Free things to do in Melbourne in July

Are winter heating bills and an insatiable desire for mulled wine giving you the budget blues? Cheer up at these fabulous free events!

Open House Melbourne

Now in its 12th year, Open House Melbourne is an annual highlight for lovers of urban design and cool free stuff. Access to some of the 200+ buildings on the 2019 program require bookings, so get in early. Or just see what happens on this big weekend of architecture, heritage and the seriously curious in normally off-limits spaces. Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 July.

Anything But Square Festival

Fed Square’s re-launching with a month-long program of exciting events and experiences. A highlight of the Anything But Square Festival is the free Open House Melbourne sneak peek of Sensory Underground on 27 July. After that, you’ll need to fork out for an immersive dining experience to enter this new subterranean space of tunnels, nooks and living art. Don’t worry, there’s more free stuff, like White Night wonders and a Winter Garden of colourful, hand-knitted flowers. 25 July-25 August

Celebrate Aboriginal culture during NAIDOC Week

The land we now know as Melbourne has changed dramatically over the past 200 years. The Geography of Docklands lecture reveals the area’s long history as a meeting place for Kulin nation peoples, who feasted on the former wetland’s bounty. It’s on 23 July, during NAIDOC Week, so why not keep learning about and celebrating Aboriginal culture at Koorie Heritage Trust’s Koorroyarr exhibition. On until 28 July, it showcases two Gunditjmara Keerray Woorroong sister-artists’ work, which incorporates possum skin, weaving, sculpture, wood and canvas.

Melbourne Rare Book Week

This UNESCO City of Literature’s love of the printed word gets turned up to 11 during Melbourne Rare Book Week. It’s a feast of free lectures, discussions, book launches, tours and workshops, plus the 47th Australian Antiquarian Book Fair. There’s something for every bookish taste and budget, from serious bibliophiles to little kids who will love the Classics Storytime library sessions. 5-14 July.

Hidden Faces – Victorian Salon des Refuses

Each year, hundreds of works are submitted to the nation’s major portrait prizes, such as the Portia Geach and Archibald. Some win, some are terrible, and many others worthy of a look sadly disappear from view. Hold on! Hidden Faces – Victorian Salon des Refuses presents portraits by local artists that didn’t take any prizes but nevertheless impress. Until 3 October.

Bastille Day French Festival

Get ready for France’s national holiday on 14 July in the best way possible – at the Bastille Day French Festival. There’s a fantastique program of free entertainment, including can-can dancers and French gypsy jazz, plus exhibitions, fencing demos, kids activities and more. Maybe bring some spending money: there are 40 French food and drink stalls, plus well-priced talks and masterclasses. Friday 12 and Saturday 13 July.

A Fairy Tale in Red Times

Looking for a top-up or alternative to the Terracotta Warriors and Cai Guo-Qiang Winter Masterpieces blockbuster exhibition? Good news, NGV International has another window onto China that’s free to see. A Fairy Tale in Red Times reveals highlights from the White Rabbit Collection, the world’s largest private collection of contemporary Chinese art. Until 6 October.

K-Pop World Festival

K-pop is taking over the planet, especially during the K-Pop World Festival! The Melbourne preliminary round of this annual international dance/vocal cover competition is on 5 July. Which BTS-inspired boy band or Blackpink-obsessed girl group will move closer to the grand final in Korea? Entry’s free, so come along and show Melbourne’s K-pop kids some love.

Branch Out: Talking Trees

Midwinter may not seem ideal for walking in the Royal Botanic Gardens, but it’s actually prime time for admiring trees’ intricate branching structures. Many of them have dropped their leaves, so arboriculture manager Will Jones can more easily point out how amazing they are. Learn about trees’ seasonal changes while warming up on this walk, and get a cup of botanical-inspired tea at the end too. Branch Out: Talking Trees is on 30 July, plus every day at 10.30am there’s a free guided walk exploring garden highlights.

#IAMWOMAN by Jody Haines

The #IAMWOMAN exhibition is the end point of photographic artist Jody Haines’ social portrait project, which involved intimate one-on-one sessions with her subject-collaborators. These large-scale portraits explore female representation, and invite viewers to ponder what it means to be a woman. 11 July-4 August.


Save money and your sanity with Signal’s program of free winter school holiday workshops. Kids can safely get busy with aerosol paint in Street Art Mentoring (10-12 July). Mix and match beats in DJing with Kalyani (4-5 July). Make a pinhole camera and develop their own pictures in Analogue Photography (4-5 July). Embroider textile wallhangings with Bats of Leisure (9-12 July). Sew felt friends in Softies (6 July) and hand-mould trinkets and pendants in Air Dry Clay (13 July). Or drop in to Signal Open Artspace and get creative on their own terms with new materials each week (Saturday 6, 13 and 20 July).

Indian Festival

Warm up with spicy curries and lively Bollywood and bhangra dancing at Queen Victoria Market’s Indian Festival. More information about the program is coming soon, but for now put Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 July in your diary!