Everything you need to see, do, and eat in Melbourne — for cheap!
Melbourne can feel hip and pricey at first glance, but this Aussie gem has a ton going on for backpackers, too. We enjoyed some of the highlights of Melbourne’s food, coffee, and live entertainment scenes for just US$102 per day (for the two of us).
In Western cities like Melbourne our first step is always Googling “best cheap eats in X.” We’ll then save all the top recommendations from sites like Time Out on Google Maps (check out Alex’s top travel apps here), so that we can grab a cheap bite no matter where we find ourselves in the city. Here are some of our favorite meals:
- Bimbo Deluxe: Dank pizzas for just $4. FOUR DOLLARS! That’s a whole personal pizza for less than a cup of coffee!!! The deal is technically only during certain hours, but the “certain hours” are basically all of them except dinnertime on weekends.
- Mamak: Malaysian food that’s not quite as cheap as Malaysia but still pretty delish. Check out the dosas for a super-cheap, light bite.
- Southbank: The Southbank, with its swanky cocktail bars and semi-fancy restaurants, is definitely more upscale than some areas of Melbourne, but there are still some great happy hour deals to be found. If you’re on a budget, stick to a few snacks for the table and a happy hour cocktail while you soak in the atmosphere and people-watch.
- Brunch on Hardware Lane: Melbourne is almost as serious about brunch as NYC is. Hardware Lane has a ton of options, so you can peruse the menus before choosing a place. We ate at a restaurant called Vons, and I got in and out for only AUD$13. Avoid the cocktails and coffee drinks, and brunch doesn’t have to break the bank — especially since tax and tip are included in the prices in Australia.
- Eat in: We had some great home-cooked meals in Australia, especially when we were in Melbourne and visiting our friend Amy. One night she and her roomies had a dumpling party and all we had to pay for was some wine to share. For cheap produce, check out the green markets inside — of all places — shopping malls. We found them in several malls across Oz with good prices.
We did all of our sightseeing in Melbourne for absolutely free. While Australia as a whole gets a rep for being very expensive, which is certainly true of the various excursions and adventure sports, there are actually a ton of great free things to do in the big cities.
- Fed Square: We were in Melbourne during their annual comedy festival, which included a few free shows at Fed Square. But even if there aren’t any big festivals going on while you’re visiting, there are tons of free shows and activities in Fed Square.
- NGV Australia: Located right at Fed Square, this half of the National Gallery of Victoria houses the museum’s Australia collection. Especially check out the aboriginal art and the contemporary art. Both are fantastic.
- The Australian Centre for the Moving Image: We didn’t have time to check out this other museum in Fed Square, but we heard great things. If you’re interested in film, definitely make time for this museum.
- Shrine of Remembrance: This ANZAC memorial houses a free museum in the basement, and is absolutely worth a couple hours of your time. I had no idea how little I knew about Australia’s involvement in international wars from WWI to Afghanistan.
- Royal Botanic Gardens: Just across the street from the Shrine of Remembrance, the Royal Botanic Gardens are a nice spot to aimlessly wander. It doesn’t feel as carefully groomed (or some might say contrived) as other gardens we’ve visited, but is still gorgeous with good information.
- NGV International: This half of the NGV houses the museum’s international collection, including some amazing Asian art galleries and 15th-17th century European works. If that sounds overdone to you, check out some of the free special exhibitions (though they aren’t all free). These tend to have a more interesting angle, like the exhibition “Blue,” which featured textiles and ceramics from around the world and focused on the chemical processes and symbolic meanings surrounding the color blue.
- Wander Fitzroy: Fitzroy is sort of like the Brooklyn of Melbourne, with tons of cafes, nightlife, and natural/organic/vintage shops. It’s also near Lygon Street, which is Melbourne’s Little Italy.
There are a ton of hostels in Melbourne, but they tend to be huddled together in the CBD, where you’ll struggle to find as many cheap food and drink options. Instead, we opted to rent a room in a shared house on AirBnB in North Carlton (about 15 mins from the CBD by tram or a 30-45 minute walk). We paid just under US$50 per night. Don’t forget to use our referral link for a free $20 travel credit!
Melbourne has a great public transit network, and if you’re in or near the CBD, you can stick almost exclusively to the trams. Within the CBD, trams are free, so it’s a breeze to just hop on and off. Outside the CBD, trips are charged based on distance — usually AUD$2-3 per trip — with a daily max of $8 on a weekday, or $6 on weekends and holidays. Depending on how many of you there are and how far you’re going, Uber can be a cheaper option than the trams (it usually requires 3 or more people to break even). Be sure to factor in transportation costs when deciding whether to stay in the CBD or further outside the center. Don’t forget to use our referral code CT86E to get your first Uber ride free!
Travel to and from the airport in Melbourne — as with many cities — is a huge ripoff. The 20-minute Skybus ride costs a whopping AUD$38 per person roundtrip, which is highway robbery (pun intended!) if you ask me. Before shelling out the cash, consider checking Uber to compare costs (especially if traveling in a group). Uber prices will fluctuate based on traffic, so it’s worth noting that the return bus trip is the same price whether you purchase it at the same time or later. You can take the bus into the city if you arrive during rush hour, and then decide later if you want to take the bus back (when your mind isn’t addled by overnight travel as ours were).
Our 4-day Melbourne itinerary
Day 1: Fed Square & CBD
On arrival, walk the CBD to get your bearings and head to Fed Square to see the NGV Australia and/or the ACMI. Check out the listings for upcoming events at Fed Square and stick around if there’s anything worth seeing. In the later afternoon or evening, walk over to the Southbank for happy hour. If you’re interested in nightlife, check out the Crown Casino.
Day 2: Southbank Sightseeing
The NGV International, Shrine of Remembrance, and Royal Botanic Gardens make for a full but doable day. Start at the Shrine of Remembrance, enjoy a picnic lunch at the Botanic Gardens, and then head back toward the CBD, stopping at the NGV. Note: This day may require large quantities of caffeine.
Day 3: Lygon & Fitzroy
If you’re staying outside the CBD, walking from the cute little shops of Carlton North, through Carlton and Lygon Street, and on to Fitzroy can be a really nice way to spend a morning in and of itself. Once you reach Fitzroy, you basically have to get a pricey coffee and peruse the vintage shops. Make an evening of it if you’re into nightlife, as Fitzroy has tons of cool bars.
Day 4: Wildcard day
If you don’t have more time in Victoria, a day trip to the surrounding beaches is practically obligatory. Otherwise, there are tons of other interesting things to see and do depending on your interests. Sports enthusiasts, check out tours of the Melbourne Cricket Ground or an Australian Football match. Shopping more your speed? Everything around Elizabeth St & Bourke St is basically one enormous outdoor shopping mall.
Have you been to Melbourne? How’d your budget go? Anything you loved that we missed?