If you have travel plans that involve Australia, Melbourne is more than likely on your list of destinations to check out. Voted one of the most liveable cities in the world for several years, this cultural mecca excels when it comes to shopping, gourmet eats, sports and so much more. Australia is known for its high prices and although Melbourne is not excluded from this classification, there are ways to make the most of this fantastic city without breaking your budget.
You don’t ‘see’ Melbourne, you ‘live’ Melbourne- so take advantage of all these great experiences that will help you live the way the locals do!
If you haven’t heard, Melbourne’s climate is reputable for having four seasons in one day. If the weather shifts from a sunny morning to a stormy arvo (that’s Aussie lingo for afternoon) head to the National Gallery of Victoria where you can check out an international gallery that holds some of the most impressive masterpieces in the world. You’ll want to allot a fair amount of time as there is so much to explore. Also at the NGV, the NGV Ian Potter Centre, which is the first art gallery in the world that is solely dedicated to Australian art. With 20 different galleries, this is an opportunity to learn more about Australian culture at the beautiful price of free admission. The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art also admits patrons for free and is the leading contemporary art gallery in Melbourne.
Australian markets are a little different than the chaotic markets you will find in South East Asia, but they are just as great of an option for cheap eats and budget buys! The Queen Victoria Market rules the market echelons, with an affluence of gorgeous produce straight from the farms, dead animals sliced before your eyes for choice cuts of meat and antiques with heart and history- this is a market where you can see the true spirit of Melbourne locals, you will find people from all corners of Melbourne diverse suburb communities stopping by for their daily needs. Another very worthy trip to the South Melbourne Market will indulge your inner foodie with the affordable food stalls that serve dumplings, sandwiches and glorious Aussie meat pies. One of the most famous features of this market are the dim sims. What is a dim sim? Are you saying dim sum incorrectly? No. A dim sim is a big meaty dumpling that can be fried or steamed, sometimes as big as your fist, and the ones at the South Melbourne Market are some of the best in the country.
The café culture of Melbourne is well established, but just as well priced. For a cheaper gourmet experience to satisfy your tummy, head to Lentil as Anything, a donation based restaurant located in St. Kilda. Although small in size, they make up for it in delicious vegetarian dishes and big hearts. If you’re after a more meaty option check out Hunky Dory, a fish and chips restaurant with so much more than your typical breaded fish and fries. Hunky Dory’s fish is brought in fresh on the regular, and they have daily specials past the standard flake (shark) or dory. Their fresh grilled calamari is to die for and they have a plate of a huge filet of fish, salad and rice for only $12.50. If that is even too much for your budget, there are several small convenience marts, bakeries or milk bars all around town that serve up $2 sausage rolls, meat pies and other cheap fried goods. If you’ve only got $3 in your pocket, you’ll be able to find a filling pie to get you through the day.
If you’re looking to get active, head on down to St. Kilda West where you can try out Stand Up Paddle Boarding at The Zu Boardsports. With the store bordering the beach front, renting a SUP is as easy as strolling in, leaving your belongings in the capable hands of the friendly staff, and heading out back where they will give you a run through of helpful paddling and balancing techniques- and you’re off! Rentals are only $25 an hour which is more than enough time to entertain yourself on the water until it’s time to come back an enjoy a beer on their back lounge area. But maybe you want more, and even after three hours of paddle boarding, walking around the city and working out in one of the public beach fitness parks, you can awaken your Latin loins in a free Salsa lesson! These lessons are for absolute beginners to learn the basics, and you don’t need to bring a partner either. The Salsa Foundation provides easy instruction with always enthusiastic and experienced teachers that not only help you learn to dance, but introduce you to new friends and new avenues of entertainment through the dance community.
Taxis are not cheap, but they also aren’t necessary given the amazing tram and train system of Melbourne. Trams and trains require a myki card which can be purchased at convenience stores, and although aren’t too pricey, can amount to a large sum. The Circle Tram is a complimentary transportation service that travels around the perimeter of Melbourne CBD and stops at all the major tourist destinations. This is a great way to connect to other tramlines around the city without having to walk several blocks or spend precious myki card money. If you are more eco-friendly, the Melbourne Bike Share is a fantastic way to explore Melbourne without harming the environment, contributing to traffic or spending more money than you allotted for transportation. There are fifty stations throughout the city where you can rent and drop your bikes at any point in time. Melbourne has bike lanes throughout the cityscape and there are tons of beautiful paths to ride through gardens and along the beach.
Hop on a Street Art Tour and discover the amazing street art scene around Melbourne, or just walk the city yourself discovering your own taste in graffiti. You might even find some of the hidden remaining Banksy pieces sneaking around the alley-ways. There is also a Free cinema during the summer months at the Southgate cinema that shows movies at no extra cost, just make sure to book online to reserve a spot as this is a heavily attended event. If you get your timing right, you might also be in town for White Night, which is an extravagant exhibition of artists transforming the CBD into a giant masterpiece of creativity, food and overall interactive entertainment. You don’t have to wear white, just be prepared for major crowds and some seriously amazing light installations.
Save your money and take a stroll in one of Melbourne’s stunning Botanical gardens. The St Kilda Botanical Gardens are located only 5 minutes from the beach so you can make the most of the sunshine by first strolling the gardens and then enjoying a relaxing swim and sprawl on the sand afterwards. The Royal Botanical Gardens have two locations, one on the south bank of the Yarra River and the other in Cranbourne. The Cranbourne gardens specialize in native Australian plants, while the other location hosts over 10,000 floral species, the majority of which are not native plants to Australia. Pick up a small picnic and set yourself up under one of the shady trees or next to the blooming buds and enjoy the tranquillity of nature while still being so close to city life.
Naming all of the bars and spots to see free shows would be near impossible, especially with how transient the bar scene is, but chances are that heading to Brunswick will reward you with local musicians practicing their craft wherever they can. Sydney Road usually has a few bars featuring cheap drinks (cheap for Australia is $6 for a beer) and free shows, and all spots are within walking distance. The Retreat and Brunswick hotel are hot spots, but are also fairly packed, so make sure to make your appearance earlier on in the evening to establish a spot. The Esplanade, locally known as The Espy features artists from all genres and countries. This iconic public house has served as a historical music landmark for Melbourne and Australian music culture overall and if you watch closely you can catch free or very minimally priced shows here.
If you are content to simply stroll, save those dollars for another day and take a walk down the Yarra River. The Yarra travels through the heart of Melbourne and you can people watch all day if your heart desires. People on the sidewalk, people on the water, people on bikes, people without shirts (this can be good or bad), all types of people can be witnessed enjoying the fluid energy of the river. Another hot spot is Federation Square, which frequently hosts all sorts of event or activities. Melbourne Fashion Week brings outdoor runways, while the Australian Open is shown on their mega screen, drawing thousands of viewers to set up camp for the final match. Free concerts, television tapings and many other opportunities to experience authentic Melbourne culture arise from this very centralized location. But wait, you can go inside the wonky looking building as well! The exhibition within has images of the history of Federation Square and Melbourne city, tourist information and an array of entertainment options that will keep you busy till the institution closes.
No Australian to-do list would be complete without some mention of beaches. Although Melbourne’s beaches differ from the white sands and warm waters of Queensland or the famed Bondi beach in Sydney, Melbourne has a few tricks of its own. St Kilda Beach is a bayside suburb that has a beautiful beach where you will frequently see families enjoying the low tide, boaters heading out from the marina and tons of avid water sports fanatics exercising their passions. St Kilda beach is located near the famed Luna Park and you will find skateboarders and roller bladers making the most of the beachside boardwalk, while stand up paddle boarders enjoy the calm lapping bay waters before their evening cocktails. St Kilda West Beach has a little more excitement with its reputation for being one of Victoria’s best kite boarding sports and on days when the wind is keen, you can witness the quilted beauty of several kites dancing through the sky. All along Beaconsfield Parade, which is the street that runs all the way to Port Melbourne, and you will be able to find beaches with easy access and sandy bottoms.