Australia in general isn’t known for being cheap, and Melbourne specifically – touted as the world’s most livable city and the capital of the country’s most densely populated state – can be quite expensive. But it doesn’t always have to be, so long as you know the right places to go and how to get there. Here are five tips for enjoying the best of the city without spending a fortune:
1. Take advantage of free transportation:
The free City Circle Tram allows visitors to easily explore major attractions in central Melbourne. For an introduction to the city, get the lay of the land by simply spending an afternoon taking in the sights and listening to the informative onboard commentary. The route begins and ends at Flinders Street, stopping at places like the Harbour Esplanade, Victoria Street, and Docklands Drive along the way. You can also hop off at popular sites like the Parliament House, the Old Treasury Building, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Immigration Museum, and Federation Square (where you'll often find free film screenings and live music). Feeling active? Melbourne is easily navigable by foot or bike.
2. Go on a free walking tour:
You don't have to shell out big bucks to get an insider's view of Melbourne. In fact, I'm Free Walking Tours offers a tips-only walking excursion with natives who love their city. Tours depart daily from the Sir Redmond Barry statue in front of the State Library of Victoria at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., rain or shine. Aside from hearing the stories behind attractions like Chinatown, the Princess Theatre, and the Yarra River, you can also learn where the locals like to grab a bite or enjoy a night out. (We recommend tipping around $15 for good service and info, though it certainly isn't compulsory.)
3. Explore Melbourne's hidden lanes:
Back alleys and narrow passageways might not land on the top of your must-see list, but in Melbourne, this is actually where you'll find the city's best local shops, cafes, and street art. Head down Degraves Lane for free local honey tastings at Clementine’s, a shop selling only Victoria-made products, or pop into the Little Bookroom, the world’s oldest children’s book shop. Union Lane, Hosier Lane, Duckboard Place, ACDC Lane, and Centre Place are all filled with colorful street art, and the latter is the hub for the city’s cult-like coffee culture. Visit historic Dinkin Meat Pies on Block Place, and experience traditional speakeasy culture at Bar Americano on Presegrades Lane. Head to Hardware Lane to see former blacksmith shops and warehouses transformed into cozy restaurants.
4. Spend time at free attractions
Some of Melbourne's most popular attractions are also free. We highly recommend adding a few of the National Gallery of Victoria's 70,000 works of local and international art into your itinerary. Next, take a stroll through the Fitzroy Gardens to enjoy 64 acres of sculptures, tree-lined paths, and points of interest like James Cook’s former cottage and a model of a Tudor village. Another free Melbourne attraction is the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, the world’s largest screen gallery with 16,146 square feet of video art exhibits and interactive installations. (Screenings and special events do require paid tickets.) Other no-fee institutions include the Grainger Museum, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, and the Centre of Contemporary Photography.
5. Have a budget-friendly meal.
Satisfy your stomach and your wallet at Lentil as Anything, a pay-as-you-wish restaurant serving up Sri Lankan and Tibetan cuisine. And believe it or not, the ever-trendy Nobu offers complimentary canapes on Friday nights between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. with the purchase of a drink. At the Queen Victoria Market, stalls sell fresh foods for cheap; we especially love the $3 boreks (savory stuffed pastries). Or stop by Wonderbao for cheap pork buns, many for under $2. And never underestimate Melbourne’s delicious but cheap food trucks. Such choice eats include Waffleworks, Mr. Burger, and Trailer Made.