A guide to a unique budget weekend adventure at Australia’s creative capital.
From hidden hangouts and humming laneways vibrant with street art to satisfying cheap eats, here’s how to spend a wallet-friendly long weekend in Melbourne.
*US$; hotels, airfare, and impulse shopping not included
Day 1: Soak up the city
Start your day with a clean and refreshing breakfast of macadamia granola and berries (US$11.60) at Kinfolk café (673 Bourke St), before getting your bearings from above on the city’s giant observation wheel — the Melbourne Star (from US$19.50). Then jump on the maroon and green City Circle tram for a leisurely free ride past iconic Melbourne monuments like Federation Square and the Princess Theatre.
For lunch, have fresh Turkish delicacies (US$6) from the Borek Bakehouse (481 Elizabeth St), and then wander two blocks to explore the clothing, jewelry, souvenir and food stalls at the Bourke Street Mall. Here, street culture is as lively as it gets as professional buskers — from musicians to mimes — entertain the crowds. Show your appreciation and support for organic street culture by throwing a few coins into their hats (about US$3). While you’re in the
area, browse beautiful, locally made items at Melbournalia (Shop 5, 50 Bourke St), weave your way through piles of books at the charming Paperback Bookshop (60 Bourke St) or people-watch Melbourne’s best-dressed on Collins Street.
Dinner is rice, two flavorsome curries and a salad (US$6.20) at Gopals restaurant (139 Swanston St). Then finish off at Hihou (1 Flinders Ln), a minimalist bar with a secret entrance — ring the doorbell to be escorted in. Try their signature cocktail, the Hihoutini (tomato-infused vodka, yuzu liqueur and chili shochu bitters; US$16.60).
- Day 1 costs: Breakfast US$11.60; Melbourne Star US$19.50; Lunch US$6; Buskers US$3; Dinner US$6.2; Cocktail US$16.60; Total: US$62.90
Day 2: Art and arcades
Get your brekkie fix in the lush and spacious industrial space — think cascading greenery and 15m-high ceilings — that is Higher Ground café (650 Little Bourke St). For an equally sweet and savory pick-me-up, order a ricotta hot cake, which comes with maple syrup, seeds and grains, cream and seasonal fruit and flowers (US$23).
After breakfast, explore the arcades and laneways Melbourne is renowned for — starting in bustling Degraves Street. Grab coffee to go from any one of the petite cafés (US$4) and make your way to Centre Place for laneway art and independent fashion goods.
At the exquisite Block Arcade (282 Collins St), with its mosaic floors and fascinating shops, The Block is home to small boutiques including Haigh’s Chocolates (for Australian-made confectionary) and Sol Alpaca (for clothing and accessories made with ethically sourced alpaca wool). Lunch is at Union Kiosk in The Causeway
(a laneway that connects to Little Collins Street), a tiny space that turns out piping hot jaffles (toasted sandwiches, including one filled with jerk-spiced jackfruit, cheese and chili pineapple; US$5.10).
Next, head to Hosier Lane, the colorful bluestone laneway adorned with stencils, paste-ups and graffiti created by local and international artists. Across the road is the ACMI (the Australian Centre for the Moving Image), where you can spend hours immersed in Australia’s rich culture of film, TV, video games, digital culture and art. Next, drop in to Ombra Salumi Bar (76 Bourke St) for an aperitivo (from US$6.50), before dinner at the cash-only Butchers Diner (10 Bourke St), a funky American-style diner — with checkered floor tiles and an eye-catching curved orange bench — that serves up some of the best hamburgers in town (from US$7.20).
- Day 2 costs: Breakfast US$23; Coffee US$4; Lunch US$5.10; Aperitivo US$6.50; Dinner US$7.20; Total:US$45.80
Day 3: Seaside stop
From Swanston Street, catch the number 16 tram to the nearby beachside suburb of St Kilda (US$10.90 for all-day transport with a Myki Explorer pack, available at PTV Hubs, SkyBus terminals and many hotels). The Esplanade is a favorite spot to watch skaters or cyclists under the palm trees on the foreshore, or those who kitesurf or windsurf on the bay. Enjoy one of Melbourne’s best shakshoukas (eggs poached in a vegetarian stew of tomatoes and green peppers; US$13) for breakfast at the Woodfrog Bakery (108 Barkly St).
Then, check out the St Kilda Esplanade Market (open every Sunday), with more than 140 stalls offering handicrafts, jewelry, homeware and baked goodies. Grab a coffee (from US$2.50) from BeanTo, Melbourne’s only coffee tricycle. For a delicious and filling lunch, drop in to Lentil as Anything (41 Blessington St), a social enterprise café providing employment for marginalized people. The okonomiyaki with vegan aioli, sweet chili sauce and sweet soy is a standout. The restaurant uses a pay-as-you-feel system; we recommend leaving about A$12 (US$8.70). Keep the afternoon’s feel-good factor going with a visit to the lush and leafy St Kilda Botanical Gardens (11 Herbert St).
Just before sunset, head to the St Kilda breakwater at the end of the pier to see the aptly named little penguins, the world’s smallest species of penguin, as they come in from the sea. Then round out the day with fresh fish and hot chips from the Paper Fish kiosk (30 Jacka Blvd; from US$9).
- Day 3 costs: Transport US$10.90; Breakfast US$13; Coffee US$2.50; Lunch US$8.70; Dinner US$9; Total: US$44.10
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Where to stay: One of the coolest places to splurge on and stay in is Ovolo Laneways. Guests enter through an inviting, colorful lobby — there are jars of sweets and a coffee machine — that immediately offers a sense of the fun and generosity to come. The stylish rooms come with a free minibar and goodie bag (replenished each day), a happy hour each night, free WiFi and thoughtful, borrowable items, such as umbrellas — a must with Melbourne’s changeable weather. A range of fresh, sweet and savory pastries, fruit, yogurt, juice, bread and fresh coffee is provided for breakfast. 19 Little Bourke St; ovolohotels.com.au/ovololaneways
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Getting around: For travel outside of Melbourne’s free zone in the city area, you’ll need a reusable Myki travel card, which can be used on trams, trains and buses. A Myki Explorer pack (US$10.90) will get you started for a full day of travel. If you want to get physical and do short bike trips, purchase a subscription from Melbourne Bike Share — take a bike when you need it and return it to one of its 50 bike stations throughout the city. A Day Pass is US$2.20 and it gives you unlimited 30-minute rides in a 24-hour period. ptv.vic.gov.au/tickets/myki; melbournebikeshare.com.au
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Where to go for live music
Melburnians love their music, from folk to jazz and rockabilly to punk and many of the city’s pubs, bars and venues have cheap or even free live music:
- Sidney Myer Music Bowl. In summer, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performs a series of free concerts at the Bowl, where visitors are encouraged to picnic and enjoy beautiful classical music. Linlithgow Ave; mso.com.au
- Cherry Bar. There’s live music and booze late into the night at Cherry Bar (in the aptly named AC/DC Lane), making it a popular post-show hangout for travelers and even visiting musicians. AC/DC Ln; cherrybar.com.au
- Loop Project Space & Bar. At the heart of Melbourne’s art community is Loop, where there’s a program of live audiovisual performances and workshops. 23 Meyers Pl; looponline.com.au
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Where else to eat
Not enough options, foodies? Here are a few more affordable and filling options available in the Melbourne CBD:
- The Bratwurst Shop & Co in the Deli Hall at Queen Victoria Market serves up hearty beef and pork sausages, with a range of tasty fillings and sauces from US$4.20. Shop 99–100, Deli Hall, Queen Victoria Market; fb.com/bratwurstshopco
- Gyoza Gyoza is an izakaya-style restaurant that offers bite-sized delicacies like pan-fried pork and garlic gyoza, soft-shell crab mini burgers and okra tempura, mostly under US$4.90. 117 Little Bourke St; gyozagyoza.com.au
- Shanghai Street Dumpling House is a popular chain of Chinese restaurants that specializes in Jiangnan-style eats (think salty and lightly sweetened dumplings and noodles). There are a few branches in the city, with the newest one being on Bourke Street. Allow some time for queuing! shanghaistreet.com.au
This article first appeared in the November 2018 issue of Smile magazine.