You don't have to be a big spender to enjoy Melbourne. We've sought out all the free and budget-friendly gems that Melbourne offers so that families can have a great time without breaking the bank. There is a huge range of free things for kids and families to do in Melbourne.
Coburg Lake Reserve, Murray Road, Coburg
What goes up must come down. Get ready to plummet to earth. After climbing up multiple levels of ladders you reach two great metal slides. The "smaller" one is fairly straight and opens up into a flat area at the bottom and the higher, faster slide has a big twist before opening up at the bottom.
This slide can be frightening for little kids. The slide tower also has two panels to play Four in a Row or Reversi, balls on a vertical pole, a plastic-covered climbing wall and a fireman's pole.
There is also a structure with dual wave slides, a nice cubby house which is raised and accessible by a climbing wall with fruit holds, a metal slide, shop fronts and a pulley system for hauling wood chips, a birds nest swing, a largish disk carousel with hand-holds which spins around and standard.
The playground is right next to the lake with obligatory ducks (and geese) and so you need to be vigilant, although the chances of the kids moving away from the huge slide tower are about as high as snowflakes in Death Valley during summer.
There are plenty of unshaded tables, shaded and unshaded seats, toilets, BBQs, water tap and some lovely carved wooden seats for parents which overlook the lake.
Donna Buang Rainforest Gallery and Skywalk (Warburton)
You don't need to pay big bucks to see wildlife in Melbourne. In fact, the Pelican Feeding sessions in San Remo are free to watch and the local fish and chip shop provides the food for the hungry pelicans. At Cement Creek, around 10 kilometers from the summit of Mount Donna Buang, is the Rainforest Gallery and Skywalk.
This beautiful site features a 40 meter long observation platform (one of only three of its type in Australia) which takes you into the rainforest canopy 15 meters above the ground. A 350 meter long elevated walkway takes you through the Rainforest Gallery where you will see magnificent 65 meter tall old growth Mountain Ash trees, ancient Myrtle Beech trees (many of which are 300 to 400 years old), ferns, mosses and other plants that make up this damp and diverse rainforest environment.
There are several viewing spots along the walkway where you can pause and enjoy the sounds of Cement Creek flowing past on its journey to the Yarra River
There are two sections; one is a high section about the rainforest looking down and the other is a 350m circuit on a boardwalk through the rainforest. There are a lot of steps and the walkways can be slippery. It is a very pleasant and interesting walk. It is well worth stopping off on the way to the summit.
Victory Park, Langs Road, Ascot Vale
Huge wooden adventure playground with an enormous array of slides (tunnel, wave and spiral), walkways (tyres, chain, wooden, rubber), multiple towers with lots of levels, sandpit, bronco tyre and suspended platform rides, monkey bars, monkey rungs, flying foxes and swings (standard and unusual styles).
Most of the area is fenced except for the section furthest from the road. There are undercover tables and BBQs, toilets and a water tap. There is a kiosk available at the Ascot Vale Sports & Fitness venue next door.
Read more about this topic at https://www.melbourneplaygrounds.com.au/
Lillydale Lake (Lilydale)
Are you a Pisces and have an affinity with water? Maybe take a walk around one of Melbourne's lakes such as Lilydale Lake in Lilydale, Lysterfield Lake Park in Narre Warren North, Albert Park Lake in Albert Park, Blackburn Lake Sanctuary in Blackburn or Ringwood Lake Park in Ringwood.
This attractive and popular lake is a shallow (2 to 2.5m deep) flood-retarding basin located on Olinda Creek, south of Lilydale. The Lillydale Lake and Park were officially opened to the public in July 1990. The Park covers an area of over 100 hectares.
Come along and have a picnic or barbecue and then take a walk around the 28-hectare lake or just lie back and watch the clouds roll by while the children enjoy the sandy beaches or fantastic playground. There are 10 kilometres of the shared trail at the Park, so if you don't feel like walking - bring your bicycle along and take a ride around.
Dogs are allowed within the Park and certain areas allow for dogs to be allowed off their leads.
- Electric BBQ's (no coins required)
- Picnic Shelters
- 10 kilometres Shared Trail
- Heritage Trail
- Parking for 250 vehicles
- Monster Playground
- Boat Launching and trailer parking
- Park Lighting
- Public Toilets with disability access
- Community Room for Hire
It is possible to catch fish in the lake. Rainbow trout are regularly stocked by Fisheries Victoria and there is also redfin, carp, roach and eels. No fishing is permitted on the beach areas; however, most of the shoreline is accessible to anglers.
The lake area has some reasonable walking tracks and a great playground. The lake is not suited to swimming. The number of BBQs, shelters and tables seemed to be fairly limited.
Bundoora Park Play Space, River Red Gum Avenue, Bundoora
A great fun Play Space that is fully fenced and linked to a cafe. There are lots of fun elements including a wooden wall maze with things to find such as a horse, a big sandpit with a digger, huge scale bull-ants, a large carousel where you stand and get pushed around (hopefully by an accommodating parent).
A big red tractor with trailer, water tank with a ladder and slide, hammock, swings including one with a harness, lots of cute springers, mound with two sets of dual slides and three stand-on spinners, standalone spiral slide with steps, large flat rope climbing frame and watercourse area with bridges and a water pump.
There are shelters with tables and seats, shaded and unshaded seats and water taps. Plenty of access for all with concrete paths and soft spongy areas around most of the equipment.
Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Melbourne has two stupendous Royal Botanic Gardens. The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne near the Melbourne CBD has amazing and diverse plant collections and provides a sanctuary for native wildlife. If the kids get a bit tired they can ride the Garden Explorer train and listen to the commentary (fees apply)about the Gardens.
If that mode of transport isn't exciting enough the family can take a punt ride on the Ornamental Lake (fees apply). The highlight of any visit for kids has to be the free Ian Potter Foundation Children's garden where children can play, explore, climb, splash, hide and dig to their heart's content (well, at least until the gardens close).
Founded in 1846, the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is an inner-city oasis comprising 38 hectares of garden beds, lakes and sweeping lawns. It is home to 52,000 individual plants representing more than 10,000 species from around the world.
Attracting over 1.4 million visitors annually, the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne has stunning vistas, tranquil lakes and diverse plant collections.
The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is home to both amazing and diverse plant collections such as camellias, rainforest flora, succulents and cacti, roses, Californian species, herbs, perennials, cycads and plants from Southern China.
The Gardens also provide a natural sanctuary for native wildlife such as the black swans, eels, bellbirds, cockatoos and kookaburras.
The Gardens owes its botanic and heritage and landscape beauty to the first two Directors. Ferdinand von Mueller was one of the greatest 19th Century botanists, who introduced a vast array of plants to the Gardens and established the National Herbarium of Victoria. William Guilfoyle was an inspired landscape designer, who created the scenic panoramas that visitors enjoy today.
A popular attraction is The Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden. The Children's Garden has everything that children could want to help them discover the natural world: plant tunnels that they can crawl through, rocks that they can climb and a bamboo forest in which they can hide.
Open every day of the year:
- 7.30 am to 8.30 pm November to March
- 7.30 am to 6.00 pm April, September and October
- 7.30 am to 5.30 pm May to August
- Note: Tropical Display in the Glasshouse is open daily: 10 am - 4 pm.
The Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden
- Open: 10 am - 4 pm, Wednesday to Sunday
- 10 am - 4 pm, seven days per week during Victorian State School holidays
Closed: Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Day and Good Friday
For two months at the end of the Victorian July School Holidays (Victorian State Schools) for rest and maintenance.
This playground has as much sand as the Gobi Desert - actually more sand than the Gobi Desert. An excellent playground with All Abilities access to all the play structures. The main area of the playground has a large sandpit with two play structures with lots of sand play opportunities.
Further across is a large boat and see-saw in a sandpit. Across from this are a twisted pipe climbing frame and multiple swings.
At the top of the hill is a bird’s nest swing, a steep curving slide (too slow to generate real excitement according to the kids - and Dad) and big soft mounds with ledges to assist climbing which are connected with rope bridges. There is a separate long rope bridge that leads to a large pyramid rope climbing frame.
There are shelters with table and BBQs, unshaded seats and tables, limited shaded seats, water taps and toilets. A path leads to a lake and there is plenty of grassy areas and ovals nearby.
CERES Community Environment Park (Brunswick East)
CERES Community Environment Park in Brunswick East has an eclectic range of things to keep the kids entertained and educated.
The Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies - CERES - is a community park where people can learn about all aspects of sustainable living from urban farming and green technologies to Permaculture and seasonal cooking.
Have fun with hands-on activities run by our cultural educators, then enjoy CERES facilities such as the cafe, playground and farm.
There is an eclectic range of things to keep the kids entertained and educated. This includes a plant nursery, chook house, pond, playground (includes an elevated cubby in a tree, big dome play area, rowing boat, shaded sandpit), cultural village displays and a cafe (a touch expensive but it is organic).
Ballam Park Reserve
A Tale of Two Playgrounds" by Charles Dickens, set in Frankston during the See-saw Revolution? If not, rush down to Ballam Reserve in Frankston. It will be a revolutionary experience.
The park has two big playground areas. The big brother (for older kids) on the west side has lots of ramps and elevated walkways, spiral, longwave and curved tunnel slides, many wooden and chain climbing walls, ladders, huge chain climbing frame, real flying fox, monkey bars, stand-on spinning disks, curved ladders, see-saw and horizontal bars.
Four swings and one has an extra handle and harness. There is a separate playground area enclosed with a fence without a gate with an unusual swing, large tractor tyres embedded in the ground, a multi-tier structure for hauling up sand from a large sandpit, boat structure and three springers.
The playground situated on the east side of the Park (best suited for younger kids) has a very extensive wooden structure with lots of tunnels, ramps and walkways at different levels. It includes large front a wooden truck, four-way springer, spiral slide, four swings, spiral ladder, flying fox, large cubby house, monkey bars, maze, couple of medium-sized slides including a tunnel slide, climbing frame in the shape of a house, little curved climbing walls, horizontal bars and fireman's pole. Lots of areas for exploration.
Ballam Park is home to a huge area of open space featuring a basketball half-court, tennis wall, walking trails, ovals and an athletics track. There is plenty to do for people of all ages, with shade and barbecues provided in the large picnic area.
Alex Wilkie Nature Reserve (Springvale South)
Take a free guided tour of the Alex Wilkie Nature Reserve in Springvale South learning from the expertise of the local ranger.
The Alex Wilkie Nature Reserve is a valuable educational and cultural resource ideal for people interested in walking through some of the region's most beautiful bushland.
A ranger is on hand for guided tours, and to describe the natural fauna and flora of the local environment.
The reserve also offers:
- Picnic areas
- Walking nature track - a 35-minute walk through stunning bushland
- Sense trail - a trail, ideal for students, that utilises the senses
- Regular environmental events and activities are held at Alex Wilkie reserve.
The reserve consists of the main area and a separate area with a sensory trail. Near the entry point is a shelter with some information panels, toilets, water tap, BBQ, shaded tables and seats. You can also pick up a brochure with details about the self-guided trail.
The trail meanders back and forth through a fairly small area and you get peeks of houses along the way. There are some seats along the way if you want to rest for a bit although doing the whole trail without a rest would not be arduous at all. The sensory trail didn't hold much attraction for the kids.
The reserve is only open at designated days and times and so some organisation is required to visit.
Read more about this topic at https://www.melbourneplaygrounds.com.au/
- Catani Gardens.
- Flagstaff Gardens.
- Carlton Gardens.
- Docklands Park.
- Fitzroy Gardens.
- Kings Domain.
- Queen Victoria Gardens.
- Treasury Gardens.