Things to do in Melbourne when you’re broke

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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.

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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

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The end of the pier at St Kilda, where you find the fairy penguins (if you have a lot of patience)

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.

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A fairy penguin?

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.

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Free entry, just pay for rides.

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.

Cost: free!

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.

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This was up near the university.  Trump with devil horns.

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This was in St Kilda

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.

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This is the Hockney exhibition and doesn’t classify as free art, (cost: AUS$25) but very good all the same.

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Banksy wasn’t free either, but I enjoyed it

Go wander along the Southbank.

The area is full of shops, food stalls and little malls.

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Docklands

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street art

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.

Visit Chinatown.

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Here’s a fact about Melbourne: if you are intending to drive through the city, they have these weird ‘hook turns’, where you have to go in the left hand lane in order to turn right.  Yet another reason why I don’t drive these days…

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.


Note:

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.

20 replies »

  1. Hello Sarah
    Well Melbourne looks rather lovely and I liked the picture of Luna Park. There certainly looks as if there is plenty to do here and I am rather disappointed now that I will only spend five hours in Melbourne stuck in the airport. However, like you say Australia is not cheap. I am interested to read your account of your next stop …… NZ. Safe travels my friend xx

    • Hi Karen, yes my internet has been patchy, which is why I’ve only just got round to posting this.
      Melbourne’s really nice though; I could easily live there.
      xx

  2. What a fun and colourful post. I really enjoyed reading that. I’d had a wee puff prior to reading it and thought ‘my god’ that stuffs strong – it kicked in just around the part about the fairy penguns. Anyway, good post. Thanks for sharing!

  3. St Kilda sounds like my kind of place. I love this type of vibe. I am also a great fan of street art (one of my many reasons for loving Berlin). Unfortunately I had such a short amount of time in Melbourne that I didn’t see much more than the Great Ocean Road. I am looking forward to retunringn

  4. Great guide to some of the ‘cheaper’ things to do in Melbourne! It’s not a cheap city to live or stay in by any means, but it a great one (not withstanding the unpredictable weather!) and just walking around can give you a real sense of what the city is about. I hope you enjoyed your time here!

  5. Loved the post! I visited Melbourne almost 2 years ago and I really enjoyed my time there! We went to most of the places you recommend here, but the one I loved the most was Hosier lane. The art is amazing! 😉

  6. Luna Park in St Kilda looks good and perfect for my daughter, I’d have to pay to get her on the rides though or there’d be trouble. The beach huts on Brighton beach are great for photographing, I love the colours. Looking for street art to photograph is always fun too, you kept a tidy budget for such an expensive city.

  7. Fairy penguins?! Haha I’ve never heard of that but I’m liking the sound of it. Not sure I’d necessarily have the patience to stick around to see them, but I’d definitely stroll by and test my luck. I love the graffiti alleys too! Are there specific streets where you can find the graffiti walls, or will you just see them everywhere if you walk around?

    • No there were too many tourists for me all waiting for the penguins to appear (yes I know I”m a tourist too but I’m different of course :))
      There is art everywhere in the city. There are some maps that show locations but they change all the time so it’s easier to just hunt stuff down yourself.
      Hozier lane is the place where everyone goes, but it does get crowded and because literally anyone can have a go standards are a lot lower now (or so I was told).

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