Low-cost highbrow in Melbourne

Melbourne is consistently voted the world’s most liveable city. It’s home to a fantastic shopping, museums, cafes, world class restaurants and green spaces. It has a thriving arts, culture and theatre scene and lends itself to outdoor activities galore. So it’s not surprising, there’s plenty to do even if you only have a few dollars in your pocket. Here’s our guide to some of the best activities that won’t break the bank.

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World class art

Big names such as Rodin and Constable have their creations on display at the National Gallery of Victoria. Being the oldest public art gallery in Australia, it houses art pieces spanning centuries and covering many different cultures.

If ethnic and traditional art is your thing, don’t miss the Aboriginal art featured at the Ian Potter Centre on Federation Square exhibiting historic and contemporary pieces dedicated to Australian art only.

Immerse yourself in the world of film, television and digital culture at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, visit the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art on Southbank or pop into any – or all – of the private galleries in the Flinders Lane precinct, where you’ll find art by local and international artists on show.

If you love art but don’t want to spend time in a gallery, don’t worry, Melbourne has you covered. Colourful murals dominate the central city’s laneways, so you can see some of the best work from local artists while you’re exploring.

Melbourne also boasts plenty of heritage-protected buildings, considered a pieces of art themselves. Some of the distinctive buildings include the Flinders Street Railway Station, the Nicholas Building, the gothic St Paul’s Cathedral and the Scots Church.

Architecture buffs will also love the Melbourne Town Hall. Made from bluestone and Tasmanian freestone. The popular concert, comedy and civic event venue stands guard over Swanston Street. Free tours are available on weekdays.

Markets

Everyone loves a bargain and you’re guaranteed at least one at any of Melbourne’s numerous markets. Vendors here sell goods ranging from fresh produce to artisan wines and art pieces.

Red tomatoes @ Queen Vic Markets. Photo by Christine Silickas.

The open-air Queen Victoria Market, the Rose Street Artists’ Market and the Farmers Market at Abbotsford Convent are popular choices. All are free and easily accessible. Queen Victoria Market spans two city blocks and is considered a historic landmark in itself.

Garden delights

The renowned Royal Botanic Gardens are an inner-city oasis of calm and peace, accommodating more than 10,000 plant species. Opened in 1846, the 36ha gardens comprise of sweeping lawns, tranquil lakes and majestic trees alongside rare and unusual plants.

Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens in autumn. Photo by Meicw.

Visitors can while away the hours in peaceful surroundings; taking a stroll while learning about the plants around you or enjoying a picnic. And stay alert – you might even spot some wildlife.

Families will love the purpose-built children’s garden, which houses a fountain and man-made creek perfect for swimming. The gardens are open year-round, from 7.30am to sunset and the entry is completely free.

Free tours are offered at Fitzroy Gardens, which features an ornamental lake as well as Cook’s Cottage, once the home of Captain James Cook’s parents. You can also take a leisurely wander through Flagstaff Gardens, where free concerts and art classes are held in summer.

Conservatory Fitzroy gardens Melbourne. Photo by Joy Snow.

Music

Melbourne regularly hosts a range of free and cheap concerts. Many are held at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, a short walk from the city centre. The large grassy amphitheatre and stage regularly holds free shows including performances by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and pop and rock bands.

The central Cherry Bar is a renowned rock venue and outer suburbs such as Northcote and St Kilda have plenty of places offering live music.

Libraries

State Library of Victoria is home to a staggering two million books. It was established in 1856, however its epicentre, the eight-sided La Trobe Reading Room, was completed in 1913. Take yourself on a tour of the Reading Room and exhibition galleries or check out the free classes, talks and kids’ activities. There’s even a chess section where you can sit down for a quiet game. The library is open daily except on public holidays.

Steve Davidson, Victoria State Gallery via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Not had your fill of books yet? Then head on to the Melbourne Athenaeum Library. Established in 1839, it’s one of Victoria’s oldest public institutions. It boasts an extensive collection of classic and current fiction, and non-fiction genres such as travel and history.

Outdoors

Think fairytale-like landscape full of ferns, the Dandenong Ranges are a haven of hidden delights for nature-lovers, outdoor adventurers, art enthusiasts, foodies and those seeking rest and rejuvenation. There are beautiful public gardens or you can take a ride on the popular Puffing Billy steam train.

Dandenongs- Black Spur Drive

Take a scenic walk along the Yarra River banks from Southgate, Melbourne’s inner south, or hire bikes and cycle around the city taking in the scenery.

Or head to the Docklands area, with its array of attractions and sites ranging from art galleries to fun parks.

Federation Square

Fed Square to the locals, Federation Square lies in the very heart of Melbourne. From markets to free events and street shows, you can guarantee there’ll be something happening whenever you stroll by.

Federation Square, Melbourne. Photo by Yi Chen.

Museum trail

For an introduction to Melbourne’s history, head to the Koorie Heritage Trust’s Cultural Centre in the aforementioned Fed Square. The city’s original inhabitants, the Wurundjeri people, will teach you all you ever wanted to know about contemporary Koorie history and culture.

The Johnston Collection Museum has a wonderful collection of Georgian, Regency and Louis XV’s art and antique pieces, all set within a beautiful house. The Grainger Museum (named after renowned composer Percy Aldridge Grainger), showcases the work of many Australian artists, while the Melbourne Museum features historic and modern exhibitions focusing on a range of subjects. Adult entry is under $10 and children go free.

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