Free things to do in Melbourne in December

Is Christmas shopping making your budget melt? Don’t worry, you can still have fun on the cheap with everything from a merry silent disco to a look at cricket’s legendary Ashes urn.

The Festival of Independents in Flinders Quarter

Creative businesses in alleys and arcades around where Flinders Lane and Degraves Street meet are celebrating the season with the Festival of Independents Christmas. Until 13 December, this district known as Flinders Quarter will feature free delights like a Play Me, I’m Yours street piano. See a Nicholas Building photo essay, and a big art-meets-nature suspended sculpture. Create Christmas selfie greetings that come alive in augmented reality, and browse if not buy creations by Melbourne artists and designers.

People walking in a laneway with alfresco dining and a busker performing

Head to Flinders Quarter for the Festival of Independents

Patricia Piccinini: Chromatic Balance

She was Australia’s representative at the 2003 Venice Biennale, and declared the world’s most popular contemporary artist when 444,000 people saw her 2015 exhibition in Rio. So seeing her new work is going to mean paying blockbuster exhibition big bucks, right? Nope, Patricia Piccinini: Chromatic Balance, on at Tolarno Galleries until 14 December, is free. It includes a major new sculpture and a series of eye-popping panels.

MPavilion

Reborn every spring with a stunning new design, the MPavilion for 2019-20 is designed by internationally renowned Australian architect Glenn Murcutt. Once again this public space is hosting four months of free events. December highlights include the Archibald Weekend’s Life Drawing with the MSO and Zine-making Workshop, and the Medium Spicy party of contemporary Asian-Australian music. Active options include Sunrise Yoga Sessions with Happy Melon, and Dog Walking Adventures with Captain + Tom.  And don’t miss their Friday Sunset Sessions, with drinks and local DJs and musicians spinning tunes in the gardens.

A crowd of people talking around a lit up structure outside in a park

MPavilion

Velvet, Iron, Ashes

If you haven’t visited the State Library Victoria for a while, this month is the prime time to go. Following a major redevelopment, new spaces including the long closed-off Queen’s Hall opens on 5 December, when the majestic Swanston Street entrance also emerges after a facelift. Plus, the new Velvet, Iron, Ashes exhibition will include cricket’s most celebrated object, the Ashes urn, but only for a limited time. Other historic artefacts on display for the exhibition’s duration (until 12 July) include Ned Kelly’s armour and a velvet cloak with a story to tell.

An ashes urn

The historic Ashes Urn will be on display at the State Library of Victoria Image: courtesy of Marylebone Cricket Club

African Music and Cultural Festival

Explore the African continent’s diverse cultures through music, dance, food and design at this big all-day event on Saturday 14 December at Federation Square. We say big because the 2018 festival brought together dozens of African-Australian communities and organisations, and a crowd of 40,000-plus. This year’s free, family-friendly African Music and Cultural Festival includes fashion shows, DJs, drumming and a world of flavours. Plus you could win a trip for two to Africa!

Summer Night Market

It’s back for another season, with free live local entertainment like the CaribVic Steelband, the Open Door Singers’ Christmas carols and a visit from Santa himself. Enjoy the pretty lights and buzzing atmosphere, but be prepared to spend a little along the way. There’s irresistible international street food, from yakitori skewers to churros, cool drinkies and curated stalls for fun Christmas shopping. Keep an eye out for new pop up installation, Double Vision. Made up of many mirrors, see it twinkle, reflect and distort spots around the market until 15 Dec. The Summer Night Market is on from 5pm every Wednesday in December except Christmas Day.

Crowds of people milling around outside and under an old shed at night

The Summer Night Market at Queen Victoria Market

Heavy Rotation: BYO Vinyl Night

Melbourne Central’s ELLA is a new zone inspired by Asian mega train stations’ classy eating, drinking and shopping hubs. The monthly Heavy Rotation: BYO Vinyl Night is part of its fresh art, music and tech-inspired attitude. Rock up on 19 December with your favourite vinyl and register for a 20-minute set on the decks. Or just come hear some choice tunes while sipping on something good from ELLA’s new bar, Byrdi.

The 7th Koorie Art Show 2019

Indigenous art is so much more diverse than dot paintings, as a visit to The 7th Koorie Art Show 2019 will reveal. This annual open-entry, non-acquisitive award exhibition at the Koorie Heritage Trust presents works by Victoria’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Winners of various prizes, including the $10,000 Creative Victoria Award for Excellence in any Media, are announced on opening day, 7 December.

Presidents Cup Fan Experience

The prestigious Presidents Cup golf tournament is coming to Melbourne, and anyone can lob up to Crown Riverwalk on 7-15 December for a free taste. The Presidents Cup Fan Experience includes a family-friendly putting green, and a floating green on the Yarra River for practising that drive. There’s also a simulator so you can join thousands of people around the world collectively driving a virtual golf ball for the 44 Million Yard Challenge. Oh, and did we mention Cup captains Tiger Woods and Ernie Els are at the official launch on 9 December?

And don’t forget these Christmas events…

Crown’s Christmas Spectacular

Things tend to happen on a grand scale at Crown, and Christmas is no exception. Now in its 22nd year, Crown’s Christmas Spectacular glitters, glows and jingles in the atrium on the hour until 5 January. The 15-minute sound-and-light show includes classic Christmas songs, animatronics, 30,000 programmed lights and 35 suspended decorations. Santa’s also there, sitting on his golden throne every day until Christmas Eve.

Crowds of people in a big foyer milling around a huge lit up Christmas tree and other sparkling Christmas decorations

Crown Christmas Spectacular

Christmas Square

There’s an amazing array of free sights, sounds and experiences during the City of Melbourne’s Christmas Festival. The centrepiece is Federation Square, aka Christmas Square, where the 16-metre LED Christmas tree lights up every night until the big day. Christmas Square is so merry that Santa himself is taking up residence, so come say hello, ho, ho with the kids! Season runs until Tuesday 24 December.

Christmas Projections

Another highlight of Melbourne’s Yuletide celebrations are the Christmas projections, which will once again transform some iconic city architecture into festive fantasies. The State Library of Victoria has the big one: A Very Melbourne Night Before Christmas is written by Marieke Hardy and narrated by Lee Lin Chin. There are also projections on the Melbourne Town Hall and, for the first time, Princes Bridge. Season runs until Wednesday 25 December.

Get / Festive

QV’s central plaza is transformed into a Christmas hub with everything from merry pet photos to personalised ribbons on boxes of Lindt chocolate. Get / Festive’s big, free magnet for all this Yuletide fun is Australia’s first walk-through Christmas tree. It’s 15-metres high, with amazing animated lights and Christmas characters inside and out. Wow! Season runs until Sunday 22 December.

Find more Free Christmas fun in the city