Melbourne is the second biggest city in Australia, but it’s effortless cool and friendly atmosphere is second to none. And the best part? You can enjoy it without even opening your wallet. To get you started, here’s 20 of the best free things to do in Melbourne.
Frequently voted the world’s most livable city, it won’t take you long wandering round to find out why.
So what are you waiting for? Drop your bags off with Stasher and get exploring!
Enjoy some art at the NGV
As the name might suggest, the National Gallery of Victoria is one of the best stocked galleries in the state of Victoria. Their collection includes some serious art heavyweights, including Rembrant, Picasso and Rodin. If you feel like forking out, there is a fantastic variety of exhibitions. Check out the calendar on their website to see what’s on. But fear not, you can wander round the permanent collection entirely for free, and the building itself is a work of art.
Take in the world’s largest stained glass ceiling
…Which leads us on to number two: no art lover’s trip to Melbourne would be complete without paying homage to the world’s largest stained glass ceiling. Located in the Great Hall of the St Kilda Road building, the ceiling was designed by the Australian artist Leonard French, and is known as the persian rug of light. Make sure to head over on a sunny day to enjoy the kaleidoscope of colour on the floor.
Take a lap on the City Circle Tram
If walking isn’t really your style, then you’re in luck. Melbourne’s City Circle Tram takes passengers on a loop around the city and down to the Docklands precinct. Complete with an informative commentary, this is a great way to get your bearings in the city. For something special, the heritage ‘W class’ trams are fitted with wooden chairs, brass and leather hand straps like the originals, taking you right back to 1923.
Self-guided tour of Melbourne’s laneways
Beloved by locals, the laneways are home to Melbourne’s flourishing street art scene.They used to be one of the grittiest parts of the city, but they’ve been transformed by local and international street artists. This area is now home to some of the best cafes and restaurants in the city. For fine-dining and local fashion labels, we recommend heading over to Flinders Lane. If it’s street art you’re after, then you can’t miss Hosier Lane and Duckboard Place. The laneways can be hard to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for, which is why we recommend taking this self-guided tour around the laneways and arcades.
Follow a trail of public sculptures
To continue the theme of outdoor exploration, Melbourne’s streets are full of world class sculptures for everyone to see. Starting in Birrarung Marr park, you’ll see Deborah Halpern’s Angel (1987). One of Australia’s most celebrated sculptors, recognised by her colourful mosaic style, you can see more of her work at Southgate: Ophelia (1992), and Portal to Another Time and Place (2005) at Werribee Mansion. As if this wasn’t enough, you’ll also find Bruce Armstrong’s Eagle (2002) and John Kelly’s Cow up a Tree (1999) in Docklands. Outside the GPO building resides Simon Perry’s The Public Purse (1994). And just next to the State Library of Victoria sits Petrus Spronk’s sinking building known as Architectural Fragment (1992).
If you’re looking for a photo op, look no further than the Brighton Beach bathing boxes. 82 of these adorable little beach huts line the shore, painted in every colour under the sun. This beach is an excellent spot for swimming, sunbathing and you might even catch some good waves on a windy day. There’s a convenient train station nearby, making it an easy journey from Melbourne city centre. Don’t forget your frisbee!
Listen to some free live music
Locals will tell you that Melbourne is the music capital of the world. With the enormous range of free live music on offer every night of the week, you can make your mind up for yourself. Everyone has an opinion on which bar you should go to to catch the best gigs. We recommend starting with the Northcote Social Club for Monday Night Mass. As the name would suggest, every Monday this event showcases three new underground talents, meaning you’re likely to find something that tickles your eardrums. On Thursdays, head over to Ferdydurke, which has free gigs on this night of the week.
Munch on free samples at Queen Victoria Market
Queen Victoria Market is one of the oldest and most prestigious of Melbourne’s markets. Here you’ll see everything on offer from fresh produce and hot donuts to souvenirs, homewares and handmade crafts. Browsing is of course totally free, and you may well be treated to free samples from the vendors if you give them a friendly smile. Make sure to stick around for the Night Market every Wednesday between November and April. Here you’ll find even more delicious street food as well as live music and a party atmosphere late into the night.
Shop with the locals
There’s no question that Queen Victoria Market is great, but if you’re looking for a real bargain, or a more authentic local experience, you’d do well to check out some of Melbourne’s less touristy markets. If you’re looking for a Parisian flea market vibe, head over to Camberwell Market, or the Rose Street Artists Market in Fitzroy for some signature Melbourne creativity. To get a taste of the countryside in the city, check out the Farmers Market at Abbotsford Convent, and Collingwood Children’s Farm. Wherever you head, you’re guaranteed a feast for the senses, entirely for free!
Spot the penguins on St Kilda Beach
St Kilda beach is a great spot for some sea air and a chilled out atmosphere. Here you’ll see kite-surfers, locals, and tourists all enjoying the sunshine and the promenade cafes.
When strolling along St Kilda beach, look out for the colony of fairy penguins who have made their home there. Recognised for their black and white colouring and miniature size, they’re best spotted after sunset in the summer. Remember, if you’re going to take a photo, make sure you don’t use flash, and don’t feed or touch the penguins. Stay back from the rocks where they lay their eggs, otherwise you’re going to have an angry penguin on your hands.
Picnic in the Royal Botanical Gardens
One of the oldest parks in the city, Melbourne’s Royal Botanical Gardens date back to 1857. The park is over 38 acres of hilly green space, offering a haven of peace at the edge of the city CBD. Split up into different themes with a lake at the centre, pick your favourite spot then settle down with a picnic or some snacks to idle away an afternoon amongst the flowers. For you keen botanists, the Gardens run free guided tours of the flora and fauna.
If you’re feeling sporty, or want to work up a sweat before you sit down to your picnic, the park is home to what is locally known as ‘The Tan’. This is a 3.84km running track circuit in the gardens that is especially popular with locals in the early mornings.
Learn about Aboriginal history at the Koorie Heritage Trust
If you head over to Federation Square, you’ll find the Koorie Heritage Trust, an authentic and immersive Aboriginal centre. Here you can see the work of contemporary Indigenous artists, and learn about Indigenous culture through exhibitions. The changing art exhibitions are accompanied by a permanent exhibition on Aboriginal social history. This is the perfect place to educate yourself about Australian history pre-British colonisation, and contemporary Aboriginal life. The museum is open seven days a week, and completely free to visit.
Visit the best bookshop in the world
If you thought independent booksellers were a dying breed, then you’ll be delighted to find Readings Carlton. Here you’ll find bibliophiles browsing late into the night, perusing the shelves of one of the largest bookshops in Melbourne. And it’s not just locals that love it. In 2016 the store was awarded ‘Bookstore of the Year’ at the London Book Fair International Excellence Awards. Browse the shelves here for every genre you can imagine, and sample a few pages if you don’t feel like weighing your suitcase down with books.
Wander round the beautiful State Library reading room
The State Library of Victoria is a heritage building dating back to 1854, and houses over two million books. This is in itself impressive, but what tourists flock to the building for is the beautiful octagonal La Trobe Reading Room. When it was built in 1913, it was the largest domed room of its kind in the world. You can pick up a map from the front desk to take a self-guided tour around the library and the exhibition galleries. Have a look in their calendar for free talks, classes and workshops which are held periodically in the building.
Have a laugh (or not!) at a comedy gig
If you need a break from museums and serious culture, Melbourne’s buzzy nightlife has lots to offer in the way of free comedy gigs. Once a year, the city hosts the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and you’ll find up and coming comedians preparing for it all year round. So if you’re up for hearing some new material, and potentially seeing the next star in action, here are our top recommendations:
On a Monday night, Spleen Bar on Bourke Street hosts some of the best comedians from Melbourne and further afield. The tickets are absolutely free, but the bar has a reputation for serving up comedy of the highest calibre. On Tuesdays, Lido Cinema’s Jazz Room hosts a free night of comedy with performers ranging from established stars to newcomers. Many comedy heavyweights have passed through the Jazz Room, so it’s definitely worth a visit.
Admire the world’s finest baristas
Now I know you’ve heard a lot of “best in the world”s by now, but believe us when we say that Melbourne really does have the world’s finest coffee shops. And of course the world’s finest coffee is brewed by the world’s finest baristas. If coffee is your thing, then you’ll want to make a beeline for Brother Baba Budan or Aunty Peg, or one of the other numerous speciality coffee shops in Melbourne. Here you’ll see world class baristas preparing the finest cups of coffee. It’s the closest thing we’ve seen to alchemy. And while watching is free, you’ll be hard pushed to resist buying a cup of those delicious beans once you’ve seen the mastery going on. Coffee is taken very seriously in Melbourne.
Free wine tastings at Prince Wine Store
Not only does Prince Wine Store have an amazing selection of wine, friendly staff and good prices, they also do free tastings on Saturday afternoons. The tastings are usually themed, either around a location, a brand, or a variety, and you’re guaranteed to sample a selection of their best stock. The tastings aren’t every single weekend, so make sure to check their website to avoid disappointment.
Kokoda track memorial walk
Keen walkers and hikers, this one’s for you! The Kokoda Track Memorial Walk, otherwise known as 1000 steps, is a memorial to Australian soldiers who died during the Kokoda campaign of 1942. As the name suggests, there are around 1,000 steps across a 1.5km ascent. But fear not, if you’re not feeling fit, there are plenty of places to stop and rest and take in the views.
Free walking tour from Federation Square
It might seem a little old school, but there are few better ways to get to know your way round a city than taking a good old fashioned walking tour. Guides lead free walking tours of Melbourne city centre every day at 10am and 2pm. Not only will these tours help you to get your bearings, but the guides have insider knowledge of the best eats and sights of the city.
Melbourne with a bang!
If you happen to find yourself in Melbourne over July and August, you can enjoy the free winter fireworks at the Docklands at 7.30pm. These spectacular displays light up the night as the city celebrates the cooler months.
So that’s a few things to be getting started with, and you won’t have to spend a single penny!
Bonus: Don’t forget to store your bag with Stasher. Then you can do some of these things on the first or last day of your trip.
Hi! I am George and I am the Content Lead for Stasher.com. I love travel, writing, making music and meeting new and interesting people.