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8 Melbourne Experiences That Are 100% Free

8 Melbourne Experiences That Are 100% Free

The world’s most liveable city can sometimes feel like the most expensive. Just ask the people that live in it. All those cool bars, cafes, festivals and parties mean one thing ­– money. So what do you do when you’ve liberated your wallet and bank account of cash and find yourself with a few days in Melbourne?

Easy! Melbourne has parks galore, walking and cycling paths everywhere, beautiful architecture to gawk at, interesting and diverse people to pretend you aren’t staring at and free art, everywhere.

Melbourne. For free. What more do you need? Oh, maybe a myki to get around but once that’s sorted…


#1 One foot in front of the other

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(Photo: Nathan Larkin/Flickr)

Walking. It’s the pits, right? But when you need some time out there’s nothing better than a long walk to clear the head and get you back in touch with reality. Melbourne has loads of walking trails, from the Capital City Trail that takes in most of the sights of the CBD, Southbank and Docklands, to The Tan, which circumnavigates the beautiful Botanic Gardens. Access to both is easy from the CBD.

If you’re suffering a bit of city fatigue, jump on a train and head for the Yarra Bend Trail. We promise, while walking this glorious bush-laden trail by the Yarra you will completely forget you are in the second biggest city in Australia. Majestic eucalypts reach out over the Yarra River, which at times meanders through limestone gorges. As you walk, you’ll have birds whistling in your ears (put away those earphones for the day) and no traffic to navigate but the occasional cyclist or mountain biker. You can do the whole circuit in under an hour, but that’s no fun. You could easily while away a whole day wandering this gorgeous trail.

Access to the trail is from Fairfield Boathouse. The best way to get there is to jump on the Hurstbridge line and get off at Dennis station. Yep, a train station called Dennis. The boathouse is about a ten minute walk south of the station.

More detail about Melbourne’s walking trails can be found on the surprisingly handy Melbourne Water website.

#2 Trams = Melbourne

(Photo: Matthew Paul Argall/Flickr)

Melbourne has the largest tram network in the world and every day these clunky, clackety, (and often congested) rhinos of the road take Melburnians to work, school and play. A tram ride is a nice glimpse into Melbourne life and luckily it’s now free to ride them within the CBD. But make sure you study that map of the ‘free tram zone’ carefully – take one foot outside its borders and you will find yourself at the mercy of Melbourne’s ticket inspectors, who will soon put a nasty end to your dream of a free Melbourne experience.


#3 Parks and recreation

(Photo: Rob Deutscher/Flickr)

In spring and summer, you’ll find locals passing the time and catching up with family and friends at many of the lush, green parks in the city and on the city fringe. Even workplaces get in on the act; on a Friday you’re just as likely to see staff drinks happening around a picnic table as you are in a bar.

Flagstaff, Queen Victoria, and Royal Botanic Gardens, as well as Birrarung Marr offer lovely views of the city. All four are easily accessible from the CBD and are the ideal spot to get postcard-perfect Melbourne photos without paying tourist-trap prices at Eureka Tower or the Southern Star Ferris wheel.

Walk north of the CBD to the World Heritage-listed Carlton Gardens, a popular picnic spot. Wander the beautiful gardens while you gaze in awe at the Royal Exhibition Building, the first place Australia’s parliament sat in 1901. She’s a beauty.

Further afield, Edinburgh Gardens in Fitzroy North (tram No.96, stop No.20) is not only a lovely park but it’s also where the cool kids from Melbourne’s inner-north hipster belt will be found enjoying a summer picnic, kicking a ball around or throwing a Frisbee and catching up with friends around a Bluetooth speaker.

#4 Art for free

NGV. (Photo: Daniel)

Melbourne gets some big-time art and cultural exhibitions. David Bowie Is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and Masterpieces of the Hermitage at National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) being current examples. But these big-ticket exhibitions are expensive for the frugal traveller. Luckily, there’s plenty of free galleries and exhibitions to unearth.

The NGV has a permanent free section at its St Kilda Road location and the NGV’s sister gallery, the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square is dedicated entirely to Australian art. It’s well worth your time, especially for its Indigenous art section. That’s just scratching the surface, though. The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) is also worth a look as are smaller galleries Blindside, King’s Artist Run Initiative and No Vacancy.

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But then, STREET ART. It’s everywhere! Melbourne is a living, breathing gallery so just head out your door and wander the streets of the city to see guerrilla creativity at its finest.

#5 Architecture with a history lesson

(Photo: MM Andamon/Flickr)

Inevitably, you’re going to end up spending some part of any holiday looking at buildings. Luckily, Melbourne has pretty interesting ones. Victorian, Art Deco and contemporary architecture is what Melbourne does best and within one city block you will find fine examples of all three. We recommend walking the length of Collins Street, starting at the State Parliament building and walking all the way down to the ANZ building at Docklands at the western end. This will take you from 1856 to 2015. Be sure to keep your eyes upward as often as you can to see the beautiful architectural detail above many of the shops in the city.

#6 Those laneways

(Photo: Geof Wilson/Flickr)

Surely you’ve heard about Melbourne’s laneways. Hosier and AC/DC Lane trap all the tourists, but also check out the Block Arcade, Croft Alley, Tattersalls Lane, Duckboard Place, Manchester Lane, Somerset Lane and Meyers Place. There’s no room here for directions, just google ‘em. Finding them is half the fun.


#7 There’s totally beaches, and they’re awesome

(Photo: Jonathan Lin/Flickr)

You might not think of cold, dreary Melbourne as a beach city, but in summer we can do coastal just as well as our northern neighbours. Watching the sun set over St Kilda is a right of passage for any Melbourne-bound traveller and will cost you nothing but a tram ride. The best spot is next to St Kilda Pier, where you can sit and let it all wash over you while you plot your plans to relocate to Melbourne, which is definitely the greatest city in the world. For more beach time fun, this local recommends Sandringham (not as crowded) and Brighton (if only to get photos of the unique bathing boxes that sell for $200,000 plus and to perve on Melbourne’s uber-rich bayside set). 

#8 Be a book worm at the library

(Photo: Cory Doctorow/Flickr)

Here’s where you can get stuff done, while also soaking up the vibes of Melbourne’s most beautiful building (in this writer’s humble opinion). The Victorian state library offers free Wi-Fi, free computers, free reference libraries and a wealth of information on the history of Victoria and Australia in general. Take a free guided tour of this gem and you won’t regret it. Be sure to make your way to the La Trobe Reading Room and gaze in awe at the beautiful towering dome above and the gorgeous shelves bulging with Australian literature and reference books below. Also spend some time in the Cowen Gallery, which houses a vivid collection of oil paintings depicting Victorian and Melbourne life from colonisation to now.

(Lead image: Carey Ciuro/Flickr)

Check out Qantas flights to Melbourne here.

We acknowledge the Gadigal and Wurundjeri people as the Traditional Custodians
of the unceded lands, oceans and skies on which we live and work.

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