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Free Things to Do in Melbourne When You’re on a Budget

Enjoy the best of the city this summer (without really spending a dime) with our guide to the best free things to do in Melbourne.

Royal Botanic Gardens. Image credit: Visit Melbourne

We love a swanky dinner and a retail therapy sesh as much as the next person, but endless social engagements can leave the hip pocket hurting. Luckily, Melbourne offers no shortage of things to see and do that don’t cost a thing.

Whether it’s gazing at some of the most precious art ever made, sampling morsels at the market or sunning yourself on the shore, you can easily have a banger of a day on a budget of zilch.

So if you're strapped for cash until payday, take inspiration from this budget-friendly edit of free things to do in Melbourne this autumn and winter. Your bank balance can thank us later.

Free Things to Do in Melbourne: Arts & Culture

NGV: My Country (Image Credit: Tom Ross)

My Country: Country Road + NGV First Nations

The Country Road + NGV First Nations Commissions is a national, biennial mentorship and exhibition program where emerging Australian First Nations artists and designers are paired with one of eight esteemed industry mentors.

Together, they've created ambitious new works, responding to the exhibition theme of My Country.

Until 4th August, 10.00am to 5.00pm daily

Ian Potter Centre, Level 3 at Fed Square

Melbourne Street Art (Image credit: Kelsey Harrington)

Explore the City's Electrifying Street Art Scene

From sweeping murals to ephemeral graffiti, Melbourne’s famed street art scene is among the world’s best. You won’t need to pay for admission or stand a metre back to bask in these intriguing and inspiring shows of creativity – so why not play tourist in your own city and check off these must-see attractions ? See homages to rock legends along AC/DC Lane and 3D dioramas popping out of the walls in Presgrave Lane, hop a tram to mural-heavy Fitzroy, or simply follow our comprehensive guide to Melbourne’s best street art.

National Gallery of Victoria (Image Credit: Kate Shanasy)

Check out NGV's Top Arts

Top Arts is celebrating its 30th year - and it's set to feature the works of forty-five talented VCE students/artists. 

The artworks on show are chosen for their strong conceptual development, imagination, individuality, and technical excellence across a diverse array of mediums and interests. Perception, chaos, space ad repetition are all common themes across the exhibition. 

Top Arts promises a fascinating survey of the curious and creative spirit of young local artists who are emerging in the community, and this free event in Melbourne is a great way to show your support.

Until 14th July, 10.00am to 5.00pm daily

The Ian Potter Centre at Fed Square, Melbourne CBD

State Library (Image credit: Melbourne Convention Bureau)

Play Tourist for the Day in Our Impressive Heritage Buildings

Melbourne’s significant buildings are the backdrop to our daily lives, but when was the last time you took a closer look? You can sign up for free tours of Parliament House, Melbourne Town Hall and the State Library, led by passionate and informative guides. See the ornate 22-carat gold leaf covering the ceiling of the Upper and Lower House, and hear the history of the extravagant Dome Reading Room that’s the subject of so many Instagram shots. You can even get complimentary travel between them thanks to the CBD’s free tram zone.

Learn about Aboriginal history and art at the Koorie Heritage Trust

The Koorie Heritage Trust’s Cultural Centre in Federation Square is a great place to learn more about Aboriginal history and culture in Victoria. Sign up to a free Birrarung Wilam (River Camp) walking tour, where experienced Koorie guides share how the land on which Melbourne is located has changed over time, and about the significance of the Birrarung Wilam to the local Kulin peoples. Back inside the centre, you can view rotating exhibitions showcasing contemporary art and design.

The Yarra Building, Federation Square

Fed Square

Catch Free Events and Pop-Ups at Fed Square

Whether it’s creative workshops, open air movie screenings or thought-provoking exhibitions, there’s always something free and fun to do at Fed Square. You can filter their What’s On page to see all the open access events coming up; and believe us when we say there's lots (get a notepad ready). Attend totally free gigs bya wide range of artists. In the past, there's been performances from ARIA Award-winning surf rock group King Stingray, electro-pop star Vera Blue and hip-hop groover Masked Wolf.

(This is) Air

Witness (This is) Air at NGV's Grollo Equiset Garden

Each year the NGV commissions a temporary architectural structure to activate its lush Grollo Equiset Garden. Today, we open (This is) Air.

The 2023 NGV Architecture Commission, by Nic Brunsdon with ENESS, draws breath, and attention, to how much we rely on the invisible resource of air. Standing at an impressive 14m above the NGV Garden when fully inflated, you’re invited to be in the presence of the work and observe as it appears to inhale and exhale autonomously.

Will it make you see air differently?

Until 16th June

180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne

Australian Music Vault

Listen to Iconic Songs and Stories at the Australian Music Vault

Music lovers will have a ball at the Australian Music Vault, an immersive free exhibition showcasing our country’s music industry. Uncover Melbourne's backstage sounds and wild tales, then see rare footage and costumes worn by the stars (including Kylie Minogue's iconic hot pants). The exhibition is super interactive, and you’re sure to leave with a newfound appreciation for our music history.

100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne

Free Things to Do in Melbourne: Outdoors

Tanaka Running Club

Join a Run Club

Run Clubs have boomed in popularity this year, and part of the reason why is because they're a fun, free activity for anyone who's either trying to get into running or is a season pro. There are so many different run clubs across Melbourne, all offering different sessions for different levels of expertise. If you enjoy running in the evening, the Nobody Run Club runs weekly on every Tuesday from 6pm, kicking off at the fountain at Carlton Gardens. Run South Yarra circles The Tan every Saturday at 6am if you prefer to start off bright and early, and there are plenty of other local options if you don't live close enough to the city.

The Conservatory (Image Credit: IG @plant.jungle)

Explore The Conservatory in Fitzroy Gardens

The Fitzroy Gardens is one of our favourite parks in East Melbourne thanks to its beautiful Conservatory. While thisSpanish mission-style building opened in 1930, its beauty still stands strong. Within The Conservatory, you'll find beautiful floral displays that are switched out five times a year. From hydrangeas to begonias, there's always something awe-inspiring to witness within this light-filled building. Be sure to check for closures while displays are being installed throughout the year.

Fitzroy Gardens, East Melbourne

Royal Botanic Gardens. Image credit: Visit Melbourne

Picnic at a Picturesque Park

Whether you’re planning a budget-friendly date or just want to gather your friends for a catch up that includes outdoor nibbles, there’s nothing quite like picnicking in the sun – just think of it as dining al fresco! Melbourne has some seriously gorgeous parks for spreading out in, from the 38 leafy hectares of the Royal Botanic Gardens to the riverside Fairfield Park. Our hot tip is Edinburgh Gardens – the park of choice for the cool inner north crowd. It’s also conveniently surrounded by some of Melbourne’s best bakeries, bottle shops and independent grocers should your stocks run low.

Mornington Peninsula

Clock Up Your Step Count on a Scenic Walk or Hike

Whether you like a gentle stroll or prefer your walks a little more strenuous, Melbourne has a track to suit everyone. Soak up the buzzing atmosphere of The Tan, a popular four kilometre walk looping around Kings Domain and the Royal Botanical Garden, and prepare to break a sweat scaling Heartbreak Hill. Alternatively, soak up ocean views and gawk at beachfront mansions along the Bayside Coastal Trail.

If you’re prepared to travel a little further afield, you’ll be rewarded with replenishing hikes that make you feel light years away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Our favourites include Lerderderg State Park or Werribee Gorge Circuit, which, complete with some steady climbs and river crossings, is a 10km bush walk offering a genuine taste of the bush within an hour's drive of the CBD.

Bayside Boardwalk

See Melbourne on Two Wheels

Melbourne is famously friendly for cyclists and there are some seriously stunning trails around the city you can explore. The Merri Creek trail is one of our favourites, a gorgeously meandering path that passes by water, parkland, and the adorable animals of Collingwood Children’s Farm. Another is the St Kilda Beach to Half Moon Bay trail, a scenic 13km ride that’ll have the wind in your hair and seaside views by your side.

Black Spur Drive

Go for a Scenic Drive

Need a change of scenery? Hop in the car and you catch some lovely vistas without travelling far from the city. Towering Mountain Ash trees and ferns surround you as you wind through the back roads of the Dandenong Ranges (embark on one these lovely nature walks while you’re there). Meanwhile, the Black Spur drive cuts through the Yarra Valley’s lush forest landscapes and offers phenomenal mountain views.

1000 Steps Kokoda Memorial Trail

Hike the 1000 Steps Kokoda Trail

If you're a fitness lover whose after a free activity, why not get your steps up by 1000 or so and head to the Kokokda Trail? There are three different path options you can take, so no matter your fitness level, you'll be able to tackle the stairs! And if you still have some energy once you reach the top, you can continue on your hike to some gorgeous picnic grounds. Just remember you need to come backdown!

Tree Fern Gully Track, Tremont

Free Things to Do in Melbourne: Live Music, Entertainment & Movies

Library Cinema

Library Cinema

You can enjoy the Library Cinema in two separate locations across Melbourne: Library Cinema at the Dock and Library Cinema at narrm ngarrgu. On the last Monday of every month at the Dock or second Thursday of every month at narrm ngarrgu, you can catch a range of contemporary, classic and documentary films on the big screen. It's family friendly, so you can bring everyone along with you for  a fun day out, plus enjoy snacks and a chat afterwards with other filmgoers. Be sure to check out each website to find out dates and which films are being screened.

107 Victoria Harbour Promenade, Docklands

141 Therry Street, Melbourne

Motley Jazz

Motley Jazz

You like jazz? How about free jazz? The Motley Jazz Bauhaus regularly hosts free jazz events featuring some of the most talented jazz musicians in Melbourne. Bring a friend along with you and enjoy the live tunes, which feature a mix of both classics and originals. Don't mind if we do!

118 Elgin Street, Carlton

Corner Hotel

Rock Out to Free (Or Very Cheap) Gigs

Catching your favourite artists can be an expensive business, given the pretty steep prices of music venues and festivals. However, there are a number of places across the city where you can watch live music for free or very cheap, with tickets from just $10. If you’re a purse-friendly muso, check out our guide to live music in Melbourne. Top picks include Cherry Bar and Richmond’s legendary Corner Hotel for a diverse range of rock, pop, techno, funk and punk every night of the week.

Spleen

Laugh Along to Cheap Comedy at Spleen

Chortle away the Monday blues at Spleen Bar’s legendary comedy night, where for just $10 you can catch industry stars like Ross Noble, Claire Hooper, Tom Ballard and Nina Oyama, who’ve all played in the last few months. There are surprise guests every week and the room’s always packed with comedy fans, city workers loosening their ties and anyone else who’s keen on a cheap drink and some giggles.

41 Bourke Street, Melbourne

The Royal Saxon Pub

Have a Pint and Watch a Game of Footy at Your Favourite Neighbourhood Pub

There's nothing that Melbournians love more than a game of footy. If you don't quite have the funds to head to a game, you can still enjoy the lively atmosphere at your favourite pub. Gather your friends and head to local for a good pint (or glass of wine) and watch the game surrounded by other AFL fans.

Free Things to Do in Melbourne: Shopping

High Street Armadale

Window Shop Your Way Across Melbourne

Melbourne's shopping scene is unmatched, and despite saving your pretty pennies, that doesn't mean you can't build a wishlist, right? And one of the best free things to do in Melbourne is window shop. There are countless shopping strips, centres, markets and more for you to wander through, all you need to do is pick a location! There's the High Street shops in Armadale, all the fancy designer stores on the Paris End of Collins Street, or you can do a complete 180 and go (window) thrifting in Fitzroy and Brunswick. Just make sure to forget your wallet so that you're not tempted to swipe that card!

(Almost) Free Things to Do in Melbourne: Cheap Eats

Sample Delicious Goodies at the Markets

Browsing an inner city market is one of the loveliest ways to spend a morning. Chock-full of gourmet providores, delicious eateries and vintage stores, every turn presents a sensory delight. While you could fill up on free samples of cheese and charcuterie alone (call it a frugal fromage binge), you can also eat handsomely with your spare change. Top picks include the piping hot jam doughnuts from American Doughnut Kitchen at Queen Victoria Market (a mere $6.50 for five), or moreish $4 boureks from South Melbourne Market.

Pizza Pizza Pizza

Refuel With a $5 Pizza

Bust your hunger for just five dollars at Pizza Pizza Pizza, a hole-in-the-wall CBD joint that dishes up huge New York-style slices. Classic flavours like pepperoni, veggie lovers and triple cheese hit all your pleasure receptors for just the coinage in your pocket. Meanwhile over in Fitzroy, disco pub Kewpie slings $5 whole pizzas all day, every day – and no, we don’t understand the economics of this deal either. Sized perfectly for one person, you’ll have enough money left over for a beer to wash it down.

16 Meyers Place, Melbourne

Shanghai Village. Image credit: Kelsey Harrington

Eat Your Way Across Asia via Melbourne 

When it comes to flavour bang for your buck, you can’t go past Melbourne’s delicious Asian eateries. Whether it’s an $8 barbecue pork banh mi from Phuoc Thanh that you need to grab with two hands, a steamy bowl of boat noodles from Soi 38 that sets you back only $10, or a plate of crispy dumplings from Shanghai Village for just $9, both your belly and your hip pocket will be happy with a visit to these beloved spots.

Another great way to save money is by cooking and entertaining at home. You won’t miss restaurants with these 14 pasta recipes to comfort the soul, 14 easy snack recipes for effortless entertaining and eight margarita recipes to shake up your next dinner party.

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