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Australian Centre for the Moving Image, interior
Photograph: Shannon McGrath

The best free things to do in Melbourne

Looking for free things to do in Melbourne? Check out these tips for exploring Melbourne for zero dollars

By Rebecca Russo
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They say the best things in life are free. We're not 100 per cent on board with that sentiment (have you had a perfectly prepared cocktail? That ain't cheap), but not everything in Melbourne has to cost a bunch of money. From art shows to wine 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, eventsfree art galleries and activities, so you can have a super fun time in Melbourne without spending a cent.  

Free things to do in Melbourne

Comedian Nazeem Hussain performing at Spleen Bar
Photograph: Supplied / Spleen Bar

1. Get amongst some free live comedy

Comedy Stand Up

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).

Fitzroy Gardens, East Melbourne, Melbourne
Josie Withers

2. Explore a model Tudor Village at Fitzroy Gardens

Things to do East Melbourne

Head to the scenic Fitzroy Gardens located amidst Melbourne’s busy cityscape. Take a stroll around the park and take in the natural landscape and historic sights, which are located throughout the gardens. You can find a model Tudor Village in the middle of the gardens, created by London pensioner Edgar Wilson back in the 1940s. This miniature village is a replica of a typical Kentish village built during England's Tudor period. It was unveiled in Fitzroy Gardens by the lord mayor in 1948.

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Two people on the ACMI staircase, with an ACMI sign in the foreground
Photograph: Shannon McGrath

4. Explore ACMI's free exhibitions

Museums Melbourne

ACMI is much more than meets the eye. Sure, it's home to Australia's largest moving image collection and the fascinating and fun The Story of the Moving Image permanent exhibition. But there's also cinemas, student labs and educational spaces, a media preservation lab, plus a hospitality offering from Karen Martini. Maybe the most exciting though, is the fact that you can play video games for free in the aforementioned exhibition – just remember to share folks!

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State Library of Victoria
Photograph: Benjamin Ashton

5. Wander around the State Library’s beautiful Dome Reading Room

Attractions Libraries Melbourne

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. Don't miss a stop at the impressive Ian Potter Queen's Hall, which was reopened in 2019 after being closed off to the public for nearly 15 years. Daily free tours will show you the library’s hidden reaches.

Readings Carlton
Photograph: Supplied

6. Visit the best bookshop in the world

Things to do Carlton

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. Readings Carlton won international acclaim in 2016 when it was awarded the ‘Bookstore of the Year’ award at the London Book Fair International Excellence Awards.

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Federation Square
Photograph: Visit Victoria / Robert Blackburn

7. Try free exercise classes at Fed Square

Museums Melbourne

When Melburnians want to take a break from complaining about the weather, they start whinging about Melbourne's "meeting place", Federation Square. Love it or hate it, there's always something happening – and many of the events are free. There's tai chi classes, morning meditation, Qigong classes and the occasional free movie on the big screen. Check the website for upcoming free events.

Library at the Dock
Photograph: Supplied

8. Explore the Library at the Dock

Attractions Libraries Docklands

An extensive book collection with over 200,000 tomes, subscriptions to the daily newspapers, about 400 magazines, a massive DVD and CD collection and eLibrary... that's all pretty standard for a library. However, there's a lot more than reading going on at the Library at The Dock – there's a gallery, cutting-edge pro-editing suites, a recording studio, practice rooms for musos, a ventilated green terrace for table tennis, yoga, tai chi and movie screenings. 

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Royal Botanic Gardens generic
Photograph: Adrian Vittorio

9. Get back to nature in the Royal Botanic Gardens

Things to do Melbourne

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 lunch on a workday. 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.

Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne
Photograph: Josie Withers

10. Discover Melbourne’s most beautiful buildings

Things to do

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!)

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11. Attempt the 1,000 Steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk

Sport and fitness Tremont

Twitchers, travellers, picnickers and bucket list-ers from across the city make the breathless march up this stony memorial that was named for a killing field. Actually attempting to count the 1,000 steps as you trudge up is near-impossible as blood, sweat and adrenalin do battle over your brain. (They reckon there are only 770, anyway). Easier, but more depressing, is counting how many times some hot young thing in lycra laps you on your 1.5 km ascent. Not feeling too athletic? The area is surrounded by skyscraping gums and there’s no shortage of lush picnic spots.

12. See the penguins on St Kilda Beach

Things to do

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.

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National Gallery Victoria
Photograph: Robert Blackburn

13. Spend quality time with famous artworks at the NGV

Art Southbank

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 a while. 

Tram outside of H&M Melbourne
Photograph: Graham Denholm

14. Tour the city using the free tram zone

Travel

The best part of Melbourne’s CBD? It’s all easily traversed via the free tram zone. This zone stretches as far north as 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.

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Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Walk Birrarung Marr
Photograph: Supplied

16. Pay a visit to the Koorie Heritage Trust

Museums Melbourne

Located in Fed Square, 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.

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Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
Photograph: Josie Withers

17. Go for a walk around the Tan

Sport and fitness Melbourne

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 ten minutes and eight seconds.

Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne
Photograph: Roberto Seba

18. Visit the Shrine of Remembrance

Museums Melbourne

The Shrine of Remembrance was built between 1927 and 1934 as a place for Victorians to grieve, honour and preserve the memories of those that had lost their lives in WWI. Now it serves as a memorial to all Australians who served at war. It's more than just a static memorial, however, with exhibitions and talks that reflect on past Australian conflicts held regularly. Guided walking tours are also available. Admission to the Shrine is free though donations are welcome. 

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Australian Centre for Contemporary Art exterior 2016
Photograph: Supplied / ACCA

19. Wander around the free exhibitions at ACCA

Art Southbank

With its imposing red-rust structure designed by Wood Marsh, ACCA is one of the most recognisable buildings in Melbourne. The geometrically-aligned ediface houses a number of (free!) exhibitions at any one time as well as serving as a hub for lectures, symposiums, performances, live music and educational programs. Head inside and explore.

Sunset at St Kilda Pier
Photograph: Roberto Seba

20. Go for a walk along St Kilda Beach

Things to do St Kilda

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. If 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.

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Bathing boxes at Brighton beach
Photograph: Mr Kyeong Woo Kim

22. See the Brighton Beach boxes

Things to do Brighton

Brighton's famous bathing boxes – 82 to be exact – line the foreshore along Brighton Beach. Not only is this beach pretty to look at but it's also excellent for swimming. When the wind picks up, it's a pretty decent area for surfing, too. Thankfully if you can't drive or don't have a car, there's a train station nearby.

More things to do in Melbourne

Other cheap things to do in town

Birrarung Marr
Photograph: Roberto Seba

Cheap things to do in Melbourne

Things to do

There's a special joy in doing, eating, drinking or wearing something fabulous that you've hardly paid a thing for. If you know where to look, you can get by in the city for a lot less than you'd think. Sadly, the only thing we can't help you with is rising rental prices.

See the best of the city

The best tours in Melbourne

Things to do Walks and tours

Have you just arrived in our fair city and want to know where to start? Or are you a local who loves Melbourne and wants to discover our hidden secrets? These tours are definitely the place to start. From food to laneways, drinking to ghosts, these tours are the best way to get to know Melbourne.

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