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Australia's second largest city is a delight to visit, for sure, with highlights including the National Gallery of Victoria, the Melbourne Museum, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Laneways, and Federation Square. But among some it also has a reputation for being on the expensive side. I wanted to visit, but was skeptical as to whether I could pull it off on a budget. But I gave it a go, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that it wasn't so difficult after all. So I decided to put together a little guide, based on personal experience, on how to do Melbourne on the cheap. Enjoy!
Did you know that the well developed tram system in the CBD (Central Business District) and Docklands - where many of the sights, hotels, and dining are located - won’t cost you even a single penny?
Another popular way to get around Melbourne, and apart from renting your own, there are two public bicycle-share options: the blue Melbourne Bike (which need to be docked) and the yellow oBikes (dockless, which makes it preferable in my opinion). And keep in mind that you may be ticketed for not wearing a helmet while riding a bike.
For the most part, saving on lodging locally requires a little bit of tradeoff; I recommend aiming for areas a bit out of the center, such as the north of Melbourne, to get the best decent-quality deals. Here are several suggestions, both central and otherwise.
Hotel Claremont: Stylish rooms in an 1886 Victorian manse starting at just 28 USD per night, located on Toorak Road near South Yarra train station, and a four-minute drive from the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Elizabeth Hostel: If you really want to stay int he heart of the CBD, this simple but clean hostel may be the ticket, with dorm rates from 20 USD and private rooms also available.
Base Backpackers: Probably your cheapest option in Melbourne (from 15 USD per night), with lots of daytime activities and a pumping bar, is located in the hip suburb of St. Kilda Beach, a 45-minute public-transit ride south of the CBD.
Star Hotel: Particularly good for solo travelers, this one is just a ten-minute walk from Melbourne Central Station.
You can find more places to fit your budget at DestinationsTravelHub.com.
Butchers Diner: Fairly new but with a 70s-retro feel, this spot on Bourke Street in the CBD is open 24/7 and has a meat-centric menu including burgers from 9 USD, a pair of meat skewers from 7 USD, and a number of interesting options like Japanese fried chicken (though a bit pricier at 12 USD).
Bimbo Deluxe: The burgers, salads, and snacks here (popcorn cauliflower, anyone?) are all good at this funky spot in Fitzroy, a short hop northeast of the CBD, but the star of the show is the good size choice of tasty personal size pizzas for $5 (3.25 USD) all day, every day.
Shanghai Village: Centrally located in the CBD's historic Chinatown (established in the 1850s, the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere), this fun, buzzing spot is especially known for its tasty and affordable dumplings.
Burger Project: Run by celebrity chef Neil Perry, this is another affordable favorite, with two hip central locations, which specializes in fresh, sustainably sourced beef and chicken, with a menu of 13 burgers (including the signature double cheeseburger with medium rare patties and a spicy fried chicken katsu burger) starting at $10 (6.50USD).
Sights and Activities for Little or Nothing
Beautiful Architecture: Melbourne is known for having Australia's largest collection of preserved Victorian-era buildings, with examples including the State Library, Parliament House, the Town Hall, the General Post Office, the Royal Exhibition Building, and the Queen Victoria Market (see below), as well as various mansions of wealhy 19th-century Melburnians. There are plenty of noteworthy buildings from the 20th and 21st centuries, as well, of course, including Art Deco (such as the Shrine of Remembrance) and contemporary (such as Federation Square). You can get a pamphlet and guide yourself, or see some of it on a free tour such as those conducted by I'm Free Walking Tours.
National Gallery of Victoria: Australia's oldest, largest, and most visited art museum has two locations, on St. Kilda Road in Southbank's Melbourne Arts Precinct, and another at Federation Square. Charging no admission, it's a great place to learn about historic and contemporary Aussie art, and has an excellent Asian collection, as well.
Queen Victoria Market: Established in the late 1860s and open five days a week, this classic covered market is a great place for local color, with food stalls, eateries, and bars, as well as dry goods including clothing, shoes, jewelry, and handicrafts. There's even live entertainment on summer evenings.
Royal Botanic Gardens: Founded in 1846 on the south side of the Yarra River, this 38-hectare (94-acre) spread is home to more than 10,000 species of flora, both native and international, and admission is free.
Circle City Tram: A fleet of vintage hop-on/hop-off trams circulates through the CBD's La Trobe, Flinders, Spring, Nicholson and Victoria Streets, with audio commentary about attractions at each stop as well as interesting facts about the city in general.
Free Entertainment: A number of bars offer free music and other performances, with examples including rock shows at Cherry Bar on ACDC Lane and The Esplanade in St. Kilda. My favorite on my visit was Spleen Bar on Bourke Street, which on Monday evenings hosts some of the best comedians in the country; the entry is free and I laughed till my stomach hurt. .
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