Melbourne, named the world’s friendliest city* is Australia’s second-largest city and is widely known as a sport, arts and culture hub. The restaurants and cafes are incredible, many of which are tucked into laneways that are hidden all over the city. International sporting events and music festivals are the highlights of the annual calendar, and it’s a city known for its great love of coffee.
Melbourne is a fantastic holiday destination, with so much to see, do and experience. And while there is so much to offer those who stay longer, it’s perfect for a weekend break or a short stay.
This is a guide to some of the best free things to do in Melbourne on a free tram! It shows you what can be done in this great city, without spending a cent, even on transport. Melbourne is a great city, but it can also be expensive, so bookmark this for your reference if you are looking for a free day or two of sightseeing.
Needing some extra help to see Melbourne? Book a tour or activity here
- How to explore Melbourne on free trams
- 1. City tour on the City Circle tram
- 2. Melbourne’s laneways
- 3. Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building
- 4. City Gardens
- 5. Federation Square
- 6. Ian Potter Centre
- 7. Australian Centre for Moving Images
- 8. Melbourne’s historical buildings
- 9. Flinders Street Station
- 10. Shop at The District Docklands and Spencer Outlet Centre
- 11. Queen Victoria Market
- 12. State Library of Victoria
- 13. Free walking tour
- Melbourne logistics – a quick guide
- More Australian inspiration
How to explore Melbourne on free trams
If you plan to use the free Melbourne trams, then it’s important to understand how it all works before planning your itinerary. Get this part right, and the rest will follow easily.
Pro tip: the Melbourne free tram zone is not exactly the same as the free Melbourne tram. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but it is not entirely accurate. We explain why below.
Free tram zone
The free Melbourne tram zone is a dedicated area in the city precinct where ‘any’ tram can be ridden without paying a fare. This applies only if you start and finish your ride within the zone limits. If you start or end your trip outside the zone, you must tap on only with your Myki card.
The free zone is bordered by: the Yarra River ( at Flinders and Collins Street), Docklands, Latrobe (which darts up to Victoria and Elizabeth), Victoria Parade and Spring Street. You can view this on the free tram zone map below.
Melbourne is easy to walk around, although the blocks are huge. So, it’s great to know you can jump on a tram when your tired legs need a break. You can catch a tram anywhere, anytime, for free, as long as it’s in the free tram zone. This covers the entire Melbourne CBD. It doesn’t get much better than that. There is also free wifi in most of the city area.
City Circle Tram
The number 35 tram broadly follows the boundaries of the free tram zone, with a few small exceptions. The service operates in old heritage trams, provide some commentary along the way, and operates in both directions.
Accessibility on trams: The new fleet of Melbourne trams are wheelchair and mobility aid accessible, but the old heritage trams (City Circle trams) for example, are not. To be sure that the tram you need to catch is accessible, read this guide. HEaring and vision impaired assistance can be viewed here.
1. City tour on the City Circle tram
Before all the trams were made free to use in the city, the City Circle Tram was the best way to get around. Following a huge circle in both directions around the CBD’s perimeter, it is a great way to get your bearings. Even though you can travel on any tram in the free tram zone in the city, the City Circle tram adds some nostalgia to your ride.
A pre-recorded tourist guide is played on board, noting some of the important places around town. You can hop on and off wherever you like, but if you stay onboard, the whole trip will take just under an hour.
2. Melbourne’s laneways
The hidden laneways and alleys contribute to Melbourne’s distinct cultural vibe. First and foremost, they are known to house some of the best restaurants, cafes and bars in the CBD. But they also have some of the best street art to be found in the country. It’s an ever-changing artistic landscape and a must-see when in Melbourne. Here’s where you can find my favourite Melbourne laneways.
3. Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building
The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens sits on the edge of the CBD. Dating back to 1880, it was built for an international exhibition. It also became the first building in Australia to be granted a World Heritage listing. Today it is part of the Museum of Victoria and is the venue for many fantastic events. It’s such a beautiful building to admire.
It is mainly used as a venue for special events, exhibitions and parties. Be sure to check out their website for free events.
Location: Carlton Gardens, Get off at stop 10 (Nicholson and Victoria St)
4. City Gardens
Melbourne is home to several beautiful gardens, ensuring the cityscape is not just a concrete jungle. They are perfect for taking a break, a walk or a run. Better still, buy some takeaway food from one of the fabulous cafes nearby.
Carlton Gardens ( Stop 10 Nicholson and Victoria St), Fitzroy (Stop 8 – Spring and Flinders ST or Spring and Collins St), Flagstaff (Stop 8 Peel and Victoria St) and the Royal Botanic Gardens are the premier green areas in the city.
5. Federation Square
There’s always plenty going on at “Fed Square”, as it is known locally. From art and food events to outdoor buskers, markets and relaxing spots to people-watch. There’s also a great selection of cafes and restaurants and a huge tourist information office to help you plan your time in Melbourne.
Here are the latest events at Federation Square.
Location: Cnr Swanston and Flinders St (Stop 13)
6. Ian Potter Centre
While you are at Federation Square, don’t miss the fabulous Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Here you will find the world’s largest display of Australian art. Immerse yourself in a few – or all – of the 20 galleries that showcase Australian art through temporary and permanent exhibitions.
7. Australian Centre for Moving Images
Also located at Fed Square – you could spend days here – is the Australian Centre for Moving Images. General admission is free, and there are various events that are also free. Just check the calendar for what’s on. There’s fun for all the family here with shows, exhibitions, movies and screenings celebrating everything about moving images, including film, tv and video games.
8. Melbourne’s historical buildings
Melbourne is an old city, and some of the best examples of architecture can be found there. There are too many to mention here, but take the time to wander around. Be sure to keep your eyes up, and you’ll be rewarded with gothic buildings, domes and art deco facades.
- The former Melbourne General Post Office – Bourke St Mall
- Princess Theatre – Spring St
- Regent Theatre – Collins St
- Melbourne Town Hall -Cnr Swanston and Collins St
- Parliament House and the Treasury Building – Spring St
9. Flinders Street Station
This is the hub of all train transport for metropolitan Melbourne and is the busiest station in Australia. It is also one of the most beautiful stations you’ll find. Built in the early 1900s, it is an icon of this city, with its easily recognised colour, dome, clocks and tower.
Stop 13 – Flinders St Station is opposite Federation Square.
From here, you can also easily walk across the bridge into South Bank.
Location: Stop 13 – Cnr Swanston and Flinders St – opposite Federation Square.
10. Shop at The District Docklands and Spencer Outlet Centre
The outlet centre on Spencer St offers good shopping at below-usual CBD prices. It is the only outlet centre in the city. At The District Docklands, you’ll find great shopping in an easy-going atmosphere. There’s dining, bars, outdoor events like Twilight Christmas markets, music and entertainment.
While everything here might not be free, you can walk around and window shop and listen to the entertainment without pulling out your wallet.
Location: The District Docklands – 440 Docklands Dr and Spencer Outlet Centre – 201 Spencer Street
11. Queen Victoria Market
Full to the brim with incredibly fresh produce, ready-made foods, and artisanal products, there’s something for everyone here, especially the foodies. It costs nothing to get into the market or to stroll around.
Location: Peel, Franklin, Victoria & Elizabeth Streets
12. State Library of Victoria
Whether you are interested in books or not, the State Library of Victoria is one of the most incredible buildings in the city centre. The domed Latrobe Reading Room is our favourite; for the best view go upstairs. You can do a free tour, but if this doesn’t take your fancy, you can walk around and admire its many levels.
Location: 328 Swanston St
13. Free walking tour
Finally, if you’ve had enough of the free tram and just want to get out and get a bit more of the Melbourne fresh air, consider taking a free walking tour.
Melbourne logistics – a quick guide
The primary airport in Melbourne is called Tullamarine. The domestic and international terminals are located in the same precinct. The major airlines offer great airfares at various times during the year. We use and recommend Skyscanner or Airfare Watchdog for specials.
Taxis and ride-sharing transport operate from the airport. The Skybus is also an easy option and will also be less expensive. The Skybus terminal is at Spencer Street Station. From here, you can transfer to other trains, catch an uber, walk or jump on the free trams that operate within the CBD.
I’ve stayed in many hotels in the CBD, but on this occasion, I decided to stay just outside at the Melbourne Parkview Hotel. It was a great hotel and more affordable than being in the city, with excellent access to the tram.
My favourite hotels to stay at in the city (and I’ve stayed at a lot!): Rydges Melbourne | Sofitel | Stamford Plaza | Windsor | Citadines on Bourke. All offer easy access to all of the CBD and across the river to South Bank.
Looking to book a hotel?: Search for all Melbourne hotels here.
Want to have more fun in Melbourne? Book your tours ahead to save time and money!
If these things aren’t enough, why not check out this great article from Wyld Family Travel. 5 things not to miss in Melbourne offers up even more awesome things to keep you occupied and on the go in this great city.
More Australian inspiration
*Expat insurance company William Russell compiled a list of the world’s friendliest cities based on the following factors: resident happiness, safety, LGBTQI+ inclusivity, top attractions and highest-rated hotels. Announced December 2022.