by Mark Chipperfield, The Telegraph, December 21, 2018
Affordable Australia? Although the Land Down Under always figures high on the list of must-do holiday destinations for UK travellers, the country is often seen, slightly unfairly, as an expensive option. As a high wage country, eating out and accommodation has always been fairly costly.
The recent strength of the Australian dollar has reinforced the perception that Australia is an expensive holiday destination. But things are changing as the country’s airlines, hotels and tour operators continue their ruthless discounting.
The opening of new hotels, a burgeoning dining scene and new air services translates into far more choice for the traveller. And this is only set to continue. Given the sheer scale of the place and the wide range of adventures on offer, it’s advisable to plan ahead. Here is some general advice on saving money in Australia, plus some specific travel tips relating the main capital cities.
This is often the single biggest cost. Flight-booking tactics vary according to when you want to visit, how flexible you can be and where you wish to go. Nick Trend, Telegraph Travel’s consumer travel expert has to put together a comprehensive guide on booking cheap flights to Australia that is full of useful tips.
Given the size of Australia, the chances are you will need to fly at some stage. Air travel within the country is highly competitive, with Qantas (qantas.com), Jetstar (jetstar.com) and Virgin Australia (virginaustralia.com) being major players, along with the no-frills operator Tigerair (tigerair.com.au). Try to book your tickets well in advance if possible.
If you are thinking of flying a lot when you get there, it could be worth buying an air pass, such as the Qantas Explorer Pass, with your flight over. Again, see our flight booking guide for full details.
Car rental has always been good value in Australia and this remains the case. Apex Car Rentals (apexrentacar.com.au) has last-minute car rates from £30.58 a day, no extra driver fees, no under 25 surcharges and discounted insurance rates. To find the best deal with the likes of Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty, visit vroomvroomvroom.com.au.
The old-school road trip, so big in the Seventies, is firmly back on the map and isn't going anywhere soon. Operators such as Jucy Rentals (jucy.com.au) and Wicked Campers (wickedcampers.com.au) have really shaken up the camper van scene, the latter offering vehicles for as little as £18 a day. Britz (britz.com.au), Apollo (apollocamper.com), Mighty Campers (mightycampers.com.au) and Maui (maui.com.au) all have a good range of modern vehicles available at competitive rates; expect to pay anything from £28 a day for a small van to £63 for a large camper.
Inter-city coaches are also affordable, ideal for trips along the eastern seaboard. A one-way “Earlybird” ticket from Sydney to Byron Bay costs around £57. The major operator is Greyhound Australia (greyhound.com.au).
Australia’s inter-state railway system can feel a touch antiquated but does provide a unique way to explore the country. Great Southern Rail, which operates the Ghan, the Indian Pacific and the Overland, has special low and should season fares (greatsouthernrail.com.au).
This is one of the great pleasures of Australia. It can also be expensive. As a result, many places now have more casual and affordable menus, and travellers should take advantage of their midweek specials and attractive dégustation offers.
American-style food vans serve affordable "street food" in Adelaide, Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Hobart and Brisbane. Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese and Malaysian food is often great value. For cheap Asian cuisine on the go, head to a food court – they are found in almost every city and offer brilliantly fresh, cheap and spicy cuisine. Many suburban restaurants still allow BYO.
Hotel accommodation remains costly by international standards, but discounting is now widely practised, even by the best five-star hotels. Chains such as Adina (adinahotels.com.au), Travelodge (travelodge.com.au) and Holiday Inn (ihg.com/holidayinn) all provide affordable options. Many of the five-star and luxury boutique hotels heavily discount their rooms during quieter periods – sites like wotif.com are a good starting point if you are looking for offers.
For family groups an apart-hotel or Airbnb might be a better proposition, especially if you want to save money by doing your own cooking and laundry. There are Ibis Budget hotels (ibis.accorhotels.com/australia) at most city airports, ideal for a no-frills overnight stay. While extremely functional, these hotels are preferable to many of the backpacker-style hostels. Double rooms cost from £43 a night.
Most coastal destinations, such as Byron Bay, the Mornington Peninsula and Noosa, have a good range of smart holiday houses and apartments. Self-catering is a great way of keeping your day-to-day costs down. The Tourism Australia website (australia.com) has a useful property locator, while stayz.com.au lists over 40,000 properties around the country, from luxury apartments to beach houses.
As with many other countries, Airbnb is huge in Australia, with a huge range of accommodation options on offer for all the main cities, as well as more rural spots, at some very tempting prices (airbnb.com.au).
City by city guide
Note that all of the bigger cities in Australia now offer discounted rail, bus and ferry passes for visitors. Most of them also operate free bike-hire schemes. Check with the relevant tourist office for each city.
Eating out is one of the great delights of Sydney, but its better restaurants are quite pricey. If you're looking for recommendations, our guide to the best restaurants to experience Sydney's diverse foodie scene is a good place to start.
For activites, see: The best things to do in Sydney
Sydney hotels for under £100
Pensione Hotel - from £57 a night
A characterful budget hotel in a 19th-century building, renovated with a European vibe, moody lighting and tasteful furniture. Close to Chinatown and Central Station. Read the full review.
Pier One Sydney Harbour, Autograph Collection - from £95 a night
Benefitting from a superb location beneath Sydney Harbour Bridge, this hotel occupies a historic building that has been updated with bespoke fittings and has a nonchalant yet elegant vibe. Read the full review.
The Kirketon Hotel - from £63 a night
Moody décor and excellent in-house dining make this boutique hotel of 40 rooms a stylish option in the centrally-located Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst. Read the full review.
Park8 Hotel - from £75 a night
A diminutive business hotel in the centre of the city, Park8 mixes design savvy features with excellent service and the convenience of being close to everything. Read the full review.
Official website: sydney.com
With its abundance of museums, public art galleries and municipal parks, Melbourne is the ideal destination for the frugal traveller. Many of the great cultural institutions, such as the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the State Library, are free. Ditto the Royal Botanic Gardens, a great place to while away a few hours.
To get your bearings, jump on the free City Circle Tram (the CBD has a free tram zone) and ride around the city centre. Eating out in Melbourne can be very expensive, but not if you choose one of the city’s small bars and restaurants. Reliable options include Mamak, Middle Fish and ShangDong MaMa. See our giude to Melbourne's restaurants.
For activites, see: Free things to do Melbourne
Melbourne hotels for under £100
Peppers Docklands - from £89 a night
A prime Docklands location and simple, smart and spacious rooms combine with an easy going all purpose bar and restaurant with inspiring Asian-influenced dishes. Read the full review.
Adina Apartment Hotel - from £61 a night
An easy-going, comfortable and likeable apartment option close to everything you’ll want to see and experience in Melbourne’s beloved beachside playground, St Kilda. Read the full review.
The Cullen - from £85 a night
A tribute to late Australian artist Adam Cullen, this hotel boasts apartment-like rooms decorated with striking, offbeat contemporary art in one of Melbourne’s coolest neighbourhoods. Read the full review.
Official website: visitmelbourne.com
There are plenty of low-cost things to do in Perth. Hanging out at one of the city’s magnificent surf beaches is one of them. Go Surf Perth offers group classes from just £23 (gosurfperth.com). If the weather is overcast (a rarity here), head down to the city’s cultural centre in Northbridge, home of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the WA Museum and the State Library (ptt.wa.gov.au). Entry is by gold-coin donation.
Fremantle is a popular destination for visitors, with its old pubs, pavement cafés and weekend markets. Explore “Freo” on foot using a local guide from the Fremantle Visitor Centre (fremantlewa.com.au), hire a bike or hop on the free bus shuttle.
For activites, see: Free things to do in Perth
Perth hotels for under £100
The Melbourne Hotel - from £96 a night
This heritage-listed hotel, which has been renewed with an extensive reconstruction, is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Read the full review.
Four Points by Sheraton Perth - from £75 a night
The refurbished 278-room Four Points By Sheraton Perth is a smart, well-run hotel with airy rooms and good facilities, including a rooftop swimming pool and an in-house restaurant and bar. Read the full review.
Tribe Perth - from £58 a night
An anarchist of the hotel world, Tribe does things (delightfully) differently. There’s no minibar, no concierge and no bellhop. Instead, this adult-friendly accommodation bears ultra-modern share-spaces, password-free Wi-Fi and hipster-friendly free bikes. Read the full review.
Official website: visitfremantle.com.au
In the glittering, upwardly mobile capital of Queensland, a bunch of volunteers, known as Brisbane Greeters (brisbanegreeters.com.au), will give you an expert – and free – introduction to the city. Alternatively jump aboard one of the regular CityCat ferries that ply the Brisbane River (translink.com.au).
If the weather's proving a little too warm, head to South Bank and take a dip in one of the free pools and entertain the kids at the Aquativity interactive water-play park (visitbrisbane.com.au).
For activites, see: Free things to do in Brisbane
Brisbane hotels under £100
Next Hotel Brisbane - from £80 a night
Billing itself as Australia's most hi-tech hotel, this redevelopment of a long-established Brisbane property features keyless technology, mobile check-in and a special ‘in transit’ zone with sleeping pods for guests. Read the full review.
Hilton Brisbane - from £90 a night
High above the shopping buzz of the Queen Street Mall, the Hilton Brisbane is a stalwart of city-centre accommodation, a reliable favourite for corporate high-fliers and holidaymakers for more than 30 years. Read the full review.
TRYP Fortitude Valley Hotel - from £66 a night
With its striking exterior, Brisbane’s first street art hotel sets the tone before you even step inside. Wildly colourful artworks adorn almost every corner and it’s all very industrial-chic. Read the full review.
Official website: visitbrisbane.com.au
With its flat terrain and Mediterranean climate, Adelaide is ideal to explore by bike. The city operates a free bicycle scheme (bikesa.asn.au), with depots dotted around the centre and suburbs. For a brilliant day out, follow the bike path along the Torrens River to Henley beach. Adelaide gets into full Lycra mode during the annual Tour Down Under each January.
For something more contemplative, wander over to North Terrace and visit the lush Botanic Gardens and the eccentric Museum of South Australia. Entry to both is free. It can be reasonably cheap to eat out in Adelaide thanks to a fleet of food vans that can be found in Victoria Square, North Terrace and elsewhere. Find a truck at weekendnotes.com. For more foodie recommendations, check out our Adelaide restaurant guide.
Adelaide hotels for under £100
The Franklin Boutique Hotel - from £72 a night
This grand corner pub is a bolthole for hipsters in search of dude food and exotic craft beer. Upstairs guests can choose from a small selection of smart, modern rooms complete with quirky artwork and black walls. Read the full review.
Majestic Minima Hotel - from £61 a night
There's a cool, creative vibe at the quirky, colourful Majestic Minima with the walls in the rooms providing a canvas for South Australian artists. Read the full review.
InterContinental Adelaide - from £81 a night
The Eighties-style design of InterContinental Adelaide may not be modern but the thoughtful service and enviable location on the river, in between the cultural precinct and Convention Centre, make this a convenient base in the South Australian capital. Read the full review.
Official website: southaustralia.com
Tasmanians are frugal types, which makes the capital of their island state a highly affordable type of city. There are plenty of municipal parks, galleries and museums to enjoy. But since its opening in 2011 MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) has tended to overshadow everything else. Allow at least two hours to explore this artistic and architectural extravaganza – entry costs £16 for adults (mona.net.au). Regular ferries operate from Constitution Dock.
For a true perspective on this city, take to two wheels. You can cycle around the city solo for free or book yourself on to the Mount Wellington Descent (mtwellingtondescent.com.au), a 13-mile escorted bike adventure from the summit to the Hobart waterfront. Adult tickets cost £48. Afterwards, relax at Lark Distillery and sample some of Tasmania’s malt whiskies (larkdistillery.com; from £45.50 for a tour and tasting).
Hobart hotels for under £100
Hadley’s Orient Hotel - from £66 a night
This Victorian-era property is big on whimsical dining spaces, personal service and has an art lovers’ bent – channelled into a permanent gallery and annual painting exhibition. Read the full review.
Mantra Collins Hotel - from £71 a night
A fantastic mid-city location and light, tranquil rooms makes this a great choice for travellers keen to experience Hobart's booming city scene. Read the full review.
Official website: discovertasmania.com.au