Melbourne made us giddy. From the moment we set foot in Federation Square, surrounded by shiny high rise buildings and hip cafes we were possessed by a strange energy. Maybe it was the heady coffee aroma which permeates every street corner seeping into our bodies, or maybe it was the influence of the fitness obsessed Melbournians rubbing off on us. Either way, Melbourne has a cool electricity which, like the current of the Yarra river which runs through it, is impossible to resist.
However, every backpacker knows that visiting cities on a shoestring budget can be tricky. Like a poor kid in a sweet shop we press our noses to the restaurant windows gazing enviously at the heaving plates of gourmet food or avert our eyes as we pass shop menequins draped in designer handbags, before trudging back to our hostel for a third night of beans on toast.
The good news is Melbourne has plenty to offer even the most financially challenged backpacker. Check out our list if the top ten free (or cheap) things to do in Melbourne.
Get snap happy with Hosier Lane street art
Melbourne is one of the top street art cities in the world and colourful images can be found in alleyways and street corners all over the city. Hosier Lane is one of the most impressive streets with photo quality artwork adorning every brick, windowsill and railing in sight. If you’re lucky you might even catch sight of a new image being added by one of the city’s talented graffiti artists. These colourful streets are just begging to be photographed so what are you waiting for?
Grab a deckchair in Federation Square
Eccentric Federation Square sits at the heart of the city centre and is where the action happens. Concerts, demonstrations, sporting and charity events grace this bustling space ringed by cafes and cultural centres enclosed in impressive, futuristic architecture. So grab one of the colourful deck chairs scattered around the place, sit back and enjoy a spot of people watching in the sunshine beneath the big screen.
Stock your picnic basket at Queen Victoria Market
Queen Victoria market is the largest open-air market in the southern hemisphere and an explosion of sights, sounds and smells that your senses will never forget. Take a stroll down the fresh produce aisle where lively market traders selling fragrant fruit and vegetables will tempt you in with their $1 offers. There are bargains a plenty to be had here so cut loose and fill your basket.
Explore Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens
Armed with your freshly stocked picnic basket, your next stop should be the Royal Botanic Gardens which are brimming with tree lined avenues, exotic plants and wildlife. Take a break from pounding the pavements and find a shady spot among the greenery to relax and listen to the birds for a couple of hours until you’re ready to take on the bustling city again.
Take a sunset stroll along the Yarra River
The picturesque Yarra River runs through the eastern suburbs all the way to the city centre and with an excellent riverside walkway providing gorgeous views of the city it’s a must do. Early evening is the best time to visit when the sun is sinking below the skyline and dozens of rowers take to the river, gliding gracefully through the twinkling water. It takes around 40 minutes to walk the stretch from South Yarra to Federation Square.
Watch some Aussie rules football
You don’t need to spend a penny to see Aussie rules football as games are happening in green spaces all over the city. Check out the sports fields near the AAMI stadium beside the Yarra River where there’s always plenty of activity.
Mingle with the locals in South Yarra
South Yarra is one of Melbourne’s oldest, most attractive inner city suburbs and is bustling with fantastic cafes, bars, shops and even a few galleries. There are also a number of guesthouses and hostels in the area so it makes a good base for visiting the city. We stayed at Claremont Guesthouse on Toorak Road which also offers free breakfast. Do as the locals do and grab a seat in one of the sunny streetside cafes and watch the world go by.
Get addicted to Melbourne’s coffee culture
Coffee is much more than just a caffeinated breakfast beverage in Melbourne; it’s a way of life and the locals are very proud of their brew. The city’s coffee culture dates back the 1880’s when coffee palaces became popular. Today there are whole streets dedicated to drinking coffee, with tables and chairs spilling out onto pavements and filling squares. So don’t even try to resist!
Free walking tour
There are a number of free walking tours run by volunteers which take in the key sights of Melbourne. Most depart from Federation Square daily between 9am and 10am.
Catch a movie
Melbourne’s weather is famously unpredictable so if the heavens open head for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Fed Square. It’s free and celebrates the work of Australian cinema and TV. Upstairs you can watch programmes from the National Film and Sound Archive and ACMI.