It’s about time I shared with you my favourite free things to do in Melbourne – there’s a lot!
I’m back with another post about marvelous Melbourne. Now, it may not be the most budget-friendly destination in Australia, but there are fortunately many fun free things to do around the city. I loved finding the best free things to do when I lived there, because Melbourne rent is not cheap. Here’s a casual 23 free things to do in Melbourne.
WHERE TO STAY IN MELBOURNE
FREE THINGS TO DO IN MELBOURNE
VISIT THE SHRINE OF REMEMBRANCE
I’ve visited the Shrine of Remembrance twice now and I think it’s a must-visit Melbourne attraction. It’s a beautiful building with well-presented memorials and exhibitions inside, as well as an impressive view of Melbourne’s skyline from the roof. It’s also located walking distance/a short tram ride from the CBD. When I visited with my parents, we had to nearly drag my dad out because he was so enamoured by the exhibitions. But my mum also found her grandad’s name listed in the WWII digital roll call and she was able to place a poppy beside his name, which was very unexpected and special.
HEAD TO A MARKET
Melbourne is home to some excellent markets, including South Melbourne Market, Prahran Market and Queen Victoria Market. The latter is the biggest and the best, as it has food, produce and plenty of clothing/souvenir stalls. Queen Vic also hosts night markets in both winter and summer.
PEOPLE WATCH AT FEDERATION SQUARE
Known as Fed Square to locals, this area opposite Flinders Street Station is used for many free events throughout the year. It’s the perfect place to sit in the sunshine and people watch on the weekends too (my favourite pastime). Fed Square is also home to ACMI (some free exhibitions), The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia (free) and Koorie Heritage Trust (free).
WALK ALONG THE YARRA
The Yarra River flows through the city and to the suburbs, so you can walk along it for quite some time. But the most action-packed area is around Southbank. It may also be the prettiest.
SPOT STREET ART
The best places to go street art spotting in Melbourne are around the CBD and Fitzroy. In the city centre, check out the infamous Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane, Union Lane and Blender Lane. Meanwhile, Fitzroy is buzzing with street art. There’s pieces all over the place, including down laneways, on car parks and even on shopfronts. Some of my favourite pieces are found off Brunswick Street, around Johnston Street and Rose Street.
LISTEN TO LIVE MUSIC
Melbourne has more live music venues per capita than any other city in the world (sorry London and NYC). Some of the most popular places to listen to free live music in Melbourne include The Espy in St Kilda, The Workers Shed in Fitzroy and Section 8 in the CBD.
WALK AROUND ALBERT PARK LAKE
Albert Park Lake is located a tram ride away from the CBD. It’s not only a great workout, but has cool skyline views too. This is where the Grand Prix happens annually.
PHOTOGRAPH THE CITY’S HISTORIC BUILDINGS
Because Melbourne flourished in the 1850s thanks to the Victorian gold rush, it actually has some very impressive 19th century buildings. The terrace houses around South Melbourne and Fitzroy are just adorable. But also check out Parliament House, the Royal Exhibition Building, Flinders Street Station (of course) and InterContinental Melbourne on Collins Street. I also recommend heading inside the State Library to photograph the La Trobe Reading Room 😍.
BE IN THE AUDIENCE AT THE PROJECT
I have been in the audience for The Project twice now. I even surprised my parents with a visit when they came to stay. It’s one of the most fun free things to do in Melbourne and all it takes is an email. Visit their website for all the details. You should also check out the programs advertised on That’s The Ticket.
WALK THROUGH THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne are huge. There are specialised gardens throughout, but overall 50,000 individual plants live inside Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. It’s the perfect place for a picnic or a morning walk. Plus, it’s conveniently located next door to another free thing to do in Melbourne – the Shrine of Remembrance.
RELAX IN ONE OF THE CITY’S OTHER GARDENS
Besides the Royal Botanic Gardens, there are plenty of other gardens surrounding the CBD. I love visiting Fitzroy Gardens in autumn. It’s also home to a conservatory and Cooks’ Cottage. When I worked at Melbourne Museum, my workmates and I had a lot of picnics in Carlton Gardens as well. Birrarung Marr also wins points for its location on the Yarra River.
RIDE THE CITY CIRCLE TRAM
The City Circle Tram is a free tram that takes visitors and locals around all of central Melbourne and Docklands’ main attractions. There’s even audio commentary along the way. They use the historic older trams for this service, so it can be a bit slower. But I think it’s worth it for the experience. As a local though, I only used it when it was my only option!
LOOK UP IN MELBOURNE CENTRAL
Melbourne Central is a train station and shopping destination. It’s home to clothing shops, a cinema, a bowling alley and lots of food options. But the coolest part of Melbourne Central is the fact it’s built around the Coops Shot Tower, which was a bullet-making facility in the 19th century.
CHECK OUT THE CITY’S HISTORIC ARCADES
Melbourne is home to some stunning 19th century arcades. Block Arcade is the most popular and was inspired by Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. It’s home to several boutiques and Hopetoun Tea Rooms, which is known for its decadent desserts. Just check out the window display 🤤.
CHECK OUT A FREE FESTIVAL
Before you visit Melbourne, check out this festival and events calendar, as there always seems to be some kind of festival happening in the city. A lot of them have free events, but I recommend Moomba Festival, St Kilda Festival and White Night Melbourne.
DO A CITY TOUR
HEAD TO THE BRIGHTON BATHING BOXES
One of the biggest Melbourne attractions is the Brighton Bathing Boxes. Located a train ride from the city in Brighton, they are multi-coloured beach huts located directly on the sand. They actually cost a lot of money to own (like over $300,000 and you have to be a local). Brighton Beach is beautiful in itself and has epic skyline views as well. Do it for the gram, guys.
GO TO CROWN CASINO AT NIGHT FOR A SURPRISE
One of the best free things to do in Melbourne at night is see the Gas Brigades Fire Show outside Crown Casino on Southbank Promenade. The eight towers shoot the world’s largest fireballs into the sky every night. It’s a spectacle that happens every hour once the sun has set.
WALK FROM PORT MELBOURNE TO ST KILDA
Hop on the 109 tram and take it to the end of the line in Port Melbourne. From here, take a brief detour to Princes Pier and then follow the beachfront path all the way to St Kilda. In summer, you could even stop for a swim along the way!
HEAD TO ST KILDA FOR SUNSET
St Kilda is my favourite place to watch the sunset in Melbourne. I love the skyline views from St Kilda and visiting the penguins at the end of St Kilda Pier. At night, you can see the penguins swimming to shore and heading for their homes among the rocks. They’re so cute!
I’ve mentioned the Ian Potter Centre and Koorie Heritage Trust at Fed Square. But other free art gallery options include the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and NGV: International.
SEE A FREE COMEDY SHOW
Spleen Bar hosts a free comedy show on Monday nights (although gold coin donations are appreciated). They’ve actually had some of Australia’s top comedians perform previously, like Wil Anderson, Adam Hills and Frank Woodley.
GO TO THE BEACH
One of the best free things to do in any city is relax on its beaches. Fortunately, Melbourne has some good ones to choose from – even if the weather is freezing. Firstly, there’s Brighton Beach, which is home to the Brighton Bathing Boxes. I was surprised by how clear and calm the water was when I visited in summer. Up the coast there’s also Elwood Beach, St Kilda Beach and Port Melbourne Beach.
CHEAP EATS IN MELBOURNE
While we’re on the topic of budget travel, I thought I’d share some of my favourite cheap eats in Melbourne as well. Firstly, check out Queen Victoria Market for cheap meats, produce and snacks. I’m a fan of the $1 churros and the Borek Shop. For lunch, pick up a delicious $5 baguette from B3 Cafe in Centre Place, which you can enjoy in Fed Square. At night in the CBD, you can also find cheap meals in Chinatown (check out Shanghai Street and Shanghai Village). I also recommend Asian Beer Cafe, for ridiculously cheap food and drinks.
Hopefully this guide helps you plan your trip to Melbourne. Don’t worry, another comprehensive and general things to do in Melbourne post will also be dropping soon. If you have any other recommendations for posts on Melbourne you’d like to see, please let me know in the comments below!
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