Contrary to popular opinion, the best things in life are rarely free -- least of all in Melbourne, where dinner and drinks at Attica will set you back almost $400, and rent for a one-bedroom apartment with no cat-swinging room can be highway robbery. Nevertheless, we've found a bevy of budget-friendly must-sees and -dos in this cosmopolitan city, from rooftop bar crawls to the biggest trampoline Down Under.

Flickr/Fernando de Sousa

1. Take a self-guided street art tour

Most guided graffiti tours of the CBD or Fitzroy are going to set you back a pineapple ($50) or so, but Google "free street art tours Melbourne" and you'll find some DIY directions to the best examples in town from a heap of friendly thrift-focused types.

2. Ride, walk, or jog around Albert Park Lake

Don your Lycra or Lululemons and hit the 5km lakeside circuit for a workout with gorgeous city views. Best enjoyed first thing or at sunset, try to resist feeding the resident black swans.


3. Catch a flick in the Royal Botanic Gardens

Chill out and watch the stars in the beautiful botanical gardens over summer, when Moonlight Cinema comes to town. Pack some budget-friendly snacks and bring a cardi -- it is Melbourne after all. Nineteen dollars for adults, or $15 if you're a member.

4. Take a dip at MSAC

Access to the adult lap pool at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (MSAC) will cost you $8.20, or you can practice your bodyboarding skills on the FlowRider static wave for $20.

Flickr/Wee Keat Chin

5. Peek inside some of the city's most intriguing buildings

Held annually at the end of July, Open House Melbourne gives sticky beaks a rare opportunity to see inside some of the city's most fascinating and beautiful buildings. A must for any architecture or history buff. Best of all, though, it's absolutely free.

6. Rollerblade in St Kilda

You'll have to dodge the tourists, but the St Kilda foreshore -- with its sandy beach and iconic palm trees -- is a top spot for an eight-wheeled workout. It's just over 11 scenic kms from Port Melbourne to Elwood.

Naked in the Sky

7. Do a rooftop bar crawl

Check out the city's best sights from the heights on a crawl of the dozen or so rooftop bars in Melbourne CBD. While you're at it, maybe charm a handsome stranger into buying you a drink or two.

8. Play Barefoot Bowls at Fitzroy Bowls Club

Open seven days a week from 10am 'til 11pm, gather the troops for some "friendly" competition at Fitzroy Bowls. It's $15 per person for two hours of barefoot fun in the sun.

Flickr/Mads Bødker

9. Ogle some dinosaurs

With a living rainforest, Aboriginal Cultural Centre, and Phar Lap in all his equine, 17.1-hand glory, there's plenty to see at Melbourne Museum in Carlton Gardens -- but really, it had us at dinosaurs. Adult entry is $14.

10. Have a back, neck, and shoulder massage

Head to the plush CBD campus of Bec Judd & Co.'s beauty school for a 30-minute relaxation session. Lift the weight of the world from your shoulders, for only 15 smackers.


11. Wicked Wednesdays at The Astor

Every Wednesday, $12 will bag you a double feature at St Kilda's beloved Art Deco theatre, The Astor -- which means more money for choc-tops. Wicked Wednesdays, indeed.

12. Shake it like Queen Bey

The babes at Bey Dance (yup, a dance studio dedicated to Sasha Fierce) throw a riotous Bey Party at The LuWow bar in Fitzroy every Thursday and Friday night. Bring your jelly, along with $15.

Flickr/Les Butcher

13. Ensconce yourself in the La Trobe Reading Room

Feed your inner bookworm in the glorious La Trobe Reading Room at the CBD's State Library of Victoria. Read, write, or simply stare in awe at the lofty 35-metre-high domed ceiling.

14. Take a tour of the MCG

Ever wanted to look inside the iconic stadium's locker rooms or set foot on the hallowed turf? You'll get all that and more for just $17 if you're a student. (Adults will have to cough up $22.)

15. Pay what you want at Lentil as Anything

With several restaurants across Melbourne, folks from all walks of life can enjoy a vegetarian feast from not-for-profit operation Lentil as Anything, paying what they feel is fair. Don't be a scrooge!


16. Squee at the little penguins in St Kilda

Head to St Kilda Breakwater just after sunset, any time of year, to spot the colony of itty-bitty penguins who make their nests in the rocks. Summer is prime penguin-viewing time.

17. Cack yourself at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy some up-and-coming comedic talent for under $20 at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which brings the laughs throughout March and April each year. 

18. Get lost in the city's famous laneways

Throw away the guidebook and disable Google Maps for the day, then lose yourself in the city's famed cobblestone laneways with their eclectic mix of food, art, and fashionable finds. You might just discover a gem or two.


19. Go for a run around the Tan

Affectionately known as the Tan, the leisurely 3.8km track around the Botanic Gardens and King's Domain in South Yarra is a popular spot for joggers, runners, and power-walkers, and offers great people- (and puppy-) watching opportunities.

20. Take a free tour at the Mountain Goat Beer brewery

Explore the local craft beer scene at the Mountain Goat microbrewery, tucked away in the back streets of Richmond. Hop along (!) at 6:30pm on a Wednesday to tour the brewery for free.


21. Go on a ride at Luna Park

With free entry, St Kilda's iconic amusement park is home to the Scenic Railway, the world's oldest continually operating roller coaster. A single ride at the park will set you back $10.95, but can you really put a price on fun?

22. Catch the City Circle tram

Make like a tourist and explore the city sights for nada, zip, zilch on the City Circle tram. Enjoy audio commentary on the key landmarks around the city and Docklands aboard a charming heritage W-class tram.

Bounce Inc.

23. Jump on Australia's biggest trampoline

For some good ol'-fashioned fun, head to Essendon Fields BOUNCE for a go on Supertramp: a 5x5-metre bouncy behemoth. It's $16 for your first visit -- empty stomach recommended.

24. Gain a new skill or some specialised knowledge

Whether you want to learn about urban agriculture, your pelvic floor (umm), or how to kill at improv, Laneway Learning has the course for you. Most sessions are $14 a pop.

Flickr/Paul Coster

25. Have a picnic in Edinburgh Gardens

BYO vegan sausages, Frisbee, and homebrew to this popular North Fitzroy hang, which is decked out with BBQs, tennis courts, picnic tables, playgrounds, a basketball half-court, and ample room for lazy lounging.

26. Get vertigo at Eureka Skydeck

For $19.50, you can take the Southern Hemisphere's fastest elevator ride up to Eureka Skydeck. This is not just for tourists, as the 360-degree views are EPIC, taking in everything from the G to Albert Park Lake, Port Phillip Bay, and beyond.  

Flickr/Justin otto

27. Ride the Capital City Trail

Twenty-seven kilometers of beauty that take you from Fed Square and alongside Merri Creek, Collingwood Children's Farm, Dights Falls, and more. Oh, and if you're visiting or your treadlie's in the shop, you can...

28. Hire a Melbourne Bike Share two-wheeler

And ride around the city. It'll cost you $3 for unlimited 30-minute trips on a groovy blue bike for 24 hours. Usage fees will apply for longer trips.


29. Snorkel at Ricketts Point

The 115-hectare marine sanctuary of Ricketts Point, just near leafy Beaumaris, is a veritable playground for budding marine biologists. Pack a picnic, a snorkel, and some sunscreen, and make a day of it.  

30. Get an art fix at NGV International

Rejoice: general admission to the National Gallery of Victoria is free! Browse the permanent international collections on St Kilda Rd before a spot of window shopping in the design store.  

Flickr/Chris Phutully

31. Stay up all night for White Night

Make like the rest of greater Melbourne and head to the CBD in February for the spectacular White Night: an annual 12-hour celebration of art, music, and culture, from 7pm to 7am.   

32. Check out the many amazing markets

Queen Vic, South Melbourne, and Prahran are good places to start, since you can easily fill up on free samples. Or, admire the talent of local artisans at Fitzroy's Rose St. Artists' Market instead.


33. Catch a free MSO gig

Make like you're cultured by catching one of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's free open-air summer concerts at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Grab three cheeses for $10 from South Melbourne Market, and you're laughing.

34. Explore Abbotsford Convent

A true artsy hub with a community vibe: take a picnic, pack your sketch pad, or check out the regular produce and craft markets at this charming urban sanctuary.

Flickr/Solo runner

35. Attempt the 1000 Steps

In the leafy Dandenong Ranges, the 1000 Steps Kokoda Walk is a well-trodden, picturesque path for seasoned runners, wide-eyed tourists, and Sunday strollers wanting to test their fitness or simply enjoy some crisp mountain air.

36. Catch a cheap (or free) gig at The Old Bar

It ain't fancy, but that's the point: enjoy live music and cheap beer at this sticky-floored Fitzroy institution for a tenner or less. Any given Sunday, or Monday, or Tuesday, or...
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Pip Jarvis is a Melbourne-based writer with Champagne tastes but a (craft) beer budget. The struggle is real.



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