19 February, 2021

There’s a reason that Melbourne is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most liveable cities.1 It has fantastic infrastructure, healthcare, education, and is brimming with entertainment, including plenty of free options.

Here are some of the best free things to do in Melbourne, to make your visit a memorable one

Nature & Parks

Royal Botanic Gardens (Melbourne Gardens)

Royal Botanic Gardens

Image from The Australian Shakespeare Company

Most of Australia’s major cities have botanic gardens, and Melbourne’s is one of the best. It’s a 38-hectare site filled with a huge variety of plants and wildlife, vibrant lawns for picnics and coffee-sips, and a shimmering lake that can melt away your anxiety. You can also visit the Melbourne Observatory at its western boundary and take in a little history.

Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy Gardens

Image from Visit Victoria

Fitzroy Gardens is another beautiful green space in the heart of the city, sitting alongside the eastern edge of the CBD. It’s filled with a variety of plants, criss-crossed with walking paths, and is the perfect place to relax. It also contains the historic Captain Cook’s Cottage, and a model Tudor Village where you can pretend you’re a giant for a while.

St Kilda beach

St Kilda Beach

Image from Visit Victoria

Melbourne’s most famous beach, St. Kilda is located about six kilometres south of Melbourne’s CBD. It’s a beautiful place to sunbake and swim or have a quick game of beach volleyball. There’s also a little penguin colony at the end of the pier, which can be seen most nights just after sunset.

Brighton Beach

Brighton Beach

Image from Travel in Melbourne

Brighton Beach is roughly 13km south of the city centre and is most famous for the brightly-coloured beach huts that run along its perimeter, used for storing deck chairs, fishing gear, and other useful beach items. It’s undoubtedly one of the prettiest beaches in Melbourne but can get extremely busy on weekends.

Yarra River Walk

Yarra River Walk

Image from A Style Collector

The Yarra River walk is a leisurely 3.5km loop that takes you from Federation Square, over the Swan Street Bridge, and back again. You’ll pass some of the city’s prestigious sporting complexes, curated gardens, and shopping complexes, as you skirt the edge of the glittering Yarra River.

Capital City Trail

Capital City Trail

Image from Bicycle Network

If you prefer walks with substantial length, the 29km Capital City Trail circles the entire city centre, passing some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including Southbank, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne Park, the Yarra River, Merri Creek, and Marvel Stadium. A popular starting point is at the Princes Bridge, near Flinders Street Station.

Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway

Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway

Image from City of Canada Bay Heritage Society

The Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway is an 800 metre pathway in the inner-western suburb of Concord West. It commemorates the troops who fought in the Papua-New Guinea campaign of World War II, includes 22 plaques, and a beautiful centrepiece depicting images of the brave soldiers.

Galleries & Museums

Shrine of Remembrance

Shrine Of Remembrance

By Jorge Láscar from Australia – Shrine of Remembrance, CC BY 2.0

The Shrine of Remembrance is a war memorial built to honour those who served in World War I. As well as being a gorgeous example of classical architecture styled on the Roman Parthenon, it contains a number of informative exhibits where you can learn about the heroism of our forebears.

State Library Victoria

State Library

Image from A LIST Guide

Another beautiful example of classical architecture, the State Library Victoria is Australia’s oldest public library (founded in 1854), and one of the first free libraries in the world. It contains over two millions books, 350,000 photographs, and it’s central dome-topped reading room is a wonder to behold.

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery Victoria

Image from Visit Victoria

As with the State Library, the National Gallery of Victoria is the oldest of its kind in Australia, opening its doors in 1861. It tends to have four main exhibitions, as well as a number of events. The building itself is striking too, like a vast medieval castle with a roof plonked on top of it.

The Ian Potter Centre is a subsection within the gallery itself, housing over 20,000 pieces of Australian art, including paintings, photos, prints, sculptures, and textiles.

Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)

Moving Image Centre

Image from WeekendNotes

If you love movies, video games, or digital art, the ACMI is the place for you. It has an expansive collection of digital culture and is visited by millions of people every year. It also just had a major $40 million overhaul, and is a breath-taking example of modern architecture, its outer surface layered with kaleidoscopic geometric shapes.

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)

Contemporary Arts Centre

Image from Visit Victoria

Another of Melbourne’s fantastic cultural venues, the ACCA has four large galleries, as well as a courtyard for outdoor performances and exhibitions. The venue has commissioned over 200 new artistic works, and is a cultural powerhouse for the city. Its contemporary building design also looks spectacular when lit up at night.

Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Centre

Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural-centre

Image from Visit Victoria

If you’d like to learn about the first Australians, the Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Centre is an Indigenous-run museum with a vast array of paintings, artefacts, photographs, and videos, where you can better understand south-east Australia’s original settlers. The centre is located on Federation Square.

Wheeler Centre

Wheeler Centre

Image from Visit Victoria

If you’re the bookish type, you’ll probably love The Wheeler Centre—a literary centre that houses thousands of videos, podcasts, and pieces of writing, as well playing host to hundreds of public talks, some of which are free. It’s located in the heart of the CBD, in the block next to Melbourne Central Station.

Street Art

Street Art

Image from Visit Victoria

Many of Melbourne’s city councils have wisely embraced local street artists, allowing them to paint the city’s various alleyways with their exquisite work. You can find entire lanes and streets filled with this art, with some of the most notable including Hosier Lane, Union Lane, ACDC Lane, and Degraves Street. The work is constantly being painted over too, so you can revisit the streets multiple times to view fresh work.

Sights & Landmarks

Southbank

Southbank

Image from Reddit

Melbourne’s Southbank is one of the most popular areas of the city. It contains a large number of cultural and culinary venues, including the Malthouse theatre, the Melbourne Recital Centre, and the swanky Crown Casino, where you can emerge squint-eyed and light-pocketed after a night of gambling, and just about afford breakfast in one of the area’s lip-smacking riverside cafes.

Federation Square

Federation Square

Image from TripAdvisor

Federation Square is another of Melbourne tourist hubs—a vibrant area of the city with plenty of free things to do. It houses two major cultural institutions—the ACMI and Koorie Heritage Trust—and plenty of cafes and bars. The square itself also hosts free public events such as classical music, major sports games, Tai Chi, and more.

Flinders Street Station

Flinders Street Station

Image from Melbourne Curious

A list of things to do in Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without Flinders Street Station—the iconic railway station that skirts the eastern edge of Federation Square. Designed by James Fawcett and H.P.C Ashworth in 1900, the building has a slew of impressive domes, delicate arched roofs, and a distinctive yellow/red facade. It’s also a central hub of Melbourne and one of its busiest stations, so you may find yourself there regardless.

Parliament House

Parliament House

By Elekhh – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Parliament House is another example of Melbourne’s love of neoclassical architecture. With its immense Doric column-filled facade, it looks like it’s been yanked straight out of Ancient Greece—a fitting place to rule the state of Victoria. You can go on one of its many guided tours, and even sit in one of its public galleries and watch Parliament in action.

Collins Street

Collins Street

By Mary Myla Andamon from Melbourne, Australia, CC BY 2.0

Collins Street is one of the city’s original and main streets, cutting through the centre of the CBD, and filled with offices, shops, restaurants, and stately heritage-listed buildings. The eastern end is known as the “Paris End” for its resemblance to the European city and boasts some of the street’s most impressive buildings and sidewalk cafes.

Cathedrals

St Pauls Cathedral

Image from Visit Victoria

Religion has been the inspiration for some of the world’s most beautiful buildings. In Melbourne, you can witness the soaring gothic spires of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the gorgeous symmetry of St. Patrick’s lofty piers and pillars, the adorably dumpy Saint Francis’ Church, and many other buildings across the city.

Old Treasury Building

Old Treasury Building

Image from Visit Victoria

The Old Treasury Building is a grand old renaissance-style building, set apart from the other buildings of Spring Street, immediately drawing the eye. The building was built for the treasury department in 1862, becoming a museum after the department vacated in 1877. It’s another gorgeous example of Melbourne’s eclectic architecture.

Block Arcade

Block Arcade

By Marc Dalmulder from Hamlyn Terrace, Australia – Block Arcade, CC BY 2.0

The Block Arcade is a Victorian-style shopping arcade in the city’s business district, famous for its stunning mosaic flooring, glass canopy, and wrought iron finishing’s. It was completed back in 1893 and is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

Markets

Night Market

Image from Queen Victoria Market

Markets can be intriguing places to walk around, and Melbourne has a heap of excellent examples. Whether it’s wandering between the vibrant produce and seafood of the Prahran, South Melbourne, or Queen Victoria markets, witnessing the artistic marvels of St.Kilda’s market, or slumming it in the Coburg Trash & Treasure market where you might find an unappreciated treasure. There’s also the Melbourne Book Market, as well as markets in Camberwell, Kensington, Fitzroy, and more.

Music

Sidney Myer Music Bowl

Sydney Myer Music Bowl

Image from Music Feeds

The Sidney Myer Music Bowl is a 10,000-capacity outdoor music venue, located on the Yarra River’s south bank. It regularly hosts a number of free concerts, spanning genres such as classical, mambo, and Spanish-inspired piano. It’s best to book your free ticket in advance, as these events can sell out.

Free events

Live Music Melbourne

Image from Sitchu

There’s plenty of bars and clubs across Melbourne that offer free live music, just for the price of a drink of two. Eventbrite regularly updates their free music listings, and is the best place to find a genre that suits.

Tours

Walking tour

Free Walking Tour

Image from Visit Victoria

If you want to better understand Melbourne’s rich history, there’s plenty of free walking tours available throughout the city. I’m Free Walking Tours are perhaps the most popular, offering tours of the city’s most iconic landmarks and culture. Again, it’s best to book your free tour in advance, to avoid disappointment.

City Circle Tram

City Circle Tram

Image from Visit Victoria

The City Circle tram (also known as tram route 35) is a free tram running around the city centre, operating in both directions, and arriving every 20 minutes at any given station. You’ll see the various sights of central Melbourne and the Docklands and listen to audio commentary on the city’s major landmarks.

Nightlife

Crown Casino

Crown Casino

Image from Intro

Regardless of whether you gamble, Melbourne’s Crown Casino is worth a look. It’s unapologetically gaudy interior is filled with inky dark marble, hypnotising mosaics, gushing LED-lit fountains, and gargantuan chandeliers that tower over you like glittering planets. The casino is also home to some fantastic bars and restaurants.

Free comedy

Free Comedy

Image from Visit Victoria

If you’re into live comedy, Melbourne has a ton of venues that regularly put on free shows. These include Spleen, Boney, Lido cinemas, Imperial hotel, Comedy jam, Highlander, The Resistance Bar, House of Maximon, Attik, Rochester Hotel, The Exford Hotel, and the Maroondah Sports Club. Prepare for achy cheeks.

Bartronica

Image from Poker Deluxe

Bartronica is a bar with tons of vintage arcade games and pinball machines, many of them free to play. With classics like Pac Man, Donkey Kong, and Mario Kart, you could spend hours basking in its neon-lit walls. It also has a great selection of drinks.

References