Melbourne on a budget: top things to do

Explore Melbourne without the expense with these free and cheap things to do

View across the Yarra River showing Princes Bridge and the CBD
  • Jetstar
  • January 2018
  • Updated July 2021

Beautiful green spaces, eclectic markets, world-class art and even wildlife – Melbourne has a lot to keep visitors busy besides sipping perfectly poured coffee (though we recommend that too). What’s more, many of the best things to do in Melbourne won’t cost you a cent. Here are just a few of the city’s best budget-friendly attractions.

Join a free walking tour

With so much to see and do in Melbourne, where do you start? For a great intro to the city, join an I’m Free walking tour with a knowledgeable local guide. On one of these two- to three-hour walks, you’ll learn about Melbourne’s history and culture, with a look at iconic laneways, street art, historic buildings, gardens and more. There are tours running every day except Monday. And the cost? Guides ask only that you tip what you think the tour was worth.

Also consider:

Two people walking down a narrow laneway with colourful street art all over the high walls on either side. Image credit: Neale Cousland / Shutterstock.
Discover the arty laneways of Melbourne on a guided walk. Image credit: Neale Cousland / Shutterstock.

Explore Queen Victoria Market

You could spend hours browsing at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market, which has been operating in the city since the 1870s. There are more than 500 stalls selling everything from clothing and jewellery to artwork and souvenirs. After shopping, be sure to visit the produce hall and food court for a range of freshly made delicacies. Pick up a borek or some Sri Lankan street food for a great-value lunch, or put together your own selection of fresh produce for a picnic.

Also consider:

Shoppers browsing the fresh food delis in the Queen Victoria Market produce hall. Image credit: Abdul Razak Latif / Shutterstock.
Head to historic Queen Victoria Market for shopping and tasty treats. Image credit: Abdul Razak Latif / Shutterstock.

Stroll the Botanic Gardens

In the heart of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, it’s easy to forget you’re only a stone’s throw from the CBD. Covering 38 hectares, the diverse collections include rare species, succulents, roses, a children’s garden, a tropical glasshouse and an Australian forest walk – all set around grassy lawns and a large ornamental lake. As well as free admission, there are daily free guided walks. Or book a half-hour ride on the Garden Explorer open-air minibus for between AUD $5 and AUD $10 (free for under-fives).

Also consider:

  • Promenade along the tree-lined avenues of the late-19th-century Carlton Gardens, which surround the grand Royal Exhibition Building. The gardens and building together are a World Heritage Site.
  • Walk or run the trails around the lake at Albert Park, just south of the CBD.
View across an ornamental lake in the Royal Botanic Gardens, surrounded by palm trees.
Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens are a green oasis near the CBD.

View art at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)

Behind a mesmerising wall of water, NGV International houses exhibitions from classic to modern, with several big names in its permanent collection, such as Picasso’s Weeping Woman. Don’t miss the cathedral-like Great Hall, where you can gaze up at the stunning stained-glass ceiling. Down the road at Federation Square, the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia is dedicated to local art, with an impressive collection of works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Both branches of NGV are free to enter (special exhibitions are ticketed) and there are regular free guided tours.

Also consider:

View looking up to the colourful stain-glassed ceiling of the Great Hall at the National Gallery of Victoria. Image credit: TK Kurikawa / Shutterstock.
Marvel at the Great Hall ceiling, by artist Leonard French, at Melbourne’s NGV. Image credit: TK Kurikawa / Shutterstock.

Meet the penguins at St Kilda

If you don’t have the time or budget for the Phillip Island penguin parade, you can see penguins in Melbourne for the cost of the tram ride to St Kilda. Every evening just after sunset, the feathered residents of the St Kilda Breakwater Little penguin colony return to shelter for the night, clambering over the rocks to reach their burrows. You can catch sight of the penguins from a dedicated viewing platform by joining one of the free viewing sessions (bookings required). Try to visit on a weeknight to avoid the crowds.

Also consider:

  • Head to Yarra Bend Park to see (and smell!) thousands of Grey-headed flying foxes roosting in the trees.
Close up view of a Little penguin standing in between rocks.
Head to St Kilda at sunset to spot Little penguins.