The best free things to do in Bendigo

Bendigo botanic gardens


Posted May 07, 2024

A trip to Bendigo is full of surprises. Along with its flourishing food and wine scene and gold-rush heritage sites, there are also plenty of things you can do for free in Bendigo.

Whether you’re visiting on a day trip or road tripping from Melbourne to Mildura, you’ll quickly discover why Bendigo was Australia’s first designated UNESCO Creative City and Region of Gastronomy. Artistic endeavours, creative pursuits, and culinary feasts are yours to uncover.

While many of Bendigo's amazing attractions have a cost to enter, you can experience the region’s gems – including its natural wonders - without breaking the bank on a day trip or short break.

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Best free activities in Bendigo

Exploring on foot is an ideal way to not only discover some of a destination’s key sites but soak up its atmosphere, too. The Bendigo Visitor’s Centre offers a handy map for a self-guided city walking tour.

Across the 19 included landmarks, you’ll take in the award-winning architecture of the Law Courts, the infamous Sandhurst Gaol (now the Ulumbarra Theatre), and Sacred Heart Cathedral, one of Australia’s largest churches. 

One of the city's best free heritage sites is the 170-year-old Bendigo Botanic Gardens. Listed on the Victorian heritage register, the gardens are only a short drive from the city centre, offering 15 acres of native and exotic plants and trees, plus wetlands and a bird aviary.

The lavender centre and Victorian Goldfields collection – displaying the plants around during the gold rush era – are well worth exploring alongside Bendigo Creek, a place of significance to the Dja Dja Warrung people. 

Chancery Lane is to Bendigo what laneways are to Melbourne. Discover an eclectic mix of great food, inspiring art, and browse-worthy fashion in this urban gem. By night fairy lights and street musicians add further appeal.


There's much to explore walking around the town of Bendigo. Image: Visit Victoria
There are many free exhibits to explore at Bendigo Art Gallery.
Head on a family bike ride around the Goldfields.

Best free cultural attractions in Bendigo

One of the city’s best attractions is free to the public: Bendigo Art Gallery. It’s one of the country’s oldest regional galleries with a fabulous permanent collection of 19th-century and contemporary Australian artwork that wows. The gallery’s reputation also attracts visiting exhibits, plus art-inspired events.

Would you have imagined that the largest Buddhist stupa in the Western world was in Bendigo? Similar in size to Tibet’s Great Stupa of Gyantse, the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion is nearly 50 metres wide and high, inviting people from around the world to enjoy the tranquillity of the monument, the picturesque Peace Park gardens and meditation areas.

Grab a self-guided tour map and allow 1-2 hours across the grounds to find your Zen. 

Best free picnic areas in Bendigo

Besides the glorious Bendigo Botanic Gardens, you can also go picnicking at Rosalind Park, on the edge of the CBD. Spread over 60 acres, the red gum-lined creek, vast open spaces, and historic conservatory make it one of the city’s prime locations for a leisurely day with family and friends.

The scenic old gardens are beautiful, and kids will love the playground and colony of grey-headed flying foxes. Be sure to head to the Poppet Head lookout tower for Bendigo city views. 

Thirty minutes away, the Bridgewater Swimming Hole on the Loddon River is a local favourite for picnics. Besides enjoying lunch at the picnic tables or electric barbeques, you can also swim and stroll the easy riverside walking tracks. 

The Goldfields region - encompassing nearby Ballarat - is a great destination for the whole family. If you’re on a budget, Lake Weerona Park is ideal with its grassy lakeside spots you can claim for the day and the water birds that call the lake home.

Best free bike trails in Bendigo 

Bring your bikes on your Bendigo holiday as there are plenty of trails to cycle, many allowing you to pedal through the region’s incredible history. On the Bendigo Creek Trail tour the city’s most iconic sights and 19th-century heritage buildings. Following Bendigo Creek, the trail takes riders from the Crusoe Reservoir to Bendigo Pottery (a great place for a breather and a browse). You can also explore the Bendigo Creek Trail on foot.

Head 30 minutes out of Bendigo for a tranquil cycle through bushland and farm country on the Castlemaine to Maldon Trail. This 17.7 km path runs alongside the Victorian Goldfields Tourist Train, a now-restored route that once serviced rural Victoria. You can even travel back to Castlemaine by train if you’d rather conserve your energy for more sightseeing.

For a longer cycle, choose the 50 km O’Keefe Rail Trail. Touring Bendigo, Axedale, and Heathcote enjoy the verdant landscape, and a chance to sample the region’s delectable Shiraz wine. For a shorter bike ride, follow part of the O’Keefe Rail Trail to the Axedale Tavern (20 km) for lunch before returning to Bendigo. 


Bendigo historical buildings. Image: Supplied

Take in the stunning architecture of Bendigo's historical buildings as you walk through the town.

Best free walking trails in Bendigo

Known as a ‘city within a forest’, the national parks surrounding Bendigo surprise visitors. A top recommendation is to walk the Bendigo Bushland Trail, particularly if you’re travelling in spring when the wildflowers bloom. Watch for kangaroos and black wallabies that may join you on the trail’s 8-km path. 

For a leisurely lakeside stroll, head 10 minutes by car to Eaglehawk to take a 3.7 km loop walk around Lake Neangar and Lake Tom Thumb. If you’ve packed your binoculars, you’ll enjoy the bird life that surrounds both lakes. 

For a picturesque bush walk, head to the Loddon River Scenic Reserve in Glenlyon, an hour south of Bendigo. This regional hidden gem impresses with powerful Loddon Falls plunging over the rocky gorge’s towering 2.5-million-year-old hexagonal basalt columns. That you can end your peaceful walk with a swim at the water hole is a bonus.

Best free places to swim and play in Bendigo

Close to the city, Crusoe Reservoir is an excellent spot for swimming, canoeing, and fishing. Plus, there’s a fascinating interpretive 3.3 km reservoir circuit walk exploring the box ironbark forest ecology and frog ponds. Number 7 Park is adjacent to the reservoir and historically significant as during the gold mining era, it had Australia’s first water purification system.

Drive 30 minutes northeast of the city to find Rocky Crossing, a pretty place to swim on the Campaspe River, which runs from the Great Dividing Range to the Murray River. Many rockpools are ideal for young children, though there are deeper areas for strong swimmers and kayakers. 

For one of the region’s prettiest falls, drive to Daylesford, famous for its thermal waters and culinary scene. Here, you’ll find the fern-lined Sailor Falls with gorgeous Sailors Creek rock pools below. There’s an accessible top lookout as well as stairs to the base of the falls and pools for a dip. You can also enjoy Daylesford’s natural mineral-rich water at the two taps at Sailors Falls. 


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