We’re aware of the stereotype that living in Melbourne ain’t cheap. But guess what? Not everything in Melbourne costs a bunch of money. From art shows to coffee tastings, there are a bunch of things to do in this fine city that you can do for free. Yep, free. Zilch. Nada. Zero dollars. We’ve found the best comedy shows, events, free art galleries and activities, so you can have a super fun time in Melbourne without spending a cent.
RECOMMENDED: The best free events happening in Melbourne this year.
Free things to do in Melbourne
Did you know that the number one thing to do on our Melbourne bucket list is also free? Yep, here at the Queen Vic you’ll be able to peruse the sheds and spy all the great fruit, veg, meat, dairy and smallgoods. If you’re lucky, there might be a few stalls handing out free samples (stick around the cheese section and you will be rewarded!).
Market Lane hold public cuppings every Friday at its Prahran Market shop from 1-1.45pm. Cupping is like coffee tasting, and it's done in a similar way to how you taste wines. It's an opportunity to try eight or so cups of current and newly arrived coffees at Market Lane, with the knowledgeable staff running you through the evaluation. Places are limited to six people, so it's suggested you arrive 15 minutes early to score a spot.
Take in the sunset while you stroll down Jacka Boulevard to St Kilda’s breakwater for a peek at a healthy-sized colony of little penguins (also called fairy penguins). The black-and-white cuties are there all year round, but the best viewing is in summer after sunset. Just remember: don’t climb on the rocks (that’s where they lay eggs and rear young), don’t use flash on your camera, and don’t feed or touch them.
Every Monday, Spleen Bar on Bourke Street's top end hosts some of the best comedians in Melbourne and beyond. It's a prime opportunity for well-known names to try new material. The quality is remarkably consistent, and the atmosphere is often electric (considering the tickets clock in at the resounding price of free).
Plus, every Tuesday Lido Cinema's intimate Jazz Room hosts a free night of established and rising stand-up stars. Some big Melbourne names have graced the stage in recent years including Dave Thornton, Danielle Walker (pictured), Corey White and Laura Davis.
Let’s face it, Melbourne isn’t really known for its skyline. Besides the famous Arts Centre spire and the gargantuan Eureka Tower, we don’t really have defining buildings that shoot out into the stratosphere. Instead, you’ll find some of Melbourne’s best buildings hidden within the grid, on street corners or in grand, green gardens. Take a tour of our favourites, which include the historic Royal Exhibition Building, the GPO and one particularly pretty McDonald’s building (seriously!).
Almost four kilometres of primo jogging real estate, the Tan is encircled by the beautiful surrounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Once a horse track, it’s now a running route – see if you can thrash the current record of a lap in 10 minutes and eight seconds.
Given the near-constant rotation of fabulous special exhibitions at the NGV, you’d be forgiven for neglecting the equally impressive (and free!) permanent collection. Next time you visit the St Kilda Road gallery make sure you spy the Rembrandt, Tiepolo and Picasso, which are all hanging around the gallery. Plus, the magnificent, boiled lolly-like stained-glass ceiling of the Great Hall and the entryway water wall will keep you entertained for ages.
Seeing as Melbourne is the live music capital of the world (it’s true!), it makes sense that you’d be able to find some excellent free live music every single night of the week. We suggest heading to Monday Night Mass at Northcote Social Club, firstly. This long-running event showcases three underground talents for free every week. There’s also CBD bar Ferdydurke, which puts on great free gigs every Thursday night.
Step into the Dome Reading Room, the most extravagant room in the State Library of Victoria, and you can hear mental cogs turning: people are studying, examining old books and expanding their knowledge on anything from rare birds to architectural history. Daily free tours will show you the library’s hidden reaches like the Queen’s Hall, a grand old reading room ordinarily closed off to the public.
Did you know Channel 10’s The Project is filmed right here in Melbourne? And you can sit in the audience for free? Think of it like an evening of free entertainment, with hilarious comedians, international guests and some excellent social commentary to boot. All you have to do is register online, then prepare to clap and laugh your arse off.
You have to try pretty hard not to see street art in Melbourne. You’re probably already familiar with the works splattering Hosier Lane and Centre Place, but there’s way more to Melbourne’s street art scene than just those haunts. Laneways throughout the CBD regularly get a repaint, so to speak, not to mention all the street art out of the city. See our guide to spotting the best street art here.
The Koorie Heritage Trust celebrates Indigenous art and culture of the south-eastern region of Australia with three gallery spaces. Works in the collection are a combination of acquired and commissioned works, gathered since the early 1980s. By putting on these exhibitions, the trust aims to raise awareness and appreciation for Koorie culture. In doing so it hopes to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Think you know everything there is about Melbourne? Think again. Head out on this city-wide search for hidden artworks, historical treasures and secret corners to see the city in a whole new light. There are 11 to find, including the smallest art gallery in Melbourne!
It’s not often that you see crowds hanging out at a bookshop at 10pm on a Saturday night, but that’s Readings for you – proof that there’s still a place for great independent bookshops (which don’t frown on people reading a little before they buy, mind you). This landmark bookstore isn’t just famous in Melbourne either – Reading Carlton won international acclaim in 2016 when it was awarded the ‘Bookstore of the Year’ award at the London Book Fair International Excellence Awards.
You don't have to have political aspirations to enjoy the tour at Parliament House. During this free tour you can walk the same hallowed halls as our current and former state pollies, spy the incredibly ornate architecture and learn some of the building’s less illustrious moments. No need to book – just turn up on time for your chosen tour on any week day when parliament is not sitting.
Melbourne is lucky enough to have its Royal Botanic Gardens smack bang in the middle of the city. Being so accessible, the gardens are ideal for a stroll, a picnic, or even a great place to eat your workday lunch. The expansive grounds means you’re rarely forced to face off with someone for a good spot of turf. We suggest parking yourself down for a calming meditation session or a photo op with the always gorgeous Ornamental Lake.
Melbourne is a city with a lot of faces. It’s grunge-chic, it’s seaside splendour, it’s lush rainforest, and it’s man-made beauty. From streets lined in aerosol art to buildings straight out of Harry Potter this city has something for everyone, but especially for the Insta-crowd. Charge your phone, check your data and practise the perfect selfie pout because we’ve rounded up ten of the most Instagrammable places that Melbourne has to offer.
The best part about Melbourne’s CBD? It’s all easily traversed via the free tram zone. This zone stretches as far north as the Queen Vic Market, east to Spring Street and Parliament House, south to Flinders Street and west to Docklands and Victoria Harbour. It’s ideal for sightseeing in the city as it stretches across to some of the coolest inner-suburban hangouts as well including cocktail bars like Madame Brussels, karaoke joints like Heroes and inner-city parks, too.
With its close proximity to Acland Street, it's no wonder St Kilda has one of the most popular beaches in Melbourne. The shore is home to all kinds of sport, whether you're a beach cricket, volleyball or frisbee enthusiast, and the water is safe for swimming and watersports. It the weather is warm, take a dip in the shallows, and if it's colder, an invigorating walk along the ocean is the cure for what ails ya.