Free and cheap things to do over spring school holidays

Are your kids climbing the walls after a winter indoors? From footy finals fun to a street-art walk, there are plenty of affordable and even free things to do during spring break.

Free and open every day during school holidays

Melbourne Zoo

The zoo’s great for keeping young bodies and minds active, especially given entry is free for under 16s during school holidays, weekends and public holidays. The regular zoo keeper talks are always free too, so kids can learn more about all sorts of animals, from seals to tigers. Opening just in time for the spring school holidays (and continuing until 10 November), Melbourne Zoo’s new Keeper Care Hub also has free entry. You might see macaws in full flight or learn about carnivore health care here, plus there’s lemur, squirrel monkey, pelican and red-panda training sessions.

A meerkat on a rock

Melbourne Zoo

Melbourne Museum

Free for kids up to 16 years old, Melbourne Museum is a top option whatever the weather. Highlights include a living creep-crawly display, a Dinosaur Walk, the Melbourne Gallery, the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, the forest garden and Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery for little kids to play and learn. Plus, there are two free school holiday activities. Humming With Hadrosaurs explores dinosaur sounds, and Road to Zero hands-on workshops give tweens the chance to make their own road-safety TV ad.

Royal Botanic Gardens

One of Melbourne’s natural treasures, the Royal Botanic Gardens, is always free to explore and there’s no better time than spring. Discover buds, blossoms, bugs and birds, then visit the Threatened Species Children’s Art Exhibition (7-28 September). Australian kids have once again put pencil, paints and markers to paper for this annual art competition about plants and animals struggling to survive.

A green garden with sunlight streaming through the leaves

Royal Botanic Gardens

National Gallery of Victoria

Except for some select exhibitions, NGV International and NGV Australia’s wondrous world of art and design are free for everyone. Look for family-friendly descriptive labels in the exhibitions. Grab an NGV Kids activity sheet from the information desk to find a drawing activity inspired by the Terracotta Warriors exhibition. Relax or play in the sculpture garden where there are big, colourful cushions little people love lying back on. Don’t miss the free Kaws: Playtime exhibition (20 September-13 April), created just for kids by pop-culture-inspired New York artist KAWS.

A group of children standing by a semi-circle shaped window with a water feature running down it

School holiday fun awaits at the NGV

More free fun

ArtPlay

Young imaginations can go wild at ArtPlay, and at no cost to their grown-ups. Free school holiday events include Scrapatorium, an interactive exhibition featuring soft toy animals, a fortress, tiny realms and even a puzzle to solve. There are also two activities co-presented with the Melbourne Fringe Festival: a robot-making workshop We are the Robots, and Sonic Labyrinth’s interactive sound journey.

A large brick building in a tree lined area of the city

ArtPlay

AFL Footy Festival and more

September means footy finals, and there’s much more going on than the pricey live matches. Join over four days of fun at the AFL Footy Festival, happening right outside the MCG (25-28 September). The MILO Kids Zone’s playground, obstacle course and Nintendo interactive zone will be a highlight for junior footy fans. There’s also the Fox Footy Longest Kick in Birrarung Marr on Grand Final morning where past and present players compete to see who can kick a footy across the Yarra. On the big day,  the 2019 Toyota AFL Grand Final will be screening live on the big screen. After the big game, everyone can run around on the hallowed turf during MCG Open Day. This annual event also offers up everything from free pony rides to a mascot race.

Toyota AFL Grand Final Parade

Yarra Park is also the end point for the Toyota AFL Grand Final Parade on Friday 27  September.  Starting at the Old Treasury Building, players from the two Grand Final teams will be in this colourful motorcade through the city. Marching bands and roving entertainers add to the excitement of this major Grand Final Eve holiday event. The festivities continue after the parade with the Grand Final Eve Concert starting at 1pm with live entertainment, including a set from Birds of Toyko. Friday 27 September.

Flinders Quarter Augmented Art Walk

Public art comes to life with a free app that guides you through one of the city’s busiest, most creative precincts like never before. For one month only, the Flinders Quarter Augmented Art Walk will transform several sites above and below ground using augmented reality and storytelling. Until 31 October.

Self-guided street art walk

Discover 10 key street-art sites in the CBD with this new self-guided walk. You can find the informative, interactive map online here, or download it to your device at the Melbourne Visitor Hub at Town Hall. Budding artists will love discovering the murals, stencils, paste-ups and mixed-media in Hosier Lane and less well known street-art hot spots like Blender Lane. Some art has mature themes, suitable for older children only.

A laneway with street art murals

Bon Scott in ACDC Lane

Fitzroy Gardens

One of the city’s prettiest parks, the Fitzroy Gardens, is a great place to enjoy spring blooms and sunshine. It’s not just a horticultural adventure though. There’s also a playground with a giant dragon, the Fairies’ Tree carved with Australian birds, plants and bush spirits, and a model Tudor Village. Fountains abound too, including a boy with an urn, another with sea creatures like dolphins and turtles, and a grand Victorian featuring river gods. Can you find all the fountains?

Sun light coming through the leaves of large trees in a green open garden

Fitzroy Gardens

Fun for $10 or less

Juan Vesuvius Says Relax

The Melbourne Fringe Festival Kids Club gets chill when Juan Vesuvius Says Relax on 22 September. The Caribbean’s silliest DJ and his assistant Mr Piñapoople present interactive stories, comedy and tunes that will make kids want to move. It’s $5 for them, free for their grown-ups and suitable for children with sensory and communication disabilities.

Cooks’ Cottage

If you have spare time and change after your free Fitzroy Gardens fountain hunt, pop into Cooks’ Cottage, the home of English explorer Captain Cook’s parents. The house was transported here from England in 1934 – making this a rare little patch of history. There’s a self-guided Spring Seek and Find activity throughout the school holidays (21 September-6 October). It’s $7.20, including entry, for kids or $21.50 for two adults and two children.

Women sitting in front of a flower bed outside a small brick building in a park

Cooks’ Cottage

Black Light Mini Golf

What’s better than playing mini-golf with friends or family? Playing glow-in-the-dark mini-golf, rain, hail or shine in air-conditioned indoor comfort is what. Black Light Mini Golf has 18 holes, each inspired by an Aussie icon like the Kingswood ute hole. Open every day, it’s just $10 for mini golfers, $15 for adults or $45 for a family pass.

Dex2rose nitrogen ice-cream

Why settle for ordinary ice cream when you can have nitrogen-frozen gelato – and in amazing flavours too. Made with a puff of sub-zero smoke, Dex2rose’s next-level desserts include Milky Playtime. That’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in a dulce de leche gelato, topped with caramel popcorn and peanut-butter-chocolate sauce. Yum! Other options include Unicorn Party and Birthday Cake Cookie Dough flavours, and a generous cup costs less than $10.