Australia: 48 Hours in Melbourne on a Budget

After a bittersweet departure from Southeast Asia, we had a long journey to Australia. After 21 hours of travel, including a long overnight layover in Kuala Lumpur, we finally arrived in Melbourne for a quick 48 hour stay! We were immediately struck with a bit of reverse culture shock and sticker shock. Here’s how we still enjoyed Melbourne on a tight timeline and budget.


Adorable trams cruising the city.

Overall, Melbourne reminded us a lot of Chicago, but with way sweeter accents. This part-hipster, part-fancy city is bustling with streets full of tourists and locals, trams navigating through the city, crowded shopping areas, and alleyways packed with café goers enjoying expensive coffee and brunch. After spending the last few months in Southeast Asia and India we were met with a bit of reverse culture shock including:

  • Lanes: it took us some time to take in the western road system complete with speed limits, stop lights and rules of the road. We were cautiously optimistic that we may actually be kind of safe on the road in Melbourne!
  • Road construction: this was something we hadn’t seen in a LONG time and we were overwhelmed with the bright orange cones, reflectors, and machines working along the road. What is this city development?!
  • The Opera: seeing the Melbourne Opera House seemed totally gratuitous. So you’re saying people go to the Opera instead of driving tuk-tuks or worrying about Dengue Fever?
  • Hobbies: This goes hand in hand with the opera. Observing locals enjoying hobbies like biking and rowing on the river seemed totally strange. After observing so many people living in what can seem like uninhabitable situations, it seemed like we had literally been transported to another Pleasantville-like land.
  • The daily grind: There is something unconventionally peaceful about the way the people of Southeast Asia and India live—no one wears suits, small businesses and farming are the status quo, people break for lunch, families live together in small towns, locals greet each other on the street (imagine that!!). In Melbourne, we were suddenly surrounded by a big city full of people rushing to work, crowded sidewalks, fancy shopping and dining and there was a sense of the old rat race. Insert panic. We 1) took a step back and thought, “is this what we look like in Chicago?!” and 2) wanted to tell everyone to CHILL OUT, take it a bit slower, and enjoy the day. A message we all need to hear once and awhile!
  • Food choices: after being limited to (the BEST) Asian food for almost every meal we were totally overwhelmed with amount of food choices in Melbourne. What do you mean we can get Eggs Benedict or doughnuts or bagels or cheeseburgers OR Mexican food?!?!?!
  • PRICES***: after spending about $10 for both of us to eat dinner in Southeast Asia, we couldn’t get over the prices in Melbourne. We were suddenly looking at menus where coffee was $4-$5 and breakfast could run you $15-$20 a dish. WHAT. No thanks.

To help us stay on budget we had to get creative with our activities and food choices. Here’s how we stayed cheap and stayed busy for 48 hours in expensive, expensive Melbourne:

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Ibis Budget in CBD Melbourne. When visiting, you definitely want to stay in the CBD. This area made it super easy for us to explore the city by foot. Ibis Budget was very basic accommodation, but clean and a good place to sleep. The room ran us about $100 a night, which was on the cheaper end of other options downtown. The downside was no WIFI—Oh yeah, not only is Melbourne expensive, but they also charge you for WIFI everywhere. Are we being robbed?

What to Do for FREE!

To save money, we stuck exclusively to free activities in Melbourne. Good news, there’s a ton of them!


Wandering the aisles (and choosing breakfast, of course) at Queen Victoria Market.

Our favorite activity was visiting Queen Victoria Market, the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere. This market is a blast to walk through as locals and tourists alike wander through acres of vendors selling deli meat, fish, cheese, breads, and gifts. We suggest spending a bit of money enjoying some of the food options in the market such as the American Doughnut Kitchen, but if you’re sticking to a strict budget, as the Southeast Asians say, “you can look FOR FREE!”


Loving the street art in Melbourne!


More street art down Hosier Lane.

Exploring Melbourne by foot can easily take up an entire afternoon and, guess what?, it’s free! We soaked in the mild weather of Melbourne by taking to the streets. I am always on the hunt for street art and there’s loads of it in Melbourne. We walked to Hosier Lane and had a ball photographing the alleyways filled with street art. This spot is filled with tourists, but is still awesome. The Shrine of Remembrance and Royal Botanic Gardens are also an easy walk from the CBD. The Shrine of Remembrance is an important Melbourne landmark, which serves as a memorial to Australians who have served in war. The architecture of this memorial is gorgeous and it’s very interesting to walk through (for free!). It’s definitely worth a stop. From the memorial, we hopped on over the botanic gardens, which are unbelievable. You can literally walk through these expansive gardens for hours. You can read a book on a bench, take a sack lunch to enjoy on a hill, and learn about the plants unique to Australia. Don’t miss Guilfoyle’s Volcano at the highest point of the gardens, where you can see a view of the city. Again, all free! I like it, I love it, I want some more of it!


The best baby ducks in the Royal Botanic Gardens.


Inside the Shrine of Remembrance.

And more of it we got. We also walked up and down the riverfront during the evening and were entertained by lots of street entertainers, including one who swallowed a sword! The riverfront is lined with tons of cool restaurants and bars if you want to throw down $12 on a glass of wine. We did not.


The beautiful riverfront.

There is also a free tram zone in the CBD, which allows you to hop on and hop off a tram in the general CBD area. You can take this tram to the Harbor Town/Docklands area of Melbourne to see Emirates Arena and walk around the harbor. Again, there are lots of restaurants and a few paid activities in this area, but it’s also a nice place for an afternoon walk to see a new part of Melbourne.


View of the harbor.

Cheap Eats


Jumbo sushi rolls from Sushi Hub.

The food culture of Melbourne would definitely be a blast if you weren’t on a budget, but sadly, we were. So, to keep our food tabs to a minimum we had to be very careful about our eating and drinking. So careful that we didn’t drink any alcohol in Melbourne… so responsible!! To save money on food we ate:

Breakfast: On morning one, rather than paying for a sit down breakfast we found a café that sold cheaper pastries and went with banana bread and shared a coffee. On morning two, we enjoyed boreks (a Turkish pastry with various filling – we opted for one cheese & spinach and one spicy potato) at the Queen Victoria Market, which had a much better price tag than the neighboring restaurants.


Boreks…GET ONE!!

Lunch: On day one, we shared fries with lots of toppings from Lord of the Fries at Flinders Street Railway Station (a gorgeous train station!). On day two, we shared a delicious sandwich from The Soup Place on Flinders Lane. One of the coolest things about Melbourne is the alleyways or laneways full of restaurants and shops, so definitely make time to wander through a few!

Dinner: We only had one dinner in Melbourne, which was good because dinner comes with a steep price tag. We found a great little gem called Sushi Hub, which sells unique, enormous pieces of sushi for about $1.40 a piece. So, we were able to fill ourselves up for about $5 a person!! Sushi Hub has yummy beef, chicken, and fish sushi, which were fun to try!

As you can tell, to save some $$$ we had to share most of our meals, which is good for our wallets and waistlines! To make sure we don’t starve, we always keep granola bars, gummy bears (Haribo brand, of course!), and Pringles on hand for snacking, duh.

Until next time, Melbourne! 

2 Comments on “Australia: 48 Hours in Melbourne on a Budget

  1. I will likely be going to a conference in Melbourne in 2021, so your description is a little disappointing, given the prices despite the strong dollar. But thanks for all the tips!

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