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A LOCAL’S RECOMMENDATIONS
If you are planning to visit Melbourne, Australia, and are concerned that it might be a little pricey, think again, ‘cos there are a whole bunch of free things to do in Melbourne that are fun and interesting, without costing a cent. You will love this extensive list of 31 popular attractions that I have put together for you. As a local, these are my personal recommendations for visitors to the wonderful city of Melbourne.
Firstly, let me tell you a bit about the city. The population of Melbourne is currently 5 million (2019). It is known as the cultural capital and sporting capital of Australia. Maybe even the garden capital and music capital. Ok, I may have made up one or two capitals. But Melbourne is a very cool place to live and to visit as a traveler. No one stands out here, everyone looks like a local, no matter what language you speak, or what you wear. Aussies are generally very accepting of one and all. It’s a very friendly place and I’m sure you will feel right at home during your stay.
First thing on my local’s list of free things to do in Melbourne is a fun way to check out the sights of the city. Hop on the heritage maroon-coloured City Circle Tram which loops right around the city centre. You can ride all day for free if you wish, and hop off wherever you want, with stops at major attractions and shopping centres.
Tip: City Circle tram runs everyday and ceases at 6pm.
2. Flinders Street
See the historic Flinders Street Railway Station facade, dating from 1905. It was once the busiest train station in the world, and is arguably the most recognisable monument in Melbourne.
There are a plethora of parks and gardens around the city in which to enjoy a stroll or a picnic.
The most popular one for tourists and locals alike is the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens on Alexandra Avenue. You can access the gardens from other entrances too. Admire the lovely lake with swans, visit the herbarium and the glasshouse too. The gardens are so big, you may need to download this map to find your way around. You can spend hours here, appreciating the diverse flora and fauna.
Fitzroy Gardens is also a perennial favourite. There is a really cute miniature Tudor Village permanently on display here. Also, Captain Cooks Cottage is located here. Both of these attractions were donated by England and are quite enchanting. The garden even has a Conservatory, rotunda and fountain.
Next to the Botanical Gardens you can pop over and visit the state war memorial, called the Shrine of Remembrance, which honours fallen Australian soldiers from all wars.
5. Formula 1
Stroll around Albert Park Lake, part of the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix racing track. There is a 5 km walking path around the lake to enjoy and admire the views.
6. Street Art
Explore Melbourne’s burgeoning street art in the many laneways and alleys. Hosier Lane, Centre Place, AC/DC Lane, Duckboard Place and Croft Alley, just to name a few.
Check out the historic shopping arcades, which are hidden gems of the city – Block Arcade, Royal Arcade, Degraves Street, and Centre Place.
Wander around the iconic Queen Victoria Market, the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere. It has been the heart of Melbourne for 140 years. The historic market sheds are even national heritage buildings, believe it or not! You can browse for souvenirs, leather goods, clothes, toys, fresh food and heaps more.
In the Summer months there are Night Markets here with all types of cuisines on offer and a vibrant atmosphere.
Tip: Market is closed Mondays and Wednesdays.
Enjoy some sand, surf and sun, for free, at St Kilda beach, the city’s closest beach, which is only 3 km from the CBD. Maybe even catch a beautiful sunset.
St Kilda Esplanade Market is held every Sunday, with heaps of stalls to peruse, selling all manner of goods, including quirky and eclectic wares.
11. Luna Park
While you’re in St Kilda, snap a photo in front of the iconic Luna Park’s famous laughing entrance.
Fun Fact: Luna Park has the oldest continually operating roller coaster, the Scenic Railway, in the world. I assure you it is in perfect working condition.
National Gallery of Victoria is an art museum that has free entry to the main halls. See the largest stained glass ceiling in the world and the front glass water feature.
13. Aboriginal Art
Want to see some Aboriginal Art? Wander over to the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square, where you can see all types of Australian and Indigenous art.
14. Moving Art
Also at Fed Square is the Australian Centre of Moving Image (ACMI) where you can interact with the displays all about TV and film.
While you’re at Fed Square you can see the Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Centre where you can learn about Aboriginal history of this area.
16. Fed Square
Federation Square has heaps of other free activities on offer, such as yoga, laughing groups, musical performances and craft groups, just to name a few. Have a wander around and check out this weird and wonderful meeting hub of Melbourne.
The Melbourne Museum is located on Nicholson Street, with the huge rubik’s cube on the outside. It’s the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere. Inside the main entrance is a free public display of Victoria’s and Australia’s history, including CSIRAC (an early computer built in Australia) and a massive skeleton of a Blue Whale.
18. Yarra River
Strolling along the Yarra River is a favourite pass time for Melbournians. You can promenade around the precincts of Southbank, Southgate and South Wharf which are full of fabulous restaurants, bars, cafes and are great for people watching and just hanging out. There are often musicians and street performers entertaining passers by.
Wander through the Crown Casino Entertainment Complex at Southbank and see the water fountain and light display at the main entrance.
20. Great Balls of Fire
Want to see pyrotechnics? Don’t miss seeing the fire balls shooting out of 6 tall towers, every hour on the hour, outside the Crown complex on the waterfront in the evenings. An iconic part of Melbourne nightlife.
Tip: It gets pretty hot!
See the Polly Woodside Ship, an old cargo vessel from Belfast, dated 1885. Located at South Wharf Promenade, along the Yarra River, it’s a favourite with boat lovers.
Visit Docklands and enjoy a stroll along the marina and admire the yachts in the harbour .
See the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel, also at Docklands. Don’t miss the light display on the wheel every evening from dusk. It is the only observation wheel in the Southern Hemisphere.
24. Unesco Site
The Royal Melbourne Exhibition Building is a World Heritage Listed monument built in 1880, located in the city fringe suburb of Carlton. The whole UNESCO site includes the Carlton Gardens, the Melbourne Museum, Imax Cinema and an award winning children’s playground.
Explore some of the diverse architecture in Melbourne, the old and the new.
Some historic architecture to see: State Library, Parliament House, Treasure building, many churches, Melbourne Town Hall, Trades Hall Building, Old Melbourne Gaol.
Some modern architecture to see: Art Centre, Eureka Building, Melbourne Exhibition Building, AAMI Stadium.
Many public outdoor art sculptures are located randomly around the city. These quirky pieces from Australian artists include, ‘Cow Up a Tree’, ‘3 Founders of Melbourne’, ‘Public Purse’, and ‘Guardians’.
See how many you can find whilst walking around the city.
Take a free tour of Parliament House, on Spring Street, when Parliament is not sitting. You can even sit on the politicians benches (and sleep like they do!).
28. China Town
Wander down Little Bourke Street and enjoy the many shops, bars and restaurants serving all types of Asian cuisine. This is one of the oldest parts of Melbourne, dating from the 1850’s gold rush era, when Chinese migration first began.
29. Pink Lake
Did you know Melbourne has a salt water lake that turns pink? Bright pink! Located under the Westgate Bridge, it’s a beautiful site to take selfies. Read all about it here.
30. White Night
One of the best free activities would have to be the fabulous Winter Art Festival, held every year for 3 nights in August, where you can see and experience many areas of the city come to life with dazzling displays projected on various Melbourne landmarks. Bright colourful lights, art, music, and dancing, transform the various locations into a spectacular feast for the senses.
Last on my list of free things to do in Melbourne is a favourite with families. The Myer Christmas windows in the Bourke Street Mall are a huge attraction. For the whole month of December, the windows are on display, beautifully decorated in different themes, each depicting a story, which delight the child in all of us.
As you can see, there are oodles of fun and exciting free things to do in Melbourne. I hope you enjoy some of these if you venture down under.
Short tours available
If you wish to take a tour to enhance your visit to Melbourne, here are some I recommend that are reasonably priced.
Be sure to check out my other Melbourne, Victoria articles.
See ya mate.