Kid-friendly fun in Melbourne that won’t cost a cent

A family break in Melbourne doesn’t have to cost the earth. Enjoy some free kid-friendly fun and get the most from your holiday dollars.

Sunset over skyline of Melbourne downtown, Princess Bridge and Yarra River
  • Janine Eberle
  • September 2018

Rattle round the city on the City Circle Tram

Get your bearings and give the kids the chance to experience some living, rolling Melbourne opens in new window history. Old-style W-class trams dating from the 1950s (and now classified by the National Trust) rattle around an inner city circuit opens in new window, taking in some of Melbourne’s top sights. You’ll pass historical icons like Parliament House, Flinders Street Station and the State Library (the original Melbourne Museum), as well as visiting the newest bits of the city at Docklands.

The tram travels in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions and you can get on and off as you wish, so as well as easy sightseeing it’s also a great (free) way to get between kid-friendly attractions like Melbourne Aquarium and Melbourne Museum.

Sunny day in Melbourne, view on a Australian Center, walking a man front ACMI building.
Get screen savvy at Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

Have an art attack at Federation Square

Fed Square is Melbourne’s one-stop arts shop, with a clutch of modern, exciting arts spaces with a kid-friendly twist. The Ian Potter Centre holds the Australian collection of the National Gallery of Victoria opens in new window, with a rich collection of Aboriginal art and famous artists like Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Fred Williams. Kids’ activity sheets are provided to help them explore the collection, and special kids’ exhibitions and workshops are often held. Next door is ACMI opens in new window, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, where the permanent collection celebrates film, TV, video games and digital culture – a concept that’s bound to excite screen-happy teens and tweens. Check the cinema’s program for family fare.

Check out some open-air art just across the road from Fed Square at the city’s most celebrated street art canvas: Hosier Lane, one of Melbourne’s prime selfie spots. And just behind the square towards the river is the city centre’s only activity playground at Birrarung Marr. As well as climbing ropes, balance beams and sandpits, you’ll find intriguing modern artworks and stunning skyline views.

People walking on park with Melbourne, Australia
Discover nature at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Learn about conservation in the Royal Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens are a Melbourne icon. These 36 hectares of gorgeously cultivated greenery, sloping gently down to the Yarra River, are home to more than 8500 species of plants from around the world. A heaven of peaceful wandering, highlights include an Ornamental Lake (the kids will love feeding the eels) a cool forested Fern Gully and an extraordinary Arid Garden filled with wild cacti and succulents, among many other impressive collections.

Especially for kids is the Children’s Garden opens in new window, created to encourage kids to play, explore and learn about conservation. With a Kitchen Garden, a Wetland Area and a Bamboo Forest amongst other intriguing sections, there’s plenty of interaction and discovery to keep them amused and teach them something at the same time – just a short walk (or shorter tram ride) from the city centre.

People spending time on Seaside at sunset, Melbourne, Australia
Watch the penguins at St Kilda Pier.

See the world’s cutest seabirds at St Kilda

The little penguins at Phillip Island, a couple of hours out of Melbourne, are rightly famous – but did you know you can visit their cousins at St Kilda, just a tram ride from the city centre? There’s a colony of around 1400 little penguins opens in new window living here, and every night around sunset you can see them on the breakwater at the end of lovely St Kilda Pier. These unbelievably cute little critters waddle on the rocks out to the sea and back, unmindful of the crowds of humans watching them.

It’s a very natural scene without fences or structures (unlike the highly managed Phillip Island experience) – so be sure you respect these little guys’ home by not taking flash photos and keeping quiet (and making sure the kids do the same!) There’s usually a volunteer guide there to make sure, and to answer all your kids’ penguin-related questions.

Hang five at Riverslide Skate Park

Melbourne skaters say this is the city’s best skate park, and it’s easy to see why. Just across the Yarra River opposite Birrarung Marr, Riverslide opens in new window fills 1800 square metres with different skating terrains, all brimming with kids skateboarding, scootering and BMXing their hearts out. It's a welcoming all-ages vibe, though things can get fast and frantic when it’s crowded as the daredevil quotient rises. There are toddler-friendly areas and the location in lush Alexandra Gardens, with fantastic city views, is a bonus.

The skate park is always staffed and if you have a youngster who needs some encouragement, lessons opens in new window are available.