Keeping the brood entertained while keeping an eye on the budget? It’s a cinch with this handy list.
ArtPlay is a children’s art studio behind Federation Square, running workshops, events and performances. Some are ticketed but keep an eye out for free drop-in classes, too.
For a novel way to see the sights, take a seat on the City Circle Tram. An audio commentary explains the landmarks (from Docklands and Fed Square to Parliament House) and because it runs every 12 minutes, you can hop on and off as often as you like.
Several times a year, the Port of Melbourne runs Port Open Day baoat tours - designed to give families a close-up look at the operations of Australia’s busiest port. Nascent engineers will get a kick out of this.
Treasure the museums
Many of Melbourne’s iconic museums and galleries offer free entry for permanent exhibitions: in town, head to the NGV, ACMI and Melbourne Museum. At the latter, kids can get close to creepy-crawlies at the Bugs Alive! exhibit or see animated recreations in the Dinosaur Walk (entry is free for under 16s and $15 for adults). There’s also a large interactive Children’s Gallery play area for the easily distracted under-fives. For something further afield, take a daytrip to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook.
Melbourne has a panoply of premium playgrounds to choose from; we like Central Gardens in Hawthorn, Yarra Glen Adventure Playground at McKenzie Reserve, Woodend Children’s Park, St Kilda Adventure Playground and the CBD’s only playground, Birrarung Marr, next to ArtPlay.
Book it in
Budding bibliophiles should check out Play Pod, The State Library’s free program that combines reading with play. The Wheeler Centre also regularly runs free kids’ series and for toddlers aged 18 months to three years, there’s Stompers, a weekly half-hour of stories, song and music at City Library.
Put the wheels in motion
For anklebiters under three, it’s free entry at the aquarium Sea Life Melbourne — though grown-ups still need to pay the $42 entry fee.
Experience rural life
Collingwood Children’s Farm is an interactive, inner-city farm with all the livestock you’d expect in the country. Little ones can get hands-on with local livestock, brushing cows, cuddling guinea pigs and feeding chickens. The onsite Farm Cafe has a fuss-free kids’ menu with crowd-pleasers such as Vegemite toast and sausage rolls. Entry is normally $20 for a family but on Market Day (the second Saturday of every month), kids go free and adults are just $2.
Have a bright day
Brighton Beach is perfect for little ones, has lovely views of town and the 82 charming “bathing boxes” on the foreshore keep things interesting. Bring paper and colouring pencils so your moppets can draw the line up of colourful huts.
Take a lesson in politics
Best suited to older kids – particularly those with a burgeoning interest in history and politics – the 40-minute tours of Parliament House run five times a day (when parliament isn’t sitting) and cover the history and architecture of the building as well as the machinations of the political system.
Enjoy the great outdoors
The city’s beautiful green spaces make light work of unplanned days: hit the Royal Botanic Gardens, particularly the Children’s Garden, Edinburgh Gardens, Westgate Park and Carlton Gardens. Also worth a visit is Lysterfield Lake with walking tracks, two protected swimming bays and options for sailing and canoeing.
More than 300 species of wildlife call Melbourne Zoo home – from internationals like Sumatran tigers and orangutans to natives such as koalas, wallabies and roos. Best part? It’s free for kids on weekends and during school holidays. For youngsters under three, it’s free every day.
Flinders Lane is the ideal starting point from which to explore Melbourne’s colourful laneways with tiny artists in tow. Stroll down side streets such as Degraves (a pedestrian precinct lined with cool shops and cafés) or Hosier Lane (brimming with iconic street art). If you want to avoid the crowds, visit on a weekday after 9am.
Art and about
The Abbotsford Convent is a 6.5-hectare arts precinct with studios, galleries, cafés and loads of green space. Grab a sandwich made with woodfired artisanal bread at Convent Bakery or get some vegies in at social-enterprise café Lentil as Anything’s lunch buffet.