Last Updated on December 1, 2021
Melbourne is one of Australia’s most awesome cities – for many it is even the best city in the country. And they’re not the only ones to think so: Melbourne is regularly voted on the ‘World’s Most Liveable City’ lists, and has plenty of things to see and do for visitors. Luckily, most of the things that make Melbourne great are outdoors and / or can be enjoyed for free – for example, some of the city’s best museums and art galleries are free – so check out these ten awesome free things to do in Melbourne:
1 Take the tram
The tram is one of Melbourne’s most iconic sights and can’t be missed on a visit to the city. The City Circle Tram can be taken for free – it goes in a 30 minute circuit and you can get on and off where and how often you like. Just look out for the gold and burgundy colored tram and hop on wherever you see it.
2 Free museums and galleries
Melbourne has a great number of world-class museums and art galleries and they are all well worth a visit. If you don’t want to pay for it but still see some excellent art and educate yourself, these are the Melbourne museums you can visit for free:
- National Gallery Of Victoria
NVG International is one of Australia’s best art museums and you will find a comprehensive collection (over 73,000 works of art!) of ancient Egyptian and Roman art, Asian exhibits and classic Renaissance and Baroque pieces. You’ll find works by Rembrandt, Cezannes and other great masters here, as well as contemporary art, for example by Picasso, and paintings include Rembrandt and Cezanne. Opening times: Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm.
- RAAF Museum
The RAAF museum has a huge display of old air crafts. Its aim is to educate about Australia’s wars and it is located in a military base, the RAAF Williams. There are also flying displays held every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 1pm.
- Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia
The Ian Potter Centre consists of over 20 galleries with artwork that present the history of Australian art, including drawings, decorative arts, fashion and also photography. There are also some galleries that are entirely dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island art. Opening times: Daily from 10am to 5pm.
- Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
Here you find a fantastic collection of contemporary art including video and photography, sculpture, sound, movement and electronic imaging – an excellent contemporary art museum. Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 6pm.
- Australian Centre for the Moving Image
This is the first museum of its kind in the whole world, and is dedicated to the moving image. This ranges from cinema to digital media, and there are two multi-format cinemas. There are always changing exhibitions and movie and art installations – a fascinating museum not only for cinema buffs. Opening times: Daily from 10am to 5pm / 6pm on weekends.
3 Explore Melbourne on foot
Melbourne is a relatively walkable city and especially the narrow lanes in the business district are great to be explored on foot. There are lots of street cafes where you can sit down and watch the world go by while having a delicious cappuccino. Check out the self-guided coffee walk I recommend in this article.
You can also walk the Bay Trail, which starts at St Kilda Pier, continues through the lovely Achland street cafés, passes through Luna Park and the St Kilda Marina. The path finally ends in Brighton, and you will pass several parks, cafes and restaurants on your way. It takes about 2 hours to walk and by walking it, you get to experience the closest beach to Melbourne in St Kilda.
4 Take the free tourist shuttle bus
I get it, not everyone loves walking as much as I do. If you prefer a tour, then the Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle is perfect for you. It runs every thirty minutes between 9.30am and 4.30pm and stops at all of Melbourne’s major attractions, such as Federation Square, Queen Victoria Market and Chinatown. If you don’t want to get off but simply enjoy the sights from a window seats – the full circle takes around 90 minutes and covers sight beyond the loop of the Circle Tram which only covers the Central Business District (CBD). The on-board commentary provides interesting information about all the landmarks you pass, plus some trivia about Melbourne.
5 Stroll through the city’s best markets
Queen Victoria Market is Melbourne’s most famous market, and you can get anything from fresh produce, fruits and vegetables to pets, plants and clothes here. There are over 1,000 market traders and the market covers seven hectares – you can easily spend a few hours strolling through the market stalls. Market days are: Tuesday and Thursday from 6am-2pm, Friday from 6am to 6pm, Saturday from 6am to 3pm and Sunday from 9am to 4pm.
Other markets that are worth a visit are South Melbourne Market (Market days: Wednesday to Sunday), Camberwell Market (flea market, every Sunday), St Andrew’s Market which takes place on Saturday mornings in St Andrews, Rose Street Artists Market in Fitzroy, and Prahran Market, which takes place on Saturdays.
6 Street Art in the Laneways
The maze of laneways are one the things that makes Melbourne special, and they’re a mecca for street art fans! The best street art can be found in Hosier Lane, but many of the other alleys have street art too.
The laneways aren’t only for street art lovers, by the way: there are plenty of coffee shops, little restaurants, some boutique shops and galleries. The best way to explore the laneways is by picking up a map of all the alleys and arcades from the Visitors Centre in Federation Square.
7 Royal Botanic Gardens
Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens stretch over 35 hectares not far from the city center, near the Yarra’s South Bank. They are well-known far beyond Australia and even if you are not a huge fan of plants and flowers – you can still spend a relaxing afternoon there. The gardens are open from April to October from 7.30am to 6pm and from November to March from 7.30am to 7pm.
8 Free views over the city
Melbourne has a lovely skyline, and the best way to see it is, well, from above! Luckily there are several rooftop bars with splendid vistas, such as the aptly named Rooftop Bar (atop Curtin House) or Naked in the Sky (285 Brunswick St, Fitzroy). The drinks may not be free, but the views sure are (and worth paying for a drink). The Skydeck at Eureka Tower isn’t free (around AUD22) – if you head to one of the rooftop bars instead, at least you’ll get a drink AND a view!
9 Yarra River Art
The Yarra River, which winds through Melbourne’s city center, provides the perfect backdrop for an interesting outdoor contemporary art gallery filled with paintings, sculptures and architecture. There are several impressive sculptures in the Central Business District, along the river and south of it, and I recommend saving this self-guided sculpture walk onto your phone and check out 19 stunning pieces of art along the way. The walk takes around one hour without any stops, plan in another hour to take in the art and to take photos.
10 Fitzroy Gardens
The Fitzroy Gardens are the perfect place for a picnic in the summer, and anyone who is a fan of city parks like New York’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park will love Fitzroy Gardens. You can get lost on the trails, marvel at the colorful flowerbeds, sculptures and fountains, sun bathe on one of the vast lawns, visit the miniature village. Make sure to find the scarred tree and the Fairies’ Tree!
Photo credit: All images used via Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. Feature Image: Melbourne by Lenny K photography; (1) Melbourne by Yasser Alghofily; (2) ACMI by wehardy; (3) Melbourne by Alan Lam; (4) Hosier Lane by LT Photography; (5) Melbourne Rooftop Bar by Fernando de Sousa; (6) Fitzroy Gardens by Moshe Reuveni