This week I have mostly been in Melbourne.
When I last visited Australia some fifteen years ago, Melbourne wasn’t much visited by international travellers; in truth, it sounded a little dull.
Meanwhile Melbourne’s reputation has come on in leaps and bounds, and it is now the second most visited city in Australia (after Sydney). It has been consistently voted one of the world’s most liveable cities and it is easy to see why. There is an abundance of green spaces and an excellent public transport system. Let’s just not mention the somewhat unpredictable weather.
By the time I got to Melbourne I was getting very low on money. With that in mind, here are the things that I found to do, which all work well for people on a limited budget.
Go to St Kilda
My Airbnb was close to St Kilda Junction, just a ten minute walk from the beach and a fifteen minute tram ride to the centre.
The trouble with staying in St Kilda, somebody said to me, is that the temptation is to spend all your time there and never venture into other parts of the city. He had a point, since there are a lot of things to discover there.
St Kilda has a lot of restaurants and bars and a few backpacker hostels. It has a few odd/eccentric characters wandering around. Expect an alternative/bohemian crowd, mixed in with some ‘young professionals’, some backpackers and a few homeless.
St Kilda is the place to spot the elusive fairy penguins. If you go to the end of the pier at dusk (dawn supposedly works too) you may be lucky enough to catch them waddling about. I saw a couple of babies hanging out under a rock, but there were so many tourists there with their cameras at the ready (myself included), and so few penguins, that it didn’t seem worth it.
If you’re really keen to spot them then Philip Island, available as a boat trip, is a better bet. However I didn’t have the time or the money to take a boat trip.
St Kilda is also home to Luna park, a small, old-fashioned amusement park.
Plus you can always time your visit to hit one of the many markets or festivals.
Cost: free! just food and drink.
Go to Brighton Beach.
A bit further on than St Kilda is Brighton. It has these wonderful coloured beach huts.
Melbourne isn’t renown for its great beaches; unlike Sydney, you have to travel a lot further out of town to get to a great beach here. The water can be a bit cold and sometimes it’s not that clean. However there is a superb pathway all around the beach with great views, ideal for either walking or biking.
Go track down some street art.
There is plenty to chose from in Melbourne. The city has many ‘legal’ graffiti walls, where literally anyone can grab a can of paint and have a go.
Hosier Lane is the most well known, but gets overrun by tourists and is incredibly crowded at all times. Other great examples of street art can be found all over town; the tourist office have maps, but there is quite a lot and I preferred to just walk around and see what I discovered.
You can see some free art at the National gallery too. The special exhibitions have to be paid for but the permanent collections are free.
Go wander along the Southbank.
The area is full of shops, food stalls and little malls.
Here’s a Melbourne fact: it was almost named Batmania, after John Batman, a founding father of the city. In the end they decide to name it after British Prime Minister Lord Melbourne.
Cost: free! (as long as you’re not tempted by the outlet stores over near the Docklands)
Visit Burke Street.
You can sit and listen to some of the many buskers. Buskers have to audition in front of the city council, so standards are normally high.
Cost: You should give money if you sit and listen or certainly if you take any photos. But free for the shameless.
Melbourne has the oldest Chinatown in the Southern hemisphere (although bear in mind that only ten percent of the world’s population lives in the Southern hemisphere, so when they say ‘the biggest/oldest xxx in the southern hemisphere’, it’s not always much of a boast).
Melbourne fact: some people like to say that Melbourne’s Chinatown is the oldest in the world. Really that’s calling in a technicality; San Fransisco is much older but has been rebuilt following an earthquake.
Melbourne is not cheap. ‘Australia’s most liveable city’ does not come at bargain basement prices. Going through some slight cash-flow issues whilst here, I set myself a budget of £20 (US$25/AUS$33) a day (not including accommodation obviously). I failed miserably. I adjusted it to £30 US$37/Aus$50) and struggled to keep to that. It helps that I’m not a great party animal and prefer to relax with a movie online, or I take a hobby with me (my ukulele or a craft project) to unwind at the end of the day. I’m also not a great fan of shopping, so that helps too. If you are keen on nightlife and/or shopping, then make sure you budget accordingly.