You can usually get the best value out of a city stay if you stay in the city rather than a train, bus or car journey away.
A city stay – Stay locally
There are plenty of accommodation options available nowadays that are more cost effective than a hotel – try a b&b or home stay or look for an apartment which will enable you to eat ‘at home’.
Once you have your accommodation sorted, it’s time to get out and about. Most Australian cities have footpaths that are wide enough to accommodate large numbers of pedestrians. A word of advice here – keep left, as you would when driving on Australian roads.
You might like to look out for a white line marked down the centre of older footpaths in some parts of Brisbane city. The Brisbane river is well endowed with walking/cycling paths and you can walk much of the way from Toowong to New Farm along the north side of the river. Cross over to Southbank (via the Victoria or Goodwill bridges).
In Sydney, start at the War Memorial at the top end of Hyde Park and wander all the way down to The Domain. Take a detour past the Sydney Mint and Sydney Hospital and visit the State Art Gallery. Walk around the edge of the Botanic Gardens to take in some stunning views of The Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.
In Melbourne, visit the various gardens. The Treasury Gardens and the Fitzroy Gardens are located on the eastern side of the CBD. Captain Cook’s Cottage can be seen in the gardens as it was moved from Yorkshire in England in 1934. The Conservatory has beautiful displays year round and children big and small will be intrigued by the carved Fairies’ Tree. In the Royal Botanic Gardens across the Yarra River from the city you can mingle with local wildlife as you picnic on the grass or enjoy the Children’s Garden with your kids as well as visit the nearby Shrine of Remembrance with it’s impressive view over the city.
If you just want to relax on a weekend and listen to the buskers and watch the world go by, Hay Street Mall in Perth or the Queen St Mall in Brisbane will do the trick. Wednesdays will also see the Brisbane City Markets at the treasury end of the Queen St Mall. Definitely worth a visit.
The Commonwealth Gardens in Canberra are beautifully laid out and if you are there in September, pay the small entry fee to visit the Floriade garden spectacular.
Use public transport
Many cities have a ‘hop on, hop off’ bus or tram which is either free or doesn’t cost a lot for a ticket. The routes will have been designed to make it easy to visit the main attractions. If you are in Brisbane, it’s a good idea to purchase a ‘Go Card’ which will allow travel on trains, buses and the popular CityCat, a great way of seeing the river as you move from place to place. The free City Hopper ferries offer both upstream and downstream services between North Quay and Sydney St in New Farm. The City Centre free loop bus service is also part of an extensive bus and train network within the city and greater Brisbane.
Melbourne is well served by trains with a city loop taking in the CBD area. The Melbourne Visitor Shuttle will cost you AUD5 for a day ticket, but it comes with commentary and you can hop on/off at the various stops. Another great way to get about is the free City Circle tram service which operates within Melbourne’s CBD and links with the other trams and public transport. The Melbourne suburban train network, like that in Perth is extensive and efficient. For a free bus ride, catch the CAT in Perth (Red, Blue or Yellow), Fremantle and Joondalup or use the train in the Free Transit Zone (FTZ).
In Sydney, take a ferry from Circular Quay. If you only have a little time to spare, the Cremorne ferry is a good one as it goes straight across the harbour and back, giving you a good look at the city from a different angle.
Visit Public Facilities
Visit a Museum or Art Gallery
Most museums and Art Galleries are free, although there may be exhibitions which charge an entry fee. The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne is one of this writer’s favourites, it is perfectly permissible to lie on the floor and look up at the stained glass roof in one section of the gallery. GOMA, the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane has a lot of interactive displays as does the nearby Queensland Museum and Art Gallery. Visit MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art near Circular Quay in Sydney and for a truly amazing experience, take the ferry across to MONA, the Museum of New and Old Art in Hobart, well worth the entry fee payable to non-Tasmanians, even if all you see is the ‘Poo Machine’.
In Canberra, do not miss the National War Memorial and Parliament House where you can join the queue to watch the business inside the House of Representatives and the Senate if they are in session.
Have a coffee break
OK, this may not be free, or even inexpensive,especially if you are tempted by the lovely cakes and pastries on offer. But Australia has no shortage of great places to pick up a cuppa and the weather encourages you to sit around in sidewalk cafes and watch the world go by. It is no small wonder then, that Melbourne prides itself as the ‘Coffee Capital of the World’! This writer has enjoyed excellent brews all over Australia, even in quite small towns. If you’re looking for something sweet to go with your drink, go no further than a lamington or sweet slice – Vanilla slice is a perennial favourite, or a meat pie if it’s savoury you’re craving. For traditional offerings, try the Shingle Inn in City Hall, Brisbane.
Visit a National Park
National Parks are dotted all across Australia. While many are free, those that charge an entry fee usually have something special on offer. If you visit in autumn, the Araluen Botanic Park near Perth turns on a wonderful display of lilies, definitely worth a look. A drive south of Brisbane to Canungra will set you on the way to O’Reilly’s where there is a great (and free, please give a donation) Treetops walk. Do be careful on the drive in though, it’s one way which can be a bit scary in the dark, so make sure you leave early enough to get in and out before sundown.
This is a very small list of things to do in an Australian City. You don’t have to spend a lot to have a good time if you’re imaginative, take the brochures when you arrive in the city and you will find plenty to fill your days.
images ©LL, RL