|You don't have to be a big spender to enjoy Melbourne. We've sought out all the free gems that Melbourne offers so that families can have a great time without breaking the bank. There is a huge range of free things for kids and families to do in Melbourne.
1. The RAAF Museum at Point Cook is one of the most awesome free places. There is a large museum where you can see air missiles, a mirage jet, helicopter and a boat plane in addition to the standard planes. An acrobatic plane flies at certain times during the week and it is also free to watch. You even get a chance to chat to the pilot afterwards.
2. One of our ultimate free destinations is Serendip Sanctuary near Lara. This is a great wildlife experience for the family where you can see lots of wildlife up close and personal.
3. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image at Federation Square has wonderful exhibits for all members of the family including some bouts of nostalgia for Mum and Dad. Check out Screen Worlds where there's loads of interesting interactive computer games to play.
4. The best garden to explore near the CBD is definitely Fitzroy Gardens in East Melbourne. It has a range of activities and attractions including Cooks’ Cottage (admission fees apply), a Tudor Village, the Fairy Tree, dragon playground, fountains, sculptures, Conservatory and water play area for the kids. There is even a free walking tour every Saturday.
5. McClelland Gallery & Sculpture Park in Langwarrin has an engaging range of wonderful outdoor sculptures.
6. The Victoria Police Museum in Central Melbourne is home to a darker side of Victorian history with tales of colourful criminals. Be on the lookout for the 19th Century vampire slaying kit which was confiscated during a 2004 Melbourne drug raid.
7. Honey may not smell as nice as a roll of unused banknotes but the farm shop at Pure Peninsula Honey in Moorooduc provides a range of activities including free tastings of 100% pure Australian honey, seeing live bees at work, read about amazing bee facts and walk through a mock apiary and smell the natural fragrance of pure bees wax.
8. Speaking of money, the ANZ Banking Museum in the city tells the story of Australia's banking heritage through displays of items such as banknotes and coins, moneyboxes, office machines, firearms, gold-mining equipment and uniforms.
9. Playgrounds are a great option for children looking for a fun and free activity.
10. Take a walk on the wild side and enjoy one of Melbourne's many parks and reserves.
11. You don't need to go far to experience temperate rain forests. Get into the canopy or take a wander along the rainforest boardwalk at the Donna Buang Rainforest Gallery and Skywalk near Warburton. It's a rainforest so come prepared with a raincoat.
12. You don't need to pay big bucks to see wildlife in Melbourne. In fact the Pelican Feeding sessions in San Remo are free to watch and the local fish and chip shop provides the food for the hungry pelicans.
13. Are you a Pisces and have an affinity with water? Maybe take a walk around one of Melbourne's lakes such as Lilydale Lake in Lilydale, Lysterfield Lake Park in Narre Warren North, Albert Park Lake in Albert Park, Blackburn Lake Sanctuary in Blackburn or Ringwood Lake Park in Ringwood.
14. Experiencing animals in the wild can also be a very rewarding experience. Check out our guides on where to find Wild Kangaroos, Wild Koalas and Wild Penguins.
15. The Dandenongs and Yarra Valley have a huge range of free gardens and parks to roam about. Picking our favourite is like trying to pick your favourite flavour of ice-cream - next to impossible. Check out these and try and find your own favourites: Alfred Nicholas Gardens in Sherbrooke, Karwarra Australian Garden in Kalorama, RJ Hamer Arboretum in Olinda, National Rhododendron Gardens in Olinda, George Tindale Memorial Garden in Sherbrooke, Pirianda Garden in Olinda or the Mount Dandenong Arboretum in Mount Dandenong.
16. Melbourne has two stupendous Royal Botanic Gardens. The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne near the Melbourne CBD has amazing and diverse plant collections and provides a sanctuary for native wildlife. If the kids get a bit tired they can ride the Garden Explorer train and listen to the commentary (fees apply)about the Gardens. If that mode of transport isn't exciting enough the family can take a punt ride on the Ornamental Lake (fees apply). The highlight of any visit for kids has to be the free Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden where children can play, explore, climb, splash, hide and dig to their heart's content (well, at least until the gardens close).
17. The Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne in Cranbourne is massive and has lots of interesting areas for kids including the "Desert Discovery Camp" which has a big sandpit under a roof with a fossil wall, "Rock pool Waterway" where the kids can jump between tiles of different heights in a slow moving river while trying "not" to get wet and jumping across the giant metal Lilly pads. Good things come in threes and you could also explore Geelong Botanic Gardens.
18. CERES Community Environment Park in Brunswick East has an eclectic range of things to keep the kids entertained and educated.
19. Take a free guided tour of the Alex Wilkie Nature Reserve in Springvale South learning from the expertise of the local ranger.
20. Walking is free and you'll get the benefit of improving your fitness and experiencing some of the local history and wildlife. Scan our reviews of Melbourne Walks for lots of ideas for places to walk.
21. The high prices of the official Penguin Parade stink or maybe that is just the smell of fishy penguin poop. Anyway, take a free walk along the boardwalk at The Nobbies on Phillip Island where you stand a good chance to see a penguin close-up.
22. There are a number of lovely National Parks around the periphery of Melbourne which provide wonderful nature experiences. Even though Parks Victoria sting you to camp in a lot of Parks now, they are still free to visit. Some of the most interesting are Dandenong Ranges National Park around the Sherbrooke area, Kinglake National Park which is the home of Mason Falls, Wombelano Falls and other oddly named places, Mornington Peninsula National Park which stretches between Cape Schanck and Portsea, Brisbane Ranges National Park around Mount Wallace or Organ Pipes National Park in Keilor North has a rock wall like Organ Pipes as well as a Rosette Rock and the Tessellated Pavement.
23. What are the chances of seeing a koala without paying admission to a zoo? Pretty low along Flinders Street but there is a reasonable chance of seeing a koala high in the trees at Coolart Wetlands & Homestead in Somers. You might get a sore neck looking up into the tree-tops but I'm sure it will be worth it. There is also an old homestead to explore and some wetlands with bird hides.
24. Brimbank Park in Keilor East has a large expanse to explore beside the Maribyrnong River and has a beautifully crafted playground.
25. Are you mesmerized by the sight of huge expanses of water? Melbourne's reservoirs might be like a water droplet compared to the Sydney Harbour but they are interesting to visit with lots of walks, wildlife and picnic facilities. Organise a picnic to Silvan Reservoir Park in Silvan, Sugarloaf Reservoir Park in Christmas Hills, Toorourrong Reservoir Park in Whittlesea, Upper Yarra Reservoir Park in Reefton and Yan Yean Reservoir Park in Yan Yean.
26. Take the tram to Wattle Park in Surrey Hills and then play in the tram playground and then take the tram home and then have a rest from trams ....
27. Woodlands Historic Park in Greenvale gives a glimpse of life experienced by settlers in the 1840s and the back paddocks provide a high chance of seeing a mob of kangaroos.
28. Melbourne has a couple of waterfalls which are easily reached. They may not reach the height of Niagara Falls and in dry times may have less power than jet mode of my shower but they are fun to explore. Check out Olinda Falls in Olinda, Wombelano Falls in Kinglake, Mason Falls in Kinglake West and La La Falls in Warburton.
29. Do you like the small of roses in the morning or the afternoon or even the evening? A visit to one of the rose gardens around Melbourne could be just what the florist ordered. Check out the Victoria State Rose Garden in Werribee, the Alister Clark Memorial Rose Garden in Bulla or the Mornington Botanical Rose Garden in Mornington.
30. William Ricketts Sanctuary at Mount Dandenong has four acres of a beautiful fern gully to explore with 92 ceramic sculptures hidden away.
31. Fancy some rock climbing? If you want to watch rather than do, visit Falcons Lookout at Werribee Gorge near Ingliston where you will generally find some brave rock climbers scaling the cliffs. If you would rather do than watch then head off to the Burnley Bouldering Wall in Burnley where there are three different climbing walls of increasing difficulty under shelter.
32. If you want to visit a mountain it is best to wait for summer when entrance fees are free and there are plenty of trails to explore. Mount Donna Buang near Warburton has a 21 metre high tower and gives panoramic views across the park and way beyond.
33. The St Kilda Breakwater is home to a colony of around 1200 Little Penguins. If you wait at the breakwater just before dusk you'll see the Little penguins swimming in at the end of the day and climbing the breakwater rocks into their nests.
34. 1000 steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk in Upper Ferntree Gully celebrates the physical effort taken by the Australian soldiers during 1942 on the real Kokoda Trail. Can you reach the top? If you can manage to count the number of steps along the way, let us know because we have a feeling that there's not exactly 1000 steps. I guess 926 steps Kokoda Track just doesn't sound as good.
35. Coburg Lake Reserve in Coburg has a nice lake with geese, a great playground with huge tower and a fun play space which has a colourful outdoor Lounge room and a board to play Twister.
36. Explore some rock pools and maybe find a starfish at Ricketts Point Marine Sanctuary in Beaumaris.
37. If the weather is warm head to a Water Play Park. They are free to use the best ones are Riverwalk Water Play Park in Werribee and Seville Water Play Park in Seville.
38. Explore the atmospheric Californian Redwood Forest in Warburton where there are tree branches moulded into nests scattered about the forest.
39. Visit the Little Peninsula and Big Peninsula Tunnels at McMahons Creek and, if the river is low enough, cross the Yarra River using thirteen large round steps.
40. The State Library of Victoria in Central Melbourne has a lot more than books to entertain the kids. There are lots of free activities including a tour of the library. Play Pod is the Library's program for children aged under eight years, packed with activities to read, create and play.
41. Become a culture vulture and enjoy a free feast for the eyes and mind while getting some exercise by exploring some outdoor artwork. Some of the best options are the Docklands Public Art Walk in Central Melbourne, Frankston Coastal Arts Discovery Trail and the Bayside Coastal Art Trail.
42. The National Gallery of Victoria in Central Melbourne has some child friendly parts of the gallery.
43. Schwerkolt Cottage and Museum Complex in Mitcham is an original pioneer's stone cottage which should keep the kids interested as they explore lovely gardens and historical items such as a museum, implement shed, smithy shed, smokehouse and cottage.
44. A visit to the Shrine of Remembrance in South Yarra is a touching experience for the whole family.
45. The Old Treasury Building in Central Melbourne hosts the original gold vaults where gold bullion was stored during the gold rush era. Children are encouraged to interact with the history of Melbourne by answering a questionnaire, and earning a Gold Licence.
46. Stroll the lanes of central Melbourne and experience Melbourne Urban Graffiti Art. The usual disclaimer - don't try this at home!
47. Young bike tyros should grab their bike and head to the Healesville Bike Circuit where there is a bike track with a series of bumps and road markings.
48. Head down the highway to the Geelong Bollard Trail Walk which features 48 sites where reclaimed timber pier pylons have been transformed into remarkable works of art. Over 100 bollards are installed right around the Geelong Waterfront.
49. The City Circle Tram is a free service which operates in a circular route in central Melbourne passing major tourist attractions. Trams run in both directions approximately every twelve minutes and there are 29 stops.
50. Did the kids get a radio controlled car for Christmas? If so, drive (under control of course) to one of the car tracks for radio controlled cars. There are choices between on-road and off-road courses such as Knoxfield Radio Controlled Car Track in Knoxfield, Keilor Electric On Road Remote Control Car Track at Keilor Park, Boronia Electric On Road Remote Control Car Track at Boronia and Templestowe Electric On Road Remote Control Car Track at Templestowe.
51. Do the kids have an interest in planes or flight? They might enjoy a stop at an aircraft viewing area around Melbourne Airport such as Operations Road and Sunbury Road
52. Take a visit to Station Pier (Port Melbourne) to view cruise ships and Spirit of Tasmania when they are in port.
53. The Geelong Waterfront Area is a destination which can be enjoyed by a free walk to soak in all the activities and atmosphere or become a major attack on the wallet if you partake in all the paid attractions.
54. Federation Square in central Melbourne is host to more than 2,000 events a year. Federation Square buzzes with cultural festivals, exhibitions, event launches, performances, forums, films, concerts and fashion shows – most of which are free. There is also a free daily guided tour which covers the site’s history, unique architecture and engineering marvels.
55. All the Australian rules football clubs have a family day where free entertainment is provided and you get the chance to meet the players (don't forget to bring your autograph book or a camera for a selfie). Sponsors typically provide plenty of giveaways to take home (although don't expect to drive home in a new car even if your club is sponsored by a car company).
56. The dinosaurs are roaring in Melbourne and there are plenty of opportunities to interact with them without paying a cent. Check out, with some fear and trepidation, the huge interactive dinosaur ‘Muttaburrasaurus’ at the McNish Reserve in Yarraville and a range of prehistoric creatures at Megasaurus Playground in Cranbourne East. Gardenworld in Braeside has so many dinosaurs that they have even escaped into the car park. There are also a lot of displays and scupltures inside including a hippo and giraffe.
57. When I was a kid my parents took me to a night of trotting as it was called in the day. I can still vividly remember the excitement, action and colour of the night. There is free admission to Harness Racing at Tabcorp Park in Melton South so that you can create similar memories for your children.
58. The golden age of the railways may be a distant memory but there are plenty of remains to use for free. Get the bikes out of the garage and cycle along one of the many rail trails such as the Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail, Sandridge Railway Trail, Belgrave Railway Trail, Inner Circle Rail Trail, Outer Circle Rail Trail, Bellarine Rail Trail (Geelong) or the Rosstown Railway Heritage Trail in Elsternwick.
59. There is nothing more free than a walk, except for transport to and from the walk and maybe a stop at a café along the way. Well, it's close to being free. We've compiled a guide The Best Family Walks in Melbourne to help you find a suitable walk around Melbourne.
60. There are hundreds of bustling, colourful markets selling a huge variety of products including yummy food. It is generally free to browse the markets but how much you spend is up to you.
61. Melbourne has a ring of 80 beaches along Port Phillip Bay which are free to enjoy although you may have to pay for car parking at some beaches.
62. Most libraries in Melbourne offer free story time sessions for pre-school children. They help children develop language and motor skills plus a love of books and libraries. They also get a chance to socialise with other children.
63. The Eastern Beach Reserve Swimming Enclosure in Geelong is a magnificent Art Deco masterpiece. The swimming enclosure is one of Geelong's most known icons and has a diving board and floating islands and can hold thousands of swimmers with a nice sandy beach backing onto the children's pool.
64. Take a trip down to the Mornington Peninsula and explore Portsea Ocean Beach and London Bridge Rock Pools. There is even a glider launch area where you can see glider pilots launch themselves into the air.
65. Discover an underwater world of plants and fish by exploring the 200m long Rye Pier Snorkelling Trail (Octopus' Garden) that leads along under Rye Pier. Underwater signs explain about sea life that may be found including seahorses, sponge gardens, sea slugs, hermit crabs and goat fish. If you are very lucky you might see a weedy sea dragon.
66. You may not own a luxury boat but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit the St Kilda Marina and see a marina full of huge, expensive boats and the interesting sight of smaller speed-boat type boats and jetskis stacked up three levels high in a huge storage shed.
67. Bring the kids along to a D.I.Y Workshop at Bunnings where they’ll make fun, creative projects like toolboxes, toy trucks, planter boxes and painting projects. There is a different theme every week from garden and woodworking to paint, mosaics and recycled wall art. After that, maybe the kids might be ready to help with a DIY kitchen upgrade at home.
68. Take the dog for a walk at one of the many fenced or dog off-leash areas in Melbourne.
69. Membership of a gym doesn’t belong in any article about free things to do. However councils have conveniently provided outdoor gyms across Melbourne to help with personal health and fitness.
70. Waiting for the right time of the year can reap spectacular rewards. Take the case of the Crown's Christmas Spectacular at Southbank or the Myer Christmas Window in the Bourke Street Mall.
71. Skateparks and BMX Tracks are an exciting and fun activity where it is not necessary to bring the wallet out.
72. Take a free walking tour of Melbourne and experience the best of Melbourne’s landmarks, both popular and unknown. The tour departs twice daily in front of the Melbourne Visitor Centre at Federation Square. The tour is leisurely paced and generally lasts three hours.
73. Take a free tour of the Melbourne Town Hall in central Melbourne. Stand on the portico where the Beatles waved or sit in the Lord Mayor's chair (a special request from the Mayor is that kids leave their chewing gum outside before sitting in his chair).
74. The Metropolitan Fire Brigade hosts free practical fire demonstrations for schools, kindergartens, pre-schools and other community groups on various days through the week. These displays can include demonstrations of various fire equipment including the Jaws Of Life, a presentation on basic fire safety and the chance to meet firefighters and see fire engines up close.
75. Ports are busy places with lots of action to interest kids. The Port of Melbourne runs free boat tours on Sundays during the warmer months. Round-trip tours leave from Gem Pier in Williamstown and Victoria Harbour in the Docklands. The tours are fun, free family events and the best way to see Australia’s busiest port, right on the city’s doorstep.
76. The St Kilda Adventure Playground deserves a special mention. There is an eclectic mix of things to do which is always changing. The playground is staffed and has designated opening times.
77. Combine a walk along the Yarra, a side excursion to Federation Square and then a play at the Artplay Playground at Birrarung Marr.
78. Take a trip to fun and bustling St Kilda. Take a walk along the St Kilda beach boardwalk which has views of Luna Park. Acland Street is famous for great cakes which are treats for the eyes but evil for the wallet.
79. Take a free tour of the Parliament of Victoria in Spring Street. You could even get to sit on the seats of the Premier and the Speaker in Parliament.
80. Put this date in the calendar - Australia Day (actually there is a good chance it is already in your calendar) for a visit to the RACV Australia Day Festival in the Kings Domain gardens. Held at the conclusion of the Australia Day Parade, the Festival includes many free family focussed activities, entertainers and displays from a broad range of community groups. Last time we went there was a free flyover, face painting and fire-engines plus a multitude of other things starting with f.
81. A short walk from Birrarung Marr takes you to the Federation Bells which ring out three times daily with different compositions.
82. You can watch a Lolliologist stir, mix, pull, squeeze and twist rock candy right before your eyes at the Suga store in the Royal Arcade, central Melbourne. You may even get some free samples. The display of candy making happens about five times a day.
83. If you want to find out what events are happening in Melbourne or pick up some free brochures or maps then head to the Melbourne Visitor Centre which is located on the corner of Federation Square near Flinders Street railway station. There is also free internet access here.
84. Melbourne Visitor Booth, located in the Bourke Street Mall between Swanston and Elizabeth streets, is a great place to find information on shopping, attractions and events, as well as free brochures and maps of the city. Have a chat with one of the friendly volunteers about what is happening in Melbourne.
85. Find one of the City Ambassadors at various street locations in the city centre, dressed in their distinctive red uniforms, for advice on directions, public transport enquiries, events and general questions about Melbourne.
86. All trams within the Central Business District and the Docklands area are free. Free public transport. We'll give a huge tick to that. The following map shows the borders of the free tram zone. Don't fret, because the tram drivers always give announcements when the border of the free area is being approached.
87. The Melbourne Visitor Shuttle is a bus service which stops at key tourist attractions and destinations in and around the City of Melbourne. Onboard you can view the city in comfort, while listening to an informative commentary about the city's attractions, and browse the various brochures available. You can hop on and hop off at any of the 13 stops or stay on for the whole trip which lasts about an hour and a half. The shuttle is free for kids under 10 years but parents have to stump up $10 each.
88. Werribee Park in Werribee South is an oasis of free activities. The property features hectares of lovely formal gardens, the Victoria State Rose Garden, a fun contemporary sculpture walk and an original farmyard to explore.
89. Melbourne is awash with free art galleries and museums. One of the more interesting galleries is the Australian Center for Contemporary Art in Southbank. Prepare to be challenged (and entertained) by the innovative and creative visual art on display. Outside the infamous "Yellow Peril" is displayed. Ahh, the memories of Melbourne's past controversies.
90. Discover Sailing Days are offered for free at many sailing clubs around Australia. They are a fantastic way to have a great day out with your family. Clubs look forward to showing you just how fun, safe, accessible, and affordable sailing is. You can go out for a short sail with an experienced sailor, have a look around the club facilities, and find out about the programs and sailing courses available. There is something for the whole family and even kids as young as five years old can sail, when they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
91. The Gas Brigades outside Crown Casino are spectacular at night. Eight towers along Melbourne’s Southbank shoot the world’s largest fireballs into the night sky which is quite a spectacle (especially if you don't expect it to happen). The Gas Brigades happen on the hour during the evening.
92. Does your family have origins from overseas? Explore The Travellers Artwork on the Sandridge pedestrian bridge over the Yarra River which represents the journey made by migrants from all over the world. The steel sculptures slowly slide across the Yarra.
93. Some TV shows are produced in Melbourne and there are free tickets for the audience. Search here to find out what is available. There are age restrictions because the producer of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" is not going to be impressed by a wailing child in the audience.
94. It's free to laugh and Laughter Clubs facilitate laughing among the population. Find a convenient Laughter Club location and start laughing. It's good for the body, mind and spirit.
95. Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that helps promote health and relaxation. Join expert instructors from Tai Chi Australia for a free class every Tuesday morning at Federation Square.
96. A visit to the Brighton Bathing Boxes in Brighton is a fun excursion to explore the colourful and themed bathing boxes. Build a sandcastle or have a dip in the shallow water.
97. The libraries of the City of Melbourne run a regular program of activities for children as well as special events. There are programs for children of all ages, from sessions for babies and toddlers, to story times for pre-schoolers to school holiday programs. Many of the activities and events are free.
98. The Queen Victoria Market at the edge of the CBD is Victoria's premier open-air market. It's a thriving bustling place which attracts people of all ages.
99. The Shot Tower Museum has free admission and is set under an impressive 20 story high glass cone in Melbourne Central shopping area. Duck into the museum for a quick history lesson on how shot pellets were made it the past. You can also see the Giant Pocket Watch. Every hour on the dot, a marionette display with Australian galahs, cockatoos and two minstrels performing Waltzing Matilda drops down from the bottom of the watch.
100. You tell us! If we have missed a great free activity for the family, please add a comment at the bottom and tell us about it.
Some extra suggestions include:
101. The Heide Museum of Modern Art in Bulleen has a garden with outdoor sculptures which is free to visit (although fees apply to the actual museum).
102. Junior Rangers can discover the secrets of Victoria’s national parks and reserves direct from a park ranger. The free ranger guided activities take place during school holidays and are suitable for children aged 6-12 years.
103. Edendale Farm in Eltham is an interactive community and education centre to support sustainable living practices. Highlights are the animals, gardens and artwork to explore. A gold coin donation to help with farm expenses is as close to free as you'll get.
104. Bring your Frisbee and have a free game of Disc (frisbee) Golf at Ruffey Lake Park in Templestowe.
105. Drop into the Don Bosco Youth Centre in Brunswick where there is a wide range of recreational equipment and facilities, including in-ground-trampolines, table tennis, air hockey, billiards, table soccer, basketball, soccer, tennis, volleyball and a swimming pool. Programs are free of charge to local teenagers and children but a little donation from time to time, to help continue this community service is welcome.
106. Witness the spectacular sight of the Flying Fox Colony at Yarra Bend Park in Kew filling the sky just after dusk as they set of in search of flowers and fruit.
107. Hop aboard a full size steam locomotive and pretend you are in Sodor rather than a playground in Bayswater or Reservoir.
108. Get out the trike or scooter and have some fun at some of the interesting bike tracks around Melbourne such as Trillium Park in Craigieburn (has an extensive set of paths representing roads with various traffic signs) or the Healesville Bike Circuit which has a track with a series of bumps.
109. Local council festivals which are typically held in February and March have lots of free activities and rides like free arts and crafts, circus workshops, giant slides, petting zoos, reptile shows, train and camel rides. Keep you eye open for a local festival.
You can also use our Enhanced Search to find all the free activities within a particular area.
Not everything in life is free and that's where Small Ideas comes in. They provide big discounts on admission to hundreds of family friendly places around Melbourne.