture in Melbourne. Stare in wonder at the dome, a room with a high-ceiling full of books and leathery tables with green bull lamps. Attached to the State Library is the Wheeler Centre, which often has free or very reasonably priced events with local and international authors.
Day 2: South Melbourne and St Kilda
South Melbourne Market
Head out of the city on the number 96 tram (make sure you get a myki from any newsagent or the machines at the train stations). Stop at South Melbourne and visit the South Melbourne Markets, an eclectic mix of food and local product traders. Pick up some food for lunch and get back on the 96 tram heading south towards St Kilda Beach.
St Kilda Beach
Take a stroll along the Esplanade and enjoy the views of Luna Park, the Palais Theatre and St Kilda Pavillion. If the weather’s good, join the hundreds of other swimmers in the water. Luna Park is free to enter and take a look, but if you’d like to ride you can purchase tickets inside ($10.95 single ride). If you’re a cyclist, there’s a great ride along the Bayside Cycling Trail. Top tip – no one likes looking like a lobster, so make sure you wear sunscreen!
Day 3: Museums of wonder
Take your pick from any of Melbourne’s wonderful museums and mash up a museum day based on your interests. This is a great rainy day activity… and there are plenty of rainy days in Melbourne!
I’d recommend starting with the Melbourne Museum, especially if you have kids (Adults $12, Kids FREE). The Melbourne Museum has a beautiful and informative Indigenous exhibition, as well as dinosaurs, bugs and other wonders of the natural environment. The gardens around the Museum include the world heritage Royal Exhibition Building and are great for having a picnic lunch in the heart of Melbourne.
In the afternoon, take your pick from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (FREE entry to main exhibition), the Immigration Museum ($12) or Scienceworks ($12). Note that Scienceworks is outside of the Melbourne CBD, but fairly easy to get to on public transport.
Your trip to Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without watching a game of Melbourne’s favourite sport: AFL. The Victorian obsession with AFL borders on religion (I’m not joking – when you meet a local for the first time, the questions usually go “What’s your name? What’s your team?”). If you’re in town during the winter season, main city games are played at Etihad Stadium and the MCG, and general admission tickets are around $18 for an adult.
If you’re in town during summer, then nothing could be more Aussie than watching a game of cricket at the MCG.
Because quite simply, Melbourne wouldn’t be awesome without its cafe culture. Thankfully fierce competition has made cafe culture affordable – at least once in your stay, try a good coffee and meal at one of Melbourne’s many, many cafes. Around Melbourne Central, 1000 Pound Bend and The Moat are two of my favourite haunts, but pretty much if a cafe exists in Melbourne, it has to have semi-decent coffee.
Laneway bars are another novelty that must be tried, but be warned, $20 cocktails can rack up quite a bill. Try the Croft Institute, Berlin Bar or Cookie’s Rooftop Bar for some of the most intriguing bars in Melbourne.
Melbourne is a very centralized city, so even though it’s not entirely sexy to eat lunch at a food court, there are several in the CBD close to tourist attractions such as Southbank, QV, Emporium and Melbourne Central where you can get lunch for under $10. And don’t forget Chinatown, the grand land of dumplings and bubble tea.
Free tram zone
Not only do we have free festivals all the time, we also have free public transport in the city. The free tram zone covers most of the major tourist attractions in Melbourne. If you go outside of the CBD, you’ll need a Myki card, which costs $6 to purchase, then you’ll need to add extra money to it. Remember to tap the Myki if you’re travelling outside of the free tram zone.
Melbourne Bike Share
Melbourne is bike central – we love our cycling and the city is well set up for bike riders. You can rent a bike for $2.90 day/$8 week from the bike stations in the CBD and their website also has free cycling guides online.
Be warned – if you’re new to bike riding, then cycling on the roads in peak hour is probably not a good idea, so try the more relaxed bike trail along Southbank and the Yarra first. And remember, you need to wear a helmet in Australia. Helmets are available free with bike rental or from shops near the bike share stalls.