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How to spend a day in Melbourne's CBD on $50

50 dollar note in wallet
Photograph: Carmen Zammit

Down to your last fiddy and need to take someone out for a day in Melbourne?  There’s actually a surprising amount of things you can do with a crisp pineapple. Our first tip: stick to the CBD, where you can get around in the free tram zone.

1. Explore the Royal Botanic Gardens: Free

Start off by wandering through the Royal Botanic Gardens. Everyone does the walk around the Tan, but head deep into the gardens to check out the vast plant collections and landscapes. Our favourites are the Arid Garden, which showcases many exotic desert plants and cacti and the lush Fern Gully that looks like something out of Jurassic Park. 

 

2. Get a snack at Shortstop Doughnuts and Coffee: $9

Visit this little laneway doughnut shop for a fresh, delicious doughie like this maple glaze and walnut number, which you can watch being made in the open kitchen, coffee in hand. Shortstop gets their coffee from local roaster Market Lane, known for their serious blends.

 

3. Go on a self-guided tour of Melbourne’s arcades: Free (if you don’t buy anything)

Window shopping is infinitely more interesting at the Royal and Block Arcades. Start at Royal Arcade’s Bourke Street Mall entrance and get a feel for how Melbourne’s 19th-century shoppers spent their well-earned shillings. Cross Little Collins Street to enter Block Arcade and pay close attention to the beautiful mosaic tile floor and stunning glass canopy. If you have more cash to spare, stop by the arcade’s excellent cafes and shops offering everything from designer clothing to gifts. 

4. See some world-class art or just read a book under the stained-glass ceiling at NGV International: Free

 

NGV water wall

Photograph: Philip Thompson/ Creative Commons

 

The permanent collection includes a Rembrandt, a Bonnard and a Tiepolo, and it's all 100 per cent free. All visitors to the NGV must pass the water wall upon entry, and yes, it is hard to resist touching it. The ground floor is where you'll usually find the gallery's major exhibitions, and it's also where you'll find the magnificent, boiled lolly-like stained glass ceiling in the Great Hall. There are comfortable beanbags on the floor, practically begging you to spend some time reading or listening to a podcast beneath the transfixing ceiling. 

5. Listen to a DJ set and grab a beer at Section 8: $8

This container bar in a laneway nails the grungy Melbourne vibe. From Thursday evening onwards, there’s usually a DJ spinning dirty electronic or hip hop sets. Grab a cold one and chill out on the shipping pallet seats or stick around long enough and you’ll see the place turn into a heaving dance floor.

 

6. Finish up with some 24-hour ramen at Shujinko: $13.80

To no one’s surprise, turns out ramen is better than a limp cheeseburger and soggy chips at 3am. Shujinko is open all day, every day and is the pick-me-up you need when it’s too late to get a decent feed elsewhere. Get the signature Shujinko ramen with a charred slab of pork belly and rich broth.

On a tight budget? Here are 25 experiences under $25.

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