There is a range of cheap and free activities scattered across the city; you just need to know where to look!
Central & East CBD
The best part about Melbourne’s CBD is that exploring on foot is the most inexpensive and best way to get to know the town. There are thematic walking maps available at the visitor information centre at Federation Square. Known locally as Fed Square, it is a community hub with plenty of free events and concerts.
The laneways are icons of Melbourne, and they’re 100% free to look at and pose for selfies in front of. You can get around the city cheaply using the $5 tourist shuttle, which will take you to Melbourne’s most famous spots, or by using the free City Circle tram, which runs every 12 minutes from the CBD.
There are free galleries littered throughout the city, and window shopping in some of our beautiful heritage listed buildings won’t cost you a cent.
Exploring Melbourne’s streets all day is bound to work up an appetite, but luckily there’s an abundance of cheap eats dotting the city streets. Perhaps head up to Huxtaburger, famous for its delicious American-style burgers in a retro diner setting. An original Huxtaburger will set you back $9, with an optional side of crinkle fries for $2.50. At this location (they have 5 stores around Melbourne) you can grab a soft drink for $3, with free refills.
West CBD & North Melbourne
For the cheapest fruit and veg around, head to The Queen Victoria Market (QVM) for some early morning shopping before the crowds gobble up all the best selections. Open Tuesdays and Thursday-Sunday, it’s a fun and cheap day out. QVM is free to browse year-round.
On a budget but prefer someone else to prepare your food? Grab a toastie and coffee from Auction Rooms’ little sister – Counter – but get in early as it closes at 2 p.m.
If you’re opting to spend the day exploring the train lines, stop off at Purple Peanuts, near Southern Cross Station for some dirt cheap Japanese cuisine. There’s often a lunchtime line, but it’s worth the wait.
Further west still, and you’ll end up in Footscray, where the migrant population means there are plenty of restaurants both new and old, ranging in taste from Vietnamese to African and almost all unfussy and affordable. Are sweets more your thing? Olympic Doughnuts on Irving Street has been pumping out fresh doughnuts for 35 years, and they start off as inexpensive as $0.80.
Carlton & Fitzroy
Everyone knows artists don’t have a lot of money, right? So, of course, some of Melbourne’s cheapest and best things to do lie in this district.
On the first Saturday of every month, you can visit the Rose St. Artists’ Markets for free. A quick look through the Art Almanac ($5 from any good newsagent) will let you know when galleries have shows opening; if you’re lucky you might even grab a free drink! Carlton Gardens are also free to spend the day lazing in (perhaps with an ice cream you picked up at Gelato Messina) and from its lush green grass you can wander over to the Melbourne Museum, which offers free admission to students.
When the evening arrives, watch the sun set on Naked For Satan’s rooftop bar (Naked in The Sky) and load your plate up with pintxos, a kind of Spanish tapas that you can pick up for under $2 during selected hours. Bimbos is located a 10-minute walk from Naked in The Sky, and you can grab $5 pizzas during selected times during the work week and all day on Sunday!
Carlton’s Cinema Nova is a must-visit, showing lesser known and art house films alongside box office hits, and on Mondays, it’s $6 before 4 pm and only $9 after.
Brunswick & Northcote
Melbourne’s trams come into their own in Brunswick and Northcote. While both have train access, trams are your best bet to getting around and are their own attraction. Jumping on the 96 Tram is a great, inexpensive way to get to know the area, spying street art from your seat and jumping off wherever takes your fancy.
While not an Aussie invention, Savers is very popular among the op-shop hipsters of Melbourne, and the Brunswick store is one of the biggest and best. Set aside a whole afternoon to scour the shelves for cheap clothes, accessories, and homewares. Students get 20% off on Sundays, too!
There are plenty of pubs in both Brunswick and Northcote, and most offer cheap meals on various weekdays. The charming Peacock Inn Hotel has $10 lunch menu options, as well as pool tables for a lazy Sunday snooker game.
Westgarth Street has its own Palace Cinema, showing both domestic and international films. Still holding to its Old World charm, it also boasts a licensed bar. Movies aren’t as cheap as they used to be, but if you join the movie club, you can grab a free ticket and discount tickets on your next visits. There are also cheaper tickets available all day on Tuesdays.
St Kilda & South Melbourne
Due to the scenic nature of these areas, most of the best things to do are free, or very, very cheap. It costs absolutely nothing to go for a walk in a park, and there are plenty of them. Albert Park in Melbourne’s South has some pretty amazing views of the city, and you can laze in the grass watching the boats on the lake glide past on a sunny day.
St Kilda Botanical Gardens is a beautiful place to waste the day, with Alma Gardens and the Mangrove Boardwalk not far behind. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some penguins amongst the mangroves later in the evening. Bring a torch and keep your voice down!
St Kilda is on the beach, and beaches don’t charge entry fees. You can hire sports and activities equipment at Kite Republic, or simply laze in the sun and paddle in the shallows. If you don’t want to get sandy, simply walk the boardwalk or paths along the beach and watch the sunset.
Not an outdoorsy person? No worries. The National Gallery of Victoria is close to both South Melbourne and the CBD and houses one of Australia’s largest art collections. It’s free to view the main collection, and you can spend hours browsing the building. For a free art hit in St Kilda, try Linden Gallery. It’s free and open late on Wednesdays.
Readings Bookshop on Acland Street is one of the longest trading businesses in the area and often hosts free book launches, readings, and talks.