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Monday, December 28, 2015

Things to Do in Melbourne, Australia

Alisha McDarris

The self proclaimed culture and coffee capital of Australia, Melbourne is an exciting place to be. It has museums and restaurants and a million things to do on any given day. It has a public transport system that will get you anywhere you want to be, beaches, festivals and the Melbourne Cup. And when you visit, you don't have to go broke seeing the sights and experiencing the city. Just use this handy guide to Melbourne.

Getting Around Melbourne

  • Train: They run every which way inside and outside the city and it's easy to get all around the city center from surrounding suburbs. Just tap your Myki card on a reader when you get on and off to pay.
  • Trams and Buses: Melbourne has trams in the city and buses to take you elsewhere. The trams go all over the city center and out to popular destinations like St. Kilda and you can use your Myki card to pay for a trip. And as an extra bonus, if you're traveling just within the confines of the city loop, trams are free! Buses mostly offer access to farther away destinations or those outside the city center.
  • Myki Card: It's the only way to pay for public transport in Melbourne. Unfortunately it costs $6 to get one. There are special visitor packs for those doing a lot of traveling around the city in a week or two, but your best bet is to pick one up at a train station as soon as you arrive and keep it topped up using kiosks at the stations or online.
  • City Circle Tram: Totally free, this transport option/attraction offers a way to travel a set route around Melbourne for free. It stops at shopping centers, attractions and tourist destinations around downtown and provides audio commentary along the way.
  • Rent a Car: If you reserve one in advance you might be able to score a good deal, but beware of Melbourne's infamous right hook turns. They even freak Australians out.

Free Things to do in Melbourne

The Australian Center for the Moving Image - discover the history of film in Australia and see special screenings.
Great events can be found happening year round at Federation Square.
Peguins can be seen at the St. Kilda Pier any evening throughout the week.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
The National Gallery of Victoria

There's plenty to do in Melbourne that won't cost you a dime. Explore and enjoy!
  • National Gallery of Victoria and the Ian Potter Center: Art from Europe, Asia and America abound at this gallery. And within the Ian Potter center located inside the gallery, you'll find Australian works as well as special exhibitions.
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens: Not as colorful and impressive as the botanic gardens in Sydney, or even Hobart, a walk through the gardens still provides a lovely diversion on a sunny afternoon, especially for nature lovers.
  • Queen Victoria Market: While it's open every day but Monday and Wednesday, the best time to check out this massive market full of handmade items, artisan wares, food and coffee are on weekends. And during the spring and summer months the Queen Victoria Night Market is open on Wednesdays from 5-10pm, offering a wealth of food stall options, gifts and handmade goods, together with live music and entertainment. Totally worth a trip.
  • Federation Square: Right outside of Flinders Station is Fed Square where a multitude of events take place from time to time. Bands, festivals, art, you name it, it could be here.
  • The Atrium: Right off of Fed Square and near the National Gallery is the Atrium where you'll occasionally find pop up events and free classes like belly dancing or yoga. Over two days passing through we came across a used book sale and a humanitarian architecture project.
  • State Library of Victoria: An impressive edifice all on it's own, this library houses more than books. You'll also find art, historical artifacts, and changing exhibitions.
  • Wheeler Center: Just around the corner from the library is the Wheeler Center, a center for books, writing and ideas. They host events regularly, most of which are focused on books, writers and ideas like author talks and A Festival of Questions. If there's one happening while you're in town, check it out!
  • Australian Center for the Moving Image: Also located right off of Fed Square, this museum is for lovers of film. There are interactive displays, old movie posters, TV show props and replicas (the car from the Original Mad Max, for example), and even facts and figures about old gaming systems. If you're even kind of into movies, don't skip it.
  • The Old Treasury Building: Take a tour of this highly-regarded building to learn a bit about the history, culture and architecture of the city.
  • St. Kilda Beach: If you're lucky enough to be in Melbourne on a warm sunny day, head to the beach! St. Kilda is just a tram ride away and you can spend the afternoon lounging in the sun. Don't forget the sunscreen, though.
  • Evensong: Several Catholic churches in Melbourne, like St. Paul's Cathedral, offer free evensongs From Tuesday-Friday, usually around 5:00pm. Even if you're not Catholic, the architecture, stained glass and beautiful melodies are more than worth a visit.
  • Shrine of Remembrance: Built as a monument to those who died during WWI, the Shrine offers an up close and personal view of Australia's part in the war (as well as pretty great views of the city).
  • Parliament: If politics is your thing, check the schedule to see if you can sit it and watch the Legislative Assembly while you're in town or schedule a free tour of Parliament if they're not sitting.
  • Movies: I love a good free movie in the park. Or on the roof. Or even inside if that's the only option. In the warmer months, Summertime Cinema in nearby Boroondara shows movies in parks around town around 8:30, Southgate Cinema sets up a screen in the Southgate Shopping Center's upper level on Tuesdays.
  • Penguins: For all the cuteness you can handle, head to St. Kilda Pier any evening throughout the week for a parade of penguins. Sure, you could pay a bunch of money for the more structured show on Phillip Island, but you can't beat free. Bring a jacket and a camera and show up around sunset to watch the little guys swim to shore.

Our Favorite Things

The entrance to Luna amusement park in St. Kilda.

Spend the cash. It’s not much for these attractions and it’s worth it.

  • Luna Park: Right on St. Kilda Beach is a Coney Island-esque amusement park with the world's second oldest roller coaster, Scenic Railway. If you only ride one ride, this is the one to chose. The brakes are hand operated by park staff instead of automatic and the wooden tracks really take you for a ride.
  • Rooftop bars: The views are free but the brews aren't, so shell out a few bucks and enjoy a nice relaxing post-dinner cocktail or locally brewed beer at any of the city's many rooftop bars and watch the city light up. We like Taxi Kitchen's rooftop view overlooking Fed Square, the river, and the arts district.
  • The Great Ocean Road: For spectacular views, take a trip on the Great Ocean Road, at least as far as the 12 Apostles, 4 hours outside the city. Rent a car if you like, but you'll probably be able to find others on Gumtree who already have one and are just looking for other travelers to join in on the fun. It may only cost you a tank of fuel.

Grab a Bite

Merry Cupcakes - Delicious vegan cupcakes all under $4. 
La Petite Creperie on Little Collins and Swanston St.

There are hundreds of places to eat in Melbourne and plenty of cheap places to eat in Melbourne, so you won't have to look far to find a restaurant that caters to a small budget.

  • La Petite Creperie: No more than a tiny stand on the sidewalk on the corner of Little Collins and Swanston St., you can grab a crepe filled with Nutella and alm onds, fig and ginger jam, or peanut butter and chocolate from $4-$8, a perfect afternoon snack.
  • Crossways: As cheap as it is filling, Crossways offers bottomless portions of Indian cuisine with no garlic or onion, all vegetarian, and mostly vegan. It's $7.95 and includes dessert and you can keep going back for more until you explode. Which I almost did.
  • Lord of the Fries: For vegan and vegetarian fast food, this is the place to go. There are shops all over the city and they offer burgers and dogs from $5 for a slider to $9 for a pretty hefty burger. Naturally there are fries (chips) and shakes, too.
  • Chinatown: For some tasty Asian cuisine, wander around Chinatown to find a plethora of cheap and quick eats from spring rolls to dumplings and all kinds of Asian food. And a lot of it you'll be able to order at the counter and nosh on your way to the next attraction.
  • OM Vegetarian: More all-you-can eat vegetarian Indian cuisine! It's only $6.50 and you can keep going back for that delicious naan.
  • The Organic Food and Wine Deli (TOFWD): Grab a vegan pie or some burgers or salad. This place has options for vegans, omnivores and the gluten intolerant alike. Dessert, too! Not everything is cheap, but you can grab a pie for around $5-6.
  • Mantra Lounge: With whole meals starting at $9.95, Mantra Lounge is a pretty good deal for tasty vegan fare. In fact, they claim to be the best vegan meal deal in the city. It includes a curry of the day with rice and a salad, or you can opt for any of their other meal options like an enchilada or lasagna. And while you're there, don't pass up a chance to enjoy the ice cream and tiramisu; they're outstanding.
  • Merry Cupcakes: I cannot physically pass up a vegan cupcake. If I come across one in my day to day comings and goings, I must have it. And here, there are so very many options and they're all under $4.
  • Queen Victoria Market: On most mornings and afternoons there are a multitude of options to slake your hunger on a budget at this sprawling market. From $3 falafel wraps to $.80 rolls to donuts to pies to dumplings and breakfast plates, there's something for everybody. It's also a great place to get fresh produce for super cheap if you're staying in a hostel or hotel and doing your own cooking. On Wednesday nights in the Summer there are also various food vendors that offer decently priced dinner at the QV Night Market.
  • Lentil as Anything: Located outside of the CBD and in nearby St. Kilda, this not-for-profit vegetarian restaurant with Indian and Nepalese style food is a "pay what you feel" self-service restaurant, meaning you order what you like and pay what you think the meal is worth. Just don't be too cheap.
  • Cafes: In a city that does coffee this well, it would be a shame not to have at least two or three cups a day. Just about any cafe will serve it up right, so stroll into any one you come by and expect a well-executed cuppa, but we like Padre Coffee and Sun Moth for the atmosphere. If you need help ordering, check out our post on the subject here.

Ways to Save

  • If you'll only be in the city for a week or two and you'll be out and about every day, look into a Myki pass, which offers unlimited travel on public transport for 7 days to a year. It might be cheaper in the long run unless you're staying in the middle of the city and not often traveling farther afield (as there are free trams that run all over the city center).
  • Liven: Download the Liven app for a chance to save at (mostly) restaurants. There aren't a lot of really inexpensive places on there, but if you're going to enjoy a nice night out, you might be able to save a few bucks. 
  • For local discounts try Shop A Docket, where you can print coupons for local restaurants and experiences, and Cudo or All The Deals, where you can purchase deals like on Groupon or Living Social.
  • Check websites like The Urban List, Broadsheet, and Weekend Notes for free events going on while you're in town. You might find live music, movies and festivals, among other things.

Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. [Portfolio]


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