The Australian dollar is doing overseas visitors to the country a massive favor. Make the most of its falling value by enjoying the best of Melbourne on the cheap.

By Carrie Hutchinson
November 11, 2015
royal botanical
Credit: Getty Images

At the moment, $25 converts to about AU$35, and while that’s not a stack of cash, there are plenty of free and inexpensive amusements to keep the average visitor very busy when in town. A bit of cash should be preloaded onto a myki card (the prepaid ticket used on public transport), but that leaves plenty left over. Here’s how to make the most of the city on a budget-friendly weekend.

Saturday: Downtown and the Beach

Spend Saturday morning exploring the Central Business District. A lap on the free City Circle tram to will provide a sense of place, and stops at main attractions. Many of the big galleries are free, including the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), both of which are located in Federation Square.

Historic Queen Victoria Market is on the city’s northern edge and, alongside sections and shops selling souvenirs, homewares and clothing, there is an amazing fresh food section. Load up on $3 böreks (flaky pastry filled with meat and cheese), fresh fruit and jam donuts ($5.50 for 5), then take a picnic to one of the lush gardens. Carlton Gardens is a few minutes’ walk away, or a quick tram ride will deliver hungry bellies to the Royal Botanic Gardens (pictured) for lunch in the sunshine. Walk it off afterwards on The Tan, Melbourne’s popular path that circles the gardens, Kings Domain and passes along the Yarra River.

Another tram ride of about 20 minutes will deliver visitors to the bayside suburb of St Kilda for a swim at the beach. Once refreshed, stroll around Luna Park (unfortunately, the rides are probably out of the budget) and down Acland Street with its European cake shops, whose displays ensure mouths will water. On Fitzroy Street, The Banff is a popular, rustic restaurant with pasta, pizzas and other assorted dishes on the menu for less than $10.

Back in the city, get a great view at Rooftop Bar and have a drink (pints are about $10); the space also hosts an outdoor cinema in summer. Night times can be tight times for those on a budget, but Federation Square often has free movies, music or some sort of community festival on a Saturday evening.

Sunday: Music and Shopping

Sleep in on Sunday (Melburnians aren’t renowned for waking early on the weekend) before heading to Fitzroy, a popular village-style neighborhood in the inner north, where there’s the chance to wander around the shops, check out the street art, and visit the Rose Street Artists’ Market. The always-pumping Bimbo Deluxe has $4 pizzas, $4 deluxe dogs and $4.50 beers all day on Sunday. Stop in at some point to fuel up.

Melbourne is known for its live music, and there are numerous venues where bands often play for free. One of the best known is The Retreat, an old-school local pub in the nearby suburb on Brunswick. Usually the music kicks off at about 5 p.m.— sometimes in the beer garden—and on Sunday nights, starting at 7:30 p.m. there’s Soul Sunday, with Melbourne’s best soul bands and DJs. When hunger strikes, head to local Kao Thai, a cheap and cheerful restaurant, where a bowl of wonton and noodle soup costs about $9.

Carrie Hutchinson lives in Melbourne and covers the city for Travel + Leisure.