Melbourne is quite possibly the most incredible city I’ve been to yet—but finding cheap things to do in Melbourne is a bit of a challenge. You have everything you need plus tons of awesome activities, and it’s all set in intricately beautiful buildings that are surrounded by lush parks.
Simply put, Melbourne is definitely not your typical concrete jungle.
The people are lovely, the infrastructure is extremely effective, and it’s just so damn cool.
BUT it ain’t cheap! Melbourne can be quite pricey. But let’s face it, the whole country is expensive. However, after living here for 6 months and saving every penny I owned, I found the best free and cheap things to do in Melbourne that can get you by.
So, what to do when you’re broke? Don’t worry, I got your back on this!
(AND, I have a few ways to treat yourself at the bottom too.)
Free Things to Do in Melbourne
Despite the sometimes hefty price tag, there are still tons of cool free things to do in Melbourne. From the city’s love affair with nature to some of Australia’s most eccentric architecture, many of the best sights don’t cost a dime.
Melbourne is littered with parks and it seems you find one everywhere you look. Since I lived in Carlton, Carlton Gardens was my neighborhood park, but Edinburgh was a close second. Bring a picnic and even some wine, people drink at the parks here!
This is Australia’s garden city after all, and a stroll through any of its picturesque parks is one of the most relaxing free things to do in Melbourne. Here are a few others that should definitely top your must-see list!
Fitzroy Gardens – Located just outside the CBD, don’t be surprised to see college students lounging here in between classes. Walking through the park transports you back to the Victorian age and you’ll pass the iconic Cooks’ Cottage which was shipped from England and rebuilt here.
Birrarung Marr – Situated on the banks of the Yarra River, this is a popular gathering spot for local festivals. Check out the fascinating sculptures like the Federation Bells which hums original Australian compositions three times per day.
Queen Victoria Gardens – You’ll find lots of sculptures here and the Shrine of Remembrance is just next to the Royal Botanical Gardens. There are paths of greenery everywhere you turn, and you can plop down with a book or wine to just chill.
McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery – If you’re digging the sculptures, head out to Frankston and visit the McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery. There are over 100 beautiful sculptures scattered across the grassy park, and lots of them are inspired by Australia’s native wildlife and natural scenery.
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The Pink Lake
I LOVED this spot! Located in Westgate Park, you will find a Pink Lake. Literally, no joke, the lake is pink.
Due to natural algae, you’ll see something you don’t get to see every day. It’s pretty cool and a stroll around the park will make for a chilled out afternoon. This is still one of the relatively new free things to do in Melbourne, so it’s hardly crowded. We only saw maybe five others the entire time.
Careful: If it’s been raining or the weather has been nasty, it could just look like a regular old brown lake.
Princes Pier for a Cool Shot
Only about 15 minutes from Westgate Park and its Pink Lake is Princes Pier. This was the first thing many WW2 immigrants saw when they came over to Australia to seek refuge. The pier is a humbling place to be when you think of all the history. They left the pier’s stumps jutting out of the water after they rebuilt it which makes for quite a cool spectacle.
Walk Along the Yarra
There’s a trail along the Yarra that goes from the city up to Abbotsford and all around the east side of Melbourne. Get those runners on and go for a walk!
Laneways—My Favorite Free Thing to Do in Melbourne
Street art in Melbourne is EVERYWHERE!
The laneways, in particular, are filled with visual masterpieces and the graffiti here is truly remarkable.
Hosier and Union laneways are probably the most popular and touristy places to see this art, but anywhere you walk in Melbourne will bring you a laneway full of graffiti. Living in Carlton/Fitzroy was incredible for this reason too, so much street art and no tourists. Wander and get lost…
Speaking of wandering around and getting lost, you can do it all day and never get bored in Melbourne. Not only will the graffiti captivate you, but the architecture as well. The old Gothic churches and Victorian buildings are so charming and beautiful.
Seeing all the remarkable architecture was one of my favorite things about this city. This is NOT your average run of the mill city where it’s a concrete jungle of the same buildings that could be anywhere. The buildings are well preserved and you can find yourself walking into an H&M that looks more like a historical palace.
With every step I wandered around the city, I felt more inspired and gracious to live amongst the history and beauty of the funky and fresh capital of Victoria.
Melbourne is just the spot to pique your interest in the arts, history, and culture while on a budget.
- National Gallery of Victoria – Australia’s oldest and most prestigious art museum with over 70,000 pieces of work. Inside, you’ll find the world’s largest stained-glass ceiling and works from some of Australia’s most renowned artists. If you bring your student ID, you can get a discount/get in for free. NGV is actually free, but any special exhibitions will cost extra.
- Australian Centre for Contemporary Art – Always offers free entry and has a revolving door of innovative exhibitions throughout the year.
- Australian Centre for the Moving Image – Movie buffs will be fascinated by the ACMI and Screen Worlds is an intriguing free exhibit that gets creative with its presentation of the moving image.
- Royal Australian Air Force Museum – Although just outside Melbourne, the RAAF Museum is a free museum giving you insight into Australia’s aviation history and stunning flight performances of old-school aircraft.
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A Chill Day With Wifi Needs
It’s no secret that Australia’s internet is total shit. It’s likely shittier at your house so you may need to find some WiFi elsewhere…
If you need some decent WiFi, Melbourne has EXCELLENT libraries and they all have free WiFi.
The libraries I always went to were:
State Library of Victoria – This enormous building has an incredible design and lots of desks and nooks to hole up. Unfortunately, the internet can be weighed down at times due to the volume of people.
Melbourne Library (near Flinders Station) – Small, but accommodating. There are a decent amount of desks and outlets to use.
Katherine Symes – This became a favorite because it was so close to our house, and was less busy than the Carlton Library. There were semi-private rooms in which you would share with only one or two people if it was busy.
Carlton Library – This was our favorite until we found Katherine Symes. This one has a lot of families and can be a bit distracting when trying to work.
Can you believe one of the best free things to do in Melbourne is simply riding the tram? Say what?
No need to dig through your pockets trying to hitch a ride through the city’s Free Tram Zone. This zone encompasses Queen Victoria Market to Docklands, Spring Street, Flinders Street Station, and Federation Square, and signage indicates the free zone’s boundaries.
In addition to the Free Tram Zone, the City Circle Tram is also free to use to scoot around the city. Dubbed ‘Route 35,’ the tram constantly loops through the CBD and is the most convenient way to see many of Melbourne’s top attractions without paying a dime.
Not a bad way to conserve some energy without having to use your myki card!
Cheap Things to Do in Melbourne
Many experiences in Melbourne that cost money are too cool to pass up. Luckily, these cheap things to do in Melbourne won’t break the bank and you’ll have plenty of fun while exploring the city.
Coffee Shops—Literally the Best Cheap Thing to Do in Melbourne
Melbourne takes coffee seriously. Like, VERY seriously. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, you don’t even know what real coffee is until you’ve been to Melbourne and had a proper coffee. I could talk for hours about all I’ve learned about the coffee scene in Melbourne. It’s crazy, it’s real, it’s SERIOUS coffee. Just walk into a shop and see for yourself.
Coffee is a CULTURE in Melbourne, not just a drink.
BUT don’t you dare ask for a “coffee.” What type of coffee do you want? A long black? A macchiato? A cappuccino? Australians don’t have just “coffee” and you WILL get a weird stare if you ask for it. Looking at you Americans.
So, what’s one of the best cheap things to do in Melbourne? DRINK COFFEE AND LOTS OF IT!
Some of my fav coffee hangouts:
- Campos in Carlton Literally two seconds away from where I lived. Their cold brew will have you reeling for HOURS. I’m convinced it’s laced with speed.
- Aunty Pegs in Collingwood is out of the world! They have a factory in the back and have done crazy things to coffee like adding nitro and having it on tap as a nitro cold brew. DELICIOUS! They switch their coffees up all the time and give you little slips of paper with info on each of their carefully crafted blends. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable if you want to pick their beans, I mean brains.
- Cup of Truth at Flinders Street Station. A tiny coffee shop that serves up a good brew in a dungeon-y hall of the famous train station.
- Black Cat in Fitzroy is a place to just be. You will see all sorts of characters walking in and out of this eclectic cafe that’s also a bar. Grab a coffee or different bevy of your choice and people watch.
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This is the cool backpacker spot and where lots of hostels are. Only six kilometers from the CBD, this is a fantastic spot to chill on the beach without having to travel far. The beach isn’t really the nicest, but it’s still a decent spot to hang for the day and watch kitesurfers.
Melbourne’s expansion has continued to engulf St Kilda and the coastal haven is now one of the hippest areas in the city. Luna Park is an amusement park filled with wacky rides and even has one of the world’s oldest roller coasters. The Esplanade Market is street stall heaven offering souvenirs and all types of food.
Restaurants and bars are everywhere you turn, but St Kilda Botanical Gardens is a relaxing spot for a picnic if you pack a lunch.
And then there are penguins.
Yep, at dusk/right after sunset, you can see the cutest little penguins (literally the smallest in the world) at the St Kilda pier! Look out for the guides with the bright vests on, they will help point them out.
Williamstown – a Cheap Melbourne Getaway
It’s like a step back in time. It’s a really cute and quaint beachy town with better beaches than St.Kilda.
This was actually Melbourne’s first seaport and the town centre glows in its rich maritime history. Aside from lounging on the beaches, check out the historic buildings which have been transformed into fashionable boutiques and quirky cafes.
Head over to Gem Pier which greets you with a fantastic view of the Melbourne city skyline and watch boats departing for Yarra River cruises. Make sure to pay a visit to the Timeball Tower which is a preserved tribute to the town’s maritime heritage.
The best part is, it’s a super cheap thing to do in Melbourne because all you need to pay for is your train ticket.
I didn’t personally do this as I lived in Melbourne and gave myself a tour every day, but if you’re just visiting and want to see the hot spots right away, there’s a free walking tour every day! Just tip the nice tour guide at the end.
Cheap Places to Eat in Melbourne
OK, so besides cooking for yourself, how else can you get a good cheap meal? Timeout Melbourne has a fab list of places to go for under $20, but here are my favs which are even cheaper.
Pretty Much Anywhere On Centre Place
Down a small, dark, and dingy alleyway in the CBD, you’ll find some of my favorite little sandwich shops. I can honestly tell you I don’t even know the names of these places but I’ve eaten on this street a hundred times.
Chock full of hole in the wall type cafes, Centre Place (the street across from Degraves) is a budget eaters dream.
Soup, salad, and sandwiches (my three favorite s’s) are what’s on offer here along with coffee and perhaps a few other treats for a BARGAIN.
The regular cost is about $5-8 for a sandwich. If you wait until just a bit after lunch, say after 2 pm (I’m a late eater), you can get a big and delicious sandwich for $3!
They mark down all their stuff to get it sold for the day and it’s a HUGE score. You can get a tuna sub for $3, a freshly roasted veggie sandwich for $3, or a bowl of bean soup for $3. THREE DOLLARS. It’s a steal. This is pretty much the cheapest place to eat in Melbourne.
Cost: $3-5 for a baguette sandwich
You can do what we used to do and get some of Domino’s alright tasting $5 pizza when you have to pick it up. OOORRR, you can go to Thresherman’s Bakery in Carlton and spend just one dollar more for an even better-tasting pizza. This supports a small business and not a mega-corporation.
BONUS: At night, they will put some of their treats (cakes and other dessert items) on special to get them sold for the day. Bread too!
Cost: $6 a pizza (personal size)
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Lentil As Anything
I wish I had gone here more often. Set in a gorgeous convent in Abbotsford with gardens and church bells, it initially feels like you’re in the wrong place. Walk around the convent and to the back and you’ll find Lentil as Anything nestled in a homey setting.
At Lentil As Anything, the food is vegetarian and is made fresh by volunteers every day.
This isn’t your typical restaurant as you don’t get a bill at the end of your meal. Scattered around the dining hall will be little treasure chests for your donations for the meal. That’s all this place runs on! Scoop up whatever food is on special at the buffet for the day and be sure to donate accordingly.
Free meals are available to those in need, REALLY in need, so please show your support and help them out while having a fantastic veggo meal.
(Locations also in Footscray and St.Kilda)
Cost: Donation based ($15+ ish)
A dingy dive bar in Fitzroy serving up some pub grub. They are famous for their Philly cheesesteaks… Pretty American of me to include this, huh? They are a popular joint though and have a nice craft beer list that changes often to keep things fresh. (veggo Phillies are available!)
Def go to Victoria Market! Here are the hours the market is open and if there are any special events going on. Get yourself a mulled wine or a hot cider during the winter (at the Wednesday night market) and if you’re indecisive about what to eat, have a bit of everything within 5 minutes walking distance. It’s just north of the city.
Victoria Market is also a good market to get some amazing fruits and veggies to cook something for yourself.
You can get things cheaper when you buy in bulk or purchase items that need to be sold within the next couple of days.
Cost: a hot cider is $4 a snack $5+
Treat Yo Self!
These aren’t necessarily the cheapest things to do in Melbourne buuuuttt….. hopefully, you’re not broke ALL the time. We made a choice to treat ourselves here and there, but nothing TOO crazy. Here’s where we went to eat/drink…
This place isn’t even THAT expensive depending how much you drink but it’s a sweet spot to chill out with a beer and enjoy some live music. You can go upstairs and see their brewing factory, which of course, my beer crazy boyfriend was a huge fan of.
Eau De Vie
Get those pinky fingers ready people, this place is just so cool and fancy. Don’t rock up in flip-flops and a t-shirt, and you should probably come early or make the reservation.
It gets PACKED and for good reason too. Their drinks are crafted to the highest of standards with incredible ingredients.
Garrett had a honey bacon-infused bourbon Old Fashion that they make in-house, yeah… it’s crazy. The setting is warm and cozy like a 50’s speakeasy where their waiters are adorned in suspenders and have an abundance of whiskey and spirit knowledge.
This place is quite possibly the epitome of hipster and I loved it. Oh, and did I mention it’s located down a dark alley behind a secret door that has no sign? Uber awesome!
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Some of the best burgers in town served in an old train car that’s on top of a building overlooking Melbourne. Do I need to say anything else? I guess I could mention there’s mac and cheese too?
As far as cheap things to do in Melbourne, this is a reasonably priced place for the entertainment and food value provided.
They were voted as having the best margarita pizza in the whole world! It was pretty damn good, but saying it’s the best is, of course, according to your own personal taste. Definitely worth a go if you LOVE pizza like we do.
Brunetti’s for Ice Cream
They make their own ice cream and for a reasonable price. It’s $6 for two scoops in a cone and they are heaping scoops too. Delicious!
If you want to treat yourself to some entertainment, Melbourne is definitely the place to do it. There is constantly something happening. Whether it’s a music festival, comedy month (we went to a show), or a huge night event like White Night, take yourself out.
And if music festivals are your thing, check out these amazing music festivals in Melbourne.
I want to cry as I write this because I LOVE Melbourne and I miss it so much! It’s the most incredible, lively, funky, hip, eccentric, and fab city I’ve ever been to. I miss it dearly and I hope to live there again one day. I do plan on going back to do a road trip. I’m dying to be a hippy that lives in a caravan. 🙂
I love you, Melbourne!
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Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad since 2011 and blogging on Where in the World is Nina? for nearly as long. Nina helps people like you move around the world while making money. She loves talking about how to work abroad and online to travel longer!