Best free things to do and visit on the Gold Coast

gold coast beach and skyline

Danny Baggs

Posted January 02, 2024

Ready for the glitz and glamour of the Gold Coast, but want to save a few pennies on your holiday? Here are the top free activities to enjoy on the Gold Coast.

The Gold Coast is a popular holiday destination for both Australians and international tourists, thanks to its sandy beaches, warm weather and hopping nightlife. A visit to the Gold Coast certainly doesn’t need to break the bank, with plenty of beautiful beaches, national parks, markets, art galleries and more all free to enjoy.

Here are some of the best free activities on the Gold Coast. RACV Members also save on the Gold Coast's top attractions.

beachgoers on Burleigh Heads beach

Burleigh Heads is a popular beach on the Gold Coast. Image: Getty

Best free beaches on the Gold Coast

Surfers Paradise

Surfers Paradise is the first (and sometimes the only) beachgoers think of when visiting the Gold Coast. It’s certainly Goldie’s poster-child beach, with two kilometres of golden sand and good surf, with designated swimming and surfing areas watched over by lifeguards. There’s plenty of public barbeques with ocean views just off the sand for a delicious cheap lunch. Once you’re done swimming and sunning, check out the esplanade and the foreshore precinct for plenty of shops, restaurants and markets.

Burleigh Heads

At Burleigh Heads, you’ll find a healthy mix of tourists and locals, families and surfers, proving its place as one of the Gold Coast’s premier holiday destinations. Not only is it a beautiful sandy beach with patrolled waters, but it also boasts one of the most consistent quality surf spots on Australia’s east coast. Easy parking and nearby playgrounds for the kids cement Burleigh Heads’s spot as a premier beach on the Goldie. Beachgoers can also enjoy great views of the city skyline thanks to the beach’s curve.

Rainbow Bay

Coolangatta is a well-known coastal suburb in the Gold Coast thanks to the challenging endurance surf sports race that it hosts, the Coolangatta Gold. But head away from the eponymous Coolangatta Beach to the suburb’s Rainbow Bay beach. It’s long enough for swimmers, surfers and longboarders to all have their own stretch of patrolled surf. Kids can play too, with a shallow ‘gutter’ pool that naturally forms for a calm paddle zone free of surf.

Kirra Beach

If you’re a keen surfer, Kirra Beach has some challenging breaks that work best with southerly and south-easterly winds. Expect fast waves with plenty of ‘oomph’ behind them. Plus, whales migrate past Kirra Beach between June and November – spot them best from Kirra Hill.


couple having picnic on Mt Tamborine

Skip the theme parks for free national parks like Tamborine instead. Image: Supplied

Best free cultural attractions on the Gold Coast

Home of the Arts (HOTA)

Home of the Arts (HOTA) is the Gold Coast’s main arts exhibition centre. Both national and international, historical and contemporary collections cycle through HOTA. Don’t miss the Riverside Evandale sculpture walk, which lines up artistic sculptures against the city’s skyline. The Exhibitionist Bar is an elevated zone above HOTA that’s perfect for lunch and a drink after your viewing session, complete with coast-to-hinterland views. Check out the free events calendar on HOTA’s website for plenty of interesting arts and culture events during your stay.

19 Karen

Can’t get enough art? 19 Karen in Mermaid Beach is the Gold Coast’s largest contemporary art gallery. It might seem a little out of place, since it’s tucked into the industrial precinct, but 19 Karen is an exciting space for emerging artists in surrealism, pop, comic book, and illustration art.

Jellurgal Cultural Centre

The Jellurgal Cultural Centre allows visitors to explore the Gold Coast’s rich Indigenous history and culture. It’s located in Burleigh Heads, which is named Jellurgal by the Yugambeh People who are the Gold Coast region’s traditional custodians of the land. Jellurgal is the ancestral home of the Yugambeh People’s Kombumerri Clan, making it the perfect place for this cultural centre full of artworks, Yugambeh language, and education on traditional customs.

Gold Coast Sporting Hall of Fame

Head over to Southport between Monday-Friday to check out the Gold Coast Sporting Hall of Fame. Here you’ll find the Hall of Fame full of the region’s greatest athletes’ profiles. There’s also a large collection of sports memorabilia, like the Gold Coast’s Sydney 2000 Olympic Games relay torch.


purlingbrook falls

Purlingbrook Falls have to be seen to be believed. Image: Getty

Best free walks and waterfalls on the Gold Coast

Currumbin Rock Pools

The Currumbin Rock Pools is one of the Gold Coast’s best half-day trips. It’s only about 40 minutes from Surfers Paradise, and the drive into Currumbin Valley is full of lush gardens and farms. The rock pools are perfect for swimming and splashing in, with pools of all different depths and currents to suit the whole family. Try out the rope swing or sun yourself on the rocks between dips. The pools are fed by Currumbin Creek, which you can follow upstream to a waterfall.

As a bonus, Cougal Cascades are just 10 minutes’ drive up the road. It’s a beautiful rainforest walk with an old sawmill, several gorgeous waterfalls, and cascades that you can swim in.

Springbrook National Park

Drive about an hour southwest from Surfers Paradise to explore Springbrook National Park, an ancient area that’s part of the World Heritage Site, Gondwana Rainforest. It’s one of the world’s only places where species remain almost unchanged from their fossilised ancestors. Here are some of the best spots in Springbrook to check out:

  •  Natural Bridge – an awesome rock formation where a waterfall plunges through a basalt cave that lights up with glowworms at night, particularly from December to March.
  • Purling Brook Falls – cross the suspension bridge over the rainforest canopy to access a 4km return walk with dramatic views of the waterfall.
  • Twin Falls – another 4km return circuit, but this time you can plunge in the rock pools as you watch the two waterfalls.

Tamborine National Park

Explore Tamborine National Park to view pristine rainforest, waterfalls, basalt columns – and the chance to spot the rare Albert’s lyrebird, which can expertly mimic birdcalls and other sounds. Great sightseeing spots include:

  •  Curtis Falls – take an easy 1.5km trail through the forest to the natural spring-fed waterfall. Keep quiet and you might even spot a platypus in the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Witches Falls – despite the name, Witches Falls is a relaxing spot to glimpse koalas, bats and pademelons along a 3.1km track.
  • Cedar Creek Falls – at only 500 metres return, this wheelchair- and stroller-friendly track provides great views of the falls. There’s also a steep stair track to their base if you want more of a walk.

Burleigh Head National Park

Burleigh Head National Park might be small but packs a lot of punch for its size. Take the gentle ocean track (1.2km one way) walks you through rainforest and pandanus palm groves to Echo Beach and Tallebudgera Creek, where you can go for a swim before heading back. Alternatively, the 2.3km return rainforest circuit provides gorgeous coastline views and the chance to spot goanna, sea eagles, koalas and more. Between May and October, set up a picnic at Point Lookout to spot migrating whales.


Miami Marketta entrance

Miami Marketta is just one of many markets on the Gold Coast. Image: Getty

Best free markets on the Gold Coast

Art & Craft Markets

The Gold Coast’s Art & Craft Sunday Markets are the ‘original’ coastal markets. Held on Sundays, the beachside markets switch between Broadbeach, Coolangatta, Burleigh Heads and Paradise Point depending on the week. Visit over 150 stalls to see and sample local gifts, art, souvenirs, handicrafts, food and live entertainment.

Miami Marketta

Hop over to Miami on Wednesday, Friday or Saturday evening to explore what Miami Marketta describes as ‘the back streets of Thailand, Barcelona or New York City’. Explore global street food from a mind-spinning variety of food trucks and stalls. There’s always great free live music on the Cargo Stage too.

The Village Markets

The Village Markets are an award-winning market that pops up twice a month in Burleigh Heads. It’s a favourite with Goldie locals thanks to its ‘cool kid’ vibe. Think vintage stalls, fashion designers, unique jewellery, and other ultra-crafty offerings. If you don’t have the cash to bring home a purchase, it’s still a fun day out where you can chat with the artists and enjoy live music.

Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets

Wednesday, Friday and Saturday year-round you can find the Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets on The Esplanade at the northern end of Cavill Mall. It’s abundant with street performers, artisan goods, and live music. After you browse, enjoy the beachfront.


Stay just a short drive from Surfers Paradise at RACV Royal Pines Resort.
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