You’ll be surprised to learn that that you can still discover Melbourne on a tight budget. The city has a great deal of culture from art galleries, museums, street arts, festivals, markets, parks and gardens, free tours and free transport. You can easily plan a weekend here uncovering the history, culture and secrets of the city without spending too much money.
The following items are suggestions to help you make the most of your time in Melbourne whilst on a restricted budget to see things cheaply or for free.
1. Melbourne City Greeter Service
I have visited Melbourne several times but this is one of the best things I have done on my most recent trip to the city. It was only by sheer coincidence that I was getting information and maps from the helpful staff at the Melbourne Visitor Centre when I was approached and offered a spot on the free Greeter Tour because of a last minute cancellation.
The Melbourne Greeter Tours are free guided tours run by friendly and passionate volunteers who do this because they really do love their city and want to show it off to visitors. The tours run from 2-4 hours and whilst there is general route they take, they are also flexible to the group’s interests.
The visitors in my tour were really interested in street art and laneways and that is what our guide focused on while also showing us the sights of the city. These walks are not professional tours, rather a brief overview of the city and its history. Bookings are required 24 hours in advance, especially if you require a tour in a language other than English. Visit their website for more details and to book a tour.
*If you have a particular interest such as a food or architecture then there are professional tours that you can join to can cater to specific interests.
2. Free City Circle Tram
When people think of Melbourne they also think of its iconic trams. Melbourne is now the only city to still operate trams around the inner city and they are such a convenient way to sightsee and get around the city. Melbourne operates a free city circle tram around the outskirts of the city with stops at various tourist locations.
The recorded audio commentary announces each stop and a brief overview of what you can see at each area. You can easily spend an entire day travelling around the city marvelling at the sights and hopping on and off as you wish. The trams run every twelve minutes between 10am and 6pm with later services on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
3. Federation Square
Location: Swanston St & Flinders St
Credit: City of Melbourne
Federation Square is a striking amphitheatre and meeting place in the centre of the city. The square has a number of cafes and restaurants to people watch and is also home to the National Gallery of Victoria, Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the Ian Potter Centre where you can find many Indigenous artworks and information. Spend hours strolling through the art galleries and learning about local and international artists or watch short films.
On any given day of the week you can come here and find event or free shows happening here. Federation Square is well worth a visit because of its modern architectural design alone. Once you have finished here, you can walk across the road and marvel at the grand old architecture of the Flinders Street Station built in 1910.
4. Self Guided tours of the laneways
One of the things that makes Melbourne so unique is the way that art is celebrated and encouraged by providing artists with a canvas in street laneways. While some of it could be considered graffiti, most artist’s work are incredibly detailed and speak to contemporary social justice issues or celebrates Australian icons and bands.
The street art here is respected and admired by millions that peruse their work everyday in the various laneways around the city. The ever-changing artwork ensures that even local make sure they to visit regularly to check it out before it changes. Banksy has been known to pop up from time to time although there are no current work from him. Grab a map from the visitor centre and start exploring the laneways of Melbourne.
For a cheap day out spend some time exploring the beachside suburb of St. Kilda. Catch the 96 tram from Bourke Street, No. 12 from Collins Street or No. 16 from Swanston Street for an easy 30-minute ride.
Take a stroll along the foreshore and St. Kilda Pier to admire the scenery. Have a swim at the beach, rent a bike from the Melbourne Bike Share or throw a line out and do some fishing off St. Kilda Pier. For a fee you may even rent a stand up paddle board or take a kite surfing lesson if you wish.
You must not miss the European cake shops on Acland St where you can indulge in delicious cakes and desserts or have a very Aussie fish and chips on the beach. St. Kilda is also home to Luna Park– a seaside amusement park. For $2 you pay to enter the park and check out the old rollercoaster and carousel or just take an obligatory selfie at the front entrance for free. If you love live music then pay a visit to the Prince of Wales Hotel on Friday, Saturday or Sunday evenings to see an eclectic mix of live bands and DJ’s perform here as well as great food and company.
Location: 133 Melbourne St, Melbourne
Credit: Rooftop at QT
Melbourne is lucky to have many rooftop bars and most of them have city views. Obviously, you can’t compare the views to what you will see if you pay to visit the Eureka Skydeck but you will likely get a skyline city view. Why not head to a bar for lunch or a cheeky drink and tick of two items of your list. Some notable mentions are: QT Melbourne, Palmz, Emerald Peacock, Rooftop Bar, Bomba and The Red Hummingbird.
7. Melbourne Bike Share
Public bike share schemes are popping up in cities all over the world now and Melbourne is one of the latest to adopt the system. The bike share system allows you to ride for free for 30 minutes- the catch is you have to leave a small deposit on a credit card.
To pay, simply approach a touch pad on each bike dock and follow the directions. You can sign up for a membership or ride casually for a day or a week. This low cost transport option is a great way to cover more ground and see different parts of Melbourne. If you pack a picnic lunch then it really is a cheap day out and a good way to get some exercise and enjoy the fresh air. For more information visit the Melbourne Bike Share website.
8. The State Library and Wheeler Centre
Location: 328 Swanston St, Melbourne
Literary fans will appreciate the ornate buildings that houses over 2 million books, several reading rooms, exhibits, workshops and kids activities. The Wheeler Centre is housed within the state library and holds regular events for writers, artists and publishers.
9.Picnic in the park
Location: Carlton Gardens- 111 Carlton St, Carlton
Melbourne is such a diverse city that perfectly blends the old with the new but there are also several green spaces for locals and tourists to enjoy. You could easily occupy a day strolling through the Royal Botanic Gardens. The gardens are the perfect spot for a picnic in the park. Various events are held here throughout the year so be sure to check out their website.
The garden also runs a daily Aboriginal Heritage Walk highlighting the connection to land, traditional use of plants and a traditional smoking ceremony. Whilst this tour is not free, it is a great way to spend a couple of hours learning about Indigenous Australian culture. The garden is also used from time to time to showcase art in free exhibitions.
Another great place for a picnic in the park is at Carlton Gardens which houses the imposing and grand Royal Exhibition Building. For $10 you can tour the interior of the building and learn the history of the city. Events and exhibits are also held here frequently, however, most of them have an admission fee.
The gardens also house the Melbourne Museum and Melbourne Imax theatre. Again, entry is not free however it is a cheap way to spend an afternoon if you are in the Carlton Gardens.
10. RAAF Museum
Location: Point Cook Rd, Point Cook
The RAAF Museum showcases the Royal Australian Air Force with interactive flying displays and amazing aircraft on display. Australia has the second oldest air force in the world and you can learn about the amazing achievements and stories at this museum. Entry is free and it is open from Tues to Sun from 10am- 3pm on weekdays and 5pm on weekends. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 1pm they fly one of their old aircraft and ask the pilot questions before or after the flight and the experience is completely FREE!
11. Old Treasury Building
Location: 20 Spring St, Melbourne
This grand old building is worth a visit just to see some of Melbourne’s best architecture. The old treasury building houses the offices of many politicians but is now a free museum that is open to the public. A walk around the building will give you a sense of the history and events that took place here. The exhibits often change but there is always something interesting to see that tells the story of Melbourne and Australian history.
One of the permanent exhibitions tells the story of the Victoria Gold Rush where you can see real gold vaults first hand. There are also photographic exhibitions of Melbourne and old historical documents and artefacts on display. If you are interested in history then this is one place that you will enjoy visiting and could easily spend hours browsing. The building is open Sunday to Friday from 10am- 4pm.
12. Free Live Music
Melbourne has a thriving live music scene with various pubs and bars welcoming bands to their venues because they know it bring the people. On any given night whether it is a weekday or a weekend there is always somewhere to catch a live band. The following venues are our picks based on reviews we’ve received: The Curtin, Prince of Wales Hotel- St Kilda, Grace Darling Hotel, The Workers Club, Retreat Hotel, Yarra Hotel and The Reverence Hotel.