We all love free things. Especially me. And when traveling and having to look after your budget, sometimes you just need some free things to do in a new city to ease up on the spending, while still being able to explore. Australia is a tough place to travel in financially since the dollar is so strong. It makes everything seem real pricey when you’re not earning the Aussie dollar and you have to keep converting it to your home currency to keep your budget in check.
Now Frankie did a fantastic job on 10 Things to do in Sydney for Free, which got me thinking about what my city could offer for a penniless traveller…and also the ole rivalry between the two big Australian cities fired up my motivation to show the huge amount of free activities Melbourne had to offer.…
1. Picnic in Edinburgh Gardens
There are many, many beautiful and serene parks littering Melbourne. They act as little oasis spots, nestled in between streets and blocks giving you the perfect place to take a break and lounge in the sun. What better way to while away an afternoon than a picnic blanket and a book under the bright Aussie sky?
Like I said, there are many parks such as Carlton Gardens, Fitzroy Gardens, the Botanical Gardens… but head up to North Fitzroy’s expansive Edinburgh Gardens where hipsters, beautiful couples and young families will dominate. Dog walkers galore will soon get you planning for the puppy you never realised you needed in your life, and the cruising fixie bikes will leave you wondering how so many people know how to ride without holding the handlebars. This place goes crazy on Australia Day too with a fantastic festival vibe and crowds of BBQ and beer brandishing celebrators.
2. Wander the vintage stores on Smith Street, Collingwood/Fitzroy
It’s painful having to wander these shops if you don’t want to part with you cash. Every single place you pass is guaranteed to make you pause, playing with the thought of getting your iphone out to jiggle some online banking funds around to afford THAT bag…or THOSE boots (This is the main way my savings get depleted).
But it is such a fun street to wander and check out. So many vintage furniture stores, bazaars, carefully chosen vintage crème de la crème, it makes it balls of fun to wander and feed your fashion hungry eyes!
3. Cycle by the Yarra River
Sun is shining? Check. Pockets low on cash? Check. Having a hankering for culture with a dash of exercise? Check. Get a bicycle or a comfy pair of shoes and have a meander down by the Yarra River. Well, yes it makes quite a nice walk but there’s an Artwalk route full of outside artworks and unique contemporary venues containing art.
Get hold of the Yarra River Precinct Artswalk map to ensure you don’t miss a thing and you can either blitz through it in about 1.5 hours or stretch it out making it a daytrip. It begins in Southbank with sculptures and paintings, and continues along with indigenous artists and other artworks.
4. Queen Victoria Markets
The “Queen Vic” markets are a constant tourist attraction all year round. They have certain days where certain produce or goods reign supreme, or just hit it up on the weekends!
Hoards of people will be mushed in there, especially when the weathers good, but for good reason! Excellent produce, crafts and knick knacks can be found here, and the fresh fruit and veg is a perfect place to get your groceries done. Have a wander and get lost amongst the chaos! The markets also hold night markets that run for a few months for winter and also for summer. Held on a Wednesday night, there’s a huge amount of amazing food stalls, fashion, jewellery and entertainment to delve about in. Make sure you get the sangria as well!
5. Ride the City Circle Tram
This is the kind of thing I took my parents on when they came to visit me over here. Its quiet, relaxed (as long as you’re not in rush hour), scenic, free and a little bit historical! Well, it is just a tram ride around the city but it is on board the old school trams that trundled the streets years ago when Melbourne was young and spritely.
As Melbourne city is set out in a grid system, the City Circle Tram skirts along the outside circuit taking you a full loop of the city, all the way from Parliament Building all the way down to the Docklands and the Stadium. Parents will love it…and it is a great way to get a quick whip round the city as you can jump on and off whenever you please! Just don’t get back on a wrong regular tram as the tram inspector isn’t going to believe your foolish claims that you thought you were on “the free tram”.
6. Federation Square
Federation Square is a huge concrete expanse of space that has a few restaurants and bars tacked on the outside, and a massive television screen that often shows any major sporting event. Some say it’s a “visual abomination”, some say it’s an “artistic use for public money”…others don’t really care, like me, as I am more interested in the free museums that exist there.
The Ian Potter Centre is entirely dedicated to Australian Art, with a suite of galleries specifically showcase Aboriginal art making it a must see for a visitor to Australia. There is also the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) which hosts cultural and creative richness of the moving image in all its forms: television, innovative world film and digital media. Pretty darn interesting and there’s a lot free that you can go and view.
7. Go to a Gallery opening
Melbourne IS the cultural hub of Australia. It’s where budding Australian artists, musicians and designers flock to to pursue and explore their talents, so there is always some exhibition or gallery opening occurring. With a little bit of research, you can hunt down the latest one and join the hip crowd to scrutinize the latest displays… and also grab a free drink or three.
8. Explore the City’s alley-ways and laneways
This is uber fun to do if you want to wander the city and explore! As I mentioned before, Melbourne is set out like a grid system and there’s a cobweb of alleyways that sprawl across the blocks, stuffed full of hidden treats and surprises! If you wander and get a little bit lost in the right network of alleys, you’ll find some amazing gems of cafes and bars that you would never have found if you had just stuck to the main high streets. Places like ‘1000 £ Bend’ are a little bit hidden, but when you find them, you’ll really be seeing Melbourne’s famous café and bar culture.
In these same alleys, you’ll also get to see all the street art that cascade down the walls. The majority of it is absolutely phenomenal and impressive. Definitely rivals Sydney’s, and in my opinion, wins hands down!
9. Watch fireballs light up the night
Take a walk down to SouthBank, just by the Yarra River. Let’s say any time after 8pm, as long as it’s on the hour, and you’ll see quite an elaborate, over-the-top but impressive fire display that explodes alongside the River by the Crown. Tall pinnacles line a section of the river and when it’s action time, they begin emitting small fireballs in succession, then they repeat and repeat, the fire balls getting bigger and bigger, until they are huge roaring balls of fear that light up the river and all the temporarily blinded pedestrians. What a spectacle to check out!
10. People watch in a Suburban café
O.K, so you’d have to buy a coffee or a spot of lunch for this making it not exactly free, but go on and treat yourself. Girls gotta eat! You have to get to the suburbs to check out more of Melbourne’s café culture and there are some really unique, independent and especially tasty places tucked away, out of the city, in substantially cheaper rent.
I’d recommend Windsor on the South Side of the city, or hit up the huge amount that exist on the North Side of the City, for example, Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, Sydney Road in Brunswick, St George’s Road in North Fitzroy… there are gems galore!
So prop yourself at a window seat, sip a latte with your laptop, get on some important email writing… while keeping one eye out on the street and take in the visual treats of people watching.
11. Free Festivals and Street Parties
There are so many outdoor events that occur in Melbourne, but of course the best are the ones that are free! Festivals and street parties are what scream Melbourne Summertime to me as they’re always happening with great live music, tasty street food and a general fun care-free atmosphere.
Moomba and the Vietnamese Festival are to name a few that happen in the city, but out in the suburbs, you also get some festivals that just descend into partying as the day turns to dusk. I would highly recommend the Spanish Festival up in Fitzroy on Johnston Street (the price of the Paella will make you lose your appetite though) or the Northcote Festival. This one is HUGE as it pretty much runs the entire length of the Northcote High Street with numerous big stages set up. Bars and pubs get rammed here so either sneakily bring a hipflask or find a small restaurant to nestle into with some beers.
12. Do a drive-by of the ‘Neighbours” Set
Ironically, the legendary T.V. soap opera ‘Neighbours” is pretty much ignored in Australia. No one seems to really care about it and it is not as hyped up as it is in England where this (and Home & Away) were the staple parts of my 1990’s T.V. watching childhood!
So it was to be expected that I had to do a drive-by of the Neighbours set, which is actually just a cul-de-sac in some nearby quiet suburb… and it’s disappointing to discover that it isn’t really called Ramsay St. If you’re not on a Neighbours tour (yes, they do exist) and you’re lucky, you might catch them doing some actual filming and they might even have the fake Ramsay St sign post up!
Despite Melbourne not having a beautiful Bondi-style beach to lie back on, it makes up for it in sheer volume of culture. So much to do and check out, where to start? At least you know that there’s a hell of a lot to do with a shoe string budget…which city would you have more fun in with no money?
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