Melbourne on a budget: top things to do

Enjoy 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 September 2022

Beautiful green spaces, eclectic markets, world-class art, even wildlife – there's heaps more to Melbourne than perfectly poured coffee (though we recommend that too). Better yet, many of the city's best experiences won’t cost you a cent. Here are a few of our favourite budget-friendly things to do when you visit.

Join a free walking tour

Get your bearings with a guided tour of Melbourne's key sights, run by I'm Free walking tours. Led by knowledgeable local guides, these two- to three-hour walks will introduce you to the city'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. What's more, guides ask only that you tip what you think the tour was worth.

Also consider:

Couple walk down Hosier Lane, Melbourne, looking at the street art.
Discover the arty laneways of Melbourne on a guided walk.

Explore Queen Victoria Market

You could spend hours browsing at Queen Victoria Market, a Melbourne icon which has been operating since the 1870s. There are more than 600 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:

A mouth-watering array of olives, displayed at a stall in Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Markets.
Head to historic Queen Victoria Market for shopping and tasty treats.

Stroll the Botanic Gardens

Escape the hustle and bustle of Melbourne's CBD in the Royal Botanic Gardens, a short walk or tram ride from Flinders Street. 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.
  • Wander Williamstown’s ecologically rich (and easy to get to) Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve.
Two friends wander down a path in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens are a green oasis near the CBD.

View art at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)

Behind its mesmerising Waterwall, NGV International houses exhibitions from classic to modern, with several big names in its permanent collection, such as Picasso, Warhol, Dalí and Chagall. Don’t miss the cathedral-like Great Hall, with its 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:

Entry hall of Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, with Waterwall in the background and people visible outside.
The Waterwall: just one of the architectural features that make the NGV so special.

Spot wildlife in Dandenong Ranges National Park

Head for the hills – namely, the lush natural wonderland that is Dandenong Ranges National Park. This glorious expanse of rainforest is an easy train trip from the city but feels like another world. Keep your eyes peeled for native critters like lyrebirds, wombats, wallabies and even Powerful Owls as you hike the walking trails. Crane your neck at the world’s tallest flowering tree, the Mountain Ash. Have a picnic near the picturesque Sherbrooke Falls or test your mettle on the 1000 Steps climb – the sweeping views from the top will reward your efforts!

Also consider:

  • Head to Yarra Bend Park to see (and smell!) thousands of Grey-headed flying foxes roosting in the trees.
A lyrebird in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, Melbourne.
Bend over, let me see you shake your tailfeather: a lyrebird in Dandenong Ranges National Park.