I love Melbourne. Without a doubt, it’s hands down my most favourite city in the world. Bustling, fascinating, and a little bit gritty, there’s always something happening and something new to try out. It can also be a bit expensive. But filling your days exploring the city doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, there are loads (heaps, if you’re speaking Australian) of activities to do in the city that are absolutely, completely free!
14 totally free - AND FUN - things to do in Melbourne that everyone will enjoy
**Note - this article was originally written before any of us had ever heard the word COVID, let alone learned what it was like to live through a global pandemic. While all of these attractions are still available, operating times may have changed, and on-going restrictions may be in place. Please contact venues directly to get the most up-to-date information.
City Circle Tourist Tram
This free tram is a great way to get your bearings around Melbourne’s CBD (aka “downtown” for us North Americans). It passes by many of the city’s tourist attractions, and the tram plays a recorded commentary giving you some insight into the area and the sights along the way. Trams depart approximately every 12 minutes between 10am-6pm Sunday-Wednesday, and 10am-9pm Thursday-Saturday in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions. Jump off and on anywhere along the route: Flinders Street-Spring Street-Nicholson Street-Victoria Parade-La Trobe Street-Docklands Drive-Harbour Esplanade-Flinders Street. It’s also free to jump on any other tram operating within the CBD Free Fare Zone, if you need to give your tootsies a break in between sightseeing, you can jump on any tram here. Download the free PTV app to plan your trips and get timetables.
State Library of Victoria
Two million books grace the shelves of this impressive library, and those aren’t the only treasures you’ll find here. Various exhibitions can be found throughout, including the armour of Ned Kelley himself, and often there are free talks held here too. The beautiful building is worth a wander all on its own, and don’t forget to spend some time taking in the atmosphere in the totally epic domed reading room. There’s free wifi here too, if you need to get connected. 176 Little Lonsdale Street.
National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)
The permanent collections here are always free to view with art works ranging from classical to contemporary, as well as some traditional Aboriginal works too. There’s a beautiful stained glass atrium in the center of the building, and lots of hidden gems to be found within the corridors. 180 St. Kilda Road.
Explore for Street Art in Melbourne's Laneways
The main streets of Melbourne’s CBD might be laid out in a grid, but the laneways are a labyrinth of potential treasures. Small cafes, bars, and shops can be found hidden down many of the city’s laneways, as well as colourful street art and graffiti. A few locations are officially “sanctioned” places for artists to show off their talents, such as Hosier Lane and AC/DC Lane, but if you look carefully, art can be found in all sorts of nooks and crannies. Start at Hosier Lane, across from Federation Square, and work your way up from there towards Chinatown. You can also checkout the suburbs of Fitzroy and Brunswick for some more art if you’re looking to explore outside of the CBD.
Royal Botanic Gardens
There are over 8,500 plant species here, spread out over 28 hectares of lush gardens. There’s a big lake, jogging track, and a multitude of picnic spots, making the gardens the perfect place to relax and enjoy an afternoon in the sun. Birdwood Ave.
Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
A museum dedicated to Australian film history, ACMI offers an interactive journey through the evolution of moving art from zoetrope to modern video games. Upstairs, you can watch movies from the National Film Archives. Located in Federation Square.
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
This free gallery offers a showcase of Australian and international contemporary artists, and they offer many talks and programs throughout the week as well. Get a free guided tour of ACCA on Sundays or drop in any day (except Mondays - they’re closed) and chat with the gallery attendants, many of whom are artists themselves. 111 Sturt Street.
Shrine of Remembrance
Originally built in 1934 to honour the 19,000 Victorians who served and died in World War I, the Shrine of Remembrance is an impressive memorial, with a design that echoes the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It now serves as a place of remembrance for all Australians who have served and sacrificed. You can climb the stairs up to the balcony for breathtaking views of the Melbourne CBD, then head down to the crypt to explore the haunting Galleries of Remembrance. The vaulted ceilings and hand-laid columns create a truly unique experience for viewing the exhibits. Birdwood Avenue & St. Kilda Road.
Get Your Tan On at the Beach
Melbourne isn’t really known for it’s beaches, and yes, I’ll be the first to admit that compared to many of Australia’s capital cities, Melbourne falls a little short in this category. BUT, there are still plenty of sandy shores where you can pick up a little Vitamin D here. Start at St. Kilda, the closest beach to the city, a popular spot when the weather turns hot. Looking for something a bit different? Take the Sandringham Line (train) out to the Brighton Beach stop and you’ll find the iconic bathing boxes that perfectly frame views of the city skyline. Each bathing box is decked out in colourful paint, with no box the same as any other. If you take the train all the way out to Sandringham Station, you’ll find some of Melbourne’s best city beaches, with soft sand and clear water. Just be forewarned, the water temperature around Melbourne is probably the coldest of anywhere in the country. Hubs calls it “refreshing,” but to me, it’s a little more like “piercing.”
People Watch at Federation Square
There is almost always something happening at the unmistakable Federation Square, opposite of Flinders Street Station. Plenty of seating space is available, and Melbournians often choose this landmark as a meeting place themselves. It’s a fantastic spot to chill out and do some people watching, and take in whatever free events may be happening too.
Wander the Markets
Queen Victoria Market is probably the most well-known market in the city, and it’s definitely worth a wander. This market stands on the site of what was Melbourne’s first cemetery and has gone through a few iterations before officially opening as the Queen Victoria Market in 1878. Other popular markets that are also worth your time include South Melbourne, Prahran, and Dandenong Markets, each run their own night markets in the summer months too. Wandering through is free, but what you end up spending on all the fantastic finds is up to you!
Melbourne Town Hall
Learn about the architectural, social, and political significance of the Melbourne Town Hall on a free tour offered each weekday except for Tuesdays. You’ll have to call ahead to book a spot, 03 9658 9658, as only 10 people are taken on each tour. Sit in the Lord Mayor’s chair, view the Grand Organ dating from 1929, or stand on the portico where The Beatle’s waved to their adoring fans. 90-130 Swanston Street.
Free Walking Tour of Melbourne CBD
Take a 3 hour tour around Melbourne’s landmarks with a free walking tour, offered by I’m Free Walking Tours. The tours depart twice daily, at 10:30am and 2:30pm, rain, hail, or shine, (or all three!) so make sure you dress appropriately for Melbourne’s famously inconsistent weather. Pretty much just plan for every possible weather condition, chances are high that you’ll see them all at some point in the day. Meet your guide, who will be wearing a bright green T-shirt, at the statue of Sir Redmond Barry in front of the State Library of Victoria.
Koorie Heritage Trust
Also located at Federation Square, the Koorie Heritage Trust offers an immersive experience into the local Indigenous culture. There’s a permanent social history exhibit, and numerous temporary exhibits by new and established Aboriginal artists. Get a taste of what the area was like prior to British colonialisation and learn about the contemporary Koorie history and cultural as well.