We tramped our capital city streets in search of seriously cheap entertainment.
While we didn’t sleep under railway bridges or jeopardise any moral codes, we found sightseeing on the cheap is not only viable but also strangely satisfying.
The results are in. Here’s proof that some of the best sights and things to do in Australia’s capital cities are free – or if not free, at least within the budget of travellers once attracted to four cents a litre off petrol, frequent flyer points and no-deposit mortgages.
Many of these places to see and things to do are my own preferences, and as such they’re only representative. Testing and approval of kids’ things has been completed by my fun-loving nine-year-old daughter, and with one or two exceptions further details can be found via a quick Google. Happy budget trails!
–The City Circle tram is free, encircles the CBD and main city sights.
–Scienceworks is free for kids, $15 adults; special exhibitions cost extra. Location in Spotswood is difficult on public transport. Focus is on kids here.
–The Melbourne Museum has improved. Go if it’s raining or 40ºC, or both. Kids free, $15 adults.
-Melbourne city tourist shuttle, free bus tour of major city sights like Victoria Market, museum, Botanical Gardens, Shine of Remembrance. Every 30min, 90min round-trip.
-For under $7 day ticket, less at weekends, ride Melbourne’s trains, trams and buses. Go to famed St Kilda Beach, walk the pier, swim in the bay.
-Take your bike, or hire one, and take the bike path along the Yarra River, or the track from St Kilda along the foreshore.
-The historic Victoria Market brings the taste of cosmopolitan Melbourne to all who visit. Free, unless tempted…
-Travel free on the City Loop Bus. Two routes around Adelaide’s CBD, for shopping and sightseeing. Stop at the excellent museum or art gallery on a hot or rainy day. Adelaide markets have cheap food.
–Popeye Motor Launches is a 40min cruise along the River Torrens. $10 adults, $5 children.
-Free bikes to ride around Adelaide from the Bicycle SA office, or the Rundle Street Market on Sundays, and see all the sights from the saddle.
-Stroll the Botanic Gardens’ impressive collections of palms, endangered cycads and culinary herbs on display. Free, and free guided walks available too.
-Take the Tram to Glenelg a 20min ride from the city to beachside suburb Glenelg. $4.20 adults, or $8 for a day-trip.
-Taste Haigh’s Chocolates – a free 20min tour and tasting of SA’s iconic choccies shop. Mon-Sat, 5min from the city.
-Watch an Indigenous performance at Tandanya – the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute. Free entry to the gallery, dance performance $5.
-Tour Adelaide Oval’s cricket ground, Sir Donald Bradman Collection. Tours Mon-Fri (non-match days), tickets $10.
– Into politics or not, Old Parliament House is a great experience just for the Australian history enacted here. $2 adults, $1 kids.
-The current Parliament House on the hill has free entry, but we’re all paying for it.
–Questacon is not free and not cheap, but your kids will love this fantastic scienceworks experience. $49 family ticket. Most expensive item on this whole list.
-The Australian War Memorial is free.
-BYO bike for a ride (or a long walk) around Lake Burley Griffin.
-National Gallery and National Museum have free general entry.
-CSIRO Discovery Centre gives kids some educational hands-on science information. $6 adult, $3 kids.
-A firm favourite is the Old Sydney Observatory, between The Rocks and Darling Harbour. Free entry to museum. Tours $7 adult, family $20.
–The Powerhouse Museum adjacent to Darling Harbour, hours of exploring for the family. $10 adult, $25 family.
-At Darling Harbour there’s cheap eats, buskers, boats and a few dollars for the ferry under the Harbour Bridge to Circular Quay.
-Sydney Ferries travel to all parts of the Harbour. Be sure to include the Manly Ferry and Jet Foil.
-The iconic Opera House is open for tours $74 for a family, but it’s free to admire from the outside.
-See historic houses (Historic Houses Trust) in Sydney – Vaucluse House for a picnic and harbour views. Most entry or tours cost $8 adult. Government House visit is free.
-Instead of an expensive bridge climb, walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge is free.
-Instead of a spa package, take a dip at the iconic Icebergs Ocean pool. Salt water is Mother Nature’s penicillin, isn’t it? They also have a sauna which can be used at your leisure. $8 for adults. $5.50 for kids
-Harbour waterfront camping on Cockatoo Island. $45 byo tent, or $75 for tent package, plus ferry from Circular Quay.
-Kings Park, the world’s largest inner city park, has views of the city and picnic spots. The Botanic Gardens have spring wildflowers, and Federation Walkway Swan River views. Free walking tours of the park.
-Swim, snorkel, surf or relax on one of Perth’s 19 metropolitan beaches.
–The Cultural Centre, home to Perth’s art gallery, museum, state library and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA). Free.
-Mountain Bike the Munda Biddi Camping shelters provided free for those enthusiastic riders wanting a weekend escape.
–Queensland Museum and Art Gallery both have free entry.
–Brisbane Powerhouse has free music and comedy every Sunday. Moonlight cinema here too.
-Free films at Harry Kirby Park, Apsley, Sept-May.
–Southbank precinct has BBQ areas, picnic spots, sandy beach, bike track, water playground for kids. Free.
-Mt Coot-tha lookout and botanic gardens, on bus route 471, views of city and river.
-Free downtown bus loops encircle the CBD.
-Hire a bike and ride the Esplanade. Or hire a motor scooter, about $25 for two hours.
-Free tours of Parliament House, Wed and Sat.
-Follow history trails through Darwin, visit Lyons Cottage, free.
-See WWII storage tunnels, images of war in the Top End, $5.
-See a movie at the Deckchair Cinema, $12.
-Fish feeding at high tide, the Esplanade, $6.
-Self-guided tour of Fannie Bay Gaol, free.
-Darwin’s City Shuttles cost $2 per ride.
-Mindil Markets, Thurs and Sun evenings during dry season; food and craft.
–Salamanca Place market on Saturdays are free. Local produce just picked from Tassie’s green thumbs or greenies, crafts, busker-type entertainment – for kids too.
–The Tassie Museum (free entry and tours), see the Tassie tiger, comprehensive Antarctic exhibit. Art Gallery for a rainy day, but the Maritime Museum is small and not free.
-Mt Wellington overlooks Hobart and the Derwent River – a worthwhile view from the top. Free, but getting there isn’t.
-Walk the hilly streets of Battery Point to Sandy Bay, colonial cottages and history. Free if self-guided. Tours $15.
-The Hobart docks – commercial fishing boats and restored heritage vessels reflect perfectly in tranquil waters. Free.
-Mure’s, dockside, has waterfront views and great seafood (cheaper fish ‘n’ chips downstairs).
–Cascade Brewery tour costs $20 adult.
-Heritage sailing ship, Lady Nelson, cruises the Derwent. From $15/adult, $5 kids.
-Red double-decker bus, city tours from Brook Street pier. Costs about $14, all-day ticket.