16 FREE things to do in Melbourne. Enjoy this incredible city without spending a cent!

Australia is an expensive country to visit especially if you’ve just arrived from backpacking through Asia! But that shouldn’t put you off. Melbourne is constantly voted as one of the world’s most liveable cities and after 7 months of calling it home we can see why! There’s lots to do here if you have the money, but it is also a city where you can wander and take in so much for free. In fact many of my favourite days in the city were doing just that, walking several KM with my camera in hand, always discovering something or some place new! Here’s our list of 16 free things to do in Melbourne… though I know I’ve missed some out as the list could literally be endless!! Here’s our second home!

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Free things to do in Melbourne:

Take in the iconic Flinders street station

For many people walking under the famous clocks of Flinders Street Station and right into the heart of the city is their first experience of Melbourne. How ever many times I have walked in and out of this station it still takes my breath away. The station is over 100 years old and one of Melbourne’s most well known and iconic buildings. Recently renovated it is back to its former glory as the hub of this bustling city. You will most likely enter the city through this historic terminal, but don’t forget to look back and take in its Splendor as you do.

Head down to the coast to see the penguins of St. Kilda and Luna park

Just a short tram ride from the city centre of Melbourne and you will find yourself in St. Kilda. On a beautiful summer’s day this is the perfect place to head if you want to chill out on the beach and cool off in the sea all within view of the Melbourne skyline! This lovely little beachside town has become rather trendy too in recent years and is home to many wonderful cafes, bars and of course it’s famous bakeries. Another icon of St. Kilda is Luna Park, opened in 1912 it has that strange but fascinating old fairground feel and is free to explore, you just pay for the rides! A guide to Melbourne would be incomplete without this legendary sight! 

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Another amazing sight on St. Kilda pier are the little penguins that call this place home! A great time to spot them hiding in the rocks is the late afternoon, but stick around until after sunset to see groups of them waddling in after a day out catching fish! That has to be one of the coolest free things to do in Melbourne!!

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Wander through the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens

One of the most stunning parts of the city to explore is the Royal Botanic Gardens, taking a stroll around here or even a summer’s day picnic you could be forgiven for forgetting you are in the heart of a busy city.  Dating back to 1846 it covers over 36 hectares (89 acres), that’s a huge space for a central city location! It contains over 8,500 different species of plants and is a real oasis. Even if you’re not particularly interested in plants as such, everyone can appreciate the beauty of nature in this wonderful place and escape the city for a while here! It’s one of the loveliest free things to do in Melbourne. 

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Pay your respects and take in the view from the Shrine of Remembrance 

The shrine of remembrance in Melbourne is a special place to visit and there is much more to it than you might first imagine. The shrine itself is a wonderful tribute to the ANZAC soldiers lost in various conflicts across the worlds and over generations. We were lucky enough to be in Melbourne for ANZAC day, attending the dawn services at a local cenotaph with the family we are living with before heading into the city to see the parade to the memorial.

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However, the shrine itself is one of the best free things to do in Melbourne for a couple for reasons. Firstly, it’s a beautiful area surrounded by gardens and nature. Climbing up to the roof of the classical style shrine which was built in 1934 offers amazing views of the city and is one of the best free vantage points in Melbourne. 

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Secondly is the museum that sits below the shrine. From the outside the scale of the warren like museum isn’t apparent, but once you are down here you can discover the whole history of the ANZAC’s for free.

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Soak in the unique hipster culture of Melbourne by exploring Fitzroy, Collingwood, Richmond and Carlton! 

Melbourne is a deceptively huge city, but that is one of the things we really love about it. The CBD (Central Business district as the city centre is known) is actually pretty walkable and there are the free city trams too. However Melbourne is a city of districts and neighbourhoods, each one with their own unique vibe and culture.

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Many of these districts you will notice are names of Australian Rules football teams too, and that’s really an interesting piece of Melbourne’s history. These areas that surround the CBD would have once been the heartland of the working class of the city and though they have evolved hugely over the century’s they are still a place for the people and exploring them is one of our favourite free things to do in Melbourne.

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Fitzroy is the typical hipster hideout of Melbourne, it’s brimming with independent shops, vegan, veggie and multicultural restaurants, innovative street art and free thinking individuals that celebrate diversity! It’s really a wonderful place to be in the city and of course, you could spent a fortune here, but you can also soak it in by just walking for free! Other great areas to explore are neighbouring Collingwood with it’s Keith Haring mural and cheap international eats. Richmond is like a village in the city being right next to the MCG (Melbourne Football Ground) and home to the best footy team in the land (Go Tiges!!!) as well as some wonderful local shops and cafes. Carlton is more upmarket but is historically home to the Italian community of Melbourne and a great place to treat yourself to a nice meal or just to take in the atmosphere!

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Explore the incredible laneways and street art that make this city so cool! 

Melbourne is a creative city where attitudes are open and anything goes! Right in the heart of the city are many laneways that are designated legal graffiti and street art areas that shift and evolve literally day to day. Laneways are a big deal in Melbourne and are result of the unique layout of the city creating a labyrinth of colour and expression.

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Hosier Lane is the most famous of these laneways and is an ever changing heartland of the free street art movement in Melbourne. Other amazing laneways include AC/DC lane, named after the awesome Aussie rockers, then there’s centre place, a trendy spot to get coffee or visit a cafe and union lane right in the centre of the CBD! No matter how many times you visit these laneways you see something new each time! Exploring the laneways is definitely the coolest of the free things to do in Melbourne!

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Take a walk along the Yarra River Southbank 

An amazing place to walk in Melbourne is down the South Bank of the Yarra river, starting further out towards the newly redeveloped docklands area you can follow the river right back into the heart of the city. The riverside walk offers some of the best views of Melbourne’s skyline and some of its most interesting bridges.

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Wandering down here you will also find a lively area full of riverside bars and restaurants, people sat along the river chilling out, street performers every few metres and just generally a happening atmosphere of people enjoying this beautiful city, especially on a sunny day! You can also take river tours and the ferry over to Williamstown (another nice place to visit) from here but of course, that’s not free! But taking a stroll along here is and it’s one of the nicest free things to do in Melbourne.

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Take a ride on the City Circle Tram 

Trams are a part of the fabric of what makes Melbourne and we love them (coming from a fellow tram city in Manchester!) They are a great way to get around the city and also pretty historic too! But one of the really cool things about the trams in the free city circle trams that does loops around the CBD and its one of the unique free things to do in Melbourne. Using a fleet of historical red and green W-class trams it allows both Melburnians looking to get across the city quickly or tourists wanted to take in the cities most important buildings make use of this great service. There is also audio commentary on board too giving insights into the city as as it trundles along. 

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Explore the history and incredible views of Birrarung Marr park

 Probably my favourite spot in the city for taking a stroll through the city, this urban park reminds me a bit of Central park with it’s greenery surrounded by incredible city scape. The park, Birrarung Marr sits right next to the Yarra River and Federation Square, but somehow manages to create an area of both natural tranquility and historical importance. The park is a celebration of Victoria’s indigenous people and walking through you can spot several artworks telling the story of the Wurundjeri people. Not only that but the park itself offers stunning views over the city and for us is the perfect route to take when walking from the city towards the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground)

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Visit the state library of Victoria 

Established in 1854 the State library of Victoria is the oldest public library in Australia and was one of the first free libraries in the new world. Not only is it of course a place for study, education and resources but it is also a great meeting place for the people of Melbourne. For me I use it as a refuge from the rain on a chilly day and from the chaos of the city for a few moments peace. It’s also great if you want access to computers or free internet too. The central LaTrobe Reading Room that sits underneath the dome is also a must see. 

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Walk! Explore the city on foot and take in some of it’s unique architecture

Melbourne is a big city but it is also quite walkable too, I love to walk and one day clocked almost 30km walking around the city just exploring, getting lost, taking pictures and soaking in this awesome place. The city is also home to some wonderful architecture both historic and modern and it does a great job of blending these things together. Just walking around this grand city is one of the best free things to do in Melbourne for sure.

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Some of the most noteworthy buildings to check out if you love your architecture as we do are: Parliament, Melbourne Town HallSt Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne City Baths, Manchester unity building, The buildings on Elizabeth and Bourke streets as well as the many small Victorian houses around Fitzroy, Abbotsford, Richmond etc and the impressive buildings on Collins Street. Some of the more modern architecture to check out is the Eureka tower, the Art spire and Federation square… and those are just some of the more well known ones! 

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Head down to the Brighton Bathing boxes for a day by the seaside! 

Another great place to escape the city on a hot and sunny day is Brighton Beach. A short train ride out of Flinders Street station drops you in this perfect beachside neighbourhood complete with a thriving high street culture and multi million dollar houses overlooking the coast!

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The main attraction here is the colourful old bathing boxes, these rickety and unassuming huts were once just a way for locals to keep their modesty whilst getting changed, but today they are a tourist attraction and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and a highly sought after piece of beach real estate! These bathing boxes have been a feature of this popular Melbourne beach for over 100 years and attract people because of their unique style and the nostalgia they provide of a bygone era of bathing.

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Enjoy the many parks and green spaces of the city

Melbourne is a well designed city with a grid format for the CBD and lots of surrounding green space which really allows the city to breath and those within it to seek out some peace. One of our favourite parks in the city it Fitzroy Gardens which is just behind the back of Parliament and towards Fitzroy itself. Set aside as a reserve in reserve in 1848 it is one of the most historic parks in the city and is also home to Australia’s oldest building, Cook’s cottage, built in 1755 in Yorkshire it was shipped over brick by brick and rebuilt here in 1934.

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Of course, we’ve already mentioned the incredible Botanical Gardens and our favourite Birrarung Marr, but there are so many other lovely places to stroll around in nature in the city too. Another lovely park is Queen Victoria Gardens over the Princes Bridge near the Art Gallery which includes a floral clock,  ornamental ponds and monuments to Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. Yarra Park in which the MCG sits in a fun place to visit on match day as the crowds practice their kicking before the game, it is also home to a historic aboriginal scar tree. Other noteworthy parks are Carlton Gardens near the impressive Melbourne Museum, Flagstaff gardens, Princes Park and the huge Royal Park

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Meander around Queen Victoria Markets

To the north of the city are the famous Queen Victoria Markets, a great place to visit just to soak in the atmosphere of the night markets that run every Wednesdays and Saturdays through the summer months as well as a few days in the winter. It is however open all year round and it’s historic sheds are a great place to sample the freshest produce on offer and try some unique cuisines alongside live music. It’s also a diverse and interesting place to shop for souvenirs, homeware and vintage products. This Melbourne institution dates back to 1878 and is still a hub for trading in the city to this very day. Check out this website for more info on opening times. 

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Discover culture and history in the cities many museums and galleries 

Melbourne is a historic and culture filled city, so it’s no wonder that it is also home to many museums and galleries. Visiting these institutions is a great way to learn more about Victoria as well as discovering some incredible artwork from locals and international artists alike. Soaking in culture is one of the many free things to do in Melbourne!

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The Koorie Heritage Trust’s Cultural Centre in Federation Square is a perfect place to learn about the aboriginal heritage of Melbourne and the surroundings areas. The Old Treasury building near to Parliament is a free museum which chronicles the history and development of Melbourne and a stunning building too.  The ANZ Banking Museum is another stunning place to visit with interesting history on display. The Australian centre for the moving image also has many free and paid for exhibitions and is located in Federation Square.

Free galleries to visit include The Ian Potter Museum of Art and The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia have many Aboriginal pieces in their permanent collection. The National Gallery of Victoria is the oldest gallery in Australia and hosts many high profile exhibitions including loans from MOMA, its permanent collection boasts 73,000 works of art.  The Australian centre for contemporary art is also another wonderful gallery over on Southbank to visit.

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Hang out in Federation Square!

Built in 2002 and sitting across from Flinders Street Station, Federation square is one of the first sights that will great you as you come into Melbourne and encompasses many modern minimalist style buildings. This wonderfully modern public space is home to many museums, galleries and cultural spaces that we mentioned above which are mostly free to visit.

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But even if gallery hoping isn’t your thing, Fed Square is a great place to hang out especially on a sunny day and one of the fun free things to do in Melbourne. Grab a veggie burger from Lord of the Fries over on Swanson street and sit back in this public plaza and just take in the beauty of the city from here! You can also find the visitors centre here.

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