There are plenty of completely free things to do in Melbourne, from a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria to a walk in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Today, we will show you how to fill your days in Melbourne, have a great time, and keep a pocket full of change for a day trip!
Some of these attractions require you to book a timed entry ticket at no cost, so please check their websites before heading out.
Note: Because of border closures, my last two trips to Melbourne have been postponed, so I have called on some Melbourne locals to help fill the gaps. Thanks team!
What can you do in Melbourne for free?
Work your way through this list next time the budget is tight, and you are looking to be entertained.
Catch the City Circle Tram
The iconic W-Class heritage trams travel around the city centre, passing many of the city’s most popular sites. The free tram travels as far as Docklands, and the full loop can take up to 60 minutes.
The City Circle tram runs approximately every 20 minutes, providing an audio commentary perfect for first-time visitors. If you are only in town for a short time, this is one of the best free things to do in Melbourne.
Note: All Melbourne trams are completely free in the CBD and are a great way to get across the city, but these are the only ones with the soundtrack
Take a self-guided street art walk
Not just Hosier Lane, but plenty more, including ACDC Lane, Caledonian Lane, Duckworth Lane, for starters.
Melbourne is world-famous for its street art, and some of Australia’s best street artists have work in these laneways. Unlike the almost fine art style murals popular in Adelaide, Melbourne’s lanes feature a lot more graffiti-style work. The walls change more frequently than in other cities, it’s a grungier, edgier, and some might say more authentic scene.
Learn more about Australian Art at Ian Potter Gallery
This gallery at Federation Square is dedicated exclusively to Australian Art. Featuring over 70,000 works, it’s a must for art-aficionados and includes many of Australian art’s most loved works, including those of Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, and Margaret Preston.
Conventional, Indigenous, and contemporary works spanning all art forms are on display. This is the place to go for a big serve of culture. Open 10am-5pm daily.
Check out the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens
This gorgeous building is the only UNESCO Heritage site in Melbourne. Built to host the World Exhibition in 1880, it went on to become the site of the opening of the first Parliament of Australia in 1901.
Don’t miss the stunning Hochgurtel Fountain on the city side of the garden. The gardens are particularly pretty in spring and autumn. The park is also the location of the Melbourne Museum.
Pop into the Australian Music Vault
The interactive exhibition at the Arts Centre Melbourne tells the story of the Australian music scene. It includes some truly iconic fashion items including Molly Meldrums Hat, Kylie’s gold hotpants, Chrissy Amphlett and Angus Young’s school uniforms, Jimmy Barnes’s leather jacket, and Dami Imms Eurovision dress.
All genres of music from country to hip hop are covered and while it’s a small collection, it changes often and is a fun way to spend an hour in Melbourne.
Check out these Melbourne playlists on Spotify curated by local musicians
The exhibits include highly interactive digital experiences allowing visitors to listen to interviews with musicians, promoters, and behind-the-scenes people sharing their stories within the engagement zones.
The Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Centre
Another of the Fed Square attractions is the Koorie Heritage Trust’s centre. Since 2016 it has been supporting contemporary Aboriginal Art and making it accessible to Melburnians. There are two floors of exhibits that change frequently.
There is also a collection of cultural artifacts. The centre is open daily from 9am-5pm. Explore significant Aboriginal sites across Melbourne on a self-guided walk.
Take a self-guided tour of Melbourne’s Golden Mile Heritage Trail.
This 4km walk will help you discover several of the best. It begins at the Immigration Museum and heads up Flinders Lane to Collins St before making its way to Parliament House, ending at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens.
33 Gold discs on the footpath mark out the route, but these can be hard to follow, so we recommend you download the Museums Victoria app.
Allow two hours to complete the route, and if you don’t want the app, pick up a guide from the Visitors Centre at Melbourne Town Hall.
Discover Captain Cook Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens
Fitzroy Gardens is home to a couple of interesting things, but Captain Cook Cottage, the home of James Cook’s parents, is the best known. It was transported from Yorkshire to Australia in 1934 and rebuilt brick by brick. If you want to view the inside, there is a small entry fee.
The Fairy Tree is a close second and much-loved spot for children. The tree sculpted by Ola Cohn in the early 1930s is inspired by a similar tree in Kensington Gardens London. Join a free tour held every Saturday morning to learn more about both sites.
Take an amble around Birrarung Marr
The Yarra is known as Birrarung in the Woi Wurrung and Boon Wurrung languages, and it’s a lovely spot to spend an hour or two. The Birrarung Marr precinct is a space used by the city for festivals and events but it’s also a fabulous spot for a picnic.
Along with Angel below be sure to check out the Federation Bells on the middle terrace, a sound sculpture of 39 bells that plays three times a day.
Another significant work, the Birrarung Wilam Aboriginal art installation, is found along the path by the river. The parkland offers fabulous city views and is a favourite spot for photographing the Yarra River and Southbank skyline.
Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
Australia’s National Museum of Screen Culture, ACMI, is a great option for wet days in Melbourne. Located at Fed Square, the immersive collection moves through five areas, from the origin of film to video games and the power of media to inform and influence.
If the weather turns ugly you can easily lose a half-day here viewing the free exhibitions, there is something for all ages and interests. The ACMI Shop is the perfect spot to grab a gift for your screen-loving friends.
Join a free Melbourne Greeter Tour
Melbourne Greeters is a service managed by Melbourne City Council. Part of the International Greeter Association, the service offers brief tours of some of Melbourne’s hidden gems. Sign up online or at the Visitors Centre. Bookings are recommended at least 24 hours in advance however you could pop in to see if you can score a vacancy if you have missed booking. This is by far one of the best free things to do in Melbourne if you as us!
Take a snap at the Brighton Bathing Boxes.
Located only 20 minutes from the CBD, the Brighton Bathing Boxes are one of Australia’s most iconic and Instagrammable places in the city.
It’s a straightforward trip from Flinders St Station to Brighton Station. From here, you can easily walk to the beach. Once you reach the esplanade, take Dendy St and then make your way along the sand to the boxes.
With stunning views of Port Phillip Bay, the Melbourne skyline, and the bathing boxes, you can take beautiful photos here.
The 82 bathing boxes are identical in structure but unique in their colours and design. Of course, the most famous box is the one with the Australian flag. It’s close to the car park and is usually quite busy. You may have to stand in line to get to take a photo.
If you go further down, you will find many other beautiful boxes where you can take photos uninterrupted. Please note that these boxes are privately owned. Treat them as you’d like someone to treat your property!
Contributed by Pauline from BeeLoved City
Walk through Melbourne’s beautiful arcades.
Melbourne is a city famous for its winding laneways and decadent historic arcades. The city’s arcades are indoor shopping corridors full of ornate architecture and quaint boutique stores.
One arcade that should be top of your list is the gorgeous L-shaped Block Arcade, which dates all the way back to 1893. Haigh’s Chocolates are a must-see and often have some tasty treats out for sampling. However, the biggest drawcard to the Block is the famous Hopetoun Tea Rooms.
The Royal Arcade is an Italianate-style design that opened in 1870, making it the oldest arcade in the country still standing. This fascinating corridor features the statues of mythical figures, Gog and Magog, who strike the clock at the southern entrance every hour.
Here, one of Melbourne’s most beloved hot chocolate institutions, Koko Black, can be found, and it would simply be bad manners not to sit down for a warming and rich hot chocolate while you’re there.
Contributed by Emma Jane Explores
See the domed room at the State Library of Victoria.
If you are in Melbourne and looking for an incredible indoor space to explore, add the State Library Victoria to your itinerary.
Opening 1856, this amazing library has continued to grow and become a space to return to regularly, not only for its famous dome roofed reading room but for the exhibitions and historic architecture.
For families, the Pauline Gandel Children’s Quarter offers two floors dedicated to visiting children and includes a two-storey children’s castle, reading nooks, and over 4000 kid’s books.
Make your way to the South Rotunda for the Ned Kelly exhibit, where you will find the infamous bushranger’s armour, death mask, and several other artifacts that tell his story. Or perhaps check out the Ian Potter Queen’s Hall, where you will find one of the world’s largest collections of chess!
Check out the events listing at The Wheeler Centre for their range of talks and presentations you can attend.
The State Library of Victoria is open from 10am to 6pm daily (excluding Christmas and Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday).
Contributed by Leah from Kid Bucket List
Experience the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)
The Melbourne Cricket Ground, or MCG, is one of the Australian landmarks you must see when visiting Melbourne. It’s so well known in Australia; it’s often just called the ‘G. It has even been likened to the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty as the iconic piece of architecture that symbolises a city.
Built in 1853, just 20 years after the city of Melbourne was founded, the MCG is located within Yarra Park, on the banks of the river, just east of the central business district. You can stroll there in 10 minutes. The MCG has hosted papal and royal visits; at one time it was used as housing for soldiers during wars and was the site of the 1956 Olympic Games.
However, it’s best known in Melbourne for being the home of Australian football since 1859 and to Australians as the place where test cricket was first played.
It is free to wander around the MCG every day of the year unless a sporting match is being played. Sports fans may like to book a paid experience. These show the MCG museum, tapestry and library, and tells the history of the sports stadium. Bars and cafes inside and a fabulous view back over the Melbourne city skyline.
Contributed by Monique at Trip Anthropologist
Wander beachside St Kilda
Head to Melbourne’s seaside neighbourhood of St Kilda for a perfect day away from Melbourne CBD. Besides paying for the number 96 tram, this is a no-cost thing to do in Melbourne. Explore the suburb’s architecture, eat cake from one of the famous European cake shops on Acland Street, stroll the waterfront promenade or relax for the afternoon at St Kilda beach.
Take a selfie by the Luna Park face for a great Melbourne souvenir
As the daylight disappears, head to St Kilda Pier to watch the sunset. This is one of the best sunset spots in Melbourne.
However, one of the best reasons you should linger here after sunset is to see the fairy penguins. After dark, make your way to the boardwalk at the very end of the beach and along the end of the pier (you’ll likely see others heading in the same direction) to witness penguins coming to the shore.
The penguins are fenced off from people, and volunteers ensure everyone keeps their distance for the penguins’ safety. Hungry? There is plenty of affordable food nearby so perhaps stick around for dinner.
St Kilda is about 20 minutes away from Melbourne CBD, home to the closest beach to the city for a refreshing swim.
Contributed by Shireen from The Happy Days Travels
Discover the Terrace Houses of Melbourne
Terrace houses were characteristic of urban housing in Australia’s early colonial era. Thankfully, Melbourne has kept many of these dwellings, mostly built between the 1850s and 1890s, a period coinciding with the Australian gold rush.
Modelled on those built in London and Paris a century earlier, what makes Melbourne’s terrace’s unique are the decorative cast-iron balconies. As a result, Melbourne boasts more decorative cast iron than any other city in the world. Another distinguishing feature is how decorative parapets were integrated into the design to hide roof elements.
One of the best places to see a variety of terrace housing is to wander the streets of Fitzroy. It’s a self-guided activity with the bonus of encountering a considerable amount of street art. Fitzroy is within walking distance of the Central Business District at three kilometres. Hop on one of the many trams traversing the world’s largest urban tram network.
Contributed by Anne Betts from Packing Light Travel
Peruse World Class Art at the National Gallery of Victoria
The NGV has two collections, the Ian Potter at Fed Square and the International collection in the St Kilda Road building. Daily tours are usually offered but have been temporarily cancelled and replaced with virtual tours.
Among the permanent collection a Prada Coat, Kohei Nawa’s PixCell-Red Deer and Piccaso’s Weeping Woman.
Check out the world’s largest stained-glass ceiling while you are there. Entry to the main collection is free although visiting exhibitions may attract charges.
The Shrine of Remembrance
The Shrine of Remembrance is a stunning memorial located on Birchwood Avenue and St. Kilda Rd, around 1.5kms from Flinders Street Station.
Essentially, the Shrine of Remembrance honoured the brave Australians who have fought in all wars since Australia’s Federation in 1901. In fact, it’s one of the largest war memorials in Australia. The Shrine resembles the Parthenon in Athens.
Everyone should visit to get a better understanding of the sacrifices of Australian service members and their families. Although entry is free, you can pay for a guided experience if you want to learn more about the building.
Be sure to explore the galleries of remembrance located under the Shrine. Here, you’ll find over 800 items, including photographs, uniforms, and other objects from Australians who fought in the wars.
When you’re finished exploring the inside of the Shrine, head outdoors to the upper balcony. You’ll be greeted by stunning views of the Melbourne skyline.
Contributed by Disha from Disha Discovers
Learn about the foundation of Melb at the Old Treasury
Sitting at the top of Collins St. this grand building looks like it belongs in Europe rather than a 200-year-old city. On our visit, we were stunned to hear the architect JJ Clark, was only 19yrs old when he completed the design.
The museum inside houses a number of exhibits including three that we feel are great for understanding the city. The first, Melbourne: Foundations of a City includes the first panoramic drawing of Melbourne. Next, Built on Gold, the story of the state’s gold rushes and how they changed the landscape. Finally, Protest, a history of democratic protest in Melbourne since the first official protest took place in the 1840s. For anyone who loves exploring the past this is our favourite one of our historic free things to do in Melbourne.
Check the Old Treasury Building website for the latest opening hours.
Take a run on the Tan Track
This popular 3.8km running track skirts the Botanic Gardens and Kings Domain Parklands providing excellent views while you work up a sweat. Try to avoid running at lunchtime and at weekends to avoid crowds. No one really seems to know why it’s called the Tan Track. I have heard it is an abbreviation of Botanic Gardens however others say it comes from the colour of the stones on the track. I have no idea which is correct, if either!
The track is lit until late at night if you like running after dark. The fastest times are recorded on a clock called the Pillars of Wisdom. You will find it near Swan Street Bridge. Can you beat them?
Explore an old and new architecture
From the stunning gothic style of the ANZ Bank in Collins St to the Eureka Tower, Melbourne has a fantastic range of architectural styles. There is an impressive number of new skyscrapers – some really interesting designs.
Architecture lovers should start by walking Collins St from Elizabeth St to Spring Street. Along this strip, you will find some of the cities best heritage buildings including some fantastic Victorian architecture side by side some of the cities tallest buildings.
- Manchester Unity Building
- The Hotel Windsor
- The Arts Centre Melbourne
- The Forum Theatre
- Light House in Dockland
- Plus many of the buildings in this list!
The building that we loved however was the Swanston Square apartments. It features an 85m tall face of Aboringal William Barak, the last traditional elder of the Wurundjeri-Willam clan.
Melbourne General Cemetery
You may think it creepy to be recommended you go to Melbourne General Cemetery. Looking for somewhere different to walk with Melbourne’s CBD as a backdrop, this might be the place for you. Found a few km north of the CBD, you can reach the cemetery by taking the Number 1 tram along Swanston St.
The cemetery is set on 106 acres and is like a large public park with manicured gardens. You will get magnificent views of Melbourne CBD and a chance to check out some very notable internments, including explorers Burke and Wills and Prime Ministers, Sir Robert Menzies, Sir John Gorton, and a memorial to Harold Holt. Derrimut, Aboriginal Tribal Chief of Bunurong Tribe, and Greg Ham, Musician from Aussie band ‘Men at Work’, to name a few.
The cemetery is open 6am to 6pm 365 days a year. After a day of paying your respects, catch the Number 1 tram towards the city. Maybe hop off en route in Lygon St and end your day in one of the many notable Italian restaurants Carlton is famous for.
Contributed by Sharyn from Live Work Play
Browse one of the city’s many markets
From the creative finds at Rose Street Artists Market in Fitzroy to the popular South Melbourne market, these markets are a great place to get a feel for what’s popular.
Choose from these popular markets for your window shopping fix:
- South Melbourne Market (food) – Wed, and Fri-Sun. 8am-4pm
- The Rose St. Artists’ Market (art and craft)- Weekends 11-5pm Fitzroy
- St Kilda Market -(art and craft) Sunday 10am-5pm
- Camberwell Market (preloved and craft) – Sunday 7.30am-12.30pm
- Prahan Market (food) – Tues, Thurs-Sun. 7am-5pm /10-3pm Sun.
Visit St Patrick’s Cathedral
St Patrick’s Cathedral has the distinction of being the largest cathedral in Australia. It has been visited by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. This gothic building was designed by William Wardell, the same architect that designed the second St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.
You will find the cathedral on Eastern Hill just behind Parliament House. Attend one of the twice-daily services to listen to the famous choir.
Built to commemorate a century of Australian self-government, Fed Square is the most popular meeting point for locals. It is also home to the city’s best free sites for culture junkies, including the ACMI, The Ian Potter Centre and the Koorie Heritage Trust. This is a great place to stop awhile and do some people watching.
Federation Square hosts over 2000 events a year and there is plenty of free outdoor entertainment on offer year-round. Sit, listen to the buskers and do some people watching! You can usually take a free tour Monday to Saturday at 11am but for now, you can enjoy a very well done virtual tour
Docklands – the newest city and harbour precinct
There is plenty to see on a trip to Docklands from cool sculptures to great public spaces like the Library at the Dock. Hunt down the Kylie Minoque statue, one of 36 pieces located on the wharf, parks and promenades of this revitalised area. It is here you will find the iconic Cow up a Tree.
Catch the city circle tram to start your trip and stroll back to the city along the Yarra.
Explore the Royal Botanical Gardens, Melbourne
The Royal Botanical Gardens are set on the Yarra River between South Yarra and Richmond and are
one of the best free places to go in Melbourne if you are looking for a relaxing day out. Established in 1846, these stunning gardens cover over 38 hectares and attract over 1.4 million visitors annually.
With beautiful gardens, stunning lake views and even a children’s garden, this is the perfect setting for a leisurely walk or even a picnic.
Take a stroll through to experience 8,500 diverse species and plant collections including
succulents, cacti, roses, camellias, rainforest flora and more. Marvel at the tropical glasshouse, the beautiful sculptures, lakes and islands. Spot different types of native wildlife such as cockatoos, kookaburras, bellbirds and swans.
For families, make a stop at the Ian Potter Children’s Garden. It is a designated educational garden where children of all ages and abilities can play and learn. Spending a little time here is a must for anyone visiting Melbourne. We are so lucky to have this little oasis so close to the city.
The first time I strolled along Southbank, I felt a little like I was walking along the banks of the Thames. The brown Yarra River, overcast skies may have helped the mood.
With its three bridges, city skyline view, and public art pieces, and views back to the city skyline there is plenty to warrant spending some time here.
Among the notable public art here is Shearwater by Inge King, and less than 200m away, the very colourful Ophelia sculpture by artist Deborah Halpern who also created the popular works along the other side of the Yarra River.
In the evenings, a line of 8 towers shoots what they say to be the world’s largest fireballs into the sky. Continue past the Casino to the Polly Woodside. You will find a suggested route here
Visit Parliament House
It’s not easy to see looking at Parliament House but although it’s been open since 1856 the building is unfinished. A planned domed roof has never been completed. I wonder if it ever will. This is just one thing we learned on our visit. Along with the general tour you can also do architecture themed tours.
For the first 26 years after federation, our national government worked out of this building. Like Canberra, the design of this building is the result of a competition. Pop inside to see the opulence of the building.
Attend a festival
Moomba, the Light Up Festival, and even many ticketed events like The Australian Open, The Melbourne Comedy Festivals offer free performances as part of their programs. Check the official Melbourne site for the latest details.
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Read our guide on Where to stay in Melbourne if this is your first time in the city.