Flinders Street Station, Melbourne

Cheap things to do in Melbourne

There are so many great things to do in Melbourne that are either cheap or free.

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Planning your trip to Melbourne

There are so many reasons to visit Melbourne. The “big-ticket” cultural and sporting events such as theatre, concerts, cricket and the Australian Open are major attractions. Yet there is also so much more to see and do in Melbourne without breaking the budget. There are many cheap things to do in Melbourne that you may not find in the tourist brochures.

Ian grew up near Melbourne and we have been frequent visitors over the years. As locals, here are some of our favourite things to see and do in Melbourne.

When planning your trip, you may find Lonely Planet Australia’s Best Trips available on Amazon useful.

Food and drink in Melbourne

When visiting Melbourne, there are a number of places we like to visit, either for a cheap meal, or a special dinner.

  • Take the tram out to Lygon Street in Carlton to enjoy an Italian meal. Choosing from the rows of alfresco dining areas lining the street, you can enjoy a two course restaurant meal for around $80, including a bottle of wine. For a cheaper meal you will find a pizza for around $22
  • Docklands is also a great place for either a cheap meal or a great culinary experience. Here you can find a cheap Malay feed for $25 for two or pizza for around $70 for two. For a special dinner at a more upmarket restaurant you will pay around $150 for two.
  • In Chinatown will find a simple meal of either dumplings or dim sims from $12, or a main course for around $23.

Main attractions in Melbourne

  • Visit the Melbourne Zoo in Parkville, just five minutes from the city centre. The Zoo has over 320 species from around the world housed in natural environments .Entry is $37 adults, children are free during weekends and school holidays.
  • The National Sports Museum at the Melbourne Cricket Ground exhibits memorabilia from some of Australia’s greatest sporting heroes. It also recreates some of the moments which have shaped Australian sporting history. Entry is $33 for adults and $16 for children including a tour of the MCG.
  • The Old Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street was built during the 1800s to house the growing criminal population. Bushranger Ned Kelly is one of the gaol’s most famous inmates. Explore the historic bluestone buildings, viewing the cells where prisoners were held. Entry adults $28 Children $15
  • Located in Southbank, Melbourne’s Eureka skydeck 88 is the highest viewing platform in the southern hemisphere. If you are game, a sliding glass cube will take you out nearly 300 metres above the city below. Entry is from $15, with additional costs for the cube and interactive displays.
  • old melb gaol

Cheap things to do in Melbourne.

  • Docklands on the Melbourne waterfront is a destination in itself. Stroll along the riverside and enjoy the public artworks, cross the two contemporary bridges, which are artworks in themselves.  Here you will find a wide range of retail outlets as well as cafes and restaurants catering for everything from a quick take-away to a full gourmet experience. The area also hosts a range of attractions. There are many pricey attractions, but also a number of free activities including:
    • The Melbourne Star giant ferris wheel
    • Glow Golf – mini golf with neon lights
    • Ice skating arena
    • laser tag
    • children’s playgrounds
  • Docklands, Melbourne
    Docklands, Melbourne
  • Federation Square is where it all happens in Melbourne. More than 2000 events per year are held in the square and it is also home to a range of galleries, permanent exhibitions, cafes restaurants and bars. Each Saturday booklovers can trawl through the book market in the Atrium. From here you can also enjoy a cruise along the Yarra from Federation Wharf, or hire a bicycle to explore the parks and gardens. Here you will also find ArtPlay, where children can create their own artworks with professional artists, as well as enjoying numerous workshops and performances which are held throughout the year.
  • Dating back to the 1850’s goldrush era, Chinatown Melbourne is the oldest Chinese settlement in Australia. Browsing the alleyways between Bourke Street and Lonsdale Street you will find historic buildings, the Chinese Museum and a range of dining options.
  • Bourke Street Mall, the heart of the Melbourne business district is the place to head for some “retail therapy”. Just listen for the bells of passing trams before you amble across the mall.

Museums and Historic buildings in Melbourne

  • The Shrine of Remembrance was constructed in 1934 to commemorate those who served in military conflicts. Set in sprawling parklands, with panoramic views over Melbourne, a light shines on the commemorative stone every half hour. Inside you will find exhibitions of artworks and historic artifacts. Entry is free.
  • Next to the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton gardens you will find the Melbourne Museum. Here you will find the famous race horse, Phar Lap and skeletons of prehistoric creatures. Also take the opportunity to examine crawlies from a safe distance in the “Bugs Alive” exhibition. Entry to the permanent exhibitions is free.
  • The National Gallery of Victoria is the oldest gallery in Australia. The significant collections hold over 70,000 artworks spanning thousands of years. General entry is free, with charges for special exhibitions
  • Melbourne’s Parliament House offers free guided tours every hour on days when Parliament is not sitting. Construction began on the historic building in 1855, with ongoing additions until 1929. Experience the grandeur of the impressive colonaded building, including the Queen’s Hall, sweeping staircases and ornate lamps
  • The Immigration museum in Flinders Street tells the stories of the immigrants who came to populate Victoria. Entry is Free
  • Built for the great exhibition of 1880, Royal Exhibition Building is one of the world’s oldest remaining exhibition pavilions. It housed the first Commonwealth Parliament from 1901 and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage monument in 2004. It currently hosts trade fairs, shows and cultural events, including the annual International Flower and Garden show in the surrounding Carlton Gardens.
Royal Exhibition Building Melbourne
Royal Exhibition Building Melbourne
  • Opposite Federation Square you will find St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral. The current gothic sandstone building replaced the original 1836 church between 1888 and 1931.
  • Located between the Carlton and Fitzroy gardens, St Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the largest and tallest Catholic cathedrals in Australia. The bluestone and sandstone building was constructed in stages between  1858 and 1940.
  • “Meet me under the clocks” became a Melbourne catchphrase for meeting at Flinders Street Station. The historic building remains a Melbourne landmark today. The upper floors were designed to house a library, and meeting rooms, which were later used as a ballroom. It is Australia’s oldest railway station and the departure clocks under the main dome date back to the 1860’s.
Flinders Street Station, Melbourne
Flinders Street Station, Melbourne

Melbourne Parks and Gardens

When you explore the magnificent parks and gardens around Melbourne, you will begin to understand why Victoria is known as “The garden state”.

  • Surrounding the Royal Exhibition Centre you can enjoy a picnic beside the ornamental lakes in the 19th century Carlton Gardens. The gardens host the annual International Flower and Garden Show in March each year. As well as the magnificent flora, look out for the fauna, including brushtail possums
  • Stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens and enjoy the specially designed interactive children’s gardens. During the summer months you can enjoy an outdoor cinema and theatre performances in the gardens. Entry to the gardens is free, however there is a charge for special events
  • Visit the Treasury Gardens on the edge of Spring Street. Here you will find a Robert Burns Memorial,  statues of Victorian politicians and a colony of brushtail possums.
Conservatory in Fitzroy gardens Melbourne
Conservatory in Fitzroy gardens Melbourne
  • Right in the heart of Melbourne you will find the Fitzroy Gardens. This has always been one of our family’s favourite places to visit in Melbourne. Here you can stroll through avenues lined with English elms,  ornamental shrubs and flowers, landscaped with water features and sculptures. You will find magnificent floral displays in the conservatory, a miniature Tudor village, the famous “fairy tree” as well as a reconstruction of Cook’s Cottage. You could spend several hours exploring the many mostly free features of the gardens, which include:
    • Cooks Cottage was built by the father of Captain James Cook in 1755, In 1934 the cottage was dismantled brick by brick and brought to Australia, where it was reconstructed in the Fitzroy Gardens. The cottage and its surrounding herb gardens now serve as a living museum. Entry is $7 adults, $4 Children.

cooks cottage

  • Ola Cohn carved the Fairy tree with pictures of Australian bush birds and animals between 1931 and 1934. It has become a favourite landmark for generations of Melbourne children.

fairy tree

  • A model Tudor Village within the gardens was a gift to the people of Lambeth, UK in appreciation for food parcels sent during WWII.

Beaches near Melbourne

  • Take a tram from Melbourne University, Swanston Street out to St Kilda Beach. Enjoy a swim in summer, walk along the pier and see the resident fairy penguins, or enjoy the Esplanade markets every Sunday.
  • Take the No 24 tram out to Brighton Beach to see the iconic Victorian beach boxes. The vividly painted boxes line the shore on Dendy Street beach and have become a major tourist attraction. You will find no end of restaurants, cafes and fast food outlets to enjoy lunch beside the sea.

Beach boxes at Brighton Beach

  • Queen Victoria Markets on the corner of Elizabeth and Victoria Streets is the largest open air market in the southern hemisphere. Browse through produce stalls, jewellery, clothing, arts and crafts and souvenirs. Entry is free. You can also take a two hour “Ultimate Foodie tour” sampling the best the markets have to offer
  • Take a tram to Carlton and stroll along Lygon Street, the Italian precinct of Melbourne, where the famous “cafe culture” was born. Shaded cafe tables line the leafy streets, with a wide range of restaurants and cafes to choose from.  Owners can be a little over-enthusiastic in touting for business, so do make sure you browse all the options before making a decision on where to eat.
  • The free hop-on-hop off tram which operates through the CBD will give you a great orientation of the city. Look for the maroon and yellow trams which operate every 12 minutes. It takes 48 minutes to do a full loop of the city.
Melbourne trams
Melbourne trams

We hope you enjoy exploring some of our favourite places in Melbourne and that we have helped to plan your trip to Melbourne.

Read also: What does it cost to Visit Melbourne?

What does it cost to visit Sydney?
Cheap things to do in Sydney

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