Things to do for free in Melbourne, Australia

Growing up in a town or city you have a very different sense of what it can offer you. The city knows you. It saw you fall on the pavement and skin your knee outside your childhood house, it knows the place where you had your first kiss and it watched on as you had your heart broken soon after.

So why do we never backpack our own cities? Do we think that we know everything already? Or does it just not have the allure of a fresh new place that we so desire when we travel?

I’m here to write about my hometown; Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne has been voted the most livable city seven years in a row now (2011 – 2017) and I believe it’s because of its diversity and the unique clash of cultures that leaves you always entertained. However, Melbourne is an expensive city to be in when you’re not working. And even if you are, it can sometimes be a bit tricky. So here’s a guide on how to explore with only the spare change you find on the tram seat. (By the way, trams are free in the CBD area)

Things to do during the day for free

Must see beaches near Melbourne

Many people travelling to Australia want to see our beaches, and beaches are the best free activity to do as a traveller. Load up on sunscreen though as the Australian sun is known for its brutality. Grab some snacks at Aldi or IGA (the cheaper supermarkets than Coles or Woolworths) and take yourself and a frisbee to Brighton beach. If you felt like a bit more of an adventure, take the train down to Frankston, or even further down the coast by car or bus, all the way to the Mornington Peninsula. Sorrento ocean beach is the best and most beautiful spot with many rockpools for exploring to maybe see some of Australia’s sea life.

Royal Botanical Gardens and Edinborough Gardens

If you’d like to stay further inbound but still explore outdoors, then head to the Royal Botanical Gardens. It’s open every day from dawn til dusk so you can have a long wander around the beautiful gardens to your heart’s desire. There’s a huge pond in the centre to see ducks, swans, and eels, and once the sun starts to set you can lay back and enjoy the thousands of bats flying across the sky; more wildlife for free. No zoo admission needed.

Another beautiful space to explore is in the north at Edinborough gardens in Fitzroy. This park is known for having so many different things going on. Most Sundays there are free acro yoga groups, circus groups and many, many dogs running around. Grabs some mates and a few beers (this is one park in Melbourne where drinking is allowed in a public space, but double check the hours on their website) and sit back to enjoy the people watching and great vibes. There are also free basketball courts, ping pong tables and a skate park.

The 1000 Steps in Dandenong

If you’re feeling a little more active after sitting on a plane and in need of a good workout, take the trip out to the Dandenongs and climb the thousands steps up to the viewpoint. The legs may disagree, but the effort is well worth the resulting views over the valley that stretch all the way to Melbourne city. It’s like a free, outdoor gym.

Hozier Lane

Walking around Melbourne CBD as well is a great way to spend the day. Hosier Lane, just off Flinders street is a beautiful ally way filled with graffiti artwork that often changes with topical issues hit the media. Spend some time here to really look at all the little things going on; it’s filled to the brim with artists visions and creativity.

National Gallery of Victoria

Another beautiful space to see some art is the National Gallery of Victoria on St Kilda road. There are some exhibits here that require a ticket, however, most of the exhibits are free. The building looks like an enormous brick got dropped in a puddle, but inside there are so many beautiful pieces of art from all realms of the world and Australia. The exhibits change every few months too, so there’s always something new to explore.

Things do to at night for free

Watch the buskers

When the sun goes down, Melbourne city changes. Walking through the CBD at night can become a place of wonder with buildings lit up so they are almost alive. A long walk along Southbank sees the city reflected off the Yarra river which is a stunning vision. On the weekend, Melbourne can be the backdrop to your own musical with buskers lining the streets, singing and playing their hearts out for your spare change. The music is free, however, I know that buskers are always appreciative of a small contribution, applause or a chat after they’ve finished playing.

Penguin Parade in St Kilda

If you head down to St Kilda pier and walk to the end, you can catch a glimpse of the delightful little fairy penguins as they walk up the sand to their burrows. They do their little hike anywhere from around 6 pm to 10 pm, but will usually start just after the sun sets. For the best experience, try to get there before sunset and enjoy the last glowing daylight minutes over the water before they all waddle up to their homes. There are more penguins around during the summer months, but be sure not to take any flash photography as it can scare them and hurt their eyes.

Must visit bars in Melbourne

There are so many little bars around that boast live music most nights of the week. Pubs as well usually have different drink or dinner specials each weeknight which can be very beneficial if you’re on a tight budget and if you head there on the weekend, you can sometimes find a rowdy crowd yelling at a TV showing the live Aussie rules football game. Just walk down Brunswick street or Smith street in Fitzroy and find where the music guides you. Although drinks are sold in these venues, they usually don’t require you to buy anything if you’re just sitting there to enjoy the music. There is also a venue in Northcote called Northcote social club which has a beautiful band room. A lot of well-known bands play here before they get their big break. Some nights they have ticketed events (can be bought on the door if not sold out) but others are free gigs, usually early in the week. Some of the other most recommended live music venues in Melbourne, both free and ticketed are The Gasometer in Collingwood, Howler in Brunswick, Evelyn Hotel in Fitzroy which has been running for over 50 years with the same owner (I met her there the other day – she’s lovely!) and the infamous Cherry Bar in AC/DC lane in the city for your rock and roll fix.

There are so many wonderful and free things to do in Melbourne. A lot of people travelling to Australia are always careful with money as it can be an expensive holiday, but it really doesn’t have to be. I have found new and exciting ways to discover my own city without wealth but instead discovering a wealth of knowledge on the culture and soul of this beautiful city.

So please, come and enjoy my city and all it has to offer. And if you find other fun activities, let’s share them with each other and the world. For free, obviously.

Vanessa McDonald

I am a mid-twenty year old traveller and yoga teacher. I have been travelling around the world solidly for the last year, but also over the last 6 years on and off. I love being on the road and sharing experiences. I have been journalling since I was 10 years old continuously and absolutely love exploring ideas and philosophical subjects that arise amongst the travelling community. I have been keeping a blog of my travels over the last year with photos and videos included.