1. Visit some city parks and gardens
You will find some of Australia’s most beautiful parks and gardens in the city of Melbourne. One of the most popular gardens is The Royal Botanic Gardens and you won’t have to go too far from the city to find it as it lies in the south of the CBD. Here you will find a large variety of trees, plants and flower beds set on over 38 hectares of land by the Yarra River. Melbourne’s biggest park is Royal Park which covers over 180 hectares just north of the city centre. Royal Park is home to sporting fields, trams and trains travel through it and it is also home to Melbourne’s Zoological Gardens. Fitzroy Gardens is another one worth checking out which lie side by side with Treasury Gardens. Here you will find formal garden beds, walking pathways, a conservatory and a lot of trees.
2. Get cultured at the National Gallery
The National Galleries of Victoria can be found on two separate sites, with the first being NGV International. This is where you will find the Gallery’s International artworks from other continents and countries. This collection includes famous pieces by the celebrated old European masters as well as some of the world’s most exciting contemporary artists. The permanent collection along with some temporary exhibitions, are free to view here. It is also the world’s first major gallery dedicated exclusively to Australian art.
Location: 180 St Kilda Road
Opening hours: Daily 10am – 5pm, closed Tuesdays
3. Sample Australian art at the Ian Potter Centre
The second site of the National Galleries of Victoria is The Ian Potter Centre and this is where you will find a great display of Australian art. On exhibit here are paintings, photos, prints, sculptures, textiles and more representing the nation’s art from the colonial period right up to the present day. The Ian Potter Centre is also the first major gallery dedicated exclusively to Australian art.
Location: Federation Square Cnr Russell & Flinders Sts
Opening hours: Daily 10am – 5pm Closed Mondays
4. Check out the Australia Centre for the Moving Image
If you’re a fan of all things digital, from movies to TV shows, make sure to visit the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). This truly is a unique attraction in the city that celebrates all forms of moving image. This is achieved by showcasing home-grown as well as international exhibitions, films, events, workshops and more throughout the year. The main attraction of the centre is its permanent exhibition which documents the journey of moving image with particular reference to Australia’s involvement.
Location: Federation Square
Opening hours: Daily 10am – 6pm Closed Mondays
5. Explore Federation Square
Melbourne’s Federation Square (Fed Square) is where you will find the cities major events, cultural attractions and a great selection of bars, shops and restaurants. This modern square has become Melbourne’s meeting place for the entire city. It’s the go-to place for the city’s cultural and civic events, and is one of Melbourne’s most visited attractions.
6. Sightsee using the City Circle Tram
Melbourne’s popular free City Circle Tram takes thousands of visitors to the city to some of its top attractions. This free tram stops at places of interest such as Melbourne Aquarium, Parliament House and Federation Square. You can hop on this tram in either direction daily as they run every 12 minutes between 10am and 6pm from Sunday to Wednesday and between 10am and 9pm every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
7. Chill out on the beach in St Kilda
One of Melbourne’s most popular attractions and one of our favourite things to do for free in the city is to relax on the beach in St Kilda. Just a short distance from the city you will find yourself on sandy shores surrounded by some great bars and restaurants. As well as swimmers and sunbathers, you will find the more adventurous on St Kilda beach partaking in water-sports such as kite-surfing, water-skiing and sailing. If you prefer to keep the sand between your toes, get involved in a game of beach volleyball or rollerblade with the sand and sea by your side.
8. Soak up the atmosphere at the Queen Victoria Market
Since 1878, Queen Victoria Market has been the city’s popular marketplace as well as one of the city’s top attractions. This open air market is a great place to stroll around and take in the electric atmosphere. It’s always busy with customers and tourists as the stall holders compete with each other to sell their ware. This atmosphere and setting possesses an old world charm that you will struggle of find anywhere else in the city. If you’re going to Queen Victoria Market just to soak up the atmosphere, check it out on a Sunday where you will find a more relaxed atmosphere along with Queen’s Street closed to traffic to make way for a large outdoor cafe along with other activities.
Location: Cnr Victoria and Elizabeth Streets
9. Take the free tourist shuttle bus
The Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle is the ideal means of transport for those looking to see the sights of Melbourne without forking out their cash on getting there. This free service operates daily, every 30 minutes between 9.30am and 4.30pm. There are stops all over the city at popular attractions like the aforementioned Queen Victoria Market, Chinatown and Fed Square. The complete trip takes roughly 1.5 hours and there’s even on-board commentary with some great information about the sights and city. Look out for the red signs that mark the bus stops.
10. Stroll along River Yarra
Take advantage of Melbourne’s fine days and take a stroll alongside its most famous resident – the Yarra River. This is a great thing to do for free in Melbourne either during the day or night. Many will walk along the riverside at night taking in the bright lights of the buildings reflecting on the water. During the day a walk by the waterfront will bring you upon many works of contemporary art as well as unusual venues. If you don’t want to miss out on any artwork along the river bank, take a look for the Yarra River Precinct Artswalk map before you set off.
11. Live music in The Esplanade in St Kilda
Ask any respecting Melbournite where’s the best place for live music in the city and they’ll direct you to one of two venues in the beach suburb of St Kilda – The Esplanade Hotel (better known as ‘The Espy’) on St Kilda’s esplanade and the Vineyard on Acland St. Thankfully for you and me, many of these gigs are free.
12. Explore alleys and lanes
Melbourne’s city centre is quite unique in comparison to its counterparts thanks to a series of alleys, lanes and arcades to explore. Degraves St, off Flinders St and between Swanston St and Elizabeth St, is a great place to start exploring them. Here you can relax with a coffee and do some serious people watching. Directly across the road from it is Centre Place, a similar alley with some boutique shops and bars thrown in to the mix. Others worth visiting are the ornate Block Arcade which has lots of specialist shops and Howey Place which is good for clothes. Take note – for a map of the alleys and arcades go to the Visitors Centre on Fed Square.
13. Visit one of the Melbourne festivals
Melbourne is widely regarded as the festival capital of Australia, meaning the chances of one being held when you’re there are quite high. Highlights include the Moomba Festival in March which stages free activities along the city’s parks, streets and Yarra River and the world-famous comedy festival that’s held a month later in April when you’ll catch lots of free street entertainment. The Fringe Festival in September and the Melbourne Festival in October also stage lots of free events. For more information visit the Melbourne Festivals website.
14. Visit the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
Melbourne is home to another breathtaking and free art gallery – the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA). If you like contemporary art in all forms as well as challenging and innovative artwork, do not miss out on a trip to the ACCA. The building itself is distinctive with a steel rust- red facade that is a landmark in the Southbank area. Another great trait of the ACCA is that it is more concerned with commissioning art rather than collecting it, resulting in some very unusual and exciting exhibits.
Location: 111 Sturt Street, Southbank
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm, Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 6pm, Monday by appointment
15. Be entertained at the Crown Casino
Melbourne’s Crown Casino brings a touch of Las Vegas to the banks of the Yarra River. Crown Casino is so much more than just a casino and you can spend hours enjoying and exploring this entertainment complex. If you want to try your luck in the casino, then you couldn’t pick a better setting to do this than here. But there are also concerts, cinemas, bowling, shopping, food courts and more. There’s also free live entertainment to avail of at the Crown where talented performers will entertain you in one the many bars or restaurants.