Planning a trip to Melbourne but need to do it on a budget? It is possible to have a stylish getaway to Melbourne on a budget!
To help you plan your budget-friendly trip to Melbourne, I’ve put together this guide on how you can get luxe-for-less based on my own experiences living and travelling to Melbourne. After all, a local does know those secret spots that will get you the best bang for your buck. 😉
- 1 How to get into and around Melbourne
- 2 Luxe on a Budget Accommodation in Melbourne
- 3 Cheap Eats in Melbourne
- 4 Cheap drinks in Melbourne
- 5 The 9 Best Free Things to do in Melbourne
How to get into and around Melbourne
Getting to Melbourne from the Airport:
By far the easiest and cheapest way to get from Melbourne Tullamarine Airport (MEL) to the city centre is with SkyBus.
The SkyBus runs regular service to the CBD (Southern Cross Station), St Kilda, and Frankston.
The CBD station is open 24-7 and being situated at Southern Cross Station makes it easy for you to connect onto a metropolitan or V/Line train, the cities trams, or even a taxi to get to where you need to know.
If you are staying in the CBD, be sure to take advantage of their free hotel drop-off service! Just ask at the kiosk next to the SkyBus drop-off zone in Southern Cross Station.
Getting around Melbourne:
Melbourne is an easy city to navigate with its streets arranged in an organised grid-like layout and the whole city is relatively flat. This makes it perfect for walking or cycling, or even taken the free trams!
Did you know that trams in Melbourne’s city centre are free?! That’s right! Just hop on and go.
For a more scenic take on the CBD, take the free Melbourne Circle Line (pictured above). The loop passes by some of the cities most popular sites with commentary along the way. Be fast to get a seat as it fills up!
If you are heading outside the CBD area, be sure to pick up a myki Explorer pack. For $15 the pack comes with a myki (public transport) card pre-loaded with $9 credit, a map of the public transport networks, discounts and offers, and a souvenir wallet to store all of it in. You can pick these up at the Melbourne Visitor Centre in Federation Square, SkyBus terminal at Melbourne Airport or Southern Cross Station, and many hotels around the city.
I prefer the yellow oBikes. I don’t need to worry about finding a docking system and can just ride wherever my heart desires.
Important: make sure you wear the supplied helmets or pick up a fresh one at any 7-11 store as it is a law to wear a helmet while riding a bike in Australia.
Luxe on a Budget Accommodation in Melbourne
While people will flock to be close to Flinders Street Station and Federation Square, I recommend friends to head a little further north to find great accommodation in Melbourne on a budget.
Space Hotel is located on the corner of Russell and Lygon Street, just a short walk into the city centre and an even shorter walk to the bustling strip along Lygon Street, better known as Melbourne’s Little Italy.
Many people know Space Hotel as a hostel, but they are also a budget boutique hotel. The property has a range of private rooms complete with private en-suite. Some even have a bathtub or balcony that has views over Melbourne’s CBD!
The rooms are functional, comfortable and well-maintained, with everything you could possibly need to have a great stay. This means prices are kept low but you don’t compromise on any of the hotel room essentials you may be seeking to make the most of your vacay.
The hotel is well equipped. With a gym (Fitness Space), cinema room (Movie Space), kitchen, and rooftop jacuzzi on the Space Deck; there’s no chance you’ll run out of things to do!
If you want to explore St Kilda, Space Hotel offers daily complimentary transfers.
Best of all, if you book your accommodation through the Space Hotel website you’ll receive free WiFi and a complimentary drink on arrival; bargain!
If you have a bit more money to spend on boutique accommodation in Melbourne or are looking for something a little quirkier, be sure to check out QT Melbourne.
Cheap Eats in Melbourne
Melbourne is known as a food lovers dream! While we may be home to two of the World’s Top 50 Restaurants, you can also find delicious eats that will meet any budget!
My top picks include:
- Bimbo Deluxe – A little further afield in Brunswick, this pub offers $4 pizzas. Also, visit their sister Lucky Coq in Prahran for the same great pizzas and drinks!
- Burger Project – famous food doesn’t have to be expensive! Created by celebrity chef Neil Perry, these burgers are all about fresh and homemade ingredients using 100% Aussie beef or chicken.
- Don Don – popular with students and those in a rush; They serve up Japanese curry bowls en mass. Find them near Melbourne Central and Southbank.
- Ferdydurke – Polish hot dogs served up in a space that just screams ‘Melbourne’? Count me in!
- Goz City – Generous sized Turkish Gozemeles to fill you up!
- ShanDong MaMa – Tucked into a Melbourne arcade, you’ll discover what is arguably some of Melbourne’s best Chinese food. If you like seafood, this is the place to come!
- Shanghai Village – cheap, cheerful Chinese food in Chinatown in a restaurant that feels like you are being teleported to Hong Kong. I recommend the Chilli Oil Dumplings and Turnip Cake!
- Shujinko – flavoursome Japanese ramen open 27/7. Highly recommend coming as a late night snack or during the day.
- Soi 38 – the best cheap Thai in the city bringing the taste of Bangkok’s street food to Melbourne. Try the Thai Boat Noodles, but comfort eats like Pad Thai are also on the menu.
- Wonderbao – serving up traditional steamed ‘bao’ (buns), you’ll be going back for round two of these cheap yet delicious eats!
Cheap drinks in Melbourne
- Asian Beer Cafe – one of Melbourne’s quirky themed bars in Melbourne Central. Come for the happy hour and cheap pints!
- Cabinet Bar & Balcony – Parisian-styled bar tucked behind Swanston Street serving up well-priced drinks and tapas.
- Emerald Peacock – Relax amid velvet seats and chandeliers, or on the rooftop terrace, with one of the houses creative cocktails.
- Father’s Office – A quirky Speakeasy bar and restaurant with an eclectic 1920s setting. Known for their American eats and prohibition era-style cocktails.
- Honey Bar – get out of the CBD and head to the stylish Honey Bar in South Melbourne. They have a great list of beers and wine at an affordable price.
- Island Somewhere – Hidden behind Queen Victoria Market, this little gem focuses on local craft beer, Australian spirits and quirky seasonable cocktails. There may also be a hidden staircase inside…
- Ponyfish Island – situated in the middle of the Yarra River between Flinders Street Station and Southbank, this popular bar and eatery have cheap drinks and a unique perspective of the city you can’t experience anywhere else.
- Section 8 – sip inexpensive drinks while sitting on packing palettes after being served from a shipping container down a laneway (Tattersall Lane) surrounded by graffiti-covered walls while a DJ spins. You can’t get more Melbourne than Section 8!
The 9 Best Free Things to do in Melbourne
If you are visiting Melbourne on a budget you can still have a good time! Here are nine free (or almost free) activities to get you started!
Take a ride on the City Circle Tram
Trams are an important part of local Melburnians lives with the networking stretching across the city and metropolitan areas. Route 35, also known as the free City Circle Tram, is a perfect way to see the sights of Melbourne. There’s audio commentary on board that reveals the attractions at each stop, and interesting facts along the way.
The trams operating on this route are historical W-class trams and run around the fringes of the city.
Insider tip: ALL trams in Melbourne’s city centre are FREE! How’s that for helping you get around Melbourne on a budget?!!
Explore Melbourne’s street art scene
Melbourne isn’t Australia’s cultural capital without good reason, but we are one of the few cities in the world that encourages and cultivates the street art movement. Here are some places to discover Melbourne’s best street art:
- Hosier Lane – the most easily accessible laneway for street art in Melbourne, Hosier Lane is opposite Federation Square. Long known as the centre of Melbourne’s street art, almost every surface of the laneway is covered with art. Be sure to stop at Good2Go Coffee to pick up a coffee from this social enterprise training homeless youth for careers.
- AC/DC Lane – named in 2004 as a tribute to the Australian rock band, the street features traditional art alongside street art, often with music themes. Popular with rock stars visiting town and live music artists, be sure to stop by Cherry Bar to rock out!
- Centre Place – Known for its high-profile and elaborate stencil work, Centre Place is accessible between Collins Street and Flinders Lane.
- Caledonian Lane – A tiny laneway off Lonsdale Street near Swanston, this is the laneway that inspired the global St Jerome’s Laneway (festival). While the laneway has changed since then, it is still covered in colourful street art.
- Croft Alley – best known for the quirky laneway bar, Croft Institute; Croft Alley is a worthy destination to visit while you are in Chinatown for ever-changing art.
- Duckboard Place – known for several significant murals, you can also find a few restaurants down Duckboard Place.
- Rankins Lane – around the corner from Bourke Street Mall, this narrow laneway is brimming with colourful street art.
Visit the free Museums & Galleries
Melbourne isn’t Australia’s cultural capital without good reason! Melbourne is home to dozens of galleries ranging inside from the big National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) too much smaller – but still worthy of a visit – galleries like Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) or Sutton Gallery (Brunswick).
What many people don’t realise is that many of Melbourne’s museums and galleries are free. That’s right: FREE!
The NGV does have a paid ‘blockbuster’ each season, but the rest of their collection, including the totally Instagrammable Mass (2017) by Ron Mueck, inspired by the complex biological structure of the human skull, that the gallery recently acquired are part of that collection.
The NGV is broken into two areas: the NGV International on St Kilda Road which houses – aptly – the collections from Europe, Asia, Oceania and America, and hosts free tours, tours and programs for kids; and the NGV Australia – better known as The Ian Potter Centre – in Federation Square, which houses Australian Indigenous and non-indigenous art from the Colonial period to the present day.
While you are in Federation Square, be sure to check out Australian Centre of the Moving Image (AMCI). They have a free permanent exhibition called ‘Screen Worlds’ which tells the ever-evolving story of the moving image and features props, objects, and memorabilia used in Australian film and TV.
Melbourne’s museums and galleries are the perfect locations for those visiting Melbourne on a budget to while away a few hours looking at incredible works, especially on those days when the weather is being temperamental!
Wander the Laneways and Arcades
Melbourne’s laneways hold many secrets and it’s not just bright coloured street art. Get your shoes on and get exploring the cobbled streets, intersections and intricately decorated arcades.
- Degraves Street – Connecting Flinders Lane and Flinders Street, Degraves Street is one of the most photogenic laneways in Melbourne giving a real Parisian feel. Come for the coffee, to browse the trendy boutiques, or to soak up the laneway culture that Melbourne is famous for.
- Block Arcade – arguably the most beautiful arcade in Melbourne, Block Arcade opened in 1892 and is styled with Renaissance style architecture. While luxury brands take up most of the shops, Hopetoun Tea Rooms are famous among locals as one of the cities best afternoon tea venues and very reasonably priced.
- Hardware Lane – this laneway is known for its leafy European feel and plenty of places to eat from budget-friendly to elegant dining experience. Be sure to stop by Campari House to enjoy Italian fare and a rooftop bar!
- Royal Arcade – taking the title as Melbourne’s oldest arcade (it was built in 1870!), Royal Arcade is slightly trendier than sister Block Arcade. While you are there be sure to spot its famous residents, Gog and Magog, who guard the Gaunt clock above the Little Collins Street entrance and ring their bells to mark the hour. I like to stop by the tiny Caffe E Torta (‘coffee and cake’ in Italian!) for a delicious coffee.
Check out the public sculptures
There is art around every corner in Melbourne, and if sculpture is your thing you are sure to be pleased with the diversity offered across the city.
- The works of Deborah Halpern – one of Australia’s most celebrated sculptors. She’s known for her striking and colourful mosaic sculptures. You can find three of her sculptures in Melbourne including Angel (1987) at Birrarung Marr, Ophelia (1992) at Southgate, and Portal to Another Time and Place (2005) at Werribee Mansion.
- Petrus Spronk – in the plaza outside the State Library of Victoria you’ll find the Architectural Fragment (1992); crafted from the same bluestone that the streets were constructed, the sculpture rises from the ground waiting for the rest of its mass to be uncovered. When you stop to admire it watch out for the skateboarders who like to hone their skills off the angles of it.
- Crown Hotels Gas Brigades Fire Show – okay, so not quite a ‘art sculpture’ but they are impressive and accessible for those who have a small pyro-streak within them. The unsuspecting pillars along Melbourne’s Southbank, outside Crown Casino hides a secret. They shoot the world’s largest fireballs into the night sky on the hour every hour every night of the year.
You can find a free tour by WalkingMaps which covers many more of Melbourne’s sculptures, including the best walking trail.
To Market, To Market
I’m a sucker for a good market and Melbourne has some of the best in the world!
Whether you are seeking cheap eats, to browse the stalls for a gift or souvenir, or to pick up some fresh produce; these three Melbourne markets are distinctly different.
- Queen Victoria Market – if you are in Melbourne on a budget than most people will tell you to head to the famed Queen Victoria Market. Their produce is arguably some of the cheapest in Melbourne, but it’s in their Dairy Hall where you will find the bargains. My pick is the Polish Wurst or Turkish Börek, thin flaky pastry filled with meat or cheese & spinach. There’s also plenty of samples to snack on; I can’t resist!
Being the closest market to the city, there are a lot of tourist souvenirs for cheap so look out for them!
- Prahran Market – a little more upscale than the other two markets but still filled with bargains, the Prahran Market is known for high-quality produce and meats. Stop to enjoy some dessert at 192below or take in a free market tour twice a month. I really enjoy visiting on Sunday to enjoy a coffee and the latest performer on stage as part of Live Music Sundays.
- South Melbourne Market – this is my personal favourite! The boutique local designers in the So:Me space are a little pricey but make for a great personal souvenir if you want to splurge, but the real bargains can be found if you head to the famous South Melbourne Market Dim Sims stall for huge dim sums for only a couple of dollars before heading inside for cheap fresh produce. My favourite thing to do is to head to Koy for a massive Turkish Gozemele ($12). Pair with a coffee or fresh juice and you have a great lunch!
Top tip: if you come on a Sunday between 3:00-4:00 pm you’ll be able to grab a heap of bargains because stall holders will be trying to clear produce, baked goods, and even flowers!
Get a Great View Without Paying a Cent
While I am a big fan of heading up to the Eureka Skydeck for an incredible view of Melbourne, there are other ways that you can get really good views of Melbourne on a budget.
Here are three ways for every type of budget:
- Shrine of Remembrance – located next to the Botanic Gardens of Victoria, the Shrine of Remembrance is the Victorian state memorial to Australians who have served in war and peacekeeping operations.
More than just that though I believe the Shrine of Remembrance has one of the best views of Melbourne’s skyline. Walk up the staircase and get views straight down St Kilda Road into the heart of the city. For those who want to get higher, you can view the city vistas from the balcony.
Visiting the Shrine is free, including access to the Galleries of Remembrance which houses over 800 artworks, historical artifacts and personal effects.
- Rooftop Bars – Australians love a cheeky drink, so indulge in our past time, make some new friends and head to a bar; but not just any bar. Melbourne is home to dozens of rooftop bars which can give you access to beautiful views of the city for the price of a cost of a cocktail; I can do that!
- Rooftop Bar – The original, and still one of the best, it’s one of the few bars in Melbourne where you can find 360-degree city views. Best enjoyed with friends or during summer when they host their rooftop cinema.
- Madame Brussels – one of the cities most iconic rooftop bars in Melbourne and one of the quirkiest! Think garden party theme with plenty of AstroTurf, picnic-food, and big jugs of cocktails to share. There’s a reason Melburnians flock here come summer!
- Naked in the Sky – located just outside the city in fashionable Fitzroy, you can get pintxos downstairs at Naked for Satan and panoramic views upstairs of the city, Fitzroy, and beyond from the bar. Try their Spanish cava to really get in the spirit!
- Vue de monde – Arguably one of the most fashionable – and most expensive places – to dine in Melbourne, Vue de Monde is an incredible place to visit for a fine dining experience in Melbourne. Their Lui Bar, set next to the restaurant, is far more affordable offering a light counter menu and cocktails while still offers that sophisticated elegance a night on the town deserves – and that incredible skyline view. I highly recommend making a booking if you want to stop by on the weekend.
Visit the Beaches
Australia is all about beaches and in Melbourne they’re super simple to get to!
Whether you choose to stroll along it, sunbathing, swimming, or simply taking a ride on a bicycle (did you see the tips I gave above about biking in Melbourne?), there’s a Melbourne beach that’s bound to please you.
The best beaches to visit in Melbourne include;
- St Kilda Beach – located just outside the city and easily accessible by tram, St Kilda is the beach-side playground of Melburnians. Acland Street teems with restaurants, cafes, and restaurants. There are also a few LGBTQ friendly bars. Don’t forget to take in a show at the heritage listed Forum Theatre or go for a ride at Luna Park.
- Brighton Beach – known for its colourful bathing boxes, the short trip to Brighton Beach will leave you smiling from ear to ear!
- Albert Park Beach – let me be frank: St Kilda beach is pretty touristy. If you want to escape the crowds and go for a more local vibe, head to Albert Park or South Melbourne beach; they’re both right next door to each other. Accessible by the number 1 tram, you can get eats and drinks at beachfront Doc Pizza & Mozzarella Bar or anywhere along Victoria Avenue.
- Black Rock Beach – located in the suburb of Black Rock, just past Sandringham, this isn’t the most accessible beach by public transport but it is one of the most photogenic with its white sand beach that wraps around the bay. You can also pop down to Red Bluff and Half Moon Beach (a little closer to Sandringham) which views of the protected HMVS Cerberus shipwreck.
Read this next: How to get to the Brighton Bathing Boxes!
Get your giggle on
I’m going to let you in on my biggest tip if you want great entertainment in Melbourne on a budget, so uh, let’s keep it a secret, okay?
Head to Easey Street Concert Hall’s Facebook page and ‘like’ them. Make sure your notifications are on because when there are preview acts of shows, most commonly comedians, you’ll get notified and may be in with a chance to get some free tickets. This is best between September – March when comedians host trial shows to test the new material they’re writing for shows at the Adelaide Fringe Festival or Melbourne International Comedy Festival, but throughout the year shows will pop-up. There have even been a few screenings for new TV shows as well!
Through this, I’ve seen big name local acts like Tommy Little, Lehmo, Dilruk Jayasinha and Claire Hooper perform for free.
Missed out? You can try asking at the door at show time but it’s not guaranteed there will be seats available.
If you miss out, you can head across the street to Easey’s for a burger and beer. You can’t miss it. It’s on the ground floor of the building with train carriages on the rooftop!
Travelling to Melbourne? These posts will help you plan your trip:
9 of the Best Road Trips from Melbourne
I was invited to a Media event at Space Hotels which included an overnight stay.
Be sure to book a balcony en-suite room (some include baths!) as
the standard en-suite rooms were a bit on the small side.
The photos of Space Hotel are owned by the property.
All thoughts, opinions, and research conducted – especially eats – are, as always, my own.