We really enjoy city breaks. However, any city, not just Melbourne, can be expensive. We did some things that cost a bit of money, including meeting up with friends and visiting some of Melbourne’s excellent bars. However, to balance this out we made a conscious effort to find cheap or free things to do. The titles may seem mundane, but read on to find out what a great time we had for minimal expense in the wonderful city of Melbourne.
Parked The Car
Melbourne has a superb public transport system so we parked OTIS up for our stay and made the most of it. You need to purchase MYKI cards and add credit to them. They can then be used on the trams, buses and trains. It’s easy to navigate, you can either use the journey planner on the Public Transport Victoria (PTV) site or just use Google Map Directions. If you register your cards you can top them up online or set them to automatically top up.
When you swipe on, most journeys will cost you the default fare. This is around $4 and lasts for two hours. You won’t therefore get charged more than once if you’re travelling to a few places within that time span. It certainly works out less expensive than paying for fuel and parking. If you keep to the centre of the city, travel is free.
Got a Good Nights Sleep
There is a huge choice of accommodation at every price point in Melbourne. If you’ve read some of our other posts you’ll know that we’re fans of AirBnB. Not only can you find good value accommodation you can also stay in places more interesting than hotels. We certainly came up trumps with Terry’s place in St. Kilda. It was a small cottage in an excellent location. An easy walk into St. Kilda and just around the corner from trains and trams into central Melbourne.
Terry had also presented the cottage with a unique aesthetic style. There were surprises in every room from Teletubbies to religious icons. We loved it and it was a bargain at $93 a night.
If you’ve not yet stayed at an AirBnB property, follow this link to get $55 off your first booking.
When we were researching things to do in Melbourne we discovered that it’s pretty easy, and free, to join the audience on a TV show. The Project is a popular nightly, light hearted current affairs program. We sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org indicating dates we could come and got a reply straight away. A week later we were at the studios waiting for the show to start.
The Project is a live show so there’s no waiting around for retakes. It was fast, fun and we really enjoyed it. We were amazed by how small the studio is. It seems much bigger when you watch. As there were only about 50 of us in the audience it was also pretty intimate. We did, however, need to make a lot of noise as no canned laughter or applause is used. Find out more about how to join the audience here.
You can spend a lot on eating out in Melbourne as there are some fantastic restaurants. On a previous visit we had one of all time favourite meals at Vue De Monde. This time, however, we were looking to eat well on a budget. A good destination is Chinatown where there are a huge range of Asian food places where you can eat well for around $10 a person. One of our favourite finds was Nam Loong on Russel Street but your best bet is to have a wander and see where your nose takes you.
Went to the Bank
The Old Treasury is no longer in use, but at one time it stored the gold mined in the Victorian gold fields. Melbourne was once the richest city in the world, thanks to the gold, and much of the heritage architecture reflects this. The Old Treasury is free to visit and has excellent exhibits on the history of Melbourne as well as the gold rush. In the basement we wandered into the old vaults and saw where the manager and family used to live. As it was December, the Christmas decorations and cards were up when we visited.
Looked at some pictures
If you’ve read some of other posts such as ‘What About Canberra’, you’ll know that we like an art gallery. There’s no shortage in Melbourne with the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) being the biggest. They’ve got a couple of sites and our favourite was The Ian Potter Gallery in Federation Square which has a great collection of Australian Art both historical and contemporary. When we were there, work by Polly Borland was being exhibited. This included some work that she created in conjunction with inmates of British prisons. Polly creates images which are then turned into needlework by the prisoners. The one that amused us was a picture of the Queen completed by Prisoners serving at Her Majesty’s pleasure. The NGV Galleries are free but some temporary exhibitions attract a fee.
Visited the Seaside
A short tram ride from the CBD is the seaside suburb of St Kilda. The walk along the esplanade and along the pier is quite reminiscent of the English seaside, except that at the end of the pier, you can see fairy penguins. The best time is around dusk when they return from the ocean, but we saw some nesting in the day. We also saw a species of Australian water rat, Rakali.
St. Kilda is also famous for its cake shops. We walked along Acland Street and stopped at one of the many shops, Europa for a rather nice Lemon Meringue Cake.
Listened to some Music
If you’ve read a few of our posts you’ll know that we’re fans of live music. We wrote about our visit to Byron BluesFest in ‘Blues, Reggae and Donuts‘. Melbourne is a great music city so we naturally took advantage of it. We did go to a paid gig, Dan Sultan. He was playing at iconic venue, the Hotel Esplanade or ‘The Espy’ in St Kilda and it was a great night. However, there’s also plenty of free music to take advantage of. We took the tram to the suburb of Fitzroy where there are a number of choices to listen to music in bars. We opted for Bar Open and spent a fab couple of hours listening to the Four Scoops for just the price of our beer.
Also free is the fantastic ‘Aus Music Vault’, just next door to NGV. They have a comprehensive exhibition of the history of Australian Popular music. You can listen to plenty of iconic tunes as you browse the memorabilia. Well worth a visit.
Our final bit of free music was a serendipitous find and a different style to our normal listening. We arrived in Melbourne at the end of Melbourne Music Week and found that there was free opera in the Botanic Gardens. We’ve tried opera before and it’s not really our taste but it was free so we thought we’d try again. We probably weren’t converted. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable couple of hours listening to Orchestra Victoria supporting opera stars singing famous arias including; Nessun Dorma and Carmen.
Had a Laugh
Music isn’t the only live performance you can experience cheaply in Melbourne. Just around the corner from our AirBnB in St. Kilda was the Local Taphouse. As a great start, they have an excellent range of beers which helped us with our quest for Australia’s best beer. You can read more about this in; ‘Bogans, Kangaroos and Beers in New South Wales’.
Every Monday they have a comedy night with an impressive lineup. At $15 entry we thought it was a bargain. We enjoyed five comedians for that price, including Simon Palomares who used to be in the Australian sitcom Acropolis Now. It was a great night, we laughed a lot, and even didn’t mind when the MC referred to us as Mum and Dad.
Went for a Walk or two
In any city, one of the best free things you can do is walk around. There’s certainly no lack of places for a good walk in Melbourne. We particularly enjoyed the Royal Botanic Gardens and the grounds of Abbotsford Convent.
The convent, home to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd was the largest in Victoria and operated until 1975. It is now an educational and arts hub and houses a couple of restaurants, a bakery and art galleries. After walking around the grounds we continued on along the banks of the Yarra River. We began to smell the familiar scent of a brewery and were shortly walking opposite the Carlton & United Brewery. C&U produce some of Australia’s best known beers including Great Northern and Victoria Bitter.
If you read posts such as; ‘Bogans, Kangaroos and Beers’ or ‘ What about Canberra’ you’ll find out that we’re fans of a good ale. However, big breweries aren’t really our scene. Despite this, the smell had got our beer tastebuds firing and a quick google search revealed a small craft brewery around the corner, Moondog. This proved to be a fantastic place to stop, not least as it was Happy Hour. Comfy sofas, a quirky bar and an excellent range of beer rounded off the afternoon very well.
We’ve saved one of our favourite free Melbourne experiences until the end; Melbourne Greeters. This free service can be booked through Melbourne Tourist Information Centre. It is basically a local volunteer taking you on a walk around the parts of Melbourne CBD which interest them. Our guide was Snowy, and she had a wealth of information about the history of Melbourne. We were taken down laneways to see street art we never would have known about. We even got taken to the loos with the best view in Melbourne (on the 35thfloor of the Sofitel). The guides aren’t allowed to receive tips but you can buy them a coffee. A four hour guided tour for the price of a coffee gets our vote for the best value Melbourne experience.