10 free things to do in marvellous Melbourne

No-one spontaneously comes to Australia. It’s not like being in Europe and dropping into Paris for the weekend or in the US and visiting New York to see a show. It takes forever to get here. From Los Angeles you’re looking at 15 hours, from London it’s closer to a full day, travelling with people you probably wouldn’t invite out for a drink and not being able to get away from screaming children.

Can’t some airline devise a nursery in the baggage hold. Please.

You get fed meals at odd hours that you'd never order on the ground.



And it costs a lot. The strong Australian dollar is forcing us all off shore for cheaper holidays. So your euros, pesos, rupees and dollars simply don’t go very far here.

If you are coming to Melbourne these are some things to do that will entertain you and help your budget.

1. Open Air Art: Love it or loathe it Melbourne is well known for its graffiti. Hoosiers Lane, Crofts Lane and various lanes off the Bourke Street Mall have council sanctioned street art.




For grittier work visit the back streets of Carlton and Fitzroy, both close to the city centre.



2. Weather watching: In Melbourne there is a joke that you can experience four seasons in one day. If we are having a crazy weather day there is no better place for cloud and sunset watching than the beach at St Kilda. A short ride on the 96 tram from the city.



There are restaurants on the beach but save your budget with a sandwich and watch the show for free.




3. Moomba: If you’re here in early March there is a three day free festival. It’s a bit cheesy but it is free fun. There are fireworks, concerts, a big parade and the Birdman Rally.



The Birdman Rally involves idiots strapping on wing contraptions launching themselves off a high platform to see how far they fly before dropping into the Yarra River. The festival takes place on the banks of the Yarra.



4. Be a sport: We are known for being sports crazy and if you’re willing to pay there is the Australia Tennis Open in January, the F1 Race in March, cricket in summer and Australian Rules football in winter at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and various other arenas. But for nothing you can check out suburban sport fields. Catch a local game of football on a winter Sunday at the Peanut Farm Reserve in St Kilda.




5. Feed a swan: If you think that swans are white visit the Royal Botanical Gardens and see our black swans. Don’t be too startled if a hungry eel gets to the bread before a swan. The Gardens were established in 1846 and are among the best in the world. You can spend a day wandering its 36 acres. And drop in to see the feral colony of grey-headed flying foxes. They hang around the Gardens during the day and can be seeing in the surrounding suburbs flying around looking for food. Not good for a bat-phobic.





For a more distant adventure the RBG has an off-shoot in Cranbourne that is very spectacular and focuses purely on Australian plant life. Its 45km out of the city but is worth the visit. Tour groups that go to Philip Island for the Penguin Parade usually spend some time at the Cranbourne Gardens.




Other gardens worth visiting in the city are the Fitzroy Gardens which has Captain Cook’s cottage and a fairy tree and  the Carlton Gardens that have the World Heritage Exhibition Buildings, the Melbourne Museum and an Imax Theatre.



6. Have a party with the locals: Most inner city suburbs have big festivals during summer. Free music and parties. One of the largest is the St Kilda Festival held in early February. The festival area is blocked off for pedestrians only and sprawls through the streets and onto the beach with sound stages and art shows. Around 300,000 people invade St Kilda.





7. Buy some cheap, fresh food: Melbourne is blessed with many local markets: South Melbourne, Prahran and the Queen Victoria Markets. The best for travellers is the Queen Victoria Market. The market was built in1878 and has not really been modernised. The Market site and its buildings are listed on the Historic Buildings Register. Queen Victoria Market survives as one of the largest and most intact examples of a great nineteenth century market. It’s best known for its huge variety of fresh produce. The best time for those on a budget is late when stall-holders are dropping prices to get rid of their produce. The rest of the Market sells all sorts of cheap clothes, household objects and a bewildering array of tat.


Both Photographs from Tourism Victoria

8. Get a bit of culture: On a wet and windy day, and there are plenty of those in Melbourne, nothing is better than going to a gallery. And the two major Victorian Galleries are free and very close to the city.  The Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square specialises in Australian art and has a fabulous collection of indigenous art. The National Gallery of Victoria just over the Yarra on St Kilda Road is home to collections of European, Asian, Oceanic and American Art.

Federation Square

Photograph Donaldytong/Wikipedia

9. Catch a tram: A fun, free way to work your way around the city. The City Circle tram is a renovated old fashioned tram that is hard to miss as it trundles through the city. The service operates in a circular route passing major tourist attractions. Trams run approximately every twelve minutes between 10am and 6pm Sunday to Wednesday and extended hours, 10am - 9pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Photograph from Tourism Victoria

10. Go to where local tourists go: St Kilda gets quite a few mentions in the list but it is also a destination in itself. Every Sunday there is a market on the Upper Esplanade.

The stall-owners are artists, photographers, silversmiths and furniture designers. It’s a great spot to buy Australiana that is a bit different than a stuffed koala.



Every weekend the ice-cream eaters descend on Acland Street to see the cake shops and people watch. There’s also Luna Park: a mini Coney Island.




St Kilda has the highest population density in Melbourne, and with that have come numerous bars, cafes, restaurants, galleries and a buzzing street life.





I know because I live there.



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