Time and again, Melbourne is voted one of the world’s most liveable cities, and it’s really not hard to see why. The city offers countless world-class restaurants and laneway bars, it’s the sporting capital of the country, and consists of more quirky museums and galleries than you can poke a stick at. And then, of course, there’s the coffee, which is almost a religion here. But, what makes the city truly “liveable” is that there are so many fun things to do in Melbourne that won’t cost you a cent.
Here are some of our favourite free things to do in Melbourne.
Wander The Royal Botanic Gardens
While there’s no shortage of beautiful green spaces in Melbourne, one of the most popular spots is the Royal Botanic Gardens. Located on the southern edge of the CBD, this 38-hectare park is home to a wonderful variety of trees, plants and flowers, as well as one pretty gorgeous lake. Pack a picnic lunch, and enjoy a lazy afternoon strolling the many paths that crisscross the gardens. Young families will also enjoy the Children’s Garden, complete with a water fountain and man-made creek, while avid botanists can join a free guided tour to truly experience the diversity of the park. Those who enjoy an early morning jog can also join the many Melbourne locals who like to start their day by running the 3.8-kilometre path circumnavigating the gardens, which is known locally as ‘The Tan’.
Laugh Out Loud at Some Free Live Comedy
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is a big-ticket item on Melbourne’s cultural calendar, but outside of the festival dates, there are many ways to soak up this city’s lust for laughter. On Monday nights, head to Spleen Bar on Bourke Street, where you’re likely to see well-known names trying out some new material. Come Tuesday, Hawthorn’s Lido Cinema becomes the ultimate date night for couples, as it hosts a comedy show in their intimate Jazz Room. And if you’re not sure what to do in Melbourne on a Wednesday night, head to the open mic night at the Imperial Hotel. Sign-ups are from 7pm, so if you’re feeling funny, here’s your chance to leave your mark on the Melbourne comedy scene.
Get Your Cultural Fix at Melbourne’s Many Art Galleries
While Melbourne does host many famous exhibitions from around the world, the city also offers more free art galleries than you could hope to visit in an entire week. There’s the National Gallery Victoria International, which showcases pieces from classic European masters as well as intriguing contemporary artists, with even some of the gallery’s temporary exhibits free to view. Just up the road at Federation Square, you’ll find the Ian Potter Centre and a fine display of Australian art from the colonial period right up to today. And while you’re at Fed Square, pop your head into the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), where you can explore a permanent exhibit documenting the history of the moving image, as well as many local and international exhibitions, films, and events.
Additionally, you’ll find countless smaller art galleries dotted around the inner city, including the Anna Schwartz Gallery in Flinders Lane, the Sutton Gallery in Fitzroy, Gertrude Contemporary in Preston, and the Centre for Contemporary Photography, also in Fitzroy.
Head to the Beach
If you’re visiting in summer, a trip to the beach has to be on your to-do list. St Kilda beach is hands-down one of the most popular Melbourne attractions. Down on these sandy shores, you can swim or sunbathe, join a game of beach volleyball, or even try your hand at kite-surfing. Away from the water, the suburb of St Kilda offers many people-watching and window-shopping opportunities, with Luna Park’s iconic grinning entrance and the neighbourhood’s many Victorian mansions and Edwardian houses all worthy of a quick photo shoot. Of course, there are many other Melbourne beaches well worth your time: check out the colourful bathing boxes at Brighton Beach, swim in shockingly clear water at Safety Beach in Dromana, or take a ferry down the Yarra River from Southbank to Williamstown (this watery ride will cost you $32 return so while not technically free, the beach that waits is).
Listen to Some Live Music
Live music is another pinnacle of Melbourne society, and any night of the week you are guaranteed to find a free gig somewhere in the city. Visit the infamous rock venue Cherry Bar (fittingly located on AC/DC Lane), which offers free admission on certain nights of the week, or head to Monday Night Mass at Northcote Social Club to listen to some underground talents. Ferdydurke is also a good option in the CBD on Thursday nights, and the iconic Espy (the nickname for Hotel Esplanade) in St Kilda offers free entry to its band room most nights of the week.
Soak Up the Street Art
Melbourne’s laneways and derelict buildings have been transformed over the years into beautiful works of art that are all free of charge to admire. In the CBD, wander down the likes of Hosier Lane, Croft Alley, AC/DC Lane, Caledonian Lane, Duckboard Place and Rankins Lane. Head a little out from the city centre, and you’ll find wonderful murals throughout Fitzroy, Collingwood and Brunswick, including a 20-storey work of art on a public housing building, which is the tallest mural in the Southern Hemisphere.