They say that the best things in life are free, and for kids in Melbourne that is very much true. Finding a cheap yet entertaining weekend for the kids can be a challenge. So to help you out, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best free and cheap activities on the north of river Yarra on Saturday and on the south on Sunday.
Starting the day off at Birrarung Marr, just a short 5 minute walk down the river from Federation Square, there is plenty of play equipment available to keep the kids busy. All activities at Birrarung Marr are completely free.
- 4 slides
- 2 swings
- A special swing for wheelchairs
- Plenty of climbing equipment
The play equipment is open all day everyday, and has plenty of sun cover for kids.
Located next to the play equipment is ArtPlay, a civic studio where kids (and their parents) can be creative and express themselves in a safe and supportive environment. ArtPlay is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm.
Located a 2 minute walk from ArtPlay are the Federation Bells, a collection of upside down bells that plays seven different compositions (of 5 minutes each) that can be heard daily between 8-9am, 12.30-1.30pm and 5pm-6pm.
A 15 minute walk from Birrarung Marr takes us to the Botanical Gardens, a treat for young and old, but the highlight of the gardens (for the littlies at least) is the Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Gardens. Located near the visitor centre and observatory, the Children’s Gardens is focused on introducing children to the wonder of plants by giving them a space to get dirty, wet and have fun in a safe environment. Highlights include the numerous water features that spray water out of the ground, the little river that courses through the gardens, the bamboo forest, and the ‘kitchen garden’ a veggie patch to help kids understand where vegetables come from.
Great on a hot day, or when looking to relax while letting the kids go wild in a safe location, the Children’s Gardens are open 10am to Sunset, Wednesday to Sunday and all public and school holidays and entry is free.
Where to go Saturday (click for an interactive map)
Start the morning at Queen Victoria Markets. Covering an area of approximately 7ha, the Vic Markets are the largest open markets in the Southern Hemisphere. Find fruit and snacks for the days adventures as well as bargain priced toys and clothes. It’s a 10 minutes walk from MBS (there is a big carpark on the southside if you are coming from the suburbs but watch out, parking in Melbourne is expensive)
From the markets, take a 20 minutes walk up Lygon St. for an icecream and head towards the Carlton Gardens.
The Carlton Gardens playground consists of two areas, one, sandy junior area for 3+ kids and a larger, two fort, multi tunnel/barricade area for older kids. There are also public basketball courts for older kids (with a 9ft and a 10ft ring).
There are public toilet facilities available and dogs welcome on leads (but not running free).
Just south of the playground is the Melbourne Museum & IMAX Theatre where both educational programs and the latest 3D blockbusters are screening. The Museum has a range of special exhibits but admission is free for children under 16 (and $10 for adults). They also do combination deals with the IMAX so if you are going to do both, save yourself a couple of dollars and buy a combination pass.
A short 10 minute through the park will have you skirting the edge of the CBD and on track to visit the Parliament Gardens Water Feature which is an overhead fountain that the kids will love (especially on a hot day). It’s a nice stop on the way to the next park, at the Fitzroy Gardens.
The Dragon is a combination slide, tunnel and climbing frame in a sandpit and (much to childrens delight) glows in the dark! It is accompanied by a set of giraffe swings and there are shaded areas and public toilets available.
Keep and eye out on your walk through the park for the Fairy Garden!
From Fitzroy Gardens, walk up to Victoria Street (5 mins) then catch the 103 tram down to Nicholson Street in North Richmond. There’s plenty of good Asian food along the street in this area if you need to stop to refuel as well as a shopping centre for anything that you haven’t been able to find at a corner shop.
We’re now headed north up Nicholson Street towards the Collingwood Childrens Farm and the Abbotsford Convent. For the scenic route you can take a left at Gipps street and head along the Yarra River. While this path is a little longer, it takes you by all the animals so that sheep, cows and horses can be fed and patted through the fences.
This little touch of farmland comes at a price though ($16 for the family), there’s a cafe which makes a decent coffee and activites like milking cows, finding the chickens eggs and cuddling the guinea pigs (see website for details).
The Convent itself is a arts, learning and cultural precinct with artist studios and creative spaces for writers and designers, spaces for arts organisations, spaces for rehearsal and development, indoor and outdoor function spaces, a school, a radio station, a bakery, cafes, restaurants and bars.
There are traditional bread baking courses as well as summer nights markets and outdoor cinema sessions. See the website for what’s currently happening.