As the second largest city in Australia, Melbourne is a modern metropolitan hub: you can spend a little or you can spend a lot. The city’s peak season is between November and March (Summer), therefore the accommodation prices and number of visitors, rises in those months. Visiting Australia can be costly due to its size, but your time in Melbourne can be done cheap. Here’s how.
1. Use public transport: the free tram zone.
Getting around Melbourne can be easy and cheap. The tram network in Melbourne spreads to the outer suburbs, however, each line travels through the Central Business District (CBD), the heart of the city. Within the CBD, taking a tram is a payless transaction, you simply step on and step off. Each stop has a network map for information, and will also have clear signage to notify passengers whether they are in the “free tram zone.” You also have the option of riding on Melbourne’s historic “City Circle” tram line. Also free, these dark brown and yellow trams may be a few decades older, but their route was designed to stop at most of the major tourist attractions.
Melbourne is a sprawling city, but a majority of the sightseeing locations are in the city center along the Yarra River. Walking along the Yarra is a common route for locals and visitors. The foot traffic in the city can be congested during peak hours, however, the distance between the outer rims of the CBD are only 2-3 kilometers (30-45 minutes walking). Traveling as a pedestrian increases your ability to see all of Melbourne’s various outdoor art spaces, gardens, alleyway cafes, or bars, and it’s also free!
3. Learn where to get the cheap food and the cheap booze.
Being a local helps you eventually find the reasonably priced places for weekly specials, but coming into the city as a guest often means you end up at the tourist spots — or worse, McDonald’s. Take a short tram ride out of the CBD and you can find some fantastic deals and feel like a Melburnian. Here are a few:
Bimbo Deluxe — One of the many north side hipster venues, at Bimbo’s you’ll find an amazing $4 pizza menu with an array of tapped beer specials to accompany your slice. It is a comforting environment of lounge couches, deep armchairs, dim lighting, and an old twin cabin plane in the corner for the DJ booth. After your slice, cue up to pool table (pun intended), or slot some coins into their vintage arcade selection.
Asian Beer Cafe — Every Melbourne resident knows of this spot on the second level of the Melbourne Central Plaza: this modern Asian anime-influenced club/bar/restaurant is a popular meeting spot with drink specials every night. ABC’s regular busy nights include Ladies Nights on Thursdays and two-for-one cocktails on Friday afternoons. Get out to the deck and you’ll find a fantastic view of Melbourne’s historic public library.
Lentil as Anything! — This restaurant and community deli encourages an environment of sharing and caring. Eat as much as you’d like, and pay what you see fit to their contribution box at the end. This widely popular venue hires volunteers and the long-term unemployed, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner — and yes — it’s pro-vegan and vegetarian.
4. Free festivals!
Melbourne has many events throughout the year, most of which require a base fee ticket which gets you in. While you’re planning your trip, consider visiting during these amazing free festivals instead.
White Night — Usually in February, this is a city-wide art festival where domestic and international artists create incredible light and color spaces projected onto various iconic Melbourne buildings and throughout major public spaces. Walk amongst the city with thousands of other locals and visitors to see what you can find!
St. Kilda Music Festival — Also in February (summertime), if you make your way south of Melbourne to St.Kilda, the popular tourist area, your trip may align with this huge music festival. Thousands of festival-goers wander between the different stages and market stalls, all to end up on the esplanade main stage at night, where they join in dance for the final acts. The city council has tried to shut down this free festival a number times, but it has been unsuccessful due to its widely popular promotion of Australian artists.