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Life in the inner suburbs: what to do, where to go and how to live well for less

There's so much to love about urban life - here's the ultimate guide to help you make the most of it. Find out where to go, what to do, how to live in a small space and the best roadtrip escapes from your city.

Shannon Barker

There are so many advantages to living in the inner suburbs. Short commute? Check. Good public transport? Yep. Easy access to some of the city’s best places to eat, drink, shop and play? Absolutely.

With so much to love about inner-suburban life, it’s easy to see why central suburbs in major Australian cities have grown in popularity over the last decade. The City of Sydney, which covers the CBD and surrounding suburbs, is one of the fastest growing municipalities in the state, with population increasing by over 32% from 2006 to 2016. Inner Melbourne is just as popular, with the City of Melbourne expected to reach a population of over 386,000 by 2041.

For all the appeals of living centrally, there are just as many challenges. Rent is significantly higher than in other parts of the city, parking can be a nightmare, you’re probably setting up home in a small apartment or unit, and with less access to outside space it can be hard to live sustainably. Then there’s the difficult decision of which local cafe to go to for brunch this Saturday.

Embracing the city

One of the best things about inner urban living is that there’s whatever you feel like doing or seeing, there’s something close by that fits the bill. If you want to:

  • Soak in some culture - Head to one of the many museums or galleries in your city. Most major museums and galleries have free entry to their general permanent exhibits, and a regular rotation of feature exhibitions
  • Work on your tan - One of the best things about Australia has to be the multitude of world-class beaches to choose from, even right in the city. Melbourne, Sydney and Gold Coast all have great beaches just a short bus or tram ride away from the central suburbs.
  • Enjoy a leisurely bike ride - Jump or bike (or grab a share bike from your local council bike share or dockless bike share scheme) and head out for a ride on one of your city’s favourite bike paths (here are some for Sydney.
  • Get active - There are plenty of parks and running tracks perfect for working up a sweat. See if you can find one with exercise equipment, or find your closest Parkrun for a free, timed 5 kilometre run on Saturday morning.
  • Find a great park for an afternoon picnic - Despite the explosion in apartment towers and traffic of the inner suburbs, there are also plenty of urban green spaces to roll out the picnic rug and enjoy a shady afternoon of cheese and crackers.
  • Save some money - although it sometimes seems like money makes the world goes round, there are plenty of things to do that don’t cost a cent. You can explore the best of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast for absolutely nothing.

Escaping the city

Even the most enthusiastic urbanite gets worn down by the inner city pressure from time to time, and when that happens there’s only one cure: escape the hustle and bustle and get out of the city for a few days. With a little forward planning, you’ll be lying on the beach or curled up by the fire in a mountain retreat in no time (and you don’t need to break the bank to do it).

Plan your accommodation - Hotels can blow the budget on your weekend escape in an instant, so if you’re trying to save look for something more affordable. It doesn’t get much more affordable than camping, especially if you can nab a free campsite near Sydney or Melbourne. If sleeping outdoors isn’t your idea of a good time, there are still plenty of cheaper inside options. Airbnb tends to be cheaper than a hotel, or you could see if any of your friends or family need a housesitter for the weekend. And if you're planning to take your furry friend along, make sure you check that the accommodation is pet-friendly.

Plan your transport - Depending on where you’re going, there might be public transport. In most areas of Australia there are train, bus or coach options out to regional centres but they tend to be infrequent and slow. Hiring a car will get you there quicker and make it easier to get around once you’re there. You could look into a local car hire option, but a car sharing service like Uber Carshare is likely to be more affordable and convenient.

Plan your activities - Whether it’s borrowing dozens of books from the library, or digging out your hiking gear, make sure you’ve got the right equipment for the kind of holiday you want. If you’re heading somewhere new, do a search online to find local places of interest and choose a few to explore. But remember that the whole point of this city escape is to relax and recharge, so make sure you allow plenty of down time as well!

Living affordably in the city

‘Inner city’ and ‘affordable’ don’t normally go hand-in-hand. It’s true that everything from rent to parking, eating out and haircuts tend to be a lot more expensive in the inner suburbs than they would be if you lived a bit further out. Despite that, there are heaps ways you can save on just about everything.

Save on rent - While there’s not a lot you can do to bring your rent prices down, if you’re willing to go without some optional extras you can save a bit of money each week. Living in a share house means you’re also sharing the rent (and other bills) so you’ll be paying less than if you choose to live along or with just your partner. If you don’t need a parking space you can save on a place without one, and opting for a slightly older property will also help lower your weekly rent.

Save on your next house move - Once you’ve found a good deal on rent, the next step is packing up everything you own and hauling it over to your new place. Not fun and not cheap. Make it as affordable as possible but rounding up a few friends to help and getting a good deal on a rental van. Most car-sharing services also have vans and utes for hire, at a fraction of the cost of hiring from a traditional rental car company.

Save on transport - One of the biggest expenses for any household is owning a car. If you can get by without one, you’ll save thousands of dollars a year. Fortunately most inner suburbs have frequence and reliable public transport links, and jumping on your bike is a cheap way to travel short distances. For those times when you do need a car, join a car-sharing scheme like Uber Carshare to borrow cars by the hour or day so you’re only paying for a car when you actually use it.

Living sustainably in the city

The term ‘Sustainable living’ often conjures up images of buying a few acres on the urban fringe, raising chickens and pigs and establishing a huge veggie patch. While that’s great if you can do it, the good news is that there are plenty of small, achievable steps you can take to reduce your impact on the environment even if you live in an inner urban apartment block.

Consume less - Reducing your consumption in any area is one of the easiest ways you can live more sustainably. Lower your heating use, buy fewer clothes, eat less meat.

Choose to reuse - For every single use item we use regularly, there’s a reusable option that will not only help the planet, but save you money too. From coffee cups to glad wrap and straws, you can find reusable alternatives to make a huge difference to the amount of waste you produce.

Ditch the car - The emissions associated with the manufacture of a car often match or even exceed the emission it will produce from driving over its lifetime. By choosing not to own a car, you’ll not only drive less but will also reduce the number of cars in the Australian fleet. If you need a car from time-to-time, borrow one from a neighbour through Uber Carshare - it’s a cheaper and greener way to access a car, and all the emissions from your driving will be offset through our partnership with Greenfleet.

Sharing is caring - Did you know you can share just about anything with your neighbours? Not just cars, but tools, space, services, clothes and specialist equipment as well. The sharing economy makes it cheap, safe and easy to access things you need occasionally without needing to buy them yourself. Having one item shared between many people is a much more sustainable option than everyone in your street owning one of everything!