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What’s the Best Free Date in Melbourne?

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by Sean Goedecke (subscribe)
Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published August 17th 2011
Money troubles and romance are both, unfortunately, known for striking without warning. What do you do if you've got a hot date lined up and the bottom falls out of your wallet? Luckily, Melbourne's a city where you don't need to spend money to show someone a good time. Lists of free places are useful, but nothing beats an actual backup plan – ideally something that works all year round. For example:

Melbourne Museum and a Student Barbeque
This one works best for students, since a student card gets you free entry into the Melbourne Museum (on 11 Nicholson St). Improve your general knowledge by browsing the many exhibits. Try to look distinguished and clever. If your date's looking bored, head for the dinosaur room. Who doesn't love dinosaurs? People you shouldn't be dating, that's who. Stay away from the special exhibits down the escalators near the entrance – student cards won't get you into them and they tend to be pretty expensive.

Unfortunately, there's no free food at Melbourne Museum, but if you're students (or look like students), take a short walk over to Melbourne University around lunchtime. There's always a free barbeque going on somewhere on campus, and nothing says romance like cheap bread and sausages. Minor warning: you may have to pretend you're members of whatever club is throwing the barbeque, so be prepared to fake an intense interest in anything from Monty Python to macrame.

Russian Club
Also, practice your Russian accent.

NGV International and the Botanic Gardens
You were going to take your date to dinner and an arty movie, but now you've barely got enough cash to finance a finger painting. Instead, brush up on your art history and visit the NGV International, on 180 St Kilda Road. The building is flashy enough and the paintings expensive enough to make you seem wealthy just by standing next to them. If your date figures out you're broke, tell them you spent all your money on paint and canvas. Everybody loves a starving artist.

Is there anything more romantic than art?

Afterwards, reveal a picnic basket full of box wine and stale baguettes and eat in the lovely Royal Botanic Gardens. They're usually quiet on weekday afternoons, and there are plenty of hidden lawns if you're looking for some privacy. On your way there, steer clear of the metal statues in Alexandra Gardens, or your date might start quizzing you about sculpture and realise you're not actually an artist.

There are plenty of other awesome ideas, especially if you can spare a little bit of money. Why not hang around Queen Victoria Market late in the day and pick up a one-dollar bag of vegetables? It might be a mix of eggplant and zucchini, or it might be six dodgy-looking onions and a radish. Whichever it is, trying to cook something out of it is always a fun challenge (and impressive if you pull it off).

If you've got another idea for the best free date in Melbourne, share it with us in the comments – you never know when it might come in handy.
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