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A couple sharing a cocktail.
Photograph: Cottonbro

The ten best cheap (or free!) dates you can go on in Melbourne

Have a romantic night (or day) out without sending yourself broke

Written by
Ashleigh Hastings

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to notice that life’s been getting ridiculously expensive lately, but in the words of Jennifer Lopez, love don’t cost a thing. Or more accurately, taking your lover on a memorable date doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg.

Whether you’re a struggling student, feeling the impacts of inflation or just plain not keen to spend $25 on one cocktail at a city bar, we’ve got you covered with our roundup of the best cheap dates you can go on in Melbourne… And if you’re really skint, some of these are even free! 

So bring your date and some spare change and take your pick from our list. 

Flying solo? Here are the best free things to do in Melbourne, and 25 things to do for less than $25

Cheap and free dates to try in Melbourne

  • Things to do
  • Melbourne

Take your date to enjoy a blissful slice of nature on the fringe of Melbourne’s CBD, accompanied by a slice of pizza… or your picnic spread of choice. There are a plethora of romantic backdrops to choose from across the Royal Botanic Gardens’ 38 hectares, from lush lawns to the rainforest-esque fern gully. You’ll be surrounded by more than 8,500 species of plants (including a casual 950+ types of camellias), which should certainly provide some conversation starters to fill any awkward silences.

  • Things to do

You’d think you’d be able to just walk out the door and see the stars, but in a city the size of Melbourne, light pollution means you’ll need to be a little bit more deliberate with stargazing spots. If you and your date are up for a short road trip, sessions at the Mount Burnett Observatory in the Dandenong Ranges will set you back just $10-$15 for a telescope tour of the night sky. Hopefully you’ll be gazing into each other’s eyes as well as at the stars!

Catch a film for a steal at Cinema Nova’s discount Mondays
  • Film
  • Carlton

Bring some melodrama to your Monday with a weeknight movie date. Carlton’s Cinema Nova is known for its arthouse flicks, its cocktail bar and its picturesque balcony overlooking Lygon Street. Sounds like an ideal recipe for romance, but what about the price tag? If you head over on a Monday, you can score tickets for just $7 before 4pm and $11 after, excluding public holidays. You can even take a tipple into the theatre with you to help ease those first date nerves.

  • Bars
  • Pubs

Is your date obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race but documentaries are more your style? It’s time for you to join forces and use your combined niche knowledge to win free beer, or even a cash prize if you’re lucky. Get rowdy with your date while dazzling them with your ability to follow current affairs while enjoying a beverage at one of Melbourne’s finest pubs. As a bonus, you’ll likely learn a thing or two about how your date handles high-pressure situations! The best part is most of these local trivia nights are free to join.

  • Restaurants

The thought of a dinner date is almost synonymous with emptying your wallet, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Melbourne’s bustling dining scene is also brimming with options for cheap eats that will impress your date without breaking the bank. Head to Dodee Paidang for its signature tom yum noodle, just make sure your date has an appetite for spice! If it’s something more mellow you’re after, swing by Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar for its colossal lasagne by the slice - it’s equal parts comforting and challenging.

  • Things to do

Is there anything more romantic than taking a dip with your lover? Luckily Melbourne is surrounded by a series of secluded swimming holes. There are heaps to choose from, but our favourite is Pound Bend at Warrandyte National Park. This swimming hole was created by miners carving a tunnel through a hill during the gold rush. Think of it like nature’s swimming pool… but with a much nicer view than your average leisure centre. Pound Bend is an easy 45-minute drive from Melbourne and there’s also a walking trail if the weather doesn’t end up suiting a swim.

  • Museums
  • Melbourne

Whether you’re a pair of history buffs or keen to learn more, you’ll definitely learn something by heading to the Immigration Museum with your date. Dig deeper into the stories of multicultural Australia with several permanent exhibitions featuring first-hand accounts and memorabilia, as well as an ever-changing series of temporary exhibitions. Venture to the centre of the museum to marvel at the impressive Long Room, an opulent space filled with ornate architectural touches. Not bad for $15 full price or free for concession holders.

  • Restaurants
  • French
  • East Melbourne

Ahhh oysters, famous for being an aphrodisiac most often consumed by the ultra-wealthy. But fear not! Thanks to East Melbourne hidden gem Hemingway’s Wine Room, you can knock back some freshly shucked oysters for just $2 a pop on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. If you’re really looking to level up, there’s also Champagne for $15 a glass or sparkling sake for something a little different.

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours

There’s something about being out in nature that just nurtures that romantic spark, even more so when your date isn’t the only beautiful view around. The Werribee Gorge Circuit Walk showcases all the rugged natural beauty the gorge has to offer, including a lookout site. You can choose between the two-hour short circuit, or go for the four-hour full circuit if you’re feeling more ambitious. It’s a bit of a workout, but the views are worth it!

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