It’s the Holy Grail of Holidaying: finding time for a couple of quick but great nights away, with money left over for food and a few fun things to do. Brisbane

A fully self-contained, chic, one-bedroom apartment at The Miro is an affordable $155 per night. Even more amazing, it’s in Fortitude Valley.

A cool, inexpensive breakfast at Buzz Bistro, a Parisian-style café right around the corner, is a great way to start the day. For a bit of history (yes, Brisbane does have some), get to St John’s Cathedral on Ann Street. Amazingly, it’s under construction and will be the last Gothic cathedral to be completed in the world. Take a free guided tour at 10am or 2pm daily.

A local secret, Oxford St Bulimba is a great place for lunch after wandering the boutiques. The Scales & Ales is our pick for a trendy beer and healthy seafood without busting the wallet.

The best thing to happen to Brisbane since Macarthur left town is the Gallery of Modern Art in Southbank. It’s an awesome experience.

Bohemian West End is the next suburb. A cocktail at the quirky Sling Bar is a great pre-dinner experience. Finish the day off at Eagle Street Pier and the Boardwalk Bar and Bistro. Big flavour, big value, big jugs of beer, big tables and big views – what better way could there be to end your day?

Boardwalk Bar // (07) 3221 0026
The Miro // (07) 3634 6900
Buzz Bistro // (07) 3252 0511
St John’s Cathedral // (07) 3835 2231
2. Scales & Ales // (07) 3899 4001
QAG & GoMA // (07) 3840 7303
Sling Lounge // (07) 3255 3522

Glass house Mountains

The sound of serenity is all you’ll hear at Glass House Mountains Ecolodge. High above and far from the bustle of Brisbane, the mountain retreat is great for a bit of downtime.

Go bush without sacrificing flushing toilets, showers and heating – Orchard rooms are just $98 and have queen beds, ensuites and balconies. Ninety minutes out of Brisbane, that’s still a bargain.

The National Park is at your doorstep, so go bushwalking on the trails in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland or drive half-an-hour to Maleny and wander through the art galleries around town. Finish off the day with a beer and schnitzel at King Ludwig’s Restaurant & Klaushouse Mountain Bar. It’s hard to pass on the traditional Weisswurst sausage at this Bavarian beer hall, but the Ecolodge does have a guest kitchen in an old train dining car.

Save an entire day for Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. You’ll need it to catch the croc shows and explore the 70-acre site.
Glass House Mountains Ecolodge // (07) 5493 0008. www.glasshouseecolodge.com
Australia Zoo // (07) 5436 2000, www.crocodilehunter.com
Maleny Arts // (07) 5494 2882 ,www.malenyarts.com
King Ludwigs Restaurant & Klaushouse Mountain Bar // (07) 5499 9377, www.kingludwigs.com.au

Melbourne

In the same block as the pricey, hit-and-miss Royce Hotel, Albert Park Manor will keep you under budget and in style. Four-poster beds and wrought-iron furniture outfit standard doubles starting at $125.

All this sexy city has to offer is just a quick tram ride up St Kilda Rd, but get your day started with an espresso at Grossi Florentino. Mains here cost $50 a pop, but breakfast eggs in the Cellar Bar come in at under $15. Save your fine dining experience for maze, Gordon Ramsay’s first Australian restaurant sitting sleek and sexy in Crown Metropol. The $47 three-course lunch is cheaper than a lot of pub grub around town.
Head back towards the hotel for a wander through the Ian Potter Centre at Fed Square – a mostly free cultured couple of hours surrounded by great Aussie art. While you’re there, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) has $8 screenings of silver screen classics. End the evening with a nightcap in a big comfy couch by the fireplace at LaLa Land.

Albert Park Manor // (03) 9821 4486, albertparkmanor.com.au
Maze Melbourne // (03) 9292 8300
Grossi Florentino // (03) 9662 1811, grossiflorentino.com
ACMI // (03) 8663 2200, acmi.net.au
Ian Potter Centre: NGV // (03) 8620 2222, ngv.vic.gov.au
LaLa Land // (03) 9670 5011, lalaland.com.au

Daylesford

A land of plenty, the produce driven community of Daylesford has providores on almost every corner and is perfect for a hunt and forage kind of weekend.
Spend the day gathering ingredients for the perfect antipasti plate before retreating to Station House, a renovated gold rush manor with doubles from $140, open fires and claw-footed bathtubs.

Pick up prosciutto cured the Croatian way from Istra Smallgoods in Musk, (our No. 12 Greatest Australian Gourmet Experience) and cheese from local dairy farmers like Holy Goat (No. 5 Gourmet Experience) at Cliffy’s Emporium. Daylesford Organics (No. 6 Gourmet Experience) sells heirloom vegetables from a small farm gate; grab some before they go to Melbourne.

For champagne treatment, take the Silver Streak, a vintage diesel train journey made the first Saturday of the month. For just $25, with champagne and canapés, sit back and enjoy the scenic Daylesford Spa Country Railway, slowly re-opening after 2009 fire damage. The Hepburn Springs-Daylesford area is littered with natural mineral springs; wander through open fields and forests and fill up your drink bottle at an old-fashioned hand pump.

Station House // (03) 5348 1591, stationhouse.net.au
Istra Smallgoods // (03) 5348 3382.
Cliffy’s Emporium // (03) 5348 3279, cliffys.com.au
Daylesford Spa Country Railway // dscr.com.au

Sydney

Yes, it’s Australia’s most expensive city. But it is possible to spend two nights at a sought-after Sydney address for under $500. A room at The Russell in the shadows of The Bridge with Opera House glimpses is just $125 a double. Shared bathroom, but small sacrifice for having everything on your doorstop for a weekend limited only by your imagination, not your budget.

Start with cheap and cheerful breakfast at La Renaissance, meander to the affordable Rocks markets and pop into the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) for a bit of free culture.

A real hidden gem and great value is the Opera House tour, just $29 for online bookings. A great way to see out the sunlight and a Sydney weekend institution is a drink at the Opera Bar soaking up one of the greatest views in the world.

The Russell Hotel // (02) 9241 3543, therussell.com.au
La Renaissance // (02) 9241 4878
MCA // mca.com.au
The Rocks Markets // therocks.com
Opera Bar // (02) 9247 1666
Opera House Tours // (02) 9250 7250

Kiama

Just 90 minutes drive southeast from Sydney, the relaxed seaside town of Kiama – famous for its blowhole – is an easy, stress-free weekend. It’s also damn affordable at The Sebel Harbourside on Shoalhaven St − king bed, buffet breakfast, BBQ area and waterfront views from $120 a night. The heritage-listed property dates back to 1871, was once an Infants’ School Building, and is mercifully under ten stories high.
The most expensive thing you should buy in town is a waffle cone from The Ice Creamery. Grab a scoop and wander up to the Blowhole. If the sea’s a little on the rough side, head further south, just around the bay to the Little Blowhole – which often spouts more impressive sprays anyway. We recommend brekkie at The Little Blowhole Café on the way.
Just out of town and inland, the Illawarra Fly Tree Top Walk is great for a birds’ eye view of the coast. It consists of 500m of walkways, suspended fully 25m up in the air, for a treetop trek at just $22 an adult.

The Sebel Harbourside // (02) 4230 7500.
The Ice Creamery (02) 4232 2500, theicecreamery.com.au
Little Blowhole Café // (02) 4232 4990, littleblowholecafe.webs.com
Illawarra Fly Tree Top Walk // 1300 362 881, illawarrafly.com