Far from curling up with a blanket (which is what the grown-ups want to do!), the kids will undoubtedly be bouncing off the walls, ready to make the most of their July school holidays. They’re on to something. Despite the wintry weather, this time of year is perfect for free family-friendly fun. There is bound to be something on near you that everyone will love, so grab your scarves and smiles and enjoy the break – without breaking the bank.
Seeing Sydney for free means soaking up its best views on foot. This does not necessarily mean conquering its icons and architecture, although you should definitely walk across the Harbour Bridge for views of the Opera House. Rather, some of New South Wales’ capital’s best vistas are its natural ones. Bush walks in Mt. Kuring-gai, Lane Cove and Royal National Parks are stunning and can be adapted to suit little legs. You might like to climb up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse at Palm Beach for an open ocean panorama or walk famous beach tracks like the Coogee to Bondi and Spit to Manly. Give your walking shoes a break and jump on your bike instead. There are great tracks in Sydney Park, Centennial Park and Homebush Bay.
For an outing that is more sedate, stop into Art Gallery of NSW, whose general exhibitions are free of entrance costs. The same goes for the Museum of Contemporary Art, nestled in the historical area of The Rocks. If you are visiting on the weekend, then pop over to The Rocks markets. Other noteworthy Sydney markets include Balmain, Roselle, Paddy’s, Glebe and Paddington, with a mix of fresh produce, knickknacks, clothes and toys.
Melbourne is a heavenly hub of free art. Make the most of no-cost entry into the National Gallery of Victoria, which operates awesome kids’ programs. Check in to the Ian Potter Centre Gallery to explore indigenous art, enjoy ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) and its interactive, multimedia exhibition about the silver screen and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
You don’t need to be under a gallery roof to experience art for free in Melbourne. Famous for its street art and murals, the city is a great place to be introduced to street art heavyweights like Ha-Ha and Be Free. Hosier Lane, opposite Federation Square, is where you should start before heading north. Famous sculptor Deborah Halpern has also left her mark, so keep an eye out for unusual large-scale sculptures.
Explore the city by bike thanks to Melbourne City government’s public bike share scheme. You will need to pay a holding deposit, but after that the first 30 minutes are free. A picnic and wander at the Royal Botanic Gardens makes for a really pleasant family afternoon. The oasis spans 94 acres and 10,000 plants and has themed gardens with a lake in the middle and a walking track around the border. St Kilda Adventure Playground is another kid-focused favourite.
With water temperatures around 22 degrees, even in winter, the brave can enjoy the Gold Coast’s most famous attractions – its beaches. Perhaps the water is too chilly for you but you still fancy yourselves beach-lovers. Find a nice vantage point such as Tumgum Lookout at Burleigh Heads, and keep your eyes peeled for one of the 20,000 humpback whales that pass the Gold Coast from June to November. Opt to see the coastline on wheels instead by grabbing your bikes and cycling the Gold Coast Oceanway.
Wacky, wonderful wildlife encounters don’t have to cost you a thing. Watch the pelican feeding at 1.30pm daily at Ian Dipple Lagoon or feed the lorikeets yourself for a gold coin donation at 8 am and 4 pm daily at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. For more Queensland bush, pack a picnic and head to Curtis Falls at Tambourine Mountain, or meet the cute microbats and glow worms at the Natural Bridge and Glow Worm caves.
Everyone loves a good park. Broadwater Parklands at Southport has rockpools, open grass, a flying fox and a jumping pillow. Tugun is a local favourite skate park. It is also worth checking out special holiday programs including the Gold Coast Libraries School Holiday program and the Council’s Active and Healthy holiday program.
It would also be a shame to skip the beach in Western Australia’s capital. Grab fish and chips and play some beach cricket at Cottesloe or Scarborough Beach. Kings Park and the Botanic Gardens are also prime picnic spots – they have plenty of room to run around and explore.
More comfortable on two wheels? Walk or bike around Fremantle Markets, jam-packed with food and clothing and everything in between. There is an E-shed full of free bikes provided by the Free Wheeling Fremantle initiative. Cycling the Elizabeth Quay riverside trail is another delightful option, although you’ll need to take your time and be prepared to dodge pedestrians. There are plenty of bike racks. Barrack Street Jetty is a good bet.
Perth Cultural Centre is your one-stop shop for all things arty and historical. Entry is free into the Western Australian Museum, State Library and Art Gallery of Western Australia.
There are more family bike trails to be found down south on the Apple Isle. Use the free bike borrowing service ARTBIKES to explore.
Mount Wellington offers plenty of options for adventure. Bushwalks like the 3-hour Organ Pipes Hike suit families well, and if you make it to the top (by car), you’ll be rewarded with views as far as Bruny Island. Keep enjoying the winter sun at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens.
Stroll the stalls of Salamanca Market and pick up a bite to eat before wandering the picturesque Franklin Wharf. The wharf is home to Brooke Street Pier, your launching point for visiting Hobart’s famous MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) should you choose to take the Mona Roma catamaran. Entry into MONA itself is at no cost for Tasmanians and anyone under the age of 18. For more of an art fix, waltz into the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery free of charge.
Explore the historic township of Battery Point, old fishing cottages and all. Nearby there are free tours and free entry into the Anglesea Barracks, open on Tuesdays and Thursdays.