Melbourne on a Budget – How to Experience Melbourne More Affordably. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Melbourne on a Budget – How to Experience Melbourne More Affordably

Australia is an expensive destination to visit, regardless of the drop in value of the Aussie dollar, and the capital of its southern state Victoria is no exception, but it is still possible to do Melbourne on a budget and here’s how.

From taking advantage of free public transport to checking into longer-stay apartments, here are our tips to experiencing Melbourne on a budget.

Melbourne on a Budget – How to Experience Melbourne More Affordably

Getting to Melbourne on a Budget

Skip an expensive taxi and take the SkyBus from Melbourne Airport to Southern Cross Station in the city. It runs 24 hours, takes 20 minutes, leaves every 10-15 minutes, and costs $16/$26 one way/return per person and $36/56 for a family (2 adults and 1-4 kids). For travellers on a tight budget who aren’t deterred by a 60-minute trip to the city, there’s also a public bus; see Melbourne travel writer Tim Richards detailed blog post on that option here.

Getting around Melbourne on a Budget

Melbourne’s taxis are expensive, trams and buses aren’t cheap, and there are no dedicated tourist travel passes/reduced multi-day tickets/ticket bundles (although a ‘MYKI visitor pass pack‘ is in the works, which you should look out for). The good news is you can travel around the city centre, or CBD (central business district) as Aussies call it, on a free City Circle Tram or Tourist Shuttle Bus.

The City Circle Tram runs around the CBD perimeter every 12 minutes, seven days a week, while the Tourist Shuttle runs every 30 minutes and covers a larger area, taking in Carlton, Docklands, Southbank, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Jolimont. The bad news is the City Circle Tram only runs from 10am-6pm Sunday to Wednesday and 10am-9pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday, while the Tourist Shuttle runs from 9.30am until just 4.30pm each day.

Update as at October 2015: since early January 2015, all trams in the Melbourne CBD are free, so if you’re focusing your exploration on the city centre you’ll save money by using trams to get around.

Settling in to Melbourne on a Budget

You’ll save money by staying in an apartment instead of a hotel, as much as we love some of Melbourne’s beautiful hotels. We tried a handful of the city’s superb serviced apartments, of which Punt Hill, Citadines, and Espresso Apartments are the best value – they’re more affordable than hotels with the advantage of having kitchens and laundries, while two or three bedroom apartments can be split between couples, friends or family.

Shop the markets in Melbourne

One of the reasons we love staying in apartments is because we can fill our fridge with fantastic produce from the local markets and do some cooking, so we’re not eating out for every meal. Melbourne has some phenomenal fresh food markets, including Queen Victoria Market, South Melbourne Market and Prahran Market, which we review in this post.

Snacks and picnic supplies in Melbourne

Melbourne’s markets are also a great place to pick up fresh bread, dips, cheeses, olives, cold meats, and fruit, which are ideal for snacks or picnics. Budget-priced fast food treats that locals love include the Turkish-inspired boreks at Queen Victoria Market, dims sims at South Melbourne Market, and Vietnamese spring rolls at Prahran market. We like to pick up a dozen freshly shucked oysters at one of the market seafood shops (for up to a third of the price you’d pay at a restaurant!) and a bottle of wine from Sword’s Wines, and head to South Bank or St Kilda Beach. Sublime.

Shop vintage in Melbourne

Can’t afford Melbourne’s fabulous fashion? Then opt for more affordable and more interesting – not to mention uniquely Australian – vintage fashion. You can also find some very special souvenirs, such as retro Australiana (including kitsch 1950s ceramic kangaroos) at vintage stores like The Junk Company. See our full guide to vintage shopping in Melbourne.

Explore Melbourne’s lanes and arcades

Is the city’s famous Hidden Secrets Lanes and Arcades tour a bit beyond your budget? As brilliant as it is to do the tour with a knowledgeable local guide, there’s nothing stopping you from exploring on your own and you can entertain yourself for days ambling the elegant arcades and alleys, taking in the architecture and street art.

Eat affordably in Melbourne

Melbourne boasts some of the world’s best restaurants (don’t believe us? See this tasty little time-lapse) but unfortunately dinner at them is out of reach for travellers on a budget. Go for lunch instead. Restaurants such as Spice Temple offer affordable Yum Cha for lunch, at Movida you opt for the tapas instead of the more expensive mains, while Bistro Guillaume has two courses of French classics for $45. Melbourne also has plenty of cheap eats in its multicultural neighbourhoods such as Richmond, where its main drag Victoria Street is lined with Vietnamese restaurants like Pho Chu The and I Love Pho, where you can get a bowl of pho soup for less than $10. In South Yarra, Dainty Sichuan has deliciously fiery dishes for less than $10 for lunch, but three times that price for dinner.

Get off the beaten track in Melbourne

Multicultural suburbs like Dandenong, Melbourne’s ‘Little India’, are not only fascinating places to explore (read about our visit on the Masala Trail tour), they boast plenty of budget eateries, such as Chandni Chowk, where curries cost less than $10 and their tasty chaat costs $6.50.

Do a coffee tasting in Melbourne

Melbourne prides itself on its coffee, so if you’re a coffee lover you should get along to a free coffee cupping at one of Melbourne’s excellent cafés. Read about our experience cupping coffee at Market Lane café.

Kick back at Melbourne’s beaches and parks

Melbourne may not have the breathtaking beaches and harbourside parks of Sydney, but it does have some very pleasant parks and green spaces, such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Fitzroy Gardens and Albert Park, while the slim stretch of sand that extends from Port Melbourne Beach to St Kilda Beach is perfect for a stroll or simply savouring the sunset.

Tuck into a pub counter meal in Melbourne

While blackboards outside Melbourne’s pubs advertise ‘Parma and Pot’ specials, you can get more delicious and better quality counter meals at pubs such as the Middle Park Hotel, where hearty old-fashioned dishes like Irish Stew, Coq au Vin, and Pork Cordon Bleu go for $12 during lunch and dinner.

Let Melbourne entertain you

Cheap happy hour drinks, art exhibition openings, free comedy nights, cheap music gigs, and cut-price theatre tickets can ensure you’re entertained after dark. Check Time Out Melbourne to see what’s on when you’re in town.

Getting away from Melbourne on a Budget

For affordable onward travel, trains to other state capitals are a good option if you haven’t seen much of the country, although they’re expensive by foreign standards. Flying will cost around the same price and is obviously considerably faster. For interstate train travel see VLine and for domestic flights Australia try Flight Centre, which has a policy to match other prices. A tip: buy your train tickets at a station; though you can purchase online, they will want to post your tickets to a mail box! Bon Voyage!

Do you have any tips for experiencing Melbourne on a budget? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

16 thoughts on “Melbourne on a Budget – How to Experience Melbourne More Affordably”

  1. Some great advice here, particularly about eating affordably. Melbourne is very good for this at the cafe level I find, with quality dishes at reasonable prices.

    If I could make a correction re transport – the Melbourne public transport system does have daily and weekly fares which are lower than paying for each separate trip, both in the current Metcard system and for the new Myki smartcard which is now operating and will replace Metcard by the end of the year.

    On Myki, daily travel is capped at the amount of two 2-hour fares, ie from the third trip onward you’re travelling without any extra charge that day. Even better, on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, travel is capped at $3.30 for unlimited travel across all of Melbourne.

    Great for tourists, who could, say, take a train and bus right up to the top of Mt Dandenong in the Dandenong ranges east of the city, bushwalk for a bit then catch another bus down to Sassafras for scones at Miss Marple’s Tea Rooms, then bus/train back to the city – all for $3.30. Top value.

    There are also 7-day passes which can be loaded onto a Myki card, which work out cheaper than daily fares once you enter the 6th day of travel (which tourists would often do, using it every day). Details of passes are here: http://ptv.vic.gov.au/fares-tickets/myki/myki-money/

    One more thing re transport – the Skybus is quick and cheaper than taxis, but for those with minimal luggage and tighter budgets it’s relatively easy to get to the airport by regular public transport for about $5 – I’ve outlined it in a blog post here: http://aerohaveno.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/to-melbourne-airport-cheap-arse-way.html

    Hope that’s useful for your readers!

  2. Hi Tim – I guess the keyword above re travel passes/reduced daily/weekly tickets is ‘tourists’, ie aimed directly at holidaymakers/backpackers. (I’ll clarify.)

    Myki is targeted at locals, not tourists, so while it might be a bargain for Aussies on good salaries, it’s expensive for foreign tourists.

    The shortest period you can buy a Myki pass for is 7-days – many travellers are only spending a few nights in Melbourne out of a longer month-long Australia-wide trip.

    The Myki pass also starts at $32 (+ $6 for the card), which is expensive for many foreign visitors. (The av. daily spend is $95 for holidaymakers or $75 for backpackers.)

    It’s also for consecutive travel only, so it doesn’t suit travellers who might spend a couple of days in the city, then hit the Great Ocean Road, Grampians and Goldfields for a road trip for a few days, then return to Melbourne before jetting off to Alice Springs or wherever.

    What’s also not very tourist-friendly is the $6 cost of the card, which, unlike passes in many other countries, isn’t refundable at the end of a trip.

    Myki is complicated for tourists, who don’t want to have to spend time figuring that stuff out.

    I’m to understand the introduction of a simplified dedicated tourist travel pass is in the works, but I didn’t mention it above as these things can take years to happen. See: http://www.destinationmelbourne.com.au/2012/04/myki-visitor-pass-calling-on-offers/

    Great suggestion re the public bus, esp. for backpackers, though I guess the turn-off for most travellers would be the additional 1 hour’s travel on what might have been a 20+ hour trip. Great tip if they’re just coming from Sydney though.

    Tim, feel free to leave any other links to posts you might have on budget tips. The cost of living/travel in Australia is the main consideration for foreign travellers right now.

  3. I wouldn’t agree that Myki is complicated – you can buy one at any 7-Eleven and ask the guy behind the counter to either load it up with a cash amount or a 7-day pass if that’s more suitable. Pretty easy.

    That $3.30 fare for all day travel on weekends justifies the $6 purchase price for the card IMO. There’s been some talk of enabling refunds of the $6 Myki purchase price for visitors too, let’s hope that happens.

    Yes I’ve also read there’s a dedicated tourist travel card in the works – an excellent idea which’ll make things easier for visitors. I doubt it’ll work out as cheap as using Myki however; overseas I’ve often found these cards are more expensive than normal fares though they include extras such as discounts to museums etc.

    By the way, forgot to mention it before but the Skybus is now $17/$28 one-way/return – see http://www.skybus.com.au/.

    Hope your readers don’t get too put off by the relatively high prices because of the high $A – it’s a great city to visit and get under the skin of.

  4. When we first arrived, I went to three different 7-Elevens and not one cashier could advise me what the best option was for us. There’s also little detail on the machines themselves or inside the trams – not the ones we caught anyway. In the end, I went online and did my own research.

    After doing the math, because we weren’t taking trams every day, it turned out we were better off just buying 2-hour tickets as we needed them. We stayed in Melbourne 5 weeks this recent trip and on any given week we would never have used the value of the card and 7-day pass. Obviously where visitors are staying is going to play a factor in whether they opt for a Myki or not.

    We ended up walking everywhere, using the free City Circle tram a lot, and taking taxis, especially out at night.

    If the new dedicated travel card turns out to be more expensive than a Myki, then they would’ve blown a great opportunity to get something like that right – which many destinations do. The idea should be that they’re cheaper, easier and more flexible to use than something like the Myki, plus they have some bonuses, like free/discounted entry to certain attractions. It will be interesting to see what they end up with.

    I think travellers have been put off coming to Australia by the high prices and high Aussie dollar for a few years now, and many sectors of the industry are feeling the pain. Affluent travellers are still coming, while backpackers are choosing to take advantage of the generous visas and work longer (and earn amazing money) and travel less. However, retirees (aspiring grey nomads), families, and couples like us have certainly looked to alternative destinations and will probably continue to do so until the dollar drops.

    I guess our message to our readers is that Melbourne (and we’ll cover more destinations in Australia soon) is a fantastic city, especially if you’re into food (Australia’s restaurants, esp. in Melbourne (and Sydney) are doing some of the finest food in the world right now in our opinion), but be prepared, as it will cost you a small fortune to eat out here in the way you might eat in other cities. Having said that, foodie travellers have always been prepared to part with their hard-earned cash to eat great meals in the world’s great dining capitals. For other travellers, our message is that there *are* ways to save money in the city and still have a great time.

    Thanks for dropping by again with the additional advice – much appreciated!

  5. Isn’t Melbourne and budget an oxymoron? :)

    I know Australia is definitely expensive. Budget is definitely a relative term in this case. Even the food is a bit pricey. Fortunately, those coming from the US won’t be shocked but the prices may be higher than expected. Even the lunch options are a little surprising but at least there is some stuff to eat at decent prices.

    I love the idea of staying in an apartment. Hotels are fine but you also get the added bonus of shopping in local markets and connecting with the people as well.

  6. True! The food is very pricey in Australia in fact. A standard main course averages $30 and that’s not even at a flash place. I was just looking at menus to take my Mum to lunch somewhere – and fish and chips at a local pub, not even a fancy one, is $32! We haven’t spent a lot of time in the US in recent years, so I tend to compare prices to Europe – for the price you might pay for two main courses at an upmarket Italian place in Melbourne, you’d get two courses and a good bottle of wine at a superb restaurant in Venice. That’s why those deals above are so good by Australian standards. Then there’s the cost of wine here – it’s hard to find a bottle of wine for less than $50 in a decent restaurant! Ouch! But, as we say above, there are other options – the pho places, restos like Dainty Sichuan, and off-the-beaten-track suburbs like Dandenong.

    Totally agree re apartments, and they especially make sense in Melbourne because the markets are just so amazing!

    Thanks for dropping by, Jeremy! :)

  7. Hi Lara,

    I found the cost of Melbourne somewhat prohibitive when i was out there, but seem to recall a very good dimsum restaurant for circa 8/10$ per meal. Very good i thought, but food was SO expensive.

    An example being bananas and fruit at 1/2$ per item!

    Could you point me in the direction of more budgeting tips for Melbourne in particular? Im keen to get out there over NYE.

    Thanks

    Duncan

  8. Hi Duncan – Melbourne (and Australia more generally) *is* expensive. There are ‘cheap eats’ – generally ethnic eateries – where you can get dishes for $10. Today, for instance, in Perth we ate some of the best Malaysian we’ve eaten outside of Malaysia (place was packed with Malaysians) and for an appetizer, laksa and char kway teow, and two drinks – all very generously sized – we paid $30, the price of a main course in many restaurants!

    Bananas have dropped significantly in price actually – they were $12 kilo when we arrived last year! – but that was because of the floods in Queensland from what I understand.

    Where else to find Melbourne budget tips…
    * Time Out Melbourne http://www.au.timeout.com/melbourne/ – they should have stories on ‘top 10 burgers’ and that sort of thing, and I think they occasionally do stories on cheap meal deals, etc.
    * Urban Spoon http://www.urbanspoon.com/ is also a good source of cheap eats tips – what I like is that the site has links to critics reviews of places, as well as blog posts, and consumer reviews.
    * Visit Victoria http://www.visitvictoria.com/ – check the official state tourism website too for ideas.

    I probably should have mentioned that some of the city’s museums and galleries offer free admission, including the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Centre for Contemporary, and the Ian Potter Centre.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  9. We love Melbourne! It reminds us a lot like San Francisco – so many little quirky neighborhoods like the unique graffiti art on the streets of New Brunswick and Fitzroy. :)

  10. Good tips for budget travellers! And the mall food courts always have a huge variety of cuisines too, so great for families or groups of friends. Thanks for your insights, Rachel.

  11. For budget eats I’d recommend shopping mall food courts. I used to eat in Melbourne Central mall all the time. If you’re visiting Melbourne’s city centre for a short stay there’s no need to worry about public transport as the city is very walkable.

  12. Good tips for budget travellers! And the mall food courts always have a huge variety of cuisines too, so great for families or groups of friends. thankx for your info

  13. Thanks! True that the mall food courts offer up affordable meals. Small ethnic family restaurants in the suburb are great too. Often the less known they are, the cheaper they will be too.

  14. Well, there’s no denying that Melbourne is an expensive destination to visit. But yeah, with the tips provided by Lara here, it is possible to have a holiday without breaking the bank.

    To give an additional tip, weigh your option on choosing hotels vs self contained accommodation such as holiday homes or apartments. These alternative accommodation options (such as the ones we offer) are mostly equipped with fully functional kitchens – that can help you save on your everyday food.

  15. Thanks for dropping by. That’s what we’re all about here on Grantourismo – inspiring people to slow down and settle into cities and choose apartment rentals over hotels, so they can shop the local markets and cook some food. I’d encourage you to explore our site. Click through to Slow+Stay above for instance and you’ll see scores of apartments and holiday houses we’ve rented over the years. If you go to Slow+Cook and The Dish you’ll see the food we’ve made in many holiday rentals. We haven’t experienced your apartments yet, but we’ll give them a try when we’re next in Melbourne.

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