Exploring Melbourne doesn’t need to cost a fortune – in fact, there are dozens of things to do in the world’s most liveable city that cost absolutely zilch. Here’s our pick of the 12 best free activities.
1. Stretch your legs
Victoria isn’t known as ‘The Garden State’ for nothing, and the city of Melbourne (and surrounding suburbs) is full of parklands and walking trails that are perfect for anything from a leisurely stroll to a full-blown workout.
In the city, The Tan is Melbourne’s most popular running track, with almost 4 kilometres of trail winding around the Botanic Gardens and past the Shrine of Remembrance. Albert Lake Park is also home to a picturesque inner-city 5 kilometre walking track, where black swans float lazily on the water as they watch joggers, walkers and families meander by.
Our other favourite picks are the 1000 Steps Kokoda Memorial Trail, an energetic jaunt through lush forest in the Dandenong Ranges, the Dights Falls Loop through Yarra Bend in the northern suburbs (where you’ll encounter an abandoned asylum!), and the 11-kilometre beachside Foreshore Trail, which runs from Port Melbourne to Elwood via the popular seaside suburb of St Kilda.
2. Pay respects at the Shrine of Remembrance
If you walk past the Shrine of Remembrance, why not pop in for a visit – admission is free. The Shrine is Victoria’s state memorial for those who fought in war. There’s a gallery that features more than 800 artefacts and artworks, and the Shrine balcony offers superb views across the city.
3. Catch the free City Circle tram
Take a free tour of the city onboard one of the vintage City Circle trams. Cruising past some of Melbourne’s biggest attractions, you’ll learn interesting facts about the city through the onboard audio commentary, while enjoying the novelty of being on an old-fashioned tram – without it costing you a cent!
Learn fun facts about the city of Melbourne on board the free City Circle tram
Handy hint: All tram travel in the CBD marked within the ‘free tram zone’ won’t cost you anything to travel on, even on regular trams. Simply purchase a Myki card and touch on, and you won’t be charged for the duration of your free tram zone trip.
4. Indulge in some free music and comedy
Check out what gigs are on in Melbourne – you’d be surprised at how many of them are free. Whether you’re in the mood for local comedy, a music gig or even a trivia night, there’s always something on. Check a local gig guide to find out what’s happening.
5. Admire Federation Square
Melbourne’s most iconic public space, ‘Fed’ Square is home to big cultural attractions, events, galleries, free exhibitions, concerts plus a range of bars, restaurants and cafés, many that offer views of the Yarra River.
Since its opening in 2002, Fed Square has welcomed more than 100 million visitors, so wander up from Flinders Street Station, pop yourself down in one of the deck chairs and admire the unusual architecture, watch a free program on the big screen TV, or simply sit back and people-watch.
Grab a deck chair and watch the world go by at Melbourne’s most iconic public space, Federation Square
6. Get digital at ACMI
Nestled behind Federation Square lies the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). Home to plenty of free and paid interactive exhibits, it’s Australia’s national museum of film, TV, video games, digital culture and art, and is open from 10am ‘til 5pm daily.
7. See little penguins in St Kilda
Penguins? In the city? Yep, that’s right. While many visitors make the trek out to the famous Phillip Island Penguin Parade, you can spot the cute flightless birds in St Kilda for free. Each night, the penguins return home from the St Kilda breakwater, so at sunset head down the St Kilda Pier and watch the adults tend to their nests.
While the penguins are there all year round, you’ll spot more in the warmer summer months.
Handy hint: Penguin volunteers ask that you don’t use flash photography or shine bright lights as it frightens and disorientates the penguins.
8. Wander the arcades
Melbourne is full of hidden laneways and architectural delights, so let yourself get lost in the labyrinth. Travel back in time to the Block Arcade, where you’ll find tasty treats (and often free samples!) in Haigh’s Chocolates, and the ever-popular Hopetoun Tea Rooms (their window display alone, filled with decadent cakes and sweet treats, is worth a photo).
Cross Little Collins Street to wander through the Royal Arcade, a historic shopping arcade home to mythical statues Gog and Magog, where you’ll find quirky shops selling everything from board games and ‘magic’ spells to luxury perfumes and handmade chocolates.
And of course, it wouldn’t be Melbourne if there wasn’t a laneway famous for coffee. Across from Flinders Street Station you’ll find the caffeine-heaven of Degraves Street, adorned with some of Melbourne’s iconic street art. Further on is Centre Place, full of top-notch food, interesting clothing and jewellery stores, and usually a busker serenading the lunch time rush hour.
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The charming Royal Arcade is perfect for a spot of shopping. Photo by Heidi Sandstrom on Unsplash
9. Wander the gardens
For a gorgeous leafy-green oasis in the city, you can’t go past the Royal Botanic Gardens. Discover the rare and unusual plants that call the gardens home, while escaping the hustle and bustle of the city.
Looking for even more greenery? There are plenty of lesser-known gardens that all offer a dose of nature. Check out the the oldest park in Melbourne, Flagstaff Gardens, or head to Queen Victoria Gardens, the picturesque riverfront Alexandra Gardens and Fitzroy Gardens for some spacious, tranquil green spaces.
10. Delve into literature
Love literature? Pop into the Wheeler Centre, funded by the guys behind the Lonely Planet Guide Books. The centre hosts regular events with authors and publishers, which are usually free to attend.
11. Watch the fire show in Southbank
Each night, eight towers along Melbourne’s Southbank precinct treat visitors to the rather spectacular Gas Brigades Fire Show. Huge balls of fire erupt from the towers on the hour into the night sky and are definitely worth checking out.
12. Get to the beach
Enjoy the sand between your toes at one of Melbourne’s beaches. Whether you want to take a dip at St Kilda followed by a superfood smoothie at one of the many cafés along Acland Street, or check out the iconic colourful bathing boxes at Brighton Beach, there’s no shortage of seaside locations to enjoy.